Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Utah Open Source Planet

I don't know how it happened. I knew I had a few readers. The number of people who talked to me about how much they loved the Chicken Cordon Rouge idea proved that. And I've been pretty happy looking at my daily stats (average of 21 visitors/day this month, topping out at 52 visitors on May 26), but when I saw Gabe's latest post on the Utah Open Source Planet, I was blown away.

For those of you that don't know about the UOSP (also fondly known as Open Clue) yet, it is a collection of blogs from computer geeks, mostly from Utah. Back when Jayce^ convinced me to start blogging my recipes, he also suggested I get myself on Open Clue as wel, seeing as I've been a Linux/Perl geek for some years now. I've largely suspected that the majority of my readership has come from Open Clue. I guess had no idea.

Gabe just posted the top referers to the UOSP. I came in 4th, right behind Jayce, with Google and Bloglines leading the pack. I'm glad to giving something back to the Open Clue, in exchange for all the readers they've given me. There are several other fine blogs on Open Clue as well, many of which feature the occassional cooking bit (one of my favorites has been Tensai's). It's still strange to me to think that such a huge part of the geek community would also be such stellar cooks, but there you have it. So if you're an Open Source geek or want to check out the geek side of cooking, check it out. Here, I'll even give you one more link. Clickety!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Food Writers

I always get mixed emotions when reading certain food writers.

Background: I got a wild hair and decided to start reading through as many titles on the Recommended Reading List for the Le Cordon Bleu Graduate Program in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide in Australia. I'm kind of a geek that way. I'm starting with It Must Have Been Something I Ate, by Jeffery Steingarten, mostly because I got it on sale at Barnes and Noble. Next up is The Philospher in the Kitchen by that wacky French foodie of yesteryear, Brillat-Savarin. Anthony Bourdain has not yet made it to the list. I await the day when Adelaide realizes their folley and adds Bourdain to the list. But I digress.

I may have mentioned before some of the feelings I get when I read Bourdain. There's a little of me thinking, "I know what you mean man, I totally understand", which is usually followed by, "am I high? Of course I don't know! My experience is nothing compared to him!" And occassionally, I realize that had I gone to elementary school with Bourdain, he probably would have beat me up a lot.

Back to Steingarten. I just finished reading his "Cast Party" article, which tells the story of his self-imposed home confinement, following a nasty fall and a fractured fibula. It was kind of like a "Day in the Life of a Food Critic" that lasted a couple of weeks. As I read this chapter, I realized a few things, many of which I realize every time I experience his work. For example, I realized that he is a snob. I mean, he's really a snob. Some people might see this as a bad thing. For me, it's a relief. I can be a snob sometimes too, but I don't think I'm ever as much of a snob as he is. At least not yet. And then I realize that not only is he a snob, he's a well-educated snob that knows what he's talking about. This man has earned his snobbery. I'm not kidding when I say that he's eaten everything. For details, refer to his landmark release, The Man Who Ate Everything (also on the recommended reading list).

And then I think about my own experiences. I went to cooking school for about a year. I tried out a number of dishes, from foie gras (creamy, savory, actually quite good if you can afford it) to cow's tongue (the texture leaves a little bit to be desired, IMHO). I worked in the school's restaurant a couple of times and a local steakhouse, and then embarked on an externship to the bakery at the Deer Valley Resort, where the pastry chefs there whipped me into shape and made me almost useful in the bakery by the end of the season. Then I left the professional culinary world (except for the occassional catering foray) and started playing with computers again. I don't cook every day anymore, but I still try to play with new recipes and culinary experiences as often as possible.

So I guess I haven't earned as much of a right to critique food as Steingarten, but I guess I've earned some. Certainly more than most. And while my eyes occassionally pop when I read his works, it's still nice. He has a way of making me feel better about things. I don't know how that works. He could run circles around me, but that's okay. He knows his stuff.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Chicken Cordon Rouge

Disclaimer: While this dish is based loosely on Chicken Cordon Bleu, it is not actually Chicken Cordon Bleu. I make no claims that it is, and if there is already a dish out there called Chicken Cordon Rouge, I apologize. I just thought the name was funny, and it kind of fit the dish too.

Now, I realize that Chicken Cordon Bleu is classically made with some kind of white cheese, like swiss cheese or provolone. I also realize that it is usually made with some kind of ham, like prosciutto or something. These are not things that I often have in my kitchen (well, except for the provolone, but I was out). But I love Chicken Corbon Bleu, and I really wanted some. So I improvised. I have now made this dish several times, and I'm not yet tired of it.

The first thing you're supposed to do is take a chicken breast and pound it into submission, until you have a thin, tender sheet of white chicken meat that can be wrapped around something. In the case of Chicken Kiev, that something is a compound butter, usually containing things like parsley and lemon juice, and sometimes even garlic. In the case of Chicken Cordon Bleu, it's some kind of ham wrapped around a hunk of white cheese. In my case, well, we'll get to that. The point is, pounding out chicken breast like that is a pain, unless you really know what you're doing, and even then it's kind of a pain. So I cheated. I butterflied my chicken breast. I laid the breast on the cutting board, placed my palm flat on top (and out of harm's way), took a very sharp kitchen knife, and sliced the breast in half, leaving it connected all along one side. Suddenly, I was left with a sheet of white chicken meat that could be wrapped around something. I wrapped it around pepperoni and sharp cheddar cheese, because it is a sad day when I run out of either of those in my kitchen. Hence the name, Chicken Cordon Rouge (you know, because the pepperoni is red). You can use toothpicks to keep it closed if you want.

Next up, one needs to dredge the chicken in something, to make the skin dry. Some people use flour, some people use corn starch. I use tapioca starch, because it does pretty much anything corn starch does, and it's dirt cheap and the oriental market. In fact, it's slightly cheaper than corn starch, which is pretty cheap in the first place. Make sure you shake off all the excess, or else you'll be sad in the next step when you try to dunk it in egg wash (I use two beaten eggs, and I don't bother adding water for this kind of recipe) and the egg wash just falls off. Once it's coated in egg, toss it in a bag full of bread crumbs and get it all covered in them.

