Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Buffalo Wings

Buffalo wings ready for serving


Buffalo hot wings were invented to use up an otherwise hard to sell chicken part. Despite these humble beginnings... hot wings, when prepared correctly, are a divine experience on a par with tandoori chicken, oysters on the half shell, and fried calamari. This recipe provides a clear path to buffalo wing divinity.

Buffalo wings would be nothing without their accompaniments: blue cheese dip plus celery and carrot sticks. This recipe details a tasty from-scratch blue cheese dip. If you need help with celery and carrot sticks... then perhaps ordering takeout from your local pub is a better idea.

WTF? "natural butter type flavor"?
When I made this recipe, I was in a pinch on ingredients because it was Super Bowl Sunday. I used Frank's RedHot Wings Sauce because that's what we had. I'm not actually a fan of how they describe one of their ingredients: "natural butter type flavor". In the future, I would recommend a simpler hot sauce like Tapatio or Cholula. After all, we're adding butter... we don't need whatever chemicals comprise "natural butter type flavor."

This recipe makes a dozen wings, and serves 2-4 as an appetizer. It takes about 40 minutes to make. It can be doubled, tripled, or sextupled... you'll just need a large enough skillet and/or multiple skillets to avoid over-crowding in the oven.

Similar to when I barbecue... I find that the best way to get a flavorful glaze on the meat is to constantly re-baste it during cooking. Timing on that is provided below.

I've also left the degree of spiciness up to you. This recipe produces buffalo wings of a spiciness you'd expect if you ordered "regular" buffalo wings at your local pub. Add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper per dozen wings for each degree of "hot", "super hot", "on fire", and "nuclear" spiciness that you wish to inflict on yourself or your guests.

Ingredients


Wings:
  • 6 whole chicken wings (these will be cut into 12 pieces)
  • 7 ounces hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Bleu Cheese Dipping Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (gorgonzola, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Celery Sticks:
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into sticks
  • 2 carrots, cut into sticks

Procedure

Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees F.

While the oven is warming, cut the joints of your wings so you end up with three sections: 1) a meaty single-boned section... the part closest to the breast on a whole chicken, 2) a smaller two-boned section... the "middle section" one joint farther from the breast on a whole bird, and then 3) the tip. Discard the tips.

While the oven continues to heat, make the dipping sauce by combining all ingredients. If you're starting with a block of blue cheese or things seem too chunky, feel free to pulse the sauce in a food processor for 10-15 seconds to smooth it out. Taste your sauce. Each brand and style of cheese comes with different salt content. Make sure you adjust seasonings as necessary to develop an outstanding dipping sauce. Pour the sauce into a serving bowl and refrigerate (covered) until serving time.

Wash and cut the celery and carrots into sticks, and refrigerate (covered) until serving time.

Constant turning over and re-basting of the wings with
hot sauce as they cook is the key to a flavorful glaze
Once the oven is almost at 500 degrees F, place oil and butter in a medium cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and begins to bubble, toss in your raw wings, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir things around for a minute or two, and then add enough hot sauce to coat all the wings thoroughly (2 ounces).

Put the skillet in the 500 degree oven, and let the wings cook for 2-3 minutes. Pull them out, turn each wing over with tongs, and baste the top of each wing with more hot sauce. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. Continue the cycle of cooking, turning over, and re-basting the tops for about 20 minutes. At this point the wings should be fully-cooked.

Prepare your serving plate with celery and carrot sticks, blue cheese dip, and a spot for the wings.

Cast iron buffalo wings plated, garnished, and ready!
Pull the wings from the oven, add another plentiful splash of hot sauce (2-3 ounces, enough to thoroughly coat all of the wings), stir things around, and then place the wings on the serving plate for immediate consumption.

If you really want to pro it up, garnish the dipping sauce with a sprig of celery leaves, or parsley.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Article: Farmed "Frankensalmon" Coming Soon to a Meal Near You

Meet the Eelpout, whose DNA has been added to Atlantic Salmon to force it to grow twice as fast as normal

Just when you thought farmed Atlantic Salmon couldn't get any worse, the FDA has now taken a huge step toward approval of a genetically-modifed Atlantic "salmon" that grows twice as fast as real Atlantic Salmon. It's called the AquaAdvantage (sounds like a penis enlargement pill), and is made by a company called Aqua Bounty.

Why is the AquaAdvantage a horrible idea? For starters... this new creature is not a salmon. It's an Atlantic Salmon crossed with a Chinook (a/k/a "King") Salmon crossed with an "Eelpout" (see image above). While the health benefits of eating wild salmon are clear, these benefits are more dubious with farmed Atlantic Salmon.

