Sunday, December 14, 2008

Watch Me on Your iPod

In another cool thing that happened to me recently, you can now watch some of the videos I recorded on your iPod. I think all of them should be available at some point, but they just started with some of the more popular ones.

Mine's the "Creating SWC files."

Googling "Typical Dinner"

I analyze my logs every once in a while to see who visits my different blogs, and I was surprised when someone found my site googling the term "typical dinner." I was more surprised when I googled this term and found out I was the number one listing.

This could be one of my greatest accomplishments, or it just goes to show you how bad Google is on some worthless search terms because I know no one really links to this blog :-)

Anyways, here's proof as I don't know how long it'll last:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

High Roast Chicken

I had never actually done one of the most basic cooking skills: roasting a chicken. Rather than go with the normal roasting method, I looked through one of my favorite recipes and decided to try a high roast chicken. In order to get the skin crispy (and keep the bird from overcooking), they recommend the high roast method by butterflying the bird.

Anyways, I brined the bird, then washed it and patted it dry very thoroughly.

I tried my best to butterfly the chicken (I now have a vague idea of what to do, though as you can see below I cut the wrong part by accident in the beginning).

The backbone is what's hanging out to the right. For the most part I used scissors to do the surgery.

Following the recipe, I used a broiler pan and cut up some potatoes to put underneath on the bottom to soak up some of the grease (and by grease, I mean great chicken flavor).

I spread some butter mixed with some herbs into the skin and then seasoned the outside with salt and pepper.

Roasting for a while on high heat, we got a nicely browned bird.

Which I proceeded to cut up into pieces (again, not a fantastic job) and serve.

The let's not forget about the potatoes, which were amazingly delicious.

Overall the bird was pretty juicy and the potatoes were really good, having received a lot of flavor from the chicken drippings. I just had roast chicken at a restaurant a few days ago, and I can say the one I made was much better.

It was a really easy recipe and also a really cheap dinner. It's definitely something I'd do again.

I think next time I may try the "Zuni" way of roasting a chicken, which is instead of brining it, you season it generously with a lot of salt and let it sit in the fridge for 1-3 days. This is similar to brining, but it also dries out the skin so it's pretty tasty and very crispy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Southern Food: Boiler Peanuts and Fried Okra

Boiled peanuts have recently been promoted to South Carolina's official snack food. More importantly, it's a snack food I really love, and a few weeks ago, when I was at a farmer's market, I decided to give them a try.

Having tried making them once a long time ago, and failing, I searched a lot online to make sure I was doing them right. Anyways, I used mostly water, salt, and some veggie broth. I threw the peanuts int here and let it boil for quite a while.

And after a while, it just kept boiling over and making quite a mess.

And they didn't get soft. So I kept boiling. In total, a ridiculous amount, like 16 hours. In the end, I just gave up. They didn't taste bad--they were just a little too hard.

So I kept asking around at work what I did wrong, and the answer, I finally got was that I was that I was boiling it at too high of a heat. So a week later, I tried it again, and instead of boiling it at a high heat for so long, I got it to a boil and then simmered at a low heat for a long time. It took about 6 hours to get the peanuts soft, which is about right according to the recipes, so the low heat must be the secret. And with that came great success as the boiled peanuts made a great snack.

Another food I've come to like more and more despite moving away from the South is okra. Usually it's in bhindi masala here, but in South Carolina, the way most people eat it is fried.

Looking up recipes online, I cut up the okra and threw it around in some corn meal and flour mixture. Then I threw it in the cast iron fryer.

The first batch was a little overcooked, but the second one was much better.

Overall it was pretty good. The bhindi masala that I eat around here seems like a better use for okra and is something I'll try next time. As far as fried okra is concerned, I'll try using an egg wash next time to give it a little thicker coating.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Looks Ma, I'm famous

Ok, so I'm not that famous, but I did have the pleasure of getting video taped. It was a real life studio: green room, cameras and lights in my face, and a crew of people helping with the shoot. All in all, pretty intimidating. The videos aren't perfect as I was pretty nervous, and I really only had one shoot, but they came out pretty well. The videos are on creating SWCs, RSLs, and Modules.

You can find them in the "Flex in a Week" Training Videos, under Day 5.

