Friday, December 21, 2012

Trust Me

We'll be hosting our annual family brunch on Dec. 25th where I will be doing all of the cooking. My daughter invited some friends whom I haven't really met yet. She relayed this conversation to me:

Invited Friend: Well, what do you do at this brunch?
Rachel: We eat a lot. My dad always makes too much food, and we eat all day.
Friend: Your dad's cooking?! I'll be there!
Rachel: You've had my dad's cooking?
Friend: No. But I always trust the fat man.

Thank you. I think.

I may need to rename this blog: Always Trust the Fat Man.

I'll post brunch pictures, post-brunch.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Broccoli Balls...

...That's what someone called Brussels Sprouts on  a post of mine on Facebook. Either that, or he knows my Secret Service code name for when I'm President.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, Parmesan Cheese, and White Truffle Oil. This was my Thanksgiving contribution. I was asked to bring a Green Vegetable. That's always a hard one, especially when you have to make it at home and travel with it, even for a short distance. Many green vegetables will be cold and soggy by the time you get there. And, I knew their kitchen would be busy as they prepared the bulk of meal, so making it there was out.

My solution was to come up with something I could start at home and then stick in the oven for ten minutes before dinner. I knew the turkey would be out by then, resting. 

I like Brussels Sprouts. I made sure to eat them at work the day before in the employee cafeteria so I would remember exactly how not to make them.

 First, I bought just under the amount I thought I would need, thus assuring me of having just the right amount. I always forget that when they say "there will be 15 people" and ask me to bring the green vegetable, that the green vegetable is not the only thing on the menu. I usually buy and prepare way too much. My mother ingrained this fear in me...the very worst thing in the world would be to run out of food, even just any one item. Even the green vegetable.

Then I prepared them. I rinsed and just trimmed the bottom where the stem was attached. I do not cut little X's into the bottoms or tops of them like some recipes suggest.

My compost overfloweth.

I blanched them in lightly salted water for about 3 - 4 minutes, then shocked them in an ice water bath.

Then came the bulk of the cooking time. I dressed them very simply - just a little olive oil, salt, and fresh cracked black pepper ( I used Black Hawaiian Sea Salt because I had some. You can use whatever you have.) I roasted them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, just before they were about to brown.

Then, I dressed them with white truffle oil, fresh chopped garlic (I used a fairly small, but rough chop), and Parmesan cheese.

I did this with enough time to let them cool completely. I didn't want to cover them with foil and travel with them while they were still hot. The trapped heat would have continued cooking them, and they might have gotten mushy, employee cafeteria style.

When the time came, I put them in the oven at 350 and watched them carefully for about ten minutes. I turned on the broiler for the last minute or so.

The truffle oil is what elevated them to royalty. Truffle oil can be a bit expensive, (not as expensive as actual truffles, which I've never had) but I splurged. It was worth it. It has a unique, earthy flavor. Truffles are a  kind of mushroom, but I wouldn't describe the flavor as mushroomy. Anyway, there are some people in my family who don't like mushrooms and wouldn't eat the truffle oil, so I made a separate, untruffled batch. Their loss. Also, there are people who don't like Brussels Sprouts at all and wouldn't eat them no matter what I did to them. Fine with me. I ate theirs. 

By the way, truffle oil is not pure truffle. Or, at least not the oil I buy. The one I have is sunflower oil with truffle extract. The flavor is still divine.

This is a White Truffle:

Not pretty, but delicious. Truffles and truffle oil are to be used sparingly. Not only can the flavor overwhelm a dish, but they are one of the most expensive foods on the planet. The record for the sale of a single truffle at auction is $330, 000.00 for a 3.3 pound white truffle. My small bottle of truffle oil was only about $13.00, so when I look at it comparatively, I feel a lot better.

Eat Well. Have Fun. Be kind. Give love.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Getting Saucy

So, now that I've made my rub, I'm going to make my BBQ sauce. I have no photos of my BBQ sauce, so I'm going to insert random photos from the web of people who look like me.

This is Chef Paul Prudhomme, apparently  before he lost 130 pounds, bringing him down to a, um, comfortable 360 pounds. 
The base of my sauce is (great secret revealed now) ketchup. Plain old store bought ketchup. (Are there supposed to be commas in that sentence?) Here's my recipe:

Pour some ketchup in a sauce pan over low heat and add stuff.

Clip that. File it.

What stuff? Well, again, I like my BBQ sweet and spicy. So, stuff that makes it sweet and spicy.

