November 21, 2007

Brined Faith

Yesterday I received the shock of a lifetime. I learned something that is making me question my fundamental beliefs about life and the universe. A truth which I believed down to my core has been called into question:

Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking does not brine his turkey.

I discovered this yesterday in an interview with Harold McGee in the New York Times. Needless to say, I didn't sleep last night. My mind replayed all the times where I spread the gospel of brining high and low, like the Johnny Appleseed of tryptophan. Could it have been for nothing?

Now don't get me wrong, the brined turkeys I've had have been the best I've ever tasted. But could there be a tastier method out there?

More importantly, if McGee is right, what do I make of Alton Brown, my culinary hero? He's a McGee fan, but a briner nonetheless. Who is right and who is wrong? It's as if Santa and Jesus disagreed on the best way to wrap presents.

For now, perhaps foolishly, I'm going to continue brining my bird. It's what I know. And it's delicious.

For those that have asked, here's the recipe I'm using: Good Eats Roast Turkey.

And here's the episode (in a few parts) where Alton gives the bird its bath:

Posted by Kevin at 09:23 AM | Comments (2)

July 07, 2006

I take up smoking

It's been a week or so since my family ate the pulled pork (recipe)I made last Sunday, and since no one's ill or dead, I can finally talk about how it was made without scaring anybody.

It's kind of a long post, so you'll have to bear with me.

First, let me talk about how hard it is to find a good butcher in this part of New York. I went to 6 grocery stores (Two Stop & Shop's, C-Town, Whole Foods, Costco, Stew Leonard's), and not one what knew what the heck I was asking for. Granted the term "Boston Butt" is a bit obscure, but I would think that a professional butcher would be more versed in butcher slang than a 28-year-old who just watches one show on the Food Network. I finally tracked down someone who knew their stuff at a creepy-looking but friendly meat vendor in a small warehouse district of White Plains (I say vendor instead of butcher, since this place seemed to target their sales toward other businesses).

This place has gourmet written all over it. Also, graffiti.

They knew what I was talking about -- even if I didn't -- and didn't even mind when I came up two bucks short and had to pay the rest in nickels. (I still owe them 25¢)

Anyway, back to the pig. Here's what the 8 pounds of future deliciousness looked like the day before:

The next morning I was up early to start smoking.

Apparently, there's a 5:30am, too.

8 pounds would take too long to cook, so I sliced off a two pound piece so they'd both cook faster. Here's what it looked like after being brined, cut, and covered in dry rub:

On to the fun part: The Smoker. Rather than pay $60 for an actual smoker, I paid $58 (plus gas and tolls looking for parts), for this:

Step one. Find a nice bit terra cotta planter ($13, Home Depot), and place it on some 2x4s (free, leftover from Cornhole).

Step two. Put an electric burner ($10, Walgreens, or $18 on Amazon) on the bottom, using the hole to run the cord through. Dial the burner to high, but don't plug it in yet.

Step three. Put a pie pan (or other heavy-duty pan) on the burner, and add some hardwood chips. Technically, they should be kind of old and dry, but I wouldn't be smoking for too long, so I just went with a piece of Maple 1x4 that I got at Home Depot ($???, Home Depot). I sliced it into 1 inch strips.

Step four. Put in a grill grate ($0, from my Weber grill, or $7 on Amazon). It lined up perfectly with the little lip on the inside of the pot. Someone at the terra-cotta factory watches Good Eats, apparently.

Step five. Top with an inverted planter, same width as the bottom one (also $13, from Home Depot). A replacement grill thermometer ($8, Home Depot, ) does double duty of filling in the hole and giving a temperature reading.

Step 6. Plug in the burner, and preheat to 220°. This took some fiddling with the burner to get it right. That's actually a big pain because you have to disassemble the whole thing to change it, so I recommend getting it right on the first try, or maybe hooking it up to a dimmer switch. Turns out for my burner I had to dial it to 11.

Once I had my smoker going, I just sat back with a book and waited, changing the chips whenever the smoke stopped (about once an hour).

Thawing my breakfast on my future dinner

I was pressed for time, so I cheated a bit and switched the meat to a 300° oven after 4 hours of smoking.

After pulling, here was the delicious result:

Sure, it took a while, but man, that was good.

