With episode 127, I have officially begun the 9th season of Good Eats. It’s crazy to think how much has transpired since I started this project and how many recipes/methods I have attempted. In case you have not heard, Alton is bringing Good Eats back to TV with new episodes starting in August, so that is definitely something to look forward to. By the way, I have read online (It must be true then, right?) that this episode was the only Good Eats episode that was actually filmed in Alton’s home kitchen, so there’s a random fact for you! With that, onto peas!

Curried Split Pea Soup

To first showcase the mighty pea, Alton begins this episode with a recipe for split pea soup. Requiring less than 10 ingredients, this soup is one that can easily be whipped up on a weeknight. To start, rinse 12 ounces of dry split peas under cool water and place a large saucepan over medium-low heat.

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T Twelve ounces of dried split peas.

Add 2 T butter to the pan and, once the butter has begun to melt, add 1 C chopped onion and a pinch of Kosher salt. Let the onion cook for a couple minutes or until softened.

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Onion and Kosher salt added to melting butter.

Next, add 1 T minced garlic and let the garlic cook for a minute or two.

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Garlic added to the pan.

Add 1 T curry powder to the pan, increase the heat to high, and pour in 5 C chicken broth. At this time, also add the rinsed split peas.

Bring the liquid to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and cover the pot. Let the soup cook for 45 minutes, or until the peas are falling apart. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

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Soup after cooking for 45 minutes.

Finally, puree the soup with an immersion blender.

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Pureed split pea soup.

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Alton’s curried split pea soup.

I served this soup with goat cheese toast for a light dinner and we both thought it was pretty tasty. I opted for a Madras curry powder in my soup, which resulted in a medium level of spice. The curry flavor was definitely prominent, so you really won’t care for this if you do not care for curry. I found this dish to be comforting home fare, and it is certainly healthy. Split peas are packed with protein and fiber, and you could easily make this soup vegetarian by using vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. This is just a good, simple, everyday soup recipe.

Split Pea Burgers

Speaking of vegetarian recipes, Alton’s split pea burgers are a protein-packed vegetarian entree. Veggie burgers are not something I make regularly, so it was funny that this recipe happened to pop up right after I had made some other veggie burgers the week prior. At least this was good for comparison’s sake! For Alton’s burgers, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, adding 1 T olive oil, 1/2 C chopped onion, 1/2 C chopped red or green bell pepper, and a big pinch of Kosher salt.

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Onion, bell pepper, and Kosher salt added to olive oil.

Stir the vegetables until they have softened and add 2 t minced garlic and 4 ounces of sliced mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms for four minutes.

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Mushrooms and garlic added to softened veggies.

Next, add 1 C dry split peas, 1/2 C uncooked brown rice, 1 t ground coriander, 1 t cumin, and 3 C vegetable broth.

Increase the heat to high and bring the broth to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low, place a lid on the pan, and simmer the mixture for one hour.

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Mixture after simmering for an hour.

After simmering, transfer the contents of the pot to a food processor and pulse the mixture 5-6 times or until combined; you do not want to puree the mixture, as you want to retain some texture.

Transfer the pea mixture to a bowl and add 3/4 C bread crumbs, and Kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Chill the mixture for at least 30 minutes. To cook the burgers, divide the pea mixture into five ounce portions, flattening them and lightly dredging them in bread crumbs. Cook the patties for 3-4 minutes per side in a nonstick skillet over medium heat that has been lubed with olive oil.

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Veggie patties cooking in oiled skillet.

Serve the burgers on buns with your desired accompaniments.

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Alton’s split pea burgers.

These burgers weren’t the best veggie burgers I have ever had, but they were decent. I found their texture to be a little one-note, but they were pretty flavorful. We ate our burgers with some spinach, tomato, pickles, and mustard, and they were pretty good. If you happen to have a vegetarian in your family, these are probably worthy of a try. Otherwise, they are just kind of okay. You can freeze the portioned patties for later use, which does make them super convenient for a fast meal.

Green Peas with Cheese and Herbs

And now, for my favorite recipe of this episode:  peas with cheese and herbs. For this recipe you will need a pound of shelled fresh or frozen peas; I chose to go with frozen peas, as it takes a lot more time to shell fresh peas. Regardless of whether you are using fresh or frozen peas, boil three quarts of salted water and add your peas.

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A pound of peas added to salted boiling water.

If you are using fresh peas, cook them for three minutes, while you will only want to cook frozen peas for one minute. Dump your cooked peas into a colander and set the colander in ice water to cool the peas quickly; I actually just ran my peas under very cold tap water until they were cool.

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Peas, running under cold water after cooking.

To make the dressing for the peas, mix 2 T red wine vinegar, 1 t Kosher salt, 1 T minced shallots, and 1/2 t pepper in a medium bowl.

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Red wine vinegar, Kosher salt, shallot, and black pepper to make the dressing.

Once combined, drizzle in 3 T olive oil as you whisk the mixture to emulsify.

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Olive oil, ready to whisk into dressing.

