As someone who likes to cook regularly, my dad came up with a great Christmas gift for me in December. He and I do not live in the same town anymore, but he called a gentleman where I live and arranged to have all of our kitchen knives sharpened. I dropped the knives off at the knife sharpener’s house one morning and had them back a few hours later. He sharpened 13 items, including our serrated knives and two pairs of kitchen shears. Our knives are just like new again! If you know someone who cooks a lot, keep the knife sharpening idea in mind as a gift! FYI:  The knife sharpener told me to never try to sharpen my knives at home, nor to hone them with a steel. Instead, he told me to use a strop to hone our knives prior to each use; a strop is a piece of leather that was traditionally used to sharpen straight-edge razors in barber shops. Now, onto the 94th episode of Good Eats, which was all about candy.

Peanut Brittle

I have made some candy in the past, such as fudge, divinity, and caramels. Peanut brittle was the first type of candy Alton made in this episode. For this recipe, you will need a heavy saucier with a lid, a wooden spoon, and two half-sheet pans; line one pan with a silicone mat, and lube the back side of the other pan liberally with vegetable oil.

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Two half-sheet pans, one with its back oiled and the other lined with a silicone mat.

Begin by rubbing the sides of your saucier with a vegetable oil-coated paper towel, as this will help with crystal formation on the sides of the pan.

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Saucier with its sides oiled.

Next, put 3 C of sugar and 1 1/2 C water in the saucier.

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Sugar and water placed in saucier.

Place the pan over high heat. Note:  If you are worried about your stove producing uneven heat, Alton suggests placing a cast iron skillet between your saucier and your burner to diffuse heat. Stir the sugar/water mixture occasionally, bringing it to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pan and set a timer for three minutes. This will allow the steam in the pan to wash down any crystals from the sides of the pan.

After three minutes, remove the lid and decrease the heat to medium. Meanwhile, toss 1 1/2 C lightly salted peanuts with 1/2 t cinnamon and 1/2 t cayenne pepper.

Continue cooking the syrup until it reaches a light amber color and has slow bubble formation, which Alton says is at 350 degrees; Alton says you really do not need a thermometer to make this brittle, as you can just eyeball it. I decided to use the thermometer, as “light amber” seems subjective to me. Yeah, so Alton’s temperature of 350 degrees is COMPLETELY WRONG, and will result in scorched syrup. I had to discard my syrup and begin again.

This time, I decided to eyeball the light amber color.

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Second attempt at syrup – this is what I determined to be light amber.

Once you have reached light amber, turn off the heat and dump in the peanuts, stirring.

Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared silicone mat, distributing the nuts evenly with a spatula. Press the mixture down with the lubed backside of the second prepared pan. Set the brittle aside to cool completely. Once the brittle has hardened, place the second half-sheet pan, this time inverted, on top of the brittle pan. By shaking the brittle between the two pans, you can easily break it into pieces. So, my verdict of this recipe is not that favorable. I have no idea how Alton recommended 350 degrees for the syrup, as it was just way too high. The second time I made my syrup, I think I probably pulled it off the heat too early, as my brittle did this weird foaming thing when I poured it onto the mat.

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Brittle poured onto mat and beginning to foam.

My resulting brittle was opaque, somewhat gritty, and had an odd white hue. The candy tasted fine, but it wasn’t what I think of as brittle, which is normally caramel-colored, shiny, and clear.

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Even my dog thought my brittle looked weird.

I think this recipe would have been much more successful if Alton had provided the correct temperature for the syrup, which a Google search says is around 300 degrees. In theory, the eyeballing technique could work for someone who makes candy often, but candy making requires more precision than eyeballing. I’d follow a different peanut brittle recipe next time for sure.

Acid Jellies

When we were kids, our parents would give us each a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I preferred nut-free candy (still do), so my box was typically a mix of caramels, creams, and jellies. It had been years since I had last had a jelly, so I was pretty stoked to see jellies appear in this episode.