Posted by Kevin at 08:30 AM | Comments (5)

June 25, 2006

One day I'll fry away

A quick shoutout to my good friend Matt, for giving me this awesome deep fryer as a thank-you gift for bailing him out of jail again (good luck with those counterfeiting charges, man!).

Now that's a Fry Daddy!

It should make all my frying adventures a piece of cake. Mmmm... fried cake....

This man knows how to give gifts. He's taken three of the top five spots on my "Best Gifts I've ever received" (You all should consider that a challenge)

1."I'm just here for More Food" cookbookMatt
2.Gift of LifeParents
3.Deep FryerMatt
4.Change Counting machineAmy
5.Cast Iron cornbread panMatt
6.Wedded blissAmy
5,432Smack on the ear, for putting our marriage 6thAmy
Posted by Kevin at 10:37 PM | Comments (4)

June 14, 2006

My Tart Will Go On

Pop Tarts
I hate Pop Tarts. I really do. They start with such a great premise -- pie, for breakfast, how great is that? -- but then completely fall short on the delivery. I fall for them every time I see one, too: "Oooh, Pop tarts! (munch, much) Ugh, Pop tarts..."

I like to imagine that one day at Kellogg's, the guy who hangs drywall collided with the guy from the supply room and had one of those "Hey, you guy rubber cement in my drywall", "Hey, you got drywall in my rubber cement. Wow, this tastes terrible" type moments. A guy from the marketing department happened to be walking by, and a viola! -- the PopTart was born. (Later, someone spilled some glue on a batch, and the icing versions were created.)

I guess Alton Brown experiences the same disappointment I do, since he went and came up with his own recipe for them, which I made this past weekend.

The dough. Adorable, no? Looks like my brain (about the same size, too), but tastier. Although I'll never know for sure...
After I rolled out the dough, cut it up, and added some filling. That, for the record, is too much filling. Most of it later burnt the hell out of my tongue and ended up on my shirt. I'm starting to see why Kellogg's is so stingy with theirs.
Filling #1. Strawberry Rhubarb preserves, made by the Trappist monks. Good to see these monks are doing something productive. Not like those lazy ones who just pray all the time.
Filling #2: Raspberry Jam. With a name like Smucker's, it's got to be good. Also, 90% seeds. (Still tasty, though)
Putting a lid on it. Looks like a big ravioli, doesn't it?
After the first bake. Just like Pop Tarts, they don't brown until you toast them. Unlike Pop Tarts, they're not terrible once you do.
One of the wonkier-looking ones, toasted. It may look like a cheese calzone, but it tastes more like a raspberry one. Good stuff.

I was going to attempt some icing, but these were pretty gosh darned good without any.

It felt good to restore the good name of Pie for Breakfast. And I have a few more culinary adventures up my sleeve, so stay tuned.

Posted by Kevin at 06:27 PM | Comments (2)

May 31, 2006

There's always room for profitable Jello

Amy and I have been on a pudding kick lately, in part because it's a dessert that's not horribly bad for you, and in part because I just like to say the word puddin'. All this puddin' has left me with a hankerin' for the no-longer-produced Jello 1-2-3, which I ate as a kid. I'm not exactly sure when it was made, but I remember sitting down to watch Alf with a nice cold glass of 1-2-3, if that gives any indication.

Anyhow, I was planning on writing a nice letter to the Jello company demanding that they reinstate Jello 1-2-3 or else I'd slip ground horse hooves in their products. But while searching the Internet, I discovered that (a) Jello already contains ground horse hooves, so my threat wouldn't carry much weight, and (b) someone already started a petition to bring back Jello 1-2-3

So all I can do now is encourage you to sign said petition and wait, spoon in hand, for the good people at Jello to do the right thing. I guess I can also get started on that petition to bring back Alf...

P.S. More posts a'coming in the next few days. Sorry for the slowness lately.

Posted by Kevin at 08:35 AM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2006

Mmmmm.... bacon... caramel?

With all this real estate stuff going on lately, I haven't had much time for cooking anything new. But when I saw this recipe for Bacon Caramel, I decided to make the time. At first, I thought it was a joke. (Now that I've cooked and eaten it ... I'm still not so sure.) But I couldn't resist, and since my friend Scott is a bacon fiend, I knew he'd help me eat it even if it was terrible.

