Weather be damned, I’m ready for cold weather food: Beef Bourguignon

The weather here in Houston has been stubbornly refusing to recognize that as it is now mid-October, it is time for the temperatures and humidity to come down to more humane levels.  Nope.  Nothing like 94% humidity and a heat index of 89 for the 5 am WOD.  Blech.  We’ve had a day here and there that have hinted that the weather COULD be really nice, but nothing consistent.  But cool weather is a great excuse to break open some recipes ignored since back in March, and I can’t takes it no more!  So with no further ado, here’s my recipe for Beef Bourguignon.

The recipe is originally from “Colorado Collage”, and while it may look like a big production, it’s really not that much work when you get down to it.

2014-10-10 16.08.06Ingredients

  • 6 slices Thick Cut Bacon (1 cup chopped)
  • 3 lbs Boneless Beef Chuck Roast (or similar stew meat)
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 1/2 tbsp Black Pepper
  • 2 tbsp AP Flour (or Arrowroot if you’re being paleo)
  • 3 cups Sliced Onions
  • 6 medium, Carrots
  • 3 cups Red Wine (something with some weight, like a merlot or cab)
  • 2.0 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/2 tsp Thyme
  • 1 package Frozen Pearl Onions
  • 1/2 cup Cognac

I’ll break it down step by step, but essentially you’re going to render the fat from the bacon, brown the meat in said fat, saute the vegetables, light them on fire (!), and then braise it all for a few hours.  Sound like fun?

  1. Chop the bacon and cut the beef into 2 in cubes.  Note: I like to do most (if not all) of my prep work before I start cooking.  I think it lets me relax a bit and enjoy the cooking.  But there’s plenty of time in this recipe if you’re the type who likes to prep the next steps while cooking.2014-10-10 16.08.15
  2. In a large dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat.2014-10-10 16.10.49
  3. While the bacon cooks, put the flour, salt and pepper into a large ziplock bag.  Add the beef and shake to coat.  It helps to blot the surface of the beef before doing so.
  4. Remove the bacon from the pan, and get ready for the most labor intensive part of the meal.2014-10-10 16.29.28Also, I’d recommend having someone hide the bacon in a safe place.  I end up eating about half of it before it can make it to the finished product.
  5. In 3-4 batches, brown the meat on all sides in the bacon grease.  If you run low on cooking fat, you can add your fat of choice.  It’s important at this stage to manage the heat and DO NOT CROWD THE PAN.  Crowding the pan will suck all the heat out of the pan, and you’ll end up with excess moisture that will make it hard to brown the meat nicely.  Take your time with this step, and don’t worry if you see a bunch of brown accumulating on the bottom (what the French call “fond”).  But watch out for black crud.  Black crud means something is burning: back off the heat.2014-10-10 16.29.33
  6. With all your meat safely evacuated from the pan, add the onions and carrots.  As they cook down, they’ll release steam that will soften the fond.  Use a wooden spoon (or other stiff cooking utensil) to scrape off as much of this as you can.  This is going to add a ton of flavor.  Continue cooking until the vegetables are golden brown.  This is a good time to pre-heat the oven to 350 F.2014-10-10 16.57.20
    Now that I have (hopefully) covered my ass, let’s talk flambe prep.  If you can find them, I’d recommend you watch the Shrimp and Grits and/or Bananas Foster episodes of Alton Brown’s Good Eats.  Not only is it a great show, but it covers a lot of the basics.