To make Alton’s version of jellies, combine in a saucepan 1/2 C fresh lemon juice, 1/4 C fresh lime juice, 1/2 C water, and 8 packages of gelatin. Set this saucepan aside with no heat.

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Gelatin, lemon juice, lime juice, and water combined in a saucepan off of heat.

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Gelatin mixture after sitting.

In a second small saucepan, place 1 C sugar and 3/4 C water, and place the pan over high heat. Again, you can use a cast iron skillet as a diffuser, if you wish.

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Sugar and water placed in small saucepan over high heat.

Stir this mixture until the sugar dissolves and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, place a lid on the pan and set a timer for 3 minutes. As with the recipe for brittle above, the steam in the pan will serve to wash crystals down that may have formed on the sides of the pan. After 3 minutes, remove the lid from the pan and attach a candy thermometer. Cook the syrup until it reaches 300 degrees.

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Sugar syrup cooking to 300 degrees.

Once at 300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and pour the syrup into the gelatin mixture, stirring constantly.

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Sugar syrup being poured into gelatin mixture.

Place the mixture over low heat, continuing to stir until the gelatin dissolves. I had some difficulty with this phase of the process, as a solid mass of sugar seemed to form in the bottom of my pan. I am guessing this was because my sugar syrup cooled too much too quickly. I opted to increase the heat under my pan, allowing the sugar to dissolve again, which worked.

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Gelatin mixture placed over low heat to dissolve.

Once you have a smooth, clear mixture, add 2 T lemon zest and 2 T lime zest, and pour the mixture into an oiled 8-inch square pan.

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Completed jellies, poured into greased pan.

Let the jellies sit at room temperature for four hours. Once set, turn the jellies out and cut them into 1-inch squares with a pizza cutter.

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Jellies, cut into cubes.

Transfer the cubes to a bowl and toss them with the remaining 1/4 C sugar until coated.

Move the cubes to a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan, and allow them to dry for 24 hours at room temperature before eating.

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Alton’s jellies.

Alton’s jellies had intense citrus flavor and a great balance of sweetness and tartness. I did find them to be a bit more rubbery than I would have liked, but that could have perhaps been due to my difficulties with combining my two mixtures. I am tempted to try these again to see if I can get a better result, as they were pretty and their flavor was great. My only other complaint with these candies was that they remained very sticky and damp on the outside, and they never really dried out as Alton said they would; I found that this was a common complaint in the online recipe reviews, and I am not sure how to fix that issue.

Chocolate Taffy

I suppose you couldn’t really have a candy episode without including something chocolate, so that’s where chocolate taffy comes in. This recipe requires only a few ingredients, beginning with combining 1/2 t salt, 2/3 C Dutch cocoa, and 2 C sugar in a large saucepan.

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Salt, sugar, and cocoa.

Stir this mixture with a whisk to combine, and add 1 C light corn syrup, 1 t white vinegar, and 1/4 C + 1 T water. Stir the pot over medium heat to dissolve the sugar, and then increase the heat to bring the chocolate to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low and attach a candy thermometer.

Cook the chocolate until it reaches 260 degrees, and then stir in 1 1/2 T butter.

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Chocolate cooking to 260 degrees.

Pour the taffy onto a silicone mat-lined pan, smoothing it with a spatula, and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, don latex gloves and lube them with butter. It is time to pull the taffy. First, use the mat to fold the taffy into thirds.

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Taffy, folded in thirds.

Next, fold the taffy in thirds again, but in the opposite direction. Knead the taffy with your hands, as if working with dough. The chocolate will still be quite warm.

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Taffy, folded in thirds the other direction.

Pull the taffy from both ends, folding them back into the middle.

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Pulling ends of taffy back to the middle.

Then, pick the taffy up and continue to twist and pull the taffy until it has striations in the middle and is very hard to pull.

Roll the taffy into a log on the silicone mat and cut it into four pieces with kitchen shears.

Roll each piece of taffy into a snake, cutting each log into 1-inch pieces. If the candy becomes too hard to cut, you can place it in the microwave for about five seconds to soften it. Keep the taffy pieces separate while you work, or they will stick to each other.

