Saturday, February 27, 2010


This is a great way to crank up the flavor profile of your garden-variety tortilla chips.  Super quick.  Super easy.  Only three items.  

Tortilla chips (we like Santita's Yellow Corn)
Chili powder
Trechas Salimon

The Method
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit
Place desired amount of chips on sheet pan
Sprinkle chips with chili powder and Salimon
Place in oven for 8-10 minutes

Food for Thought
Toasting the chips greatly enhances the nutty corny yumminess and improves the crunch factor logarithmically.  Salimon is a salt that has a citrusy zing.  This is an easy way to dress up your next Southwestern or Mexican menu or even just a simple snack of chips and salsa.  Buen provecho.

Monday, February 22, 2010

O-O-Onion Rings

So here it is.  The recipe for perfect onion rings. 

3-5 yellow onions
3-4 c. buttermilk
2-3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. Panko breadcrumbs

1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Canola oil

The Method
Slice onions to desired thickness and separate into rings
Soak onions in buttermilk for 15-30 minutes

Combine flour (about 2-3 cups), paprika, salt, cayenne pepper and baking powder in a large bowl  
Remove onions from buttermilk.  Place onions in flour and toss to coat
Place coated onions back in buttermilk and then re-dip in flour
Remove rings from flour and dredge in Panko breadcrumbs
Place onions on a sheet tray, cover loosely with foil and refrigerate for 3 hours 

Heat oil in fryer to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Deep fry onion rings in batches for about 3 minutes per batch.  Remove to cooling rack to drain.  Add additional salt and try not to eat them all as they come out for the fryer.

Food for Thought
Slice onions to whatever thickness you prefer.  Some like bigger, fleshier slices.  I like medium to thin slices overall but a variety is good. 

Can't find Panko bread crumbs? Winco has them in the bulk foods section.  They are a Japanese product specially manufactured for super crunchiness. 

Curious about the 3-hour rest after the double-dip and dredge?  Do not skip this step - just do it!  It makes a huge difference as it allows the various ingredients to meld.  The finished product of this process is a ring with no separation of the onion and the batter like you get with lousy frozen rings.  Besides, with this technique, you can do all of the heavy lifting, as well as the clean up, way before mealtime. 

For an excellent accoutrement, try bleu cheese sauce consisting of about 1 1/2c. whole milk, 1/3 c. crumbled bleu cheese, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. minced garlic over low-medium heat and whisk occasionally until a smooth consistency is achieved.   You may wish to drink it with a big straw but it is best on the onion rings.  Enjoy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Triple D Comes to Town

No - Guy Fieri did not roll in with the classic Camaro to see a local food joint.  Rather, we decided that for dinner we would try something from an episode we saw recently; pot roast sandwiches with gravy and onion rings.  This came from episode 83 of Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" where the show profiled a place in Chicago called The Depot.  It was great.  A nice break from the traditional Sunday dinner pot roast.  My favorite thing about this was the onion rings, which I actually took from a different episode of the same show. 

Having grown up as a french-fry kid, I now prefer good onion rings over fries (though as you can see, on this night we made both).  They were crispy, crunchy golden-brown perfection.  After years of trying different recipes for onion ring batter, including a laborious recipe which called for whipped egg whites to be folded in, this batch was perfect.  This was the culinary equivalent of pitching a no-hitter in baseball, a 300 game in bowling, or getting a tripe-double in basketball - but in the Diner Food category.  In honor of the onion rings and the Olympics, I thought about hanging one of the rings from a ribbon and putting it around my neck - except there weren't any left.  After achieving such a state of perfection, one might be tempted to do as Henry David Thoreau did when, as a laborer in a family pencil company, decided that after making a pencil he considered to be perfect, quit his job.  Given that onion rings are much tastier than pencils, I am not tempted to quit and move on  but to make more!  I may share the onion ring magic on a future post.  In the meanwhile, give me a call or post an inquiry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bread Pudding

Of all of the things we can credit to merry old England with its' empire building and so forth, excellent food is usually not at the top of the list, and that is as it should be.  Even so, there are a few standouts for which we have to thank our friends across the pond; fish and chips with malt vinegar, trifle and savory meat pies.  And bread pudding!  One wonders at the true origins of this beautiful concoction, given that it is basically French toast or pain perdu with a longer soak time.  Not that the French were creating something truly original either since Pan Dulcis, an Italian variant dates back to ancient Rome.  Still, let's give credit where it is due.  I believe that many if not most great culinary discoveries are the results of some serendipity.  And in the case of bread pudding, it sounds logical to me that someone trying to make some French-type toast just left the old bread in the custard too long while getting distracted by the Baron coming to collect his exorbitant rent, by herding the sheep or by studying dentistry (just kidding on this last one).  So then having no additional kitchen stores of bread and eggs, this accidental genius tried to salvage what he or she could and Presto! Bread Pudding! 

