Skirt Steak

The 91st episode of Good Eats strives to provide recipes that elevate lesser cuts of meat to higher levels, starting with skirt steak. When purchasing skirt steak, it is ideal to get an “inside skirt steak,” though I could not find a steak labeled this way. In fact, I had to visit three grocery stores to find any skirt steak.

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My skirt steak.

Since Alton uses his skirt steak to make fajitas (my grandma used to pronounce fajitas “fa-jy-tas,” which I always thought sounded like a venereal disease), a 2 1/2 pound steak will serve eight people. Skirt steak is ideal for marinades, and it really only needs to marinate for an hour or so. For Alton’s skirt steak marinade, combine in a blender 1/2 C olive oil, 1/3 C soy sauce, 4 scallions, 2 big cloves of garlic, the juice of two limes, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 1/2 t cumin, and 3 T dark brown sugar.

Place your steak in a large ziplock bag and add the marinade, massaging it into the meat. Place the steak in the refrigerator for an hour.

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Steak and marinade in plastic bag for an hour.

To cook a skirt steak, Alton recommends using a charcoal grill, but the odd part of his cooking method is that he has you cook the steak directly on the charcoal for 60 seconds per side (he recommends using a hair dryer to blow off any ash prior to grilling). Once cooked, wrap your steak in a double layer of heavy foil and let it rest.

Meanwhile, place a cast iron skillet on your charcoal, allowing it to heat up.

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Cast iron skillet placed on coals to heat.

While your skillet heats, chop one red bell pepper, one green bell pepper, and one white onion, tossing them in vegetable oil. Add the oiled vegetables to the heated skillet, cooking them until soft and slightly charred.

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Sautéed veggies.

Next, slice your steak across the grain, as thinly as possible; skirt steak can be chewy and this will help to break up the meat fibers. Place the sliced meat back in the foil packet with its juices, tossing to coat.

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Steak after cooking more in the oven and resting again.

Finally, serve the sliced steak in warmed flour tortillas, along with the sautéed vegetables.

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Steak and veggies in tortillas for fajitas.

I have a few things to say about this recipe. First off, I cooked my steak directly on the charcoal for a minute on each side, and it was completely raw in the center, even after resting. I had to finish my steak in the oven.

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Steak after resting – RAW.

My second criticism is that a fair amount of ash stuck to my steak, which you could somewhat taste (and added a gritty texture). I will say that I did not use high-quality charcoal, which was probably part of the problem. If I did this again, I would use natural, high-quality charcoal. Finally, I still found my skirt steak to be extremely chewy, which was really disappointing. I’m not sure I would try this again, though I will say the marinade was fantastic, imparting the meat with really good flavor. Still, the raw steak, ashy flavor, and chewy meat outweigh the good marinade. Maybe I will try this marinade on a different cut of meat.

Sirloin Steak

After feeling like Alton’s skirt steak was sort of a flop, I was hopeful that his take on sirloin steak would be a bit better. When purchasing sirloin steak, look for cuts that are labeled as “top sirloin,” “top butt steak,” “center cut sirloin,” or “hip sirloin steak.” Essentially, as Alton puts it, the best sirloin steaks are the furthest away from the hooves and horns. For this recipe, you want a steak that is about 1 1/2 pounds. My steak actually came in two pieces.

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My sirloin steak. It came in two separate pieces.

The key with cooking sirloin steak is to start with low heat and finish with high heat. Begin by positioning two oven racks in the lowest two positions, placing a layer of foil, or a sheet pan, on the bottom rack to catch anything that drips. Preheat your broiler. As Alton says, a broiler is nothing but an upside-down grill. While your oven preheats, oil your steak and season it with salt and pepper.

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Steak, oiled and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Once your oven is hot, place your steak directly on the second lowest oven rack, and place a piece of foil in the oven door to keep it slightly ajar; this will keep the broiler from cycling off. Cook the steak for five minutes.

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Steaks, placed directly on second lowest rack for 5 minutes.

After five minutes, flip the steak, place the foil back in the door, and cook it for five more minutes.

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Steaks, flipped over after five minutes. Left to broil for 5 more minutes before moving up to second highest rack position.

