Category Archives: blog

Beer Can Chicken– Does the Beer matter?

I finally got around to making Beer Can Chicken after seeing it in about 400 cooking shows, 273 cooking magazines, and 4.7 million websites. In most of those presentations I saw a common thing– the beer being used was typically a watered-down American pilsner. And I thought, “well, American Pilsner, you can make football even more entertaining with your wonderful commercials, but I doubt you can punch up the flavor of a grill-roasted chicken.” And with that in mind, I sought to find a full-flavored beer that came in a can, would lend it self well in aromatic cooking, and was worthy of getting shoved up a chicken’s butt.

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Defending Against Grease Splatter

Aluminum Foil Gone Wild

Or, more accurately, “How I maintain diplomatic relations when cooking on the griddle in my Mother-in-Law’s kitchen”.

I was going through photos from this last year and had a laugh at this one. I can’t remember what it was I was making, I think I was using it to sear a beef tenderloin, but this was the defensive wall that went up around the stove in my MIL’s kitchen. Obviously, cleanup was a breeze!
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Coffee Talk at BlogWorldExpo

It must be pure as an angel.
Strong as love.
Black as the devil
And hot as hell.

– Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord

I’m at BlogWorldExpo 2008, in the cool, stylish, exciting, entertaining, tragically seedy, and love-or-hate-it city of Las Vegas. I’ve much to blog about which I eventually will including a tour of Belgium beers at the Burger Bar with Cliff Lusso from Global Beer, a fantastic lunch at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, and an excellent dinner at Todd English’s Olives.

But it was coffee on my mind this morning after a late night of exploring the LV Strip. Of course SBUX was my ultimate supplier– I spotted a Peet’s at Mandalay Bay, but it’s a little too far. The drip delivered in it’s two tablespoons per six ounces, and I got my fix.

And therein lies the question: two Tbl of coffee to six ounces of water? Really? Have you ever tried that at home? I have, proper grind density and all, and do you know what? Strength: Pure biodiesel. So what’s up with that recommended recipe, Starbucks? We find that at home, around 1.5 Tbl (or a well-rounded Tbl) per six ounces produces a perfectly strong brew for us, though everyone complains, er, remarks, that our coffee is on the strong side. I feel that anything less produces a taste that’s over-extracted and burned.

So how does your mileage vary?

Ceviche Crab Stack

Last weekend I prepared a surf-and-turf dinner for eight with a twist. No steamed lobsters and New York strips this time around, instead a spicy, tangy journey across Central America. First, petit filet mignons with a Mexican-inspired red wine and port reduction infused with the spice and flavor of smoked jalapenos, thyme, mushrooms, and onion. For the starch, I went with fried yucca. The surf came in a stack of rice, a mixture of mango, avocado, lime juice, and jalapeno, and a top-layer mixture of swordfish ceviche and jumbo lump crab meat. Plated, it all came together like this:

(click to crabstackusize)

Building the stack was the biggest challenge of the day, fortunately a make-ahead item for this menu, as it’s served cold. Making the stacks requires a ring mold, or even a short (and, of course, clean!) section of pvc pipe from your local hardware store. I used an adjustable, plunger-style measuring cup to build the stacks, which allowed me to really give them a good squeeze that held them in one piece and keep a uniform size.

I made this for eight, so recipe-wise, I’ve tried to reduce it for four.
The rice:
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2″ cube of crystalized ginger (optional)
Cook the rice using your preferred method. Let it cool, then refrigerate, as it’s easier to work with cold at assembly time.
The mango mixture middle:
1 1/2 mangoes, diced in 1/4″ chunks
1 avocado, diced
1/2 medium-sized red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
zest of 1/2 lime
juice from 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
Gently combine all ingredients until evenly mixed. Refrigerate. Onwards!
The crab and and swordfish ceviche:
1 lb fresh swordfish, diced in 1/4″ chunks
1 lb fresh jumbo lump crabmeat
juice of 1/2 lime
zest of 1/2 lime
1/2 to 1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce

Combine the lime juice, zest, and hot sauce with the swordfish. Place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let the acidic lime juice go to work on the swordfish. Remove from the fridge and combine with the crab meat.
And now, we stack.