Note: This recipe make 12-14 servings (maybe more since a little of this goes a long way).  For smaller groups, reduce all ingredients by 1/2 and use smaller dish.  

The Ingredients
6 medium-large eggs
2 c. granulated sugar
4 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. whole milk
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. orange zest
8 c. 1-2 inch cubed French bread
1 1/2 - 2 c. dried cherries

1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice

The Method
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
Lay cubed bread out evenly on large sheet pan and place in oven for 10-12 minutes
Transfer bread from sheet pan into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes
Pour custard over bread
Add cherries
Fold until all pieces are evenly coated with custard
Press down on bread to ensure coverage, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Give bread and custard a final stir prior to adding to large baking dish (about 9x13 inches)
Bake for 60 minutes

Allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Combine corn syrup with fresh orange juice and place over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.  Serve bread pudding warm and drizzle with orange syrup. 

Food for Thought
Many dishes like this call for day-old bread.  Whatever.  Just cut and toast your bread and it will work fine be it fresh or not.  I just think that toasted bread is better than stale bread.  The point is, that dry bread will take up the custard without getting too mushy.  Like any good dish with  a lot of eggs, the volume of this dish will expand at the end of baking.  The finished product should also have a golden-brown appearance.  

With the combination of oranges and spices, this just tastes like Christmas, which is great in the winter.  However, if you are craving bread pudding in the warmer seasons you may alter the above recipe by leaving out the spices and fruit and substituting dried blueberries and doubling the lemon zest - no orange, and using lemon juice instead of orange for the syrup.  For a tropical version use only 3 c. milk and 1 c. coconut milk (we prefer Thai Kitchen), substitute 1/2 of the vanilla with coconut extract and throw in some fresh pineapple and mango.  Finally, dairy is a no-brainer with this.  Recommended pairings are cold milk and/or fresh whipped heavy cream.  So good - and good for you!? 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Livin La Vida Locavore

The Oxford University Press had this to say about the relatively new but exciting locavore food movement:

The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.

The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

“Locavore” was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.” However it’s spelled, it’s a word to watch. (

It is obvious to me that such a philosophy would be formed, articulated and advocated by an individual or group from a place like California. You would not expect to find someone from Montana or Wyoming promoting such an idea. I don't think it would appeal to Idahoans to subsist upon a cellar full of potatoes and onions for the whole winter.

I think the idea is brilliant for the many reasons stated above. Even so, I do not think that all aspects of this philosophy are perfect or of equal importance. But when it works, it is great.  

Two recent examples have been carrots from our neighbor Wendell's garden and oranges from our friend Devon (who just happens to live in California which, she likes to boast, has year-round growing seasons). I think it would be great if we could all be locavores. I think, regardless of our climate, we can buy local inasmuch as we have local dairy and livestock industry or other foods that do not require warm weather year round for those of us who don't live in the an area referred to as "the salad bowl."

As stated, the first dilemma however, is that for many, the climate doesn't offer a great deal of variety in local fare for much of the year. Let's face it - Shoo Fly Pie is a unique and wonderful treat - but the Pennsylvania Dutch did not start out with a great idea to make a dessert just out of flour, molasses and butter. The recipe was a dictated by their resources, a good (and delicious) example of the so-called "pantry principle" where, in the scarcity of late winter and early spring, they were left without other ingredients they would have preferred to use in making a pie or other dessert.

So it is that necessity is the mother of invention and, as it turns out, the creator of Shoo Fly Pie and its relatives in France and the American South, where so many great recipes find their origins in times of scarcity and poverty. There is an old saying - German I think - which says, "Hunger is the best cook." This is not simply because things taste better to us when we are hungry (remember that Big Mac that started out so appetizing but near the end made you wish you'd never been born) but because great inspiration and creativity flow when cooks are faced with limited resources.