Next, flip the steak again, moving its rack up to the second highest position (be sure to move the drip tray up also). Place the foil in the door and cook the steak for three minutes. After three minutes, flip the steak again, place the foil in the door, and cook the steak for a final three minutes. *I failed to get photos of my steak after I moved it to the second highest rack because my dog gets scared whenever the broiler is on, and especially when I open the oven door. Why? I have no idea. Anyway, remove the steak from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes.

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Finished steak, resting.

Slice the steak on the bias and serve.

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Finished steak, sliced on the bias.

I served my steak over a green salad and we were quite happy with this one.

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Finished steak, served over salad.

Alton’s cooking method for this is pretty spot-on, though you may need to adjust the cooking time slightly for your steak size and broiler. My resulting steak was pink in the center and tender. This is about as easy as it gets for cooking a decent, fairly inexpensive, weeknight steak. Alton redeemed himself with this one.

Breakfast Sausage

Sausage, I think, is one of those foods that very few people ever attempt to make at home, partially because it seems a bit daunting and because there are lots of decent options readily available. We do not eat a lot of sausage because we tend to try to eat a pretty healthy diet, but who doesn’t like some sausage every now and again? Once again, my Good Eats project pushed me to make something at home that I may otherwise not have tried, and it let me finally put to use the KitchenAid sausage attachment that has been sitting in the basement for five years.

A classic bulk breakfast sausage was Alton’s first project in this episode, and the only special equipment you really need for this is a meat grinder. Alton emphasizes that a food processor is not ideal for grinding fresh sausage because it results in sausage with a very dense texture. A food processor is suitable, however, for cured sausages. To make Alton’s breakfast sausage, begin by cubing two pounds of boneless pork butt and a half pound of pork fat back in to 1-inch pieces. I had to go to the local butcher shop to get my fat back.

Add the following to the cubed meat:  2 t Kosher salt, 1 1/2 t black pepper, 2 t chopped fresh sage, 2 t chopped fresh thyme, 1/2 t chopped fresh rosemary, 1 T light brown sugar, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 1/2 t cayenne pepper, and 1/2 t nutmeg.

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Herbs/spices for sausage, clockwise from upper left: Kosher salt, black pepper, fresh sage, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, light brown sugar, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg.

Mix the meat and spices thoroughly with your hands and chill the mixture for at least an hour; you want the fat to be cold prior to grinding, so it stays evenly dispersed in the sausage.

Once your meat has chilled, run it through your meat grinder of choice (using a fine die), one handful at a time.

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Bulk breakfast sausage.

Wrap the sausage in butcher paper, if you have it, and refrigerate it for up to a week, or freeze it for several months. I vacuum-sealed my sausage, freezing it for later use. When ready to cook your sausage, form the sausage into patties of desired size, and cook them in a pan over medium-low heat until they are no longer pink in the center.

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Breakfast sausage patties, cooking over medium-low heat until no longer pink.

Oh, and to clean the meat grinder, Alton suggests running stale bread through the grinder prior to washing it. We tried this sausage for breakfast one morning, eating it alongside English muffins.

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Alton’s breakfast sausage.

I found this sausage to really resemble the spicy bulk Jimmy Dean sausage my dad always ate when I was a kid. This sausage has lots of flavor from the variety of spices it contains, and is moderately spicy. The hardest part of making this bulk sausage is cubing the meat, which really is not much effort. All in all, this recipe taught me that bulk sausage is super easy to make and worth the effort.

Italian Sausage

The second recipe in this episode is for Italian sausage, which means you will need to have collagen sausage casings and a sausage-stuffing attachment. I bought my casings on Amazon.

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Collagen sausage casing.

The process for this sausage is very similar to that of the breakfast sausage above until you get to the stuffing portion. Fennel is a prominent spice in Italian sausage, so you first need to toast 1 1/2 t of fennel seeds in a pan over medium heat until fragrant.

Grind the fennel in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and add 2 t Kosher salt, 1 1/2 t pepper, 1 T chopped parsley, and 2 pounds of cubed pork shoulder.

Toss the spices with the meat and refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour to chill the fat.IMG_5235 Once chilled, grind the meat, one handful at a time, into a chilled bowl.

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Ground sausage.

Next, install the stuffing nozzle on your mixer, loading sausage into the hopper. Turn the mixer on, allowing it to run until sausage starts to come out of the nozzle.

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Ground sausage, loaded into the hopper.

Using a wooden spoon handle as a guide, load the collagen casing onto the nozzle (all the way to the far end of the casing), twisting the far end and clamping it with a clothes pin.

