Posts Tagged ‘pork’

I have had a busy last few weeks and really not by any sort of choice. First, I found myself with a full week of jury duty, which saw me spending full days at the courthouse. While the experience was educational and informative, I am glad to once again have control over my schedule.

Unfortunately, right at the end of my jury service, my dad had an accident and broke eight ribs; two of the ribs were displaced and he also had a Hemothorax. Needless to say, I flew to be with him as soon as I could, and I spent six days visiting him. He is, unfortunately, still in the ICU, so I will likely be traveling to see him again shortly. I am hoping and praying for good news soon. It would be great to see him finally turn the corner. Yes, 2019 has not been kind to me thus far.

Coq au Vin

In an effort to distract myself and do something productive, I’m sitting down to write up a dish I actually prepared weeks ago:  Alton’s Coq au Vin. Coq au Vin is an old French dish that was originally composed as a means of cooking old, tough roosters (I was informed of this fact by both Alton and my dad). This dish certainly takes some time to prepare and you need to start a day ahead of eating. Salt pork is the first ingredient in this recipe, but you can substitute slab bacon if you are unable to find the salt pork. I lucked out and found salt pork at my local grocery store.

IMG_1639

Salt pork.

Cube six ounces of the salt pork and place it in a large skillet over medium heat, along with 2 T water. Cover the skillet and let the pork cook for 5-10 minutes.

IMG_1647

Cubed salt pork in skillet with water.

While the pork cooks, place four chicken thighs and four chicken legs on a metal rack over a sheet pan and season them liberally with Kosher salt and pepper.

IMG_1641

Chicken thighs and legs seasoned with Kosher salt and pepper.

Put 1/4 to 1/2 C flour in a large plastic bag and add a few pieces of the seasoned chicken at a time. Shake the bag to coat the chicken pieces with the flour until all of the chicken has been coated. Set the coated chicken pieces back on the wire rack and set them aside.

When the pork has darkened in color and has rendered some of its fat, remove the lid from the skillet and continue to cook the pork until it is crispy and brown.

Remove the pork from the pan and add 24-30 pearl onions to the pork fat. You will need to peel your pearl onions prior to using them; you can do this easily by cutting off the root end of each onion and cutting a deep V where the root was. Place the onions in boiling water for a minute and let them cool. Once cool, the skins should slide right off.

Cook the peeled onions in the pork fat until they are golden brown, and then remove them from the pan.

Next, add three or four chicken pieces to the skillet and cook the chicken until it is golden brown on all sides.

While the chicken browns, prepare a “bed” for the browned chicken by placing the following ingredients in the bottom of a Dutch oven:  two quartered ribs of celery, two quartered carrots, a quartered onion, 6-8 fresh Rosemary sprigs, three crushed garlic cloves, and one Bay leaf.

IMG_1637

Vegetable bed in Dutch oven: celery, carrot, onion, Rosemary, garlic, and a Bay leaf.

As the chicken pieces finish browning, place them on top of the vegetables in the Dutch oven.

IMG_1660

Browned chicken placed on vegetables in Dutch oven.

When all of the chicken has been browned, add 1 T butter to the skillet, along with eight ounces of quartered mushrooms. Scraping the pan, cook the mushrooms for about five minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan, let them cool, and combine them in a container with the cooled pork and onions. Set the mushroom mixture in the refrigerator until the next day. Pour any excess fat out of the pan and discard it (I had very little extra fat in my pan). Remove the pan from the burner and add 1 C Pinot Noir to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a spatula.

IMG_1663

Pinot Noir added to deglaze pan.

Add 2 T tomato paste to the skillet, stirring to combine, and pour the liquid over the chicken in the Dutch oven.

Finally, add 2 C chicken broth to the chicken, along with the rest of the open bottle of wine and another full bottle of Pinot Noir.

