Monday, September 30, 2013

Steak and Bleu Cheese Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Today's lesson: Make your own dressing.

This is a simple, easy to put together salad that is satisfying enough to stand alone as a main dish.  What can make home salads so special is learning to whip up your very own vinaigrette.  Once you nail down the basic recipe, it is easy and exciting to experiment with the flavors in the dressing.  And it is super impressive to guests when you slam a mason jar of homemade dressing down on the dinner table.  It shows that you really went that extra mile -- because you care.

The trick to the vinaigrette is a small, screw-top, canning jar.  Vinaigrettes need to be emulsified.  Stirring or whisking them together will just not cut it.  You need to really force the oil molecules in between the vinegar molecules, otherwise it's just a hot mess.  But if you put everything in a screw-top jar and shake it like a Polaroid picture, you'll get a perfect emulsion.  So go shake it.

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Here's what you'll need...
2 - 1/4 pound, thin cut New York strip steaks
6 ounces baby spinach
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
9 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic

Preheat a large, stainless steel skillet over HIGH heat.  Season the steaks well on both sides with salt and pepper.

Cook steaks in the HOT skillet until lightly browned on the outside and medium-rare on the inside; about 1 minutes on each side.  Set the steaks aside and let them rest for 5 minutes.

Peel, mince, and smash the garlic (pressing the side of your knife into the garlic to smash).

Put the vinegar, oil, mustard, and half of the garlic in a screw-top jar.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Put the lid on tightly and shake vigorously until emulsified.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Wash the spinach in a salad spinner.

In a large mixing bowl, combine spinach, cherries, pecans, and bleu cheese.

Trim any fat or gristle off of the steak and slice into thin strips.

Add the steak and half of the vinaigrette to the salad and toss until the dressing coats everything evenly.  Taste and add more vinaigrette if desired.


Camper's Special

Camper's Special is the endearing name that my dad gave to this breakfast hash that he would make whenever we would pack up the tents and fishing poles to live in the woods for the weekend.  Camping was a big part of my childhood.  It was a way for my family to not worry about work, school, friends, drama, or chores and instead spend time with each other.

Our trips, however, seemed to be cursed, for every time we would roll into camp, so would the storm clouds.  Many of our adventures were spent ducking hail in the car or playing Monopoly in the tent while our campsite transformed into a lake.  And yet, those are some of my favorite childhood memories.  So perhaps we weren't cursed after all.

In my own kitchen, I have tweaked the recipe, adding red pepper, mushrooms, and rosemary, and we often eat it for dinner (since I don't really begin to properly function until 11:30am).  But the spirit is the same.  Every time I start to cook this meal, I remember the cold chill in my bones and the warm memories in my heart.

On another note, I need to talk to you about bacon.  Do you remember bacon?  It was substantial.  It was tasty.  If you buy your bacon in the section of the grocery store cooler next to the hot dogs, then you may notice that when it cooks, it shrivels into damn-near nothing more than a wispy tangle of bacon-like thread.  Though I cannot myself verify this scientifically, I have come to understand that this is because the bacon in those plastic packages is pumped full of water.  They justify it by labeling it as a "wet brine" (though half of what you're paying for is water).  This conversation is being had all over the UK, but is barely acknowledged in the states.

My solution: Get your bacon from the meat counter.  Sure you may have to take a ticket and wait in line for all of two minutes, but it's real bacon.  The only thing added is bacon (and maybe a salt cure).  When you cook it, it retains the majority of its size and flavor and... it's bacon the way bacon should be.  The best part of all of this: It is the same price if not cheaper, not even taking into consideration that you are paying for 100% bacon instead of 80% bacon and 20% water.  There is no reason to buy the prepackaged stuff.

Print this recipe

Here's what you'll need...
8-10 slices of bacon
3 medium Russet potatoes
1 medium yellow onion
1 medium red bell pepper
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cloves garlic
8 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 large eggs
sea salt & fresh ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2" cubes.  Chop the bacon, onion, and bell pepper.  Mince the garlic and rosemary.  Put the onion, bell pepper, red pepper flakes, and minced rosemary together in a bowl, leaving the bacon, potatoes, and garlic each separate.