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Collagen sausage casing, loaded onto nozzle. Casing needs to be pushed all the way on. Excuse the somewhat phallic photograph.

Turn the mixer on at medium speed, using the plunger to push the sausage through while holding the casing with your other hand. This process is a lot easier with an additional set of hands. Once your casing is sufficiently stuffed, tie the end of the casing with twine.

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Filled casing.

It is now time to form links by twisting your desired width of sausage away from you (Alton did a hand-width portion). Form the second link by twisting the long part of the sausage the opposite direction. Be careful not to twist the links too much or the casing will tear; I found this out the hard way. Once your links are formed, twist them all into an accordion shape, keeping them all attached.

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Links formed.

Age the links in the refrigerator for at least two hours, and up to three days, before cooking or freezing. I will tell you that Alton makes the sausage stuffing/forming look really easy in the episode, while I found there to be a substantial learning curve. To cook Alton’s sausage, place your links in a lidded pan with 1/4-inch of water, and bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, cover the pan and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes have passed, remove the lid from the pan and continue cooking your links, turning them every couple minutes until they are golden brown and have an internal temperature of at least 150 degrees.

As far as serving the sausages, Alton suggests serving them on buns with mustard.

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Italian sausage on a bun with mustard.

Though these sausages were a bit of a pain to form, we were really happy with their flavor. The toasted fennel flavor is prominent in these sausages and they taste as good as any Italian sausage you can buy.

Chicken Stock

Somehow, we seem to have suddenly transitioned to soup weather, so the 89th episode of Good Eats came at a perfect time. First up was Alton’s recipe for homemade chicken stock. It really is true that purchased stock cannot compare to what you can make at home, and taking the time to make stock will result in superior homemade soups later. For Alton’s stock, place four pounds of chicken remains in a 12-quart stock pot; I used the remains from grocery store rotisserie birds, but Alton pointed out that you can always use chicken wings if you need more bones.

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Chicken remains in the stock pot.

Add four broken carrots, four broken celery ribs, the white part of one leek, a quartered onion, 10 sprigs of parsley, 10 sprigs of thyme, 8-10 peppercorns, two cloves of garlic, and two bay leaves.

Press a steamer basket down onto the chicken/vegetables to keep everything submerged, and add two gallons of cold water (cold water helps to extract more collagen). Alton says filtered water is best for stock, but I just opted for our tap water.

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Steamer basket used to keep chicken/vegetables submerged in two gallons of cold water.

Turn the heat to high, wait until you see bubbles, and decrease the heat to medium-low to maintain a bare simmer.

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Bubbles forming on surface.

Maintain the bare simmer, skimming foam from the surface every 10-15 minutes during the first hour, and every half hour after that.

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Skimming foam from the surface.

As the stock cooks, add hot water, as needed, to keep the bones and vegetables covered. It should take six to eight hours for your stock to be done. How do you tell when stock is done? The easiest way to tell when stock is done is to remove a bone from the pot and try to break it – bones will break easily when your stock is ready.

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Stock after cooking for seven hours.

When your stock has finished cooking, strain it through two nested strainers with a layer of cheesecloth between them; you can reinsert your inverted steamer basket, pressing on it with tongs as you pour the stock into the strainers.

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Two nested strainers with cheesecloth between them.

It is necessary to cool your stock quickly, so Alton suggests dividing the stock between two pots, placing them into a cooler with ice, and adding frozen water bottles to the pots. Once cool, refrigerate your stock overnight. In the morning, discard any solidified fat from the surface of your stock. You should have stock with a jelly-like consistency. If not, bring your stock back to a boil and reduce it by half. I found that I had to do this second boiling step, as my stock had really not gelatinized.

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Strained chicken stock.

Stock will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months. Prior to using homemade stock in a recipe, bring it to a boil for two minutes. Making this stock sure made our house smell great, and the resulting stock was packed with chicken flavor, though definitely in need of some salt. I used some stock in Alton’s next recipe, and froze the rest for later use.

Chicken Noodle Soup

What better use for homemade chicken stock than chicken noodle soup, especially as we enter cold and flu season? Alton’s recipe comes together super quickly, so you can make this on a weeknight. Oh, and this is easy to double, which I did. Boil a quart of homemade chicken stock for two minutes.