Why? Farmed atlantic salmon is fed a stew of fishmeal from all over the world, as well as gentically-modifed soy and canola oils. Studies have found higher levels of PCBs and mercury in farmed Atlantic Salmon, most likely due to the food they eat. Also, because these farmed fish are trapped in massive pens with way too many other fish, they are also plied with cocktails of antibiotics.

All of this is why I refer to Atlantic Salmon as the "sewer rat of salmon." I recommend you stay away from it. It's a damn shame what we've done to a once-awesome food source.

When I lived in Alaska, I used to watch the sockeye salmon jumping up the Russian River falls after swimming 70 miles up the Kenai River. It was breathtaking to watch these fish try over and over again to leap three, four, and five-foot waterfalls. They'd usually fail the first 10 or 20 times, but most would eventually make it. Once above the falls, they'd spawn in their ancestral waters, and then die--their decaying bodies providing essential nutrition to the rest of the food chain. That food chain in turn provided the food on which their spawn would feed after hatching in the spring.

It's only a matter of time until the genetically-modified AquaAdvantage salmon get out and breed with wild salmon populations.

I'll venture to guess that the Eelpout isn't quite as adept at waterfall jumping... and salmon muscle that's been artificially forced to grow at twice the natural rate isn't going to power those beautiful fish up to their spawning grounds. What happens next? Wild salmon runs that get polluted with AquaAdvantage Salmon DNA will collapse.

So here's the kicker: think about the economics of this scenario. If the only salmon left on the planet are AquaAdvantage... who's making all the money? Where's the incentive to keep the wild stocks safe from genetic pollution?

Just say no to "frankensalmon."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recipe: Outstanding Tuna Casserole (gluten free)

Tuna casserole topped with cheddar and breadcrumbs

In my opinion, tuna casserole should be a taste of heaven. I make my tuna casserole from scratch (no cans of soup!), and stick to the classic ingredients (no bleu cheese or olives!).

This tuna casserole recipe is gluten free, but you could just as easily make this recipe full of gluten. To make it gluten free, I use Tinkyada gluten free pasta, and Bob's Red Mill gluten free all purpose flour.

Tuna casserole is all about the fundamentals: properly-cooked pasta, well-seasoned sauce, and appropriately-crunchy cheese and breadcrumb crust.

This recipe calls for making a basic white sauce that includes flavor-building ingredients like tuna, celery, onion, black pepper, and dry white wine. We'll then mix that with the pasta, and top it off with more cheese and bread crumbs (gluten free in our case).

IMPORTANT NOTE: this recipe is really easy! Don't be alarmed by having to make a "white sauce". If you can add hot cocoa mix to boiling water, you can make this white sauce.

This recipe serves 8, and takes about an hour to make. Here's how it breaks down:

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. (dry) pasta (I recommend hollow pasta like macaroni, ziti, or penne, and I use gluten free)
  • 5 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour (gluten free if you like)
  • 3 cups of milk (or 2 cups milk and 1 cup sour cream)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 (7 oz.) cans tuna packed in water (keep the water!)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan/romano cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs

Procedure

Begin by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees F. Then boil water for pasta. The pasta water should be well-salted... and taste like an overly-salty broth. Remember, the vast majority of that salt will stay in the water and go down the drain... so don't worry (too much) about your blood pressure.

Lightly toast enough bread for 2 cups of breadcrumbs. This amounts to about two slices of regular sandwich bread, or three slices of Udi's gluten free sandwich bread. Once the bread is done toasting, let it sit on the counter until you're ready for it (just prior to putting the casserole into the oven).

Sauteing the aromatics
While the oven and pasta water heat up, dice the onion and chop the celery into 1/4-inch slices. Begin your "casserole sauce" in a medium stainless steel saucepan by melting 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.

As soon as the butter is partially melted, add your aromatics (the onion and celery). Saute the aromatics for 5-7 minutes or until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown.

Add the flour, and stir for 10 seconds. Add the milk, tuna with water, and white wine. Stir things around for another 10 seconds until everything is well-mixed.

Continue heating the sauce on medium heat to thicken it, stirring occasionally.

The casserole sauce prior to thickening
At some point while your sauce thickens, your pasta water will boil. When it does, toss in your pasta to cook it.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente (it will continue to cook in the oven) and then drain it and toss it lightly with oil to keep it from sticking. Set the pasta aside until you're finished with the sauce.

Once the sauce has just started to bubble and has thickened noticeably, remove it from heat.