    1. First and foremost, be careful, and don’t be an idiot.
    2. Second, have a fire extinguisher nearby (accidents DO happen, and you should have one in the kitchen anyway).
    3. Have the lid to your cooking vessel readily available.  Should the flames become uncomfortably high, slap that lid on to smother the flame.  DO NOT TRY AND PUT WATER ON THE FLAMES.
    4. Add the liquor OFF THE HEAT.  No open flame from the stove.
    5. Use a flame stick or a long match to ignite.
  8. Here is what’s going to happen: the alcohol has a lower boiling temperature than the water in the cognac, so when it hits the hot pan, it will evaporate before the water.  This vapor is what is flaming.  This also means that the hotter the pan, and the longer you wait to ignite, the more alcohol is in the air, and the bigger the flames will go.  I recommend pouring and then immediately igniting.  Then you can bring the heat back on, and control the rate of evaporation by adjusting the heat.2014-10-10 17.02.29
  9. Once the flames are out, add in all the remaining ingredients.  Don’t forget the beef cubes and the bacon.2014-10-10 17.05.35A couple of notes:
    If you really want to, you can peel (or parboil and then peel) a bunch of pearl onions to add to the recipe.  I’ve done this, and quite frankly, I don’t think it’s worth the effort.  Grab a bag of frozen pre-peeled onions and save yourself the hassle. 2014-10-10 17.08.55For tomato paste, I heartily recommend the Amore brand.  It comes in a tube like toothpaste, and is easily resealable.  Since most recipes only call for 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste, it’s nice not to have to waste a whole can each time.  Now if the kind people at Amore, would kindly send me a nice check for promoting them, we can continue…2014-10-10 16.21.13
  10. Mix thoroughly and bring everything to a simmer.  You’ve added quite a bit of liquid, so go ahead and turn the heat up to high.
  11. Once it’s at a simmer, turn off the heat, cover, and move to the oven for 2 1/2-3 hours.  You’ll know because the meat will be very tender, and will part easily with a fork.2014-10-10 19.59.23
  12. I’d serve this over wide egg noodles, but any hearty starch would accompany well.
  13. This is awesome (I might even say better) if you make it ahead of time.  Put it in the fridge and re-heat gently on the stove (you can skim some of the excess fat if you desire before re-heating).  It also freezes very well, so if you’re headed up for a weekend of skiing, make it a few weeks ahead of time, and you can re-heat straight from the frozen state.

This is a real family favorite, and I hope you give it a shot!  Here’s to hoping cooler weather (and more cold weather food) is on the way.  Cheers.


Here we go again…


Hi folks,

Do you remember back in March when I did a Paleo Challenge with my gym?  Well, I’m doing a new one with my new gym.  Because I’m stupid like that.  Also, they made it all official-like, with pre- and post-challenge measurements and benchmarks.  What can I say?  I’m a sucker for that measurable data.

Also, I really needed something to get me to eat better.  As usual, it’s not that my diet was inherently bad (I wasn’t living off Whataburger and Dunkin Doughnuts or anything), but that I was just being sloppy.  The admin at work had a giant jar of peanut butter filled pretzels, and hey, what’s four or five of those 6 or 7 times a day?  Probably around 500 calories.  When it comes to limiting snacks like that, my ability to refuse is very much all or nothing.  Either I’m going to eat as much of that crap as I want, or I’m not going to eat any of it.  But it’s really more fun to eat ALL the bad things.

I also figured that as long as I’m going to do this challenge, I might as well take advantage of it and get as much data as I can.  So I went and got a BodPod reading to measure my body composition.  I started the challenge at 221.3 lbs and 19.7% body fat. And for the benchmark WOD (see below), I got 2 rounds + 15 push-ups.

Paper Street Crossfit Paleo Challenge Benchmark WOD
20 minute AMRAP
400 m run
40 air squats
30 ab-mat sit-ups
20 push-ups
10 pull-ups

Got to love the air-squat/running combination.  Also, let me take this time to re-iterate how much I hate push-ups.

This challenge has been set up pretty thoroughly, with points earned for healthy eating, sleep, water consumed, supplements (provided by PurePharma), daily WOD plus a few extras.  For example, there is a weekly “Skill WOD” which can earn you an extra point.  Last week it was 50 burpees in less than 5 minutes (barf) and this week it was 2000 m row in less than 9 minutes (+2 if under 8).

Out of all of these, the sleep has been the hardest.  We go to the 5 am class, so we get up around 4:35, meaning that we have an 8:35 pm bedtime.  It’s really fun explaining that to your friends.  On the other hand, it’s been awesome actually getting enough sleep.  I don’t feel nearly as desperate on the weekend to log a few extra hours.

I look forward to seeing the results, and hopefully I will post a few good workouts or recipes here before it’s over.  Until next time.

