Archive for November, 2009

PECAN HONEY STICKY BUNS

Pecan Honey Sticky Buns 1

To me, there’s no item in the pastry case sexier than the sticky bun.  Cloaked in a caramel and studded with candied pecans, the cinnamon bun seems downright dowdy when compared with these breakfast beauties.  Like I said in my post for Ham and Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches, I’m not big on sweet starts to my morning.  But there is something I find irresistible about the chewy-crisp texture and sweet cinnamon aroma of a good sticky bun.  And man are these things sweet!

The perfect treat for a large breakfast gathering, few can turn down such a stunning and decadent offering.  With Christmas just around the corner, I can’t imagine a more ideal match than a cup of coffee and one of these warm-from-the-oven buns while opening up presents by the tree.

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HAM & CHEESE BREAKFAST SANDWICH

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich

With a surplus of homemade English muffins lying around just waiting to go stale, I started to wonder if there was another use for them that I’d yet to consider.  Enter the breakfast sandwich.  Like spicy fried chicken sandwiches, I ate my fair-share of these hand-held wonders growing up.  Today, sadly, I don’t make it down to the old Micky-D’s as often as I once did.  Not as keen on eating battery-farmed eggs and sub-par pork products, I’ve been at a loss in my search for a breakfast sandwich made with good, quality ingredients.  Believe me, I’ve checked.  So, armed with a fresh package of organic American cheese slices, a carton of pasture-raised, organic eggs and some preservative-free Canadian bacon, I set out to recreate a more wholesome version of the iconic breakfast sandwich of my youth.

I’m not much of a sweets guy when it comes to breakfast.  In fact, I’ll pass on the french toast, Belgium waffles and pancakes just about any day of the week.  Instead, this is what I crave.  A warm, lightly toasted English muffin slathered with butter, topped with gooey cheese, salty meat and a perfectly seasoned egg.  It might not be brain-food, but with one of these in your belly, I guarantee you’ll be well-equipped to deal with any of the day’s challenges.  So, if you’re like me and love a great breakfast sandwich but are less than inclined to patronize the local fast-food mega-chain, do what I did and make one for yourself.  I think it goes without saying that they were OUTSTANDING.  I’d like to think of them as another perfect example of a fast-food favorite cooked with slow food sensibilities.

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HOMEMADE ENGLISH MUFFINS

Homemade English Muffins

Nooks and crannies.  These three words became my mantra as I set out to bake one of my all-time favorite breakfast staples from scratch.  Afterall, it’s an English muffin’s series of nooks and crannies that really sets it apart from the other breads in the breakfast lineup.  If I was going to replicate anything close to my childhood favorite Thomas’, I was going to have to ensure the development of enough peaks and valleys to adequately support my preferred topping of butter and a little of  my mom’s homemade strawberry jam.

You might be wondering why anyone would set out to make their own English muffins at home when there are perfectly fine specimens available at the supermarket.  To be completely honest, I don’t have a very good answer to that question.  You see, my sister just gave me a copy of the new Momofuku cookbook for my birthday, and while all the recipes looks fantastic, it was the recipe and photo for their signature English muffins that first popped out at me.  As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, I by no means consider myself an expert baker, but it has been in the production of this blog that I’ve developed a renewed sense of adventure in the kitchen.  These days I’m eager to go outside of my comfort zone and share my experiences in the cooking of recipes that I might have shied away from in the past.

It took a couple of days, but the oftentimes finicky process was well worth the effort in the end.  After clumsily navigating the pitfalls involved in working with an extremely delicate dough and the laborious task of religiously flipping the puffy, implant-like balloons of dough as they slowly baked on the cast iron griddle, I found that I was left with a new appreciation for the very makeup of these humble muffins.

So, are they worth making at home?  I’d say yes, if only for the personal satisfaction of watching a pad of butter slowly melt and ooze into all those nooks and crannies of your own creation.

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AVOCADO-TOMATILLO SALSA

Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

You’d never know it, but just off of Highway 1, in the sleepy Sonoma Coast town of Gualala, there lives an authentic gem of a taquería the likes of which are seldom found in the heart of a big city.  Tucked into the corner of the ever-depressing Sundstrom Mall and flanked by a glowing bakery case packed with a plethora of sub-par pastries you’ll find, Gualala Pizza & Bakery.  Try not to let the name fool you — or the locals for that matter (they’ll be the ones inexplicably munching away on pizza and burgers), it’s the Mexican food you’re here for, and man is it ever good!  We’re talking handmade corn tortillas, carnitas-packed gorditas, delectable barbacoa burritos and my personal favorite: Baja-style, beer-battered salmon tacos.  Everything is fresh, delicious and affordable, but for me, it’s their “complimentary” avocado-tomatillo salsa that has me coming back to this place.

Slathered on tacos or used as a dip for their fried-to-order tortilla chips, this sauce is good on anything.  I was beginning to think that I was the only one who had an unhealthy relationship with this spicy green salsa, that is, until a family member stepped forward to shed light on their own addiction.  My sister confessed to regularly smuggling out a few extra containers to use at home for her own culinary concoctions.  It may be paranoia, but I think they might have caught-on to our little scheme because they no longer set out those little plastic cups.  So, suffering from severe withdrawal, I finally set out to whip up a batch myself.

It took patience and careful planning, but by asking the ladies behind the counter a few well-positioned questions scattered over the course of a couple of visits, I was able to deduce that it consisted of canned (not fresh) tomatillos as its base with ripe avocado accounting for its creamy texture.  With only a handful of obvious ingredients (lime, chiles, garlic) making up the remainder of the mix, I played around with several brands of tomatillos and searched for the perfect ratio of avocado.  In the end, I think I got something that’s pretty close.  My cravings have been dealt with for now, but it’s only a matter of time before I get a hankering for one of those unbeatable fish tacos.

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COCA-COLA BRAISED BEEF BRISKET

Coca-Cola Braised Beef Brisket

I’ll be the first to admit that I was bit skeptical the first time I came across a menu item that featured store-bought soda like Coca-Cola.  Convinced that the ingredient was completely superfluous and included solely for the sake of novelty, it wasn’t until I dug into a plate of tender, fall-of-the-bone, Dr. Pepper braised beef short ribs at the Roaring Fork in Scottsdale, Arizona, that I realized it was no gimmick.

I’d like to say that braising meat with the addition of soda brings a flavor to dishes that is unparalleled in complexity and nuance, but after using it as a medium in other dishes, I’ve found it simply contributes a unique, savory sweetness.  This flavor profile seems especially well suited for a tough, fatty cut of meat like brisket.  Long, slow simmering renders what is otherwise a notoriously chewy cut of beef into an unctuous, meltingly-tender meal that is perfect for the cold months ahead.  In the end, it’s amazing how a tough, budget cut of beef and a handful of cheap pantry ingredients can come together to create a dish that is as satisfying and filling this one. I know it looks like the cover image of a Hungry-Man TV dinner, but trust me, this stuff is comfort food at it’s best.

Continue reading beef brisket recipe . . .