honey mustard glazed peanuts

Taking an idea from Ideas in Food I got some raw peanuts from Crestview Market, shelled a bunch, added some Marzetti's honey mustard dressing and salt and baked them at 170°F overnight.


After, yum.


Wheat Crackers with toppings

The past several days, a few text-type ear worms got to me and inspired this preparation of crackers. It's good and it's general, have fun with it.

My ear worms
1. @Twixlen got Kitchen Aid dough roller attachments.
2. @Hungry_Woolf, when she was an innocent young blogger, used said rollers to make crackers.
3. My health-crazed most recent favorite writer, Martha Rose Shulman disclosed a cracker recipe as my jumping off point.

water, 100 g
vegetable oil, 30 g
salt, 3 g
atta flour (a fine whole wheat flour commonly found in Indian markets), 120 g
unbleached white flour, 80 g
Mix and wrap in plastic and let sit in fridge over night.  This is a dry dough, not slack; this should be dry enough to make it through the rollers without sticking.  The dough is unleavened, yet, when baked gives a tender and crisp cracker.

Cut dough in thirds and flatten each into a squat, disc and run through rollers on the widest setting.  Keep shaping and reshaping and run through rollers repeatedly until you get a nice long rectangular shape; finish it by running through the next thinner roller setting.
See video below for a typical piece of dough, this takes a little practice to get a feel for the reshaping:

Take sheet of dough and place on parchment lined baking sheet, preheat oven to 350 (convection if you have it) and repeat with rest of dough.

Sheets misted with water, sprinkled with salt, pepper and sesame seeds and rolled lighly with a rolling pin to embed the toppings.  I also score the dough with a pizza cutter so breaking these crackers will be easier when they come out of the oven.  Bake these about 20 minutes, let cool a little and snap them apart whatever shape you used.

Probly coulda cooked these a little more, until browned, but they were still crisp and tasty.  A teaspoon of sugar in the dough would help browning without giving much sweetness.


salt, sugar, pepper, smoke

The past week our smoker's been going full tilt.  A handful of briquettes, some chunks of wood and a (slightly modified) kettle grill can do anything...

First, I lit a few briquettes (Kingsford with the embedded mesquite) and stacked them on one side of the lower grate of the grill using a couple bricks to keep them stacked against the side.  Maybe 10-20 briquettes at any one time.  On the other side of that same grate was a tray of water, to moderate the temperature.  The stainless insert is no longer commercially available, but the extra capacity could also be achieved using the rotisserie collar.  This gives an approximation of the mighty Weber Smokey Mountain.

 This was posted earlier but should not be forgotten.  Some almonds lightly dressed with olive oil and coarse salt and allowed to smoke a couple hours.

This glorious 10 pounds of bacon was a barter job with some friends from Twitter, I think we made out better on the deal.  Thanks @SelimaCat and @M_Herriot!  They cured, I smoked and received oodles of their homemade goodies.  These pork bellies looked fantastic.  They took about 2 1/2 hours. We pulled them and wrapped them in foil when they hit about 140°F.

I grabbed a couple pieces of salmon, mediocre quality, just Kroger stuff and layered them with salt, brown sugar and peppercorns, (no weighing) and let the fish sit in it for two days.  The fish was rinsed thoroughly and smoked about 2 hours while I endured the mania of holiday Target.  It's pretty amazing.  You need to smoke salmon.

With these conditions, the smoking chamber was about 200-225F.  Smoke wood, apple, generously donated by @RachelTayse and @Alex_Baillieul an industrious and creative couple I've enjoyed getting to know.


Cantuccini (retrospective)

I realize a lot of cookies are being cooked right now for exchanges - pththththth to all that, humbug.  But, I decided to pad out a few gift cards with cookies.  I pulled up an old prep and was pleased the recipe held up with not a single tweak.  I made a classic biscotti.


cherry wood smoked almonds

I bookmarked a prep from one of my favorite blogs Menu In Progress long ago on smoking almonds and finally got to try it.  All I did was coat them with a trace of olive oil, shook some salt on them and tossed them in the grill using indirect heat and only about 10-20 briquettes (and water bath).  I also used some traeger cherry pellets and maintained about 225-250F for a couple hours.  On cooling, the slick oily appearance disappeared; the almonds were crisp and smoky.  The only problem, they won't last long.  I think I might even try sugar and salt next time.


