Mostly about food, this blog is just a place for me to throw things that are of interest to me. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by an look around. This represents just some of the stops on the various pathways that this amateur home cook finds himself.

You may find that these foods tend toward protein and away from carbohydrates - this is due to diabetic issues, so I try to only sparingly use carbs, and good ones at that. Of course, sometimes I forget....

Feel free to drop me a line with any suggestions or just to let me know what you think. Thanks!

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I want to thank you for the time that you spend here, and hope that you can find useful things here.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Weapon in the Arsenal

Santa Claus was good to us this year, a 22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain bullet arrived just before Christmas. Of course, the weather was damp very windy, so it was the centerpiece of the living room for a couple of days. It sat there, unmoving, like the monolith in the movie "2001". In preparation for the first fire, Christmas Day was spent cranking out 10 lbs. of bratwurst. Nine lbs. was vac'ed for freezing, and the rest refrigerated for the big day.

Started off with a medium sized load of briquets, using a chimney full of lump in the center for the starter. This is one version of the Minion Method - allowing the charcoal to catch over time rather than firing it all at once. Four chunks of mesquite (not shown) were placed throughout the load to start sequentially as the charcoal burned.

Next, two gallons of water were added to the water pan to keep the humidity up and to act as a "thermal flywheel" in helping to regulate the temperature over time. The racks were added, and I topped it off to let it come to temperature.

Once the smoker hit 235 degrees, on went the four reserved brats (with a leftover spud) and a rack of spares in a Kansas City trim. the other small pieces of meat shown below represent about half of the trim from doing the KC trim. Some people, unbelievably throw this stuff away. These pieces cook much faster than the ribs and were reserved for "cook's treat". There has to be a reward for all the hard work, after all!

These ribs were done "Texas style" - i.e., without saucing or foiling. Here's the way I do it. After trimming the rack to it's final form, the meat is dried well with paper towels. At that point it is liberally coated with Worcestershire sauce, and rather than a traditional rub, I use Bolner's 'Fiesta' brand Fajita Seasoning. There are no red pepper or sugar components, it's almost like a steak seasoning with extra garlic. Give it a try!

The WSM maintained 225 to 235 degrees throughout the smoke session. The temperature was about 55 degrees and there was a 5-10 mph wind. I only had to adjust the lower vents once during the course of the smoke.

Notice the Thin Blue Smoke - just like it ought to be...

Below is the result - four perfectly smoked brats and a great rack! The little sausage spud and the "cook's treats" didn't survive the afternoon, however. They were consumed in the course of "quality control".

The WSM cranked out an excellent smoke ring on the ribs, as shown below, which was great to see as these were very meaty spares. All in all the first smoke on the new cooker was a great success!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mary Travers - R.I.P.

"Mary Travers passed away today. After successful recovery from leukemia through a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, Mary succumbed to the side effects of one of the chemotherapy treatments."

That's how the home page for Peter, Paul and Mary leads off today. She has been fighting leukemia for a number of years, and the last time I saw her a few years ago she was a bit shaky, but cranky and determined as ever.

Peter, Paul and Mary played a large role in my early life in learning about music. Maybe their messages and presence have helped contribute to the tempering of my generally conservative outlook. Whatever effect they have had on my life, it's been instructive and integral.

It's going to be very strained and difficult evening at the Kerrville Folk Festival the next year we celebrating Peter's birthday.

This one's for you, Mary.

VERY LAST DAY (Noel Paul Stookey & Peter Yarrow)

Everybody gonna pray - on the very last day
Oh when they hear that bell a-ring the world away
Everybody gonna pray to the heavens on the judgment day.

Well you can sing about the great king David
And you can preach about the wisdom of Saul
But the judgment falls on all mankind
When the trumpet sounds the call.
All equal and the same
When the Lord he calls your name
Get ready, brother, for that day.

Well one day soon all men will stand
His Word will be heeded in all the land
Men shall know and men shall see,
We all are brothers and we all are free
Mankind was made of clay
Each of us in the very same way
Get ready, brother, for that day

Oh well the law is given and the law is known,
A tale is told and the seed is sown,
From dust we came into dust we’ll go,
You the know the Lord once told us so.
Each brother takes his hand,
Heed the meaning of the Lord’s command
Get ready, brother, for that day.

Everybody gonna pray - on the very last day
Oh when they hear that bell a-ring the world away
Everybody gonna pray to the heavens on the judgment day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A better path to Mexican ground beef?