Add 2 t chopped mint and 2 t chopped parsley, along with four ounces of cubed Ricotta Salata, Fontina, or Swiss cheese. I had a shaved mixture of Parmesan and Fontina, so I used that. Last but not least, fold in the peas.

Cover the salad with plastic and place it in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

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Alton’s peas with herbs and cheese.

This was a delightful salad to have as a side dish, though we both felt it could use more mint. I will make this salad again, but I will be sure to double the mint next time. The sweetness of the peas pairs fantastically with the salty richness of the cheese, and the vinaigrette adds a pop of acid and brightens the whole salad up. Add a touch more mint and this one is a keeper!

Seeing as I am now between seasons eight and nine of Good Eats, I figured this was a good time to do one of the special episodes. It’s hard to believe that I last did a special episode over two years ago! This special was fun for me to do because it was an episode I had never seen before and all four of the recipes were super intriguing. I can say that I have definitely left this episode with some recipes that I will be bookmarking for long-term use/memory, so read on if you want to discover some great food.

Salt Roasted Shrimp

Shrimp are not my favorite protein, but I was still excited about trying this cooking method. The recipe begins with placing two pounds of rock salt in a 9×13″ metal pan. Place two more pounds of rock salt in a metal bowl.

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Four pounds of rock salt split between two vessels.

Place the two vessels of salt in a cold oven and set the oven to preheat to 400 degrees. When the oven hits 400, let it continue to heat for an additional 15 minutes.

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Four pounds of rock salt split between two vessels, and stuck in a cold oven to preheat to 400.

Once the 15 minutes are up, place a pound of jumbo shrimp on the surface of the salt in the 9×13″ pan and pour the hot salt from the bowl over the top of the shrimp. Smooth the salt over the top of the shrimp and place them back in the oven for 7-8 minutes, or until pink and opaque.

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Alton’s salt roasted shrimp.

To rinse off the salt, you can dip the shrimp quickly in white wine. First off, this is about the easiest method of cooking shrimp I’ve ever tried, and I thought the flavor of the shrimp was very positively accentuated by the salt. These shrimp had a sweetness that reminded me more of crab than shrimp, and I really liked it. For whatever reason, my shrimp were extremely difficult to peel, and I don’t know why that was. I really do want to try this method again because these were some of my favorite shrimp I have had, as far as flavor is concerned. The salt did season the shrimp, but not overly so, and I did not even try Alton’s wine rinse step post-cooking. If anyone has a theory as to why my shrimp were so difficult to peel, I’d love to hear it. Aside from the peeling difficulty, this was a fantastic recipe!

Perfect Fingerling Potatoes

I think we have all had potatoes cooked in myriad ways, but I have to say that Alton’s recipe here was a new one for me. For this recipe, place 1 1/4 pounds of Kosher or rock salt in a large pot with two quarts of water and two pounds of fingerling potatoes.

Bring the whole pot to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender enough to pierce with the tip of a sharp paring knife, which took about 20 minutes for my potatoes. Be aware that smaller potatoes will cook faster.

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Potatoes, brought to a boil and cooked until tender.

Transfer the cooked potatoes to a rack over a sheet pan. Once all of the potatoes have cooked, serve them with butter and chives.

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Cooked potatoes cooling on a rack and forming a salty crust.

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Alton’s fingerling potatoes with chives, pepper, and butter.

These potatoes are like a fun science experiment because they transform during cooking, and form a sparkly salt crust as they cool. The insides of the potatoes are perfectly cooked, while the outsides provide the perfect amount of salty seasoning. These are fun, easy, and delicious!

Sauerkraut

I find fermented food fascinating, and the idea of making my own sauerkraut was super exciting to me. Keep in mind that this recipe takes a full month, including the fermentation time. This starts with chopping five pounds of green cabbage and placing the cabbage in a large bowl.

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Ready to chop 5 pounds of cabbage.

Add 3 T pickling salt to the cabbage, along with 1 T juniper berries and 2 t caraway seeds. Toss everything together with clean hands. Let the cabbage sit for 10 minutes.

Pack the cabbage and any accumulating liquid into a tall plastic container, packing it down.

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Cabbage packed into a plastic container.

Alton likes to use a tall plastic container designed for holding a loaf of bread. You want to keep the cabbage free from air, so place some type of lid on the surface of the cabbage. Next, place a weight on top of the lid (Alton uses a mason jar full of water). I read some of the online reviews of this recipe and used ziplock bags full of water, as they also help to form an airtight seal. A layer of plastic wrap also seems to help to keep air out.

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Weighing the sauerkraut down with bags of water.

Store the sauerkraut at 65-70 degrees for four weeks. Be sure to check the sauerkraut every couple days and discard any scum from the surface. Alton says you really only need to be concerned about dark-colored mold, and ammonia-like smell, or lots of active bubbling; if you see any of these things, it’s time to start over. Otherwise, your sauerkraut will gradually secrete more liquid, turn yellow, and start to smell sour.

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Sauerkraut gradually fermenting over time.

I was out of town for part of my sauerkraut’s fermentation, so I arrived home to sauerkraut that was ready to eat.

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Sauerkraut after four weeks of fermentation.

We opted to eat our sauerkraut on bratwursts with mustard, and I was highly impressed.

