Sunday, January 31, 2010

Recipe: Pancakes

If you're looking to ditch the wheat, check out my gluten free pancake recipe.

There are two secrets to perfect cast iron griddle pancakes:  1) keep the heat low, and 2) make sure the griddle surface is shiny with oil every time you pour the batter.

I spent a few winters in Alaska about 60 miles from the nearest grocery store. We ate pancakes for 2-3 meals a day.  They're cheap, tasty, and you can experiment with endless additions and variations. 

This is a straight-up no chaser pancake recipe that very closely parallels most other from-scratch recipes I've seen.  If you're after large pancakes, you can make the batter a little thinner so they spread on the griddle.


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt (not kosher)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

Heat a cast iron griddle (or skillet) on low to medium-low heat.  While the griddle is warming (it will take 7-10 minutes to heat up), mix your dry ingredients together thoroughly in a mixing bowl.  Once they are mixed, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients to hold the wet ones.  Set the dry ingredients aside.

In another bowl, beat the egg, and then add the milk.  Melt the butter in a small dish or saucepan.

Always start your cast iron cooking with a shiny pan.  To make your cast iron griddle shiny, drop 15 or 20 drops of oil onto it, and then wipe the surface with a paper towel to spread the oil evenly.  You'll know when the griddle is hot enough for pancakes when a drop of water tossed on the surface crackles and evaporates immediately.

As the griddle comes up to heat, go ahead and combine your ingredients by first pouring the milk and eggs into the dry ingredients, and then pouring in the melted butter. Mix everything to combine, but don't over-mix.  A few lumps are fine.

Drop spoonfuls of batter onto the oiled griddle to make your pancakes.  Give them enough room to they don't stick to each other.  They'll probably cook 2-3 minutes on the first side.  You can always check the undersides for color, and they will usually start to send bubbles to the surface when they are ready to flip.

Flip pancakes, and cook for another 1-2 minutes on the griddle.  Cooking time will depend on thickness.  Re-oil the griddle before each new batch.  If your griddle or skillet gets too hot, pull it off the heat (and also turn down your burner), and give it a few minutes to cool down before proceeding.  Never pour water into hot cast iron... but you can set it outside (if it's cold) to bring the heat down more quickly.

If you're cooking for a crowd, hold the pancakes in the oven at 200 degrees F (or less, if you can).  Place the pancakes directly on the oven rack—not in a dish (or they'll get soggy).  In this case, you can pull them off the griddle a little earlier since the first few rounds will continue to cook some in the oven.

Serve with warm syrup and butter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread

Cast iron skillet corn bread ready for serving. 

Corn bread made in a cast iron skillet is a fine side dish to just about any meal.  It goes especially well with dutch oven chili, red beans and rice, and blackened fish.  This combination of New World maize and Old World cast iron cookware dates back to at least the 1600's in North America.

True to its pilgrim roots, this from-scratch recipe features only the basics:  corn meal, flour, butter, salt, baking powder, brown sugar, milk, and an egg.  It's really easy, and gets you from hungry to eating corn bread in about 22 minutes.

The key to outstanding cast iron corn bread is to start things off on the stovetop.  Pouring your batter into an already-hot cast iron skillet adds body to each slice in the form of a toothsome bottom crust.  It also introduces a nice nutty flavor since the butter added to the hot skillet browns a bit before the cold batter brings the temperature down.  This method also eliminates any sticking that could occur if you added cornbread batter to a cold cast iron skillet. 

I like to cut my corn bread into slices right there in the skillet, and serve it in place.  Keeping it in the skillet makes a nice presentation, and keeps the corn bread warm until it's time for seconds (and there will be seconds!). 

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all purpose flour (also works dandy with gluten free all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon table salt (or 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk (2% and skim are also acceptable)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (half a stick)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (for the hot skillet)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. While the oven is warming, combine all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Make yourself a little well in the middle to hold the wet ingredients (shown above, at right).

