Wednesday, December 30, 2009

EatingInaBox on Austin Chronicle

Wow, I made the Austin Chronicle's top Austin Food Blogs! Thanks, I am honored!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tools of the Trade: Edge Pro Apex

Just a couple of more weeks of bento hiatus since everyone is still out for the holidays. It's been a nice little break for me, time with family and all that. None the less, I've queued up a few themes for the new year so I'm eager to get back to cooking, I do confess that having my Sundays to myself have been nice.

A lot of people ask me what my most indispensable kitchen tool is and without a doubt it's my Chinese cleaver it's usually the only knife I ever use in the kitchen. It's cheap, but more to the point it's the ultimate multi-tasker, it does all the obvious cutting and chopping, but also delicate garnish work, has a huge face making it a good bench scraper, you can use it as a garlic masher, and it's lighter than a regular cleaver, but heavy enough that it does most of the work for you when doing a lot of chopping. And as with every knife it needs care and love to perform at it's peak, which is a nice lead-in to our post today.

Today's post is another gadget post, this time I'm going to go over the Edge Pro Apex knife sharpener. I was introduced to this puppy by Ryan over at Nose to Tail at Home when he had me over for the haggis making party. I had prided myself on keeping my tools sharp and clean, but when I was chopping onions over at Ryan's house it was like cutting butter with a hot knife. He kindly showed me his secret weapon. Unfortunately his secret weapon costs a lot of dough so I had to wait a while before buying it. I tried a few other solutions but realistically this was the best and easiest sharpener I could find.

So what is the edge pro system? Traditionally, if you wanted to put a new edge on a knife you would go thru the process of carefully sharpening your knife over a wet stone, holding the knife at your desired angle and going thru various grits until you come up with a shiny new edge. Then you adjust your knife with with that big steel stick thing in your knife block that people don't tend to use. The Edge Pro Apex turns the whole thing upside down, it's genius really. You take the knife put it on the bench and then you have a arm on a pre-set angle and just scrape the stone over the knife. It just makes so much sense!

As you can see from the first picture it comes with the assembly a ceramic honing rod instructions and the stones. You can get the basic set and the price just goes up depending on the number of sharpening stones you get. In this case I went ahead and sprung for the full monty starting with the 120 grit stone going all the way up to the 3000 grit diamond tape. Over the top? Sure a bit, but if I'm gonna do it I might as well go all the way.

I went ahead and setup the sharpening system and testing my cleaver on a paper test. If you've never done this it's a nice test on checking sharpness, grab a standard sheet of paper, hold it vertically in front of you, now take your knife and run it down the top edge, a sharp knife should slice into it easily (and smoothly). As expected my knife was ridiculously dull, it only really nicked the paper and bent it. So I set about going from the lowest grit stone (I obviously needed to reset my edge) moving my way up. Between stones, I would wet the stone to make going over the knife a bit smoother.

As you can see even with the 1000 grit before and after shot, I was clearly taking off a lot of steel to get the edge to the nice 18 degrees that my research indicated was my optimal edge. There are whole blog entries and websites that tell you all about the science of sharpening knives so I'll spare you the details but if you want, go here to read more about it. After all my hardwork my knife passed the paper cut test with ease.

I highly recommend the Edge Pro Apex for your knife sharpening needs. It's that or knowing someone that has an Edge Pro and begging them the favor of using it. Either way, a sharp knife is one of the best if not safest things you can do in maintaining your kitchen gear (and fingers).

Have a Happy New Year folks! We'll see you guys next year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays 2009

From my family's table to yours, I wish you Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Bird ala the Orion Cooker "la torre del diablo"

I've talked a bit about my Orion Cooker or as I like to call it, "la torre del diablo" (the tower of the devil) and lots of people come and visit looking for info on the orion cooker and turkey. So today I'm going to chronicle the step by step of cooking a turkey and hey look, just in time for xmas.

It all starts with the brine. As many of you know the best way to get a nice juicy turkey is to brine it before hand. It allows helps the meat retain moisture through the cooking process and you can impart some nice flavors. I used a slightly modified brine recipe (see below) by my favorite food geek/hero, Alton Brown. It's quite simple really, you need a high salt content I believe the rule of thumb is one cup each of salt and sugar for every gallon of brine. In this case, the vegetable stock has salt in it, and I trust that's why there's less salt in the recipe, and of course the word of Alton Brown is never wrong he is after all the culinary equivalent of Chuck Norris. I digress, you can then add your other herbs to help infuse the flavor you're going for in this case I added freeze dried cherries, a few juniper berries and a sundry of other stuff I had lying around. Why does this work? Well I'm no food scientist, but the gist of it is that the brine breaks down/unwinds protein molecules and allows the brine to infuse the meat. I'm sure a more detailed explanation can be googled.