Put a lid on the Dutch oven and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The following day, place the Dutch oven in a cold oven and set the oven to heat to 325 degrees. Set a kitchen timer for two hours and check the chicken a few times to be sure it is submerged in the cooking liquid. After the two hour cooking period, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and use tongs to transfer the chicken from the Dutch oven to a packet of foil. Place the foil packet of chicken in the cooling oven to keep warm.

Strain the cooking liquid into a saucier, discarding the vegetables (or you can feed them to your dog, as Alton did in the episode).

Place the saucier over high heat and reduce the liquid by one third, which should take about 30 minutes. You can check the fluid level by placing a rubber band around a long spoon handle at the initial fluid level. When that level has dropped by 1/3, you are good to go.

Once the sauce has reduced, add the onions, mushrooms, and salt pork to the saucier and cook for 15 more minutes.

IMG_1685

Salt pork, onions, and mushrooms added to sauce.

Serve the chicken and sauce over cooked egg noodles.

IMG_1688

Coq au Vin served over egg noodles.

This is a really delicious recipe, but it does take some effort and time. For me, it took two and a half hours of prep the first day, followed by the cooking time the second day. I would certainly consider this to be a special occasion dish simply because of the amount of prep. We did, however, get several meals out of this one recipe, so perhaps the time per meal is not much. The chicken in this dish comes out super moist and tender, and has a slight purple hue. The sauce has many layers of flavor, but is light in body. If you want a chicken dish that can serve a group and results in perfectly cooked chicken with lots of flavor, this is the one.

This January has given 2019 a little bit of a rough start for me. I had a short, nasty stomach bug for the first two days of the year, which was followed up with back pain for several days. After that, I traveled to be with my dad while he had cancer surgery. Two days after I returned home from my trip, I came down with a nasty flu-like bug that knocked me out for 10 days. Whew! Good riddance, January!

Turkey with Stuffing

Although the holidays are long gone, this recipe certainly has a holiday feel to it. While Alton’s other turkey recipes have really featured the turkey itself, this one is all about the stuffing. In the episode, Alton actually goes into very little detail about prepping/cooking the turkey, so I opted to brine my turkey, using the brine recipe from the original Good Eats Thanksgiving special. The premise of this recipe is that Alton can make a well-balanced stuffing that will cook inside the turkey, and that the turkey and stuffing will reach their desired temperatures at nearly the same time. To make the stuffing, chop 1 C each of onion, celery, and green bell pepper.

img_0953

A cup each of celery, onion, and green bell pepper.

Toss the chopped vegetables with 1 T vegetable oil and 1 T Kosher salt. Spread the vegetables on a sheet pan and roast them for 25 minutes at 400.

After 25 minutes, add 3 C cubed Challah bread (I made my own) to the vegetables, give everything a toss, and continue roasting for 10 more minutes.

img_0957

My Challah bread, ready to be cubed.

Next, place two ounces of dried mushrooms (porcini, morels, or shiitakes) in a bowl and pour a quart of boiling chicken stock over them. Let the mushrooms rehydrate for about 30 minutes.

img_0958

Shiitake mushrooms, soaking in boiling chicken broth.

When the mushrooms have finished their soak, drain them (reserving their liquid), chop them, and place them in a large bowl, along with 4 ounces dried cherries, 2 ounces chopped pecans, 2 beaten eggs, 2 t dry rubbed sage, 2 t dry parsley, the roasted vegetables and bread, and 1/2 t pepper.

img_0961

Dried cherries and chopped pecans.

img_0968

Chopped mushrooms added to cherries and pecans.

img_0970

Chopped mushrooms added to cherries and pecans, along with eggs, rubbed sage, and dry parsley.

Add enough of the reserved mushroom liquid to moisten, but not saturate, the mixture; I used about a cup, though Alton was vague about this in the episode and it actually appeared as if he added all of the reserved liquid.

img_0972

Challah, vegetables, pepper, and mushroom liquid added to mixture.