If you can’t use cream, use butter – Butter Titration Cupcakes

I’m not dead, I’m lazy.  And busy.  But mostly lazy.

This post got started back in May when I actually made the brownies.  And by started I mean I had written the title (nailed it!).  Then I guess I just got kind of distracted and forgot about it.  But the photos I left on my desktop have been nagging me to write the rest of this post, so here goes…on to fudgey brownie goodness!

Not sure where the original recipe came from, but here’s a link.  Warning: this is not diet food.  1 POUND of chocolate and 1 POUND of butter.  The title of the recipe comes from the idea that you’re saturating the batter with as much butter as possible.   I like where this is headed.

One trick I’ve learned with brownies, or really anything that you might cut while in a pan: save your pan and knives the wear and tear and line them with parchment paper.

First, put your pan on top of the parchment, leaving enough room on each side to come up the sides of the pan.
Second, using scissors of a sharp knife, cut the paper from the corners of the pan straight out to the edge of the paper (only one cut per corner)IMG_0032Finally, spray your pan with non-stick cooking spray, and place/fold the parchment so that you get continuous coverage around the pan.  The spray will help keep the parchment from flopping around too much.IMG_0034

Once the brownies have cooled, you can lift the whole thing out of the pan and cut it on a board.

The brownies start off like a ganache, except that instead of using cream to melt the chocolate, you use melted butter.

IMG_0040IMG_0043Like I said, not exactly diet food.

After that’s made, you mix together the wet ingredients, and then add the chocolate mixture:

Then comes the Nutella and the dry ingredients:IMG_0053

The batter gets pretty thick:IMG_0055

Then you pour and bake:


I would add a picture of the finished project, but then I got distracted eating them.  As you might expect, these end up being very dense and very rich.  While I enjoyed them, for me, they weren’t good enough to take the title of “BEST BROWNIE EVER!”  But they are worth trying, if for no other reason than the spectacle of adding a pound of butter to a pound of chocolate.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go running, as I’m still burning off the calories from May!


Don’t you just hate it when virtue has its rewards?

Howdy folks,

Back after another long break.  I’m really not very good at this whole blogging thing.  It’s been pretty rough with everything that’s been going on.  But since my project at work is now largely behind me, I should hopefully be able to spend a bit more time here.

As you might have read in the last post, I took part in a Paleo Food Challenge along with a bunch of people from Village Crossfit.  As I predicted, it wasn’t fun a lot of the time, but I have to say, I was pretty surprised at the results.

I’ll be honest, during that period, I was not very good about making working out a priority.  I was traveling a lot, and I didn’t get my act together to sign up again at Crossfit Mobile (partially because I started working a midnight-noon shift that didn’t jive real well with their class schedule).  Regardless, I should have done more.  However, I was pretty good about sticking to the diet rules.

I think I should probably take this opportunity to share my personal philosophy on paleo.  I figure I follow it about 90%.  I skip the processed food, the cereals, the grains, the dairy, etcetera.  However, I will still use a condiment like ketchup or mustard, and I don’t insist on organic, free range meat.  While I’d believe that eating grass-fed beef is probably better for you, I also would like to spend some of my free time NOT at the grocery store.  Also, when I would go out to eat (as I did a fair amount while working out-of-state), I just could not bring myself to be the guy asking the waitress if the salad dressing contained any canola oil.

Anyway, at the end of this challenge, despite the reduced gym schedule and less healthy food, I still lost 10 pounds.  I couldn’t believe it when I stepped on the scale.  And while I was happy to see that result, I was also a little disappointed.  I guess I was hoping that all this healthy eating was a load of hooey, and that it wouldn’t really make a difference.  Wrong.  Also, when I went on a little binge afterwards (burger, shake, queso, mmmm), my body let me know that it didn’t appreciate the sudden change.

paleo tree

Bonus poster my wife saw at her doctor’s office.  Intense!