Popovers (again)

These little loaves turned out to win my desire like no bread has in quite some time.  But they are fussy.  The most common snag is the collapse.  While I can't claim to have the most robust preparation nor a systematic experimental design, I think I have a few critical parameters ironed out:

1. Ingredients should be at room temperature.  I went to the extreme on this.  I blended the ingredients (eggs 100 g, flour 135 g, salt 5 g, milk 240 g, butter melted 12 g ==> 8-10 popovers) with an immersion blender, poured the batter into an empty soda bottle and let it sit out overnight.  A few minutes before dispensing, I gave it a shake.

2. Baking temperature.  I went nuts on this.  I tried a bunch of dual temp modes and still feel it's unnecessary.  Currently I'm at a constant 425°F in a preheated oven for 30 minutes; I might move to 400°F for a final run.

3. Baking time. Bake LONG enough.  The collapsing popover is inevitable if it's not just shy of being burnt.  This is another reason I'll go with a longer time and lower temp, the popover structure is delicate until fully cooled.  But, 425°F worked well and it's where I'll hang my hat a while.

4. The pan.  Despite my spiffy clean aluminum pans, popovers still stuck and the death knell of the popover puffiness is a tug to get it out of the pan.  I bought a Chicago Metallic mini popover pan, (don't worry, the mini is the equivalent of a standard 2.5/3.0" cupcake pod's volume) and the popovers almost leap from the pan - no sticking at all.  Worth the investment.

5. To preheat or not.  Preheating the pan is common but not always done (Alton Brown doesn't preheat, Ina Gartner preheats exactly two minutes, ...).  A more reliable starting point is room temp, with each cup lubed with a ca. 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.

That's the current state of popovers in our kitchen.  A few more runs and I'll be ready to try some nifty additions: cheese, bacon, etc.


clean your pans - with power tools

When you do venture to popovers, your muffin tins gotta be clean, really clean.  Hot pan, add oil, no stick - I think Jeff Smith (Frugal Gourmet) said that whenever he cooked on cast iron.  It's true.  Once you learn to clean a pan, you may never have to buy a new one again, the thrift store is overflowing with them.  I use a circulating rough wire brush on my drill and go nuts, the pan can take it.
Before / After - this is a real case, out of our cupboard this morning.

click to embiggen, it's pretty impressive

popover time lapse

When baking something infrequently, I need to practice a little before game day.  The staff here at weber_cam love popovers, so I thought we'd make some in the near future and decided to practice a bit.  Their preparation is often described with a batter, e.g., egg (50 g),  flour (60 g), milk (120 g) and salt (3g), some add butter too (melted, 6 g), whisk, let sit at least a half hour and pour into preheated and lubed muffin tins at a high temp for 20 minutes and finish off with a low temp for 20 min to harden the surface, so they won't cave in.  Incidentally, this prep is everywhere, the earliest I've seen is in Better Homes and Gardens, but I'm pretty sure it's as old as the oven itself.

I HATE preps with two temperatures.  Nothing is more irritating in a busy kitchen and no more likely to fail than two temperatures during a 40 min window.  I tried these at 410F (instead of 425/375) for the whole cook time, worked pretty nice.  No cave-ins at the end.  The batter described above makes about 4-5, and I lubed the muffin tin with a small pat of butter.

ps, Ina Gartner, who, like most Food Network stars I can do without, does have a nearly identical prep with good tips.


On a grand unified theory of tater tots and latkes

If history has taught us anything, the latke and tater tot share a great deal: ingredients, process and cooking.  Cooking the potato before mixing, processing and frying is too much, like nuggets of mashed potato.  When shredded raw potato is used in my latke with sparing amounts of flour and egg, a nice - almost rösti is obtained.  In both cases texture is off.  In the tater tot, too smooth, in the latke, a little lacking, closer to a hash brown, still missing the soft potato-ey inside.

What seems logical for the potato pancake/nugget/courgette/fritter is something between cooked and raw.  Partially cooking a potato is tricky, most methods are trade secrets of Ore Ida.  That almighty potato god has specialized equipment and may even possess genetically modified animals who poop partially cooked, skinless potatoes.  We cannot compete with such a force, we can only try to find a tasty facsimile.

Last night, another step closer, this application directed to tater tots.  I shredded Yukon Gold potatoes (w skin) to a coarse shred, put the shreds in a potato ricer to squeeze out the moisture; observed is a starchy liquid pouring from the shreds, it's cool to watch.  I let the suspension down the drain, but it's common to let it settle, decant the water and use the sedimentary starch (for gluten free). The shreds were then chopped a bit so the long shreds wouldn't ruin the appearance of my tots.

 The chopped and squished shreds, very dry.  These were weighed (300 g) and placed in a bowl and mixed with raw scrambled egg (30 g) and flour (15 g, can use potato starch or matzoh, ...), salt and pepper and 1/2 t of baking powder.