Place the stuffing in a cotton produce bag, or use cheesecloth to make one – you can seal it with butcher’s twine. Place the bag of stuffing in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it on high for six minutes. Also, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To put the stuffing in the turkey, prop the open end of the turkey up on the side of a bowl and use tongs to plunge the bag of stuffing into the bird. If you have a plastic cutting board, you can form it into a tube shape, insert the tube-shaped cutting board into the cavity, and push the bag through the tube.

img_0975

Microwaved stuffing placed inside turkey.

For this recipe, you will ideally want two thermometers – one inserted in the thigh and one inserted into the center of the stuffing; I only have one oven-safe thermometer, so I placed that in the thigh and checked the stuffing periodically with an instant read thermometer. Place the bird in a roasting pan and roast it for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. After 45 minutes, decrease the oven temperature to 350 and cook until both the stuffing and the thigh meat are about 170 degrees. When done cooking, remove the stuffing bag with tongs and place the stuffing in a serving bowl.

img_0977

Turkey after cooking to thigh temperature of 170.

img_0983

Alton’s stuffing.

Tent the turkey with foil and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. Okay, so there were some good things about this recipe and some bad things. This stuffing has a wide variety of both flavors and textures, with flavors ranging from sweet/tart to umami, and textures that range from slightly crunchy to moist and soft. I will say that the stuffing would have been too wet, and probably overpowered with mushroom flavor, if I had added all of the mushroom liquid as Alton appeared to do in the show. My biggest problem with this recipe was that it didn’t achieve the goal of having the stuffing and turkey finish cooking at the same time. For me, the stuffing was done cooking long before the turkey was, so I ended up pulling the stuffing out early while I had to continue cooking the bird for a good 20 minutes. In my mind, that makes this recipe a failure. Also, I think the bird could have done with a little less cooking. While I would consider making the stuffing again, I would not attempt to cook it in the bird again. Instead, I would opt for either the original Good Eats roast turkey or the butterflied, dry brined turkey.

Stuffed Squash

Since the tendency with stuffing is to stuff vegetables into meat, Alton decided to formulate a recipe where a meat filling is stuffed into squash. Acorn squash are the squash of choice for this recipe, as they are perfect for individual servings. To make four servings (I only made two), cut the lids off of four acorn squash and scoop out their seeds; be very careful when doing this, as I discovered it is very easy to poke a hole in the bottom of the squash! Be sure to save the lids for later. If your squash will not sit flat, you can also cut off part of the bottoms to make them level.

img_0914

My two acorn squash, ready to be prepped.

img_0915

Lids off and scooping out seeds.

Set the prepared squash on a parchment-lined sheet pan. To make the filling, cook 1/2 pound ground pork in a large skillet over medium heat until the pork is no longer pink. Transfer the pork to a small bowl and set it aside.

Return the pan to the burner, but decrease the heat slightly. Add 1 T olive oil to the pan, along with 1/4 C chopped carrots, 1/4 C chopped celery, 1/4 C chopped onion, and a pinch of Kosher salt. Cook the vegetables until they have softened a bit.

img_0924

Celery, onion, and carrot added to hot oil, along with a pinch of Kosher salt.

Deglaze the pan by adding 1/2 C white wine and scraping up any browned bits.

img_0927

Wine added to deglaze the pan.

Follow the wine with 10 ounces of thawed/drained/chopped frozen spinach, 1 1/2 C cooked rice, 1 1/2 t dried oregano, the cooked pork, and 1/2 C toasted pine nuts.

img_0932

Spinach, rice, oregano, pork, and pine nuts added to the skillet.

Stir the filling until it is heated through and add a few grinds of black pepper. Remove the filling from the heat and place 1/2 T butter in the bottom of each prepared squash.

Spoon the stuffing into the squash, avoiding tightly packing the stuffing.

img_0936

Filling spooned into prepped squash and lids placed on top.

Place the lids on the squash and cook them for one hour at 400 degrees, or until the squash are just fork tender.

img_0941

Alton’s stuffed squash.