Next step. hardware, we have the gear as you see at the top, and setting up the cooker and the bird. You put in the drip pan into the Orion and add some wood chips around the pan (not in it) I used cherry wood, but whatever your preference is fine. Set up your grate on the lower bracket and mount your turkey. As you can see I have a healthy 13-14 pounder, but I think the cooker will accomodate larger birds with no problem (up to 20 pounds maybe 21?).

Here is my only complaint about my Orion cooker, it takes a 15 pound back of charcoal to fire this thing and the coals burn far longer than is necessary to cook the bird. I've toyed with the idea of queuing up another bird for larger parties, or a roast or something, I *think* it would be fine, but I've not tried and might go ahead and do a low risk experiment when I cook up another turkey for my parents for Christmas. Anyhow, once you're ready, you light up the "la torre del diablo" (use a booming ominous voice when you say this) like the Olympic flame. The manual says seven mins per pound, for my exact weight that came out to 94 mins so just over an hour and a half till turkey time.

Next step is to wait, crack open a beverage of your choice and watch with fire extinguisher on hand to make sure you don't burn down anything. As you can see, I have a big concrete patio and it happened to be raining that day so it's not really an issue for me.

Ok finished product. As you can see right out of the cooker you get a beautiful perfectly cooked turkey with that perfect golden brown that you see on TV. Break out your favorite knife perfectly sharpened knife by your edge pro (post to follow) and you are set for business. I usually go for the dark meat on turkey, it's just more moist, but I find cooking with the brine and the Orion, the white meat is perfect (and better for me).

As promised a recipe yes I know a rare occurance, but this is only one recipe so I happily have much room to post it. Just a reminder, if you ask in the comments for any recipe that you want from my site, I happily will post it for you. Happy Holidays folks!

Turkey Brine - Courtesy of Alton Brown

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

The night before you'd like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Southern Living Bento

Yes it's that time of year, everyone is going on vacation and holiday so I'm shutting down operations until the new year. It's a good time for me to recuperate and have a small vacation from my Sunday cooking. I'll be posting some stored up posts over the next few weeks, gadgets and talking turkey so stay tuned!

I kept today's meal fairly simple because I was limited on time, but I also wanted to focus on each dish. Most of the bento was gathered from various issues of Southern Living that were laying around at my doctor's office. The recipes were all *almost* there meaning all great starting points but looking down at the ingredients they didn't look like they would taste remarkable in anyway.

For the main entree we have a Portabello Pork ragu over Panko crusted Parmesan grit cakes. I re-worked it a bit and played with some of the textures and the spices because I wasn't quite happy with the results. The grits were a touch too bland for the for the the pork and the quantity was entirely too much. The ragu called for baby portabello (or otherwise known as crimini) mushrooms, I went with full sized portabello because I liked the idea of large meaty pieces that can offer a texture alternative to pork. I also spiced up the pork with some red pepper and basil because I needed to compensate for a fairly bland grit cake. I think re-heated together it's a nice balance of flavor and texture.

Next we have a nice side dish of corn and edamame sauteed in house cured bacon and shallots. I swear everything is better with bacon and this is no exception. The flavors of sweet corn offset with the salty "pop" of occassional pieces of bacon are just perfect together. I'm glad I had some of my homemade bacon on hand, it allowed for larger cubed pieces of bacon rather than thin small pieces from the store bought.

Finally dessert was a simple cinnamon baked apples with raspberries and honey. I had some leftover raspberries and thought that the slight sour taste would be a good contrast to the honey. Added a dusting of nutmeg because it seemed like the right thing to do. It's like an apple pie, without the pie.

This was a great way to finish the year and I'm looking forward to starting back up in a few weeks. I've already got a few menus planned and will no doubt have a bunch more as I go thru my stacks of magazines that have been piling up in my inbox at home. Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Foodblogger Event: Vivo 2

Hey, real short post here. I was invited to Vivo's new second location to help them celebrate their grand opening. There was music, food and drinks a plenty. Lots of hospitable folks and even more guests, everyone from friends and family, investors, to us food bloggers. Guest bartender Tipsy Texan was on hand to serve us some very tasty drinks.

The space is tucked away in a strip mall shopping center, they're still working on signs and lights, but once I walked in I had to do a double take to make sure I was at the right place. The restaurant is darkly lit, but the decorations are colorful and really catch your attention, everything from the Graffiti art at the front, to the painting from San Antonio artists that cover the walls. This place definitely has character and isn't shy about making statments.

