Just like that, the hectic holiday season is behind us and we are into 2019. We spent our Christmas at my brother’s house, so we did not host either Thanksgiving or Christmas in 2018. It always feels odd to me when I do not end up cooking much at the holidays, and my only real contribution to Christmas dinner was a batch of roasted Brussels sprouts. We had great food, though, including a salty Wayco ham.

I always have a long list of things I want to cook/bake that are unrelated to this blog project. I plan to actually sit down and make a list of the top things I want to make this year, so I can physically cross them off as I complete them. I had planned to make my list yesterday since it was the first day of the year, but I spent the day with a fever on the couch instead. Boo.

Savory Polenta

The 115th episode of Good Eats is one that Alton chose to remake in his new show Good Eats:  Reloaded. Savory polenta is the first recipe in this one. So, what is the difference between grits and polenta? According to Alton, grits and polenta are different preparations of the same main ingredient:  cornmeal. Grits are often made from ground hominy, which is white, while polenta is made from ground yellow corn. Either way, when purchasing cornmeal to use in either grits or polenta, always look for stone ground cornmeal; the terms “polenta” and “grits” are often featured together on the label of stone ground cornmeal. To make polenta, place 2 T olive oil in a saucier over medium heat. Add 3/4 C chopped red onion and 1 1/2 t Kosher salt, and cook the onion until it has softened.

Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook for two minutes.

IMG_0815

Garlic added to onion.

Next, add a quart of chicken broth and bring the broth to a boil over high heat.

When the broth is boiling, gradually add 1 C coarse cornmeal, whisking it in. Once all of the cornmeal has been added, place a lid on the pan and place it in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, stirring the polenta every 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and stir in 3 T butter, 2 ounces grated Parmesan, and 1/4 t pepper.

You can now eat the polenta as it is or you can pour the warm polenta into a parchment-lined 9×13″ pan. Let the polenta cool to room temperature in the pan, and then place it in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

IMG_0829

Polenta poured into 9×13 pan.

After chilling, flip the polenta out onto a cutting board and use a biscuit cutter to cut rounds.

Toss the polenta circles in olive oil and you can fry, saute, or grill them; I opted for sautéing. I served my polenta with a homemade tomato sauce and some grated Parmesan.

IMG_0839

Polenta rounds with tomato sauce and Parmesan.

This polenta is easy and delicious. We tasted the polenta after adding the butter, cheese, and pepper, and I would have been content to eat a bowl just like that. I also liked the sautéed version, as there was a slight golden crust on the outside, while the polenta remained tender and buttery on the inside. The garlic and onion flavors were obvious and made the polenta savory with a little kick. This would also be a great vegetarian dinner option if you substituted vegetable broth for the chicken broth, and this seems like a very kid-friendly dinner option too. Don’t bother with that tube of polenta at the grocery store when you can make this version at home!

Cheese Grits

I first remember having grits when I was in the Florida Keys for my cousin’s wedding. We stopped for breakfast at an oceanfront restaurant and grits were one of the side dish options. I instantly became a grits fan. For Alton’s grits, combine 2 C milk, 2 C water, and 1 1/2 t Kosher salt in a saucier and bring the mixture to a boil.

IMG_0707

Milk, water, and Kosher salt in a saucier.

Once boiling, slowly whisk 1 C coarse cornmeal into the liquid.

Place a lid on the pan and cook the grits for 20-25 minutes, stirring every two or three minutes, and keeping the heat as low as possible. I found that my grits were still too thin after 25 minutes, so I cooked them for about 35 minutes.

IMG_0714

Grits after stirring/cooking for ~35 minutes.

Stir in 4 T butter and season with Kosher salt, if needed.

IMG_0713

4 T butter.

IMG_0715

Butter added to grits.

Lastly, slowly stir in 4 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese.

IMG_0717

Cheddar, slowly added to grits.

We ate these grits for a pre-run breakfast, alongside purple barley bread and they kept me fueled for 8.5 miles.

IMG_0722

A bowl of cheese grits.

These grits are cheese, rich, and creamy. Due to their richness, I could only eat a small bowl before I felt pretty full. Alton’s grits are definitely heavier than his version of polenta, but equally tasty.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake

Lastly, Alton finishes this episode with a sweet pineapple upside-down cake. Although this cake has been around forever, this was my first time making a pineapple upside-down cake. To begin the cake, place 3/4 C whole milk in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave the milk until it is boiling. Sprinkle 1 C coarse cornmeal over the milk and let it sit.

IMG_0748

Topping ingredients: butter, dark brown sugar, canned pineapple rings, toasted pecans, and maraschino cherries.

Next, place a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and melt 4 ounces of unsalted butter in the pan. When the butter has melted, use a pastry brush to brush some of the butter up the sides of the pan. The butter will brown slightly.

Add 1 C dark brown sugar to the pan and stir until melted, which will take about five minutes; watch the sugar carefully, as it can easily burn.

Once the sugar has melted, remove the pan from the heat and place canned pineapple slices around the perimeter of the pan, and one additional ring in the center.

IMG_0755

Pineapple rings added to caramel.

Put a maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple slice and sprinkle 1/3 C of toasted/chopped pecans over the pineapple.

Drizzle on 3 T of the juice from the canned pineapple and set the skillet aside to cool slightly.

IMG_0759

Pineapple juice drizzled over topping.

While the skillet cools, combine 4 3/4 ounces flour, 2 t baking powder, and 1/2 t salt in a large bowl.