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Sauerkraut served on brats with mustard.

This homemade sauerkraut has much more texture than any you can buy in the store, which I really appreciate. I also really like the pops of spice you get from the caraway seeds and juniper berries, and it has just the right amount of tang. We still have some sauerkraut in our refrigerator right now, as this recipe makes a pretty large amount. Add this one to the list of fun things to try in your spare time, as it really requires almost no effort!

Beef Tenderloin in Salt Crust

Since it’s Father’s Day, it only seems appropriate that this next recipe is one I would love to be able to share with my dad. I’m pretty sure my dad never saw this Good Eats salt episode because he would have jumped all over trying Alton’s beef tenderloin recipe. My dad was always one to test a recipe before trying it for a holiday or occasion, and he likely would have invited me to his house for his test run. Beef tenderloin is always a special occasion meal for us, as it is a pricey cut of meat, but last week we had a delicious tenderloin simply for the sake of this project. For Alton’s tenderloin, you first need to make a salt-based dough. To do this, place 5 C flour, 3 C Kosher salt, 3 T pepper, 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley/thyme/sage, and a mixture of 5 egg whites with 1 1/2 C water in a bowl.

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Flour, Kosher salt, pepper, and fresh herbs.

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Flour, Kosher salt, pepper, fresh herbs, and a mixture of egg whites and water.

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Egg whites and water added to flour/salt mixture.

Use a potato masher to loosely combine the dough, and then mix the dough with your hands until it is smooth and uniform. Place the dough in a plastic bag and let it sit at room temperature for 4-24 hours; according to Alton, if you try to use the dough immediately, it will be a crumbly mess. I opted to make my dough a full 24 hours ahead of time.

After your dough has rested, roll the dough to a large rectangle that is 3/16″ thick. You can trim the edges with a pizza cutter to make the dough into a nice rectangle.

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Dough after 24 hours.

Next, coat a 6-7 pound beef tenderloin (my tenderloin was in the 3-4 pound range) with ~1 T olive oil and sear the meat until it is browned on all sides; Alton likes to use an electric griddle to sear, but I just used a large skillet.

Let the tenderloin rest until it is cool to the touch, which took about 20 minutes for my beef.

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Letting the seared meat rest until cool to the touch.

Sprinkle the center of your salt dough rectangle with an additional 1/4 C of chopped fresh parsley, thyme, and/or sage, and place your cooled tenderloin on top of the herbs.

Fold the dough up over the tenderloin crimping the edges together to create a sealed package. You do not want the dough to be super tight on the meat. Trim the ends of the dough and crimp them up also, and seal any holes with extra dough. Transfer the wrapped tenderloin to a sheet pan and insert a probe thermometer into the center of the beef. My dough stuck to my countertop a bit, so I had to do some mending.

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Wrapping the tenderloin in the salt dough.

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My wrapped beef tenderloin.

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Tenderloin in the oven until it reaches 125 degrees.

Put the beef in a 400 degree oven, letting it cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Once at 125 degrees, remove the beef from the oven and let it rest for 30-60 minutes.

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Tenderloin removed from the oven at 125 degrees.

After resting, slice the meat with a serrated knife and pull the tenderloin out of the salt dough, discarding the dough. Serve the meat immediately.

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Tenderloin after resting for 15 minutes.

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Alton’s beef tenderloin.

In the episode, Alton appeared to let his tenderloin rest for a full hour, which will result in over-cooked meat. Since the meat is still in its dough envelope, its temperature continues to rise quite quickly after removal from the oven, so I cut my meat after a mere 15 minute rest, and it honestly would have been better a few minutes earlier. Next time, I will probably pull the meat from the oven at 120 degrees, and let it rest until its temperature hits 135-140. I did use a smaller tenderloin than what Alton used and my tenderloin was done after 45 minutes in the oven, so this is a pretty fast cooking method. Aside from those notes, this recipe is awesome. There is a reason Alton stated at the end of this episode that this was his favorite Good Eats beef recipe. I already hope/plan to make this for the next holiday we host, as it is easy, quick, and delicious. The meat comes out of the dough perfectly tender and seasoned to perfection. Seriously, if you want a special beef recipe, make this one. I only wish I could make this for my dad.

Although we have had a lot of sadness in 2019, we also have some recent and upcoming blessings. A few days after our dog died, we wound up adopting another little hound who has been living with us now for about a month. We named our little Redtick Coonhound Julep, and she has been a funny and busy distraction. Aside from chasing the cat, she has really been quite a good puppy so far. She is only about eight months old, so she has much more energy than we do! We figure this puppy is excellent practice for our baby who is due to arrive in October. Yowza! I think I can safely say that 2019 has already been the greatest year of transition I will likely ever have. Now, onto the cooking.

Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

My mom was the person who first introduced me to risotto after she had ordered it in a restaurant years ago. She said she instantly thought of me when she ate it, as she was sure it would be something I would love. I have made many risottos over the years, trying various methods and recipes, including a pressure cooker risotto and an almost no-stir recipe. Alton’s risotto is a pretty classical version that requires only about 10 ingredients. You will need some steamed asparagus that is cut into one-inch pieces and some wild mushrooms that you have browned in butter and Kosher salt (you want approximately seven ounces of asparagus and five ounces of mushrooms). You can easily prep the veggies a day in advance, or you can sub any leftover veggies you have on hand. When ready to make the risotto, bring 6 C of chicken broth to a simmer, along with 1 C white wine; Alton likes to use an electric kettle for this, but I just used a saucepan.

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Simmering broth/wine.

You want to keep this liquid at a low simmer for the duration of making the risotto. Next, heat a heavy 3 to 4 quart pan over medium heat and add 2 T butter, 1 C chopped onion, and a pinch of Kosher salt. Sweat the onion until it is soft and add 2 C Arborio rice, which is a short-grain rice.

Stir the rice for 3-5 minutes or until the grains become translucent around their edges.

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Rice stirred until clear at the edges.

Once translucent, add enough of the hot broth to the pan to just cover the rice and shake/stir the rice. Alton’s shaking method was new to me, as the other risotto recipes I have made have called for stirring. Continue to cook the rice, shaking the pan occasionally, at a bare simmer until no liquid remains in the pan when you move the rice with a spatula. At this point, add hot broth/wine again just to cover the rice.

Continue cooking the rice and adding more liquid as needed. When 3/4 of the liquid has been added to the rice, give the risotto a taste; if the rice is tender and creamy, you may not need to add any more liquid. When I tasted my risotto at this point, the rice grains were still quite crunchy, so I ended up adding all of the hot liquid.

When the risotto has reached a creamy texture, give it another taste and adjust the salt, as needed. To finish the risotto, add the cooked mushrooms and asparagus to the pan, along with 2 ounces of grated Parmesan, 1 t lemon zest, and 1/2 t nutmeg.

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A bowl of Alton’s risotto.

Alton’s risotto is a very classic recipe that works very well. Yes, it does take some time for all of the liquid to be absorbed by the rice, but risotto is really not a difficult thing to make and you can get creative with the additions you make. If you are new to risotto, I can say that Alton’s recipe is a fool-proof introduction.

Brown Rice Salad

I have always been really comfortable cooking white rice, but have never had a great way to cook brown rice. For this brown rice salad, Alton shares his preferred method for cooking brown rice, which is an oven method. To cook brown rice Alton’s way, put 1 1/2 C short or medium grain brown rice in an 8-inch square pan. Add 2 1/2 C of water just off the boil, 1 T butter, and 1 t Kosher salt, and give it all a stir.

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Brown rice, hot water, butter, and Kosher salt in an 8-inch pan.

Cover the pan tightly with foil and place it in a 375 degree oven for one hour. After an hour, remove the foil and fluff the rice with a fork. Voila – perfect brown rice!

To make Alton’s brown rice salad, heat a 10-inch pan over medium heat and fry six pieces of bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and add 1/2 C diced red onion.

When the onion is golden, add 1/2 C white wine vinegar, 1/2 C chicken broth, 2 t Dijon mustard, 1 t sugar, 1 t Kosher salt, and 1/2 t pepper.

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White wine vinegar, chicken broth, Dijon mustard, sugar, Kosher salt, and pepper added to the cooked red onion.

Crumble the bacon into the pan, along with the cooked brown rice and 1 T chopped fresh dill. Stir the mixture until the liquid is absorbed.

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Cooked brown rice, bacon, and fresh dill stirred into liquid.

You can eat the salad immediately or you can refrigerate it for up to a week.

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Alton’s brown rice salad.

I fixed this rice salad for lunch for us and we thought it was great. The rice is perfectly cooked and the salad is super tangy and zesty. I highly recommend this salad for a side dish or light meal. And, Alton’s brown rice cooking method is awesome!

In case you are curious about different types of rice, Alton explained the differences in grain lengths in this episode. Short-grain rices, like Arborio, contain a lot of amylopectin, so they release a lot of starch and have a sticky, creamy texture. Medium-grain rices have a soft texture when cooked and have a mixture of amylose and amylopectin; they have less amylopectin than short-grain rices have, but more amylopectin than long-grain rices do. Finally, long-grain rices have the most amylose and the least amylopectin, so they release less starch and cook up with a fluffy texture.

 

 

 

We eat a lot of produce in our house, but I feel like we sometimes get in a rut with our veggie side dishes; our go-tos are usually steamed asparagus or broccoli with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. For whatever reason (probably laziness), I tend not to venture too far out of my side dish comfort zone, unless I take the time to find an actual recipe. The 125th episode of Good Eats forced me to try some different side dishes, as it included three recipes for different types of greens, the first being collard greens.

Pot O’ Greens

I can really only recall eating collard greens one time, which was in a Southern-themed wedding buffet. I remember liking them, so I had no qualms about prepping them with Alton’s recipe. Collard greens need to be trimmed and cleaned properly, as they have woody stems and they grow in sandy soil. To trim collard greens, fold a leaf in half along the stem line and use a sharp knife to cut out any stems thicker than 1/8″.

Stack the trimmed flat leaves on top of each other, fold them in half as you did before, and roll them from the bottom up.