Preheat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped bacon and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is in between soft and crispy; about 7 minutes.  Remove the bacon and set aside with the sliced mushrooms, leaving the rendered bacon fat in the skillet.

Add the potatoes to the skillet and fry in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until fork tender and they start to crisp; about 12-15 minutes.

Add the contents of the bowl (onion, bell pepper, rosemary, red pepper flakes) to the skillet and continue to cook until the onions are soft and translucent; about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, bacon, and garlic and cook until the mushrooms shrink by half and are soft; about another 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl.  Pour the whisked eggs into the hash and let sit over the heat until the bottom of the eggs set; about 2 minutes.  Fold the contents and let it sit again until more of the egg sets; another minute.  Repeat until all of the egg has fully cooked.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chicken Dumpling Soup

Chicken dumpling soup is a slight variation on the panacea classic, chicken noodle. Known far and wide in nearly every world culture to cure everything from the common cold, to hangovers, to limb loss, there is something about chicken soup that is engrained in our DNA.

At any diner worth its salt, they will have a decent bowl of chicken dumpling soup well worth the cost to add to a meal (or get as your meal). What took me so long to perfect the dish was the proper consistency of the dumplings. I model my perfect soup dumpling after the memory of the ones served at Las Vegas in Antioch, IL (not actually in Las Vegas). In my opinion, the dumplings should be chewy and stand up to sitting in broth for the duration of the meal. I found this in a dumpling made from farina, the primary ingredient in Cream of Wheat.

This soup is a staple in our home, not only for its classic flavor, but also for its affordability. I will make a roast chicken for dinner one night, save the left over meat, and make a stock out of the carcass. Don't let the word carcass freak you out either. Making homemade stock is rewarding and makes your whole home smell AMAZING! With the left over chicken, same veggies that went into making the roast, and the homemade stock, I can throw together this soup for almost no money. And in our house, this soup last for 2 to 3 meals.

Print this recipe

Here's what you'll need...
olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
4 medium carrots
4 stalks celery
1/2 pound green beans
10 cups chicken stock
1 - 1 1/2 pounds cooked chicken
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup farina (Cream of Wheat)
2 large eggs
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Prep your vegetables.  Peel the carrots.  Chop them along with the celery and onion.  Snap the ends off of the green beans and break into 1" pieces.

Heat a few glugs of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Once the olive oil is hot, add the carrots, celery, and onion.  Sauté the veggies until the onions are soft and translucent; about 5 minutes.

Add the green beans and the chicken stock to the pot.  Remove the thyme leaves from the stems.  Discard the stems and add the thyme leaves to the pot.  Bring to a simmer and let it continue to simmer until the carrots and green beans are fork tender; about 30 minutes.

While the soup simmers, chop the chicken into 1/2" pieces.

Then prepare the dumpling batter.  Mix the flour, farina, and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt in a medium bowl.  Add the two eggs and stir until well combined.  Add a few tablespoons of water and stir until well combined.  Continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the batter is the proper consistency, easily scoopable but not runny.

Once the carrots and green beans are tender, add the chicken to the soup.  Dip a clean spoon into the soup stock to help prevent the batter from building up, then scoop a spoonful of dumpling batter out of the bowl.  Place the spoonful of batter into the soup and gently shake until the batter slides off the spoon.  Repeat until all of the batter has been dropped into the soup, one spoonful at a time.  Continue to simmer until the cooked dumplings float up to the top of the soup.  Season well with salt and pepper.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheeseburgers on Pretzel Rolls

I need to start this post with an apology.  I went to Mars for a second, but I'm back now and I brought t-shirts for everybody.  Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration,  but my unprecedented lack of posting did cause me to skip right over a rather monumental event; our 1 year anniversary.  That's right, on January 17, 2012 I began the Feast.  60 posts and over a year later I am still dishing it out.

