Category Archives: Taste This

Cocoa Nib and Oat Muffins

Just made these and they taste incredible! I didn’t use any whole wheat flour and cut the nibs to 1/2 cup. I’m really happy with how amazing these taste.

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A modernized chocolate chip muffin. Cocoa nibs are the more sophisticated parent of the chocolate chip morsel. Roasted, hulled, and a step away from becoming processed; the cocoa nibs are basically raw chocolate pieces…tiny bits of cocoa beans. Similarly flavored like coffee beans and texturally a bit crunchier, it’s ideal to devour this muffin alongside a cup of coffee, dunked perhaps? Additionally, of course, I had to throw in some oats and whole wheat flour to bump up the nutrition.

IMG_0965 After a day on the counter awaiting the next day’s breakfast routine, these muffins became a bit crumbly. They still tasted great with a swipe of butter, but I have a personal preference for soft muffins. Just a forewarning if you eat on-the-go…

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Cocoa Nib and Oat Muffins

makes 6 jumbo-sized muffins

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup golden brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup all purpose flour

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Best. Pinto Beans. Ever.

I know I’m making big claims, but I know you will be hard pressed to find better beans elsewhere.  I grew up on Great Northern beans where the seasoning consisted of diced ham, chopped onion, salt, and pepper.  That’s how my mom cooked them.  Great Northern beans are a very neutral legume, so this simple preparation is satisfactory.  They used to be my favorite, but after a couple of years testing out different pinto bean preparations, I have decided that I would much rather have pintos.

Pinto beans are also versatile.  I’ll have a bowl of beans.  I’ll make refried beans with leftovers to enjoy with eggs.  Leftovers find their way into chilis, stews, and even spaghetti.  If you have a great recipe that calls for beans, these lowly beans will elevate the the dish to levels that cannot otherwise be attained.

 

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds dried pinto beans

2 beef short ribs

1 bell pepper

1 stalk celery

1 anaheim chile

1 white onion

1 link andouille sausage

2 strips bacon (finely chopped)

1 tablespoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground thyme (I usually use dried thyme leaves, but this is what I had on hand)

1 teaspoon mexican oregano

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

2 teaspoons chimayo blend chile (more on this later)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup red wine

7 cloves garlic-minced

2 tablespoons beef base

2 teaspoons cumin

1 can Rotel

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

 

Method

Sort and soak beans in water the night before.  Rinse thoroughly before you are ready to cook.

Chop all vegetables and set aside.

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Pre-measuring spices can save some effort later. I have to do this if I’m measuring spices. I never do. I just toss them in as I see fit. That wouldn’t be a very good recipe to share, though.

Measure seasonings. (paprika, thyme, oregano, white pepper, chimayo blend chile, and black pepper.  (I purchased this Chimayo blend chile online from New Mexico.  They are known for their Hatch chiles and I want to do everything possible to make my beans taste great.  I’m merely sharing where I bought my chile powder because I like the product.  If you want to use something better than McCormick, that is one place to look.  By the way, I use many different McCormick products.  They’re great.  When you find something even better, you need to snatch that opportunity.)  Save the cumin until later as cooking it too long can make it bitter.  Add seasonings to a bowl for a later step.

the Maillard reaction is beautiful to behold.
The Maillard reaction is beautiful to behold.

Preheat pot.  I use a cast iron dutch oven for my beans and it has served me well.  Once heated, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Salt and pepper beef short ribs and brown.  Remember the Maillard reaction I described in my jambalaya recipe?  This is important for flavorful beans.  Typically, the meat will initially stick to the bottom of the pan.  After it has formed that crust, or scab, the meat will release.  At that point, you can turn the meat to brown the other sides.  If you are really patient, you can brown the edges with the aid of tongs.

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I love the smell of meat in the morning. Or ever.

Remove the ribs and set aside.  Hopefully, you have prechopped the andouille.  I prefer Manda, but Savoie’s is a good choice.  Cut it lengthwise.  Then cut the two halves lengthwise again.  Now you can dice it up into small triangle-ish pieces.  Add the andouille and finely chopped bacon to brown.

Add vegetables to increase taste factor.

At this point, add chopped vegetables and cook to soften.  Once the vegetables are about halfway done, add the garlic and short ribs.  You don’t want to add the garlic too soon or it could turn bitter.  All vegetables will be ready for the next stage once the onion is translucent.

 

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We are about to have some beautiful bean footage.

