04. April 2016 · Comments Off on On Garlicking ALL THE THINGS! · Categories: Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips · Tags:

garlic-bulbs-325I blame Emeril. Between his pork fat and bammage, “20 or 30 cloves of garlic” became the battle cry of thousands of American cooks.

The latest food meme states “One clove of garlic is not enough for any recipe unless it’s a recipe for ‘how to cook one clove of garlic,’ and even in this case use two.”

Please stop. Just. Fecking. Stop.

Just because some is good, more is not always better. This is the same mentality that’s transformed IPA beer into undrinkable disconnected mugs of malt sweetness doused with liberal applications of distilled raw hop oil. Yes, sometimes you need just one goddamn clove of garlic.

There is this thing in food and drink called “subtlety” and it might be worth going back to look up the definition again, because so many people seem to have forgot it exists. In a delicate sauce, a little garlic can add complexity and depth. More than that, and congrats – it tastes of nothing but garlic.

Garlic, like its allium cousins onion, leek, and shallot is a versatile thing. Stinging and brash raw, sugar sweet when roasted or caramelized, aromatic when sauted, toasty and smoky when browned. It is also a loud talker – the guest who will take over the party if you let it.

So think – is this dish supposed to taste exclusively or primarily of garlic? If the answer is no, then maybe put the third through 20th cloves down. And seriously question the need for a second.

16. December 2015 · Comments Off on How to Warm Your Wiener · Categories: Cooking, Food, Quick Tips · Tags: , , ,

hotdog1How you heat your hots dogs should be determined by what kind they are.

Most franks you buy at the grocery store are casing-free, and all are pre-cooked. Casing-less wieners are well suited to high-speed production lines. The sausages are actually formed and cooked in a plastic casing which is stripped off after cooling and before packing. The result is a dog with a soft exterior and an easy “bite” with little to no resistance. These are better off grilled or griddled. High heat cooking crisps up the outside a touch for some textural interest.

Now, your boutique dog with a natural casing (often lamb intestine) is a different beast. For one, they’re in a tube that you eat, which has a bit of “snap” or “crunch” when you bite into your wiener. Second, deli and boutique dogs tend to be seasoned a bit more assertively than their bland supermarket cousins. High heat does these guys few favors. Before the inside is hot, the intense temps have dried out and toughened the casing which most people find unpleasant. So, the best way to handle a natural-casing frank is to simmer it in water. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, drop in your dogs, then lower the heat to maintain a steady but not vigorous simmer. Heat for 5 minutes and then serve.

Optionally, with casing-on franks you can griddle them for a minute or two to give some color once they’ve come out of the water. But don’t get too crazy – overcook them and you’ll lose the right texture and dry out your dog.

As for serving – straight up white bun, and yellow or spicy mustard. Pickle if you want it, or maybe sauerkraut. Avoid sugary ketchup – you want tomatoes, dice some up and put ’em on top. A little diced raw onion’s OK, too.

06. August 2014 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: Pickling Jalapeños · Categories: Cooking, Food, Quick Tips · Tags: ,

Sliced jalapeno peppers in steel bowl

Here’s a quickie – pickle your own jalapeño peppers for salsa, nachos, sandwiches, salads, or anywhere else you want some chili goodness. Plus, you get to grow your own favorite pepper variety for the heat level you desire. You should be able to achieve greater potency than those flaccid rounds you get in a jar from the store.

You need:

15-20 jalapeño peppers
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
4 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 large garlic cloves

Hardware:

Large saucepan with lid
Screw-top jar or plastic container of about a quart capacity
Latex gloves (optional)

Peel the garlic cloves, and slightly crush (use the bottom of a glass or the flat side of a chef’s knife).

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic in the saucepan. Cover.

Wash the peppers with cold water to remove any dirt or debris. Don your gloves. Slice about ¼ inch thick, discarding the stem end. Set sliced peppers aside. Remove gloves, or if you didn’t use them – WASH YOUR HANDS WITH DISH DETERGENT BEFORE TOUCHING YOUR EYES, NOSE, MOUTH, OR TENDER BITS. This is a lesson you only need to learn once the hard way.

Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat, add pepper slices and re-cover. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all the peppers are soaked in the brine. They will turn from bright to olive green.

Remove pepper slices and garlic to your container, and pour over enough liquid to cover. Keep in refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If they last that long.

23. June 2014 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: How to Ensure Your Espresso Machine Leaks · Categories: Coffee & Tea, Quick Tips · Tags: , ,

Here’s a couple of foolproof ways to make sure the brewhead gasket on your espresso machine leaks like crazy whenever you try to pull a shot:

  1. Always overfill your filter basket. Don’t worry about proper dosing – if some coffee is good, more coffee is great! Cram that thing full and tamp it with your full body weight if you have to.
  2. Always crank the portafilter as tight as humanly possible into the grouphead. Way past the point of solid, uniform contact. If you’re not grinding the basket into the brass handle, you’re letting the caffeine escape!
  3. When not using the machine, keep the portafilter handle locked tightly into the brewing group. It stays hotter and there’s less chance of it getting lost. Keep it tight whether the machine’s hot, cool, warming, or cooling. You want consistently compressed rubber!

Seriously – don’t do these things. Dose properly, lock the handle just until you get a good seal, and if you keep the portafilter on the machine always, turn it until it just contacts the gasket. It’ll stay, I promise. Otherwise, you’ll flatten, deform, or crack the rubber seal.

 

04. April 2014 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: What We Do When We Can’t Find Superfine Salt · Categories: Cooking, Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips

Superfine salt is also known as pickling or popcorn salt, depending on whether or not it contains anti-caking agents that keep it from clumping in high humidity. Unless you pop a lot of corn, or do a lot of pickling – the fine grained salt dissolves more quickly in cold brines – you’re unlikely to have the stuff sitting about. The solution? Throw a few tablespoons of kosher salt into a clean coffee/spice grinder and give it a hearty whiz. Superfine salt in no time, and no extra trip to the store.

13. November 2013 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: On the Disposal of Over-ripe Bananas · Categories: Drink, Quick Tips · Tags: , , , ,

When the ‘nanners on your counter start getting a little too long in the tooth, peel ’em and freeze ’em.

Later, cut your frozen banana into chunks, add 1/2 cup of yogurt, a sizable drizzle of honey or agave nectar, and enough milk or soymilk to bring the total volume up to about 14 oz. Add a dash of cinnamon and blend until smooth (stick blenders are great for this job). Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top, and presto – one breakfast shake.

This, by the way, is an excellent vehicle for blending in nasty supplement things like fiber, bran, flax-seed oil, etc.

15. October 2013 · Comments Off on On the Stupidity of “Pill Pockets” · Categories: Quick Tips · Tags: , , , , ,

Pills by Flickr user GenBug, Creative Commons LicenseWe’ve got an old dog. With an old dog comes pills. With pills comes trying to get said dog to swallow said pills. Which involves all sorts of trickery and tomfoolery at times. If you have to do this every day, you quickly abandon the “stuff ’em in and make ’em swallow” approach. That works for a very short period of administering meds. It becomes ridiculous if you have to do it for more than a week. Much less, if it’s twice a day for the remainder of your pet’s days.

So, many resort to hiding pills in other things. Dogs however, after months of this, become rather adept at separating pill from food. The next step in escalating medication warfare is wrapping the pill or capsule in something sticky that the dog will swallow before they realize the subterfuge. To this end, there are a number of “pill pockets” and “hide-a-pill” products on the market, for which manufacturers charge a pretty penny – $10 a bag is about average.

Look at the ingredients, and you will see three main components. Flour, vegetable oil, and a flavoring.

Yep, a sawbuck for a bag of flour dough with some chicken bouillon mixed in.

At least if you have a dog, you can commit to never buy these things again. I have yet to meet a dog that didn’t like peanut butter. Take a healthy blob of natural peanut butter (the stuff that’ll separate if you let it sit long enough) in a small bowl, and mix in all-purpose flour until you get a stiff mass. Then, knead in additional flour until you get a formable dough that doesn’t sag under its own weight.