Now, you can buy bread crumbs. You could even buy panko bread crumbs. Sometimes when I need breadcrumbs, I'll leave a couple of slices of bread out for a few hours to dry out, or if I'm pressed for time, I'll dry them out in the toaster oven, and then toss them in the food processor for a few pulses just to get nice, jagged crumbs. Nowadays, I keep a CostCo-sized bag of croutons in my pantry, and just crush them up with a rolling pin, inside the same ziptop bag that I then use to coat the egged up chicken.

With the crumb coat on, put them on a baking sheet on a piece of parchment paper, or in a greased Pyrex pan, and toss them into a 350F oven until they reach an internal tempurature of 160F. I use a probe thermometer and set the temp alarm, but you can do what you want. When they get to temp (and only when they get to temp), pull them from the oven and let them rest. Don't pull the thermometer, or the chicken will start to spew forth its juices! The meat will continue to coast up to 165F or so, at which point you can serve it.

This stuff is pretty good. It's also a very American way to tear apart a classic French dish, in mockery of centuries of French tradition, and make it something much more accessible to not only the American housewife/husband, but also the picky American kid who refuses to eat things like Swiss cheese. Now if you could just find a way to make 'em eat their greens.

Failed Fudge, Part 2

My term in office as the Village Idiot of the baking world continues. My good friend Ruth (candymaker extrordinaire) was so kind as to chastise me in my comments for yesterday's post, and tell me to start from scratch and learn the rules before trying to branch out. And did I listen? No, of course not! No, I sallied forth in the belief that science would guide my path!

Science is a cruel mistress.

You may recall my mention of surprise yesterday, that the recipe that was to become my bane had a lower fat content. I also noted the excess water in that recipe. So I decided to start with Alton's recipe again, with a few modifications. Instead of unsweetened baking chocolate, I went with white baking chocolate. Instead of half and half, I opted for a higher amount of butter (a total of about 5 tablespoons), plus one cup of strawberries and the juice of a lime (about two tablespoons). It still looked a little dry, so I added two ounces of whole milk. I brought it to a boil, stirring all the while, then slapped on a lid and let it boil away for 3 minutes, as per Alton's instructions. Then I removed the lid, slapped on a candy thermometer, and waited for it to come up to temp. Now, I have been finding some fudge recipes that would have you go to 238F, instead of 234F. In fact, even Emeril made fudge last night, taking the temp to 238F. I'm at about 4500ft above sea level, which means I need to boil 9 degrees lower. So I let it come to 229F, pulled it from the heat, and put the pan in a bowl of cold water, as per Ruth's suggestion at the Utah Bakers Dozen message board.

It cooled to temp in about 10 minutes, much more quickly than my first attempt (the chocolate one that worked, not the failed strawberry one), which took a good 45 minutes. I began to stir, as one does with fudge. It would not lose its gloss. In fact, it stayed pretty liquid, as did my previous nightmare concoction. Hey, at least it wasn't burned this time, right? So this is when I decided it was time to try and save it, like a man who can't swim flailing around in the ocean hoping that he can keep his head above water. I broke out the hand mixer. It did lighten the color a bit, and cause it to loose a little of the shine, but it still would not set up. So I took a couple more ounced of white chocolate, melted it in the microwave (10 seconds at a time, stirring between each heating, until it's smooth and melted) and added it in. It did seem to add more body, and it lost a little more of that gloss, and it certainly lightened the color a bit. But it still didn't look like I thought it should. Still, I poured it into the pan and let it cool overnight.

This morning, I checked it out. It did not set up, though it looked like it at first. It was also horrendously sweet, at least for me. But it was pretty thick, and about the same sweetness as commercial frostings, so I'm thinking I may bake a cake and use it as a filling. My quest for strawberry fudge continues, but it looks like I'm going to have to start from scratch and learn a good vanilla fudge recipe. If anyone has one that they trust, I wouldn't mind a copy.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

How NOT to make fudge

Let me start off by saying that this was not my first attempt at fudge. It was my second. My first was with Alton Brown's fudge recipe, this past weekend. I followed his directions pretty closely, and was rewarded with smooth, chocolatey blocks of fudgey goodness. There were several observations that I made about his recipe. First, he used corn syrup. This is important, because it hinders sugar crystalization during the cooking process, and I believe it helped keep the sugar crystals tiny when it was cooled and stirred. He also used half and half plus butter. Why not just use heavy cream? Because this recipe contains chocolate, which might have dried out on top during the cooling process. He wisely has you top the cooling fudge with a little butter to prevent this from happening. But since half and half was used, I was worried about the liquid content. Fortunately, while it did take some time to get significantly above 212F (well, a little lower at my elevation), it didn't take too long, and nothing burned as I feared it might.

That was about the time I got cocky. This fudge stuff is easy! I wondered what it would take to make, say, strawberry fudge. Yeah! Strawberry! Woo hoo! I set off in search of recipes in Google. After discarding several condensed milk-based recipes, I finally found a recipe that seemed to very closely resemble Alton's recipe. This recipe was to be my downfall.

Now, this isn't something that most of use really think about, but the recipes on Good Eats, as with most cooking shows, are extensively tested. As it turns out, for all of its education and science basis, most Good Eats recipes are reasonably idiot-proof. This is not because Alton believes his viewers to be idiots. One of the reasons is certainly that he's trying to cater to a wider audience, so he does seem to stay kind of in the middle of the road on a lot of ideas. But also, because the recipes are based on sound priciples which are generally pretty thoroughly explained in the show, they really are designed to just work.