Heat a medium cast iron skillet on the stove at medium high heat.  While the pan is heating, melt your butter in a separate dish, and combine the beaten egg with the milk.  Once the cast iron skillet is just starting to smoke, pour the milk and egg mixture into the well in the dry ingredients, and then add the melted butter last.  Mix all ingredients with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Add a tablespoon-sized pat of butter to the hot cast iron skillet (it'll be rolling smoke at this point), and swish it around for even coverage.  A little browning of the butter is ideal, but you don't want it to burn.  Pour in the corn bread batter, and then transfer the skillet to the oven to finish.

Bake until a knife or toothpick comes out clean, or about 16-18 minutes.

Slice the cornbread like a pie right in the skillet, and serve hot with butter and honey.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Recipe: Grilled Cheese with Avocado

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a mainstay of our family's lunch menu.  They're quick, tasty, and always a crowd-pleaser with the kids and their friends.

There are two essential maxims that must be followed to achieve Cast Iron Skillet Grilled Cheese Sandwich Nirvana (CISGCSN):

  1. Use lots of (real) butter
  2. Keep the heat low so the cheese melts before the bread burns

  • 2 slices of bread
  • A few slices of your favorite cheese
  • 2 hefty pats of butter
  • Half an avocado, sliced
Always start your cast iron cooking with a shiny pan.  If your pan is dull, put 8-10 drops of oil into it and rub it around with a paper towel.

Heat a small cast iron skillet on medium-low heat, and throw the first pat of butter into the pan.  As soon as the butter has melted, swish it around, and then put your first slice of bread into the pan.  Place your slices of cheese on the bread slice, and then add the slices of avocado.

Add the second slice of bread on top, and place the second hefty pat of butter in the middle of it.  As soon as you have the slightest bit of browning on the bottom (first) slice, flip the sandwich over.

Grill the sandwich until all of the cheese is thoroughly melted.  Be sure to flip the sandwich every minute or two to avoid burning.

Serve immediately (with a pickle).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven Enchiladas

The camp dutch oven is a beautiful piece of equipment for car camping, raft trips and even canoe trips (with short portages).  Enchiladas are nearly always a crowd pleaser if done right, and they're quick-cooking and not too hard to prepare. If you don't have a dutch oven, there's a recipe for skillet enchiladas, too.

The secret to excellent enchiladas is excellent enchilada filling.  You can use just about anything to fill your enchiladas... just make sure you taste it before you start filling the tortillas.  Your enchilada filling should be tasty enough that you'd want to eat a bowl of it.

This recipe uses Derek's (almost) Famous Seasoned Pinto Beans, but you can substitute 2 (15 ounce) cans of drained and rinsed pinto, black, or other beans.  You can also use 2 pounds of ground meat such as beef, turkey, or buffalo—or a mixture of beans and ground meat. 

Caramelized onions are a great way to add flavor and complexity to your enchilada filling.  The sweetness of the onion tends to balance out and extend the generally salty taste of the filling.   Diced tomatoes wouldn't be out of place. Nor would caramelized peppers or other veggies.  Rice is a fine enchilada filling.  I've even used squash and Swiss chard.  I've included the seasonings I use in my pinto beans in this recipe to provide guidance in case you're using canned beans or other ingredients.

Don't forge to taste your filling. 

For this recipe, you want to end up with about 3 cups of total filling (roughly 1/3 cup per tortilla). If you somehow end up with too much filling, even better! Just freeze it (assuming you're near a freezer) flattened in a Ziploc bag.

  • 2 1/2 cups of cooked (nice and soft) pinto beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped or sliced
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • granulated garlic
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • Canola oil
  • 1 can (about 2 cups) enchilada sauce
  • 1 pound grated jack cheese
If you're new to camp dutch oven cooking, there are many great resources online, including Dutch Oven Cooking 101 from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

For the Filling

Heat your camp dutch oven over medium heat, which can be obtained with either 8 (burning) charcoal briquettes placed underneath, or a pile of wood charcoal (from a "real" fire) that's about 50% more volume than 8 briquettes would be.  The reason for the extra volume when using real wood charcoal is that briquettes contain additives like coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax, parrafin, and other petroleum products—which make them burn hotter and longer than wood. 