Cut the roll of leaves in half the long way and then slice the greens perpendicularly.

Place your chopped greens in a sink full of cold water, swishing them around and allowing them to sit for several minutes; this will allow any sand/dirt to sink to the bottom.

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Trimmed/chopped greens placed in a sink of cold water.

To drain his greens, Alton likes to put his greens in a large zip-up pillow case. He then places the pillow case in his washing machine for one minute on the spin cycle. I did not have a zip-up pillow case, so I opted to roll my greens in a stack of paper towels.

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Cleaned greens on paper towels to dry.

To store trimmed/clean greens, place them in a large plastic bag in the refrigerator. For Alton’s collards, put a 1 1/2 pound smoked turkey leg in a large pot; I could only find a raw turkey leg, so I had to roast it in the oven first. Add a quart of water to your turkey leg, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the turkey simmer in the water for 10 minutes.

Next, add 1 t sugar and 1 t Kosher salt to the pot, along with 2 pounds of trimmed/cleaned/chopped collard or turnip greens.

Place the lid back on the pot and gently simmer the greens for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Be sure to keep the heat very low, as you only want a very gentle simmer.

Use tongs to place the greens in bowls and serve them with hot sauce. To be like a true Southerner, try sipping some of the cooking liquid, which is called “pot liquor.”

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A bowl of Alton’s collard greens after cooking for 45 minutes.

You can also bag and freeze the cooked greens for later use. To thaw frozen collard greens, run the frozen bags under cold running water. I have to be honest that I didn’t enjoy this recipe as much as I expected to. The turkey gave the greens a meaty flavor and the greens were cooked well, so as to maintain a bit of texture instead of being mushy. I found that I needed to add a fair amount of salt to the cooked greens, as they were really lacking in seasoning. Hot sauce definitely gave the greens a needed punch of flavor, as they were otherwise not very exciting. I won’t go out of my way to make these again, but I do hope to encounter collard greens more often, as I hope to sample other preparations. Maybe I am just not as fond of collard greens as I thought I was!

Lemon Sesame Glazed Greens

Alton’s second greens recipe utilizes kale, and you will need 1 1/4 pounds of cleaned/trimmed kale. As with the collard greens above, remove thick stems from the kale leaves, chop the kale, and rinse the chopped greens in a sink of cold water.

While the kale soaks, place a roasting pan over two stove burners on medium heat. I chose to use a large skillet instead of a roasting pan because my burners are different sizes and the roasting pan does not heat evenly. Either way, brush your pan with 1 T olive oil and add 2 cloves of minced garlic and the zest of one lemon.

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Oil, garlic, and lemon zest in the pan.

Next, add 2 t fresh lemon juice to the pan, along with 1 T honey. Follow the honey with 1 1/2 t Kosher salt and 1/4 t pepper, and add your just-washed greens; don’t worry about drying the greens here, as you want some water in the pan. If necessary, add up to 1/2 C additional water.

Use tongs to toss the greens until they have cooked down to resemble thawed frozen spinach. At this point, remove the greens from the heat and stir in 1/2 t red pepper flakes and 1 T sesame seeds.

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Kale cooked down until very wilted. Sesame seeds and red pepper flakes stirred in.

Serve the kale immediately. We liked the flavors in this dish, as the lemon brightened up the greens, while the red pepper flakes gave subtle heat and the sesame seeds gave a bit of nuttiness. The honey served to lightly glaze the greens.

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A bowl of Alton’s lemon sesame glazed greens.

I have never been a huge kale fan, as its chewy texture is just not my favorite, and I found that to be the case with this recipe as well. I think kale lovers would really like this recipe, however, and it comes together super easily with ingredients often on-hand.

Mustard Green Gratin

The third type of green Alton uses in this episode is the mustard green, which he uses to make this gratin. As soon as I saw Alton prepare this recipe, I recognized it from the beet episode. Sure enough, this mustard green gratin is nearly identical to the beet green gratin in episode 83. For the gratin, butter the bottom and sides of a 2 or 2 1/2 quart baking dish. Beat three eggs in a large bowl and add 10 ounces ricotta, 2 ounces grated Parmesan, 1/2 t Kosher salt, and 1/4 t pepper.

Next, melt 1 T butter in a roasting pan placed over two burners on medium heat. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic to the pan, along with 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms. Add a large pinch of Kosher salt and toss the mushrooms until they have browned.

Add a pound of stemmed/rinsed/chopped mustard greens and toss until the greens have wilted.

Remove the pan from the heat and use tongs to add the greens to the egg/ricotta mixture. Stir the mixture to combine.

Place the egg/mustard green mixture in your buttered baking dish, avoiding packing down the greens. Sprinkle the top of the greens with 1 C of crushed Ritz crackers.

Bake the gratin at 375 for 35-40 minutes and let cool slightly before serving.

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Alton’s mustard green gratin.