Add 1/2 cup red wine (I had some Bordeaux on hand).  I don’t drink, but I often cook with alcohol.  Never use cooking wine.  It is inferior.  I don’t know how to judge wines, but I figure a $10-$15 wine will work nicely).  Deglaze pot with wine and add in beans, spice blend, and Rotel.  Fill pot with water and simmer slowly for about an hour.

At this point, you can add cumin.  (I actually have a spice blend that I got in Honduras.  I know the main ingredient is cumin, but I have not identified the others.  For all I know it’s ground coca leaves.)  You also want to add the beef base.  I’ve used both the powdered and pudding-like base.  I like the latter one better, but the former is easier to store and doesn’t take up valuable refrigerator space.

This is a good time to remove the beef ribs to cool.  Once cooled, dice up what little meat is there and reintroduce to the bean pot.

Simmer around another 1/2 hour to an hour and you have an incredible pot of beans.

These beans go terrific with flour tortillas or buttery cornbread.

This is my recipe that I finally wrote down to minimize variation.  Feel free to share it, but please credit me accordingly.  Also, if you have a better recipe, I’ll be glad to try it out.

 

Dinnertime.
Dinnertime.

 

Maple Cake with Mocha Frosting

A friend of mine lent me her stand mixer so I could see if I wanted (or needed) to buy one myself.  I have been baking a lot of cakes lately, and depending on where I have been baking them, I either mixed them with a hand mixer or by hand with an authoritative spoon.  It is work using a hand mixer, but when you are cooking full sized sheet cakes with nothing more than a spoon, it becomes work.  Fast.  The stand mixer runs laps around my puny arm.

This is much more effective than my puny arm.
This is much more effective than my puny arm.

Today, I decided to create a maple cake with mocha buttercream frosting.  I loosely based this cake on the same recipe I posted the other day.  As a matter of fact, this cake is nothing like it.  The required ingredients are as follows:

 

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I’m using Honduran extract)

 

Frosting

1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup baking cocoa

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coffee extract

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix butter in a bowl with brown sugar until smooth.  Blend in maple syrup and oil.  Slowly add flour, salt, and baking soda.  Once well mixed, add two eggs and buttermilk.  Finish off with a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Greased 9 x 13 sheet pan and pour in batter.  Bake approximately 30-40 minutes.

While cake is baking, beat 1/2 stick butter with whipping cream, confectioners’ sugar, and whipping cream.  Once smooth, add vanilla and coffee extracts.

Maple cake with mocha frosting.
Maple cake with mocha frosting.

Pour frosting over cake while still warm.

Enjoy.

Note:  The edges of the cake seemed a little hard, so next time I will try with white sugar instead of brown sugar.

Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

Note:  the featured image above is from a full sheet cake.  the cake wasn’t thick as I didn’t have a high walled cake pan.  Cakes are better when they are so tall they won’t fit into your mouth unless you unhinge your jaw like a rattlesnake.  Photo was taken by Josh Guthrie.

Over the past few weeks I have been looking up cake recipes and even had a few ideas of my own.  My family loved the chocolate-peanut butter cake with banana frosting.  Personally, I thought it was too sweet and the peanut butter seemed to overpower the banana.

This isn’t a cake recipe, but recently I made peanut butter-bananas foster chimachangas with marshmallow.  That was our supper one night.  Again, the family loved it, but it was too sweet for me.  I’d like to revisit both  make some adjustments to make these winners.

I have an exceedingly hard time following recipes.  Yes, I can read.  Yes, I can follow simple directions.  Just not in the kitchen.  Does that happen to you?  At the last moment, I always have something I want to change to make it better.  With this impromptu baking I have learned that cakes, breads, etc. can be very forgiving.

I did find a recipe that was anomalous.  It was a cake recipe that I had no desire to change.  I have make this cake four or five times in the past month mostly for me to gorge on, but the family loves it and so does everyone else who has tried it.

I cannot eat enough of this cinnamon-chocolate cake.  Instead of walnuts I used pecans. That’s what was in the pantry. Today’s cake was a little different as I only had enough granulated white sugar for half of what the recipe calls for. The other half was brown sugar.  See, these changes were out of necessity, otherwise I would have *gasp* followed the recipe as written.

I just ate a piece and it was moist and airy.  Doesn’t Mexican chocolate have cinnamon in it?  This recipe just has enough cinnamon to wake up the chocolate.  Chocolate is great.  The cinnamon enhances the chocolate flavor that you cannot rest until the cake is devoured.