When I tried to scoop some of it into a #60 scoop, it didn't hold together well.  I would've added more egg and flour but instead took out my immersion blender, resisted placing my fingers near the spinning blade (that hurts let me tell you) and blended it in several spots to get it more mushy.

 It seemed to hold together better.  Out to the deep fryer, at 350-375°F I placed little balls of the mix in the oil:

Removed and blotted, very low oil retention, clean blot on paper towel.

Were they perfect?  No.  But much better.  Lots of conclusions and directions to go.
1. The only real difference between the tater tot and latke is method of frying; tots are small and need deep frying whereas the latke looks just fine in a layer of oil, frying one side at a time, but the inside texture isn't so different (imo).
2. I might try to try to use more immersion blending to get a little mushier before frying, they were still on the verge of a hash brown.
3. Good friend Becky is a great latke maker and I feel I may have simply discovered what she's done every year at her latke party, so I feel a little stupid now, but the experiments were fun and tasty.  I still can't wait for her party - hint, hint Becky if you're reading!
4. I need to look up some "How It's Made" episodes on potato processing for clues.
5. This is pretty easy, I like the method.
6. Even though it's not perfect, and may never be, I'm ready for other roots, flavors, additions (bacon!), etc.
7. I really need to figure out how to use semicolons.


Latkes, veering recklessly off the path of the tater tot project

After my first attempt at tater tots, I looked around to see if there was agreement on tater tot recipe and process (Food Network, Smitten Kitchen, NYTimes, Bittman, @foodlab).  Thanks to my attention span being that of middle schooler, I found consensus, for latkes.  The gist: raw potato (1 lb), shredded and squeezed of its residual moisture, shredded onion (ca 1/2 small), 1-4 T flour, 1 egg, salt and pepper, and a trace of baking powder.  Mix lightly and fry patty in oil..

I played with this for several mornings in a row.  I'd shred a potato (yukon or russet) rinse the shreds, then press them in a potato ricer, add the other stuff and then fry.  Usually the texture was off, if they were thick pancakes, the inside was gluey, maybe too much egg and/or flour.  And why did I rinse them before pressing?  That part isn't in a single prep, nixed that.

While my attempts were hardly exhaustive or even systematic, I had a nice run and decided to scribble it down here as a starting place.  It's pretty much identical to Smitten Kitchen's only I recorded more precise measurement and used a potato ricer to squeeze the potato/onion shreds.  Unlike SmittenKitchen's prep, this more tedious version should earn me a trickle of  traffic and virtually zero comments (oh, why can't I be one of the popular bloggers, he wept).

1. 1 medium russet potato and 1 small chunk of onion, shredded
2. squeeze the mixture in a potato ricer, take 100 g of that mixture
3. add raw scrambled egg, 10 g
4. flour, 5 g
5. salt and pepper - too tough to weigh on this scale, when bigger, ca 1/2 - 1% salt by weight of the total food mass
6. baking powder, trace - again too small to weigh, when bigger amount, ca. 2 g / 150 grams starch

Mix lightly and plop pancakes into hot veg oil on cast iron, oil near smoking, ca. 350+F at the surface of the preheated oil (determine this with your IR thermometer gun - and get one if you don't have one),  I flatten em when they hit the pan, gently.  Flip after a while.

These were pretty nice.  Tasty, potatoey, toothsome, crisp.  They are now ready to be anointed with applesauce and sour cream.

From here, I'd like to vary things with: sweet potato and yukon, blanched and pressed shredded broccoli and cauliflower and even cut the shreds into shorter strands and use the same mixture for the infamous tater tot (deep fried for those puppies). Using a pourable scrambled egg mixture makes scaling the recipe easier.  A typical large egg from the supermarket is 50 grams, a useful benchmark number to have (if you're me).


The Spiced Life (.com)

I've been buying and organizing spices in anticipation of preparing Indian cuisine.  I think my chappathi are adequate (I need to build on a good starch) and I now need to proceed to some recipes from The Spiced Life.  I'm not sure if Laura is Indian, I think not.*

The problem with native Indian authors, and it's not their intention, is their familiarity with the cuisine.  They can't help cut corners on the lengthy preparation or list of spices, too often suggesting an untested substitution.  Perhaps they fear the reader will be intimidated of the world of spices essential to Indian cuisine; consequently,  a chana masala can result in an Italian-themed, tomatoey, saucy chickpea dish.