IMG_0762

Flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 eggs, 3/4 C sugar, 1/2 C canola oil, and the milk-soaked cornmeal from earlier.

When the wet ingredients are combined, add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk for a count of six. The final batter will be a little lumpy, but that is okay. Do not over mix.

IMG_0768

Wet mixture added to dry ingredients.

Pour the cornmeal batter over the pineapple in the skillet and place in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Let the cake cool for 30 minutes before flipping the cake out of the skillet. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.

IMG_0779

Cooled cake flipped onto cake stand.

IMG_0788

Alton’s pineapple upside-down cake.

This cake is fun to make because it looks pretty when you invert it out of the pan. The topping is a delicious mix of dark caramel, crunchy pecans, and juicy pineapple; the best part, in my opinion, is the part by the edges of the pan, as the caramel is thick and slightly chewy there. The batter of this cake has the slight grittiness of cornmeal, and is only slightly sweet. I like the fact that the cake itself is not overly sweet, as the topping is sweet enough. This cake is great for breakfast, dessert, or both!

This chocolate episode came at a good time, allowing me to share some of Alton’s chocolate goodness with friends and relatives at the holidays. There is really no way we could have eaten all of this chocolate without help! It’s really too bad that my mom doesn’t live closer to me because, though she is tiny, she can pretty much eat her weight in chocolate. Somehow, we persevered and the recipes from this episode have been devoured. All of the recipes in this episode are ganache-based, meaning they are composed of a mixture of chocolate and cream. First up is Alton’s:

Ganache Frosting

This ganache is composed of only two ingredients:  chocolate and cream.

IMG_0594

Only two ingredients for this frosting: bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream.

The recipe starts with heating a pint of heavy cream (which is also a pound) in a microwave for 3-4 minutes, or until simmering. Note:  when heating milk products in the microwave, use a vessel twice the original volume of dairy to prevent overflow. While the cream heats, chop a pound of bittersweet chocolate with a serrated knife.

IMG_0595

A chopped pound of chocolate.

Place the chopped chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and pour the warm cream over the chocolate. Let the cream/chocolate sit for two minutes.

When the two minutes are up, pulse the chocolate and cream three times, or until smooth.

IMG_0601

Chocolate and cream after pulsing 3x.

Transfer the ganache to a bowl. You can use the ganache immediately as a pourable cake glaze.

IMG_0604

Ganache transferred to a bowl.

Or, you can let the ganache cool for an hour and whip it in a stand mixer to make a cake frosting.

This ganache will keep for two weeks if kept tightly covered and refrigerated. For later use, bring the ganache to room temperature before whipping with a stand mixer. I first used this ganache frosting to frost a simple sheet cake, which we ate for multiple days.

IMG_0617

A slice of sheet cake with Alton’s ganache frosting.

I actually prefer this frosting cold because I like the dense mouthfeel of the cold chocolate in contrast with soft, light cake. After frosting a 9×13″ sheet cake, I still had enough frosting for two dozen cupcakes, which I frosted for my in-laws’ Christmas party. I will say that the frosting is best aesthetically when used after the first whipping. This frosting is quite rich, so you only need a thin layer of frosting for a good punch of chocolate. This is about the easiest chocolate frosting you could ever make, and it is so much better than anything you could buy in the store.

Chocolate Truffles

When we headed to my sister-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving, I decided to bring Alton’s truffles to share. I made the truffles two days before turkey day. To make Alton’s truffles, place 10 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate in a microwaveable bowl and add 3 T of unsalted butter.

Set the chocolate aside while you bring 1/2 C cream and 1 T light corn syrup to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.

IMG_0541

Heavy cream and light corn syrup.

While the cream heats, place the chocolate/butter in the microwave for 30 seconds; stir the mixture and put it in the microwave for another 30 seconds or until the chocolate starts to melt.

Pour the simmering cream over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes.

IMG_0552

Cream poured over chocolate/butter.

After two minutes, stir 1/4 C brandy into the chocolate, stirring until smooth.

IMG_0554

Brandy being stirred into chocolate mixture.

Pour the chocolate mixture into an 8×8″ baking dish and place it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for one hour.

After an hour of chill time, use a melon baller to portion the ganache into rough balls, transferring them to a parchment-lined sheet pan; do not worry about shaping the truffles at this time. When all of the truffles have been portioned, place them back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

IMG_0560

Portioned ganache.

This is the point of the recipe where things get a little more technical, as Alton used a heating pad to melt eight ounces of bittersweet chocolate, keeping the chocolate between 90 and 94 degrees; it is critical not to go above 94 degrees, as this will change the crystalline structure of the chocolate. I found that I had very uneven heating with my heating pad, so I gradually melted my chocolate in the microwave, stirring and checking the temperature after every 15-20 seconds.

Once your chocolate is melted and between 90 and 94 degrees, roll your truffles into smooth balls with gloved hands. Dip an ice cream scoop into the melted chocolate and place a truffle ball into the scoop, using your gloved fingers to coat the center with melted chocolate.

IMG_0564

Coating a truffle center in melted bittersweet chocolate.

Once coated in chocolate, place the coated truffle into a topping of your choice:  chopped pistachios, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, or toasted coconut. It is ideal to let each truffle sit in the topping until the next truffle is done being coated with chocolate.

Transfer the finished truffles to a wax paper-lined airtight container. Store the truffles in the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature.

I ended up with 32 truffles, and I used toppings of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and chopped pistachios.

IMG_0569

Truffles.