To begin, slice the bacon into small pieces (maybe a quarter inch wide) and toss it into the heated dutch oven.  Saute the bacon until it's halfway-cooked and has rendered some liquid fat.  Add in your chopped or sliced onion.  Keep an eye on your heat, and add or remove coals as necessary to speed things up or to prevent burning.  Once the onions have turned translucent and are beginning to brown, and the bacon is pretty well cooked, add beans, meat or any other filling ingredients.

Cook any meats through, and then season to taste with chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper.   Remember, the flavor of this filling is in large part the flavor of your enchiladas, so taste the filling, and don't skimp on seasoning!  Set the filling mixture aside in a place that it'll stay warm—like covered in another cooking pot and surrounded by a sleeping bag.

For the Tortillas
Wipe out the dutch oven with a cloth, or rinse with a little water to get the big chunks out.  Add an eighth of an inch of oil, and let it heat up.  You may need to add more wood charcoal (or replace dying briquettes with fresh ones) under the dutch oven to keep the heat up.  Once the oil is hot (but not smoking), lay each tortilla in the oil for about 30 seconds per side. Some calm bubbling is what you are after here, but not browning or crisping.  Gently fry all of the tortillas.  Wipe out any excessive oil left in the dutch oven and remove from heat.

Assembling the Enchiladas

Pour about half of your enchilada sauce into the bottom of the dutch oven.  Take each tortilla, lay in a good bit of cheese, add filling mixture, roll it up, and place it in the sauced dutch oven seam side down.  Use about 3/4 of your cheese for filling, and reserve the rest to put on top.

Pack the enchiladas in until the dutch oven is full, and then cover with remaining sauce.  Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, cover, and then bake at 325 degrees F (or so) for 35 minutes (or so).

To get 325 degrees in a 12-inch camp dutch oven, use 8 charcoal briquettes underneath and 16 on top.

Again, if using a wood fire, place the dutch oven over a pile of mature coals that has about 50% more volume than 8 briquettes would, and pile coals on the lid to equal about 16 briquettes plus 50%.  Check the dutch oven every 5-10 minutes to make sure your enchiladas aren't burning (usually observable by rigorous sauce-bubbling in one or more spots).

Rotate the dutch oven 90 degrees every 7-8 minutes, and at the same time rotate the lid 90 degrees in the other direction.  The idea here is to even out hot spots below and above your food.  Slower cooking is better, so don't be afraid to remove the dutch oven from heat if you suspect burning.

When the enchiladas are hot after 30 or 40 minutes... you're ready to eat!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Article: Ignite Boulder 7 Video - the official one

The wonderful people at Ignite Boulder have posted the "official" videos from Ignite Boulder 7 (with much better sound quality than the silly iPhone video of my presentation that I posted earlier).

So here's the high-quality version of "Cast iron Cookware: Why Your Great-Grandma Schools Your Ass on Sustainability. 

Hey, and don't be afraid to rate it!  Thanks.

Oh, and by the way, to understand in context my seemingly off-color comment about sexual relations with poultry... you have to see Peter McGraw's Preso: "From Wrong to Funny".

Friday, January 15, 2010

Recipe: Derek's (almost) Famous Pinto Beans - Crock Pot Method

These pinto beans are used in tons of other cast iron recipes, so make a bunch and freeze 'em for later. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or even sextupled.  Seriously.

If you don't happen to have any Dr. Deke's Cast Iron Smoked Spice Mixture on hand (i.e., if you have a life), just season the cooking water to taste with salt, red and black pepper, cumin, granulated garlic, and chili powder.  Add enough salt so it tastes like a too-salty soup.

Remember, there's a lot of pinto bean flesh that needs flavoring... so the flavor of the water should be bold.

Check it:

Brine dry pinto beans overnight in 72 oz. of water with 3 tablespoons kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tablespoons table salt).  Discard water and rinse beans.  Add all ingredients (including a fresh 72 oz. of water) to the crock pot, and cook on low for 10-12 hours. Drain if necessary.