Here's what I used in this particular batch:

Dom Deluise. I did not use him in my BBQ sauce.
Brown Sugar
Apple Cider Vinegar
Honey Mustard (two kinds - a mild one and a spicy one)
Maple Syrup (I only use the real, more expensive kind)
A dash of Worcestershire
A few dashes of Tabasco

I yelled that that ingredient because it's important.

The rub is a complex blend of spices (really) and adds a depth of flavor and richness to the sauce. It was especially important in this sauce since I planned to use the rub and sauce together on the same food. Using the rub to complete the flavor profile of the sauce carried that flavor through from beginning to end. It worked nicely.

This is Burl Ives. I'm sorry to use this particular photo in a food blog, but every time I see it I think, "Yeah! That's what I want for my next publicity photo: my naked body, a bathtub filled with dirty water, a cigar, and an electric fan dangerously close to the water." 

In the past, I've used other items in a BBQ sauce. It depends on what I'm in the mood for and what I have on hand. Sometimes I'll finely chop a little onion. Maybe some fresh garlic. I've used plain yellow mustard. Maybe a little molasses if I have it on hand. Tomato paste, if I want to intensify the tomato flavor. Even apples. Play with it. Close your eyes and TASTE it. Use your senses and trust them to tell you what to use. Make mistakes. Try again.

Buying dairy products to make cheese.
Be like Tevye. He never gave up.

Eat Well. Have Fun. Be kind. Give love.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rub This

So, I promised that my first blog post - or next blog post - well, this blog post - would be about my dry rub and BBQ sauce. I'm sure I'll ramble on much too long about the rub, so this post will probably only be about that. I'll talk about sauce in another one.

A dry rub is exactly what it sounds like. (OK. Don't go there. That's a whole different website. Which, come to think of it, would probably make much more money than this one. But, I digress. And so soon. Get used to it.) A dry rub is a combination of dry ingredients - granulated, powdered, crushed, etc. - which gets rubbed onto a protein (meat or fish) to add and enhance flavor. The dry ingredients are usually sugars, spices and herbs.

This is my rub on chicken waiting to be grilled.
Those are my mother's hands on the table.
This is Fred's house.

You can purchase a ready-made commercial dry rub at any grocery store, but it's pretty simple to make your own. Not only is it (probably) more cost efficient, but you will be using exactly the mix of ingredients you want to achieve exactly the flavor you want.

I make a rub especially for chicken - it can also be used for beef and pork - and I like it sweet and spicy.

Ay, there's the rub.

My base for this is brown sugar, kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. (This is just about the only time I will ever use garlic powder and onion powder. Most of the time, the fresh ingredients are preferable, but dry rubs are different.) I don't ever measure exact amounts for this, but after many trials and many batches, I have my ratios down pretty good. And I taste as I go along. (That's pretty much key for any cooking.) I go pretty heavy on the paprika and fairly light on the salt.

This rub doesn't usually need a lot of black pepper, and normally I would grind it fresh (I usually use my mortar and pestle for pepper), but I found some smoked black pepper at the store while I was shopping and thought it would be good in it. (It was.) Just used a little. And then, to really get the heat I like, I used a little cayenne. A little goes a long way. Adjust it to your own tolerance for heat. Start small, taste, and then add as needed. You can always make it more spicy, but it's pretty much impossible to make it less spicy once you've added too much. You'd have to increase the quantities of all your other ingredients, trying to get your ratios right, and ending up with a lot more rub than you'd probably need.

Woman 1: I have a strange medical condition. Every time I sneeze I have an orgasm.
Woman 2: What are you taking for it?
Woman 1: Pepper.

I always use cinnamon in this rub. It's such an all-purpose sweet and warm spice, and it adds a little kick.

Then, I play around with what I have on hand. I love ginger. I always have some on hand in almost every form. Ginger is another warm spice and adds kick. I found some whole allspice berries in my spice rack and ground a few in my coffee grinder. (If they picked up a little of the coffee notes, that's OK. And If my coffee picks up a little of the allspice, that's OK, too.) Sometimes, I use a little dry mustard. I didn't this time. But, I did find some cocoa chili powder and put that in. Cocoa in savory foods does not give them a sweet, chocolaty flavor, but adds a subtle depth (think mole sauce). The chili, of course, adds more kick.

I think that was about it for this rub. I like to put it all in a big glass jar and shake it until it's thoroughly mixed.

Now for the application. I like to lay my chicken parts in a single layer on a baking sheet and then sprinkle liberally (especially on the left wing...liberally? Left wing...? Oh, never mind)  with a spoon. Make sure each piece is well and evenly coated. Flip the pieces and do it again.