So I think that from here on out, I’m going to try to maintain the paleo lifestyle 5-6 days a week.  I may have a beer after a rough Wednesday at work, and I might go to a Thursday happy hour, but I am going to try to maintain the gains I’ve realized.  And to keep me honest, I went and got a body composition test so I can check in a month or two to see if I can still improve.  I’m a huge nerd, so having numbers that I can through into a spreadsheet and create graphs is a huge bonus for me.  Oh, and I’ve also signed up for 5 days a week at the gym for the month of May.  I’m sure it’s gonna hurt, but let’s see where I end up June 1st.



This is not gonna be fun…

Today marks day one of a forty day paleo challenge.  I cannot express how excited I am.  Because I’m not.  My favorite food is pizza, and based on the prohibition of flour and cheese imposed by paleo, I can have a pile of pizza sauce with veggies.  Woohoo.

To be clear, while I plan on following the spirit of paleo, I am not going to follow it to the letter.  My meat will not be organic, grass-fed creatures who were hunted down with sharpened sticks.  Nor am I going to seek out condiments (think ketchup, mustard, etc) that contain nothing but organic veggies and the sweat of angels.  But I am going to avoid grains, dairy, sugar and as much processed food as possible.

I am doing this because while I am pretty good about staying active, my diet is lacking in discipline.  I love pasta, rice, cookies, cheese, pizza, milkshakes, fried food, etc…  Done well, it’s delicious (and let’s face it, mediocre pizza is still pretty good).  But I’ve wondered if I could get better gains if I paired working out (currently a mix of running and Crossfit) with a seriously planned diet.  There’s a certain amount of vanity here, I’ll admit.  I think of the statements “bodies are built in the kitchen, not the gym” and that “gains are 80% diet based” and the like, and while I don’t quite believe it, what’s the harm in looking into it.

A bunch of the other people at Village Crossfit have also bought into this challenge, so hopefully the group as a whole will help keep me honest.  Also, there’s the 1 mile run + 50 burpee penalty for cheating.  So here’s hoping I’ll see some results in April.

Bacon Burgers – The Next Level

Hello everybody,

Look at this!  Two posts within a 6 month period!  I’d better pace myself…

Actually, I’d better pick up the pace of my runs if I want to eat these burgers again.  These are absolutely delicious, but health food they ain’t.  Of course, if you’re looking for something to reward yourself for a new PR or a race finish, these might be right up your ally.

First off, I’m actually going to go off topic and brag a little bit.  Check out the results of my weekend DIY:
IMG_0001bI put in vertical dividers to give myself more storage above the fridge.  Although there was some trial and error (apparently it’s really hard to cut a straight line with a circular saw), it wasn’t too bad.  My inspiration came from here, and the author does a really good job of explaining the process.  I love it!  And it gave me the excuse to buy a few tools, although the fact that using my nail gun for the first time caused me to laugh maniacally is probably pretty strong evidence I should not be allowed to own one.

Anyway, I’m very proud of it, but really the only connection it has to the rest of the post is that it’s where I got the cutting board to chop the bacon.  As I’ve stated before, I love burgers, and this recipe is a doozy.  I made up the proportions, but the idea came from watching an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.  It’s essentially a burger pan fired in bacon grease, how can you lose?

Bacon Burgers
(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb ground beef (if you’re feeling decadent, go with 80/20, but feel free to go leaner)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • cheese (your preference, but there are some big flavors, so I like a nice sharp cheddar)
  • bun of your choosing

As you can see, it’s not too complex a list.  I think the meat should do the talking, and in this case it’s a lovely duet of beef and bacon.  To start off with, add the first four ingredients in a bowl:
IMG_0002Season with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt, but don’t over do it, we’ll be adding some more later.  Break up the beef and thoroughly but gently mix the ingredients.  I like using a disposable glove at this stage, as not only does it help avoid having to constantly wash my hands as I move from one task to another, but since my hands tend to be pretty warm, it helps keep the fat in the mixture from melting and sticking to my hands.

