Category Archives: The Nation Has An Appetite

The Nation Has An Appetite – On The Grill

First, let me disappoint you: I've no recipes or photos or any such to share. There, now that that's out of the way...

I spent a lot of time last night cleaning my grill. I've got a 3 burner gas grill that's about 8 years old. I've used it an absolute ton, but for the past 2.5 years it was in storage. And, apparently, it was put into storage without my having done a deep clean first (we were moving, and, if I remember correctly, it was one of those "well, we've got room for it in this truck, so it's going now, even if you're not ready for it" situations). I usually do a good clean at the start of the summer and another sometime in the fall, but grills are... well, they're tough.

I mostly used soap, water, and lots of elbow grease. Paper towels, sponges, some steel-wool type of thing designed for grills, and cloths all got used. It looks a heck of a lot better, and I'm excited to take it out for a test run this weekend. I need to get a propane tank filled first, so there's a part of me that's still nervous it won't light up, after having been packed away for so long. Let's hope!

Anyway, I thought this was as good a time as any to broach the grilling topic. Summer is upon us... what do you have, what do you wish you had, how do you manipulate what you do have to make it do what you want (I'm thinking about Meat's post (it was Meat, right?) where he converted the old Weber... that was cool)? And what tools do you use? What do you use for cleaning? (I've heard horror stories of bristles coming off and puncturing internal body parts when accidentally consumed... I don't know about the truth of these, but that's the kind of thing that might give you pause) What do you avoid? What other tools do you use for cooking on the grill (I've got a grill tray that I adore, and every time I make anything else I try to throw a bunch of veggies on the tray. Always steps up the meal a notch or two.)?

And, of course, if you've got an recipes or recommendations for grilling... by all means, please do share.

Bake Your Own Pretzels

I was just telling a friend the other day how much I like homemade baked pretzels, and I figured some of y'all might be interested in the recipe as well!

I've been making this recipe from Alton Brown for a few years now, and it has never disappointed.

Notes:
The directions call for using a stand mixer, but there's no reason these couldn't be mixed and kneaded by hand if you were so inclined.

Authentic baked pretzels are boiled in lye, but the baking soda/water mixture in this recipe works pretty darn well and involves a lot less in the way of safety precautions.

If you don't have pretzel salt, you can use coarse kosher salt, but the real thing is better. I couldn't find any pretzel salt in stores, so I ordered it online. The smallest size container I found was 2 pounds, so I expect I'll be making this recipe for many years to come...

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115°F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
1 lb, 6 oz all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil (I use spray canola oil)
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
pretzel salt

Directions
Combine water and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit for 5 minutes (or until the mixture begins to foam). Add flour, kosher salt, and butter. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Then change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 5 minutes.

Remove dough from the bowl, clean the bowl, and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a towel, and let sit in a warm place for 50 to 55 minutes--or until the dough has doubled in size.

About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 450°F. (My oven runs a bit cool, so I set it to closer to 475°F. The pretzels won't brown well if your oven isn't hot enough.) Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Also before the end of the rising time, bring 10 cups water and baking soda to a rolling boil in a large saucepan.

When dough has finished rising, turn it out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into approximately 16 equal pieces. (Alton suggests 8 pieces, but I find that to be so large it's pretty much a meal in and of itself. Since I usually bring these pretzels to gatherings where other food is served, I opt for a smaller size.) Roll out each piece of dough into an 18-inch rope (estimating is fine here--no need to get out a ruler!). Make a U-shape with the dough rope, then hold the ends and cross them over each other. Press the dough ends firmly onto the bottom of the U-shape so that the pretzel will hold its shape. Or feel free to experiment with other shapes--just don't get too intricate, and it'll be fine.

You can either shape all your pretzels at once or alternate shaping them and boiling them. Or enlist child labor helpers to help shape the dough.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for approximately 30 seconds. (I've gotten distracted and left pretzels in the water for far longer than this; they still turn out fine.) Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon (Alton Brown suggests a large, flat spatula for this, but I prefer my trusty spoon). Place pretzels on the lined cookie sheet, leaving 1.5" to 2" between pretzels.

Brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. (Don't chicken out and remove these from the oven too early--you want them to get fairly dark.) Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

*I have been known to swap in 6-8 ounces of white whole wheat flour

Smoking with meat (and not just smoked meats)

My trusty weber kettle recently started to rust in several spots because a subcontractor* dropped a hammer on it last year.  I was the next person in line at work to get free swag from our U-Line order so I got a new weber kettle (!). I spent a lot of time on the interwebs looking for ideas on how to modify my old kettle before settling on making a DIY electric smoker. Why electric you ask? Because it's a hell of a lot easier than setting up and babysitting a charcoal smoker. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard all the complaints about how smoking shouldn't be easy, and that half the fun is tweaking the vents, and how it's cheating, and how / and how / and how. ... pfffffffffft. After testing this unit out and dialing in 225 and 250 on the thermostat I can say that this is pretty close to set it and forget it. I bought a replacement electric smoker element from amazon with an adjustable thermostat. The I used a dremel with a metal cut off wheel to cut the opening for the electric element, and then had to bend some parts into submission with brute force. The electric element has a set of mounting holes, and I drilled through the kettle and set the element in place with some stainless bolts. Figuring out how high to place the element was the only bit of struggle I had with this build. I removed the charcoal grate and made sure that the ash sweeps / vent covers weren't impeded and set about cutting open the grill. I bought two stainless steel chafing pans, the smaller one to act as a water pan  / dripping catcher, and the other to hold wood chips.

The first run featured perfectly cooked salmon and pulled pork, but the smoke flavor was definitely lacking . After looking into the ash tray I discovered that most the wood chips hadn't really caught fire. I figured out that the pan gets hot enough to make some of the chips smolder, but not hot enough to foster minion method burning. Some further inter-webbing solved that problem.  Enter the a-maze-n pellet smoking tube. While I haven't actually used the pellet smoker yet, but i found that the wood pellets** produce a ton of smoke just laying on the bottom of the larger chafing pan. I also started a few of the pellets in one corner to ensure smoke production The second run produced excellent , smokey results. I ran at 245˚ ish degrees and successfully smoked a boston butt, a chicken carcass, and some pink salt. When the a-maze-n shows up I fully indent to cold smoke cheese, tofu, and nuts (and anything else I can think of), and I'll update on how it works.

 

 

*me

**There is a mountain of information and opinion on pellet smoking / pellet composition / binders / ////// The conclusion I came to was to use 100% hardwood pellets, and what I found in my area was traeger branded pellets. The flavor was excellent. One other note on the traeger grills, I've had "smoked" meats from pellet grills that were excellently cooked with no smoke flavor. What I've read now makes sense, the pellet grills get to temperature and then maintain temperature without actually burning that much fuel. No burning = no smoke flavor. I feel pretty great that I've made something out of a rusting kettle that makes food better than the 1000$ pellet grills...

Chicken Tacos and Black Beans, Instant Pot Style

I made these two dishes over the last week, and they both ended up being really, really good.  Plus, they even go well together; I'm planning on having the leftovers from these two for my lunch tomorrow.  And I'm sure these recipes would be doable without the technological marvel that is an Instant Pot, but this is how I made them.  Plus, it gave me another reason to use the steam diverter my wife got for Christmas, which my kids call "angry daddy."  It looks pretty funny when it goes off, plus it makes it easy to turn the release valve without using a hot pad.

Chicken Tacos

(taken from here, with some small changes)

I had some leftover poblano peppers when I found this recipe, and thought I'd give it a shot.  It ended up with a bit more liquid in it than I would have preferred for tacos, but the chicken was tasty, and not at all dried out.  I'll probably try less liquid next time.  I was also worried beforehand that it would taste too much like orange juice,  but it ended up just having a hint of orange flavor.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large chicken breasts (about 3 pounds)
  • 1.5 tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1 teaspoons Pepper
  • 1  red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 Poblanos, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1.5  cups orange juice

Set Instant Pot to sauté mode, and add a little oil.  Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.  When oil is hot, work in batches to sear chicken on both sides, leaving it alone for long enough to get a nice brown on it (not sure this step actually did much; could probably skip it, but I could get the chopping done while the chicken was in, so it probably didn't add that much time).  Remove to a plate when they are done browning.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add peppers and onions.  Cook 5 minutes or so, until tender.  Then, add cumin and garlic, stirring for about a minute until fragrant.  Add back in the chicken along with the stock and orange juice.