Contrary to that, @TheSpicedLife describes preparations with great intention. There are rare suggestions for substitution which results in instructions that the non-native among us - striving for authenticity and new flavors, will not fall into a rut of using the same 5 spices & herbs.
I'll probably start with: A Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry, Greens in Kheema and this vegetable curry.  There are many more recipes I can't wait to try (not just Indian!).  Thanks Laura and wish me luck,  I'm going in.

* Staff at webercam.com have confirmed @TheSpicedLife is not an Indian native.


tater tots, part 1

And now we take a break from the epic latest Firedome post to bring you my attempt at tater tots (didn't work, but I'm close). I didn't read a thing, I just made this up as I thought it should be, a more substantial potato than a russet, egg, salt, flour, deep fry, essentially a deep fried gnocchi, right? Anyway, I did just that: yukon golds, skin on, steamed and riced, fully cooked 550 g salt, 5 g flour, 75 g egg, 1, shaken not stirred pepper, coarse cracked white mixed all and deep fried just as falafel are using a #60 scoop, some action shots ...

 Here's the riced potato and other stuff folded together with a spatula.

 Canola, about 375F.

Deep fried some with 375 degree canola oil.

Making something like this is challenging.  A food originally tasted in the lunch rooms of our youth have dubious origins; reproducing such substances may require advanced degree in science and LOTS of time.  So, one has to decide if the endpoint of such an endeavor is a duplication of what the lunch lady handed out or a toothsome, tasty, potatoey nugget somewhere between a latke and a french fry.  I'm shooting for the latter. 

I never liked Yukon Gold-derived mashed potatoes.  Although the taste is nice the texture is often not soft and smooth, but sturdier.  That's why I thought they'd make a perfect tot.  However, after steaming them and ricing,  they became very soft.  In the final deep fried tot, what happened is a perfect crust formed around what tasted like a pillow of mashed potatoes.  Tasty, but not a tot.

Having read a few preps online, my next attempt will make use of a raw potato, squished of its moisture and treated like a latke.  I'll use a coarse shredded russet or Yukon, shorten shreds, squeeze out excess water (a ricer works nicely for squishing moisture out of taters by the way), and then all the other stuff, flour, salt, egg (and maybe pancetta??).  Should be fun.  You'll all be the first to know how they come out.


Firedome: a Weber Kettle Modified to a Pizza Oven

This is the culmination of a great deal of work making a Weber 22.5" kettle grill into a wood burning pizza oven that will rival any professional oven.

My friend Dave from Baltimore will wince in pain with each step of this handiwork you are about to see. {Dave, the end justifies the means. It will even look cool when finished, trust me.} I'm posting the steps as I go, sometimes I get busy, so this may take a long time to finish, but I hoped it would help to see the progress as it happens.

Other Firedome posts in the series will be listed at the bottom of this post.

Find grill in trash (thanks Paul, Kate and Jim for your contributions!) Pull off those legs, won't need them. <soapbox>Weber, that little tripod of legs on the grill is the suckiest part of the best kettle in the world.</soapbox>

Be safe

Sketch circle in lower hemisphere to cut out.  First remove any sliding vents.

Once vents are removed cut a gaping hole in the bottom with angle grinder. It's tough cutting a circle with an angle ginder, so mine looks terrible, don't worry, it'll cook good pizza and no one will see this part anyway.  Ideally, I should have had a nice circle and circumscribed a polygon and it would've looked nicer, but - you know, it's me, the opposite of a perfectionist, I want the pizza.

Draw this shape on the top half.  This is going to be the door. It's a trapezoid shape about 10" at the top and 20" along the bottom.  The flange will stay intact.  The top 10" line is about 1" away from the handle.  I pretty much eyeballed this, it's a tough piece to navigate with a ruler.

First we'll drill the holes that will hold the hinges.

These are 1.5" zinc coated hinges, they will rust immediately but will last years anyway. Lay the center of the hinges along that line.

Tape down the hinges with clear or duct tape.

This tape will enable you to make a punch on the surface of the dome so the drill won't travel when drilling the necessary 8 holes.

I (ab)used a philips head screw driver and hammer to make a punch on the surface. Do this on all of the holes, remove the tape and drill out the holes with a 1/4" bit.

Making the surface punch with the screwdriver shattered the porcelainized surface, it'll rust, don't worry, this job isn't about aesthetics.

It doesn't look it from the image, but the holes align nicely with the hinge if you make the punches carefully. DO NOT ATTACH THE HINGE YET.  We're going to cut that line first, THEN attach the hinge, having the holes in place before the dome is structurally compromised is easier.

On the other side (the underside of the dome), buff the holes to remove burrs, they'll get in the way when securing the hinge with hardware (rivet or machine screw).

Drill the little hole in the center of the lower line of the trapezoid, just above the flange. Later, we'll put a knob here to use to raise and lower the door.