Oh my, these truffles are super rich. If you are able to keep your coating chocolate in the ideal temperature range, your truffles will have a crispy chocolate shell surrounding their dense, rich filling. The filling is creamy, rich, slightly bitter, and intensely full of chocolate. These are absolutely worth the time and effort of making, as well as the calories. They pair fantastically with bourbon or with coffee, depending on the time of day. This is a wonderful recipe.

Good Eats Fudgepops

This episode finishes up with Alton’s version of a fudgecicle.

IMG_0657

Ingredients for fudgepops: bittersweet chocolate, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, heavy cream, and whole milk.

Start by putting 2 T cocoa powder into a medium saucepan, and add 12 ounces of heavy cream and eight ounces of whole milk.

IMG_0662

Cocoa powder combined with milk and cream.

Bring the milk and cocoa to a simmer over medium heat, whisking to combine.

IMG_0663

Cocoa powder combined with milk and cream, and brought to a simmer.

When the dairy is simmering, pour it over eight ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate, letting it sit for two-three minutes.

Whisk the chocolate mixture until smooth and add 2 t vanilla extract.

Using a turkey baster, equally distribute the chocolate mixture among popsicle molds.

IMG_0671

Chocolate distributed among popsicle molds.

Place the fudgepops in the freezer for four hours, or until set.

IMG_0729

Alton’s fudgepop.

Conversely, if you are craving hot chocolate, Alton says you can melt one of his fudgepops in the microwave. I chose to halve this recipe since I was just making the fudgepops for two of us, and I ended up with four fudgepops. These fudgepops are full of rich chocolate flavor and they are pretty creamy. They did have a very slight icy texture, but I thought these were pretty good. They were very hard to get out of the molds, but that may have been more of a function of my popsicle molds than due to the recipe itself. I don’t know that I would go out of my way to make these again, but I’ve also never been the biggest fudgepop fan.

The ground is frosted here and the holidays are just around the corner. Thankfully, we don’t have any snow yet. We are not hosting Thanksgiving this year, but I still highly recommend Alton’s Thanksgiving recipes. His “Countdown to T-Day” special is broken down into a specific schedule that works beautifully and cuts down on hosting stress. The original Good Eats roast turkey is also delicious.

For Thanksgiving this year, Ted is making a cranberry gin and tonic and a cherry pie. I will be making my dad’s blue cornbread and sausage stuffing, along with Alton’s pecan pie from the countdown special. It sounds as if there will be plenty of food!

Parmesan Crisps

We always have a lot of cheese in our house, but the 113th episode of Good Eats gave me a great excuse to consume some more, beginning with Alton’s Parmesan crisps. I’ve mentioned before that I introduced my dad to Good Eats years ago and it became one of his favorite shows. He served us this recipe as an appetizer when we went to his house several years ago, as he had recently watched this episode. To make the crisps, you first need to line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone mat. Next, place tablespoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese on the lined baking sheet, flattening them into discs. Be sure to space the discs adequately, as they will spread.

You can leave the Parmesan plain, or you can sprinkle on some seasoning, such as black pepper or paprika. I made a total of six crisps:  two plain, two with pepper, and two with paprika.

IMG_0494

Two plain crisps, two with paprika, and two with black pepper.

Stick the baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. *These were the baking instructions from the episode, whereas the online recipe tells you to bake the crisps in a 300 degree oven for 5-6 minutes. If you bake the crisps at 375, they will be done in 4-5 minutes.

IMG_0496

Cheese crisps after baking.

When you pull the baking sheet from the oven, you can let the discs cool into flat chips, or you can shape them into little cups by draping them over cups or spice jars until they cool and harden.

IMG_0498

Molding crisps on spice jars.

You could fill the cups with a small salad or a meatball and serve as a party hors d’oeuvre, or you can stick the flat Parmesan discs into mashed potatoes as a garnish.

IMG_0501

Parmesan cheese crisps.

These cheese crisps are about the easiest snack you could ever make. They bake up crispy with the salty nuttiness of Parmesan, and they are kind of fun to eat – like eating a lacy cheese doily.

Cheese Soup

A couple weeks before I started this episode, we had kind of a chilly weekend, and I made the comment that I was in the mood for hearty soup. Ted found a recipe for beer cheese soup online and I made a batch for lunch that afternoon. Little did I know that I would be making Alton’s cheese soup a couple weeks later! Alton’s cheese soup starts with heating a quart of chicken broth to a simmer on the stove.

IMG_0372

A quart of chicken broth, heating to a simmer.

While the broth warms, melt 2 T butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.

IMG_0373

2 T butter in a Dutch oven.

To the melted butter, add 5 ounces diced onion, 5 ounces diced carrot, 5 ounces diced celery, and a big pinch of Kosher salt.

Let the vegetables cook for 5-10 minutes, or until softened. Using a hand sieve, sprinkle 3 T flour evenly over the vegetables. Stir and cook the flour until it is no longer visible.

Increase the heat to high and slowly pour in the warm broth, stirring as you pour.

IMG_0387

Warm broth added to vegetables.

Next, add 1 bay leaf and 1 T garlic, stirring to incorporate. Cover the pot, decrease the heat to low, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes.

After the simmer, remove and discard the bay leaf, and pour in 1 C heavy cream. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until it is smooth.

Now it is time for the cheese, and Alton uses 10 ounces of shredded Fontina for his soup, stirring it in a handful at a time.

Once all of the cheese has melted and the soup is smooth, finish the soup by adding 1 t Marsala, 1 t Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 t hot sauce, and 1/2 t white pepper.

IMG_0413

Alton’s cheese soup.