Do you like simple Mexican food, but sometimes the grease is overwhelming? Dislike the sometimes harsh taste of pan-fried ground meat? Well, here's a little-experienced method usually found in tiny hole-in-the-wall cocinas and neighborhood Mexican restaurants.

Have you ever considered making tacos, etc., with boiled ground meat? Done in this method, you retain all the great taste and you lose almost all the nasty grease - and on top of all that it has a different almost velvety mouth feel. It even freezes well. La comida mas fina!

Here's one way:

2 lb. ground chuck
2T chili powder
1t cumin
1t garlic powder
1t paprika
1t salt
1/2 bell pepper
1/2 onion

Put the meat in a pan and add seasonings (plus more to taste). Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for about an hour. Every 15 minutes or so break up the meat so it isn't lumpy. Just make sure you don't run out of water - keep just enough to cover meat. Once done, add finely-diced onion & bell pepper and simmer like another 20 minutes or so. It will be pretty finely textured, like this:
Remove from stove pour into strainer. Let the meat sitting the strainer for 10 or 15 minutes to make sure all grease drains out, pressing it if need be. You want to keep the liquid, but get rid of the grease. Put the liquid in the freezer for a few minutes. When grease separates and starts to harden on top, take a spoon and remove all of it. Save about a cup of the cleaned liquid - the rest can be saved towards a soup, or poured over the dog's food for a treat, a little at a time.

Place the reserved liquid in a small pan bring to a boil. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of corn starch in about 1/4 cup of cold water add to liquid, simmer 4 or 5 more minutes. Dump the reserved meat into the pan and mix liquid well into meat. Now we have tasty moist taco meat, but grease free. It can be used for so many things, but here I demonstrate the simple taco:
I mixed up some fresh Pico de Gallo, and put it in the fridge to chill:
Then it was time to assemble the tacos. Atop the meat is a light shred of cheddar cheese, and the entire plate dusted with chile powder before topping with the Pico de Gallo. I didn't have any, or it might have been treated to a few avocado slices as well.

Every bit as good as it looks!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Better Garlic Bread

Nothing sours a good Italian meal faster than soggy, drippy garlic bread. A great garlic bread topping would have a good consistency and texture, adding to the bread and not just soaking it.

My father came up with a concoction that works pretty well. I changed the mix a little, and here's what I am using nowadays. I realize that this recipe make a lot, but it freezes well and keeps in the fridge for a long time too. This way, you don't have to make it too often, but it is always available.

1 lb unsalted butter
1 cup real mayonnaise
3/4 cup grated Parmesan (or Parmesan & Romano mix)
5 T garlic powder

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Do this over low heat so it doesn't burn, it may take a while.
Once melted, mix in the mayonnaise and garlic powder. The mayonnaise adds a nice consistency without affecting the taste. Continue mixing occasionally until combined. I used a stick blender (what Emeril calls a 'boat motor'), which will make it really smooth.
Pour the mixture into a glass or metal bowl, and place the bowl in the freezer until the mixture starts to thicken up. You will see that it has separated.
Next, grab a spatula and mix it into an even consistency. You'll have to do this again, so don't wash it just yet. After it sets up spme, mix a final time until uniform, then back in the freezer it goes. This time it will remain mixed, but still be spreadable. Now stir in the grated cheese.
At this point I fill half-pint Mason jars for the fridge. Now, on to the tasting! You will want to pull this from the fridge a while before you use it, because it will set up hard, just like butter.

Spread the mixture on your bread. I didn't have any great breads on hand for the photos, so I used a light rye for these shots.
Pop the bread in under the broiler until it just starts to turn a golden light brown. Notice that the spread has formed a nice coating, instead of disappearing into the bread. Just enough soaks in to make the bread tender from the oven. You can also spread this on fresh hot bread or freshly made toast.

Sprinkle with a dash of parsley, and eat!
This spread can be used for other things as well, and you'll see some of that next time.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I picked this up from Diane, who grew up in the vicinity of the Java Sea. She has lots of good stories, and shared some good food ideas. I have changed it little - mostly just quantifying the ingredients. Tasty and addictive, they are darned good when fresh from the oven, and pretty tasty even from the fridge. The filling even freezes and keeps well. The quantities below are what I used for this batch, but the recipe scales very well, so you can make as much as you like. You'll never want to make just a little...