The money shot.  You may worship me now. Cut the top line of the trapezoid.

Those pairs of holes drilled now straddle the cut.  Put the hinge on and secure it.

I secured the hinge with 3/16" pop rivets, use machine screws if you want, I enjoy rivets, they don't come loose.  Repeat with the other hinge. The rivets are aluminum, but the hinge is Zn-coated steel.  It'll rust after a run or two, but don't worry, I've had the hinges last over a year.  

Put the other hinge on.  Then cut out the rest of the door with an angle grinder.  

Attach a knob using a big fender washer so it overlaps over the edge, this will keep the door from swinging inside the opening.  Realize, the door is cosmetic, it's not needed to cook or anything, I just like it, looks cool.

Final modification: the upper grate.  Place your pizza stone on the top grate, mine is a 13" diameter.  Got it at a thrift store and it's thick!  I've had it for years.  The ruler is there because I was too lazy to pick it up.

Remove all those cross bars with an angle grinder.  This, when assembled, is where you'll be tossing your wood to fuel the oven.  

Next, I'll assemble the entire thing atop a chimnea stand I found in the trash (works swimmingly) and fire it up for a quick pita test run.  Stay tuned.

I use this thing a lot.  I've had tons of flops with it during development, but it's when I learned the most.  The equipment described here is pretty sound, I'm finished with mods on it (for now).  I now cook with oven door open, I use supermarket oak for fuel (briquettes have too much ash for several hour raging cook sessions) and my heat source is on the side rather than in a circle around the stone.  Presumably convection is a big force in this oven's fuel configuration.  I routinely cook 20 pizzas at a run in a couple hours while dining with friends.  The only part I can't describe is cooking with a raging fire.  It takes a little practice.  If you try this, be careful, have a garden hose available in case of an accident and have fun.

Firedome highlights (there are many more in the archives):

1. The beginning of the project:

2. Temperature profiles on various runs:

3. Why you just can't open the lid and toss a pizza on:

4. Me tossing pizza


coming soon...

Common in physical science research and publishing is to squeak out a bunch of brief discoveries in the course of a project called communications.  These tidbits are then assembled in a "full paper." In that time-honored tradition of exhaustively tedious republication of the same thing, I will put together one more Firedome post.

The victim?  During the wind storm last night, this arrived on my deck.  It's a classic Weber 22.5" kettle grill.  I'll cut this baby up guided by observations of my best runs thus far.  This will be a guide for anyone wanting to risk their life to make the perfect pizza - an effort I find deeply satisfying.  Check back once in a while to see the final post.

This kettle generously donated by @ToKateFromKate and @CMHPaparazzi (Kate and Paul, I love you guys.)  


Firedome: a newer version, not a complete failure, just some notes

The Firedome project is my pride and joy. Although I can rely on it for pushing out a nice pie for friends, I still play around with ideas for changes. Here's a newer version that didn't quite work as I wanted, but the final cut shown in the last image reveals what may be a slightly better design than the current one.

The unsuspecting lid generously dropped off by @CMHGourmand, you will be rewarded!

The lid secured to the chopping block. I use duct tape in order to visualize where to cut.

I cut it with an angle grinder and the edges smoothed with a dremel/mini grinder wheel.

Assembled, ignition time. I use a few Matchlight briquettes and then toss in logs. Voosh!  Warmup of the stone inside takes about 30 minutes.

The other, and still functional, lid (thanks @ToKateFromKate) sitting beside the newer design. Notice the closer crop/smaller section removed.  I  also did away with the door, I've never cooked with it closed.  The intent was to see what the convection would be like with a closer-cropped opening. I got lots of smoke - bad! Very surprising given the size of the opening.

 A sample pizza (ok four) were run through for a test (and light lunch). They were uniformly cooked, but the opening made it a pain to get them in and out and feeding wood was also tougher.

Here's another shot where the thermocouple probe wire is visible (on the left). I placed the probe in the side away from the fire (the "cool" side) hooked up to a datalogger. I maintained ca 800-850°F with an occasional spike. The surface of the stone stayed about 800°F at the center.

The temperature profile on the cool side, the probe was placed just below the cooking stone.  It was a short cooking session, this is the hour after a 30 min warm-up.

Given the amount of smoke I saw during the burn, I ripped it open to look more like the previous design opening - only larger. I've opened about a full third of the perimeter. I'll give it a shot tomorrow night.  I'm essentially back to where I started (which wasn't a bad place), but I may have slightly more convenient access.  Incidentally, I get about an hour and a half of high temps from a $5 bundle of grocery store wood.