We ate these squash as our dinner entrée and were pretty happy with them. Ted really does not care for squash, in general, but he agreed that the sweetness of the squash paired well with the very savory pork filling. This is a an easy meal that really gives you both your protein and veggies in one, and the individual squash “serving dishes” are sort of fun. The squash also did not become mushy, as some squash are wont to do. I could see making the filling ahead of time for these, and on a busy weeknight you would only have to fill the squash and put them in the oven. Super easy!

 

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

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

AB’s Chili Powder

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

IMG_9880

Ancho chiles, arbol chiles, and cascabel chiles.

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

IMG_9882

Chiles cut into strips and placed in skillet.

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

 

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

IMG_9885

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

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

 

IMG_9889

Alton’s chili powder.

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

Pressure Cooker Chili

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

IMG_9890

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

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

IMG_9894

Heating the pressure cooker.

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

IMG_9892

Three pounds of stew meat being tossed with Kosher salt.

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

IMG_9893

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9908

Lid put on pressure cooker.

IMG_9911

Chili after cooking for 25 minutes.

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

IMG_9912

A bowl of Alton’s chili.

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

 

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

Perfect Potstickers

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

Mix the filling thoroughly with gloved hands.

IMG_9715

The mixed potsticker filling.

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

IMG_9716

Wonton wrappers.

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

IMG_9722

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

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

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

IMG_9725

Pleats made on each short side of the triangle.

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

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

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

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

IMG_9742

A plate of Alton’s potstickers.

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

Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings

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

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

IMG_9825

Cubing the tofu.

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

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

IMG_9839

Dumpling filling.

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

Press the edges together, squeezing out any air bubbles.

IMG_9844

Folding opposite corners together and pinching the seams.

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

IMG_9846

Dumplings on sheet pan.

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

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

IMG_9855

Alton’s vegetarian steamed dumplings in chicken stock.

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

Pear Walnut Wontons

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

IMG_9987

Sugar and water over medium heat.

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

IMG_9988

Vanilla bean to be scraped.

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

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

Pulse the pears until they clump together.

IMG_9998

Dried pears pulsed until clumpy.

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

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

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

IMG_0030

Attempting to fold wontons Alton’s way.

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

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

IMG_0036

Oil heating to 360.

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

Alton recommends serving these guys with ice cream.

IMG_0044

Fried wontons with ice cream.

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

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.

IMG_5135

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.

IMG_5154

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.

IMG_5242

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.

IMG_5250

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.

IMG_5255

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.

IMG_5251

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.

IMG_5254

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.

IMG_5256

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.

IMG_5257

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.

IMG_5259

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.

IMG_5271

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.

Pulled Pork

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

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

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

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

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

    IMG_4012

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

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

    IMG_4013

    Wood chunks in cake pan, placed on hot plate.

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

    IMG_4014

    Grill grate placed in the top of the planter.

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

    IMG_4011

    Completed smoker.

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

IMG_3995

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

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

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

You’re now ready to start the smoking process.

IMG_4008

Pork, ready to go into smoker.

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

IMG_4016

Meat placed on grill grate.

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

IMG_4018

Smoker at work.

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

IMG_4032

Pork after smoking for a few hours.

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

IMG_4035

Pork, after smoking for 13 hours.

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

IMG_4099

Shredded pork mixed with some of Alton’s sauce.

IMG_4105

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

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

I have never been the biggest fan of pork chops. I remember sitting at the kitchen table when I was little, staring down a seemingly gray hunk of pork my mom had cooked for dinner, and dreaming of dessert; looking across the round oak table, my brother’s face mirrored my own. To this day, my mom says she has never understood why neither of her kids liked pork chops. My mom has always been a great cook, so I doubt she cooked pork chops poorly. Still, my impression of pork chops was summed up perfectly by Lorelai Gilmore when she said that eating pork chops is like sucking on a Pottery Barn catalog. I mean, really… tell me that you have never had that exact experience. So, last night for dinner, I set out to see if I could finally find a pork chop I liked.

