Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

So apparently there comes a day in the life of every blogger, when he or she simply gets bored, fed-up, or some combination of both. 

For some, it happens sooner rather than later.  For others, it starts when they pour their soul into an article that no one reads.  For me, it all started when the Russians began to invade! 

That’s right, they’re invading…

A few days ago, I began to notice a strange referring website pop-up in my tracking statistics (for any non-bloggers this is a site that sends readers to your blog for a particular posting or article).  On the surface referring websites are great!  They direct people to your site who otherwise would never visit it.  These sites help to establish your website or blog as an authority on a given subject.

Unfortunately, the same fictitious credit card company that employs the jolly “Peggy” from the trite modern marketing campaign has figured out how to use such sites to undermine the power of such referrals.  So when my deliciously derisive review of the Huntsville, Ala., restaurant Café Berlin became synonymous with a cleverly titled site “getdentalimplantinfo.com” (WARNING: DO NOT VISIT THIS SITE) hosted from Russia, I was ready to pull the plug. 

Then I discovered the perfect article.  As somewhat of a Julia Child devotee, it was one of those that I had to read.  For anyone who has never attempted a one of Ms. Child’s recipes, be advised that they are not for the casual weekend cook, nor are they to be attempted without the “courage of your convictions.”  To master one of her recipes is the culinary equivalent of a scaling a small mountain without rock climbing equipment (that is to say it’s a damn impossible feat, at least for someone living a modern life). 
The Always Cheerful Julia Child
What surprised me about this particular article was its total abandonment of the normal bravado that fills food blogs (this one included).  These authors were willing to admit the difficulty in preparing what has to be one of the most challenging recipes Child and Beck ever conceived Pate de Canard en Croute (de boned duck, stuffed with a meatloaf, and wrapped in dough).  It was in Devra First and Wesley Morris’ acceptance of their imperfections that I rediscovered why I am personally in awe of Julia (yes even before the movie). 

Though the degree of difficulty may be low for some of Child’s dishes, the rigor and patience most of these recipes require can be daunting. Julie Powell started cooking from the book as a kind of lark. She finished in respectful awe. Using “Mastering the Art,’’ using it seriously, is like performing Shakespeare. The recipes are like his plays. Rightly or not, every story since seems to trace back to him. The same is true for Western cooking and Child.

No one speaks like Shakespeare’s characters nowadays. No one really cooks like Child regularly (seriously, aspic?). But to use “Mastering the Art of French Cooking’’ is to approach an art form that could expose your limitations in the kitchen while making you a better cook. Actors love Shakespeare for what it challenges them to bring out of themselves. You could make a similar argument for cooks and Child. She’s an occasion to which you want to rise.”
(from the article “A kitchen, a bottle of wine, and a duck recipe. Easy, right?” by Devra First and Wesley Morris)

Sure, I’m no Lawrence Olivier…But even Walter Mitty gets to dream right?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Recipes: Baked Mac and Cheese

I admit that I’m a “Southern” transplant.  I don’t understand NASCAR.  I don’t speak with much of a southern drawl.  And my life does not begin and end with football.  But I have learned that the Thanksgiving table in the South is not complete until it is adorned with cornbread dressing (not stuffing), giblet and egg gravy, and the baked macaroni and cheese that travels from house to house in a Pyrex dish.  Like most southern meals, the Thanksgiving side dishes always seem to outshine the main entrée.  Turkey, ham, or crown roast…who cares?  Just don’t forget to bring the sweet potatoes and pecan pie. 

T. J.’s Mac and Cheese (from the Nook Tavern in Huntsville, AL)
BY: Samuel Parks
(November 2011)

A long time ago, long before powdered cheese came in a box with cheap macaroni noodles, a young man visited France and Italy.  Upon his return home, he lavished his guests with new dishes and recipes that he acquired during his travels.  The man of course was Thomas Jefferson.  And among the many things Mr. Jefferson gave to his country, was a fondness for baked pasta with a creamy béchamel sauce.  Today, we simply call it “Mac ‘n Cheese.”

What better way to celebrate the ubiquitous Thanksgiving Mac ‘n Cheese, than with an updated version from one of the South’s first “Gentlemen,” our nation’s third Commander-in-Chief, Thomas Jefferson. 