Add 3/4 C chopped onion, 3/4 C diced celery, and 1 T minced garlic. Decrease the heat and simmer the stock/vegetables for two minutes.

Add 2-3 ounces of cooked egg noodles and simmer the soup for five more minutes.

Add some fresh herbs (I used parsley and thyme) to the soup and serve with lemon wedges.

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A bowl of Alton’s chicken noodle soup with lemon.

This soup was really good, though it was in serious need of some seasoning. Once I added a bunch of salt and pepper, it was great! I happen to like my chicken noodle soup with lots of fresh black pepper, and I found that I really enjoyed Alton’s lemon recommendation, as a little acidity really brightened up the soup. If you wanted, you could always add some chopped or shredded chicken to this soup to give it some additional texture, protein, and flavor. This recipe is so simple and really serves to show how good homemade chicken stock can be.

Blueberry Muffins

First up in the 88th episode of Good Eats are blueberry muffins. Blueberry muffins were something we ate a lot growing up. My mom would make a batch of blueberry muffins, giving them to us for breakfast before school. She would take day-old muffins, split them in half, butter them, and place them under the broiler until the butter had melted and the muffin edges were slightly crispy. Gosh, they were good. I really should make blueberry muffins more often.

Alton’s recipe begins with preheating the oven to 380 degrees. While the oven preheats, combine 1 C plain yogurt, 1/2 C vegetable oil, 1 C sugar, and 1 egg in a bowl, whisking to combine.

In a separate bowl, sift together 12 1/2 ounces cake flour, a pinch of Kosher salt, 2 t baking powder, and 1 t baking soda.

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Wet and dry muffin mixtures.

For his muffins, Alton recommends using fresh blueberries when possible, but if you must use frozen berries, do not thaw them before adding them to your batter. Either way, toss 1 1/2 C blueberries with 1 T of your dry ingredient mixture; this will serve to keep the berries from sinking to the bottom of your muffins.

Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, mixing with a spatula for a long count of 10.

Add your berries, reserving 1/2 C for later. Mix the berries into the batter, but only for a count of three, as you do not want to over-mix the batter.

Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray and use a #20 ice cream scoop to dispense batter into each cup; a #20 scoop is equal to 0.2 C, so I used a ladle that was about this size.

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Sprayed muffin cups filled with batter.

Remember those reserved berries? Sprinkle them onto the tops of the muffins, lightly pressing them into the batter.

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Reserved berries sprinkled over muffins.

Place your muffins in your preheated oven, but increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Alton explained in the episode that increasing the oven temperature when you place the muffins in the oven gives a guaranteed burst of heat, which will help to ensure a good rise. Bake the muffins for 12 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake them for an additional 8-13 minutes. The muffins are done when they are golden brown and they pass the toothpick test.

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Muffins, straight out of the oven.

Flip your muffins onto a tea towel, letting them cool upside down.

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Muffins, inverted onto a tea towel to cool.

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Blueberry muffins, split, buttered, and broiled.

I had to test one of the muffins while it was still warm, splitting and buttering it. These blueberry muffins are outstanding. Not only are they littered with blueberries, but their flavor and texture is spot-on too. The yogurt in the muffin batter gives the muffins a faint tartness, so they are not overly sweet, and they are tender on the inside while being slightly crispy and golden on the outside. Good stuff. This blueberry muffin recipe is hard to beat.

English Muffins

It was probably about 15 years ago when I first saw this episode of Good Eats. I remember being super intrigued by Alton’s English muffin recipe, deciding to try it for myself. At the time, I was at my parents’ house, and all I can remember is that my English muffins were ugly… really ugly. They tasted fine, but they were hideous, and I never tried them again – until now.

To make English muffins, dissolve 1/8 t sugar in 1/3 C warm water. Sprinkle on 1 package of yeast, and set the bowl aside for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the wet ingredients:  1 C very hot water, 1 T shortening, 1 T sugar, 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 C milk powder.

Add the yeast mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring to combine.

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Yeast added to wet ingredients.

Place 2 C of sifted flour in a bowl, making a well in the center, and pour in the wet ingredients.

Stir the dough with a wooden spoon until it comes together. Set the dough aside for 30 minutes.

Alton used an electric griddle to cook his English muffins. We do not have an electric griddle per se, but we do have a Panini press that has smooth plates. You want your cooking surface to heat to 300 degrees (an infrared thermometer is helpful for checking this, especially if you don’t have a griddle).