The strawberry fudge recipe that I used probably worked for someone somewhere, or else it likely wouldn't have been posted anywhere. It did not work for me. Take a moment and look at the two links above, and we'll compare. First of all, the new recipe uses milk, not half and half. This made me nervous, but because most recipes calling for milk mean whole milk (4% milkfat), I decided to chance it. But then, only two tablespoons of butter were called for, as opposed to AB's three. Now, this may not seem like a lot, but consider that not only is it only 2/3 of AB's amount, but we're still also low on milkfat in the first place. And not only that, the new recipe calls for 12 oz of milk, as opposed to AB's only 8oz of half and half. And there's only an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to compensate for all of this. Still, like the idiot that I am, I persevered. This leads me to the strawberries, which also contain a good bit of moisture. In fact, according to the USDA Standard Reference, we're talking about 90% water! Still, it must have worked for somebody, so I kept going. Now, this recipe ends with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. A wise choice, I thought. A small hint of lemon does compliment strawberry, and the acid will help keep the sugar from crystalizing. I had limes, so I used lime instead. Still, I was nervous, so I added a tablespoon of corn syrup, just to be on the safe side.

This recipe came to a boil very quickly, but after several minutes, had not crept past that critical boiling point, 212F. This is because there wasn't a high enough concentration of sugar to allow the water to exceed its boiling point. Still, I was excited. It looked like strawberry milk. Eventually, the thermometer began to creep upwards. As the pot boiled on and water evaporated, the color began to darken. As it grew nearer to my intended destination, the aromas drifting from the pot started to take on a decidedly "cooked" flavor, and occassionally, an almost burned smell. It hit temp and I pulled it. Rather than just pouring it into the pan as per the directions, I decided to let it cool to 130F as AB did, and then beat it silly. This I did, and as I poured the beaten concoction into the pan, I saw the damage done to the mixture, and to my pan.

How does one clean burned sugar out of a pan? Add a lot of water, a touch of vinegar, and let it boil off. What does one do if fruit is also burned to the bottom of the pan? Scrape a lot with a wooden spoon while it boils away. Almost the entire bottom of my pan was black with my iodiocy, and it took some time to scrape it all away. Eventually, my pan was restored to its original luster. Sadly, the fudge did not attain the same ending. This morning it was still pliable, and looked like an inch-thick slab of fruit leather. As I tried to tear off a piece to taste, I discovered that it was a fairly rubbery fruit leather. And as I tasted the burned fruits of my labor, I discovered the slightly charred taste that I was expecting. This fudge was quite the failure. Truly, it's time to formulate a superior recipe. A working recipe would be nice.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What do I call this?

I don't even know what to call it. I'm lousy with naming dishes. I guess it's some kind of hash, except that I used rice instead of potatoes. Whatever you want to call it, I thought it was pretty good. I took a single hot-link sausage, split it in half and cut it very thin on a bias. Very thin. Then I sauteed it over medium heat, just enough to blacken the edges just a little, which you really can't see in the photo. I don't know why, but smoked sausage just needs to have some black on it. That black part just tastes so good! Just so long as it's not completely black.

When the sausage was just about cooked, I added in about 1/3 cup of diced red bell pepper and let that soften a little. Just remember, once you start adding veggies to the meat, it's going to be a lot harder to cook the meat anymore. I don't know the science behind that, but I know from experience that that's how it goes, so make sure the meat's where you want it first. Then I added in maybe half a cup of cooked rice (and yes Hans, I used chile lime rice), about half a can of corn, drained. Just to make sure things weren't too dry, I added a splash or two of chicken stock just to give the rice something to soak up, and just to make sure things weren't too bland, I added a splash of soy sauce. Toss occassionally until everything is cooked through and serve.

I don't think I'm going to post any more of these unless I come up with something really special. I make this kind of thing all the time because it's quick, it's simple, and the possibilities are limited only by the ingredients on hand. Let's face it, I'm a geek. While I do wish I could spend all day in the kitchen sometimes, it's just not in the stars for me right now. The majority of my waking hours are spent in front of a computer and sometimes, I just don't have the time to do a lot of cooking. So I survey my leftovers and make hash. And if you can't figure out from my previous posts how to make hash, well, it's just not in the stars for you either, I guess.

Chile Lime Rice

Okay, Hans was giving me a hard time because I didn't mention in my beans and rice recipe what exactly I meant by "cooked rice". I like to cook a larger batch of rice than my wife and I can really eat in one sitting so that I have some to save for later. Now, I've posted a few rice recipes so far. Almost any of them would have worked in that recipe. In truth, all you have to do is cook a cup of rice in two cups of water (don't forget salt if you just use water), the same way as I've outlined for all my rice recipes so far. But I must confess, this is not what I used in that recipe.

I used a batch of chile lime rice. I hesitated to post it, because you've all had to deal with so many rice recipes already. But because Hans wanted to know so badly what I used, this is it. You have him to blame for this post.

Start with our standard cup of rice, browned in a wee bit of veggie oil. Go ahead and toss in about half a red bell pepper, diced, and saute that with the rice. Add 1/3 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 2/3 cup of chicken stock and two canned chipotles, diced, along with a little of the adobo sauce that they were packed in. If you're a wuss, go ahead and go with just one chipotle. It'll still be plenty hot. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, drop to a simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes, still covered.

This rice is not for the weak of heart. If medium salsa is your idea of too hot (yeah Dad, I see you raising your hand), then run, run away. This is my kind of rice. It will burn your lips, and you will hurt. Me, I'm half-tempted to add a third chipotle next time.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I've been reading A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain lately. If you don't mind harsh language and reading about eathing things like ants and birds nest soup, I highly recommend this book, and every book he's ever written. Bourdain is intelligent, funny and has a way with words. For all his criminally-minded youth, he has evolved into an excellent cook, writer and observer. He makes thoughtful observations about many things in life, not just food. When he remenisces about sitting in a crowded shack in Mexico, pressed between throngs of hungry locals below the light of a bare lightbulb, eating the best tacos he's ever tasted, is he really talking about the tacos? Well, a little. But mostly, he's talking about the feel of the place, the local culture largely uninfluenced by the outer world. It's a feel that cannot be duplicated, and yet exists everywhere in the world.