Cut the bacon into a medium dice.  It helps if you put it in the freezer for a brief time to firm it up:
IMG_0006Now comes the one piece of semi-specialized equipment: a ring mold/biscuit cutter (about 3″).  Now, if you don’t have one, don’t fret; you can use something like a tuna can with both ends cut off.  Just watch out for the sharp edges.  Also, buy biscuit cutters.  I like these a lot.  They sat on my wish list for about 2 1/2 years.  Boy I wish I had gotten them sooner.  Anyway, put your ring down on some parchment or wax paper, and press half of the chopped bacon into the mold:
IMG_0010Now take half of the beef mixture and gently press it on top:
IMG_0011It’s a fine line how hard you need to push.  You don’t want a super dense burger puck, but you don’t want it to fall apart either.  Try pushing with your finger flat and held together rather than poking at it.  Then, gently remove the mold (it may help to slowly turn the mold as you do so).  You’ll hopefully end up with something like this:
IMG_0013Beautiful, isn’t it?  Just stand and admire it in all its carnivorous glory.  Now snap out of it and make another one.  When that’s done, cover the meat and put it back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  An hour or two would be better.  It’ll help the flavors develop and keep the burger together when cooking.

As for cooking, this get messy, so I’d recommend doing this outside with a cast iron skillet on the grill (you need something to hold the grease).  Don’t forget to put the skillet on when you start the grill to avoid thermal shock issues.  I did 2 out of 3 burners on high for my grill.

Take the burgers out about 15-20 minutes before you slap them on the grill.  Sprinkle some more salt and pepper on the beef.  Now, the burgers are still pretty delicate, so I like to invert them so the bacon side is up, and the beef is on the paper:
IMG_0017This way, I can slap the bacon down on the skillet.  Is your skillet nice and ripping hot?  Let’s get cooking!  As just stated, take the burgers and put them bacon side down in the skillet.
IMG_0018Close the lid and let them cook for about 4 minutes.  Then flip them.  Be careful at this stage.  There’s a LOT of spitting bacon grease, and some bacon may be sticking to the pan.  Use a metal spatula and make sure you get separation from the skillet before you flip.  If the grease has not spread evenly, aim for a nice wet spot to cook the beef side (I did say it wasn’t health food!).
IMG_0021IMG_0022Cook for another 4 minutes on high.  If you want to add cheese (and who doesn’t?) do it about 2 minutes after flipping.  This is also a good time to put your bun cut side down on the upper rack or over the unlit portion of the grill to toast.

Then simply remove from the skillet and place on a bun with your favorite condiments (this would go really nicely with some caramelized onions and garlic).IMG_0026And a quick note on cleaning the skillet: while the grease is still hot (but not spitting), thrown some kosher salt (maybe around 1/4 cup) in the pan and sweep it around.  It will help soak up the grease and help clean the skillet as well.


New Fall Treats!

After a few days of 70° temperatures with 110% humidity, the weather here in Houston has finally decided to act like November.  You know, kind of on the cool side.  Enough that I can break out my favorite sweater (which I rock in true Colorado style with shorts and flip-flops).  I’m actually headed back to the homeland next week for Thanksgiving, and I’m drooling over the upcoming gastronomical extravaganza.

I don’t know about you readers, but one of the things I love about the food at Thanksgiving is the traditional roles family members fill in making it.  My mom always makes the turkey and stuffing (and quite honestly, most of the other food as well), my aunt makes the mince pie, and me, I make the pecan pie and do a lot of dishes.  Although, since getting married, my wife has taken over the pecan pie making (hers is better).  But since I still love to make desserts, I’m now responsible for the Wednesday night treat.  Last year it was a Cranberry Shortbread Tart, and this year I’ve been tasked with making this Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart.  Oh darn.

Right off the bat, I’m going to preface that this recipe is a bit involved.  But it can be broken out into several stages.  Also, since it needs to chill for at least 4 hours prior to service, it’s a mandatory make-ahead item.  But it’s not all that difficult to make.  I found the biggest pain to be the dead time with the oven.  Do I shut it off?  Leave it on?  You don’t want the oven temp dropping too much, but I don’t want to waste electricity either.  Such problems.