Today's cake.  I made this four times or so in the past month.
Today’s cake. I made this four times or so in the past month.

I really wish I could take credit for this cake. I’m considering a cinnamon-maple cake with coffee frosting. If it’s worthy of sharing, you’ll be the first to know.

Chicken, Pork, and Sausage Jambalaya

I’ve been a fan of spicy cajun food my entire adult life. I began teaching myself to cook sixteen years ago and have enjoyed trying to make cajun dishes that were palatable. It is no coincidence that I started my cooking journey a week after I met my wife.

I’m sure it’s a typical story. I met Heather 12/11/2007. The following weekend she invited me over for dinner. Man, was I stoked! I love food. I can’t believe I met a woman who could cook.

I showed up for dinner at the appointed time and was surprised that we were eating Hamburger Helper. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Hamburger Helper, but on a first meal at home you put your best foot forward. That night I decided that I was going to learn how to cook. The following weekend I began my foray.

That first meal was one I made one or two times prior. We had spaghetti with homemade sauce. It was quite tasty as I watched a friend make it numerous times. This friend was a good cook, but he never let me get any hands on experience. I watched him intently for two years as I was surfing his couch.

When I first started cooking, say the first five years, not all meals were as tasty as that spaghetti. I worked until midnight and the first year or two, I would go to Albertsons after work and make pot roast, pork chops, even chicken fried steak. I’d normally eat around four am and it was common for me to crank out some meal complete with mashed potatoes and gravy. Many of these meals were disappointments, and occasionally were downright inedible. Today, I rarely make something that embarrasses me to feed to my dogs.  If I get distracted the dogs may have some awful treat to enjoy.

My culinary skills have vastly improved over the past three years. I have many friends who are professional chefs and they are always happy to give me cooking tips. I like to tell people that I’m finally becoming an adequate cook.

Today, I had to make jambalaya for a catering event. I’ve made it before, but I haven’t been happy with previous efforts. There is money on the line here so I have to make sure it is acceptable.

I looked through recipes and decided I could adapt this one. I made several changes and I hope you are happy with this endeavor. I hope you try it and tell me what you think.

I just remembered that I forgot bay leaves. I intended to add maybe seven to the pot. Remember that this recipe is for 50. You can use some fancy math like division to reduce the amount. I’d do it for you except I’m lazy.

Here’s the ingredient list:
5 pounds pork loin
15 pounds bone in chicken thighs (after deboning you will have around ten pounds of meat)
5 pounds sausage
3/4 pound bacon
2 large onions
3 bell peppers
1 bunch celery
3 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp chili powder (I used New Mexico Hatch chili powder I ordered online)
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp dry thyme
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
10 cups rice
21 cups water
6-8 ounces chicken base

Add all dry ingredients in a bowl to add later.

Marinating pork loin.
Marinating pork loin.

Trim pork loin and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Marinate in soy sauce, mustard powder, and white pepper.  I didn’t use a lot of any of these ingredients, just enough to coat.  Marinate in refrigerator for two hours.

Place chicken thighs on baking sheets.  Cover liberally with Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning.  Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Chicken cooling.  Don't forget to debone.
Chicken cooling. Don’t forget to debone.

Remove chicken from oven and let cool.  Meanwhile, chop vegetables.  Since you have the knife out, chop smoked sausage into 1/4″ rounds.

Down Home is one of my favorite sausages.  They manufacture it in Stonewall, LA, which is maybe fifteen minutes from where I live.  I couldn’t find a website for the company, but I included a link to a radio station I used to work at where they give the down low on the Down Home.  No, I have not received any plugola.  If they gave me free sausage, there would be plugola, but I would tell you about it.  Somehow, I don’t think it’s plugola unless it’s a secret, though.

Last thing to cut up is to cut up the bacon.  Cut that into small pieces.  Once cut, toss the bacon into a heated pot to render.  Once partially rendered, throw in the marinated pork loin.  After it is browned it is time to put the sausage in.

I was watching some cooking show a couple of years ago where this old man was cooking a monster pot of jambalaya outside.  He kept saying that you want to cook the sausage so it is scabbed up.  He’s right, you want scabby sausage.  I was unable to do it this time because of the sheer volume, but when I have a manageable batch, I cook the sausage so it is nice and scabby.

Before you blow scabby chunks, let me explain.  This old cajun may or may not have gotten all technical on us, but he was describing the maillard reaction.  Chemistry stuff happens to the meat when you brown it.  Think of a really nice crust on a steak.  That crust is the scab this old coot was describing.