Bringing home the bacon
A nice plus to making this recipe was that I got to buy a package of bacon. Bacon is not usually something Amy and I have around the house, but it is one of my favorite foods. The recipe only called for about 12 slices, so I got to eat the other 6 in slice form. I decided to cook them before eating.

In the interest of scientific research, and as practice for the main event, I cooked these other slices using a few different methods to see which came out best: Microwave, baking on a rack, and baking on the Kevin Cooney bac-o-matic (patent pending) -- a pan with wooden skewers instead of fixed metal rods, to allow the bacon to shrink, rather get stretched thin by a normal rack.

Amy and I preferred both baked methods to the microwave (too rubbery). As for the bac-o-matic, Amy couldn't tell the difference between those slices and the other baked slices. I thought the bac-o-matic was a bit better, but I'm partial. I'd like to try metal instead of wood next time, though.

Candy time
I have some nice pictures of the process below, but if you'd like to see more, you can head on over to the original recipe from VisualRecipes.

I gathered the caramel ingredients for a final family photo before the big melt. (The cream was still in the fridge). The brown stuff up front is a combo of maple syrup and bourbon, since the recipe called for either, and I happened to have both. I lightly toasted the almonds on the stove beforehand. I feel I should point out that I prepped way more almonds than I needed, but I doubt you'll actually be making this recipe, so I don't think it really matters.

What 11 slices of crumbled bacon looks like.

Since the bourbon was already out...

The melting pot. Note the ingenious use of paperclip for the thermometer probe. FoodNetwork, here I come!

Prepping the pan with some bacon on bottom. We wouldn't want it all on top, now would we?

Viola! Caramel, 10 slices of bacon, and some toasted almonds. Combined together, for some reason.

I finished cooking pretty late in the evening, and it needed 3 hours to cool, so I had to wait until the next day before trying my new creation. So I stashed it in the fridge and went to bed. This morning I brought the pan to work and had my first piece with my morning coffee (bacon is a breakfast food, after all).

The result? After only a 1.5"x1.5" piece, I feel like I've had a blood transfusion, but they hooked me up to the pickle juice machine by accident. I now have a bad case of the jitters, and I think my heart rate is up. (maybe coffee wasn't the best pairing).

In other words, it's delicious.

Okay, no, it's not delicious, but it's not bad either. The general opinion of those that have tasted it so far seems to be: "Hmm... it's not bad. I'll finish the rest of my piece later."

So, Bacon Caramel recipe, back to the recipe file you go. The big, circular file that gets taken out on Mondays and Thursdays.

Posted by Kevin at 12:31 PM | Comments (10)

January 06, 2006

Watch your back, Mishawaka Brewing Company

Back in college there was a local pub with which I established a passionate love/hate relationship that continues to this day, whenever I return for a football game. They serve quite possibly my favorite meal (something called an "Irish Meat Pie", kind of a cross between Shepard's pie and Beef Wellington) and brew my favorite beer. The problem is, their kitchen is only open from 6:00pm to 6:04pm on alternate Tuesdays, and the beer (a Pumpkin dessert beer) is only served about two weeks a year.

I've never seen another restaurant that serves anything like the Irish meat pie, and every other pumpkin beer I've tried tastes more like the Irish meat pie than their pumpkin beer. So I've decided to take matters into my own hands: I'm going to these things myself.

I've started with the Irish Meat Pie, since I don't like to cook after drinking. More importantly, I don't have a brewing kit. Yet.

Lucky for me, the restaurant posted their menu on their website (the fools!), so I was able to get the basic description to refresh my memory. After a few culinary disasters, I'm getting pretty darn close. Here's the basic operation:

"Damn You, MBC" meat pie (serves 2)

1lb sirloin steak
1c mashed potatoes
3/4c cheese. I went with colby-jack.
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg
1 tbsp water
Flour for dusting, and for gravy-making
salt and pepper
herbs if you have 'em
vegetable oil