Seal up the cover, and set for 35 minutes.  When timer goes off, wait 5 minutes, then release steam.  Remove the chicken, shred it, then stir it back in to the sauce.  Serve on lightly-charred corn tortillas with lime, cilantro, cheese, guacamole, hot sauce, etc.

I didn't think of writing this up until after dinner, so I didn't take a picture of the tacos, but here's what part of the leftovers looked like:

 

Black Beans

(taken from here, with some adjustments)

So those chicken tacos were good, but these black beans are great.  Everyone it the family loved them.  Both of my kids ate  multiple rounds at dinner, and one said they are his favorite beans ever (which is saying something from a kid who could probably eat an entire can of refried beans by himself).  They end up tasting rich and salty, with the creamy liquid pairing with the just-slightly-al-dente beans to make a perfect texture combination.  Plus, it's super cheap and easy, and no soak required.

This is the recipe for half the original batch on the website above, which still makes a lot of beans.  They save well in the fridge, but a full pound of beans is more than we can get through in a week.

  • 0.5 pound dry black beans
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 0.5 yellow onion, sliced in rounds
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced in half
  • 0.5 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

Put everything in the Instant Pot.  Seal the lid, and set if for 30 minutes. (The recipe I took this from called for only 22 minutes, but the beans were still pretty crunchy at that point, so I kept adding time and testing it, and it ended up being about 30 total.)  Let it sit for 10 minutes when the time is up, then release the steam and serve.

These beans are great on their own or with some hot sauce.  Sour cream would make some sense here, too.  They work as a side for grilled meat or tacos, as a vegetarian burrito filling,  or just on their own; a bowl of these beans makes for a pretty great lunch.

I also didn't take a picture of this when I made it, but it still looks pretty good after a couple of days in the fridge.

Blind Mole

Adventures in Instant potting: making mole chicken.

We went out for dinner this weekend with friends to the locally famous Tower Cafe, where I happened to have a very, very good plate of chicken mole enchiladas. So I had a taste for mole.

Now, "real" mole is an all-day sort of affair. There's a reason I don't make it very often (like, almost never). But with the Miracle Machine (and some cheating), just maybe I could pull this off in a reasonable amount of time.

The recipe template

The ingredients
one large (28 oz) can red chile sauce ~a dozen assorted dried chiles (I used a combo of ancho/mulato, New Mexican Brown, and Guajillo) one onion, chopped
~six cloves garlic, smushed one small can diced fire-roasted tomatoes two chipotles and some of the sauce
1/3 cup raisins 1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds 2 tbsp cocoa powder (Valrhona not required)
2 tbsp granulated onion 2 tbsp granulated garlic 1 tsp cinnamon (omitted because the Mrs is allergic, but it's authentick)
1 tsp dried oregano 1 tbsp ground cumin about six boneless, skinless chicken thighs

The technique:

stem and remove most of the seeds from the chiles. Toast for a few minutes (3-4 max) in a medium oven to bring out their fragrance. Break apart into largish pieces and set aside. Meanwhile, put your pot on "saute". When hot, add a tbsp or so of oil and saute the onion for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute for a minute more. Then stir in the tomatoes and all the dry ingredients (so they don't burn, but all get incorporated), the raisins and nuts, the chipotles, the dry chiles, and then the red chile sauce. Close the lid and set to about 8 minutes on "Manual." Release the pressure, scoop the sauce into a blender and blend until desired smoothness (or use a stick blender if you like things a little more chunky; I used the Vitamix to get a mostly smooth sauce). Reserve the sauce and wash the pot out so that you don't have any residual stuff to burn while starting the chicken. This will make a lot of sauce. You could omit the canned red chile sauce and instead use maybe a cup or two of chicken stock to get a smaller volume of sauce.