The common wisdom about a rub is that you should actually rub it into the meat, like a $60.00 massage, and then let it sit for a while. I do that more with beef or pork, especially ribs. I find that chicken doesn't need the massage as much, and I don't like to let the rub get too wet before grilling. I have my reasons.

Fred's new grill.

If you can control your heat at all - either by adjusting the grill surface closer or farther from the heat source for a charcoal grill, or using indirect heat on a charcoal grill, or adjusting the temperature on a gas grill - you do not want to grill it over the highest possible heat. This batch pictured above is on a gas grill, and we kept he settings between low and medium, somewhere approximately around 350 degrees. (But I don't even like to give temp readings for grills because it varies so much and so quickly.

A lower heat is better for a number of reasons, but mostly because the rub contains sugar which can burn quickly. (The drumsticks pictured above are actually still OK.) But, a nice low to medium heat, with the lid of the grill closed for much of the time, and a nice dry rub that hasn't gotten too wet, will cook the chicken all the way through and keep it tender and moist.

So, we made this chicken at my friend Fred's house, and Fred asked, "How long do you cook it?" I said, "Until it's done." I suppose one can assign a time frame to it, and most recipes do, or, possibly more accurately, use a meat thermometer (165 degrees F is good), but I hate to poke holes in the chicken. Here's something to know about grilling: when the meat is ready to be turned, the grill will give it up easily. In other words  you shouldn't have to fight with the grill, or use force to scrape the meat off. That will leave pieces of the meat sticking to the grill and your meat will lose moisture and dry out (see: I hate to poke holes in the chicken.)

Turn the chicken when it's ready. It will tell you. Use The Force (not brute force). Cover the grill. After a while, you can poke it with your finger if you want. The chicken, not the grill. Open the grill and poke the chicken. This serves no real purpose, but if you poke it with your finger and nod sagely, then people will think you know what you're doing and won't freak out because they think they're going to eat under cooked chicken, get sick and die. I hate that.

Actually, after you do it for a while and develop a sense for it, you can kind of tell the doneness of a piece of meat by poking it. This is a good method for steaks.

Anyway, I seem to have an innate ability to know the exact moment to take chicken off the grill for the perfect doneness, just like my uncanny ability to predict dog show winners. This is true, but is probably content for a whole different blog. In the last five or ten minutes before I remove the chicken from the grill, I baste it with BBQ sauce. I turn it once so each basted side gets some direct heat - just enough to caramelize the sugar a little bit. But, be very careful. The sauce will burn very quickly if you let it go one second too long. No pressure. Caramelized sugar is heaven. Burnt sugar is what they make Olympic shot puts out of. If you've ever tasted an Olympic shot put, you know what I mean. Don't ask.

Perfectly done BBQ chicken.
If you look closely, you can see the BBQ brush stokes.
A Van Gogh, he is.

Always rest your meat. (Insert rimshot here.) Two things happen: the meat keeps "cooking" for a while after is off of the heat source, and the juices redistribute.

I'll describe my sauce in painstaking detail in another post. In the meantime, is "doneness" not a real word? Because my spell check does not like it. It wants to make it "oneness," which would be perfect for Zen recipes: poke it with your finger to check the oneness. So, I guess it depends on what you're into.

Eat Well. Have fun. Be kind. Give Love.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Post

I've decided to start a new blog about cooking. This is it. I will probably post to it as much as I post to my other blogs - that is to say, rarely and at unpredictable intervals.

I love to cook. I love to read cookbooks. But I rarely use cookbooks in the kitchen. I cook by intuition, trial and error (lots of error), and by using my senses. I intend to define my cooking philosophy over the course of this blog, and let that philosophy guide my posts.

My "recipes" will be vague. A list of ingredients with no specified measurements, say. Ingredients are changeable. Use what you want and make it how you like it. Learn methods of cooking rather than recipes. Once you know a method, you can do just about anything with it.

I've posted a bunch of my cooking pictures on Facebook and have gotten a lot of positive feedback. Recently, someone asked me for my recipes for my dry rub and BBQ sauce that I featured in one of my photos. I started to explain about my "no recipe" philosophy, but decided that it was going to get too long for a Facebook thread. So, I started this blog. My next post will be about my dry rub and BBQ sauce.

At this writing, the name of this blog is "Cooking With My Eyes Closed." I don't really cook with my eyes closed. That's dangerous. But, I had to come up with a name to create the blog, and that's what came through my fingers onto the keyboard. I'd love suggestions for a new and more clever name. Or, maybe this one works, because, after all, if you know me at all, you know that I'm all about the metaphor.

Have fun. Be kind. Eat well. Give love.