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Griddle, preheated to 300 degrees.

Now, you will need some metal rings to serve as molds for your English muffins, and Alton used four tuna cans from which he had removed the tops and bottoms. I, however, discovered that tuna cans no longer seem to have removable bottoms; unfortunately, I did not come to this realization until I had purchased and opened four cans of tuna. Oops! I wound up purchasing a set of four rings on Amazon, which were not expensive. Once your cooking surface has sufficiently preheated, place your rings on the griddle, spraying them lightly with non-stick spray.

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Rings placed on preheated grill and sprayed with non-stick spray.

Using a #20 scoop, place two scoops of dough into each ring. I used a ladle that was approximately 1/4 C in size.

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English muffin batter added to rings.

Place a sheet pan on top of the rings and let the muffins cook for five minutes.

Using tongs, flip the rings, place the sheet pan on top again, and let the muffins cook on their second sides for five more minutes.

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Flipped muffins after five minutes.

Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool.

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Finished English muffins, cooling on wire rack.

I was pretty happy with how my English muffins turned out, as they at least looked like English muffins this time around. They had the “nooks and crannies” in them that really make an English muffin an English muffin, along with a slightly yeasty flavor.

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English muffin, toasted and buttered.

They toasted up nicely, and were a perfect breakfast with a pat of butter. Next time around, I will have to plan ahead and use the muffins to make eggs Benedict. Alton’s recipe shows that English muffins are surprisingly easy to make, and they’re pretty tasty too.IMG_4683

Omelet

My dad used to make amazing omelets. He went through a bit of a phase, studying Julia Child’s omelet method, and cooking omelets for all of us on the weekends. His omelets were always filled with one ingredient:  sharp Cheddar. To this day, my mom swears she only likes eggs in two forms (weird, I know):  hard-boiled and Dad’s omelets.

As I sat down to watch the Good Eats omelet episode, I realized that I had never before made an omelet. While I have cooked eggs pretty much every other way, somehow I had never before attempted the omelet. It was time to give it a go.

Alton’s omelet recipe begins with heating three eggs in hot water for five minutes; omelets are more tender when they are cooked quickly, and beginning with warm eggs helps this process.

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Three eggs, warming in hot water for 5 minutes.

Crack your warmed eggs into a bowl or large mug, beating them with a fork (Alton says a whisk will add unwanted air). Add 2-3 pinches of salt (not Kosher) and beat some more.

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Three warmed eggs, cracked into a mug. Ready to beaten, along with some salt.

Place a 9-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat. If you have an infrared thermometer, you will want to heat your pan to 325 degrees. If you do not have an infrared thermometer, heat your pan until butter foams briskly in the pan.

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Non-stick skillet, heated to 325 degrees.

Once your pan is hot, lube the pan with butter, distributing it evenly with a pastry brush.

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Heated pan, lubed with butter.

Pour the eggs into the center of the pan and stir them vigorously with a rubber spatula for five seconds.

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Eggs poured into pan and stirred.

When a mass of curds begins to form, lift and swirl the pan, allowing uncooked egg to flow beneath the omelet edges (Alton calls this the “swirl and sweep” step). Using your spatula, go around the edges of the omelet, loosening them from the pan and forming a nice, round shape. This is when Alton tells you to walk away for a solid 10 seconds, letting the omelet just cook on the burner, but if your eggs are sputtering, turn the heat to medium-low.

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Omelet after “swirl and sweep.”

When your omelet is cooked to your desire (it should still be somewhat wet/soft on the top), jiggle the pan to ensure that the omelet is not sticking. Now it is time to fold the omelet. Lifting up the far edge of the pan, snap the pan back toward you, so the omelet slides toward you. Then, use your spatula to fold 1/3 of the omelet over the center from the side nearest you.

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1/3 of omelet folded over center.

Finally, change your grip on the pan handle to underhand and slide the omelet onto a buttered plate, letting it flip over itself as it rolls onto the plate. I will be honest that the whole flipping process did not go as easily for me as it did for Alton, but I made it work with a lot of help from my spatula. Add some more butter to your omelet, sprinkle it with some chives, and enjoy!

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Omelet, flipped onto buttered plate. Chives sprinkled on top for a garnish.