Alton recommends serving his cheese soup with a good beer. You can keep the soup warm in a thermos if you are not going to serve it right away. To re-heat leftover soup, a double boiler is recommended to prevent curdling. This soup is really delicious, having a velvety, creamy mouthfeel without being overly heavy. The flavor of the soup is rich, cheesy, and perfectly seasoned. I would say this is one of the best cheese soups I have had, and it is excellent for a chilly day.

Fromage Fort

The last recipe in this episode is a great use for any leftover cheese you may have sitting around. You will need a pound of cheese for this recipe, and you can use any blend of cheeses you would like. I used a blend of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, goat cheese, and queso fresco.

IMG_0357

A pound of cheese: cheddar, goat, mozzarella, and queso fresco.

Let the cheeses come to room temperature for an hour before you begin. Remove any hard rinds from the cheese, cutting cheeses into rough 3/4″ cubes. If you are using any super hard cheeses, you will want to grate them. Place your pound of cheese in a food processor, adding 1/4 C dry white wine, 3 T room temperature unsalted butter, 1 clove of garlic, and a small handful of parsley.

Process the cheese mixture for a full two minutes. Serve the cheese spread with crackers.

IMG_0367

Fromage fort.

This was a great way to use up some excess cheese, and it was definitely better than any prepared cheese spreads you can buy in the grocery store. The fun thing about this is that it will be different every time, depending on which cheeses you use. I don’t think I could have identified the cheeses in my spread, other than the cheddar. The garlic was quite prominent, while the wine was pretty subtle. I foresee myself making this again, as we really like to have appetizers and we often (ahem, always) have a variety of cheeses in our refrigerator.

To finish this one off, I’ll share some cheese tips from Alton. To store soft cheese, place it in a lidded container with a slice of apple or a damp paper towel. Store hard cheeses by wrapping them (not tightly) in wax paper, securing them with rubber bands. Always bring cheese to room temperature before eating.

For a cheese tasting, Alton suggests serving three cheeses with a theme, such as three cheeses from the same country, three of the same type of cheese with different lengths of aging, or three cheeses made with the same type of milk. Allow 1/4 pound of cheese per person for a cheese tasting.

And, for those of you who are lactose-intolerant, you can feel pretty safe when eating aged cheeses. Why? Aged cheeses have little to no lactose because the bacteria in the cheese has consumed the lactose. I don’t know about you, but I’m craving some cheese now.

Garden Vegetable Soup

As with the last episode of Good Eats, Alton’s goal in this episode was to develop kid-friendly recipes; this time, though, he tackled soup. The first soup he made was a vegetable soup. This soup starts by heating 4 T olive oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add to the oil 2 C chopped leeks (be sure to wash them well), 2 T minced garlic, and a pinch of Kosher salt.

IMG_0139

Leeks, garlic, and salt added to hot oil.

Cook the leeks and garlic until they have softened.

IMG_0141

Leeks and garlic after sweating.

Next, add 2 C peeled/chopped carrots, 2 C peeled/diced potatoes, and 2 C green beans, broken into bite-sized pieces.

Increase the heat under the vegetables, cooking them for 4-5 minutes. Pour in 2 quarts of chicken or vegetable broth; Alton says he is fine with using purchased broth here. Of course, homemade would always be better, though!

Once the broth is in the pot, increase the heat to high, bringing the broth to a simmer. When simmering, add 4 C peeled/seeded/chopped tomatoes, 2 ears of corn kernels, and a few grinds of black pepper.

IMG_0147

Corn, tomatoes, and pepper added to the soup.

Turn the heat to low, place a lid on the pot, and simmer the soup for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork tender.

To finish the soup, stir in 1/4 C parsley and 1-2 t fresh lemon juice.

IMG_0163

Lemon juice and parsley stirred in.

IMG_0169

A bowl of Alton’s vegetable soup.

This is a pretty basic vegetable soup recipe, and I have to admit that I assumed it would be quite bland. I also was unsure of whether Ted would like it, as he is not a huge tomato fan. Ted and I, however, were both pleasantly surprised at the amount of flavor in this soup! The individual vegetables maintained their textures and vibrant colors, and the soup had a bright, fresh vegetable flavor. The lemon gave the soup a perfect pop of much-needed acidity. The only thing you may need to adjust is the amount of salt, depending on how much you sprinkle in when sweating the leeks and garlic. This is a super easy, healthy recipe that you easily could make with kids in the kitchen, and it is a great way to eat a bunch of fresh vegetables.

Grape Gazpacho

Now that the weather is cooling off, we really aren’t in gazpacho season anymore. The ingredients needed for Alton’s grape gazpacho, though, are available year-round. Gazpacho is always better if allowed to sit for a few hours before eating, so plan to make this a few hours ahead.

IMG_0196

Tomatillos, cucumber, and Granny Smith apple.

The soup begins with seeding and chopping one cucumber.

IMG_0198

Seeded cucumber.

Place half of the cucumber in a food processor and the other half in a large bowl. Next, peel, seed, and chop a Granny Smith apple, placing half of it in the food processor and the other half in the large bowl.

IMG_0199

Peeled apple.

Chop 1 C husked tomatillos, and do the same as with the cucumber and apple, placing half of the tomatillos in the food processor and half in the large bowl.

Add the following ingredients to the food processor:  1 pound green grapes, 1 C toasted walnuts, 1 C plain yogurt, 1 C white grape juice, 1 t rice wine vinegar, and 6 mint leaves.