Makes enough for a 9 X 13 inch casserole pan of enchiladas. Unless we are using them right away, we usually freeze the pinto beans (flat) in a gallon Ziploc.  This method allows you to easily break off chunks for use at any time (without having to thaw the whole bag).

Great for enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, bean quesadillas, chili, and more.

Recipe: Dr. Deke's Cast Iron Smoked Spice Mixture

We use this spice mixture to flavor pinto beans primarily, but it's great as an addition to just about any Mexican or Southwestern dish.  It's smoky, flavorful, and has a nice, well-balanced heat.  The secret to that balanced heat is the black pepper. 

The smoking portion of the recipe tends to freak some people out, but here are two thoughts to ease your worried mind:
  1. Once you try Weber kettle smoking, you may never go back to the culinary life you knew before.  It can be habit-forming.  I have yet to find a meat or vegetable that isn't outstanding when smoked.  This mixture is really easy to smoke... so it's a great place to start your addiction. 
  2. If you don't have access to a Weber kettle or other smoking apparatus (or just happen to have a life), you can simply add a dose of smoked hot sauce to whatever recipe you're cooking, and scale back on the black pepper in the spice mixture.  Should you choose this path, I can't recommend my favorite smoked hot sauce highly enough:  Uncle Brutha's. He's got two varieties. They are both the nectar of the gods.

The mixture goes something like this:
  • 3 parts chili powder
  • 3 parts kosher salt (or 1 ½ parts table salt)
  • 1 part cumin
  • 1 part garlic powder
  • 1 part ground black pepper
  • 1 smidge each of ground celery seed and crushed red pepper
To smoke the mixture, start by soaking some mesquite wood chips in water for a good hour.  These days, you can find smoking woods chips at most grocery stores.  Of course, you can also use actual hunks of wood whacked into chips or splinters.  I prefer mesquite wood chips, but you can use hickory, apple, alder, or any other common smoking wood.  

While the wood chips are soaking in water, light the smoking fire in a Weber kettle (or other grill that you can cover to trap the smoke).   I use hardwood charcoal chunks over charcoal briquettes to keep coal dust and God-knows-what-else out of my spice mixture, but regular old briquettes will do in a pinch.  Use a chimney fire starter to kindle the fire—you don't want lighter fluid making your spice mixture taste like an oil refinery.

While your wood chips are soaking and your fire is heating up, you've got the 30 seconds you need to prep the smoking mixture.  Mix all ingredients together in a medium cast iron skillet, and stir things around thoroughly. 

Once the fire is ready (which will probably take something like 20 minutes), bank all of the coals against one side of your grill.  Add your soaked mesquite (shown at right in the glass bowl) on top of the banked coals, and then put the cooking surface (the round grill on which you'd normally place burgers and dogs) in place.

Set the cast iron skillet (full of smoking mixture) on the far side of the grill (away from the fire), and re-cover the grill. Smoke the mixture for 2-3 hours—mixing every half hour or so to achieve an even smoke.  Keep the heat low (using the vents), and turn the skillet 180 degrees with each mix to make sure the side facing the fire doesn't get too hot.

Obviously, a longer smoke leads to a smokier flavor... and a shorter one will result in a milder mix.

The key to this whole recipe is:  Don't worry too much about it. Keep the heat low so you don't burn the mix... and pull it out if you think it might be burning. You can always let the fire cool and toss it back in after things calm down.

The basic smoking technique in this recipe is the same one you can use to make awesome smoked chicken, smoked prime rib, smoked salmon, and even smoked pizza.  Guess I need to write up those recipes...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Equipment: Camp Dutch Oven - 8 Quart

A well-seasoned camp dutch oven ready for action

Description and Uses
You can recognize a camp dutch oven by its legs—which keep it from directly contacting (and potentially crushing) any coals placed beneath it for cooking. Note: "Dutch" doesn't mean the thing came from Holland... it's a holdover from when "dutch" meant "ghetto".

Most camp dutch ovens have a lip that surrounds the top of the lid.  This lip holds in place any coals placed on top of the dutch oven for baking. Legend has it that Paul Revere invented the lipped dutch oven lid.