But this post isn't about that feeling. It's about vegetarians. *Spoiler Warning* In a later chapter in the book, he discusses his trip to San Fransisco. His producer thought it would be a really swell idea to send him to a vegan potluck. Now, in his award-winning book Kitchen Confidential, he informs us that vegetarians are the bane of chefs everywhere. In A Cook's Tour, he decides to give the vegans a chance. Fair is fair, right? Give the opposition a chance to present their side of the argument.

As far as I'm concerned, the opposition just lost. Again.

My favorite line: "And not one of them could cook a ****ing vegetable." He talks about how a great master of meat cookery that he knows shows more respect for a side of sauteed baby spinach than any one of these vegans showed for it in 10 elaborate courses. I was instantly reminded of a raw corn chowder recipe I stumbled across once online. It was horrible. So many vegetarians use animal cruelty as the basis of argument for their lifestyle. But what about vegetable cruelty? For so many years, I hated salad. I would not touch it. Why? Because all of the salad I had been experiencing was little more than chopped, wilted iceberg lettuce, adorned with dried slivers of carrot, rubbery strands of purple cabbage, oversalted croutons and bland dressings. Then I went to cooking school, took a garge manger class, and discovered that salads can be truly magnificent. There's so much more to the world of greens than iceberg! A good friend outside of school made a salad with spinach, toasted pine nuts, red onion, black olives, orange wedges, orange zest, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and orange juice. Simple, elegant, beautiful.

Recently, I decided to check out the raw foods movement. There is a woman about 20 minutes south of where I live that teaches raw foods classes. Agi is a certified master herbalist and darn talented in the kitchen. I took a class of hers which boasted a raw cereal for breakfast, a raw energy drink and even raw vegan sushi. And I must say, I immediately went out and bought raw grains from the local natural foods store and made my own almond milk and soaked the grains overnight and enjoyed a bowl of raw cereal for breakfast. The energy drink was actually quite good, and made me feel like I'd just drunk a can of Jolt Cola. The "sushi" (which did not contain rice) was actually quite good as well. She was a far better spokesperson for her cause than the rest of the class, who seemed to believe they were attending a $52 hallelujah session. I was more than just a little disappointed when Agi let the class more or less take over discussion while she quietly prepared her foods, robbed of the chance to discuss what she was doing. The man sitting next to me seemed more intent on hawking his MLM supplements than raw foods at all. It seemed that I was the only person in attendance who did not already know the teacher. I left angry and disappointed at the class, and more than just a little sad that the teacher let the class railroad her like that. I stopped at Carl's Jr on the way home and ordered a Westerner.

Still, I did buy a raw foods book at the herb store where she was teaching, and have since occassionally looked up information on raw foods online. Take a moment, please (if you haven't already) to look up the raw corn chowder recipe above. Okay, have you read it? Are you just as angry as I am that somebody would have the gall, the insensitivity, the arrogance to mix together corn and almond milk, puree half of it, season with chile powder and call it chowder? Look, people. If you want me to give up my meat, my cheese, my cooked foods, to abandon millenia of culinary progress to go back and eat rabbit food, it's time to learn how to make it taste good. I know you can do it. But before you can expect us to respect you and your food, you need to learn how to respect yourself and your food.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Kai Yang

Okay, this recipe is based on one from one of my instructors at school, Chef Holihan. This isn't her recipe exactly, because I'm not sure she would want me just handing it out. So this is my version.

Kai Yang is a type of Thai BBQ chicken. Now, when I say BBQ, I don't mean southern Q; I mean grilled. The big part of this is the marinade.

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemongrass
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons curry paste
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 cup lite soy sauce
1 cup veggie stock

Toss 'em all in a blender and give 'em a spin. Then toss 'em in a zip top bag with a couple of chickens worth of meat. You'll want to keep the pieces smaller, I usually get 3 to 4 pieces out of one chicken breast. If you want to make Chef Holihan proud, go with all dark meat. Refrigerate for a good 6 hours, turning the bag over midway to make sure all the meat gets equal treatment. Then grill it. I marked mine on the grill and then tossed it in a 400F oven and finished it there. Finished means at least 165F in the deepest part of the meat, right people? Then it's time to serve. My favorite thing to serve this with is my tropical salsa. This stuff can have a serious kick, depending on how what kind of curry paste you use, and the sweet cooling effect of the salsa is a nice match. Give it a shot, I think you'll like it.

Utah Bakers Dozen

Okay, so I've never made fudge before. Sorry tensai and sjansen, it's a fact that you'll just have to live with. I can, however, recommend a great book on the subject. Ruth Kendrick is an expert at candymaking (and dutch oven cooking, for that matter). I have seen her book in bakeries from Utah to New Hampshire. It is a respected tome in the baking and pastry field, and if the experts turn to it, I think you should too.

Speaking of baking and pastry experts, it's time you learned about the Utah Bakers Dozen. It's not all experts, but there's a fair share of them in the group. This is a group of amateurs and experts alike, both home bakers and professional pastry chefs. If ever there was a similarity between hacking and food, it's baking. Perfect example: high alitude baking. This is one of the ultimate food hacks. And a few months ago, the focus of the UBD's meeting was this very topic.

As it turns out, there's another meeting coming up. Details will be posted on their site soon, but let me give you the low-down now. The topic is "Ice Cream and Cupcakes". It will involve a tour and demonstration at the Spotted Dog Creamery in Salt Lake, followed by an ice cream and cupcake social at the home of a member of the group. It will happen on Sunday, June 4th at 1pm. Now, they don't usually meet on Sunday. In fact, I think most of not all of the meetings before this have been on a Monday. If you're a member of the group, the cost is $5 in advance (or $10 if you sign up after June 2) and if you're not a member, the cost is $10 in advance (or $15 after June 2).