This was a good, but very simple omelet. It was light, fluffy, and tender on the inside. Alton’s method made it very easy for me to cook a decent omelet, so this was a great way to learn. I do, however, like to have some extra pizzazz in my omelets, so next time I will add some fillings.IMG_4259

Omelet for a Crowd

When I saw the title for this recipe, I was envisioning a giant omelet. Instead, this is Alton’s method of prepping enough eggs to make several omelets in rapid succession. Oddly, in this recipe, Alton did not warm the eggs as he did for the previous recipe. For this recipe, you will want to allot 5 eggs plus 1 ounce of water for every two people. Place the eggs and water in a blender, adding a heavy pinch of Kosher salt and some fresh herbs, such as basil, dill, parsley, tarragon, or chives (I used basil and parsley). Blend everything together until smooth.

Meanwhile, heat a 9-inch non-stick pan to 325 degrees (or until butter foams) over medium-high heat. Once hot, lube the pan thoroughly with butter. Using a 4.5 ounce ladle, place one ladle of eggs in the center of the pan and stir briskly for five seconds with a spatula.

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One 4.5-ounce ladle per omelet into a hot, buttered pan.

Next, lift and swirl the pan, letting any loose egg run under the omelet to cook. Let the omelet cook until it is still soft in the center, but set on the bottom, and add any desired fillings (I used Greek olives, spinach, grape tomatoes, and cheese) over the 2/3 of the omelet furthest from you.

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Fillings added to 2/3 of omelet.

Lifting the pan to slide the omelet toward you, use a spatula to flip the 1/3 of the omelet nearest you over the center of the omelet. Change your grip on the pan handle from overhand to underhand, and flip the omelet onto a plate, letting it fold over itself.

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Omelet, flipped onto a plate.

My omelet was definitely not picture perfect, but it tasted good!IMG_4298 The method of cooking the omelets in this recipe is the same as for the single omelet above, though this omelet was “dressed up” a little more. I liked the additional flavor of the herbs in the eggs, along with the variety of fillings. This would be a fun/easy way to make customized omelets for a group. If you follow Alton’s method, it is very easy to produce tender, fluffy omelets.

Frittata

Alton’s frittata is last in this episode, and is also the easiest of the three, as there is no fancy flipping involved. For this one, heat your broiler to high and place a 12-inch non-stick skillet on a burner to heat. Once warm, lube the pan with butter and add 1/2 C roasted asparagus and 1/2 C chopped ham. You can use any ingredients you want here, but asparagus and ham were what Alton used. I added some pickled peppers also.

Regardless of what you choose to use, you want to have a single layer of filling. While your fillings heat, mix 1 ounce of Parmesan with 6 eggs and 1 t pepper.

Pour the egg mixture over the fillings, letting it flow between them.

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Beaten egg mixture poured over fillings.

Once the egg starts to firm on top, add some chopped parsley.

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Parsley added once frittata began to set.

Place the frittata under the broiler for 2-4 minutes, or until golden and set; my frittata took only two minutes.

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Frittata after cooking under the broiler for 2 minutes.

Slide the frittata onto a cutting board, cut it into wedges with a pizza cutter, and serve with some sour cream.

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Frittata, sliced with a pizza cutter and served with sour cream.

I had made a frittata previously, and this one was very good. The frittata was golden brown on the top, while light and tender in the middle. This would make a super easy weeknight dinner or a great breakfast, and you could customize it to your heart’s desire.

Pulled Pork

Some of my favorite Good Eats episodes have been those where Alton creates his own cooking contraptions, such as the cardboard smokers in the smoked salmon and bacon episodes. Since Alton can never do anything in plain fashion, he had to create another version of a smoker to make his pulled pork in episode 86. This time, the smoker is Alton’s version of a Big Green Egg; more on the smoker later.

Meat-wise, Alton says an untrimmed pork shoulder or Boston butt is ideal because it has enough fat to “baste” the meat as it cooks. It also has enough connective tissue to convert to gelatin, making for tender and flavorful pulled pork. The first step of this recipe is making a brine for the pork by weighing 12 ounces of pickling salt, 8 ounces of molasses, and 4 pounds (or 2 quarts) of water. Whisk the brine in a large container (Alton used a small plastic cooler) until the salt has dissolved.

Place your pork into the brine, fat side up, ensuring that it is fully submerged in the brine – I had to weigh mine down. Refrigerate the brining pork for 8-12 hours.