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Taffy cut into individual pieces.

Roll each piece of taffy in a piece of wax paper and place them in an air-tight container. This one was disappointing for me because my taffy came out rock hard, while Alton described something like a Tootsie Roll. I am guessing that my taffy was not pulled enough to reach the desired texture, but I did pull it until it felt like it was solidifying. Maybe I needed to soften my taffy again, and pull it more? Or, maybe the “T-Rex” nickname my brother gave me as a teenager was more justified than I realized? Either way, I don’t think I will do this one again. All-in-all, this episode was pretty “meh” for me.

The 93rd episode of Good Eats is all about ways to utilize a variety of grains in the kitchen; wheat berries, bulgur, and couscous are the stars of the show. Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that have not been processed. Bulgur, on the other hand, is whole wheat that has been cracked and partially cooked. Finally, couscous is actually not a grain at all, but a pasta that is often mistaken for being a grain because of its nutty flavor and usage in grain-like recipes. First up:  wheat berries.

Basic Cooked Wheat Berries

Alton first demonstrates his go-to method for cooking wheat berries, which can then be used in a variety of recipes. To begin, place 2 C of wheat berries in a large skillet, toasting them over medium-high heat until they begin to smell nutty. This toasting step is omitted in the online recipe, but certainly imparts more flavor in the finished wheat berries.

Place the toasted wheat berries in a pressure cooker, adding two heavy pinches of Kosher salt and 4 C of water, or enough to cover the wheat berries by about an inch.

Close the lid of the pressure cooker and bring it up to pressure over high heat. Decrease the heat and maintain the pressure for 45 minutes. If you have an electric range like I do, you may find that you have to adjust the burner temperature regularly to maintain pressure.

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Pressure cooker, being brought to pressure.

After 45 minutes of cooking, release the pressure from your cooker. I had never cooked wheat berries before, so I was not sure exactly what a perfectly cooked wheat berry would look like.

I found the wheat berries to have a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy al dente texture. I took Alton’s recommendations and used my wheat berries to make the next two recipes in the episode:  wheat berry tapenade and mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

Wheat Berry Tapenade

The first way Alton suggests to use cooked wheat berries is in his wheat berry tapenade. For the tapenade, combine three minced garlic cloves, 1 C chopped Kalamata olives, 1/2 t Dijon mustard, and 1 t Kosher salt.

Stir in 1 C of cooked wheat berries, and serve the tapenade with crackers or toast.

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Cooked wheat berries added to olive mixture.

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Wheat berry tapenade.

We ate this as an appetizer one evening and both thought it was super tasty. In fact, we ate a whole bowl. This tasted like any great Kalamata tapenade, but with much more to offer in the texture department. The salty, briny flavor of the olives supplemented with the tang of the mustard paired well with the nuttiness of the wheat berries. I did end up adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to my tapenade, as I felt it could use a small kick of acid. This is a healthy and fast appetizer to make (once the wheat berries are already cooked), and I will be making it again very soon.

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf

I can only assume that Alton is a huge fan of his mushroom wheat berry pilaf, as an updated version of this recipe appears in his newest cookbook. The biggest difference between this version and the updated recipe is that the updated recipe uses no rice. For the pilaf, heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet, adding 1 1/2 C chopped onion, a pinch of Kosher salt, 5 minced garlic cloves, and 1 T butter. Stir after each addition.

Increase the heat to high and add 1 pound of sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and 1 T soy sauce.

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Mushrooms and soy sauce added to skillet.

Continue to cook the mushrooms until they have reduced by half, which will take a little while.

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Mushrooms, cooked until reduced by half.

Once the mushrooms have reduced, add 1/4 C chicken broth, 1/4 C red wine, 1 C cooked wheat berries, 1 1/2 C cooked rice, 1/2 t chopped fresh thyme, 1 t chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t chopped lemon zest.

