Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hardwood Lump Charcoal Grilling

We recently decided to try grilling with hardwood lump charcoal rather than with the usual Kingston briquettes. What is hardwood lump charcoal, you ask? The usual process of making charcoal starts with a slow burning of wood that is densely packed under long metal sheets. The fire slowly moves through the wood burning off everything until you are left with large chunks of pure carbon (hardwood lump charcoal). From here, the wood is mixed with some chemicals (I don't know what they are, but this doesn't sound good to me) and tightly packed into what everyone knows as briquettes. 

cowboy lump charcoal

Why use hardwood lump charcoal?
As far as I know, the point of grilling over an open fire is to sear your food with extremely high heat and hopefully impart some of the wood aroma into your food. Hardwood lump charcoal burns much hotter (and quicker) than briquettes allowing you more control of the grill temperature, produces less ash, has no chemicals, actually smells like wood, and provides a cheap light show (during grilling, small air pockets in the wood pop and send sparks up into the air). 

hardwood lump charcoal

So we grilled some flatiron steaks using this new method and were amazed by the results. The high heat produced an excellent sear without overcooking the inside. I'm pretty sure we'll never go back to Kingston briquettes unless the landlord forbids us from using this stuff (I almost burned down the neighbor's deck). 

grilled flatiron steak

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday Sauce

We usually make this tomato sauce on Sunday nights. Simple and delicious.

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1 (or more) pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3-4 tablespoons italian parsley
~24 oz. can pureed tomatoes
1 or two handfuls of picholine olives, or use any olives you like.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pan over low heat. Place the smashed garlic cloves in the pan before the oil is hot and let them turn golden. This should take 5-7 minutes. Be sure to flip them every so often so that they do not burn. Remove the garlic. I throw it away at this point because the oil is nicely scented. Stir the parsley into the oil and cook briefly, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato puree, pepper flakes, and the olives. Cook for about 20-30 minutes on low with the lid off. The olives season the sauce, so don't add any extra salt. Mix a little less than a pound of linguine into the sauce and serve with fresh parsley on top. This makes excellent leftovers for Monday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tomato Bread Soup

Amazing winter soup we discovered at the only good restaurant in Sheboygan.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups stale white bread, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 (12 ounce) cans diced tomatoes (or pureed tomatoes if you prefer a smoother soup)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Stir the pepper flakes into the oil and add the bread cubes. Cook the bread cubes until lightly brown. Remove bread cubes to paper towels, reserving the oil in the stockpot.

Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into the stockpot. Cook the garlic and onion in the oil until the onion has softened, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, basil and drained bread cubes; cook about 10 minutes. Add the broth, parsley, and Parmesan cheese to the tomato mixture; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with basil before serving.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Handmade Pasta with Eggplant and Fresh Tomatoes

This sauce is best when the pasta is homemade (worth the effort).

Two small eggplants
olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 handful fresh basil torn into small pieces
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
black pepper

fresh pasta (tagliatelle is best)
3 eggs


Preparing the eggplants:
Cut the stems and navels off the eggplants. Cut into 1/4 in. thick slices, sprinkle with salt, and stand upright in a colander for 40 minutes to drain off the juices. Blot the salt from the slices with paper towels. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil, place on baking sheets and roast for about 10-15 minutes. The time may vary, but just be sure to roast them until they are golden brown. Once cooled, dice and set aside.

Making the pasta:
While the eggplants are draining or roasting, heat a pot full of water and whisk 3 eggs in a bowl. Slowly stir in 1 and 2/3 cups of flour to the egg mix. You can use either all all-purpose flour or a mix of half semolina/half all-purpose. I find it easier to do the mixing in a bowl rather than on a counter. Stir until the mixture can be worked with your hands. Dump contents of bowl on a well floured surface and knead with your hands until it is elastic (about 5 minutes) adding flour as needed. Separate the dough into palm sized balls, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 20-30 minutes. Flatten 1/4 in. thick rectangles and run through a pasta machine progressing from the thickest to thinnest settings until you have long sheets. Be sure to run the sheets though the first settings several times, folding in half before each pass. You may need to cut these long sheets in half after the last pass, before you pass though the tagliatelle setting on your machine. I place the pasta on a laundry drying rack until I cook them. You may need to do all this while cooking the sauce. When the water is boiling, add a generous pinch of salt and return to a boil. Add the pasta to the water when the sauce is done. The pasta will take a mere 1-2 minutes to cook. Take out before it is completely done, as it will cook in the colander while it drains. 