Use this to wrap your pills. They’ll go down in seconds, and it doesn’t end up all over your hands and carpet. It’s just flour and peanut butter, so there’s no refrigeration or preservatives necessary.

28. June 2012 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: Awesomesauce. · Categories: Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips

If you’ve hung around a nerd long enough, you’ve heard this word. Used enthusiastically (usually written), it means insanely great, really fantasic, and/or way cool. “Made tons of changes to that source code, and it compiled without errors the first time. Awesomesauce!”

Used ironically (often spoken), it means the exact opposite. “Realized I sat in pigeon crap at lunch today and then walked around the office all afternoon… awesomesauce.”

But, did you know that this mythical substance actually exists?

Yes, Virginia, there is an awesomesauce. It’s called Sriracha.

This:

Sriracha hot sauce Image courtesy of Flickr user barron via Creative Commons. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/barron)

Is Sriracha. It is a culinary elixir of primarily ground ripe Jalepeno chilies, garlic, and vinegar. One usually first encounters it in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, especially if you’re sitting down to some pad thai or pho. Those in the know with regards to the magical bottle of nuclear red goodness with the green top refer to it as “Rooster Sauce.” Its heat level lies somewhere between Texas Pete or Crystal hot sauce and Tabasco. It’s thicker than those, but not as chunky as the coarser-ground sambal paste, which also omits the garlic. You should have some in your cupboard, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

What is it good for? What isn’t it good for? OK, maybe not as a cake frosting or donut filling. But, pretty much anything else is fair game.

Mix it liberally with ketchup, finely diced onion, and sweet pickle relish to apply to burgers and hot dogs for an extra bite. Mix with mustard for a spicy pretzel dip. Add to soups for sizzle. Add to sweet pickled cucumbers and onions with some red pepper flake for a fiery side condiment.

Dollop on pizza. Spice up your spaghetti sauce. Mix with stir-fried noodles. Dab onto potsticker dumplings, or make a dip from Sriracha and light soy sauce. Brush onto shrimp and grill. I could go on, but you’d tune out after a few more sentences, anyway.

Quite simply, Sriracha is the sauce that makes just about anything awesome. Thus, it is the true awesomesauce.

12. June 2012 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: Freezer Essentials – Potstickers · Categories: Cooking, Food, Quick Tips

Need some quick hot snacks, a fast lunch, or a little bit of protein to go with a vegetable stir-fry? Well, then – always keep a bag of frozen shrimp or pork potsticker dumplings in the freezer for rapid deployment. They hit the spot for a fast Asian fix.

Preparation: Place a stainless steel saute pan or iron skillet over high heat (non-stick pans will not work here – they’re called “potstickers” for a reason). Add about a tablespoon of canola, peanut, or safflower oil to the pan and heat until you just start to see a wisp of smoke. With tongs (you’re putting icy food in hot oil here), place 6-10 potstickers in the pan, flat side down. Cover, reduce heat to medium-high, and fry for one minute. Add a quarter cup of water to the pan (there will be much frantic boiling, so be careful), cover, and steam for 3-4 minutes until heated through and tender. Serve with a dipping sauce: light soy mixed with grated fresh ginger and scallions, or with light soy mixed with garlic/chili paste.

* The package directions will typically state to steam/boil before browning. I don’t like this – too much chance of sticking badly. My method’s closer to making from fresh – the browning causes the dumplings to stick, and the steaming releases them: tender, but with a nicely-browned semi-crispy bottom.

25. May 2012 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: Make your own fruit “soda” · Categories: Drink, Quick Tips

Why spend $5 for a four-pack of sparking juices when you can do the same thing yourself for less than half that cost?

Organic or high-fruit-content juices are much cheaper in large jugs. Get yourself a selection (I like organic lemonades, Apple & Eve peach-mango or orange-carrot, and Ocean Spray 100% Juice Ruby Red Grapefruit, all of which are available at my local wholesale club) and always keep some in the fridge.

When you’re thirsty, pour half a glass of juice over ice and then top off with club soda or your favorite (non-sweetened) flavored seltzer. Less sugar, refreshingly fizzy, and more economical than buying the same stuff in fancy glass pop bottles.