Pulse the ingredients in the food processor nine or ten times, until blended but still maintaining some texture.

IMG_0209

Mixture after pulsing 9-10 times.

Pour the mixture from the food processor into the large bowl with the cucumber, apple, and tomatillos, stirring to combine.

IMG_0212

Blended mixture added to bowl of fruit/vegetables.

Cover the soup with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for two-three hours before eating.

IMG_0242

Green grape gazpacho.

As with most cold soups, this one comes together super quickly, and it is super convenient since you can make it ahead of time. This soup was just okay for me, though it did have some interesting flavors. I found that it really called for the addition of some Kosher salt. The soup was certainly light and refreshing, and the walnuts gave it some body. I would definitely prefer this soup in warmer weather, as it has a slightly sweet and tart flavor from the grapes and tomatillos. This is another healthy and easy recipe that kids could certainly aid in making, but this wasn’t a favorite for me.

This episode of Good Eats sees Alton in the kitchen with his “nephew,” striving to whip up some kid-friendly sandwiches. Alton has four rules for making sandwiches:

  1. Soft fillings and spreads pair best with soft breads.
  2. A barrier (mayo, butter, oil, etc.) should be used to keep bread from getting water-logged from wet ingredients.
  3. The order of sandwich ingredients matters – slippery ingredients are not to be placed next to each other.
  4. Quality of bread is crucial, and you should only utilize bread that you would happily consume plain. Pre-sliced bread tends to be loaded with preservatives, so should be avoided.

Pan Bagnat

The first sandwich Alton makes is a pan bagnat, which translates to “wet bread.” What is a pan bagnat? Basically, it is a French version of a sub sandwich, consisting of several layers of ingredients. This sandwich is designed to be made a couple hours before consumption, as it is best to let the flavors mingle. This sandwich starts with a vinaigrette made by placing 1/2 t Dijon mustard in a bowl, and whisking in 1 T red wine vinegar, 1/2 t Kosher salt, and several grinds of pepper. While continuing to whisk, drizzle in 3 T olive oil to form an emulsion. Set the dressing aside while you build the sandwich.

This sandwich serves four people, and I only needed enough for two, so I cut the recipe in half. Bread-wise, for four servings, you want to get a 16-inch baguette. Slice the loaf in half horizontally and use your fingers to dig out trenches in the center of each half of bread, as if you are creating bread canoes. You can discard the removed bread, or use it to make bread crumbs.

Fill the trench in the bottom half of bread with 12 ounces of drained tuna fish (you can use either oil or water-packed tuna).

IMG_0225

Bottom bread trench filled with tuna fish.

Next, add a layer of 1/3-inch thick green bell pepper slices, followed by a layer of 1/3-inch thick red onion slices.

Next, add two hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced.

IMG_0228

Tuna topped with green bell pepper, red onions, and hard boiled eggs.

On top of the eggs, sprinkle on 1 C of pitted/chopped Kalamata olives.

IMG_0229

Tuna topped with green bell pepper, red onions, hard boiled egg, and Kalamata olives.

Top the olives with 4-5 slices of very ripe tomato and drizzle on the red wine vinaigrette, letting the dressing drizzle down between the ingredient layers.

Place the top bread on top of the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich very tightly in plastic wrap; you will need to overlap sheets of plastic to have a sheet wide enough for the length of the sandwich. Once wrapped, let the sandwich sit at room temperature for two hours before slicing and eating.

I made this sandwich last Friday, as we were taking a short road trip out of town. The sandwich sat in the car for the duration of our drive, and was then ready to eat for dinner when we arrived at our vacation rental.

IMG_0240

Alton’s pan bagnat. Excuse the poor lighting in this photo, as our vacation rental had horrible lighting.

Personally, I really liked this sandwich, but Ted doesn’t like canned tuna, so he was not a huge fan. He did, however, say that he would really like this sandwich if it were made with a different protein. Basically, if you’ve ever had a niçoise salad, this sandwich is that salad in sandwich form. Alton did not follow his second sandwich rule of using a moisture barrier with this recipe, so I wondered if the sandwich would end up soggy from the tuna, tomato, olives, and dressing, but it really was not soggy at all. What I liked most about this sandwich were its contrasting flavors, colors, and textures. The veggies gave the sandwich a crunch, the tomato and dressing kept the sandwich from being dry, and the eggs gave a slight creamy texture. Flavor-wise, the vinaigrette and olives were tangy, bright and salty, while the red onions gave a bit of spice/heat. The tomato added fruitiness and the tuna contributed a slight fishy flavor. It was also convenient to be able to make this sandwich ahead. I will definitely make a version of this sandwich again, though I likely will substitute something else (chicken salad?) for the tuna unless I am the only one eating it.

Cuban Sandwich

The second sandwich recipe in this episode is for Alton’s take on the classic Cuban sandwich. To make Cuban sandwiches, slice hoagie rolls in half horizontally and liberally spread yellow mustard on both halves of the rolls.

Top the mustard with a thin layer of baked ham, followed by a thin layer of roast pork (I made a small pork roast for these sandwiches).

Top the pork with two slices of provolone or Swiss cheese (I used Swiss) and two long, thin slices of Kosher dill pickle.

You can wrap the sandwiches in plastic and save them for later, or you can cook them right away. To cook the sandwiches, brush/spread them with butter and press them in a panini press for about 10 minutes.