Put the (dried) pot back on saute. Add some oil and brown the chicken a bit (if desired; it doesn't really matter that much). Dump the sauce on top of the chicken. Don't bother to stir it in. Put on the lid and set to about 12 minutes on "Manual" (the recipe called for 10 minutes for thighs, which I used, but that did not get the chicken as done as I would have liked). Let cool ("natural release") for maybe ten minutes, then release any remaining steam manually. Mine had very little steam to release at this stage.

Remove chicken and shred. Return to pot. Check salt and correct seasoning.

Start to finish, this took about 90 minutes, less than half the time it would have taken on the stovetop. The sauce could have used more sweetness to balance (more raisins, maybe a touch of sugar) and the cinnamon. Sauce also needed some salt.

Serve with tortillas, chopped onion, sour cream, chopped cilantro, your favorite cheese for tacos, and a side of beans (I made Peruanos, which come out a creamy tan color, lighter than pintos in color and flavor -- these are often the paler refried beans you get at Mexican restaurants). And a beer or sangria or margarita.

The Best Hot Cocoa Mix

So what do you do with that leftover fancy cocoa powder you bought to make that delicious, Nutella-esque chocolate and peanut concoction? You make your own cocoa mix! And trust me, this is waaaaaaaay tastier than that stuff you buy at the grocery store.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) Valrhona cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until thoroughly pulverized.

Before pulverization:

After pulverization:

To use (stovetop version): Heat one cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to steam. Add 3 tablespoons cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. (Obviously you can make more than one cup at a time, depending on how many people you're serving.)

To use (microwave version): This mixes together better if you heat the cocoa mix with the milk rather than mixing it after the milk has been heated. Measure 3 tablespoons cocoa mix into one cup of milk but don't bother stirring it. Heat for 90 seconds and then stir vigorously. Then heat for 20 more seconds or until cocoa is at desired temperature. (Aside: my microwave is pretty wimpy, so you may want to reduce these times if you are using a more powerful model.)

Bonus tip--I store my cocoa mix in a container with the measurements noted on it to make life easy:

Recipe source: Smitten Kitchen

Pepper Butter

If I make peanut butter, it should logically be called Pepper Butter, yes?

With that important matter taken care of, here's what you need to know: assuming you own a food processor, this is insanely easy and also delicious. Roasting the peanuts is key to getting fantastic flavor, and I love that you can tweak the amount of salt and honey to get exactly the flavor YOU like best.

Ingredients
15 ounces shelled and skinned raw peanuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread peanuts on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Place the peanuts, salt, and honey into the bowl of a food processor. Process for about 5 minutes. The mixture will look dry and rather dough-like for the first few minutes, but keep going. Eventually, like magic, it’ll liquefy. Scrape down sides of the food processor. Place the lid back on and continue to process while slowly drizzling in the oil and process for another minute or so. Taste and adjust salt, honey, or oil if needed. (A little extra oil helps if it’s not quite as smooth as you’d like.) In my first attempt, I added a little more honey and oil.

Place the peanut butter in an airtight container (I used a mason jar) and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Adapted from here.