This updated version remains true to the original spirit of Mr. Jefferson’s recipe, but includes a few minor modern modifications.  The creamy béchamel sauce is still there, but I’ve incorporated a mildly hoppy beer to add a little bite to the sauce and some necessary flavor contrast.  Additionally, this version incorporates a fair amount of meat, which almost certainly would have been omitted from T. J.’s original.  While it may not be the “real McCoy,” Tom would be proud of this latest incarnation of his timeless classic.  Try this recipe for your Thanksgiving feast, and you may never be able to go back to the blue box.


·         3 Tbs. Kosher salt (for the pasta water)
·         1 lb. Cavatelli pasta, or large rigatoni noodles
·         8 Tbs. unsalted butter
·         6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
·         2 cups whole milk
·         1 cup mildly hoppy lager beer, such as Pilsner Urquell
·         1 cup heavy cream
·         2 egg yolks
·         1 lb. shredded white cheddar
·         6 oz. shredded Romano cheese
·         6 oz. shredded Asiago cheese
·         4 oz. shredded Fontina cheese
·         2 cups panko bread crumbs
·         1 medium red onion, finely diced
·         1 clove garlic, finely minced
·          3 Tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped
·         ½ lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled (if you’re feeling a bit lazy on Thanksgiving just substitute an equal amount of REAL bacon bits…no one will very know)
·         Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.      Add the 3 Tbs. salt to a large pot of boiling water (I like to use a 5-6 quart pot for this step).  Add the pasta to the water (do not put the pasta in before the water comes to a boil).  Cook for approximately 5-6 minutes until the pasta is al dente.  Take off the heat and remove from the water; do not rinse.  Rinsing will remove the starch, which will play an important in the preparation of this dish.
2.      Heat the beer, milk, and cream in a pot on the stove.  Be sure to keep the temperature to a lazy simmer.  DO NOT SCALD THE MILK
3.      In a large pot melt the butter over medium heat.  Once the melted butter has stopped foaming, add the onion and garlic and cook until tender (approximately 5-6 minutes).  Then add the parsley and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
4.      Once the garlic, onion, and parsley have been cooked, turn the heat to high and add the flour; mix vigorously until all of the flour has been incorporated.  Cook on high for 2-3 minutes, just until the flour and butter mixture is a light shade of tan.  Congratulations!  You just made a roux!
5.      Once the roux is ready, immediately reduce the heat.  Then in a slow but steady stream add the heated milk, cream, and beer to the roux.  Stirring constantly.
6.      Once the milk mixture has been completely incorporated into the roux, return the pot to a slightest simmer. 
7.      Began adding the cheddar, Fontina, and Asiago cheeses to the pot.  Stirring constantly until it is fully incorporated.  Remove from heat once the cheese has melted.
8.      Combine the pasta, bacon, and cheese sauce.
9.      Place into a greased baking dish, and cover with the breadcrumbs and Romano cheese.
10.  Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 15-20 minutes, or just until the dish is bubbling and the topping has browned.

Yields 4-6 entrée sized servings (8-10 servings as a side dish)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recipes: Green Beans with Caramelized Onions, Bacon, and Mushrooms

Thanksgiving is a time for culinary overindulgence. Period. But with this very classic, very easy, and very healthy (at least by Thanksgiving standards), you can overindulge and not feel too guilty.

Green Beans with Caramelized Onions, Bacon, and Mushrooms

Green Beans with Caramelized Onions, Bacon, and Mushrooms
BY: Samuel Parks
(November 2011)

I’ve tried scads of green bean casserole recipes in the past…one with made from scratch onion crisps, one that made all sorts of weird substitutions, and even the one from the back of the can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (which in my opinion is the sole reason they continue to make such vial substitution for real soup).  This green bean recipe is quick, easy, and tasty…and best of all it’s surprisingly healthy.  So go ahead, eat something green on Thanksgiving.  You can have a second piece of pie to make up for it later.