  1. Defrost the pastry sheet according to instructions
  2. Heat up a pan (preferably cast-iron), and preheat-oven to 500°. You can even heat the pan in the oven. How efficient
  3. Prep the steak by oiling lightly with a neutral, high-heat oil, and seasoning with kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Sear steak in a hot pan over high heat, about 1 minute one each side.
  5. Move steak and pan to 500° oven, cook about 1-2 min on each side for medium rare. You want to undercook the steak in this step, since we'll be re-cooking them later in the pie, and we don't want it to overcook then
  6. Remove steak from oven, and rest on a plate (the steak, not you).
  7. Reduce oven temp to 400°
  8. Make a bit of gravy using the flour and pan drippings if you can. (optional)
  9. Prep the pastry: Lay it out flat, and push any ripped seams back together. Flour lightly on both sides.
  10. Cut out about a 6½" square from the pastry. You'll be left with an L shaped piece. Cut the L into two 6½" long strips (you'll have a bit left). and patch the two pieces into another 6½" square. Place both squares on a lightly floured sheet pan.
  11. Slice the steak crosswise into ¼" slices.
  12. Mix the sliced steak, potatoes, cheese, sauce, and any herbs together
  13. Place meat mixture into center of each pastry square. I should have measured here, but I didn't, so put in as much as you think it can hold.
    That looks like enough
  14. Whisk egg and water together, brush some on as a border of the top side of the pastry square.
  15. Fold up each corner of each pastry around the filling, and seal edges together by pinching. The egg wash should act as glue.
    Pinched Closed
  16. Brush the outside of the newly-formed pouches with the egg mixture.
  17. Bake pouches at 400° for about 30 minutes until they crisp up and turn a pretty golden brown. Awwww...
  18. Bonus: If you have any spare chocolate laying around, roll that up in the scrap piece of pastry, and bake it right along with the pies.
  19. Eat, while planning how to get your wife to agree to buying a brewing kit.
P.S. The Mishawake Brewing Company is actually a lovely establishment, and aside from some bad timing on my part (and a rude waitresses or two), I've always had a nice time there. So if you have the misfortune to be in Mishawaka, IN, I recommend stopping by.
Posted by Kevin at 08:48 AM | Comments (3)

November 28, 2005

Let's Talk Turkey

Hey, everyone, how was your Thanksgiving? Was your turkey good? Yes? Hmmm... well, I'm not sure how to break this to you, but you're quite wrong: your turkey was terrible. I mean, really gawdawful. I know, it's quite a shock, isn't it? To find out that what you thought was a perfectly good turkey was in fact a minor culinary disaster.

How do I know that your turkey was a terrible, stringy embarrassment? Because odds are your turkey wasn't brined, like this one was:

Two turkeys

Therefore, it was terrible. Don't worry, though, brining is easy, so you can do it next year! Here's the method I used:

  1. Procure a large bucket, preferably an empty one that does not have "industrial strength" and/or "hair removal" written on the outside. Mine at one point held the largest quantity of chicken salad known to man.
  2. Fill bucket with brine, water, ice, and love.
  3. Place turkey in brine. Add water until turkey sleeps with the fishes.
  4. Place covered bucket in cold place (I used a garage) for 6 hours. Lie through teeth to assure wife that this is perfectly safe.
  5. Remove turkey from brine, and cook at 500° for 30 minutes. Ignore/remove-batteries-from smoke alarms (mine only went off once).
  6. Continue cooking turkey at 350° until done, about 90 minutes.

Or, use the actual recipe that I used.

Yield: 1 moist, golden brown and delicious turkey, and dozens of compliments.

Posted by Kevin at 12:33 PM | Comments (3)

August 08, 2005

Daily Grind

I think my Stand Mixer is psychic. While mixing up some cookie dough the other day, the attachment cover popped out of it for no apparent reason. I had no way of knowing, but at that moment, my free meat grinder attachment was making it's way through the postal system, and the mixer was simply preparing for it. The grinder arrived on our doorstep only two days later, after a grueling 6-8 weeks for delivery. So either the mixer is psychic, or it's somehow receiving messages from KitchenAid headquarters. (And to think people scoffed when I got the mixer with an Internet connection).

Amy emailed me at work to let me know it arrived, so on the way home that night I stopped home and picked up some cheap steaks, so the six-year-old inside me could play with his new toy A.S.A.P.

Christmas in August
This was waiting when I got home

I tell you, there's nothing better than a freshly ground burger. Amy, not a big beef fan to begin with, didn't really notice any difference, although she did enjoy it. I will admit that the difference may be in my head -- not to mention that it's a bit creepy to insert beef, and see it come out the holes like a grown-up playdough factory -- but I think it's worth it the effort.

So if you need anything ground, I'm your man.

Posted by Kevin at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)