If you can't make it to this meeting, don't despair! There will be others! Also, we've put together a message board at Google Groups for the UBD. You don't have to be a member to post, so don't worry about that. It's a pretty new board, so there's not a whole lot of traffic yet. But that doesn't mean that if you post, your message will be ignored. There are people from the group watching the board, not knowing what to talk about, so go help 'em out!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beans and Rice

Leftovers! Okay, this dish was the product of being really hungry, and not wanting to put a whole lot of effort into taking care of it. First thing to do, take a can of pinto beans and simmer in water until fork tender. Drain and set aside. Then go with about 1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced. I added the bell pepper to a hot skillet with a bit of oil, and sauteed just a little. I added about 1/3 pound of ground beef to the pan with a pinch of salt and browned. I cooked it with some Worcestershire sauce, chipotle Tabasco and chile powder (are you sick of that combination yet?). When it was all browned off, I added about a cup of cooked rice, the juice of a lime and just a couple splashes of chicken stock to help out the rice. When the rice was all warmed up, I added the pinto beans to the pan and tossed to combine.

Now, this would make a great stuffing, inside a bell pepper, maybe a chayote squash, something like that. Just cut the top off the veggie you want to stuff, scoop out the insides, stuff it (don't force it all it, just spoon in what will fit) and roast until the veggie of course is tender. Heck, I bet this stuff would even make a great burrito. But me, I just served it straight, along with a side of tropical salsa and blue corn chips, of course. It was pretty dang good.

Tropical Salsa

Okay, this is one of my all-time favorite salsas. It's a bit yellow, but don't worry, we'll add a bit of contrast. Start with a papaya and a mango, dice 'em up, and put 'em in a bowl. You'll also need half a pineapple. I cut one in half and scooped it out with an ice cream scoop. Get rid of the core, it's hard and has just a little too much fiber. Dice up the rest of the half pineapple and add to the bowl. You'll also want to dice up half a red bell pepper and two whole jalapenos, and add them in as well. Add about 1/4 cup of diced red onion. Go easy on the onion; it can really take over everything if you add too much. Grab a nice handful of cilantro, chop it up, toss it in. Add the juice of two limes, and finish off with a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a quick drizzle of salad oil.

Now, if you want to get really fancy, you can serve the salsa in the half a pineapple that you scooped out. Just make sure you put the pineapple on a plate or something, because it tends to leak. But what does this go with, you might ask? Well, the obvious answer (at least for me) is blue corn chips. It also goes well with really spicy meats. And heck, you could even just eat it as a salad. Watch future posts for other ideas.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mini Taco Salads

Okay, this one required a little bit of specialized hardware. In particular, you'll need a mini muffin tin (available at the local megamart) and a tortilla press (maybe a little less common). If you don't have a tortilla press, you can probably get away with using a rolling pin.

First thing I did was make some corn tortilla dough. I didn't use Alton Brown's recipe, but it would be a dandy one. While it hydrated, I went to the store and bought some ground beef and red bell peppers. By the time I got back, the dough was ready. I preheated the oven to 350F and got to work on the dough. While my wife rolled the dough into little balls (maybe 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons each), I flattened them in the tortilla press and then pressed them into a mini muffin tin that I had already sprayed with cooking oil. When the tin was full, we popped it into the oven until the cups got nice and brown around the edges. We pulled it out and immediately moved the cups to a cooling rack, to keep them from steaming themselves in the pan and getting all soggy.

While they cooled, we cooked up some of the beef with some diced red bell pepper. In our case, we seasoned with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, chile powder and chipotle Tabasco. You can cook it however you want. Then we filled each cup with the beef mixture and topped with grated cheese. If you want to actually make it a salad, go ahead and add lettuce or something. You might even want to think about using regular-sized muffin tins. It was actually a pretty quick dish to make, especially with two of us forming an assembly line, and it was pretty tasty to eat too. Perfect for an appetizer party.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Tasting Menu

I won't bore you with the details of how I found this site. Suffice it to say this is one that you should look at, particularly if you're interesting in food or photos of food. The site is called Tasting Menu, and is mostly a blog of sorts. This guy eats out a lot, and likes to take pictures of the dishes and write about them, but not in the way that one might expect from a critic. In fact, he doesn't seem to see himself as a critic; he just sees himself as a guy that loves food, and loves to share his culinary experiences with people.

I wasn't planning on posting this link until I read his philosophy post, and noticed his comments about Thomas Keller, an American chef known even to the French as one of the best in the world. About five weeks into cooking school, the guy in the dorm room across the hall from me showed me the French Laundry Cookbook, and explained one of Keller's concepts. In a nutshell: the first bite is exciting, and the second bite almost as much so. But by the third bite, you're just eating. You may still enjoy it, but the initial excitement is gone. That's why when you go to the French Laundry, you will get several very small, but masterfully prepared courses.

The guy at Tasting Menu talks about the evils of the entree, and praises the concept of the appetizer. This is what really caught my eye. I have two obsessions with food. The first, stemming from my art student days in high school, is plated desserts. I am completely and utterly fascinated with them. The second is appetizers. In fact, what I really love is artfully-prepared finger food. Most appetizers and tapas fit into this category. I love that if there are enough appetizers, you can experience a wide range of exciting tastes, and still end up eating less food, which helps with my belt line.

Anyway, check out this site, and make sure you take a look at the two free cookbooks available for download, All About Apples and Autumn Omakase.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Shangri-La Diet

Okay, so I've heard of some pretty weird diets, but this one is impressively odd. Hans found this at the Creating Passionate Users blog, which is done by a geek who teaches brain hacking for programming. It's called the Shangri-La Diet, for reasons completely unknown to me. It was conceived by a guy named Seth Roberts, who is an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.