(click to crabstackusize)

The first layer, the base, is the rice. Next comes the mango mixture, followed by the seafood. I did everything upside-down in the mixing cup, turned it over, gave it a good press, and then slowly lifted the mixing cup up, while pressing the rest of the plunger out. (Maybe that needs a video or something) Any how…

Measuring it out it’s about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of rice for the base, 1/3 cup of mango mixture, and 1/3 cup of the seafood.
Top it with three thin slices of cucumber and then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Garnish with a spring of fresh cilantro. Consume.

Mussels with Smoked Salmon and Cream Sauce

I saw this recipe in a cook book at my mom’s house and it seemed like it would be good. It was so-so. I’ll be sticking with this one in the future.
The recipe, in case you’re looking for something different:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 clove chopped garlic
4 lbs mussels
3 oz (1/3 cup) smoked salmon
In a 5qt pot, combine first 3
Bring to a Simmer
Add mussels and salmon and cook over medium heat, uncovered 5-6 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Rosemary Grilled Chicken Thighs

Add this to your “Things-to-keep-on-hand-for-fast-and-excellent-meals” list: Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. This is one item that I try to keep bulk packs of in the freezer. Typically I buy a 16-pack and divide it in half for freezer storage. It’s easy to prepare, forgiving to overcook, has a decent amount of fat-giving flavor (just be sure to trim some off to prevent grill flare-ups), and even the free-range, organic variety is easy on the wallet. A sixteen pack typically gets me two dinners and two lunches of leftovers.
And, oh, is it versatile! Fine Cooking featured a few different recipes this past summer for grilling them and I’ve yet to be disappointed. A couple of weeks ago I tried the Rosemary Grilled recipe and it rocked.

It’s a simple rub featuring minced, fresh rosemary, brown sugar, kosher salt, and some crushed red pepper flakes for some bite. My herb garden from the summer is still kicking out rosemary despite being iced-over a few times, so I snagged a fresh sprig. I also added some chopped green onion that I happened to have on hand. Good move.

On the side is an orange marmalade, rice wine vinegar, and rosemary dipping sauce. Typically not an orange marmalade kind of guy, its sweet and sour accompaniment convinced me otherwise. It’s simple to prepare—one cup of marmalade, ¼ rice wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of minced rosemary all warmed together on the stove.
The chicken itself is easy—combine the rub, toss it with the chicken and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and then it’s onto a medium-high grill for about five minutes per side. Done.
I served it with a side of simple jasmine rice. One little cool twist on the rice was dropping in a cube of crystallized ginger to cook with the rice. It added a light hint of ginger flavor to the rice—just enough to make you to say, “what is that?” (in a good way, really.) and proved a nice pairing to the Asian-inspired chicken.
So stock up on the thighs. And make this first. Then, follow it up next weekend with the Grilled Tandoori-Style Chicken Thighs. That was pure, curried bliss.

Peaches and Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

After searching the net for a copy cat recipe of this lavish coffee cake, discovered at the café “Peaches” in North Conway, NH, a thought occurred to me, a memory actually. I had eaten this before, in fact I have even made this cake in my previous life (BC, “Before Children…”) My roommate in college gave me this recipe after she successfully served it to her three starving roomies. I did tweak the recipe a bit so that it lined up more with what I sampled at “Peaches”. The result was perfect. I accomplished a coup d’etat of their famous, guarded recipe. Or maybe I am not so clever and the recipe has been lurking in housewives’ recipe boxes for generations as it had mine for the last eighteen years. Que sera sera!
The recipe…
Grease the bottom of a 9″ square baking pan
3/4 cup flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3 1/4 oz box vanilla non instant pudding
3 T. butter
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/8 t. anise extract
Combine in a large mixing bowl and beat for two minutes at medium speed and pour into prepared pan. Drain a can of peach halves (reserve the juice), you will need 5 halves sliced very thinly and placed evenly over the batter. In the same mixing bowl (no need to mess another), mix one 8 ounce brick of cream cheese, 3 tablespoons of the reserved juice, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Pour this over the peaches with in one inch of the edge of the pan. Sprinkle top with cinnamon and a little sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is still soft but a little bubbly. Eat warm and store in fridge and reheat as needed.

