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Posts Tagged ‘alton brown is my homeboy’

I have to tell you guys, I am cooking for 30 people this year.  Funny enough, this is our usual Thanksgiving at El Rancho Destructo–my in-laws invite all of their family and friends, and it’s a huge party.  I get the tasks of most of the traditional American dishes like stuffing, cranberries and mashed potatoes while they handle the South American dishes like rice with lentils, tamales and salsa.

One of the things that I’m also responsible for is the turkey.  Now, last year I went with the idea of roasting a 29 pound turkey.  FOLLY, my friends, it was pure folly.  Have you ever tried to wrestle a 29 pound bird?  This year, I decided to break down and cook three turkeys, and one of them would be smoked, which I could do several days in advance.  Although I have experience in smoking meats, this was my first time smoking a whole turkey, so after a little research, I worked out a game plan.

I know that there are people out there who hail from the Church of Brined Turkey;  me, I’m really not totally sold on it.  The breast meat can be kind of slippery, and I think the bird doesn’t release enough of those wonderful, delicious drippings that are so important for gravy and drizzling on the pans of stuffing before popping them into the oven while the turkey rests.  However, there is one time I absolutely kneel at the Altar of Seasoned Salt Solution, and that’s when it’s time to smoke poultry.  My worry was the long cooking time and what it would do to the breast meat;  I’ve smoked turkey legs plenty of times, both brined and just dry-rubbed, and the brined legs are far more tender.

As for my brine, I was suckered into buying a brining mix when I went to go purchase my wood at the local BBQ supply shop, BUT, if you want to do everything on your own, I have tried Alton Brown’s brine recipe with great success.  What’s the deal behind brine? you might ask.  The long scientific version is here, but the short version is that in soaking a turkey in a salt solution will cause some of the proteins in the meat to break down to not only create a tender piece of meat, but as the turkey cooks, proteins shrink and release water.  Fewer proteins in the meat means less water gets squeezed out, hence a juicy turkey.  This is necessary during the long, slow cooking process of smoking, which will dry out an unbrined turkey.

The night before, I prepared my brine (and even though I bought a mix, I still doctored it) and lined my small cooler with a plastic bag, filled it with cooled brine and several quarts of heavily iced water.  The turkey went in breast-down, I sealed the bag, shut the cooler, and left it on my porch overnight, where the brine stayed below 40°.  My Sunday morning consisted of pulling myself from my warm, cozy bed to face a damp and chilly sunrise.

You know it’s a good idea to truss your turkey, right?  Of course you do, because you know it helps the bird to cook evenly and keeps those legs looking neat and tidy.  After the long soak in the brine, use a few paper towels to dry off the surface of the bird and give it a little massage with some vegetable oil.  No need for seasoning the skin–the meat is now plenty seasoned enough.  I let the bird hang out on the counter for a bit while I got started on firing up the smoker.

I have a Weber smoker that uses charcoal as its main source of fuel.  I tucked in a few pieces of apple wood with the charcoal for the smoke.

The basin gets set in just above the coals and filled with liquid.  The basin serves a double purpose:  by adding liquid, it protects the meat from being cooked by direct heat, and the steam helps keep the meat moist.  This is also another excellent way to add more flavors by adding aromatics–here there is an orange, an onion, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves and allspice berries.  It also catches all the drippings from the meat, to keep the flare-ups from falling fat at bay.

Approximately at 8:15 AM, our 12-pound bird is placed in the smoker.   The smoker is kept at a pretty even 250° which is done by controlling the airflow to keep a slow burn.

Seven hours later, the thigh is registering 165° and it’s done!  At this point, the turkey has been wrapped very tightly and stored in the refrigerator–I haven’t cut into it for fear of drying out the meat between now and Thursday.  I’ll reheat the turkey before setting it out on the buffet, so I can’t tell you how it tastes right now–but all signs (and previous times I’ve smoked turkey legs) point to having created a smoked masterpiece.

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So, let me tell you what’s happening on Saturday:  The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational will be going on near Downtown Los Angeles, and I’ll be competing.  I was there last year (in fact, here’s a picture of Choo while I was grilling my sandwiches), and this year, I’m back and In It To Win It.  Or, something like that–it’s more about the fun and the cheese, especially since the prizes pretty much amount to plastic trophies and bragging rights. 

