Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taking Your Temperature

I had a post about fried chicken ready to go that someone requested, and then I realized a fundamental flaw in what I was writing. I explained my love for cast iron (see below), but one other component that has become instrumental in my cooking is the use of a thermometer. That's right; I rarely trust myself to test the doneness of my meat and dishes. Maybe if I worked in a restaurant for twenty years or had spent countless hours in a kitchen poking and prodding meat. At this moment in time, I tend to let things cook a wee bit long.

Meat temperatures are usually listed as a recommendation for not killing yourself or making your loved ones sick. Good idea if you ask me, but by that time your dish is overdone. This is more apparent with meats such as chicken and pork. Chicken cooked to 165 is wonderful, moist, and tender. You are afforded a few degrees of fudge room with a whole chicken, but something like a boneless breast is a whole other story. If you hit about 180 with the conventional roasting method, you might as well go outside and eat a tire off of your car. Seriously.

Which brings me back to monitoring the temperature. I use a thermometer. In fact, I use three. Three? Excessive? Heck no. They all have different purposes and are useful in certain situations. I heartedly recommend purchasing one, they are relatively inexpensive, last a very long time, and take a lot of the opening the oven or pan and prodding your poor dish out of cooking.

Good Old Fashion Instant Read Thermometer
I like these for testing temperatures of meat I grill, pan fry, or anything small. Its fast and mostly accurate. I had an analog one (big long spear with the head on the end), but unless you want to spend a lot of money for a good one, these are relatively useless after about a month. So I bought a digital one, which is calibrated by some cool method and stays that way for a long time. Most them are compact and have different options. Stay away from the big grill fork thermometers though, unless you strictly grill at all times. Spearing a small piece of fish with one of these will give you nothing but trouble.

Probe Cooking Thermometers
This is quite possibly the most used item in my kitchen other than my spoons (I don't know why, but I never have enough spoons). Most of these are under $20 unless you opt for the wireless model. Being that I live in an apartment and I can hear mine beeping, I do not find it necessary to purchase a model which allows me to clip a huge pager-like device to my hip just so I can walk into the next room and look cool. But that's off topic. These little beauties have a thin wire attached to a metal probe (hence the name) that fits into a section of a roast, whole chicken, etc ... that you want to monitor while it is in the oven or on the grill. The reader sits nicely outside the oven and tells you the temperature without opening the oven and losing all of the residual heat. Generally, it will have an alarm letting you know when your food has reached a specific temperature. This little bugger has single-handedly saved Thanksgiving for me.

Fry Thermometer
My latest addition to the party, this analog thermometer sits vertical and clasps itself to the side of whatever I happen to be frying in. Great for deep frying (duh) and candy making, this is not a huge necessity, but they are pretty cheap and allow me to make French fries relatively painlessly.

One last note is carry over temperature. People preach it on TV all the time. For bigger pieces of meat such as whole chickens, turkeys, and legs o' beast, you will see a 5-10 degree increase after you remove said food from the heat source. For smaller bits you will only see about a 2-3 degree increase, but it is important nonetheless. Just remember if you pull your chicken at 168, it might be getting close to tire quality, so just be mindful.

Okay, now that my techno babble is done, I can move on to fried chicken.....later this week. Enjoy.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Playing with Pasta

I ordered a pasta maker with my tax refund this year. The type that hooks up to my Kitchen-Aid mixer (no way am I cranking that stuff out by hand). I hopefully will get to try it out over spring break, though I have been warned the first batch will taste like metal. Good thing, since the first batch will probably go horribly wrong and have to be fed to the garbage. Stay tuned, and if works out, pasta party at my place.


Sunday, February 17, 2008


I have to say, beans are not usually followed in any recipe with an exclamation point. In fact, the foods that have a "!" on the end are usually processed bags of blah. Next time you peruse through the grocery store, watch out for them.

But I'm getting off topic. This is about beans, or rather, beans! More specifically refried beans. A staple to many Mexican dishes but probably only found in your diet as a side at a Mexican restaurant or in a Taco Bell burrito. Not the way they were originally intended. Taking a page from my pseudo Hispanic heritage (I grew up near Mexico) I like to put beans in lots of foods. More importantly, my girlfriend loves them. Why? Because they are simply delicious!

Refried beans come from re-cooking pinto beans and mashing them into a kind of paste. While this sounds mildly displeasing, they are actually quite tasty. I have made my own before, and while they are quite good, they take a bit of time with the soaking, the cooking, the cooling, the mashing, and anything else I can think of to get a smooth texture. In my opinion its much better to go with the canned variety. I like Rosarita Fat-Free. Yes, I said fat free, so deal with it. I promise you will not be disappointed.

A small tangent I would like to go for is the wonderful health benefits of beans. Full of fiber, vitamins, and protein while being devoid of fat, cholesterol, and loads of calories, pretty much every other country in the world eats more beans than we do. And most of them live longer. Get it? The refried variety show up in a lot of my dishes, so before I go off on those I have to explain how I make beans. So here we go.

Refried Beans

1 can Rosarita Fat-Free Beans
1-2 T bacon fat
1-2 oz shredded cheese (Cheddar and Colby-Jack work best)
2ish T of milk

Whoa, whoa, I know, I said buy fat free, and now I want you to add bacon fat? Yes, I do. First of all, 1-2 tablespoons of the stuff split between four people is much healthier than anything you shamelessly ate the last time you walked into a fast food joint. And more importantly, pork fat rules! It lends a smoky flavor that cannot be matched by any other fat put into beans. And if you do not have bacon fat, save some the next time you make bacon. I keep a small container in my fridge at all times. If you think about it, many great dishes would taste better with bacon fat than butter.