2 1/2 lbs* bottom round steak, diced into 1/4" pieces
white onions, diced into 1/4" pieces, equal volume to amount of meat
potatoes, diced into 1/4" pieces, equal volume to amount of meat
canned biscuits (not the flaky type)

*(you can scale this recipe to about any amount - makes about 20 per pound of meat)

For each pound of meat, you will need:
1/2 tsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp oil
1 tsp Malaysian hot curry powder, vary amount to taste

salt & pepper

Clean your meat well of all fat, gristle and connective tissue.
Dice it into even cubes, about 1/4" in size. Form this into a pile on a clean plate or cutting board.
Next, cut potatoes to the same size, 1/4" dice. Keep doing this until you have a pile equal in size to the meat. Repeat for the onions. You want to end end up with three equal-sized piles - meat, potatoes and onions.
Add oil to large frying pan over medium heat, then when at temperature, add meat and brown. Reduce heat and cook until tender. When done, remove meat and set aside.
Next, add butter, onions and potatoes to frying pan, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent and potatoes start to soften. Below is a bad pic of the curry powder I use. There are many kinds available, but the Malaysian has a unique balance of heat, sweet and flavor that work in this dish. The others don't seem to have the same effect.
Add the meat back to the frying pan, add the curry powder, and stir to incorporate. Turn heat down and stir occasionally, letting the flavors meld.
Remove curry filling from pan, set aside, and let cool. Then refrigerate until ready to assemble the puffs.

You can make the dough yourself, and roll it out to make these. I know how good they are, and don't want to wait that long to eat some. After all, the dough is only the delivery vehicle for the main event. I find that cheap 'whomp' biscuits work out well for this, and are always the perfect size. Just don't use the flaky kind.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Open up a can of biscuits and separate them out. The following works best if you keep them cold. Pull, stretch and flatten the biscuits out to about a 5" diameter. Try and do this without creating holes, as they can be difficult to close back up successfully.
Drop a heaping tablespoon of cold filling in the center of the biscuit, taking great care to keep it away from the outer inch of the biscuit round.
Carefully fold the biscuit in half, pinching the edges together. Try and get the air out of inside as you do this.
Repeat the above until you have enough to space out on a greased baking sheet. Actually, I use a Silpat, so there's no oil and no sticking. Place the pan in the oven and bake them until they start to turn a golden brown on top. You know what biscuits are supposed to look like - they should look like that. I started peeking at these after about 15 minutes.
Pull them out, move them to a rack to cool and repeat the process until you have made as many curry puffs as you like. Freeze the remaining filling -it keeps well for a long time. Finally, the reward!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chicken & Dumplings - Thick, Rich and Simple

There are probably more recipes for chicken & dumplings than anyone can count. Some are very simple, and some are just exhaustive. This recipe is very simple, but it takes a fair amount of time, start to eat, about 3-4 hours. Although simple, it comes out nice and thick and rich.

3 1/2 -4 lbs of chicken, either one whole bird or several parts
1 1/2 lbs of white onions, about 3 medium onions
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter
2 t salt
1 t ground black pepper
1 t garlic powder
1/8 t cayenne pepper
32 oz. chicken stock (I used low-sodium boxed stock)
'whomp' biscuits (more on this later)

In a large dutch over or heavy pot with lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Coarsely chop the onions, and add onions and salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne to butter. Stir occasionally until onions are translucent.
Raw fresh chicken almost always needs to be cleaned well before being cooked. There is inevitably a lot of excess fat and skin to remove:After you get it all cleaned up, you can see all the trash you wont have to eat:
If you are using a while bird, you'll find a lot of removable stuff at the rear opening - just cut off all the loose skin and fat, and the tail. You can really see the difference with all the junk removed form your chicken:
Place your whole trimmed bird (or trimmed pieces) in the pot on top of the onions, and add chicken stock. Add water if needed to almost cover chicken.

Cover the pot and let simmer for at least 45 minutes and check chicken for being done. Once done, remove chicken pieces and let cool somewhat on a rack.
Now comes the time-consuming part. Once the chicken pieces are cool enough to handle, get a large pan and start picking. You'll be pulling all the meat off of the chicken with your fingers. This is the best way to get all the pieces - fingers are the best tools. Once you get all the meat together, discard the remaining bones, fat and skin. Now, using your fingers, go through the meat again, shredding it as you go.
This also gives you another chance at catching and pieces of fat, gristle, bone or other junk that sneaked by the first time. You don't want to serve this with little pieces of crap in it. Dump the shredded chicken back into the pot of onions and broth.