Now, I’m not going to tell you what my entry is, but I will tell you that I’m competing in the Honey Pot (the dessert category), and I’m going to share what one of the components of my sandwich will be:  Dulce de Leche. 

Caramel?  With cheese?  Oh, trust me, it works, I promise.  I will reveal all, along with any interesting cheese stories, come next week. 

Anyway, back to the Dulce de Leche. 

I love this stuff.  LOVE.  And if you have milk, sugar, a vanilla bean, a little baking soda and above all, patience, you can have your own, too.  I used Alton Brown’s recipe, even though I made plenty of it during my Border Grill days–it’s essentially the same thing except Alton uses a vanilla bean. 

If anything, do it to make your house smell AWESOME.  No candle could compare to the lovely caramel scent that comes from this. 

Dulce de Leche

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 12 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large, 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.

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Ah, pretzels… a staple of ballparks and Oktoberfests everywhere.  There’s just something to the way they smell, the chew to the crust, the crunch of pretzel salt that brings back memories of good times.  Nowadays, you can find a pretzel stand at every neighborhood mall, and even though they may be tasty, they’re often doused with butter, oversalted, and the crust is all wrong. 

Surprisingly, they’re not as difficult as you may think to make at home, and they’re a great project for the kids in regards to the kneading and shaping of the pretzels. 

I started off with Alton Brown’s recipe as it seems to garnered quite a few good reviews;  I did make a few adjustments to the recipe to suit my personal tastes (don’t I always do that?).  While making the dough, I ended up having to add about an extra 1/2 cup of flour–it was a rainy night, and I do believe that affected the dough by being far too sticky to work with at the start.  I also cut down the amount of baking soda to a 1/4 cup in the boiling solution.  Adding an alkaline is necessary for the distinctive pretzel crust;  In Germany, the pretzels are dipped in a food-grade lye solution before baking. 

Yes.  Lye, the same stuff that’s in Draino and is used in soap-making.  It’s used in other foodstuffs:  it is what makes whitefish into lutefisk and corn into hominy.  I’m not going to tell you not to use it, but if you do (all the directions are out there and easily Googled), use all the proper precautions, because it is, even though it’s food-grade and diluted in water, it’s still a corrosive chemical.   Use goggles, gloves, and most importantly, common sense.  Here, for our uses today, it’ll be baking soda. 

The last adjustment I made to the recipe is I just didn’t bother with pretzel salt, mainly because I’m old and have to watch my sodium these days.  Boo, hiss, I know–but my fingers get all puffy if I’ve overindulged in the salty stuff.  I just gave them a very light sprinkle of kosher salt.   If you’re feeling fancy (and I may do this myself next time), they’d go nicely with a dusting of garlic powder and parmesan cheese, or perhaps a few jalapeño slices and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese just before baking. 

Alton Brown’s Soft Homemade Pretzels

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt

Directions

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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I never knew what love was until I had a homemade marshmallow. 

Okay, that might be a little much, but making your own marshmallows is not as hard as you think, as long as you have two key pieces of equipment:  a stand mixer and a candy thermometer.  I use Alton Brown’s recipe–I’ve used Martha Stewart’s recipe before, but the difference is that Martha uses egg white, which I find leaves the marshmallows very moist.  That’s fine if you’re using (eating) them right away, but if you’re wrapping them up to ship to friends, I find that they turn into a gooey mess after sitting in a ziploc for 2 days.  Alton’s recipe is just right, and they pack up well. 

(Peppermint Marshmallows on the left; Vanilla Bean on the right)

Of course, I did add my own tweaks to the recipe to make them a little more special.  For the vanilla bean marshmallows, I added the seeds from one whole vanilla bean, putting them in the mixing bowl with the gelatin just before pouring in the hot sugar syrup.  As for the peppermint marshmallows, I just substituted the vanilla extract with peppermint extract and added a few drops of red food coloring just before pouring the marshmallows into the pan–the last bit of stirring and spreading will create a nice pink swirl. 

I do believe that I will also try a chocolate version (with the addition of cocoa, in both the water/gelatin mix, and also sifted into the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture) and a spiced version, with adding some cinnamon, cardamom and clove into the coating.  The possibilities are (almost) endless!

Alton Brown’s Marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

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