Making the sauce:
Warm olive oil in a large skillet over med-low heat. Add garlic and saute until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir well. Simmer until excess water evaporates (about 15 minutes). Add diced eggplant, mozzarella, and pepper and toss well. Turn off heat, cover pan for several minutes until mozzarella is softened. Add the fresh pasta to the sauce and serve.

Three Cheese Risotto

Eat this when it is negative thirty degrees outside and you need to slip into a food coma.

1 3/4 cups risotto rice
3 tbsp butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
1 small white onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup sparkling dry white wine or champagne (like Asti Spumante)
1/2 cup Fontina cheese, diced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, diced
salt and black pepper
fresh parsley, as a garnish

Heat the chicken stock in a pan or in the microwave and have at hand before you start the recipe. Then, in a heavy saucepan, melt the butter until it begins to foam. Toss in the onion and stir lightly until it has softened (about 6 to 8 minutes).

Add the rice to the butter and onion and stir until the grains start to swell, then add the wine.

Stir the mixture until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and it has stopped sizzling. Pour in a small amount of the stock. Season with the salt and pepper.

Turn the heat down to a low setting, and stir until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.

Then add a little more stock, letting the rice absorb it before you add more. Stir, stir, stir! (The stirring is essential, do not stop or the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn)

Cook for approximately 25 to 35 minutes, the rice should look tender and creamy.

Turn off the heat and add the cheeses.

Stir some more, until the cheeses are melted, and season some more if needed. Pour the finished dish into a serving bowl and top with chopped parsley. Eat. Fall asleep at 9pm. Your arm will be very sore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Toasted Pound Cake with Broiled Brown Sugar Strawberries

Thank you Oprah.

1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
Dash of vanilla
4 thick slices pound cake

In a glass baking dish, mix strawberries with brown sugar and vanilla; let sit 30 minutes. Toast pound cake slices in a toaster, or in a 400° oven on a sheet pan 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges are golden.

Preheat broiler to high. Place strawberries (in baking dish) about 5 inches from heat source. Broil until just bubbling, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and divide berries among pound cake slices. Serve warm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tortilla Soup

This is the best version we have made. Use fresh corn.

2 ears corn
4-5 garlic cloves
1 onion, quartered
1 jalapeno
2 T oil
1 chicken breast
2 corn tortillas, quartered
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 T tomato paste
1.5 t cumin
64 oz chicken stock
tortilla chips
shredded cheddar cheese

Extract the kernels from the corn. Coarsely chop the chili, onion, corn, and garlic in a food processor. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and sear the chicken. Add tortilla squares and cook over low heat. Stir in vegetables and coat with the oil, but don't brown them. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and cumin and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer on low until reduced by 1/3. This might take at least an hour. Remove chicken breast, shred, and set aside. Puree soup in food processor. Garnish each bowl with the shredded chicken, cheese, avocado slices, cilantro, tortilla chips, and a lime wedge.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cinnamon Curry Roasted Chicken

The best roasted chicken you'll ever roast.

1 (4-pound) roasting chicken
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 head garlic cloves separated and unpeeled, plus 6 cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 shallots, unpeeled and quartered
3 sticks cinnamon
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450°. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Place on a rack in a small roasting pan or baking dish. Set aside.

In a small frying pan over medium heat, combine cumin seeds, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and cardamom pods. Swirl until lightly toasted and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly; grind using a mortar and pestle. (To save time, or if you don't have equipment, use preground spices and toast in pan 45 seconds.) Mix with curry powder, cinnamon and red pepper flakes.

Finely chop peeled garlic cloves and combine with olive oil in a small bowl. Rub mixture over entire chicken. Sprinkle with salt. Use your fingers to slightly loosen the chicken skin and rub some of the olive oil and salt directly onto the meat. Then rub the spice mixture onto the meat under the skin. Don't pull the skin completely off the chicken! You should be able to slip the spices underneath and then put skin back in place. Next, place unpeeled garlic, shallots and cinnamon sticks inside chicken cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen string. Roast (breast side up) for 30 minutes before basting with 1/2 cup chicken broth. Roast 20 minutes more, then baste with remaining 1/2 cup broth. The basting is very important to keep chicken moist. Continue cooking until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife and meat is no longer pink, about 1 hour and 15 minutes total. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
Serve with rice or naan and plain yogurt.

Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Coconut Cookies

Cookies with the chocolate stuff stuck inside the other stuff.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups packaged shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 oz dark chocolate chunks (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup almonds with skins (4 oz), toasted, cooled, and chopped

While the butter is softening, toast the almonds on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes, until they're golden.