Here are a few goals that I have for this upcoming year of Ferocious Feasting...
- Upload at least 4 posts each month.
- Raise our viewership.  If you have a foodie friend who's always looking for recipes, let them know about us.
- Incorporate a few simple "How To" videos, explaining techniques on things like the best way to chop an onion, getting a perfect sear on a piece of meat, or why I love my Dutch oven.
- Release the cookbook that I have been working on for the last two years as an eBook.

Now... onto the feasting!

The perfect cheeseburger is an elusive beast.  Most lack flavor, are overcooked, served on crappy buns, or turn into a ball instead of a patty.  I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I'm pretty damn close.  Other than the solid burger seasoning and cooking techniques, the big winner of this is the homemade pretzel roll.  This pretzel roll recipe is my most requested recipe to date.  They require a little forethought, but very little work.  Once you try it, you will never, ever, ever go back.

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Here's what you'll need for the pretzel rolls...
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2/3 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups milk
7 2/3 cup water divided
cooking spray
4 tablespoons baking soda
course sea salt

Combine the milk and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan and put over low heat until a thermometer reads between 100˙-110˙F.  Remove it from the heat and add the yeast.  Set it aside for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine 5 cups of flour and 2/3 teaspoon of kosher salt.  Once the yeast has rested, add it to the flour along with the canola oil.  Kneed the mixture until a dough has formed and been worked smooth.  Add more flour ONLY if it is too sticky to work with.  Cover the bowl with a towel and place in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size; about 1 hour.

Once it has risen, gently punch the dough down, then kneed for another couple of minutes.  Cut the dough into 8 equal sized pieces.  Form balls out of each piece by pulling the sides down under the ball.  Let them continue to rise for an additional 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400˙F.  In a large saucepan over high heat, add the remaining 7 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, and the baking soda.  Stir until the salt and baking soda has dissolved.  Once the water comes to a rapid boil, place two to three dough balls into the boiling water at a time.  Let them poach for 30 seconds, then flip them over and let them poach for an additional 30 seconds.  Remove them from the water, sprinkle them with the coarse sea salt, and make a shallow cut across the top of the roll with a sharp knife.  Repeat the process until all of the rolls are done.  Place them on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake the rolls until they are a beautiful, deep brown; about 18-25 minutes.

While the rolls are baking, prep and cook the burgers.

Print this recipe

Here's what you'll need for the burgers...
2 pounds ground sirloin (about 90/10)*
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
8 slices good cheese (I like sharp cheddar or mozzarella, or... both!)

*It is especially important to use leaner beef if you are cooking indoors on the stove top.  When using fattier grinds in a skillet, the fat renders out it will start to turn into a greasy fat bath.  If you are grilling, the fat can drip down allowing you to use an 80/20 grind.

Combine the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and mix it together with your hands until the mixture is well combined.  Divide the mixture into 8 equal sized balls.  Press and shape the balls into thin patties.  When the burger cooks, the middle will balloon up a bit so try to get the middles of each patty thinner than the edges.  They will also shrink in circumference, so don't be afraid to make the patties wider than the buns.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Once hot, add 3-4 patties (depending on the size of your skillet... don't over crowd them).  Don't press them down with your spatula!  It will push all of the juice and flavor out.  Cook the burgers until the brown cooked edge comes all the way up to the top; about 3 minutes.  Flip each patty as it becomes ready.  After you flip the patty, add a slice of cheese.  Once all the patties are flipped and cheesed, cover the skillet with a large lid if available.  This will help melt the cheese.  Continue cooking the burgers until they have reached medium doneness; about another 3 minutes.

Slice the pretzel rolls open.  If you like, you can toast the rolls by setting your oven to broil, add a pat of butter to each open roll half, then put the baking sheet of rolls, cut side up, under the broiler until the golden; about 30-60 seconds.

Assemble and top your burger as you like.  Don't be afraid to get creative with your toppings.  Avocado, grilled onions, pineapple, shredded pork, mashed potatoes... a lot of unique condiments are being used in upscale joints to create really interesting burgers.  Or, as I did the other day, you can just add some ketchup and mustard (homemade Crotchety Miser Mustard I crafted with some home-brewed IPA).