·         4 lbs. fresh green beans or snap beans
·         2 tsp. distilled vinegar
·         ¼ - ½ cup butter
·         2 medium white/ yellow onions, cut in half and sliced into thin strips.
·         1 (12 oz.) package fresh portabello mushrooms, sliced thinly
·         ½ lb. bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled. 
·         Salt and pepper to taste

1.      Melt the butter in a large skillet on the stove until it has foamed over, but before it begins to smoke.  You should have enough butter in the pan to coat the onions, but not so much that they are swimming in pool of melted butter. 
2.      Add the trimmed onions to the pan with the butter and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally for 25-30 minuets until the onions are a light to dark brown color depending on your taste preferences (the darker the cooked onion, the sweeter it will be)
3.      Trim the green beans to remove the woody stems and uneven ends.  Do not cut into smaller pieces.  The beans should be fairly long after this initial trimming.
4.      Bring a large stock pot of well salted water (add about ¼ cup Kosher salt) to a boil.
5.      Add the vinegar and trimmed beans to the stock pot.  Cook for approximately 5-6 minutes until al dente (or tender crisp-the beans should be cooked but still be a little firm)
6.      Remove the pot from the stove top as soon as the beans have reached the desired doneness.
7.      Strain the beans from the hot water and place into an ice water bath to arrest the cooking process (an ice bath is just a large bowl or pot filled with water and ice, and is used to stop the cooking process when texture is important).
8.      Combine the cooked beans, onions, sliced mushrooms, and crumbled bacon in a large skillet and cook just until the mixture is heated.* 
9.      Salt and pepper to taste.

Yields 8 servings (plus some leftovers)

*I prefer my mushrooms to have more umph… if you prefer softer mushrooms, simply co

Recipes: Uncle Jack’s Whiskey Brined Turkey

Since this week is International-Eat-Until-Our-Underpants-Don't-Fit-Week, I have decided to share some of my favorite holiday recipes.  Because this turkey recipe can take a few days (thawing and brining take awhile), I am releasing it first so if anyone does decide to replicate it they will have plenty of time to do so.  

A Turkey Breast Roulade prepared using the bringing recipe below

Uncle Jack’s Whiskey Brined Turkey
BY: Samuel Parks
(November 2011)

After 5 years of trial, error, and a lot of tryptophan, I have finally perfected my recipe!  Thanks to all of my friends and family who have been “willing” volunteers.  This recipe may take some prep work, but believe me it’s totally worth it.


·         1 cup Kosher salt
·         ½ cup white sugar
·         ½ cup molasses
·         ¼ cup clover honey
·         ½ gallon fresh apple cider
·         1 gallon chicken stock
·         ½ Tbs. dried thyme
·         4-6 fresh sage leaves
·         2 sprigs fresh rosemary
·         1 stick whole cinnamon
·         2 bay leaves
·         1 Tbs. whole peppercorns (slightly crushed)
·         1 Tbs. whole allspice berries (slightly crushed)
·         1 Tbs. candied ginger
·         1 cup Tennessee Whiskey (Jack Daniels)
·         Ice water

Select a medium sized 14-16 lbs. whole turkey.  Fresh or frozen, it really won’t matter in the end.  Size does matter when it comes to turkeys…but bigger isn’t exactly better.  If you do require some additional servings, try brining a turkey breast (or two) in the same brining solution at the same time. 

IMPORTANT- Do not use a self basting/ pre-treated turkey for this recipe.  Self-basting/ pre-treated birds already contain a sodium/ saline solution and letting it rest in a salt water bath for 24 hours will turn your beautiful bird into the aviary equivalent of Lot’s wife. 

·         1 red apple (quartered)
·         1 red onion (quartered)
·         1 stick whole cinnamon
·         1-2 whole stems of sage, depending on flavor (not leaves but actual stems with leaves, 5-6 leaves/ stem)
·         3 sprigs fresh rosemary
·         3 celery stalks

·         Large plastic bucket with a sealable lid (I use a large painters bucket that I purchased from a local hardware store…it is only used for brining)
·         Canola oil
·         Large roasting pan
·         Aluminum foil