We were not huge fans of Alton’s beet green gratin, but we both really liked the mustard green version. Mustard greens, if you didn’t know, truly do taste like mustard, so they bring a lot of flavor to the party. To me, I specifically tasted a Dijon mustard-like flavor in this gratin, which I found to pair very well with the creaminess of the egg/ricotta mixture. The cracker crust adds some crunchy texture and buttery flavor. This is really good and we both said we would like to eat it again. I’m surprised Alton didn’t make this addition, but I would personally add a little bit of ground nutmeg to the ricotta mixture. This was by far our favorite recipe of this episode, though it doesn’t look too pretty in the photo. Honestly, though, casseroles are just never pretty, right?

I keep meaning to get in a good rhythm with this project, and then I keep having the rug pulled from under my feet. Just as I was starting to begin to recover from the death of my dad, my beloved dog, Hitcher, suddenly died from a pulmonary embolism eight days ago. We had Hitcher for 12 years, after finding him, starving on a roadside, when he was less than a year old. Although we knew Hitcher wouldn’t be around for a long time to come, it was completely unexpected for him to die last week, and his death has completely crushed me. Over the years, Hitcher was my constant “helper” in the kitchen, and made many cameos in this project. Seeing that I prepared the recipes from the next couple episodes before he died, he will make a few final cameos. It is just not the same to cook without him by my side.

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My beloved Hitcher in his younger years.

Gyro Meat with Tzatziki Sauce

I actually made Alton’s gyro recipe several weeks ago, but then had too much going on to do the write-up. Lamb has a flavor that you either love or hate, and I happen to really love it. I tend not to cook with lamb very often because it is expensive, but this recipe gave me a good excuse. Gyro, by the way, means “to turn,” as gyro meat is typically cooked on a rotisserie. If you have a rotisserie, Alton has a method in this episode for using it, but he also has an alternative method if you (like me) do not have a rotisserie. Regardless of whether you will use a rotisserie, you will want to whip out your food processor for this recipe. The first part of this recipe is the Tzatziki sauce. Make the sauce by placing 16 ounces of plain yogurt in a tea towel. Wrap up the yogurt, suspend it with a chopstick and rubber band over a container, and allow it to drain for one to two hours. You will want to use a fairly thin towel for this – I had to switch to a thinner towel when I discovered no draining was occurring.

While the yogurt drains, peel, seed, and chop a medium cucumber.

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Ready to peel, seed, and chop one cucumber. Hitcher loved cucumbers.

Place the cucumber on a tea towel or paper towels with a pinch of Kosher salt and wrap up the cucumber, setting it aside.

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Peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber placed on paper towels with Kosher salt.

Once the yogurt has drained, place 4 minced garlic cloves in a bowl, along with 5-6 chopped mint leaves, 2 t red wine vinegar, 1 T olive oil, the drained yogurt, and the cucumber. Stir the sauce to combine and refrigerate for up to a week.

For the gyro meat, start by chopping a medium onion with a knife, and then process the onion in the food processor until it is very finely chopped. Line a bowl with  a tea towel and dump the chopped onion into the towel. Squeeze as much juice as you can out of the onion, discarding the juice; you will be surprised at how much juice is in one onion.

Place the onion back in the food processor bowl, along with 1 T minced garlic, 1 T dried rosemary, 1 T dried marjoram, 1/2 t pepper, 2 t Kosher salt, and 2 pounds of ground lamb.

Process the lamb mixture until it forms a paste-like consistency.

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Meat mixture processed until paste-like.

If you are using a rotisserie, place two large pieces of plastic wrap on your counter, overlapping them by about two inches. Dump the meat mixture onto the center of the plastic wrap, form a log shape, and roll the meat up tightly in the plastic. Place the meat log in a container and refrigerate the log for at least two hours, as this will allow the log to set into its shape. After chilling, place the lamb log on your rotisserie, leaving some room at the ends. Preheat your grill to high. For a charcoal grill, distribute coals evenly between the front and back portions of the grill, leaving the middle section clear of coals. Regardless of your type of grill, place a double layer of foil beneath the rotisserie to catch drippings and grill the meat on high for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, decrease the temperature to medium and continue to cook the lamb for 20-30 more minutes, or until the center of the meat is 165 degrees. To finish cooking, turn the grill off and let the meat continue to spin for 15 minutes more, or until the internal temperature hits 175 degrees. If you do not have a rotisserie, skip rolling the meat into a log and dump it into a loaf pan. Place a pan with an inch of water in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the loaf pan in the water bath and cook the lamb for 60 to 75 minutes, or until it reaches 170 degrees.

Remove the loaf from the oven and pour off any fat. Set a foil-covered brick on top of the meat and let the meat cool until it just cool enough to handle.

Slice the meat and serve it on warm pita bread with Tzatziki sauce, chopped tomato, chopped onion, and feta cheese.

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Sliced gyro meat.

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Alton’s gyro.

I have not eaten many gyros, but I thought this was a delicious recipe. The meat  held together well when sliced and remained moist. The herbs accentuated and complimented the lamb’s grassy flavor, and the whole gyro was a pleasing combination of textures, flavors, and temperatures. With the warm lamb and pita, the cooling Tzatziki, tangy onion, and sweet tomato made a wonderful pairing. Unfortunately, I only got to have one meal out of this recipe since I had to leave town the following day, but I intend to make this again and enjoy it for several meals!