Burger season isn't far away.  If, like me, you can't wait, then making them indoors can help you weather the weather until the grill can once again return.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Apple and Sausage Cornbread Stuffing

I have had all manner of mushy goo and tasteless crumbs that bear the name 'stuffing'.  Like so many of the recipes I have developed, I started crafting this one after being fed up with feeding on sub-par stuffing.  Not only does this recipe make for a great Thanksgiving side dish, but also works well stuffed into butterflied pork chops.

Here's what you'll need...
1 medium yellow onion
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
1 pound ground pork sausage
2 tablespoons butter
1 Granny Smith apple
1 cup walnuts
small bunch fresh sage
4 stems fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
14 ounces dry cornbread stuffing

Rinse and chop the celery stalks.  Peel and chop the onion.  Smash, peel, and mince the garlic.  Peel the apple and chop into 1" pieces.  Then roughly chop the walnuts.

Preheat the oven to 350˙F.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown and break up the pork sausage until it is no longer pink.  Remove the pork and set aside.  Add the butter to the rendered pork fat and reduce the heat to medium.

Once the butter has melted, add the onion, celery, and garlic to the butter and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent; about 5 minutes.  Add the apple and walnuts to the skillet and sauté for an additional 3 minutes.

In a 9"x13" baking dish, combine the stuffing, chicken broth, sausage, and cooked vegetables and mix well.  Remove the leaves from the stems of thyme and chop them with the sage leaves.  Add them to the stuffing mixture and mix to combine.

Put the stuffing in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.


Cider Brined Roast Turkey

Growing up, Thanksgiving was nothing more than a transitional holiday.  It was merely a halfway point between the good holidays, Halloween and Christmas.  And while having a daughter is reinvigorating my love of Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving is now defiantly holding its own now that I am approaching middle-aged.  When did an orgy of coma-inducing food become better than presents?

Unfortunately, more often than not Thanksgiving turkeys are dry and flavorless.  The secret to a truly amazing turkey is brining.  I know that it is tempting to want to skip the 1-2 day prep work if you don't recognize the difference that it makes, but if you are willing to try brining once I promise that you will never skip it again.

This turkey recipe is moist and oozing with deliciousness.  It is so good that in our house turkey is no longer reserved for one meal a year.

Here's what you'll need...
2 quarts apple cider (or apple juice)
1 cup table salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger
cold water
1 red delicious apple
1 yellow onion
1 large bunch fresh sage
1 large stem fresh rosemary
1 - 10 to 14 pound fresh turkey
olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper


In a large saucepan, combine the apple cider, 1 cup table salt, brown sugar, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, and crystallized ginger.  Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer until all of the salt and sugar has dissolved; about 15 minutes.  Place the liquid in the freezer to cool quickly.


Place the thawed turkey, free of giblets, breast side down in a VERY large bowl or a clean 5-gallon bucket if necessary.  Add the cooled apple cider mixture to the bowl.  Then add up to 1 gallon of cold water to the bowl until the turkey is covered (or you fill the bowl).  The goal is to submerge as much of the turkey as possible.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.


Preheat the oven to 500˙F.  Remove the turkey and discard the brine.  Rinse the turkey thoroughly with cold water.  Pat dry with paper towel and place breast side up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan.  Bend the wing tips back behind the rest of the wing.

Bring two cups of water to a boil in a teapot.  Cut the apple and onion into 8 even chunks (there is no need to remove stems, peel, or core).  Place the apple and onion chunks into a medium bowl.  Add the boiling water and let it steep for 3-5 minutes.  Drain the water and stuff the turkey cavity with the apple, onion, bunch of sage leaves, and whole rosemary stem, bent in half if necessary.


Rub the entire surface of the turkey with a generous amount of olive oil.  Then season liberally with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.  If not already bound, tie the ends of the drumsticks tightly together with kitchen twine.  Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, set the thermometer alarm for 161˙F, and place in the preheated oven.  Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350˙F and roast until the internal temperature reads 161˙F.

Remove the turkey from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.  This will give the juices inside time to settle back into the meat and ensure that the turkey stays moist.

I hope you enjoy this turkey as much as I do.  And I hope that it makes your Thanksgiving dinners just that much more special.