No scabs on the sausage. I’m just not awesome enough to do it with this huge batch. If I had a tilt skillet, though, I would’ve rocked the scabs.

When you have a scabbed up pot of sausage, you want to add the vegetables and saute until soft and the onion is translucent.  I wait until this moment to add the chicken.  Remember that chicken?  Well, we forgot to debone it.  So, before you burn up a pot of meat, be sure to have deboned the chicken prior to firing up the stove.  After it’s deboned, I spread it back onto a baking sheet, apply some more Tony Cachere’s, and let it crisp up some at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Now that we are back on track, don’t add the chicken until the vegetables are sauteed.  This way, you can avoid tearing up the meat from over stirring and whatnot.

This is the moment to add your dry spices and Worcestershire sauce.

I add the base to the water and stir until well mixed.  Then it’s time to add the rice and base-infused water.

Jambalaya is ready to simmer.
Jambalaya is ready to simmer.

Simmer the conglomeration of meat and rice for around 50 minutes while occasionally stirring.  It is actually desirable to have the food stick to the bottom of the pan to get some crusty bits.  Remember?  Maillard reaction?

One big, swingin' pot of jambalaya.

Once the water is absorbed, it’s time to eat.  Enjoy.

Best. Cornbread. Ever.

I have to admit that I don’t eat cornbread very often. I like it alright, but I think the sensation of having sand in your bread is a bit off-putting.

There are basically two types of cornbread: sweet cornbread and not sweet cornbread. I mistakenly thought southerners like sweet cornbread. I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions based on a southern friend who always shared his sweet cornbread with me at work.

I had a catering event yesterday and made a nice batch of cornbread. As a matter of fact, I was so enamored by it, I had to continually share my experience.

The caterees also shared their experiences. They likened the cornbread to cake and claim they thought they had two desserts. Claim #1: cake is good. Cakey cornbread is great. Claim #2: are two desserts such a bad thing? Of course not.

I perused many recipes and finally found one that I wanted to adapt.

1/2 cup corn meal
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar (I reduced the sugar. I can’t stand hyper sweet)
1 1/4 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon honey
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (buttermilk rocks for baking)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (trust me)

The directions are all the same in the original recipe except after the cornbread comes out of the oven.

This is when you grab a stick of butter and slather it over the top. There is nothing more satisfying. You don’t melt the whole stick, just enough to butter the top.

Finally, lightly dust the cornbread with cinnamon. It really makes it come alive. I know it may sound unconventional, but I’m sure you will enjoy it.

I now know that southerners should like sweet, cakey cornbread. And unsweetened iced tea.

The Brownies I Can’t Forget

There was a time where I had an incredible memory. I knew everything there was to know, or so I thought. The most vivid memories revolved around food. For the past three years or so, I have documented my life with food pictures. Most of my pictures are of my kitchen creations, but there’s also a smattering of other memorable meals.

These past three years it seems that my life memories are disappearing. I’m forgetting even the context of food pictures. Who made it, how it tasted, where it was eaten seems to be slipping. I’ve decided that I need to capture the context before these food memories disappear altogether.

This house is missing the ground floor.

January 2012–I headed to Trussville, AL to volunteer with Mercy Chefs to feed hot meals to the tornado victims. When I arrived, it was determined that Mercy Chefs wasn’t needed as Samaritan’s Purse had the situation under control.

I just drove nine hours from Shreveport . I wasn’t going to turn back so I was allowed to volunteer in the kitchen as a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer.

We provided most meals but some meals were served by local organizations. Grace’s Kitchen served up some delicious meals a couple of times during the two weeks I was there.

This trip is beginning to get fuzzy already, but I don’t think I could ever forget the cappuccino brownies.

I remember them vividly. I was sitting at a long table with maybe thirty volunteers, most of whom I had never met. I sat across from this guy that moderately resembled Harrison Ford. He was telling me that he was an electrician and he traveled and volunteered his time.

Maybe he was a plumber, I can’t say I wasn’t really paying attention. Something about being a former alcoholic and whatever else he was saying about carpentry or Hungarian ice wrestling. I was too busy thinking about these brownies to pay him much mind. I’m surprised he didn’t mention my glazed eyes.

These cappuccino brownies floored me. I knew I had to have them again. Fortunately for me, they posted the recipe on their website. I don’t even have to suffer through a conversation with some Blade Runner wannabe.

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My friend, Josh, shot the picture of the brownies. I was able to pay him in brownies.