Most camp dutch oven lids are designed for use as a griddle by flipping it upside down. Its slightly concave surface means everything slides to the center... but it works well for cooking eggs, bacon, pancakes, and more. 

A camp dutch oven is used for outdoor cooking.  Most authorities and cookbooks follow the charcoal briquette method.  This means you ignite charcoal briquettes like you'd use in your household barbeque, and then strategically place them under and on top of the camp dutch oven to achieve the right temperature for whatever it is you are cooking.

You can also cook using a regular old campfire, and place wood coals on top for baking (shown at right).  If using real wood charcoal, increase volume of coals from any recipe by about 50% over the volume of called-for briquettes.  The reason for the extra volume when using real wood charcoal is that briquettes contain additives like coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax, parrafin, and other petroleum products—which makes them burn hotter and longer than wood. You can also place your dutch oven into a spot recently cleared of fire to add bottom heat.

Some folks hang their dutch oven from a tripod for campfire cooking (which allows you to control heat by raising and lowering the dutch oven). Others nestle their camp dutch ovens among the coals of a settled fire (also shown at right), or build supports using rocks.  You can, of course, place the camp dutch oven directly on a metal grate over a campfire.  

You can also use your camp dutch oven as a slow cooker / crock pot.  To do this, dig a hole in the ground that's about 6 inches deeper than your dutch oven, and light a fire in the hole.  Once the fire has burned to coals, remove half of those coals, leaving a base of about 3 inches at the bottom of the hole.  Place the dutch oven (full of food) on top of the bottom layer of coals, and then pile the remaining coals on top (perhaps another 3 inches).  Pile a few inches of dirt on top of the top layer of coals, and then cover it all with wet burlap to prevent sparks.  Dig it back up in 10 hours.  The effect approximates a slow cooker set on "low".

Inside bottom diameter: 9 1/2 inches
Outside top diameter: 12 1/2 inches
Depth: 5 inches

Care and Maintenance
In general, follow standard care instructions for bare cast iron.  Of course, if you're camping, you may not have access to a sink, stove top, or oven.  The basics are:  1) wash dirt, ashes, and food from the camp dutch oven with hot water and a non-abrasive (plastic bristles) scrubber, 2) dry with heat (in the sun, or over the fire), and then 3) oil the dutch oven inside and out so it's nice and shiny.

Always start your cooking with a shiny dutch oven to keep it nonstick.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Recipe: Gluten Free Fettucini Alfredo with Shrimp

Let me just say that old Alfredo had his "A game" on when he invented his famous Fettucini.  NOTE: This rendition is gluten free, but you can just use regular semolina pasta and all-purpose flour if you don't mind the wheat.  In either case, the results are outstanding. I'm just sayin'.

Fettucini Alfredo hails from Rome, and seems to have first appeared on the scene in 1914.

It all began with a dude named Alfredo di Lelio who was running a restaurant called Alfredo alla Scrofa.

In an attempt to provide sustenance to his pregnant wife, Alfredo di Lelio had the brain flash of adding more butter to an existing traditional Italian recipe known as fettucini al burro (fettucini with butter). It seems that fettucini al burro only added butter twice during preparation, and this just wasn't cutting it for di Lelio's wife. Alfredo wisely added a third round of butter and made his wife (and much of the Western world) very happy.

In its original Italian incarnation, Alfredo sauce was made of just butter and Parmesan cheese. Most Americans, however, (myself included) are used to Alfredo sauce being a velvety white concoction that is based on a cream sauce or white sauce.  I've always made Fettucini Alfredo using a white sauce (and my wife has liked it quite a lot, especially when pregnant).  So this recipe is American-style...