There's also an Adobe Developer Center article for one of them. I'm not sure if the other will get posted there or not.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Burger Joints

Ok, so I guess I'm pretty snotty when it comes to burgers. Anytime I'm at a fast food joint, I hardly ever get a burger because they're usually not that good. But I've really got a bone to pick with the people out here. In-n-out sucks. I'm sorry, I don't know what people see in it. The burgers are tasteless and small, the texture of the fries is weird, and overall it sucks. The only thing going for them is the sauce they put on the burgers (and of course the oversized clothes pins), but I just don't think it's that good.

The reason I bring this up is because I went to DC this weekend and had some five guys again, and I gotta say, it's so much better than in-n-out. So good, in fact, that I would put it up there with other non-fast food burger joints (or even my own burgers). Their fries are also better, though, not quite as good as McDonald's. To you people who think in-n-out is the holy grail of fast food: yes, their ingredients may be fresh, but the food still sucks. Try five guys instead.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Eggs Benedict

I hardly eat breakfast, but when I do on the weekends, it's pretty good. I've always loved pancakes and especially french toast. One of the more decadent breakfast dishes that I'd always heard about was eggs benedict. I had it on a cruise ship once and wasn't that impressed, but I had it at some amazing breakfast place around 54th and 9th in New York, and I was absolutely blown away--it was delicious. It's supposed to be a hard dish to make, so I decided to give it a try. It turns out it's actually not that bad, and it came out to be a delicious dish.

If you don't know what eggs benedicts is, it's an english muffin with canadian bacon, topped with a poached egg and hollondaise sauce. The recipe I followed was from the pioneer woman, one of my favorite blogs. Here's what it looks like:

I had trouble finding canadian bacon at first and kept looking in the sandwich meat section, which is where the bacon is in our grocery store, but canadian bacon, which has much less fat, was actually in the pork section with the meats.

I butterred the muffins and put it in the oven with the canadian bacon under the broiler.

Now poaching an eggs is supposed to be one of the hardest things, but I found it to actually be pretty easy. I just boiled some water in a pan, threw in some vinegar, swirled the pan around and dropped the egg in. The eggs I got were super-fresh from the farmer's market, so when I poached them all the whites stayed together.

I accidentally broke the yolk on one egg before putting it in the pot, but it still turned out pretty good.

For the sauce, I followed the blender recipe from pioneer woman. It amazes me how rich the sauce is. It's basically just egg yolks and butter. I also put a generous portion of cayenne pepper in there.

I tasted the sauce. I thought it was a little bland, but in the dish as a whole, it was quite good. I'm not sure if that means the sauce was messed up, or that's how hollandaise sauce is supposed to taste. Also, I ended up putting some ground pepper on top, but next time, I'll probably throw it into the sauce.

All the poached eggs turned out pretty well, except for the one where the yolk was broken. I was a little paranoid about undercooking it, and it was still a little runny when I cut into it. However, I think I'd like it a little more runny next time, though. The problem is that when cooking a poached egg, the yolk will still feel jiggly even if it's cooked pretty thoroughly.

I think the canadian bacon was a little dry, so next time I'll take it off a little earlier since the english muffins seem to take a little longer.

Here's everything assembled. Definitely pretty easy, especially given it's reputation, and it's definitely one of my favorite breakfast dishes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Homemade Pizza

One thing I've wanted to do for a while was make some pizza from scratch. One of my friends bought be a pizza stone as a gift, and I've used it to make naan and a few other things, but hadn't used it to make pizza yet.

The recipes I followed were from my favorite cookbook, America's best recipe. I made a pretty simple dough, kneaded it, and let it rest for 2 hours.

I decided to also make some pizza sauce. I just took a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomatoe sauce and threw a few spices in it, while letting it simmer for 10 minutes or so.

For the toppings, I went with some sauteed mushrooms and onions. Since it was going into the oven, I made sure not to overcook them.

And I really sucked at rolling the dough; however, Jono has sent taught me (atleast theoretically taught me) how to throw the dough, so I'll have to try it out again. I don't have a rolling pin, so my basic strategy was to just use my hands and smash it out. Then I'd pick it up and stretch it. And just keep repeating, covering any holes I accidentally made.

After the sauce, I put on th toppings and then I put on some fresh mozerella that I bought and cut up.

I had some serious trouble sliding the pizza on to the pizza stone. My pizza stone smokes like no other and burns my eyes quite a bit. After this experience, I looked up what to do, and I left the pizza stone in while I self-cleaned my oven. It smoked a lot, but doesn't seem to smoke anymore. I think the problem was that we had baked cookies on the pizza stone once. But the cookies have too much oil, and the oil soaks into the porrous stone, and a 500 degree oven goes pretty far above most oil's smoking point.