Vivo seems to be going for a adult themed type restaurant where folks can hang out listen to live DJs (as seen above in the dedicated DJ station) at the semi enclosed bar, or have a nice dinner in one of the many alcoves of booths and various segmented rooms. It's on the one hand very open and the other, very sectioned off. Music from the DJ is piped throughout the restaurant from the ceiling speakers, so no matter where you are you don't miss out on any of the lively entertainment.

Very sparce shot at foods I'm afraid, the lighting was very dark and was not great for taking photos, I managed to sneak one photo of the nachos in one of the smaller dining room before the whole place filled up. General description, everything I had was extremely yummy, and although everything was what you'd find normally in a tex-mex menu like nachos, taquitos etc, they managed to make a spin everything to taste light and more healthy feeling (alfalfa sprouts on nachos? interesting).

My favorite was the puffy taco I'm told it's one of their signature dishes. The taco shell basically disintegrated in a flaky puff as I took a bite. Crisp lettuce and onions, along with the very flavorful shredded chicken really made this an enjoyable little bite, something I'll be back to order.

I'm very excited that Vivo's moved into the north west part of town. I happen to live near the area and often bemoan the fact that all they have around here is chain restaurants. I'm very happy that a local "more up scale" type of restaurant is testing out the waters here, and I hope some of the Austin character will make it's way up here upon their success. If nothing else, I'm glad that I have another choice in happy hour destinations.

As always it's great to see my blogger friends, HungryEngineer, Apron Adventures, Maggie, Peter from Tasting Buds, DininginAustin, BootsIntheOven, EatthisLens, MisoHungryNow, FeteandFeast and a new friend AustinEpicurean. (whew long list, sorry if I left anyone out)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fall is Back in the Air

Not really any good cohesive theme today. These are a few of the dishes I've had on my list of "gotta try" that say fall to me. It's gotten cold and dreary lately and what better way to warm the bones than with some stews and soup.

Let's start with the main dish, Chicken and chickpea stew. Its a nice blend of spices and vegetables, more reminiscent of a thin curry with more going on than I usually attribute to a stew. The carrots provided a bit of unexpected sweetness to the overall taste. The original recipe called for chicken thigh, but in the interest of trying to cut back on fats I went with chicken breast, in hindsight this may have been a mistake because the chicken thigh would have produced a more flavorful stew it was a call between health and flavor we'll see what the jury has to say about it.

Here we have a nice Penne pasta with Green Pea Pesto. Usually that much basil pesto would really turn me off of a dish, but the green peas really sweeten and lightens up the pasta and toning down some of the richness from the cheese and olive oil. I didn't have to use as much oil to get the pesto together since the peas provided plenty of moisture. I never considered using pea as part of a pesto, but this would be a great spread atop a bruschetta or even stuffed in a ravioli, probably a lot healthier.

This next dish is courtesy Dai Due Supper club, they shared their recipe with the local paper and I've been saving it because it looks so simple and delicious, perfect for a fall feast. It's a roasted oyster mushrooms with arugula, champagne vinaigrette and some fresh gouda. I didn't have the luxury of all of the great farm fresh items as with Dai Due, but the dish was great none the less. The arugula's peppery taste was a great way to finish the smokey earthy taste and textures of the roasted mushrooms. I happened to have some bread on hand and tasted the oil after roasting with the mushrooms and it was fantastic.

For a soup, we have a Ancho Roasted Butternut Squash soup, this really speaks fall to me. The slight heat from the ancho peppers and roasted squash just warms you up. Heck, just looking at it and it's golden brown color warms me up. Again, quite a few vegetables and spices to bring this soup together. Surprisingly, despite it's rich taste there's very little fat and oil in the soup only a drizzle went into roasting the squash.

Recipe requested: find it here. original recipe by Rachel MacIntyre of the Friendly Kitchen

Dessert might have been the only somewhat "bad for you" part of lunch. I saw this recipe for a Buttermilk Pudding Cake with maple raspberries. How is it with the same batter you have cake and pudding at the same time? I was in disbelief and set about making the dessert. Sure enough cutting into the cake/pudding the top was a very light fluffy cake and near to the bottom was more of a pudding like texture. The maple syrup and the raspberries add nice flavors to the cake's texture and together you have quite an amazing cake/pudding.

I had a great time putting together lunch for today. I was sure that my prep the day before would have helped me cut a bit of time, but I suppose churning a 14 lb turkey out in the middle of making bentos does put a cramp on the time management. Anyhow, one more bento before the holiday season starts. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Foodblogger Event: Promise Pizza

The folks at Promise Pizza invited a few of us over to tell us their story and dish out their pies. Promise Pizza literally started out of a garage of one of the owners where they set about perfecting their pizza recipes. The thing that really sets Promise pizza apart from your run of the mill pizza joint is that they are focused on natural and organic fresh pizzas. This required quite a great deal of research, trial and error, but a well fed neighborhood no doubt appreciated their experimentation. From their company owned fleet of deliver Smart Cars to building their facility according to Austin Green Building certification, Promise pizza has a second mission of social responsibility. This includes their cooking facility, equipment, and even offsite facilities (more on that later), a lot of thought and planning went into building the identity of this "more than meets the eye" pizza parlour.