  • 3 Cups basic white sauce (see my recipe for gluten free basic white sauce)
  • 2 Cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 Cup dry white wine (like Chardonnay)
  • A pound or so of large raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined (sizes 11-15 or 16-20 per pound are best)
  • A pound or so of gluten free fettucini pasta (Use Tinkyada brand, everything else tastes like cardboard)
  • 1/2 Cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 Cup minced or crushed garlic
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon

Make the basic white sauce, and then begin incorporating the grated Parmesan cheese into it slowly—one small handful at a time.  The white sauce should be near boiling (but not actually boiling) while you incorporate the cheese.  Make sure all cheese has melted before you add the next handful.  Don't rush this step... if you do you'll get congealed Parmesan blobs instead of a thick, creamy sauce.  As long as the white sauce is nice and hot, you can keep slowly adding Parmesan.  This step may take 20 minutes or more.  Parmesan is the primary flavor source of this dish, so don't skimp!  

While you are incorporating the Parmesan into the white sauce, boil water for pasta.  Be sure to salt the pasta water generously.  The water should taste like a too-salty soup when you dip your finger into it.  The pasta won't have time to soak up seasoning from the Alfredo sauce prior to serving, so it is important to get salt into the pasta during boiling 

Once the white sauce is flavorful and cheesy, add salt and pepper to taste (the salt will boost and brighten the flavor from the Parmesan cheese).  Also add a tiny dash of nutmeg to the sauce at this time.  Nutmeg adds a touch of refinement to an Alfredo sauce, similar to how wine adds refinement to many other sauces and dishes.  Something about the nutmeg's gentle spice helps round out the creamy Parmesan flavor of Fettucini Alfredo.  Trust me.

Once the pasta is done, drain it and then oil it lightly to prevent sticking.  Put it back in the pot you boiled it in to keep warm until you're ready for it.

Now, before you embark on the "shrimp finale" of this dish, make sure the table is set, all other side dishes are finished and ready to serve, and your guests have been rounded up from out on the parapet.   Get your shrimp, chopped onion, crushed garlic, and white wine ready.  Juice the half-lemon into a small bowl so it's ready, too.

Shrimp go from raw to overcooked and rubbery very quickly.  You have a bit more leeway with larger shrimp, but even so you'll need to be careful and move quickly.  As with most cooked seafood, you'll be pulling the shrimp when they are still slightly under-cooked on the inside.  By the time they get into the dish and onto people's plates, the shrimp will be cooked perfectly. 

The shrimp finale goes like this:

Pour the Alfredo sauce into your fettucini, and stir things around a bit to combine thoroughly.  If for some reason things are out of balance and you are short on sauce, add milk or cream, and more salt to stretch it a bit.  Make sure the pasta and sauce are hot enough to serve.  If you're using a serving dish, you may want to warm it up so it doesn't cool the finished pasta down. 

In a large stainless steel saute pan, heat olive oil on medium heat.  You want about 1/8 inch of oil in the bottom of the pan.  Let the pan heat until the oil is shimmering and watery, which will probably take 5-7 minutes. 

Once the pan has come up to heat (note: you're now about 3 minutes from serving the dish), add the shrimp, garlic, and onion.  Heat the shrimp on one side until they are pink, which will take between 45 seconds and 1 minute.  Flip each shrimp individually, and move them around to ensure even heating (the shrimp in the center of the pan will cook more quickly than those at the edges).

While you're in there with the tongs, don't be afraid to move the onions and garlic around to ensure even cooking.  Give the shrimp another minute at most, then pull them out of the pan with tongs, and set aside in a glass bowl covered with foil.  You may still see patches of grey, uncooked flesh on the sides of the shrimp... that's fine.  The shrimp should spend (total) about 2 minutes in the pan cooking, and no more than 3 minutes.

Stir around the onions and garlic for another 30 seconds or so to finish them off.  Hopefully at this point you have some nice browning on the bottom of the pan, and the onions and garlic are starting to caramelize.

Deglaze the hot pan by adding the white wine and lemon juice to it, and scrape any remaining browned bits off the bottom of the pan (use a wooden scraper, not metal!).  The deglazing should take no more than 30 seconds, otherwise your deglazing liquid will evaporate (if this happens, just hit the pan again with more white wine, and then pull it from the heat).  Pour the deglazing liquid (with onions and garlic) as well as the shrimp (and any accumulated juice) into the pasta.  Stir things around and serve immediately.