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Mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

We ate this as an entrée and both really liked it. For a vegetarian entree it had a lot of flavor and a variety of textures. The mushrooms and soy sauce give this dish a lot of umami flavor, while the herbs give it a nice freshness. The lemon zest comes through in this recipe in a big way, giving a refreshing, bright tang that really lightens everything up. Plus, this is another healthy, delicious way to incorporate whole grains. This is a fantastic recipe that could be used as either an entree or a side.

Bulgur Gazpacho

You had me at “gazpacho.” I absolutely love a spicy, tangy gazpacho, so this recipe piqued my interest right away.

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Ingredients for bulgur gazpacho: cucumber, scallions, bulgur, cumin, tomato puree, tomato/veg juice, tomato, garlic, green bell pepper, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, and Kosher salt.

Start by bringing 1 C of water to a boil with 1/2 C tomato puree; I did this in the microwave.

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Water and tomato puree being heated to a boil.

Pour the tomato mixture over 3/4 C bulgur in a bowl, sloshing to combine. Cover the bowl with a plate and set it aside for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add 1 minced garlic clove, 4 sliced scallions, 1 C seeded/diced cucumber, 1 C chopped tomato, and 3/4 C diced green bell pepper.

Next, stir in 1/2-1 C tomato juice (I used spicy V8), 2 T balsamic vinegar, 1-2 t hot sauce, 1/2 t cumin, and 1 1/2 t Kosher salt. Stir the gazpacho until combined and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before eating.

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Bulgur gazpacho.

Sure enough, we really enjoyed this recipe. Though this isn’t soupy, it does have the vibrant, zesty flavors of a gazpacho. Also, with the addition of bulgur, this gazpacho has enough substance to stand alone as an entrée. There is also a lot of texture to this dish, coming from the variety of vegetables and the bulgur. This would be a really nice summer entree or side dish.

Steamed Couscous

Couscous is something we used to eat a lot, and this episode made me realize it is something we should eat more often. Alton begins his couscous segment with his recipe for steamed couscous, which can then be used in any couscous recipe. To make Alton’s couscous, prepare a steamer basket by adding water to the bottom pan, keeping the water level a couple inches below the bottom of the top basket. Heat the pan, allowing steam to begin to form. I used my pasta pot.

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Preheating steamer.

Meanwhile, rinse 2 C of couscous with water and turn it out onto a sheet pan. Sprinkle the couscous all over with Kosher salt.

Once steam has formed in your steamer, line the top part of the steamer with a damp kitchen towel and dump the couscous into the towel. Fold the towel over the couscous, forming a bundle. Place the lid on the steamer and set a timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, use tongs to lift the couscous-filled towel, dumping the couscous onto the sheet pan again. Drizzle 1/2 C cold water over the couscous, tossing.

Next, spritz the couscous with oil or non-stick spray, also lubing your hands. Rub the oil into the couscous for about three minutes, breaking up any clumps.

Once again, transfer the couscous back into the towel-lined steamer, folding the towel over the couscous. Place the lid on the steamer and steam the couscous for a final 10 minutes.

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Couscous after final 10 minute steaming.

I have to say that this couscous method is the most labor-intensive one I have ever used. The resulting couscous was fluffy and lump-free, but I don’t think I would go to the trouble of making couscous this way again. I did what Alton did and used my steamed couscous to make his cherry couscous pudding, which follows below.

Cherry Couscous Pudding

Although I have eaten my share of couscous, I had never had it in a sweet application… until this recipe. For this one, heat 1/2 C whole milk, 3 T sugar, and 1/4 C dried cherries. Once warm, set aside for 10 minutes to steep.

After 10 minutes, add the pulp of one vanilla bean to the milk.

Pour the milk mixture over your steamed couscous (see above), stirring to combine.

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Milk mixture poured over steamed couscous.

Add 8 ounces vanilla yogurt and refrigerate the pudding for at least an hour before serving.

Sprinkle individual servings of the pudding with cinnamon.

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Couscous pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon.