Beat together the butter and both sugars. Once fluffy, add the eggs and beat well. Then beat in the vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour and mix until just blended. Stir in oats, coconut, dark chocolate, almonds, and cinnamon.

Grease baking sheets. For each cookie, measure 1/4 cup of the batter and place them about 3 inches apart on the baking sheet.  Just barely pat down each cookie. Bake them at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.

The Big Z's Famous Baba Ganoush

This baba ganoush recipe was created by my dad. Obviously he would never give out all his secrets - so I've modified it to be as close to his recipe as possible.

1 medium eggplant
2 hot peppers
2 lemons
Olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350
Wash eggplant and pat dry. Chop 2 cloves of garlic into small pieces. Chop up some parsley and half a hot pepper.

Make 6-8 slits in eggplant skin and insert 2 cloves chopped garlic, parsley and 1/2 chopped hot pepper into the slots.

If you're having trouble pushing your finger through, then enlarge the slots by wiggling the knife around to widen the holes.

Drizzle outside of eggplant with 1 tbsp olive oil and wrap in foil so there are no holes.

Cook in oven at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes (60 for large eggplant). Remove from oven, unwrap foil, and let cool 20 min.

Cut eggplant in half and scoop into a food processor (without the skin) and process with 1/4 c olive oil, 1 tbsp tanini, juice of 1 lemon, 1 chopped hot pepper, 2-3 garlic cloves, parsley, salt/pepper until smooth.

Spread dip onto a plate. In seperate bowl combine juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 clove smashed garlic, 1/2 hot pepper finely chopped, finely chopped parsley, salt, pepper. Pour mixture over the top of baba ganoush for garnish. Drizzle it with a little olive oil. Serve with pita bread or veggies for dipping.

Other recipes you may like:
Distract the Neighbors Grilled Chicken
Hickory Smoked Nuts
Cinnamon Curry Roasted Chicken

Need a food processor? Find Cuisinart special offers from!

Potato and Leek Soup with Brie Croutons

Kind of like drinking a bowl of mashed potatoes... in a good way.

potato leek soup

1 pound leeks, white and part of green part, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 T dill or parsley, finely chopped
1 loaf sourdough bread, sliced
brie cheese

Place leeks, onions and broth in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes.

Add the potatoes and raise heat to return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 more minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F for the croutons. Top 4 slices of bread with a piece of brie and place on a cookie sheet. Set aside until oven has finished preheating and soup is nearly done cooking. When there is about 10 minutes left on the soup timer, put the bread in the oven and toast until cheese is golden. Put one crouton in the bottom of everyone's bowl.

Once the soup has finished cooking, laddle it in small batches into a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt & pepper. Pour soup into individual bowls over the croutons. Serve hot.

Grilled Red-Chile Steak with Plantains, Red Onion, and Chipotle Salsa

Save this one for Valentine's Day. Still spicy even if you have a cold.

4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 C ancho chile powder
4 t brown sugar
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
4 t black pepper
5 t salt

1.5 lb flank steak
2 black plantains
1 red onion, 1.4 inch slices
1 C chipotle salsa

Heat a very hot charcoal fire. Mix the first 7 ingredients. Now you have enough chile powder for a month. Spread some over the steak. Cut the ends off the plantains and split lengthwise. Oil the cut surfaces of the plantains and onions. Cook the plantains and onions 2-3 minutes per side over hot coals. Add 3 T of salsa and season with salt.

Grill your steak. Don't be a wimp. Stand directly over the fire and let the smoke season your skin. Now you are a man.

(the spice rub is excellent with chicken too)
grilled chicken

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Cilantro Dipping Sauce

The sauce is so good that you'll want to drink it.

1 cup roughly chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (10-12 oz) flat iron steaks

Combine the cilantro, garlic, 1/2 cup of the oil, lemon juice, cumin, chili powder and salt in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set sauce aside.

Sprinkle steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add steaks and cook to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare or 4 to 5 minutes for medium.

Transfer steaks to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes before thinly slicing. Serve with sauce on the side.

Shrimp Scampi with Linguini

Repeatedly declared "the best thing we've ever made." The most difficult part of preparing this one is deveining the shrimp. I'd recommend letting Tim do that.

shrimp scampi
1 pound linguini
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch (or two) red pepper flakes
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

For the pasta, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When it has come to the boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and the linguini. Stir to make sure the pasta separates; cover. When the water returns to a boil, cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the pasta is not quite done. Drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes (if using) until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm. Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil and serve immediately.
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