Step 1: The Candied Pumpkin Seeds

These are pretty easy.  Also, pumpkin seeds go by the name “pepitas” if it’s easier to find them that way.  I found these in the bulk dry goods section, where one finds various nuts and grains in dispensing bins.IMG_0846Mix the ingredients together and spread onto some parchment paper.
IMG_0847It’s a little sticky, but not too much trouble.  Then you bake, and they look like this:

IMG_0851Once the sugar hardens, break them into small groups.  I picked up the whole piece of parchment into sort of pouch, and squeezed repeatedly to break them apart.  The hardest part is not eating all of them before you add them to the tart.  These can be stored in an air-tight container up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Step 2: The Crust

The crust is made in the food processor, which is a lot easier than cutting the butter in by hand.  It’s the standard “pulse until resembles coarse meal” deal, and I forgot to take pictures.  But after you put it together, you chill it for 30 minutes before rolling it out.  It’s been awhile since I’ve rolled out pastry dough, and I didn’t do a great job at it.  Even though this recipe doesn’t call for it, I’d recommend you roll it out on wax paper/parchment paper/plastic wrap.  If you are the dough fu master and can roll it out on the “lightly floured surface” they call for, and can lift it into the pan, my hat is off to you.  Mine tore asunder.  But no one was looking (save for the dog), so I just patched it together.  I think it made the crust a bit tough, but that’s why one practices, right?IMG_0852And after baking:IMG_0859

Make sure you dock the crust so it doesn’t puff up too much.

Step 3: The Caramel

Let’s take a look at the ingredients:IMG_0848Butter, brown sugar, bourbon and cream.  What’s not to love?  You melt the butter and sugar, add the cream, and then add the bourbon.  It took longer to make than the recipe called for, but that might also be the stove.  Next time, I would cook it a bit longer, both to get a bit darker color like the recipe showed, and to get a bit better final consistency.  Even after time in the fridge, it was a little soft.  Remember that caramel can be a little tricky.  You don’t want the sugar to burn, but if you overmix, you can end up with a hard, crystalline mess.1D37599C-631E-4215-A044-13254D10C778

I got about a cup of a caramel, and spread about 1/3 of that into the cooled crust:IMG_0862I found the easiest thing to do was to use a combination of spatula and tilting the pan.

Step 4: The Filling

Any filling that starts with cream cheese is ok in my book.35B00D87-61AF-475C-92FA-188FB77D200BYou mix it all together with the paddle attachment and pour into the crust:IMG_0863Then bake until firm and no longer “wet” looking.  It will still jiggle a bit when you shake the pan.IMG_0864

Step 5: Assembly

Phew, hang in there folks, almost there.  Once the filling cools for about an hour, you can assemble the final product.  If needed, heat the caramel in 20 second bursts in the microwave to make it pourable.  Top the filling, and add the pumpkin seeds (if you have any left).IMG_0866And as much as you want it RIGHT NOW, you need to put it back in the fridge for 4-24 hours.  It’ll be worth it.
IMG_0867Just look at that!  It’s definitely a bit different from your average pumpkin pie (not that there’s anything wrong with pumpkin pie).  It’s creamy, rich, and the pumpkin seeds add a nice crunch.  Next time, I would cook the caramel a bit longer, and roll out the crust on something that would allow easier transfer to the pan, but as far a flavor is concerned, it’s a keeper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Peanut Butter Cupcake Time!

Hello folks,

Last weekend, my lovely wife made several types of cookies to take in to her new coworkers, and it made me realize that I haven’t made any kind of dessert in awhile.  Well, we can’t have that now can we?  Luckily, I usually have a few recipes bookmarked that fall squarely in the “sinful” category.  So without further ado, here are some Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes, courtesy of Annie’s Eats.

I apologize that I don’t have photos of all the steps.  In fact, I have nothing at all for the filling.  It’s been so long since I’ve done this that I’m out of practice.  But here’s the dry ingredients:IMG_0779And the various stages of the cake batter:

IMG_0780Mixing away…

IMG_0783Now we start getting to assembly:

IMG_0784To note, I think that this batter would be stretched to make the 24 claimed.  I made 23.  Of course, maybe I just snitched too much dough.  Don’t worry about filling up the cup all the way.  I just made sure to add enough batter to sort of ooze over the peanut butter ball before baking.

And then we move on to the peanut butter cream cheese frosting.  Yeah.  That’s happening.IMG_0785

To frost, I would use a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off.  I accidentally cut off too much, so it came out kind of in a blob.  Oh darn.