Combine the sauce with the pasta. Add in the parmesan/romano cheese and stir everything around again to combine the ingredients.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. For this recipe, I find that I need about 1 to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt (1/2 to 1 teaspoons of table salt), and 1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper. Taste this mixture. It should taste GOOD. If it doesn't, add salt until it bursts with flavor.

Casserole mixture ready for topping with
cheddar and bread crumbs
Place the pasta/sauce mixture into a lightly-oiled 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish. Top it with the cheddar cheese. Chop your slices of bread into half-inch cubes, and add those on top of the casserole.

Bake the casserole in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove it from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes... and serve.

Viva la comfort food!




Saturday, November 10, 2012

Article: New GE Profile Gas Range Comes With a Pleasant Surprise

The GE Profile gas range makes its debut in my kitchen
For those of you who follow this blog, you're probably used to me complaining about my electric glass-top range, the Frigidaire Gallery. Well, the kitchen gods have smiled upon me (or at least smirked): The Frigidaire is dead!

The glass-top range had been basically new when we moved into the house 8 years ago... but my years of restaurant work meant I was always secretly planning for a gas range (while my wife may never believe me, I didn't actually sabotage the glass-top).

My primary complaint about the glass-top electric was that the stovetop burners were completely unresponsive to having the heat turned down. It was literally impossible to cook simple foods like pasta, oatmeal, and rice—without standing there the whole time shuffling the pot between on and off burners. If you left the pot on a recently-turned-to-low burner for even a minute, it would boil over and make a mess.

I toyed with the idea of getting a "real" stove... a commercial range like a Wolf or a Vulcan. But those typically come in 36-inch widths, and I wasn't up for an extensive kitchen remodel just now. Having to move the gas line from the old range location was enough hassle.

Having settled on a household range, I hopped on Consumer Reports to do some research. I  found two likely contenders: the GE Profile and the LG LRG3097ST.

The convection oven will probably never
again be so clean!
My primary selection criteria were high heat and low heat. I wanted enough BTU output to sear foods and boil water without waiting all day. Even more important, I wanted to be able to simmer foods at very low temperatures without burning delicate sauces or making boilover messes.

The GE Profile and the LG LRG3097ST are at the top of their class on both high heat and low heat. They both feature convection ovens, stainless steel finish (to match my other appliances), and decently-rated broilers—which are usually not as good on gas models compared to electric. I also wanted continuous grates on the cooktop to make sliding around heavy pans (like, you know, cast iron) easier.

I had a slight preference for the LG range since it had two high capacity (~17,000 BTU) burners versus only one on the GE model. But when I learned that LG needed to re-tool a factory and wouldn't have them available for weeks, the GE (which could be delivered in 2 days) won out.

A real Lodge cast iron griddle was a nice surprise
The GE Profile has five burners, with the middle burner having an elongated shape. This should come in handy when using my oval enameled dutch oven. It also comes with a custom-shaped griddle that fits inside the four outer burners in a tapering, curved pattern. I was sure this griddle would be some teflon-coated piece of junk that I'd never use. Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a Lodge cast iron griddle!

After getting things hooked up and tested, I was ready to rock. I gave the griddle a scrub with hot soapy water, rinsed it thoroughly, coated it in organic canola oil, and gave it a good oven seasoning.

While I've only used the new range a handful of times, I've found the central griddle to be perfect for cowboy eggs, french toast, and quesadillas. I was also able to cook the boys' morning oatmeal on a nice low simmer with no boilovers.

I'll keep you informed as I use it more and discover its strengths and weaknesses. For now, I'm a happy camper cooking on natural gas.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Article: Cast Iron Bottle Opener Arrives

Exactly one year ago today, I contributed a hundred bucks to a Kickstarter project called Cast Iron Skillets by Borough Furnace. I wrote about their sustainable approach and ergonomic design in a previous post.

They've gotten their foundry up and running in Syracuse, New York, and are now cranking out cast iron goodies.

As a thank you for helping them get off the ground, I received two cast iron bottle openers. As you can see in the photo, these aren't your standard "church key" bottle opener. They're more the sort of thing that would open the Temple of Thor.

In a quick quality assurance test, both bottle openers performed flawlessly on bottles of Stone IPA.

Good work, fellas! I look forward to seeing you guys get into production with your cookware.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Recipe: Home-Made Chicken Stock

Home made chicken stock simmering in an enameled dutch oven
Stock made from some animal is the base of many a tasty meal. While beef, buffalo, and fish stock make their way into some of the dishes I cook, I find that chicken stock is the workhorse of my kitchen.

We buy organic chicken stock from stores on occasion, but there's no question that home-made chicken stock is tastier, cheaper, and only requires a bit more planning.