I think baking, and particularly bread making, can be intimidating for those who have little experience with it. However, I also find that baking can be one of the most rewarding culinary escapades. I began making bread at home many years ago, sort of just thrusting myself into the process, and I found that a hands-on approach was the fastest, and best, way to learn. I’ve had some flops over the years, but I’ve also made some really delicious bread and pastries. The 123rd episode of Good Eats takes the viewer through the two-day process of making a homemade loaf of white bread, and I think it is a great introduction to home bread making.

Very Basic Bread

Alton’s basic bread starts in the evening with a pre-fermentation step, which is also called a sponge. To make the sponge, place the following ingredients in a lidded, straight-sided container:  10 ounces of water (bottled is best), 5 ounces of bread flour, 1/4 t instant dry yeast, and 2 t honey.

Note that instant dry yeast is different from active dry yeast, as active dry yeast must first be activated in warm water, while instant dry yeast can be added without the hydration step. Whisk the sponge ingredients together until they are combined, place the lid on the container, and refrigerate the sponge for eight to 12 hours, or overnight.

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Sponge after refrigerating overnight.

The following day, put the following ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer:  11 ounces of bread flour, 3/4 t instant dry yeast, 2 t Kosher salt, and the refrigerated sponge from the night before.

Using the dough hook attachment on the mixer, let the machine knead the dough until it forms a ball in the bottom of the bowl, which should take a few minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, let the machine knead the dough (again, with the dough hook) for 5-10 minutes on medium speed or until the dough appears to be smooth and elastic. Oh, and if your dough starts climbing the dough hook, increase the mixing speed briefly and it should dislodge the climbing dough. You will know your kneading is complete when a small marble of dough can be flattened and stretched between your fingers, such that the dough is thin enough for light to shine through the dough without the dough tearing; this is called the windowpane test.

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Dough after kneading for 5-10 minutes and able to pass windowpane test.

Once your dough passes the windowpane test, place the dough ball in a tall, clear, oiled container. Place a rubber band around the container to mark the top surface of the dough, as this will allow you to monitor how much your dough rises. Next, place the container in a cold oven, leaving the container uncovered. Place a 9 x 13″ baking dish beneath the dough and pour in some hot water. The hot water will provide a warm, moist environment in which the bread can rise. Shut the oven door and allow the dough to rise for one to two hours, or until it has doubled in size.

After rising, dump the dough onto a smooth surface and use your knuckles to dimple/flatten the dough into a rectangle.

Fold the left third of the dough in to the center of the rectangle, and then fold the right third of the dough over the top (as if making a tri-fold wallet).

Repeat the procedure again, first using your knuckles to flatten the dough, and then folding the dough like a wallet again.

After folding the dough a second time, cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

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Dough after resting for 10 minutes.

Next, flatten the dough and form it into a smooth, tight ball by pulling the ends under the dough, as if forming a jellyfish. Smooth the ball by lightly rolling it on the counter in a circular motion between your hands, as if almost tossing it laterally from hand to hand.

When your dough has formed a smooth ball, place the dough on a cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel, cover the dough with a towel, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for an hour. Toward the end of the rise, place the base of a large, unglazed terra cotta planter upside down in a cold oven (if the oven is hot, the planter base will crack). Preheat the oven to 400. If you do not have a planter base, you can use a pizza stone.

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Inverted terra cotta planter base in cold oven.

After rising, brush the bread with a shaken mixture of 1/3 C water and 1 T cornstarch, and use a sharp knife to cut four slits in the top of the dough, forming a square shape.

As for the first rise, pour hot water into the 9 x 13″ pan beneath the planter. Using the pizza peel, slide the dough onto the terra cotta base (the dough will stick a little), and set the oven timer for 50 minutes.

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Dough placed on hot terra cotta planter base. Tray of water beneath.

After 50 minutes of baking, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of your bread – it should be between 205 and 210 degrees.

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Bread at 207 degrees.

Once your bread is in the desired temperature range, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Finished bread.

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Finished bread, sliced.

This is a really good recipe because it isn’t over complicated and it works. This recipe produces a great, all-purpose loaf of bread with a crispy crust and chewy crumb. This is a great everyday go-to bread recipe.

 

Since it appears that spring has officially sprung, this leek episode seems super appropriate, both for the ingredient and for the episode title. I have used leeks in many recipes in the past, but they have typically assumed more of a back-up role to other ingredients. In these recipes, however, the leek takes center stage.

Grilled Braised Leeks

This recipe is (or, at least was) Alton’s favorite leek preparation. If you have ever worked with leeks before, you will know that it is crucial to clean them thoroughly, unless you enjoy sand and grit in your teeth. To clean leeks as Alton does, barely cut off the white root tip of each leek, discarding the tips. Next, cut off the dark green leaves of the leeks and discard them.

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Trimmed leeks.

Place a leek on a cutting board such that the center oval inside the leek is perpendicular to the cutting board.

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Leek, placed so its oval is perpendicular to the cutting board.