Meanwhile, you can build your smoker by following these steps:

  1. Place a large terra cotta planter (mine was 16 inches in diameter at the top) on some bricks, elevating it slightly.
  2. Place an electric hot plate in the bottom of your planter, allowing the cord to come out of the hole in the base of the planter. Connect the cord of the hot plate to an extension cord.

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    Hot plate placed in the bottom of a large terra cotta pot that has been elevated on some bricks.

  3. Fill a heavy cake pan with wood chunks, placing it on the hot plate.

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    Wood chunks in cake pan, placed on hot plate.

  4. Place a round grill grate in the pot, letting it nestle where it sits. My grill grate was 13-14″ in diameter.

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    Grill grate placed in the top of the planter.

  5. Place an inverted terra cotta dome on top of your planter. I could not find a dome that was large enough, so ended up using a 16″ terra cotta saucer.
  6. Finally, place a replacement grill thermometer in the hole of the dome. Or, if you have a nice husband like mine, he can drill a hole in the saucer for the thermometer and add a handle to the lid.

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    Completed smoker.

When your pork has completed its bath in the brine, it’s time to make the dry rub.

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Ingredients for dry rub: fennel seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, chili powder, onion powder, and paprika.

In a spice grinder combine 1 t fennel seed, 1 t coriander seed, 1 t cumin seed, 1 T chili powder, 1 T onion powder, and 1 T paprika.

Apply the rub to the meat after removing it from the brine, patting the spices into the meat’s surface with your hands.

You’re now ready to start the smoking process.

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Pork, ready to go into smoker.

Turn on your hot plate and place your pork on the grill grate in your smoker.

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Meat placed on grill grate.

I put some foil around the seam of my smoker, to keep as much smoke/heat inside as possible. Ideally, you will want to keep the temperature of your smoker between 210-220 degrees, smoking it for 8-12 hours.

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Smoker at work.

Alton says you want to change your wood chunks whenever the smoking ceases, and your meat should be done when you have used three batches of wood chunks.

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Pork after smoking for a few hours.

My meat ended up taking longer than 12 hours, but I also probably should have changed my wood earlier/more often. You will know your meat is done when it shreds easily with a fork. When your meat is done, remove it from the smoker, cover it with foil, and let it rest for an hour.

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Pork, after smoking for 13 hours.

Shred the meat with two forks, and serve it on rolls with coleslaw. For extra flavor, you can make Alton’s sauce by combining sweet pickle juice, mustard, and hot sauce to your taste.

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Shredded pork mixed with some of Alton’s sauce.

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Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw, sauce, and a slice of cheddar.

We thought this pork was really tasty, and it was absolutely loaded with smokey flavor. The pork was tender, juicy, and had a nice sweetness to it. I did like it best with some of Alton’s sauce, as I liked that additional tang/heat. Overall, Alton’s terra cotta smoker worked great, and I plan to use it to smoke many more things. If you don’t have a smoker (we don’t), Alton’s version is an inexpensive option, and his pulled pork is an excellent recipe.

As I type, my beloved Coonhound, Hitcher, lies next to me. He was diagnosed with inoperable cancer a few weeks ago. He has been my constant sidekick since we found him, as an abandoned puppy, on a roadside 10+ years ago. This news has been tough – very, very tough. Once again, I will use this Good Eats project to distract myself.

As the daughter and granddaughter of Marylanders, I have had my share of crab over the years. Growing up, a trip to Grandma and Granddaddy’s was not complete without a crab dinner (or 3!). Whether it was a trip to a local seafood restaurant, a family crab picking session around Grandma’s table, or a plate of Grandma’s amazing homemade crab cakes, crab was something we ate early and often. Yes, this was an episode I eagerly anticipated.

Steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs

Alton’s preparation of crab legs was first in this episode. When purchasing crab legs, it is best to buy frozen legs (frozen crab has already been cooked), thawing them overnight in the refrigerator at home; just be sure to allow the moisture to drain away from them as they thaw, and consume any thawed crab within 24 hours. Alaskan king crab legs are large, so you can allot two per person.

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Alaskan king crab legs.

Working with three legs at a time, break/cut each leg into sections at the joints. Wrap the segments in two layers of damp paper towels, along with a sprig of fresh dill.

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Alaskan king crab legs, broken into segments and topped with fresh dill.

Wrap the entire bundle tightly in plastic wrap, and microwave it for two minutes on high power; the goal here is to re-heat, rather than re-cook the crab.