While it may be the strangest diet, it also appears to be the easiest and least dangerous diet ever. There appears to be only one rule: find two solid hours each day where you don't eat anything. During that time, you ingest a small amount of sugar water or a small amount of pure olive oil. That's it. I'm sure the book (or perhaps this nice little white-paper) explains this in detail, but I guess that's what it comes down to. Very interesting.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Black Bean Hummus

Let me just start by saying that I hate hummus. Hate it! Why? I have no idea. But I've never had a hummus that I liked. At least, not one made with garbonzo beans.

This one is not made with garbonzo beans; it's made with black beans. I love black beans. Doubtless God could have made a better bean, but doubtless he never did. For those of you taking notes, this recipe is based on a traditional hummus recipe. I only made two changes: black beans instead of garbonzo beans, and lime instead of lemon. Somehow, those two changes alone change this from a middle-eastern dish to a southwestern American one.

Start with a 14oz can of black beans. Simmer until fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, rinse and cool. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup tahini, 1 clove of garlic, the juice of two limes and half a lemon (I ran out of limes, so sue me) and a pinch of Kosher salt. Now, that would have been okay by itself, but I couldn't let well enough be. So I added a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a few grinds of black pepper and a couple of sprigs of cilantro. Okay, so I lied about only making two changes. I also meant to add 1/4 teaspoon of cumin but I forgot. You can do that on your own if you want. Process in a food processor, or if you're like me, do it with an immersion blender.

Now, I know you traditionally serve hummus with things like pita bread or pita chips, but hey, screw tradition. I serve with blue corn chips. Now, this tahini stuff, you may not be all familiar with that. In fact, I wish I was more familiar with it. I've only ever seen it in hummus recipes. What is it? It's sesame paste. It's just like peanut butter, but with sesame seeds. I talked to a couple of friends that have visited the middle-east, and they tells me it's used as kind of a dressing. You put it on falafel or any number of different street foods. Or you can make a sandwich with it like you would with peanut butter. Yeah, I don't know how I'd like that. Let me know if you try it.

Roasted Corn and Tomatillo Salsa

When I saw corn on the cob at the megamart this morning, I knew what it I had to do: it was time to make roasted corn and tomatillo salsa. I'm sad that they didn't have fresh corn in time for cinco de mayo, but I'm glad that they did have it so soon after.

Start with two ears of corn. Toss 'em on the grill, husks and all. Your goal: burn 'em. Just give 'em a nice char. And if you're like me, and don't have the grill set up yet this season, just use the broiler. The husks will protect the corn itself from burning, so don't worry about it. The only problem with the broiler is, you don't pick up any color on the corn itself. So for the last few minutes, I shucked the corn, and put it under the broiler nekkid, just to get a little color.

With that done, I stood the corn up on end, used a sharp knife to cut off the kernals and moved them into a bowl. Next up: tomatillos. Now, these things may look like green tomatoes with husks, but I assure you they are not. I pulled the husks off of 3 tomatillos, gave 'em a quick rinse (they're a little sticky under the husks), diced them up, and added them to the corn. I also diced up half a red bell pepper, a whole jalapeno and about 1/4 cup of red onion, and added them to the bowl. I also minced up a few sprigs of cilantro, and added it in with the juice of a lime, a pinch of Kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a quick drizzle of salad oil.

Toss to combine, and refrigerate for a couple of days before serving, if you can wait that long. Note: no tomatoes. That's right, salsa doesn't need tomatoes. If you thought it did, I want you to banish that thought from your mind right now! This stuff is good. It doesn't have a really huge kick, it just has enough to keep you awake. This salsa has really sweet, bright flavors and festive colors. It's a really good way to impress people if you're planning a party, or to just make yourself happy.

Wolfgang Puck: Food Hacker

Okay, I know a bunch of geeks are about to get on my case for not reading User Friendly in a while, because if I had been, I would have known about this sooner. And had I kept up to speed on my Make RSS feed, then I'm sure I would have known about it even sooner than that.

Wolfgang Puck has released self-heating coffee. I kid you not, you buy a can of the stuff, turn it over and fiddle with the bottom, and in 6 to 8 minutes, you have 145F coffee. Brilliant! It's the perfect on-the-go food! Er. Drink. If you like coffee. I can't stand the stuff. And even if I liked it, I'd have to go with decaf, because caffeine really messes with me these days. But still! What a concept!

There's only one problem. Well, one big one, maybe a few little ones, like people complaining about a slightly chemical taste. Apparently, the calcium oxide used for the self-heating unit has been finding its way into the coffee. But the big one is the explosions. That's right! Exploding coffee! Oops! Time for a recall. Oh, I'm so proud of Wolfgang!

Monday, May 8, 2006

Pasta Salad

This was an interesting piece, and you'll see why as I describe it. It was another dish born of hunger and lack of resources. Yet, most of the resources I had were not things that most people have. But worry not. This isn't so much of a recipe as it is a concept.

My regular formula for pasta salad (not counting the pasta) is: 2 types of cheese, 2 types of meat, 4 to 6 types of veggies, mayo or sandwich spread and paprika. The cheeses are usually cheddar and jack, the meats are usually pepperoni and ham, and the veggies are usually dill pickles, celery, olives, jalapenos, and sometimes carrots and/or grape tomatoes.

This was not my normal formula. I had half a box of cooked whole wheat pasta in the fridge, so I went with that. The only kinds of cheese I had were the manchego and mimolette that I bought on Saturday, so I went with maybe 1/4 cup of each, cubed. I cut up a couple of links of spicy smoked sausage, browned them off, and let them cool before adding them. I added a small can of sliced black olives, because I'm saving my fresh olives for another recipe. Don't knock it. I also added about half a red bell pepper, cut into pieces. And an orange, cut into wedges. I tossed it all in just enough extra virgin olive oil to coat.