Summer Produce

Finally! I said we were on the map when Starbucks showed up in our local strip. I said we were really on the map when Clyde’s opened up it’s flagship restaurant just a few blocks down from our house. Oh, and Bonefish Grill– we’ve arrived!
But what I think what really puts a community on the map is the arrival of the Saturday Farmer’s Market. And this past Saturday it finally happened– on the back lot of our neighborhood community center, Farmer John (I kid you not) pulled up his pick up trucks and unloaded palettes of locally-grown produce. I grabbed Graham and we loaded up on squash, beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peaches, and a dozen ears of corn. Here’s a little tip– be sure to inspect the ears of corn your five-year-old picks out, they may come with extra, slightly wormy, protein.

I’m also excited about the produce that I’ve managed to get going in my own garden this year. First, there’s an herb garden of thyme, sage, basil, and rosemary. So far I’ve only used the basil and rosemary as I haven’t been cooking as much this summer as thought I would. I will have to remedy that.

Of course, what’s a garden without tomatoes. I’m trying out some giant, heirloom beefsteaks. The plant started out a little slow, but midway through the summer it exploded in size and in blooms. It’s finally loaded up with fruit and I’m having visions of tomato, mozzarella, and basil salads in my future.

The biggest surprise was my single jalapeño plant. I’ve harvested quite a few peppers from that plant and it seems I haven’t made a dent. There’s enough there to try a little experimentation. I think I’m going to try putting a bunch in the smoker and make some of my own chipotle sauce. I’ll document how that goes– it’s going to be spicy!

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Voice from the Crave — Linguine and Clams

For some reason I’ve been craving spaghetti and clams for the past couple of days. So today Tonya and I made a quick stop to the Safeway on the way home where I picked up a couple of cans of clams– yeah, yeah, I know they weren’t fresh out of the rake– but they got the job done admirably. I also picked a cheap bottle of white wine while I was there to use for cooking.
This is another really easy one and again even the kids liked it. The only “work” part was crushing the garlic. I kind of played around with this one and added about a tablespoon basil and a pinch of oregano so it ended up being a merging of pesto and white wine clam sauce. Adding a pinch of ground red pepper added a hint of zing, too. And let’s face it, the smell of garlic being sautéed in olive oil is olfactory perfection.
Try it some time:
2 6 oz. Cans of Chopped Clams in Clam Juice
2-3 Garlic Cloves, Crushed/Minced (go for the 3, go for the 3!)
1/3 Cup Finely Chopped White Onion
2 Tbl Butter
1 Tbl Basil
1/4 tsp Ground Red Pepper
1/2 cup White Wine
1 lb Thin Linguini/Spaghetti
Salt and Pepper to taste
Start the water for the pasta– don’t forget to salt the water!
Open the cans of clams and drain the juice from each one into a container– save the juice, you’ll be needing it! Coat the bottom of a pan with Olive Oil and heat on medium-high. Saute the garlic– the kitchen will now smell perfect. Lower the heat and carefully add the wine and the reserved clam juice from the cans. Then add the Basil, Red Pepper, and a few grinds of black pepper. Let it simmer.
Cook the pasta. When the pasta is almost ready, add the chopped clams to the simmering sauce and let them heat thoroughly– don’t cook them too long or they’ll get too tough and rubbery.
Drain the pasta, put it in a large bowl, add the butter and give it few tosses. Pour the clam sauce over top. Serve it up.
Add a Caesar salad as a side, and some white wine, and you’re go to go.