So back to our beans. Heat a small pot over medium-low heat, add the bacon fat until it melts, and add the beans, stirring to incorporate the two. Add the milk and cheese and stir. Vary the amount of each to accommodate your desired consistency. Heat until the cheese melts, and serve.

Yep, no seasoning. If you want some spice, you can add whatever you like. No need for salt thanks to the cheese. You can serve these on the side or use them for burritos, tacos, and many other goodies. They are the base for my Indian Fry Bread, which I will post in the near future.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Rabbit Food Cake

Maybe the title of this post is a bit misleading. But you know what I mean. Carrot cake. The delicious, oft misunderstood and mis-made cake that graces diners and chain restaurants around the country. It is served very cold, very dense, and always has a carrot made of icing on the top. This, contrary to what the boxed restaurants of America want you believe, is NOT carrot cake. Carrot cake is super moist, covered in delicious icing, and super awesome.

I refuse to order carrot cake at a restaurant anymore because unfortunately I know what I will receive. Not in anyone's best interest. Instead, I turn to the faithful recipe that has served my family well since, well, I don't know. The background and introduction to this cake is rather short, mostly because this cake is simply put, freakin sweet.

A note to mention. To grate carrots, you have to options. First, put the grating attachment on a food processor and grate accordingly (this is truly the easiest). If you do not own a food processor (which have many good uses) you can simply peel your carrots and grate them on a normal grater. This might take a little bit longer, but you need them shredded.

Carrot Cake

2 C. sugar
1 C. vegetable oil (or Canola)
2 eggs
2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 T. cinnamon
2 t. baking powder
2 C. flour
1 C. chopped walnuts
1 C. raisins
3 C. grated carrots

Preheat oven to 350.

Blend sugar and eggs in a stand mixer until fluffy. Add oil and mix. Add dry ingredients and blend them in. Make sure to wipe down the sides of the bowl if using a stand mixer, some parts tend to stick to the sides. Add the nuts and raisins next. Add the carrots last and mix slowly, being careful not to over mix. Pour into a greased bundt pan (yes, again with the bundt pan, it allows the center to be done at the same time as the edges. If you use a square pan you might burn the edges) and bake for about 40 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back and does not feel sticky. Let cool slightly, turn out on a rack and cool, then ice.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 C butter
1 8oz. package cream cheese
2 tsp vanilla (or 1 tsp each vanilla and almond extract)
1/2 package of powdered sugar.

Let butter and cream cheese come to room temperature and soften. Beat in mixer until creamy. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add milk, if too thin, add more powdered sugar. If you don't think you have enough, add some milk and powdered sugar to increase the volume slightly.



Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Slight Hiatus

Due to a bit of a busy stretch, I will not post as much as I would like this week. But never fear, I have some lined up for carrot cake, Indian fry bread, a book I read (no, you cannot eat that), chicken with almonds, and why avocados might be perfect.


Friday, February 1, 2008

What's White About Chili?

I like chili. Hearty, flavorful, spicy chili. But its always red. Why? We think of tomatoes, beans, ground beef and chili powder. This is the classic and common method to making chili, and what I was pondering while working out a recipe for turkey chili. Yes, you could probably swap out beef for turkey, but the beef has more flavor that stands up to the tomatoes and spice you put in traditional chili. In fact, I was pretty sure the chili I make most of the time is not "traditional" because, first off, it has beans. But that is not why we are here. This is about turkey chili.

Why can't turkey chili be a different focus all together? For this, I turned to one of my all-time favorite varieties, chili verde. I have fond memories of this (it is mainly a pork based chili braised in chicken stock and green chiles) from Albuquerque where it is sold at a balloon festival with a shot of Jack Daniels. At four in the morning. No lie. Well, turkey goes well with green chiles, and it likes mild, subtle flavors. So I went about looking for a recipe for a green or white chili.

I was severely disappointed. I do not want thyme, basil, and cocoa powder(?!) in my chili. That's not what I was after. I wanted smokey, spicy, and earthy flavors. Uh oh, this was turning out to be one of those hit or miss moments my girlfriend hates. She gives me this look of despair and hopes we don't have to order out.

Lucky for her (and me), this chili turned out awesome. It has everything I wanted, the flavor, the texture, and the turkey was not washed away in a bed of tomatoes. This is a slightly spicy dish, if you want more or less, adjust the amount of chipotles you add. Barley gives some texture to the dish (not to mention it's healthy). Thanks to the 6 inches of snow we just received here, this dish will give you some serious comfort.

White(ish) Turkey Chili

Olive Oil
1 pound ground turkey (at least 90/10, I like 95/5)
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 chipotle peppers in their adobo sauce, diced
2 4 oz. cans diced green chiles
1 10oz can green enchilada sauce
1 12-15 oz can tomatillos (I don't remember the exact size - you can find these in the Mexican isle at the grocery store), drained and chopped
1 cup dry pearled barley
2 15oz . cans chicken stock
1 15oz. can cannellini bean beans, rinsed
1 T Cumin
1 T Chili Powder (go for the Ancho kind, its smokey)
1 T cornmeal
1 T tomato paste
Sour cream

Heat about 2-3T of olive oil over medium heat in a good sized pot. Add onion and cook until slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute longer. Add turkey, breaking it apart and cooking until it has lost its pink color. Add the chipotles, cumin, chili powder, and some salt and pepper. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add green chiles, tomatillos, enchilada sauce, and pearled barley, followed by chicken stock. Stir, bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add beans and cook 10 more minutes, or until barley becomes only slightly chewy. Remove lid, stir in cornmeal and tomato paste, and cook for about 5 more minutes. The chili will thicken nicely. Serve topped with a bit of sour cream.

Is it white? Kind of. Is it green? Kind of. Is it awesome? You betcha


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