The recipe is simple: sauté aromatics and herbs, throw in a carcass from a previously roasted chicken, and then add white wine and water. Season to taste with salt and you're done!

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken carcass from a previous roasting
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) water
  • a pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

Procedure

Heat an enameled cast iron dutch oven on medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. If you don't have olive oil, canola or some other oil is fine.

Aromatics and the chicken carcass browning
As the dutch oven heats, roughly chop the celery, onion, and carrot into big chunks. Once the oil is shimmering and hot (about 5-7 minutes), toss in the aromatics (i.e. the onion, celery, and carrot).

Sauté the aromatics for 5 minutes, and then add the chicken carcass. Continue to stir things around for another 10 minutes. Ideally, you achieve a bit of browning on the aromatics and the chicken.

Once things are nicely browned, clear a spot on the bottom of the dutch oven, add another tablespoon of oil, and put your crushed garlic into this spot. Also add the black pepper and thyme on top of the crushed garlic.

Stir things around for about 45 seconds to gently cook the garlic. Be careful not to burn or even brown the garlic. As soon as the garlic has cooked gently, immediately add the wine. Stir the contents of the dutch oven around for 30 seconds, and then add the water. Add the bay leaves.

Simmer the broth for 1-4 hours, depending on how much time you have. Season to taste with salt until it tastes like a good broth (a soup you'd want to keep eating).

Strain the liquid into a bowl, cool, and then freeze it in Ziploc bags... or use it in whatever recipe you've got going on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Article: Colorado Cold Frame

A cold frame built from recycled materials protects herbs and greens after a heavy snowfall

At 40 degrees north latitude, Boulder, Colorado gets the same amount of sunshine as places like Valencia, Spain; Naples, Italy; and Istanbul, Turkey.

Valencia has garnered fame for its oranges. Naples is considered the birthplace of pizza, spaghetti, gelato, and a number of fine wines and olive oils. Istanbul is famed for its cotton, fruits, and olives (as well as a bit of confusion over what the city should be named).

Valencia, Naples, and Istanbul are a gardener's paradise.

Boulder is not.

This habanero plant was among the lucky ones
in this hail storm. It lived to produce a few peppers
before the fall frosts killed it
Here in Boulder we routinely see 90+ mph winds, golf ball sized hail, and 3-foot snowfalls. On top of that, we're a mile above sea level... so the sun shines brightly, the air is dry, and even summer nights get cold in a hurry.

At our house in Boulder, our vegetable garden is a 15 by 40-foot spot that used to be "lawn." No doubt in 1962 when the house was built it was a luxurious carpet of Kentucky blue grass. In 2004 when we moved in, however, it was two-foot-tall crab grass and weeds.

Our second summer here, we covered the grass with mulch to kill it, roto-tilled it under, and began work amending the soil for a garden.

I don't know how many tons of manure and compost we mixed with our native rock and clay before we had something resembling "soil" in our garden. Let's just say it was a lot. Each year we've continued to add organic material: spent grains from the local brewery, a prodigious supply of yard and kitchen compost, chicken coop manure and straw, and just about anything else we can get our hands on to help dilute the clay. Seven years later, we've got a healthy population of worms... and what I'd actually call soil.

But the dirt has been the least of our worries.

Because we can get blizzards and heavy frost into late May, most folks recommend waiting until mid-May (Mother's Day) to plant anything.

A spring thunderstorm drops golf ball-sized
hail on south Boulder
The first year we planted our garden on June 6th (yes, D-Day) just to be safe. We congratulated ourselves for being patient and avoiding a late frost that had struck two nights before. Hours after the last tomatoes were lovingly tucked into the soil, a thunderstorm dropped 4 inches of golf ball sized hail in about 10 minutes. The garden looked like someone had taken a machine gun to it. We had to replant everything the next day.

The next year on the exact same day a windstorm came up and literally blew all of the plants out of the ground. All that was left were a bunch of square holes in the ground.

Over the years... we've learned to cope with the wind and hail. Sometimes, just before a thunderstorm hits, I'll put on a ski helmet and go out to cover the plants with buckets, plywood, or even canoes. Other times, we have to just suck it up and replant after mother nature has finished slapping us around.

In those lucky years when we sneak through to late June with no hail or wind damage, we then confront the searing Colorado heat. Boulder is very dry in the summer. And really hot. Temperatures in the upper 90's are common, and we can have a week or more where we break the century mark.

Our poor plants just don't have enough time to grow a sufficient root network between mid-May and late June... and typically wilt flat every afternoon no matter how much we water them. The strong plants perk up by evening... just in time to gird up for the 60-degree downslope wind that flows out of the nearby snow-capped peaks almost every night.