And here is the finished product.  They were a big hit at work.

They we’re delicious.  Rich and smooth and not too sweet.  Will definitely make again.

Summer Cooking – Grilled Pork Loin Chops

Hello all,

I wish I could say that my absence is due to the fact that I was called away to perform a functionality audit of a top secret facility housing dinosaurs, but that’s just not the case.  Anyway, I’m back!

One thing that I miss here at my new digs is easy access to a grill.  I love grilling.  The food is incredibly varied, and I do believe there is something satisfying about the nature of cooking food over flame.  It’s very caveman.  I also love that there are no dishes to clean, and how in the summer, it keep excess heat from inside your home.  I grew up grilling year round, and it would always confuse when people thought it was odd that I was out grilling chicken or steak while it was snowing.  You just have to be a little more vigilant in how you rest the meat, but otherwise it’s no different than cooking on the 4th of July.  To be honest, when I moved to my first apartment after college, I was kind of stumped on how to do a simple preparation of chicken without a grill.

Anyway, here in Houston, I am not allowed to have a grill on my apartment’s deck.  Some fire code nonsense.  There are several charcoal grills scattered around the complex however, so I’ve been using those.  Now, I’m sure there are plenty of grill aficionados out there that will disagree with me on this, but I have to say: charcoal is stupid.

I don’t like charcoal.  I don’t like the time it takes to prepare it, I don’t like maintaining the fire, and I dislike the lack of control.  Gas/propane is so much easier, and quite frankly, I see no difference in the taste.  Now, if we are talking barbecue (which I learned in college here in Texas is something VERY different from grilling), I see the logic of charcoal (sort of). But at that point, you are cooking with the smoke, not from the heat of the combustible fuel, but I digress.  Some people out there will say that it’s just because I lack the skill to prepare and maintain a multi level fire, and that charcoal is just as good or better than gas for all things grilling.  Perhaps I do lack the skill.  Or perhaps I just want to be able to walk outside, turn some knobs and hit a button, and be rewarded with controllable heat that I don’t have to shovel around like a 19th century stoker.  But in any case, I’m dealing with it, although as you can tell from the rant above, not exactly gracefully.

Summer Cooking - Grill KitThis is my grilling kit.  I throw everything I can into a big Tupperware container to make it easier to haul things to the grill.  At any given time, it has charcoal, newspaper, chimney starter (not pictured) and lighter inside.  And then there is enough room to throw in any meal-specific items like tongs, spatula, the food itself (little Tupperware containers are your friends) and, of course, beer.  Beer just tastes better with flame nearby.

Summer Cooking - Chimney StarterHere’s my chimney starter.  Great invention.  If you are forced to grill with charcoal, I’d recommend coughing up the $20 to get one.  It makes the process a lot easier.  Basically you fill the thing with charcoal (I like the natural lump charcoal because I think it starts faster and lacks the chemical tang of Kingsford, although I must admit I smile every time I smell said tang in the air at the beginning of summer), stuff newspaper in the bottom cavity (it works better if you spritz the newspaper with cooking oil – Thanks Alton Brown!), and light the newspaper.  You should have usable heat in about 15 minutes.


Summer Cooking - Chimney Starter LitOooo….fire…..

Shake out the coals and arrange as you see fit.  Be careful not to burn yourself.  I’ve singed off more hair than I care to remember.

I did one of my Costco runs today to restock my freeze.  I get a bunch of steak, chicken, pork and whatever else looks good, and then I spend an hour or so cleaning and prepping all of it.  It’s a pain to trim the fat off 5-10 steaks, and then 4 pork tenderloin, and then a dozen lamb chops, and then blah blah blah… but it’s worth it.  All I have to do is grab the item out of the freezer, put it in the fridge, and 24-36 hours I have a thawed piece ready for cooking that I don’t have to bother with trimming or portioning on a weeknight.