"Whomp Biscuits"

Time for the dumplings. There are dozens of ways to make and add dumplings to your dish. They pretty much all involve the same ingredients, and frankly, it's not worth the extra time to me to make the dough, etc. So for this dish, I take an idea from a friend. I get one can of the cheap biscuits from the refrigerated case at the store. I was told they are called 'whomp' biscuits because you whomp them against the counter edge to open them. Good enough for me.

More tedious work ahead. Separate the biscuits and lay them out. Now, take each biscuit and tear it into little pieces, rolling each into a rough ball shape. In the picture below all those little pieces are from one biscuit. You really do need to make these small like this, because they really plump up in once they hit the pot, as you will see below. Toss all of these little balls into the simmering dutch oven, and when done, stir well.
You will notice that no matter what you do, they will stay floating on the top, just floating and mocking you.
Cover the dish again and let them simmer for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you can stir the pot and they remain all mixed in, and no longer rising to the surface, they are done. Now it's time to taste and adjust salt & pepper and seasonings as you see fit.
You'll see how thick and rich this turns out, considering the short list of ingredients and simple preparation!
Served up and ready to go...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Walkabout Mini-Fatties

This has been poking around in my mind for some time, so I finally decided to give it a shot. I know there are many of you out there that love a good fattie, or would like to. No, I'm not talking about THAT kind of fattie, but the kind that you cook in a smoker. As delicious as they are, they have one drawback - they aren't all that handy to eat neatly and they tend to be a bit messy. Well, here's my attempt to fix that problem. And no, walkabout doesn't mean they are made with kangaroo...

1 lb. of my homemade sweet & spicy Italian sausage
4 pre-packaged mozzarella sticks
1 pkg egg roll wrappers
4 oz. marinara sauce
fresh Parmesano Reggiano cheese
fresh Peccorino Romano cheese
bell pepper, julienned
onions, julienned
sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
oregano, basil, salt & pepper

First of all, prepare your mise en place. That's fancy French chef talk for "get all your stuff ready first!"
Roll the sausage out into a thin layer. As these are going to me small fatties, the sausage needs to be pretty thin while still staying together. Divide the sausage into individual thin sheets, about 4 1/2" by 6" inches. Apply a decent stripe of marinara, add your spices, onions, and grate the Parmesan and Romano onto the sauce.
For each fattie, add the strips of pepper and tomatoes, and the mozzarella stick. You might need to trim off a bit of the cheese depending on the length, or the size of your wrappers. I had to cut off about 3/4" of mine so the wrappers would be long enough.
Roll up your fattie nice and tight, sealing the ends well. Twist then into shape in a wrapper and put them in the fridge to set up. Once nice and firm, unwrap them and get them in the smoker. Realize as small as they are, they won't take very long and so won't take up a lot smokiness. Check them after 20 minutes, and take their temp every 5 minutes until the sausage is at 160 degrees F. Take them out and let them cool on a rack, and wick away any external grease with paper towels.
Once cooled, roll each fattie in a couple of egg roll wrappers. Two sheets makes the package a little more substantial for easy handling. Moisten the final flap of the wrap with a little water, and press it tight to seal.
Wet your fingers again, and wet the inside and outside of the ends of the wrapper that extend past the meat. Now fold them in a bit at a time, overlapping the folds and sealing the ends of the wrapper.
When you are all done it should look something like this:
Now it's time to heat up your oil. Get it to 360-370, and understand that your fatties won't be in it long! Prepare a place to drain them when removed from the oil. One trick I learned is to put a couple of paper towels in a sheet pan, then put a cooling rack on it - upside down. This way, the oil will get absorbed into the paper towels without sticking to them, because the rack is there. Using it upside down allows oil to flow tight into the paper, without having to accumulate and drip through an air space.

Put them in the oil carefully, two at a time, to keep from dropping the oil temperature too much.
Pull them out when they are the shade of brown you like, and place them on your draining pan to shed the remaining oil.
That's it! Pass 'em out and eat em'. The egg roll wrappers are nice and crunchy, and if you paint them inside with garlic butter before rolling - instant garlic bread!

I guess you could have a little dipping sauce available, but not if you want to go walkabout....

. . . . .

It's hard to tell the scale of these things with no point of reference, so here's a shot of my hand on the plate, a Walkabout Mini-Fattie, and my miniature cheese grater.

Now you have some convenient Walkabout Mini-Fatties - eat them with no muss and no fuss!