If you do not have a panini press, you can still press the sandwiches by wrapping three fireplace bricks in foil. Place the bricks on a sheet pan. Place three more bricks (they do not need to be wrapped in foil) on a second sheet pan. Place the two sheet pans of bricks in a 500-degree oven for an hour. Remove the sheet pans from the oven and brush the foil-covered bricks with butter. Place the sandwiches on the foil-covered bricks and brush the sandwich tops with butter. Place the sheet pan of unwrapped bricks on top of the sandwiches and let the sandwiches press between the bricks for about 10 minutes.

IMG_0176

Alton’s Cuban sandwich.

I really enjoy Cuban sandwiches because I love their zesty flavor, and I thought this was a great, fast version to make at home. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of roasting pork for this recipe, you could always substitute sliced turkey, or at least that is what Alton says. I’m sure some Cuban sandwich classicists would pooh-pooh Alton’s version with provolone and turkey, but if it tastes good (and it does), who cares?

Roasted Vegetable Spread

The last recipe in this episode is for a vegetarian spread that you could use on any sandwich, or just on crackers or bread. Preheat your oven to 400. While the oven heats, toss the following vegetables with 1-2 T olive oil:  1 sliced zucchini, 1 sliced (into rings) red bell pepper, 1 sliced (into rings) onion, and 4-5 crushed cloves of garlic.

Spread the veggies on a foil-lined sheet pan and sprinkle them with Kosher salt. Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

IMG_0319

Zucchini, red bell pepper, onion, and garlic tossed with olive oil, spread on a sheet pan, and sprinkled with Kosher salt.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.

IMG_0323

Vegetables after roasting for 45 minutes.

Place the veggies in a food processor, along with eight ounces of cream cheese, and pulse to combine.

IMG_0325

Roasted vegetables in the food processor with cream cheese.

IMG_0329

Alton’s vegetable spread, served with bread slices.

Alton recommends serving his spread on soft bread (see sandwich rule number 1 above). This spread has a sweet veggie flavor from the caramelized vegetables. While I would not be able to identify zucchini in this spread, the flavors of red bell pepper, onion, and garlic are easily identifiable. I did feel that the spread could use a bit more Kosher salt, though. We enjoyed this as an appetizer on sliced bread, though I can attest it is also good on crackers. This is a recipe that would be great to keep in mind for when you are cleaning out your produce drawer, as you could roast a variety of leftover vegetables and have a different spread each time. I plan to make this again the next time we have leftover veggies.

When I began this project, I had to purchase the first couple seasons of Good Eats through Amazon. Shortly after beginning this blog, I set our DVR to record any and all episodes that were airing, building a stockpile. I currently have 135 episodes recorded. Needless to say, I had a little bit of a panic yesterday morning when I discovered that the clock on our DVR was stuck at 2:41 and it was emitting an odd whirring sound. Oh, and the DVR refused to power off. Thankfully, it rebooted just fine after being unplugged for a few minutes. Whew!

Episode 110 is very seasonally appropriate, as chili, to me, is perfect for fall and winter. I got a kick out of this episode because Alton played the role of a cowboy, and remained in character for the duration of the show; I cannot recall another episode in which he did this.

AB’s Chili Powder

If you want to make good chili, you have to start with great chili powder. Thankfully, Alton has a chili powder recipe that you can whip up easily at home. His chili powder starts with three types of dried chiles:  ancho chiles, cascabel chiles, and arbol chiles. While I had no trouble finding the ancho and arbol chiles at my regular grocery store, I had to take a trip to our local Mexican grocery store to find the dried cascabels. For a batch of chili powder, you will need three of each type of chile.

IMG_9880

Ancho chiles, arbol chiles, and cascabel chiles.

Using scissors, cut the tops off the dried peppers, shaking out the seeds and discarding them; you don’t want the seeds because they add bitterness. Use the scissors to cut the chiles into strips; you can do this straight into a large skillet.

IMG_9882

Chiles cut into strips and placed in skillet.

Add 2 T cumin seeds to the pan, setting the pan over medium-high heat. Roast the peppers and cumin seeds until they are fragrant and the cumin seeds begin to pop.

 

When making this chili powder, your kitchen will smell amazing from the toasted chiles and cumin seeds! Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the chiles/seeds to cool. While the chiles cool, combine 2 T garlic powder, 1 t smoked paprika, and 1 T dried oregano in a blender.

IMG_9885

Garlic powder, smoked paprika, and dried oregano in blender carafe.

Add the cooled chile/cumin mixture to the blender and blend the mixture to a fine powder. Be sure to let the powder settle for a couple minutes before removing the lid of the blender.

 

IMG_9889

Alton’s chili powder.

The finished chili powder is very fragrant and honestly made my mouth water. It has a rich, deep aroma that far surpasses that of store-bought chili powder. Use Alton’s chili powder in any recipe calling for chili powder, such as his chili recipe below.

Pressure Cooker Chili

Alton uses his homemade chili powder to make his version of chili. Yes, Alton uses a pressure cooker to make his chili, but he also gives instructions in the episode for how to adapt this recipe if you do not have a pressure cooker.

IMG_9890

Ingredients for Alton’s chili: beer, tomato paste, tortilla chips, chipotles and adobo sauce, salsa, cumin, and chili powder.

Three pounds of stew meat go into this chili, and Alton prefers a blend of beef, lamb, and pork. I could not find lamb stew meat at my store, so I used half beef and half pork. Heat a pressure cooker over high heat until hot.

IMG_9894

Heating the pressure cooker.

While the pot heats up, put the stew meat in a large bowl with 1 1/2 t Kosher salt, and toss to coat.

IMG_9892

Three pounds of stew meat being tossed with Kosher salt.