Instant-aneous Indian: Instant Pot Shrimp Biryani

Bonus Appetite post this month. I heard an interview with Urvashi Pitre ("The Butter Chicken Lady") recently and saw a recipe on the NYT for pressure cooker shrimp biryani that she swore would taste authentic and take mere minutes. She was right on both counts.
mis-en-place
Biryani on the stovetop takes a long time and a lot of prep. This version is quick and easy, once the (not so lot of) prep is done.
1. Soak 2 cups of your favorite long-grain rice for at least 30 minutes in water to cover by 2 inches or so. I used basmati, but jasmine would work well too. When you are ready to start sauteeing the veg, drain and rinse the rice and set aside.
2. Chop an onion
3. Finely chop about a tbsp of ginger and 3-5 cloves garlic
4. I wanted more veg than the recipe called for, so I cut a handful of green beans into 1-inch lengths and chunked a half of a yellow pepper and seeded/chopped a jalapeno (use a serrano for more bite). Even more veg would be good.
5. One small can of diced tomatoes, with juices.
6. Spices: a tsp of black mustard seeds plus 3-4 crushed green cardamom pods in one container. In another container: 1 tsp each turmeric, hot chile powder (such as cayenne; I used an Indian chile; use to taste if you don't like super spicey, although this amount did not make the dish hot, per the Mrs, who is not a chile head), smoked paprika, and granulated garlic, plus 1 tbsp kosher salt and ten fresh curry leaves, torn into small pieces (this is an optional, as curry leaves can be hard to find).
7. 1.5 cups boiling water.
8. Juice of a lime plus wedges for garnish
9. A half cup or so of chopped cilantro for garnish.
10. At least a dozen extra large or jumbo shrimp (I used 21-25s, which worked fine; bigger would be even better), peeled and deveined. At least 3-4 per serving. This amount of rice will easily serve 4-5 as a main course. Mine were frozen, so I had to thaw. They were very cold still when they went in, which probably helped them not over-cook.

Technique.
1. Put the Miracle Machine on "saute" to get hot, then add a nub of butter (I used about an ounce) and a tbsp or so of oil. When the oil is hot, add the cardamom and mustard seeds. Let sputter for a few seconds, stirring, then add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes.
2. Add the veg and saute for a minute or so.
9. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for a few seconds.
10. Add the remaining spices and stir for a few seconds until fragrant.
11. Add the boiling water. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any fond.
12. Add the rice, shrimp and tomatoes. Stir briefly, then put the lid on. Set to manual, high pressure for THREE MINUTES. I actually added the rice, stirred in the tomatoes, then put the shrimp on top.
13. When the timer goes off, do a manual release (mine did not even release any steam!), remove lid and stir in the lime juice. Turn off the machine. Put the lid back on and let rest for five minutes.
14. Serve. You can stir in the cilantro or use it for garnish if you have some cilantro haters.
15. Enjoy.

Start to finish, this took about 30 minutes.
shrimp biryani

French Onion Soup, the easy(ish) way.

As I said last night I'm not really a soup kind of person. Though, now that I think about it I actually have become more of a soup person over the years. We make a green chili stew when it's not hotter'n the blazes - which here is like 2 months of the year - and I'll order pho over bun every day ... and we've been making this white bean and corn soup ... and we've been making crab and corn bisque ... I'm a soup guy? That doesn't line up with my self image. anywho ...

This is lifted from America's Test Kitchen

4lbs onion - yeah, seems like a lot ... it isn't
3 tbs butter cut into three slices
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 cups of water plus additional for deglazing
4 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of beef broth - I used better than broth - its my secret weapon for beefy magic flavor
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
crusty baguette
shredded gruyere

Method:
Cut onions in half through the roots, and slice pole to pole in 1/4 inch slices. Preheat oven to 400˚. Put onions into a well oiled dutch oven, top with butter and a 1/4 tsp salt. Put dutch oven in oven covered for an hour. (their method has you then take the pot out of the oven and stir the onions, replace the pot in the oven with the lid cracked for another 1.5 to 1.75 hours- I just cranked up the heat on the burner and stirred the onions to keep them from burning. You're looking for the liquid to evaporate and for the pot to run dry. When a dark crust begins to form on the bottom of the pan add a quarter cup of water to deglaze the pan. Continue to run the pot dry several times until the onions are dark brown - but not burnt! - and are beginning to break apart. the last time you deglaze the pot use the 1/2 cup of dry sherry and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the water, stock beef broth (or better than broth), bay leaf, and thyme stir to combine, and then bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Slice the baguette into thick slices and bake dry in the oven - drying these out will improve the crunchy texture of the crust when they're submerged into the soup - once dry top with shredded gruyere and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown on top. Serve in a deep bowl with cheesy bread dunked into the bowl.

This was phenomenal. The hardest part is standing over the pot making sure the onions don't burn.