Anyways. I baked it for about 12 minutes. It's pretty easy to tell when pizza's done, so I took it out after the cheese started browning.

Although the pizza didn't look perfect, it still tasted good.

The pizza was good. I liked it better than most pizza chains, but it wasn't quite as good as some of the places in the city, especially Little Star, which i know is a different type of pizza, but it's just so damned good. This pizza definitely could've used a little more flavor (maybe in the sauce or with more flavorful toppings like sausage). Pizza was a relatively easy dish to make, and now that I have the dough made and frozen, it'll be easy to just make it and pop it into the oven.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Iron Chef Competition

For labor day, we decided to throw an iron chef competition. It was a pain organizing, but luckily Siva took the lead and organized everything. Basically we split up into two teams, team soy sauce (all asians) and team honkie (non-asian).

At 2 PM our secret ingredient was announced, and we were given 4 hours to plan, shop, and cook. Much to my surprise, our three judges chose beer as the secret ingridient. I had thought of a few different secret ingridients and beer was not one that came to my mind. So we started thinking through the first items that come to mind when we think of beer: cheese fondue, beer bread, beer chicken (a whole chicken cooked on the grill with a beer up its ass), beer batterred shrimp/chicken. The problem we kept running into was beer was always in the food, but it was never a prominent part that came through in taste.

At any rate, after looking up recipes in some books and online, we settled on a few of them, substituting beer for as many things as well could.

First up was beer, garlic soup. To make it more gimmicky, we served the soup in a cup and made some foam by beating some egg whites. The soup was mostly made with beef broth, beer, garlic, and some other spices.

I tried some, and it was definitely unique. The presentation was pretty awesome, but I don't think the taste was there. The judges seemed to agree with this :-) I think the garlic wasn't sauteed enough before the broth was thrown in, so the soup had a little bitter taste from the uncooked garlic.

To go with the soup, we decided to serve some beer, onion bread.

This was something I made, and I think it turned out really well. The texture was a little chewy compared to professional breads, but it tasted quite good.

For the entree, we decided to cook some champagne shrimp pasta. Basically we were struggling to come up with a good entree that captured beer flavor. I feel that beer can chicken and beer battered chicken (or shrimp) don't really catch much flavor form the beer. They definitely taste good, but I've always felt it's not much beer flavor (after tasting beer battered apple crisps, I think I feel a little differently because I did taste the beer, but anyways, this was my logic at the time). A long time ago, I had cooked some champagne shrimp pasta. So we decided to replace the champagne the recipe called for with "the champagne of beer", miller high life.

Overall the dish turned out pretty well. The shrimp was cooked in beer and the sauce was basically all beer and some heavy cream. Despite all this, the beer flavor was pretty weak--it's just hard to do.

There were some problems with the dish: notably, someone forgot to wash the parsley, and a judge noticed some crunchiness (i.e.-sand) in her entree. Also, one judge mentioned the pasta was a bit overcooked. I tasted the pasta and know it wasn't overcooked at first, but then I put the pasta in with the sauce and kept cooking it. Then I ended up reheating it twice for the judges, so because of that, it might've been cooked a little too long. Moreover, I totally forgot to top it with parmesean, gorund pepper, and red pepper flakes as I had planned to.

To serve with the entree, we made some country time lemonade (yeah, we're lazy), and poured htem half beer, half lemonade. I remember this drink being popular in Europe (I can't remember the name). The judges seemed to like it overall.

For dessert, we were made a guiness chocolate cake. Paul came up with a great idea of making bailey's irish creme frosting to acompany the cake, makign it a dessert irish car bomb. It was a great idea, but execution wasn't so good.

Everyone loved the cake, but I think Paul and Siva double salted the icing (i.e.-each of them put the salt in that the recipe called for). Unfortunately, no one tasted it until it reached the judges table. It's weird how an extra half teaspoon of salt can make so much of a difference.

Team asia cooked in Siva/Inbae's kitchen and then brought their food over to our place to serve to the judges.

Their first dish: crab and lobster stuffed mushrooms. For the sauce, they reduced beer and sweetened it a lot using brown sugar and some other techniques.

I liked the mushrooms. The sauce was a little too sweet for my tastes and didn't really complement the mushrooms too much.

The next course they had was beer marinated, roasted lamb with mashed potatoes and onions.