This recipe was a real dud. It was dry and flavorless, but I think I know what the issue was. In the episode, Alton cooked his steamed couscous as written above, using the full batch of couscous to make this pudding. In looking at the online recipe, I see that it calls for only 1 1/2 C of the steamed couscous. This may be a first, but I think the online recipe may be correct, while Alton’s preparation in the episode resulted in a super dry couscous that was anything but pudding-like. I am somewhat tempted to make this again with only 1 1/2 C of couscous, as surely it would have better flavor and texture. Honestly, this is the first couscous recipe I have not liked, and I cannot recommend it as it was prepared in the episode.

Red Snapper en Papillote

When watching all of these Good Eats episodes, certain recipes really jump out at me. In this episode, the recipe for snapper en papillote was the one that made me super enthusiastic. I really loved the red snapper in a salt dome that I made way back in episode 10, so another snapper recipe made me excited. Unfortunately, the seafood store where I previously found whole red snapper has closed, so I had to turn to the grocery store; the fish monger was unable to get a whole red snapper, so I wound up with some other type of snapper (honestly, I don’t know exactly what it was). My fish was also not cleaned, so I had to do that myself, with a little help from my husband. If you do happen to be shopping for a whole red snapper, be sure to check the eyes of the fish, as true red snappers will have red eyes. If, like me, you cannot find red snapper in your area, Alton says you can substitute whole trout, tilapia, arctic char, or tilefish in this recipe. Regardless of the type of fish you use, for this recipe, a 1-2 pound fish will work best. Start by rinsing 1 C of couscous in cold water; sprinkle it with Kosher salt and set it aside while you prep the fish.

Prep the fish by rinsing your whole fish under cold water, scraping it with a knife to remove any remaining scales. Trim off all fins, but leave the tail intact. Pat the fish dry, including inside the fish, and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper, leaving a long overhang (the parchment needs to be large enough to fold over the whole fish). Place the fish diagonally across the parchment, sprinkling it all over (including inside the cavity) with Kosher salt and black pepper.

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My whole fish, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Place a handful of fresh oregano and parsley inside the fish, along with a few slices of lemon and red onion. You can stick anything extra under the fish.

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My fish, stuffed with fresh oregano, parsley, red onion, and lemon.

Sprinkle the rinsed couscous all around the fish, along with 1 C of drained/quartered artichoke hearts, 1 C halved cherry tomatoes, and 2 t garlic. Place lemon slices and sliced red onion along the top of the fish, and drizzle everything with 1/2 C white wine. Finally, dab 1 T of butter along the top of the fish.

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Couscous, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, red onion, wine, and butter added to fish.

Fold the parchment paper over the fish, creasing the three open sides of the packet. Staple the whole package shut, placing staples about every inch.

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Parchment folded and stapled over fish.

Place the fish in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

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Fish packet in 425-degree oven.

Once out of the oven, cut the parchment packet open and serve the fish.

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Fish after cooking for 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, this recipe didn’t wow me as much as I hoped it would, but some of that may have been due to my fish, which was kind of “blah.” I am open to trying this again with a different whole fish. I did like that this recipe is a one-pan dinner with built-in sides of couscous and vegetables, and the fish was nicely cooked. My couscous did end up being slightly gummy, but the combination of flavors in the dish was great, and I did like the presentation. If you can get whole red snapper where you live, I think this might be a great recipe to try.

Salmon Fillet en Papillote with Julienned Vegetables

The second recipe in this episode is super easy and is made in individual servings, making it easily adaptable for any number of guests. As with the snapper recipe above, parchment paper is used here to create a pouch, but this time there is one pouch per person. Start with a fairly large rectangle of parchment, folding it in half. Use scissors or a knife to cut a large half-heart shape from the creased side of the parchment. Unfold the parchment to reveal your full parchment heart. Ahhh… takes me right back to 3rd grade.

On the right side of the parchment heart place 1/3 C carrot strips, 1/3 C fennel strips, 1/3 C snow pea strips, and 1/3 C leek strips.