Now, I learned a few things with this dish. First of all, I learned that expensive cheeses are not a good idea in pasta salad. All the fine subtleties get lost in all of the other ingredients. It was worth a shot. Second, I learned that I should have bought more kalamata olives (pitted) and used those instead of the California olives. I also wish that I'd had another orange to add too. The sweetness of the fresh orange really worked nicely with everything else.

One more thing that you should all learn is that it's important to make mistakes in the kitchen. That's what you learn from, maybe even more than from the successes. Still, it was a pretty good pasta salad. I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

A Chef's Saturday, Part 3

Last stop: The London Market. Now, England is not known for their food. I once had a friend describe English food to me as "making the best of a really bad situation". No wonder they love Indian food (dot, not feather) so much in England. Judging by the huge Wall-O-Chocolate, I'm gonna guess they have a thing for chocolate. These are my kind of people. Well, as far as chocolate goes, at least.

Now, they have just a few groceries there, most of which you don't normally see in America. But I'm sure they're amazingly ordinary on the other side of the pond. Where we have marinara, they have chasseur sauce. Where we have potato chips, they have potato crisps. And where we have regular and vegetarian chili, they have regular and vegetarian haggis.

No, I didn't buy any. But I had to share a photo, mostly so that my friends in America would believe me. I did end up buying some aged cheddar for me, and some bakewell tarts and chocolate cookies for Lars, at his request. Seriously, you should check this place out. The people are friendly, and they do sell non-food items there too. Be sure to check out the Harry Potter section.

This was the last of the food stores that I went to, but I guess I should mention the one other place that I went to: the Oriental Food Market down the street from the London Market, maybe a block south of there. The only thing I really bought there was melon soda (mmm, honeydew), but they do have a killer selection of Oriental goods. Next time I'm up in Salt Lake, I'll visit my favorite Asian markets and write them up here when I get back.

A Chef's Saturday, Part 2

Next up on my stop: an old favorite, Liberty Heights Fresh. A good friend of mine pointed this place out to me a couple of years ago, and I've been hooked ever since. This place is a lot like Pirate O's, except they have more of an emphasis on fresh foods, such as produce (which I did not see at Pirate O's). These guys have a cheese selection that is hard to beat, certainly in Salt Lake. And the great thing is, they will let you taste any of it before you buy it. While I forgot to pick up the gorgonzola I meant to buy today, I have previously picked up all sorts of cheeses, from Lincolnshire poacher to Parmessiano Reggiano.

They also have a killer selection of fresh olives, which are entirely self-serve. I did pick up some kalamatas, some kind of "olive cocktail" and something marinated in herbs de provence. I also picked up a wee jar of saffron, known far and wide as the world's most expensive food ($7.99 for a tiny, tiny jar, and probably a deal at that).

I don't know if they've ever not had purple potatoes there. These are truly a treat. I've made mashed potatoes with them (with chipotle Tobasco and garlic, of course), I've made appetizer cups with them, I've even made oven fries. Go buy some. Right now. Treat 'em the same way you would red potatoes, and you won't go wrong.

And let's not forget the breads. They have a wide selection of fresh-baked breads available behind the registers, all you need to do is ask. Everyone I know that knew about this place before I did knew them for their bread. I could go on and on about the chocolates, the oils and vinegars, the pastas, everything. But I think it's time you check it out yourself.

A Chef's Saturday, Part 1

So, what does a chef do on his day off? Okay, so I'm not technically a chef. We'll just pretend. So, I decided to take a day and play around in Salt Lake. Contrary to popular belief, there are quite a few places of interest to foodies in Salt Lake. When I mentioned what I was going to do, Levi suggested I check out Pirate O's. Now, I'd never heard of this place before. But when I read on City Search that the owner was a former supplier to Trader Joe's, I knew I had to go.

Boy, am I glad I did. We saw the owner with his long, white ponytail when we walked in. As we began our traversal of the place, the first thing I noticed was a Wall-O-Hotsauce. Finally, I had found the habanero Tabasco I had been looking for! And right on the same shelf was a bottle of Tabasco soy sauce. You know I bought them both. They had a beautiful selection of chocolates, including a German treat that my wife loves called Kinder Eggs. They had a brand of real maple syrup called Northern Comfort that I remembered from living in New Hampshire. I saw squid ink pasta, and a plentiful selection of oils and vinegars. I had also never seen so many different types of Walkers shortbread in one place before.

One of my favorite parts was the refrigerator section. It's a large walk-in fridge stocked with meats, cheeses and drinks. I picked up a bit of manchego cheese, and some mimolette cheese. They had homemade liverwurst (say what you want, but I do actually like the stuff), and a big ol' yard of salami. Brasilians, take note: they stock Antarctica Guarana. They even had one of my favorite brands of ginger beer, Cock and Bull (no kidding).

I loved this place. It was like a playground. Those of you that have a love of food, it's time for you to go. I certainly plan to add it to my list of places to shop in Salt Lake.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Baker's Delight

Okay, so I'm talking about the so-called "bakers potatoes", aka, Idaho or Burbank russets. I do mine differently than other people. When I tell people that I don't wrap my potatoes in foil before baking them, they give me odd looks. That is, until they taste one of my baked potatoes.

First, let me give you some science on this, so that you understand my methods and madness. Potatoes have water in them. When you bake them, even if you don't poke holes in them first, water escapes. And if they're wrapped in foil, the water has no place to go, so it just sticks around in there. When this happens, you're not really baking the potatoes anymore, you're really just steaming them. And that's fine! If you've been reading my blog, you know that I have nothing against steaming potatoes. But when I'm going for a baked potato, I'm looking for something different.