Ok, so I've got to admit, I don't really like lamb much. I like gyros and a few other lamb dishes, but I honestly don't like the taste that much. But this lamb was really good. It was cooked perfectly and quite tasty. The sides were good overall, not as good as the lamb, though.

For dessert, they fried up some beer, marinated apples and served it with ice cream and whipped cream.

I didn't get to taste any of the well cooked ones, but the "test ones" were pretty good. I was surprised I could taste the beer with the apple fritter. I'd imagine with the ice cream, it's be pretty good.

Overall the iron chef competition was a lot of fun. Unfortunately team asia was declared the victors. They had good execution, the lamb was amazing, and their presentation was outstanding. I think our food was more unique, the beer flavor a little stronger, but utlimately we had a few executation flaws that cost us the win.

If I had to do it over again, I'd probably replace the beer soup with a beer stew. I think the pasta would've been better if we did make those mistakes, but I might try something different instead of the pasta, but I still don't really have any great ideas for this one. The dessert was good--just too much salt in the icing. I'm sure we'll do it again, but probably not for another 6 months. In the meantime, I may push for a potluck competition, where one ingridient must be used.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Indian Food: Chana Masala

The last time I tried to stretch myself and cook something unique, the Korean food turned out pretty bad, atleast in my opinion. However, I figure Indian food is in my reach, as I've seen Siva make it before. So I decided to start with a pretty simple dish, chana masala. It's basically just chickpeas in a stewed, spicy tomato sauce. To try something unique, I decided to try to make some homemade garlic naan as well.

The recipes I used were from, which is a great website because it includes videos as well. So I followed the naan recipe and made the dough, which as you can see is quite sticky. I don't cook bread often enough, so I'm never sure how the bread dough should be, but I managed to oil up my hands enough and knead the dough.

I let it rest about 2 hours and then shaped the naan, brushing some butter on, and putting some garlic on top.

I put it in a hot oven on the pizza stone and took them out when they looked done. They looked really nice and tasted awesome, but it tasted more like garlic bread than garlic naan. I think it was mostly the texture, but I'll have to try it again and see what's going on--still good though.

For the naan, I cut up a lot of garlic and used my new garlic press, which is quite useful. You can see it all below. For the chana masala, I cut up some on red onions.

In a pan, I heated some oil, and threw in some cumin seeds. After a few minutes, I threw in some garlic, just a little bit, and sauteed it in. Finally I threw in the onions.

After the onions cooked I threw in a can of diced tomatoes to cook down for a while.

While this was cooking, I made some sauce. I threw in a can of diced tomatoes, some chopped jalepenos, and some ginger paste into a blender. I almost never use jalapenos, but I learned that a) jalapenos can be pretty hot b) never ever touch your face or eyes after cutting a pepper without cleaning your hands very, very thoroughly.

After the tomatoes broke down, I threw in the sauce from the blender and half a can or so of tomato sauce to make it a little more liquidy. Then I threw in some indian spices, which I don't really recal at the moment, and finally the chickpeas. I went to an Indian supermarket to buy all the spices, and I gotta admit that spices there were sooo much cheaper than at a regular supermarket. It was about 20% the price. However, it's all in bags, and I need to get some jars to store all of it rather than regular tuperware, which is what I'm using now. Also, for the chickpeas, I soaked it for about 2 hours in water with some tea bags to give them a little better color.

I let this all stew for a while and voila.

Overall the Indian food was quite good. I'd consider it a relatively easy dish to make as well. Even the naan wasn't too hard, and I definitely want to try that again as I can't tell if I screwed something up or the recipe isn't that good because it definitely looks like naan. At any rate, it all tasted quite good and would be something I'd expect from an indian restaurant.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Smoking Pork Butts

Duke's bbq is my favorite restaurant back home and one of the few things I actually crave. Last time I tried making pulled pork, I used a crock pot, and it came out well, but was super moist. Now that we've moved and have a grill, I decided it was time to try doing it a more old-fashioned way, smoking the pork shoulder. To celebrate the occassion and to help eat the massive amount of pork, I started inviting people over and just kept mentioning it to other. Somehow, we ended up with an unexpected party of about 18 people.

I went to the local butcher and got a nice 8.5 lb Boston Butt. The night before, I made a pretty typical spice rub and slathered it all over.

I sealed this puppy in some plastic wrap and let it sit overnight.

I'm lucky to have a job that let's me work remotely, and since Wednesday is the unofficial day to work from home, I decided to do just that because I'd rather hog the communal grill all day on Wednesday rather than Sunday. So I woke up quite early and got the grill ready.