If you like, garnish by sprinkling fresh chopped Italian parsely, thyme, or basil on top.  You could also toss on more grated Parmesan cheese.

Viva Alfredo di Lelio!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Buffalo Prime Rib

NOTE: This recipe works equally well with beef or buffalo.

Prime rib is the king of roasts.  When served to friends and family, it connotes respect, love, and gratitude.  While prime rib is hard to totally screw up, if you're spending upwards of $12 a pound for the meat, why not deliver perfection? 

In my book, prime rib perfection marries meltingly tender meat with an intensely flavorful exterior crust.  Now, larger cuts of meat like prime rib, tenderloin, standing rib roast, etc. have a relatively small surface area to volume ratio as compared to steaks or filets.  This means that seasonings applied to the outside of a roast are playing the flavor game a bit short-handed, since sliced portions include large cross-sections of interior meat that are relatively devoid of seasoning.

Enter the seared-on crust...

You can get a lot more mileage out of a seared-on crust than you can from sprinkled-on seasonings or a dry rub.  The reason for this is two-fold:  1) With a crust, the seasoning layer itself is thicker, which means it packs more flavor per square inch due to its greater volume; and 2) once the roast is sliced and plated, all that crust will begin to dissolve into the meat juice that accumulates on the plate—bringing lip-smacking seasoning to bites that are composed of wholly interior meat.

The key to an outstanding crust for your prime rib (or any roasted buffalo or beef) is to start with a sticky paste that clings to the meat before, during, and after searing.  For cuts of beef and buffalo, I like to use a paste made from beef base (the salt), butter, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice.  The lemon juice adds tang, and the butter and beef base combine into a nice sticky paste.  Feel free to add other herbs, spices, or flavors as you see fit. Just make sure it's sticky.

Here's the low-down:

  • Buffalo prime rib - roughly 3 pounds
  • 2 Teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons gluten free beef base
Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees F.
To create the seasoning paste, start by combining the beef base and butter.  You can either combine (and then heat) the beef base and butter in a small stainless steel saucepan, or combine them in a small glass bowl and microwave them for 20 seconds or so.  Be careful in either case, the beef base has a lot of salt and some sugar in it... and it goes from paste to hot goo very quickly!  Once the beef base and butter have melted, add in the pepper, garlic, and lemon juice and stir around to make a thick paste. If it is too runny, add another tablespoon of beef base and heat a bit more.

Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat.  While the skillet heats, coat the roast all over with your seasoning paste.  When the skillet is just starting to smoke (probably 5-7 minutes), add 1/8-inch of oil (canola) to coat the pan, and toss in the roast.  Sear the roast on all sides, holding it up on the narrow sides and ends if need be.  Once you've got a nice crust on all sides (which might take 15 minutes), put the whole skillet and roast in the oven to finish.

I generally like to serve prime rib at medium rare.  The ends will be closer to medium-well, and there will be some medium sections between the ends and the rarer middle.  To cook the meat to medium rare, you'll want to pull it from the oven when the geographic center of the roast reads about 130 degrees F on an instant read meat thermometer.  This may take 1-2 hours depending on the size of the roast.

Once out of the oven, place the roast on a cutting board, and tent it loosely with aluminum foil.  The roast will continue to cook as it rests.  After 15 minutes, slice the prime rib into 1/2-inch slices and serve immediately.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Equipment: Large Stainless Steel Saute Pan

Description and Uses
Stainless steel is the material of choice when you actually want your food to stick to the pan.  The idea is to develop a browned crust of caramelized goodness (called fond) so you can then remove it with liquid (called deglazing) to make a pan sauce—or simply to add more flavor to whatever you're making. 

Inside bottom diameter: 10 inches
Outside top diameter: 12 1/2 inches
Depth: 2 inches

Care and Maintenance
Clean stainless cookware like you would just about any other pot or pan: with soap and hot water, and either a non-abrasive or abrasive scrubber. Air dry in a drying rack. Stainless steel cookware is typically dishwasher-safe as well.