I like to give my potatoes a little coating of oil. After poking a few times with a fork, I just put them in a bowl or on a plate or something, pour some oil over, give them a little Kosher salt, and a nice rub-down. Then I grind a little fresh black pepper on top, sprinkle a little seasoning on top of that (I'm sure it's no surprise I like to use chile powder), and then put them directly on the rack of a 400F oven. Since my oven is electric, I put the potatoes on the top rack, and a sheet of foil on the bottom rack to catch the drippings. After about 40 minutes, I flip the potatoes over, season the other side, and give them another 40 minutes.

When finished, these things are crispy, seasoned, and just a little sweeter than usual. That's because the extreme heat from the oven has started to break some of those starches down into sugars. The holes from the fork give the steam room to escape, while the oil helps conduct heat directly into the potato. I've found that you need at least and hour of baking to accomplish this, if not more. 70 to 80 minutes is what I like. And no, it doesn't work if you do it in the microwave. Believe me, I've seen it tried.

Now, some of you are saying, "well, if it's coated in oil, aren't you actually frying the potato?" Well, we're sure not deep-frying, because the potato isn't submerged in oil. And we're definitely not pan-frying. And what was that other kind of frying? Yeah, I don't know either. But we are getting some of the same benefits, namely, the heat conduction.

When these things are done, pull them from the oven, cut a slit down the middle, and then a few slits crossing over that, kind of like you see on a football. Then using the same pair of tongs that you probably used to flip the potatoes and take them out, give the sides a squeeze. The middle will open up, and steam will start to escape en masse. This is important! If you don't do this pretty quick when the potatoes leave that heat zone, you run the risk of that water staying inside and making the potato all gummy. Give it some butter, chives, cheddar, salsa, chili, whatever you like to put in your potatoes, and enjoy. Don't waste that skin! It's darn tasty. In fact, it's my favorite part.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Sandwich Spread

Every morning before work, I make myself a sandwich. Lately I've been using this awesome whole wheat ciabatta that they sell at the grocery store on my way to work. Usually I add tomatoes, which I have to pat dry a little with paper towels first, so that my sandwich doesn't get soaked. But as it turns out, some jerk already used the last of the tomatoes to make salsa. Do you think that's going to stop me from putting tomatoes on my sandwich? I don't think so. I just used some of the salsa instead. Why not? I put things like tomatoes and peppers and onions on sandwiches all the time, and that's mostly what the salsa is anyway. Only things that are really just a little different are the lime and the cilantro, and that's no biggie.

So I put a nice little helping of homemade salsa on my sandwich. Bonus: the salsa actually had less liquid than the tomatoes by themselves, so I didn't have to pat it dry. What little was left was just enough to season the rest of the sandwich. When I took at bite at lunch today, I was reminded of two recipes: Alton Brown's Pan Bagnat and Emeril Lagasse's muffaletta sandwiches that he so loves to make. I'm thinking that my sandwich must have been at least somewhat reminiscent of what those taste like.

Mental note: stop by Liberty Heights Fresh in Salt Lake, pick up a few fresh olives, and make an olive salad. And then use that to make some muffalettas for lunch next week.

Hacking Dinner

If ever there was a food hack, I think this qualifies.

Imagine this: Company is coming over sometime. We don't know when, or for how long. And the wife and I are really hungry. I look in the fridge, and a voice in my head whines "there's nothing to eat..."

What to do? I needed a plan fast. I look in the pantry, and there's 6 boxes of whole wheat rotini. Perfect! Pasta always does the trick. I put the water on to boil and start looking for something to go with it. Suddenly, a word pops into my head: carbonara. Now, most people would think to themselves, "I can't make carbonara! I've never eaten it, never even looked at a recipe! I only have vague descriptions given to me by my sister, from her husband who lived in Italy for a couple of years and had it a couple of times." This certainly described my experience. But hey, that's never stopped me before, right?

I looked in the fridge, and there was a bag of luncheon meat turkey. I grabbed a few slices, cut then into thin strips, and tossed them in a frying pan with a little cooking spray. I grabbed a jalapeno, seeded and diced it, and tossed it in with the turkey. When the turkey started to get a little browned, I checked the pasta and it wasn't ready yet. So I added a little chicken stock to keep the turkey from burning, just enough that I knew it would evaporate in time. When the pasta was ready, I added it to the turkey, along with an egg, a couple tablespoons each of shredded fontina and Parmesan, a splash of chipotle Tobasco and a little more chicken stock. I tossed it all together in the pan until everything was more or less coated and the egg was cooked enough to be called cooked, and poured it all onto a plate. I garnished with a chiffonade of basil, and we had just enough time to finish it before company came a knockin'.

Now, I know this sounds like an odd combination, and I'm sure Italians everywhere would be laughing at me, but dang, it was good. Very flavorful, just the right amount of kick, and pretty filling. I may actually make it again sometime.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Cinco de Mayo!

This is one of my favorite holidays. Why would that be? Two reasons. First of all, it commemorates the kicking of French tushie by a bunch of noble Mexicans. "Le hey, fellahs! I've got a great idea! Let's invade those stupid Americans while they're off having their petty little civil war! We'll just sneak up through Mexico! Oui oui!" Yeah, nice try France. Too bad for you Mexico's got our back. Second, I celebrate by eating a lot of chips and salsa. And really, that's the point of this whole posting.

I love making salsa fresca (aka fresh salsa). But you've got to make it a couple of days early if you want it to be really good. You really need to give it that kind of time for the flavors to get to know each other. So I made mine tonight. Here's how it went.

6 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced. 1 red bell pepper, 1 anaheim chile, 1 pasilla chile, 4 jalapenos, all seeded and diced. 1/4 red onion, diced. 1 habanero chile, seeded and minced as finely as possible. 2 scallions, chopped. A tablespoon or two of cilantro, chopped. The juice of 2 limes. 1 tablespoon oil. A pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Mix well and refrigerate for a couple of days, stirring once or twice a day. Serve with blue corn chips, if you can find 'em.

Clubbed Soda

Today's lesson: keep an eye on those little mini-fridges. They get colder than you'd think.