Stuffed Grilled Pork Chops

After watching this episode of Good Eats, I determined that I needed to head to the local butcher shop to get my pork chops. See, according to Alton Brown, all pork chops are not created equal. While all pork chops come from the back of the pig, shoulder and sirloin chops are particularly tough and require wet cooking methods. Center-cut pork chops are the best, and Alton’s favorite center-cut chops are rib cut chops because they are composed of one muscle, making them the best choice for stuffed pork chops. My butcher shop cut two chops for me, making them about two inches thick, which is perfect for Alton’s recipe. For these chops, Alton insists that you make a brine, as pork is inherently dry, and a brine will serve to impart both flavor and moisture. To make the brine, combine in a lidded container 1 C Kosher salt, 1 C dark brown sugar, 1 T black peppercorns, and 1 T dry mustard. Add 2 C of hot cider vinegar and shake the container to dissolve everything.

Set the brine aside for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors fully develop. Next, add a pound of ice to the brine, and shake the container again until the ice is almost melted.

Now you are ready to place your chops into the brine, ensuring that they are completely covered. Though I only had two pork chops, I needed the full amount of brine to cover my chops, so if you are cooking four large chops, you may need to double the brine. Refrigerate the chops for two hours in the brine.

Toward the end of your brining period, you can make your pork chop stuffing. For four pork chops, combine 1 1/2 C crumbled cornbread, 1/4 C halved dried cherries, 2 T golden raisins, 1/4 C chopped walnuts, 2 t sliced fresh sage, 1/2 t pepper, 1/2 t Kosher salt, and 1/4 C buttermilk.

Set the stuffing aside while you prep your brined chops. The online recipe tells you to rinse your brined chops, but Alton did not do this in the episode. I did pat my chops with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

Next it is time to cut stuffing pockets in your pork chops. To do this, Alton placed his pork chops in a bagel slicer, but I just held mine with one hand and cut with the other. Either way, place your chops fat-side up and insert a long, thin knife (preferably a boning knife) straight down until you hit bone. Angle the blade up toward the surface, creating a cavity in one direction. Turn the knife around and cut in the other direction. You can check to see that your cavity is large enough by feeling with your finger. There is a video of Alton cutting his pockets, which you can access from the recipe link above.

In the episode, Alton used a large plastic syringe, with the tip cut off, to fill his pork chop pockets with stuffing. I used a plastic bag that I cut the corner out of, creating a makeshift piping bag. Still, I found that I had to use my fingers to push the filling down into the pocket. I filled my pork chops with as much filling as I could, and I used all of it.

To grill your pork chops, you will want to preheat your grill to high heat for at least 10 minutes. Brush your chops with oil and place them on the middle burner for 2 minutes.

Rotate the chops 90 degrees and leave them for 2 more minutes; this will create nice criss-cross grill marks.

IMG_5949

Pork chops, turned 90 degrees and left for 2 more minutes.

Flip your chops, leaving them for 2 minutes.

IMG_5950

Pork chops, flipped after 4 minutes of cooking. Left to cook 2 more minutes.

Finally, rotate the chops 90 degrees for a final 2 minutes.

IMG_5951

Pork chops, rotated 90 degrees to cook for 2 final minutes.

You want to cook your chops to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. If your chops are not done, place them over indirect heat and cook them until they reach 140. My chops took quite a lot (20-30 minutes) of additional grilling to reach 140.

IMG_5952

Pork chop after cooking to internal temperature of 140.

So, how did Alton’s stuffed pork chops taste? These were the best pork chops I had ever had. The pork was tender and moist, and just slightly pink in the middle, and you could taste the seasoning from the brine. The filling was a delicious accompaniment, with tartness from the cherries, sweetness from the raisins, occasional bursts of sage, and crunch from the walnuts.

IMG_5954

Pocket of filling inside pork chop.

This is a must-do recipe, especially if you are a pork fan. I guess I need to call my mom to tell her I finally met a pork chop I liked.

P.S. A bonus tip from Alton:  If you ever need to know how much propane you have in your tank, you can check the level by pouring ~a cup of boiling water down the side of your propane tank. You can tell where the propane level is by feeling where the metal switches from hot to cold.