Place an 8-ounce salmon fillet (skin side down) on top of the vegetables and season everything with Kosher salt, pepper, and 1/8 t ground coriander.

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Salmon fillet placed on top of vegetables. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and coriander.

Place the wedges of a small peeled orange on top of the fish and sprinkle the whole mound with a “wee shot” of vermouth.

Fold the parchment over the fish, creasing the edge at the top of the heart, and folding the edge up. Go halfway down the length of the fold, make a crease, and fold again, sort of like sealing a calzone. Continue creasing and folding all the way around the heart, twisting the parchment tip and folding it under.

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Parchment folded over fish and sealed by creasing/folding all the way around.

Place the whole packet in the microwave and cook on high for 4 minutes, or cook for 12 minutes in a 425-degree oven. Since there were two of eating Alton’s salmon packets, I opted, for comparison’s sake, to cook one packet in the microwave and the other in the oven. My microwaved fish was moist and flaking easily after 4 minutes, but my oven fish needed several more minutes to be cooked.

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Fish after cooking in the microwave.

I found this to be a successful recipe, resulting (in the microwave case) in nicely cooked fish. The orange wedges paired nicely with the fish and contributed a lot of moisture, and the whole dish had just a hint of vermouth.

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Salmon en papillote with oranges and vegetables.

Once again, this was a nice one-packet meal, as each packet included the fish and accompanying veggies. Plus, you can have this on the table in less than 30 minutes and it is healthy.

Ramen Shrimp Pouch

The third recipe in Alton’s series of pouch recipes is for shrimp lovers and is definitely a quickie that could be prepped any day of the week. As with the salmon pouches above, you can make as few or as many of these packets as you need to suit your number of diners. To make this one, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lay out a large square of foil for each diner. On the center of each foil square, layer in this order:  1/2 of a block of noodles from a ramen package, 2 T chopped dried mushrooms, 5 large shrimp that have been peeled and deveined, 2 T chopped onions, 2 T chopped scallions, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a pinch of Kosher salt.

Ball the foil up around the top of the shrimp, leaving a small opening at the top. Use the opening in each foil packet to pour in 1 T vegetable broth, 1 T mirin, 2 t soy sauce, and 1 t sesame oil.

Crimp the foil closed tightly, leaving a tiny steam porthole in the top of each packet. Place the packets in the preheated oven for 15 minutes; you may want to place them on a baking sheet, just in case they leak.

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Shrimp packets in the oven.

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Shrimp packet after 15 minutes in the oven.

Though I am not a shrimp lover, I thought this was a very clever and tasty dish. The shrimp were perfectly cooked after 15 minutes and you could taste all of the flavors in the pouch. I will say that some of my noodles were a bit chewy, so I would suggest breaking the noodles up slightly before putting them on the foil, and maybe adding a bit more liquid directly over the noodles. With a little tweaking, I think this could be an outstanding weeknight shrimp recipe.

Stone Fruit Pouches

Alton finished up his pouch cookery with a dessert. For each person eating, lay out a large double layer square of foil. In the center of each square, place 1/2 C crumbled gingersnaps, 1 quartered plum, 1 sliced apricot (8 pieces), 2 t sugar, 1 t lime zest, a pinch of Kosher salt, and 1 T cubed butter. I had no choice but to adapt this recipe a little bit, as it was certainly not stone fruit season when I made them. I opted to use mango and quince in my pouches.

Fold up the foil, leaving an opening at the top, and pour in the juice of half a lime and a shot of brandy.

Seal up the packets, leaving a tiny porthole. These packets can be cooked in a 500-degree oven or on a grill. If using a grill, they should be done in 10 minutes, or after 15-20 minutes in the oven. Serve the warm fruit with vanilla ice cream.

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Warm fruit served with vanilla ice cream.

The gingersnaps almost caramelize, the fruit softens, and you taste hints of lime and brandy. I bet these pouches would be good with peaches or pineapple too, and they would make for a super easy prep-ahead dessert during grilling season. Yes, this is one to keep in your back pocket.

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