Add 2 t peanut oil to the meat, and toss again to coat.

IMG_9893

Three pounds of stew meat being tossed with Kosher salt and peanut oil.

Brown the meat in the hot pot, removing it after browning; you will want to do this in three batches, so the pan does not get overcrowded.

When all the meat has been browned, put the empty pot back on the heat and add 12 ounces of medium-bodied beer (I used one of Alton’s beers), scraping to deglaze the pan.

Add 1 T tomato paste to the beer, along with 1 T chili powder, 1 t ground cumin, 3 big handfuls of crumbled tortilla chips, 16 ounces salsa, 2 chopped canned chipotles, 1 T adobo sauce from the chipotles, and the 3 pounds of browned meat.

Put the lid on the cooker and bring it up to low pressure. Maintain low pressure for 25 minutes before releasing the pressure and serving.

IMG_9908

Lid put on pressure cooker.

IMG_9911

Chili after cooking for 25 minutes.

Alton thinks this chili is perfect as it stands, requiring no extra toppings, so I served it his way. I served my chili with a slice of cornbread on the side.

IMG_9912

A bowl of Alton’s chili.

Oh, and for those who do not have a pressure cooker, you can make Alton’s chili in a Dutch oven, letting the chili cook, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 6-24 hours. The flavor of Alton’s chili is pretty fantastic, having just the right amount of heat. The flavor from the toasted chiles blends beautifully with the saltiness of the chips, the sweetness of the tomato paste, and the freshness of the salsa. I found that the beef stew meat was more tender than the pork stew meat, which was slightly chewy. Perhaps a little longer cook would tenderize the pork more. I happen to love lamb, so I wish I could have added some of that to my chili. I also happen to really like beans in my chili, so I would probably opt to add them next time, but that’s really a matter of personal preference. This chili is super flavorful, and if you happen to have a pressure cooker, you get the flavor of a long simmer with a very short cook time. The true hero of this recipe, though, is the homemade chili powder.

 

Episode 109 centers around wonton wrappers and the different ways to use them. Wonton comes from the Cantonese term “wahn tan,” which means “cloud swallow.” While it is possible to make your own wonton wrappers at home, Alton was adamant that it is not worth the time and effort to do so. Instead, do yourself a favor and buy the wonton wrappers that are readily available in the produce section of almost any grocery store.

Perfect Potstickers

This episode starts with Alton’s version of potstickers, featuring a pork and vegetable filling. The filling is made by combining in a bowl 1/2 pound ground pork, 1/4 C chopped scallions, 1 beaten egg, 2 T finely chopped red bell pepper, 1 1/2 t Kosher salt, 1/2 t pepper, 1 t light brown sugar, 1/4 t cayenne pepper, 2 t Worcestershire sauce, 2 t ketchup, and 1 t yellow mustard.

Mix the filling thoroughly with gloved hands.

IMG_9715

The mixed potsticker filling.

As you fill your wonton wrappers, be sure to keep the remaining wrappers moist by covering them with a damp paper towel.

IMG_9716

Wonton wrappers.

To form the potstickers, place a wrapper so it is a diamond in front of you. Brush the two edges furthest from you with water and place a melon baller of filling (about 1/2 t) in the center.

IMG_9722

Wonton wrapper with the two far edges brushed with water and a melon baller of filling.

Fold the bottom of the diamond over the filling to form a triangle, pressing the edges together and squeezing to remove any air bubbles.

Make two pleats on each short side of the triangle by folding the wrapper under itself and pressing (see photo).

IMG_9725

Pleats made on each short side of the triangle.

Set the formed potstickers on a sheet pan, covering them with a damp towel until you finish filling the rest of the wrappers. For long-term storage (these will keep for 6+ months in the freezer), freeze the potstickers on a sheet pan and then transfer them to ziplock freezer bags. To cook the potstickers, heat a large skillet (that has a lid) over medium heat. Ideally, you do not want to use a nonstick skillet to cook potstickers, as you want them to stick to the pan. I, however, do not have a large skillet that is not nonstick, so I had to work with what I have. Heat the skillet until water droplets will “dance” across the surface of the pan. When the skillet is hot, brush the pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil and place 8-10 potstickers in the pan. Let the potstickers cook for two minutes, resisting the urge to lift or move them.

When the potstickers have begun to stick to the pan, add 1/3 C chicken stock to the pan and quickly put the lid on the pan. Decrease the heat to low and cook the potstickers for two more minutes.

If you need to cook more potstickers, transfer the cooked potstickers to a foil cone and place it in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest.

Be sure to deglaze the pan between batches by adding water to the pan and scraping up any stuck bits. Alton recommends serving the potstickers with hoisin sauce (you can buy this in the grocery store) or a mixture of soy sauce and honey. I served my potstickers with a mixture of soy sauce and lemon juice.

IMG_9742

A plate of Alton’s potstickers.

These potstickers are fantastic. They are far superior to the frozen versions you get at any store. The filling is a perfectly balanced mixture of sweetness, spiciness, and tanginess. The wrappers are nearly translucent after cooking, having the texture of an al dente noodle on top and light crispiness on the bottom. I found that soy sauce overpowered the flavor of the filling, so I opted to eat mine with just a small amount of Asian mustard. Yes, it does take a little bit of time to fill and form the potstickers, but they are worth the time. I will absolutely make these again.

Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings

Another way to use wonton wrappers is to make steamed dumplings. If you do not have a steamer, Alton has a hack for you. To assemble his steamer, you will need a wide pot with a lid, a few pastry rings or tuna cans with the tops and bottoms removed, and disposable pie plates that you have perforated with scissors or a knife. To assemble the steamer, place 1/2″ water in the bottom of the pot, followed by a pastry ring or can. Top the ring/can with a perforated pie plate. Continue layering rings and pie plates to the top of the pot and put on the lid. You can then steam your dumplings by placing five dumplings in each pie plate layer. We have a bamboo steamer, so I used that. Anyway, back to the recipe. Cut 1/2 pound of tofu in half horizontally and place the layers between paper towels for 20 minutes. It helps to place a plate or pan on top to press out excess liquid.

Once the tofu is ready, cut it into small cubes and place it in a bowl.

IMG_9825

Cubing the tofu.

To the tofu add 1/2 C grated carrot, 1/2 C shredded Napa cabbage, 2 T chopped scallions, 2 T chopped red bell pepper, 2 t minced ginger, 1 T chopped cilantro, 1 T soy sauce, 1 T hoisin sauce (in the Asian section at the grocery store), 2 t sesame oil, 1 t Kosher salt, 1/4 t pepper, and one beaten egg.

Lightly stir the filling, as you do not want to break up the tofu.

IMG_9839

Dumpling filling.

Place your wonton wrappers in damp paper towels to keep them moist as you fill. To fill, place a wrapper so it is a diamond in front of you and place a melon baller (~1/2 t) of filling in the center. Brush all four edges of the wrapper with water and bring opposite corners together.

Press the edges together, squeezing out any air bubbles.

IMG_9844

Folding opposite corners together and pinching the seams.

Place the filled dumplings on a sheet pan and cover them with a damp towel while you fill the remaining wrappers. You can freeze them for later use or cook them immediately.

IMG_9846

Dumplings on sheet pan.

To cook the dumplings, heat water in a steamer until you can see steam. If using Alton’s steamer, spray the pie plates with oil. Place the dumplings in the steamer, put the lid on, and cook the dumplings for 10-12 minutes.

Alton recommends serving these dumplings in a bowl of chicken stock. For vegetarians, you could use vegetable broth. I had some homemade chicken stock in the freezer, so served my dumplings in that.

IMG_9855

Alton’s vegetarian steamed dumplings in chicken stock.

This is another wonderful recipe. In fact, we probably liked these vegetarian dumplings more than the pork potstickers. The filling of the dumplings is spicy and sweet, with occasional punches of fresh ginger and cilantro, and the dumplings look quite pretty when folded in this manner. Serving the dumplings in a bowl of warm stock makes for a delicious meal. Great recipe.

Pear Walnut Wontons

Dessert wontons? Yep, Alton has a recipe for those too. The filling for these wontons starts by combining 1/4 C sugar and 1/4 C water in a saucier. Bring the water and sugar to a simmer over medium heat, or until the sugar has dissolved.

IMG_9987

Sugar and water over medium heat.

Meanwhile, split a vanilla bean and scrape out its seeds.

IMG_9988

Vanilla bean to be scraped.

When the sugar has dissolved in the pan, remove it from the heat and add 1 T orange liqueur and the vanilla bean scrapings. Let the syrup cool.

Next, chop 6 ounces of dried pears and place them in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse the pears until they clump together.

IMG_9998

Dried pears pulsed until clumpy.

Add the cooled sugar syrup to the pears and pulse until smooth.

Place 1 1/4 ounces toasted and chopped walnuts in a bowl (I toasted mine in a skillet over low heat) and add the pear mixture, stirring to combine.

Place the filling in the refrigerator for an hour or up to overnight. For these wontons, Alton used a different forming method than for the two previous recipes. For these, he placed a wonton wrapper on top of his fist, pressing the center of the wrapper down into the hole of his fist. He brushed on a little bit of water and filled the little indentation with filling. He then crimped the edges around the ball of filling, pushing out the air and forming a little octopus shape (at least, that’s what it looked like to me).  Okay, so this method of filling just didn’t work for me, though the little octopus-like dumplings were cute in the episode. I found that the filling leaked all over, the wrappers tore, and it was impossible to put much filling into the wrapper with this method. I gave up after throwing away several wrappers, and opted to fold my wontons as in the vegetarian dumpling recipe above.

IMG_0030

Attempting to fold wontons Alton’s way.

So, instead, I placed a wrapper so it was a diamond in front of me and placed a melon baller of filling in the center. I brushed all four edges of the wrapper with water and brought the opposite corners together, pinching the seams and pressing out any air bubbles. As with the other recipes, be sure to keep your empty wonton wrappers in moist paper towels as you fill, and place filled wontons on a baking sheet covered with a damp towel.

I chose to freeze a bunch of these right away since we only planned to eat a few, so I placed the sheet pan of wontons directly in the freezer. These babies get fried; afterall, it is dessert! To fry these wontons, heat 1/2 gallon of vegetable or peanut oil to 360 degrees.

IMG_0036

Oil heating to 360.

Add eight wontons to the hot oil, cooking them for two minutes, or until golden. Transfer the fried wontons to a rack over a sheet pan to drain and cool.

Alton recommends serving these guys with ice cream.

IMG_0044

Fried wontons with ice cream.

We had these for dessert last night, and they were a really fun dessert to have. The wonton wrappers were golden brown and crispy, while the still-warm filling was reminiscent of warm fruit pie filling. The walnuts gave the filling a little bit of texture. The filling is not overly sweet, so these really do pair well with the sweetness of ice cream. I plan to fry up some more of these for dessert over the weekend.