Archive for January, 2010

ASIAN-STYLE CHEX MIX

I can remember eating Chex Mix by the handful as a kid.  Seems like wherever there was a birthday party there was bound to be a bowl of the stuff lying around, just waiting to get picked over by the ravenous scores of children in attendance.  I mean, the mix was usually devoured within moments of being put out on the table, which meant that by the time I had a chance to do my own digging, the only things left were those dehydrated, brown croutons and a few broken pretzel pieces lying at the bottom of the bowl — certainly not anyone’s favorite components, but damn good, salty snacking nonetheless.

These days, I’m not being invited to as many five-year-old’s birthday parties as I once was, and by default, haven’t been eating as much party mix.  However, after coming across a recipe for an updated, Asian riff on the classic snack mix in a recent Food & Wine Magazine, I decided it was time to get back in touch with my inner child and get down 0n s0me party mix.

This stuff is as addictive as the mix sold in bags at the grocery store, only with a whole lot more of the items you’ve always wished you’d find inside of them.  Cashews, almonds, pistachios, pretzels, sesame sticks, Asian rice crackers and Chex cereal all get coated in a mix of pure maple syrup, soy sauce and fragrant Thai curry paste for spicy, salty-sweet flavor combination that will leave you craving a refreshing beverage to wash it all down with. The perfect compliment to a nice, tall glass of homemade lemonade and an even better match to a frosty-cold beer, you’ll find few snacks as enjoyable to munch on while watching the big game as this uniquely delicious party mix.

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ROASTED CHICKEN WITH A MUSTARD CRUST

I’m sure they wouldn’t like to admit it, but even some of the world’s most accomplished home cooks struggle when attempting to roast the perfect chicken.  The fact is it’s far easier to make a roasted chicken look good than it is to make it taste good. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down to enjoy what I believed to be a perfectly roasted chicken — the quintessential golden brown bird flecked with black pepper and fragrant herbs — only to cut into the thing and find it bone dry or worse, still raw at the bone. Or, and this is perhaps worst of all, a combination of both, so that you end up hacking it up and destroying the only thing it had going for it: its good looks.

But this roast chicken? Well, it’s an entirely different beast, or rather, bird.  First, it’s the smell. An intoxicating aroma of garlic will start you salivating. Then you’ll notice the skin. Not only is it golden brown, it’s crisp, like really crisp.  And beneath that exterior you’ll find the juiciest and most tender chicken you’ve ever cut into. But it’s the flavor that will leave you coming back for more. The marinade’s combination of garlic, mustard, soy sauce and herbes de provence create a flavor that is at once familiar and completely unexpected. In addition to the marinade, the cooking method is also unique. Unlike typical whole roasted chicken, this recipe calls for you to butterfly the bird. Not only does this help the meat cook more evenly, but it also allows you to sear the bottom of the chicken before throwing it in the oven and cook it in half the time of a usual whole roasted chicken. Sound perfect? It is. But don’t take my word for it.

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GUACAMOLE


Let me start by saying that this is a recipe for guacamole the way I like to eat it.  Not too chunky, definitely not too smooth, bright with lime juice, and not a tomato or garlic clove in sight.  That’s right — I like to leave out the garlic and diced tomato you sometimes find in other recipes because I want the avocado to be the star.  In fact, I find the addition of garlic, even in small amounts, tends to overpower the delicate flavor of a good avocado. So, what makes my version so unique? Nothing special, really.  Just a few basic techniques that I find produce a perfectly textured, beautifully balanced guac that is as good as a dip with chips as it is a condiment on burritos, tacos and enchiladas.

My guacamole starts with ripe avocados — not the hard, vegetal tasting variety that you’re likely to find when they’ve just been delivered to your local supermarket.  With avocado prices what they are these days, in my opinion, it’s not worth the time or money to make guacamole unless you can find soft-ripe, buttery avocados to do so with.  This sometimes takes some careful planning, giving slightly under-ripe specimens the appropriate time needed to reach the proper level of ripeness.  Next, I give my guacamole a nice, healthy dose of freshly squeezed lime juice for a clean, citrusy note and finely minced serrano chiles and “deflamed” red onion for a bit of heat and textural contrast.  Finished with a bit of chopped cilantro and a good dash of salt and I’m left with a true a crowdpleaser.

This recipe doubles easily, so next time you have a group of friends coming over or are tasked with the duty of bringing a dip to your next potluck, throw out a bowl of this guacamole and watch it disappear.

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BUFFALO WINGS WITH BLUE CHEESE DIP

I know what you’re thinking — two recipes for chicken wings in three posts?  It might be a bit excessive, but the fact of the matter is, I can’t get enough of them. I love wings, my friends love wings and if the rising price of chicken wings counts for anything, so does the rest of America.  So, for all my readers who might not might not be into the fish sauce or sweet chili-glazed variety, I’m here to offer you a recipe and proper technique for the classic New York-style buffalo wing.

I grew up eating hot wings from a local Bay Area chain called Original Buffalo WingsOn the nights we were lucky enough to call them dinner, my Mom would order up a “double dozen” along with a bag of fresh fried potato chips and an extra side of blue cheese dip for the crispy (albeit anemic) celery sticks.  Bathed in a velvety, vinegary coating of hot sauce, the wings always remained crisp — a textual enigma which I long considered a well-kept secret of the buffalo wing trade.  Having made these a handful of times now, I can tell you that there are actually few secrets to a great wing.  Just get a hold of some fresh, meaty chicken wings, dry them well to promote even browning, fry them in small batches, toss them with Frank’s RedHot sauce and a bit of margarine (gasp!) and you’ll be left with the the quintessential, finger-lickin’ good buffalo wing.

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BBQ BEEF SANDWICH WITH BLUE CHEESE COLESLAW

I spent the weekend barbecuing in the rain.  Sure, Winter might not be the best time to break out the Webber and smoke some meat, but having lived in a San Francisco apartment without access to a yard for a couple of years, I’ll take any opportunity I can get.  I spent the past few days away at my parents vacation home in Sea Ranch, and despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to keep me cooped up inside, I decided to brave the elements and experiment with an old recipe that I’ve been meaning to try for a while now.

When it comes to barbecue, for me, it doesn’t get much tastier than a good pulled pork sandwich topped with a tangy, vinegary coleslaw.  I’ll order them whenever and wherever.  In fact, on a business trip to North Carolina, I spent nearly $40.00 on a round trip taxi to a local BBQ joint claiming to have the best pulled pork in all of The Carolinas.  However, having spent so much time dedicated to finding the ultimate pulled pork sandwich, it recently donned on me that I’d been neglecting another hallmark barbecue staple — the BBQ Beef Sandwich.

Now, what you see above is by no means authentic or traditional in any way, shape or form.  This recipe is an adaptation of one from America’s Test Kitchen’s, Cook’s Country for a knock-off, quick riff on the beef-centric barbecue of Texas.  Knowing that I’d be missing the slaw found on its pulled pork cousin, I decided to whip up a batch of creamy coleslaw studded with rich blue cheese – one of beef’s best friends – as a crunchy condiment.  Placed atop some fluffy brioche hamburger buns I found at the local market, I was left with a sandwich that was instantly catapulted into the ranks of some of the best I’ve ever made.  Smoky, saucy and beefy, these sandwiches pack huge flavor.  This recipe is great for a crowd and can be prepared well in advance of service once you have the smoking out of the way.

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