Thursday, February 25, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies in descending order of greatness

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pork shoulder: The Method

Few foods are more pleasing than pork shoulder (of pulled pork and carnitas fame. I'm going to say pork shoulder as opposed to one of the two common preparation because I don't want to be limited to the preparations of either of those two variations). It's juicy, moist, flavorful, and unlike say, pork belly, pork shoulder gives the illusion that you're not eating something filled with fat. It's no so indulgent that you feel bad eating it as an everyday sandwich, though I feel somewhat guilty that I've have legitimately eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past two days (I had leftovers from an event that required me to produce mass quantities). It's an escape from the humdrum taste of turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jelly that my peers and I are so constantly subjected to. Perhaps what's best about pork shoulder is that it is very easy to prepare. The fact that the meat is laden with fat leaves large room for error on the part of the cook. This large room for error however means that there is a large range for good pork shoulder. Most pork shoulder is delicious, but how does one make it exceedingly so?

I'm a strong believer in the power of the brine. It's a great way to ensure that the meat retains more moisture after cooking and it is also a great way for imparting flavors into the meat. The pork that I've prepared without a brine has been significantly dryer and less flavorful than that prepared with a brine. For pork I like to use garlic, rosemary, peppercorns, and honey as a starting point from which I add or subtract depending on the application. I brine pork shoulder for 12-24 hours. I also like a dry rub, largely because the sugar I put in the rub helps to ensure a nicely cararmelized and crispy crust. For my dry rub I use smoked paprika, smoked black pepper, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, lots of cayenne, and brown sugar.

To cook the pork I sous vide it because it gives me precise temperature control and lots of other benefits. I sear it on all sides before it goes into the sous vide bad, then I cook it at 176 degrees for 12 hours. To reheat the pork, I take it out of the bag, reserving all the juices and fat in the bag and dry it off as well as possible. I then sear it in a flaming hot pan in some of the reserved fat from the bag--I really like the crispy parts. Then deglaze the pan with the juices left in the bag and pull it apart in the pan. Then DEVOUR.

(Pulled pork, romesco, pecorino cheese)

I don't really like to call it pulled pork, because it diverges from pulled pork in the preparation (i.e. it's not smoked). It's kinda just my own little thing that I've improved upon. Here's a basic recipe.

This makes a 7% salt, 5% sugar solution.
1000 grams water
70 grams salt
50 grams honey
few sprigs of rosemary
4 cloves of garlic
tablespoon of peppercorns

Dry Rub:
I don't know exact quantities for the rub.
About 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp of each:
garlic powder
onion powder
smoked black pepper
smoked paprika

1 boneless pork shoulder

1) cut the pork into 6 pieces.

2) Make brine by bringing all ingredients to a simmer in a pot, then turn off heat, let cool to room temp, then refrigerate until cool

3) Add pork to brine and keep in fridge for 12 hours.

4) remove pork from brine, rinse off, and cover with dry rub. Let sit another 12 hours.

5) Sear pork in a very hot pan until brown on all sides.

6) Sous vide (or alternatively braise in chicken stock for about 4 hours) at 176 for 12 hours.

7) Let meat cool and when ready to serve meat, remove from bag, reserving juices and fat in bag.

8) Sear in a hot pan until a crust is formed, then add the remaining juices from the bag and pull the pork apart as it warms.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Butter vs. Butter-flavored shortening in cookies

Just recently I had a vision of a moment in time, a long time ago, when I was watching Good Eats. It wasn't weird. Sometimes I'm thinking, and certain moments of the past that relate to my current thoughts, pop up.

So I was melting butter to make cookies, and I suddenly remembered this random moment in Good Eats when Alton Brown said that sometimes Butter-Flavored Shortening tastes even more like butter in baked goods. I made a note to get butter-flavored shortening if I ever saw it in the grocery store, and several weeks later, I did, in a huge tub.

I just recently decided to test out my hypothesis and compare it head to head in my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I kept all variables in the experiment constant other than the fat. I noticed that the dough made with butter was much looser, I suppose because of its lower melting point. I much preferred the dough of the butter cookies to those made with shortening. The shortening cookies tasted almost synthetic. My sister agreed.