Our kind host was George Cordeiro, one of the four owners of Promise Pizza (we dubbed them the four dudes). He had a wealth of information on not only the struggles and history of Promise Pizza, but also the ingredients, equipment, and effort to turn out quality pizza pies. He explained that all of their utensils, cups and plates are all recycled or bio degradable materials. Everything is all natural here which includes the sodas which are made with real cane sugar rather than the regular fructose. They even have a naturally brewed ginger ale, which was quite tasty.

We started out with a couple of appetizers, stuffed mushrooms and jalapeno poppers. Promise pizza offers both gluten free options as well as vegan options. Both of these appetizers are gluten free. I believe they are working on vegan versions using their special vegan cheese. Very tasty, I think both stuffings were simliar only differing in the delivery vessel. Also up were the garlic cheese sticks, these were delicious a good amount of garlic with a nice thin crust so you didn't feel like you were filling up with bread.

I took a great interest in their equipment (being the gadget geek that I am), in order to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint the folks here at Promise invested in some higher end energy efficient equipment. For instance, pictured to your right is their pizza oven, it forces hot air to cook the pizza via convection (as opposed to top down cooking). The net positive, as explained to us, cooks the pizza faster but also forms the crust quicker to prevent oil from pooling at in the middle of the pizza as evidenced by our not so greasy recycled plates.

So pizza can really be a religion, there are lots of points of view and everyone believes their favorite pizza is the best. Thin crust vs thick, sweet vs garlicky sauce, big pepperoni or tiny coin sized ones, floppy and foldable or crispy and the list goes on and on. For the record, Promise pizza serves regular crust pizza with a slightly sweeter sauce. All of the ingredients are very fresh, someone even commented on how fresh the portobella mushrooms looked on the veggie pizza. I think the real standout here is the fresh ingredients that and the cheese.

You know that stringy, gooey cheese falling of that amazing looking piping hot pizza you see on the commercials? You know the one, it's the opposite of the one you stare, with a great degree of disappointment, sitting on your plate. Whatever the formula they use, they got it right, the cheese was almost absurdly stretchy and there were strings of cheese all over the table even after the pizza had sat for a while. George attributed this to the creamier consistency of the organic cheese as well as the blend of provolone and mozzarella.

Gluten free menu offerings are becoming more and more prevalent these days. I'm glad to see they are offering gluten free pizzas, having done my time it's hard to resist the siren call of pizza. Of note, they only sell the GF pizzas as 8" personal pan pizzas. The pizzas were quite tasty but as with most gluten free options, it's pretty obvious that the crust is not quite the same. The crust was a lot crispier and lighter, almost cracker like. I think the use of ingredients to overshadow the crust was a wise choice. They made it a point to serve the gluten free pizzas last since they have to fire a special oven for the pizzas to insure no gluten contamination. The GF pizzas are prepared off site and cooked at the store. It's good to see that not only do they offer a gluten free menu, but they are well aware of what it means to be alergic to gluten and they take all of the proper precautions.

This was the pizza I came to try at Promise Pizza. A coworker had mentioned that he tried their vegan pizza and it was both tasty and interesting. Vegan pizza huh? I had to give it a shot. If you look closely at the picture you can see cheese shreds in various states of meltiness. The crust was thinner, not as thin as the gluten free, but noticeably thinner. The cheese is the big difference, I don't know much about vegan cheese, but my understanding is that it's hard to find vegan cheese that melts like real cheese and that's really one of the core things that makes a pizza. Apparently after a great deal of research the owners of Promise settled on Daiya cheese, it's a heady mix of ingredients that I couldn't possibly remember. Although, it didn't act exactly like cheese, I have to give it marks for effort. The result was more creamier than melted cheese, kinda like a cheese sauce, I liked it just fine some of the others, not so much.

They were really generous at Promise, we had a ton of pizza still on the table when they started in on dessert, I was only able to remain for the first one, the Cinnamon knots. Pretty self explanatory and they went pretty fast so they were probably every bit as good as they smelled. The other was a brownie that I missed.

I had a great time at Promise Pizza, a big thanks to the owners for inviting us, and the kitchen staff that churned out all those pizzas. If you happen to be up in the Round Rock stadium area drop by and give them a try.