So I'll go ahead and complain about our grill now, but I don't really plan on using it much. The main reason is I swear it catches on fire too much because it hasn't been cleaned in god knows how long. There's just too much gunk at the bottom and cleaning off the grates is not enough. This meant I had to keep a close eye on it, so nothing would catch on fire for too long. I say too long because there were a few fires.

Once the meat caught on fire; however, I'll take responsibility for this one as I was just starting out and forgot to turn the burner directly under the meat off. That one halted pretty quickly once I turned the burner off. However, the main problem was with the wood chips. I don't know if anyone else has tried to smoke, especially on a gunky gas grill, but every once in a while the woodchips would stop just smoking and start burning.

The basic setup: keep the burners on the right on, put the woodchips that I had soaked in water on top of those burners in a throwaway aluminum pan, and put the meat over to the left so there was no direct heat under it.

Sometimes the smoking did work really well. To make sure it made it all the way over to the meat, I tried to cover a lot of the extra vents in the grill with tinfoil. I was also a little paranoid about it drying out, so I made a "mop." Basically I took some cider vinegar and apple juice and slathered it on the meat generously every once in a while.

I debated just letting the woodchips burn, as I figured it wasn't that big of a deal, but being my first time and trying not to get in trouble with the home-owners association, I decided to stay out there and watch it closely. Anytime the wood caught on fire, I'd throw some water on it so it didn't get out of hand.

Overall it worked pretty well, and I tried to keep the temperature around 250 degrees while making sure to keep the fires under control. After about 5 hours of smoking, around 1 PM, the fire went out for no reason, and I gave up lighting it, so I wrapped it in tinfoil and moved the cooking in the oven. Coking in the oven's a lot easier as I can just set it (at 275 degrees) and let it cook without worrying about fires.

I read so many different tutorials on how to smoke a pork shoulder, and I watched about 5 different videos on it. Everyone had a different opinion on when to take out the pork. Numbers ranged from 160 to 210. I decided to go for around 190-195, which seemed to be somewhere in the middle. After I took it out, I let it rest for about 2 hours while I waited for dinner time to arrive and to make the other dishes (macaroni and cheese, and cornbread).

When I took it out, it was falling apart, and I couldn't even move it to another tray in one piece.

Apparently smoking it causes the outside to be black. I wanted it to be a little smokier and crunchier on the outside, but it still turned out really well--perfectly moist. The crockpot one was too juicy; this one was much better.

For the sauce, I obviously used the Duke's bbq sauce, which is my idea of heaven in a bottle, but also I decided to make a Mojo sauce (basically citrus + garlic).

For the sides, I made some cornbread, following Alton Brown's recipe. It turned out decent. Personally I like the corn bread a little more moist and with some more flavor (maybe sweeter or with some jalapenos).

I also made some Mac and Cheese. I looked around for some recipes and settled on a Martha Stewart one that seemed to get great reviews.

Because more people were showing up than I originally planned, I multiplied the recipe by 50%. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough sharp cheddar, so I used some extra gruyere (recipe called for gruyere and sharp cheddar). Personally, I didn't like the gruyere and adding more was a mistake. I should've just made sure to keep the ratios between the cheeses proportional. Other, more hardcore mac-n-cheese fans, seemed to like the dish, though. Rather than make my own breadcrumbs, I decided to use panko breadcrumbs. This turned out well, but I think I'll add some butter next time to make sure they get nice and brown on top.

Overall the party turned out really well. Because I only made 3 dishes it was a relatively easy dinner even though we were serving 18. It's a lot easier just making 3 big dishes.

Also, I was shocked at how close I was to estimating everyone's appetite. There was just a really small amount of food left. However, I decided to make some pulled pork because I was just really in the mood for some. Pulled pork always seems to freeze really well, and I was looking forward to leftovers. Sadly , I didn't get any of those, but everyone had a good time and enjoyed the food, so I can't complain too much.

The make-shift party ended up being a success. I guess it was kinda an unoffical housewarming party, just with less people and a dirtier house :-) I'm still waiting to throw a real housewarming party, as I didn't invite everyone, but I need to cleanup some more and hopefully get a pot rack to clear up some kitchen space. I'm also not really sure what to do for the party (just h'oure d'oeuvres perhaps or perhaps a Beaufort boil). If anyone has suggestions, let me know. Also, if anyone's smoked a pork butt before and has some pointers for some of my problems, throw a comment at me.