The finished cookies were a different story. The cookies made with butter were more poofy whereas those made with shortening were more dense and rich (perhaps because the water in the butter turned to steam and provided some leavening?). Though the tasted synthetic before cooking, after they were done the shortening cookies had a stronger butter flavor than the cookies made with butter. I feel that in regular chocolate chip cookies, you don't really notice the flavor of the butter; it's flavor gives way to the chocolate and sugar and you really only get it's richness. Butter flavor was however prevalent in the shortening cookies.
(The one on the left is made with butter, and the right is made with shortening)

Tasters were more ambivalent than I was. Of the six people that I asked, they were split down the middle over which they liked better. I am not completely ready to declare that cookies made with shortening are definitely better than those made with butter (though I did so on my Twitter account a few days ago)--I'd like to do a little more testing. Shortening is however more convenient than butter in many recipes-- it's already at room temperature, and you therefore don't have to wait before you can cream it with sugar. I'm not going to change my Ultimate Cookie Recipe from Butter to Shortening just yet, but don't be surprised if it does happen after further experimentation ;)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Buttermilk-brined, not just soaked, fried chicken

The more and more that I've been thinking, the more I've come to believe that fried chicken, mac and cheese, and biscuits is my favorite meal. I've been obsessed with fried chicken lately, more specifically Popeye's spicy fried chicken. It's consistently crispy and sufficiently spicy for fast food and though Popeye's mac and cheese is sub-par, their biscuits are delicious. It's amazing! I can have my favorite meal for 5 bucks!

Popeye's chicken is delicious espiecially when you have that fast food craving, but the chicken itself doesn't actually have much flavor. I've found that the Popeye's chicken without the crisp exterior isn't worth eating. That just isn't right. I sought to make it right in my home kitchen.

I was excited to test out an idea I had been pondering for a while. Does soaking chicken in buttermilk really do anything other than coat the outside in buttermilk? Can buttermilk really penetrate the exterior? I wasn't so sure. I think of it like soaking chicken in water. The water won't diffuse into the chicken unless it's a brine. Why not make a buttermilk brine to really instill that tangy buttermilk flavor in the meat?

I made a 7 percent salt, 5 percent sugar (honey) brine steeped with thyme, peppercorns and garlic. I used half buttermilk and half water. I used water to steep the ingredients then poured in the buttermilk when it had cooled. I then placed the chicken in the brine for 12 hours.

To fry the chicken, I resorted to David Chang of Momofuku's method. He steams the chicken then fries it at a high temperature for a short period of time. To try for some extra crispness I coated my chicken in flour and then a double layer of breadcrumbs (and even that didnt provide enough crisp). I'll have to try coating them in Panko and/or any other methods for maximum cirspness, but that's another post.

The chicken was overall a success. It was very tasty and had a definite twang that only buttermilk could provide. I wasn't sad when the crisp exterior was gone because the chicken inside was so moist and flavorful. I definitely plan to do the buttermilk brine agin.

The method however, is still in question. I want the crust to shatter, not bend when I bite into it. Another thing--I don't like eating the chicken skin with friedn chicken. It just gets mushy and off-putting under the crisp crust. I'll take that off for next time.

Also to come, experiments with biscuits.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Fridge

Bleu de auvergne, sous vide chicken thigs, sous vide whole legs, sardines in a tin.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I've never really loved sardines, but I can't say that I've ever hated them either. In fact, I think until last week, I'd only heard of their repulsive redolence (I thesaurused odor) in legend. A few weeks ago, Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats in which he outlined approaches for healthful eating. He spiced some almonds and made a smoothie, but what really stood out was his use of sardines. He praised sardines, citing their health benefits and flavor and nearly begging the audience to give these fishies at the bottom of the food chain another chance.

He marinated them with sherry vinegar and some of the oil from their can (buy ones in oil) and made them into a sandwich with avocado. I tried this recipe and loved it, and found that marinating them is key--the acid completely brightens the fishy flavor and the buttery avocado. The toasted bread provides some texture.

I really enjoy sardines now and have been thinking of new ways to use them. Here I marinated them with sherry vinegar, mustard and oil, then tossed in some broccoli that I roasted at 450 for twenty minutes, some peanuts, some red onion, some feta cheese, and some avocado... and it was heaven. Enhanced with some acid, sardines are savory, satisfying and salubrious (I thesaurused healthful) and are even part of a sustainable lifestyle because they are at the bottom of the food chain and therefore use up negligible amounts of resources (wow, English teacher would kill me if she saw me adding new information in the conclusion). Do give them at least chance ;)