1.      Combine salt, sugar, molasses, honey, thyme, rosemary,4-6  sage leaves, 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, 1 stick of whole cinnamon, bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice berries with 2 cups of the apple cider in a 2 qt. stock pot and bring to lazy simmer.  Stir constantly, until the sugar and salt have dissolved.  Cool to room temperature before proceeding.
2.      Combine the salt/ sugar solution with the remaining apple cider and chicken stock in the large plastic bucket.  ADD THE 1 CUP JD WHISKEY (do not add during the initial heating process; if you do all the Jack Daniel’s magic will be lost and the whiskey gods will take your soul)
3.      Place the thawed turkey breast on the counter.  Stare it down, giving it your best impression of Clint Eastwood.  Then take your hand and stick it straight up the gapping whole where the turkey’s keister should be and give her a good “feeling up.”  There should be one or two bags hidden in this cavity; one containing the internal organs/ neck and possible one more with pre-made gravy.  Remove any bags inside this cavity.
4.      Place the turkey, breast side down (meaning the half of the turkey with the breasts should be on the bottom of the bucket with the brine) into the brining bucket with the salt/ sugar solution.
5.      Cover the turkey with ice and water.  Seal the bucket and store in a cool place for 12 hours (check on the ice as needed and add more if necessary).
6.      After 12 hours, open the bucket and flip the turkey so the breast section is now at the top of the bucket.  Cover with additional ice if necessary, and continue to brine for 12 more hours.
7.      At the conclusion of 24 hours, remove the turkey from the brine and place it directly into the kitchen sink.  Rinse it well with cool water, paying close attention to all of the allspice berries, peppercorns, and other large spices that may have been lodged under the skin. 
8.      Create a small thermal-nuclear reaction in your oven.  If your kitchen does not come equipped with its own illegal Iranian heavy water reactor, simply crank up the oven temp as hot as it will go (typically 500 degrees Fahrenheit) and make sure the fire extinguisher is standing-by. 
9.      Place all of the aromatics into a small microwave safe dish with 1 cup of water and heat for 4-5 minutes. 
10.  Drain all excess liquid from the turkey, and pat the entire surface dry with paper towels.  The drier the skin, the better it will brown in the oven. 
11.  Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan.  Take the wings, and fold the tip backwards from its normal range of motion, and tuck the tip under the backside of the turkey.  When doing this, the wing joint may snap… don’t worry about it. 
12.  Stuff the now empty internal cavity with the previously microwaved aromatics.
13.  Dry the skin one final time and rub the entire exterior of the turkey with a liberal amount of canola oil.
14.  Place the turkey into center of the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. 
15.  After 30 minutes remove the turkey from the oven and cover the breast portion with aluminum foil.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and return the bird to the oven.  Continue to cook, until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.  Remove from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Let the turkey stand for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Yields 6-8 servings + some leftovers for turkey sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Food Wednesday: November 2, 2011

I will say this once and only once… “Get your mind out of the gutter!”

Find out more about this exotic and intriguingly shaped delicacy after the jump

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Recipes: Pumpkin Spice Cookies

BY: Samuel Parks (Dec. 2009)
During the fall and winter months, these cookies make the perfect after-dinner accompaniment to any meal.  With their light, cake-like texture, full flavor, and sweet glaze these cookies offer an enjoyable alternative to pumpkin pie.  In fact, with the addition of the maple syrup and Jack Daniels I would argue that these cookies are almost better than a traditional pumpkin pie… I wonder how bacon would taste with these (that’s probably overkill though).
Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy.

§  2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
§  1 teaspoon baking powder
§  1 teaspoon baking soda
§  2 teaspoons cinnamon
§  ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
§  ½ teaspoon freshly ground cloves
§  ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
§  ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
§  2 cups white, granulated sugar
§  ½ cup maple syrup
§  1 cup canned pumpkin puree
§  1 large egg
§  1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
§  2 cups confectioners sugar
§  2 tablespoons Tennessee Whiskey (a.k.a. Jack Daniels)
§  1 tablespoon water
§  1 tablespoon melted butter
§  1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1.      Preheat the convective baking unit to 350˚ F
2.      Combine flour, dry baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves; set aside.
3.      In a medium bowl, cream together the ½ cup butter, granulated sugar, maple syrup, and Kosher salt.  Add pumpkin puree, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture, and beat until creamy.
4.      Divide dry ingredients into thirds, and mix thirds into the batter one at a time. Make sure not to over mix the batter, as this will produce excess glutens making your cookies chewy and tough. 
5.      Spoon batter onto an un-greased cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly.
6.      Bake 14-16 minutes.
7.      Drizzle with glaze
To make glaze: combine confectioners sugar, 1 tablespoonful water,1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Wisk ingredients together until they assume a quasi-liquid consistency.  Drizzle glaze over cookies immediately.