An early fall heavy snow decimates the yard
Most years, just about the time the tomatoes really start producing in September... we get a hard frost or a heavy snow (or both), and it's all over until the spring.

While the weather is unpredictable, our neighbors are a steady source of wisdom and shared experiences. One evening at the Southern Sun brewery, a few of us were chatting about the challenges of Colorado gardening. Kevin, from a few doors down, offered to lend me his copy of Eliot Coleman's book entitled Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. In it, I was re-introduced to the concept of the cold frame.

When I was a cook at an adventure lodge in Alaska, we used summer cold frames to ensure a steady supply of fresh herbs for the restaurant. During the Alaskan winter, of course, the cold frames were stored away along with the deck chairs, rafts, and hip waders... but Colorado is a different story.

Here in Boulder, I resolved to reproduce the subtropical climates of Istanbul in my winter back yard—armed with leftover fence posts and two dumpster-reclaimed sliding glass patio doors.

My first task was to find a good spot for my cold frame. Our house faces northeast, so my two choices were the southeast-facing side yard, or the southwest-facing back yard. While I eventually plan to have cold frames on both sides, I decided to start on the southeast side since the landscaping was a little more defined on that side of the house. 

My next task was to figure out a design that would make the best use of my salvaged materials, but also handle these basic requirements:
  • Must be cold hardy. In the past 7 years we've had a few winters with a week or more of -20 degrees F nighttime temperatures.
  • Has some headroom. I wanted a cold frame that could accommodate taller plants like eggplant, jalapeno peppers, and perennial herbs like rosemary. 
  • Is able to blow off steam. Boulder routinely gets 75 degree F days in December, January, and February... so the cold frame had to be able to handle these surprise "summer" days without undue human intervention.
  • Looks sharp. Our side yard has a landscaped walkway that's the main entrance for my wife's tutoring business. I wanted a cold frame that blended handsomely with the existing landscaping. 

Our house is made of brick, so I decided to use the house as the back wall of the cold frame to provide a heat sink. The sliding glass patio door panes I had were 80 inches tall and 32 inches wide. I figured this would give me a cold frame that was roughly 7 1/2 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide. As luck would have it, I had just enough leftover cedar from a fence project to build two cold frames of this size. 

6" x 6" posts overlaid at the corners
Thanks to a somewhat over-engineered fence project, my fence posts were 10-foot 6" x 6" posts. I stacked the 6x6 posts on top of each other, which gave me a raised bed roughly 11 inches tall. You could use just about anything to build a simple raised bed approximating these dimensions.

From there, I used a combination of 4" x 4" and 2" x 4" leftovers to complete the framing so that one long side of the patio door pane would rest on the outer edge of the raised bed, and the other side would sit close to the house wall. The patio door pane sits at roughly a 45-degree angle when the cold frame is closed. The patio door rests in place through gravity alone. When I want to prop it open, I simply tilt it forward and prop it with a stick.

A lot of cold frame designs call for glass that sits nearly flat, but I've found that the extra head room is good for accommodating the taller plants, and also helps give excess heat somewhere to go. I have a 2" x 2" that sits across the top of the window pane, which seals off a gap of about 1 1/2 inches. In warmer weather, I leave remove the 2" x 2" so that extra heat can escape. 

Once completed, I filled the base of the cold frame with a mixture of 1/4 horse manure and 3/4 soil from the garden. We've planted it with all sorts of things in the past year and a half: romaine lettuce, swiss chard, eggplant, jalapeno peppers, kale, spinach, cilantro, rosemary, Italian parsley, and more. 

Heads of romaine lettuce reach maturity in February
next to perennial Italian parsley and spinach starts
The rosemary and parsley plants are perennials, but we usually plant hot weather stuff like eggplant and jalapenos in early spring for a summer or fall harvest, and then cold-hardy plants like kale, spinach, lettuce, and chard in early fall for a winter harvest. 

What I've found works best is to plant the winter crop in September, so the warm days of fall help germinate the seeds, lead to strong growth, and get the plants established for the winter. Once late November hits, the plants effectively stop growing. These nearly full-grown plants will hang out in suspended animation in the cold frame all winter long... and are tasty and "spring fresh" when you pick them in January or February. 

It's all about experimentation... and this summer I'll be trying cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, and habanero peppers. This fall, I'm looking to break into endive, escarole, and carrots. 

When the winds start to howl, the hail falls, or the mountain snow piles up, I always sleep a little better knowing that some part of my garden is cozy and warm under the protective blanket of my neighbor's patio door, and some leftover fence posts.