Use a sharp knife to cut straight down through the top of the oval, slicing the leek in half lengthwise, while keeping the leek layers together.

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Leeks split in half.

To rinse the leeks, hold onto their white ends as you dip/swirl them in a large bowl of water; any grit should fall to the bottom of the bowl.

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Leeks, swirling in water to clean.

To store cleaned leeks, wrap them in a layer of damp paper towels, followed by a layer of plastic. This recipe uses a grill, so preheat your grill such that one end of the grill is hot and the other is cool. While the grill heats, brush the cut sides of eight leek halves (prepped as above) with bacon drippings. We happen to keep a jar of bacon drippings in our refrigerator, so I just melted some of the drippings in the microwave. After brushing the leeks with bacon fat, sprinkle them liberally with Kosher salt.

Place the leeks, cut side down, on the hot side of the grill, and check them after three minutes of grilling.

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Leeks placed, cut side down, on the grill.

You want your leeks to have grill marks, but you do not want them to get charred. My leeks were ready after three minutes. When your leeks have grill marks, transfer them to a large piece of foil and brush on some balsamic vinegar; Alton said he used about 1 T of balsamic vinegar, but he appeared to use more than that in the episode.

Reassemble the leeks by placing two matching halves together and fold the foil closed to make a tight pouch. Place the foil packet over indirect heat and grill for 10-12 more minutes, or until the leeks are tender.

Serve the grilled leeks with any combination of black pepper, goat cheese, artichokes, and greens. This leek recipe really showcases the leek. I served my leeks with pepper, marinated artichoke hearts, and goat cheese, and it was a fantastic combination of flavors.

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Grilled braised leeks served with pepper, goat cheese, and marinated artichoke hearts.

I do think my leeks could have used more time on the grill, as the outer layers of the leeks were pretty chewy and had a strong onion-like bite to them. The inner layers, however, were tender and had the sweetness of cooked onions. I definitely want to make these again, but I think I will let them sit on indirect heat for at least a good half hour. Next time, I will also purchase the smallest leeks I can find, as the larger leeks seemed to have much tougher outer leaves. These would be a perfect accompaniment to any summer (or spring) barbecue.

Leek Rings

For a twist on onion rings, Alton turns here to the leek. This recipe uses 12 ounces of leeks, and you’ll first want to remove their root tips and their dark green leaves. Next, slice the leeks into half-inch rings, separating the layers to form rings.

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Leek layers separated into rings.

To set up the breading stations for this recipe, combine 2 C flour with 2 t Kosher salt and divide the mixture between two containers. For the third station, combine 1 1/2 C milk with a beaten egg in a third container, and place the liquid container between the two flour containers.

Preheat three quarts of oil (vegetable, safflower, or canola) in a large Dutch oven to 375 degrees. While the oil heats, you can bread your leek rings by using your left hand to place a handful of rings into the first flour container, tossing them to coat.

Next, with the left hand, move the floured rings to the milk and toss the rings with your right hand.

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Rings into the milk station.

Also with the right hand, move the milked leeks to the second flour container and use a fork to toss.

Remove the breaded leeks with your left hand, transferring them to a spyder or to a plate. Use the spyder to gently drop the leeks into the hot oil, frying them for 30-90 seconds, or until golden brown.

Transfer the fried leeks to a rack over a sheet pan to drain.

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Fried leek rings.

We ate these a side with dinner one night and they were pretty fun. We thought they looked a lot like calamari rings. The nice thing about these was that they stayed pretty crispy, while onion rings can sometimes get a bit soggy. Before eating these, I wondered if they would need some sort of dipping sauce, but a little extra Kosher salt was all these needed for me. They have a slightly sweet onion-like flavor and a crispy outer shell. It was a little tedious to separate the leek layers and to bread them, but these were a fun thing to do for something different.

Leek Potato Soup

Alton’s take on Vichyssoise soup is the final recipe in this episode. It starts with melting 3 T butter in a lidded six quart pot over medium heat.

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Butter in large pot.

While the butter melts, prep a pound of leeks, as done above for grilling (trim, cut in half through the oval, wash). Slice the leek halves into thirds lengthwise, and then chop them.

Add the chopped leeks to the melted butter, along with a large pinch of Kosher salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and let the leeks sweat for 20-25 minutes.

Once the leeks are tender, add 14 ounces of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped, along with a quart of vegetable broth.

Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the liquid to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to a simmer, put a lid on the pot, and cook the soup for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, use an immersion blender, or a regular blender, to puree the soup to a smooth consistency.

Combine a cup of heavy cream with a cup of buttermilk and stir the dairy into the soup; combining the dairy prior to adding it to the soup will help to prevent curdling.

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A cup of cream and a cup of buttermilk.

Finally, stir in a teaspoon of white pepper.

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Dairy and white pepper added to soup.

Serve the soup topped with chopped chives.

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Leek potato soup

This was a really delicious and simple soup. It was rich, without being heavy, and the leeks contributed a sweet flavor and aroma. This is a soup that could be eaten year-round, as you could serve it hot in colder seasons or cold in warmer weather. It is also a great vegetarian option, and it really highlights the flavor of leeks.