Anyway, I picked up some pork loin chops.  These are pretty lean, and they have a reputation for drying out quickly, so I decided to go for a quick brine to try to infuse some more moisture.  To be honest, the amount of time they were in the brine (about 90 minutes) is probably not enough to really give them an infusion, but alas, I failed to plan appropriately.  It’s been a long week.  Here’s what went into it

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup watered down bourbon (this can be found the morning after you’ve had friends over when you didn’t feel like cleaning up the night before)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

I’d recommend upping all the spices (but not the salt).  It imparted some flavor, but it needed a good deal more.  Mix it all up in a container big enough to hold it and the meat you plan to brine.  Add the meat, and let brine for 1-24 hours.

Summer Cooking - Brining

For the cooking, I went 5 minutes per side over direct heat on the grill, then 5 minutes on indirect heat, and then a 5 minute rest for 20 minutes totally.  I would give you a low-med-high setting for the heat but alas, charcoal doesn’t come with settings.

Summer Cooking - Loin ChopsGrilling away over indeterminate heat.

Summer Cooking - BeerI cannot stress enough that beer makes grilling better.  In fact, it makes damn near everything better.

The pork was nice and juicy, but as I mentioned before, needed more assertive flavors.  It probably would have benefitted from some more acidic components as well.  I’ll know for next time.

I hope to be updating a bit more frequently, and to hopefully guilt myself into writing another post, tune in tomorrow for a grilled dessert!



Linzers – A Labor of Love

I actually started this post a bit before Christmas, but with the holidays, family and travel… well, I got a bit distracted, so just pretend this in a few weeks ago.  Thanks!

Now that it is firmly December, I feel comfortable writing a Christmas post.  My family has a bunch of cookie recipes that remain dormant until the holiday season.  But come November, my mom starts stockpiling all of our favorites.  We go through a staggering amount of butter, sugar and flour, and I think we do it with a certain amount of pride.

My parents came to visit recently, and my mom was nice enough to help me make a batch of linzers.  She always claimed that they were a tremendous pain to make, but as someone who’s never had to make them, I was sure she was exaggerating.  She wasn’t.  This is the single most annoying and frustrating cookie recipe I have ever made.  It’s a darn good thing they taste so good.

Linzer Cookies

¾ pound (3 sticks) sweet unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups pecans, finely chopped

  1. Cream butter and 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and mix well.
    Linzers - ButterYes, that’s a lot of butter.  Yes, it tastes like it.  Yes, it’s delicious.
  2. Sift together the flour and cornstarch; add to creamed mixture and blend well.  Mix pecans in thoroughly.
    Linzers - Dough
  3. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 4 to 6 hours.
  4. Roll dough out to ¼ inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters to cut out cookies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Chill cookies for 45 minutes. 

    This is the step that will make you question whether this recipe is worth the trouble, and will probably lead to swearing, so look out if there are children around.  Because this is such a high butter dough, it will soften very quickly, so unless you have your very own chilled marble slab in your kitchen, you will need to work fast.  It works best if you split the dough into smaller batches (3 or 4) and roll it out between pieces of parchment.  Chilling is a must, don’t be afraid to do it often.I would recommend the following: roll the dough – chill – cut the dough – chill – transfer the cut dough to the cookie sheet – chill – bake.
    Linzers - Rolling

    As you can see, there’s a lot of chilling.  It doesn’t have to be for too long: 5-10 minutes should be enough.  Just make sure it’s solid enough to work with.  Because there are so many breaks in the process, it works best to work in batches, so one batch is rolled and chilling while you cut a previously rolled and chilled batch.  Make sure you have room in your freezer before you start.

  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Bake cookies for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are evenly and lightly browned. 
    Linzers - BakingRemove and cool on a rack.
    Linzers - CoolingThe cookies on the left will become the bottom of the sandwich, those on the right will be the top (so you can see the jam).
  6. While they are still warm, spread the bottom cookie with raspberry preserves.  Sprinkle the top cookies with powdered sugar.
    Linzers - Jam
  7. Sandwich and enjoy!  Share if you want, but I imagine after this amount of work, you will be sure to only give them to people who are worth it.Linzers - Finished

These freeze well, so you can make them ahead of time.  Store them in airtight containers, with wax paper between layers.  Be sure to let them come to room temperature to really enjoy the taste and texture.

Happy Holidays, and have a great 2013!