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Alaskan king crab legs, broken into segments, and topped with fresh dill. Wrapped in damp paper towels and plastic wrap, the whole bundle heads into the microwave.

Let the heated crab legs rest in their bundles while you microwave any remaining packages of crab. Serve the legs with ghee, which just happens to be the next recipe in this episode.

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Steamed crab legs, served with ghee.

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Alton’s crab leg method is outstanding. It takes almost no time to prepare an amazing meal, using this method. If you want to have crab legs at home, this is the way to do it.

Ghee

What goes better with crab than butter? As mentioned above, Alton recommends serving his crab legs with ghee. To make Alton’s ghee, melt a pound (I did 1/2 pound) of unsalted butter over low heat.

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Melting unsalted butter over low heat.

As soon as the butter has liquefied, increase the heat to medium.

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Liquefied butter. Increasing the heat to medium.

Continue to cook the butter over medium heat until it finishes foaming.

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Butter, foaming for the first time.

When the foaming has ceased, increase the heat to high and wait for the butter to foam a second time. Watch the pan carefully, as the butter can easily burn.

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Butter, foaming for the second time.

When your ghee is ready, the pan will have brown bits on the bottom and the butter will have darkened slightly. Strain the ghee into a clean container and serve.

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Strained ghee.

Ghee is a perfect accompaniment for crab legs, and Alton’s explanation of how to make ghee is super easy. If you prep crab legs at home, be sure to make some ghee also!

Marinated Crab Salad

Alton’s third crab recipe is for a marinated crab salad. I suppose you could just purchase crab meat for this, which is how the online recipe is written, but what fun would that be? Instead, in the episode, Alton hand picked the meat from two Dungeness crabs. Thankfully, I was able to find whole Dungeness crabs at a new local store.

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Whole Dungeness crab.

If you have never picked a crab before, here are Alton’s instructions:

  1. Flip the crab upside down.
  2. Use a screwdriver to pry off the apron.
  3. Holding the crab over a sink, pry off the back of the crab.
  4. Rinse the inside of the crab.
  5. Pull off any gray gills, discarding them.
  6. Twist off the legs.
  7. Break the remaining central core in half and pull out as much meat as you can from the tiny compartments.
  8. Crack each leg and scoop out the meat.

My crabs had already been prepped through step 5, so I just had to get the meat out.

Once you have your crab meat, it is time to make the marinade for the salad. Combine in a large Ziplock bag:  1 C olive oil, 1 C red wine vinegar, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 C chopped parsley, 1/4 C fresh tarragon, 1 1/2 t Kosher salt, and 1/2 t pepper.

Use an immersion blender to thoroughly emulsify the marinade. Add your crab meat to the marinade, pushing any excess air out of the bag. Refrigerate the crab for 4-8 hours.

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Marinade and crab in plastic bag.

Serve the crab mixture over mixed greens with lemon wedges.

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Marinated crab salad, served over greens.

This was a light summer entrée that we enjoyed on our deck. While tasty, I did feel that the delicate flavor of the crab was a little overpowered by the marinade. To me, crab is so good on its own (see the crab leg recipe above) that I would tend toward recipes that allow the crab to shine more.

Crab Fritters

Crab fritters were Alton’s last recipe in this episode, and he did use purchased crabmeat for this one. In the episode, he used a 50/50 combination of lump and special crabmeat. Since I was only feeding two of us, I used one 8-ounce container of jumbo crabmeat.

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8 ounces of crab meat.

To begin, place a rack on a sheet pan for draining and heat 2 1/2 quarts of canola oil to 375 degrees over medium heat.

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Canola oil, heating to 375.

Meanwhile, combine 1 C lump crab meat, 1 C special crab meat, 1/2 C mayo, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and 1/2 t pepper.

Scoop the crab mixture with a 1-ounce ice cream scoop, rolling the balls in Panko breadcrumbs.

Alton tells you to fry the balls for 5-7 minutes, or until they are golden, but I found that my fritters were done in 3-4 minutes.

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Fritters, added to hot oil.

I served my fritters with lemon wedges.

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Crab fritters.

Alton’s crab fritters were pretty darn delicious, as they had little “filler” and loads of crab. The Panko breadcrumbs gave a crispy, crunchy shell to the creamy crab/mayo filling. These are a definite great alternative to the classic crab cake.