One other limitation to the locavore philosophy is that, there are so many excellent types of food from different parts of the world that without importing/exporting through the complex global distribution networks in place for that purpose, some of us might never know what an avocado tasted like or get to make our own pan-seared butter and herb scallops. I would never get to eat a wonderful California orange without visiting California personally. And if you think black truffles are expensive and hard to come by now, imagine if you had to go to Alsace in order to partake.

And speaking of oranges, last December I looked forward to buying a big box of Sunkist oranges, as is our custom. Where as we had a great box the Christmas before, this purchase was a complete disappointment and should have been sold as rawhide chews for dogs. Although I know, as Jerry Seinfeld told Kramer about purchasing produce, "Produce is a gamble. I know that going in." I was, nevertheless very disappointed.

Enter our friend Devon; kind, altruistic benefactress and purveyor of great produce. She has not only sent us the most beautiful avocados (not Haas, Floridian or other type you can even get in the market but a special hybrid only available in her locale), Meyer lemons, and so forth but we have been enjoying a surprise delivery of oranges which are so unbelievably sweet and juicy that they are difficult to peel or dissemble without losing more juice than store-bought oranges have in the first place. As it turns out, a bread knife works great for breaking down oranges like this with minimal mess and loss.

And so I say - Hurray for oranges and the people who send them! Hurray for our own local agriculture and livestock industries! Hurray for good weather to grow our own eats! And hurray for the producers, transporters and sellers of those things which we can't get from local sources! 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Baker's Dozen

One of the best things about living in different places is also one of the worst things about living in different places; delicious food that you can't get anywhere else.  After living in a foreign country or even a different region of your own homeland for a while, you develop an affinity for certain things that you can't get when you leave that place.  What is a relocated foodie to do when he or she gets that inevitable jones for pavlova, fish and chips, homemade corn tortillas, brisket or a sloppy and succulent cheesesteak (known to everyone outside of Philadelphia as a "Philly Cheesesteak" which means it is not really like in Philly at all)?  Having lived in the great state of Pennsylvania several years, I naturally developed a great love for the excellent breads, pizza crusts, soft pretzels, hoagie rolls and other baked goods there, which you just can't duplicate elsewhere owing to the alkalinity of the regional water supply, altitude, humidity and so forth.  And there is one other baked good for which one yearns after living in the East; donuts. 

On a particular street corner in Northeastern Philadelphia, I could see three Dunkin Donuts and one Krispy Kreme.  Now that is a place that loves donuts!  While driving to an unfamiliar destination with a friend who was also new to Philly, we had to stop at an Acme supermarket and ask for directions.  We didn't know much about the area but we knew we were in trouble when the woman who gave us directions told us to turn left at the Dunkin Donuts.  Thanks for nothing. 

Notwithstanding an absolute paucity of the well-beloved maple bar that we take for granted in the West, I had more than my fair share of donuts in the Keystone State.  When in Rome!  It has been many years now and though I have the occasional donut, including the classic maple bar, nothing comes close what I experienced then.  Until recently, that is.  Out of curiosity, and with guarded expectations born of previous disappointments, I happened to wander in to Baker's Dozen.  Truly, the best donuts I have had since leaving Philly.  The double chocolate is practically a twin to the Dunkin Donuts version.  But what absolutely blew my mind was the Old-Fashioned, which is a masterpiece of taste and texture and the best donut of any variety I have had anywhere. 

So the next time you want a great donut, go to the Baker's Dozen at 561 S. Woodruff in Idaho Falls.  But consider yourself warned; they close at 2:00 p.m. and once you go, you will be haunted with regular cravings thereafter.  And by the way, when you order a dozen, you get 13, hence the name.      

Monday, February 1, 2010


Cornbread is a classic with many useful applications.  It's great for campouts, picnics, brunch, church chili cook-offs and watching the big game.  It can go sweet or savory and the basic batter seen below can take on additional ingredients (cheese, bacon, other veggies, blueberries, etc.).  Our latest tweak on this recipe occurred last Thanksgiving when, instead of cornbread stuffing, we added  sautéed celery, onions, garlic and additional seasonings you would find in cornbread stuffing and hit it with a little turkey gravy.  It was incredible!  It was everything we love about stuffing and nothing we don't.  Now dubbed as "stuff-out", we expect this to be a family tradition for years to come.   

3/4 c. unsalted butter
1/3 c. sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 c. milk
1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal (preferably stone ground)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. canola or corn oil
1/2 c. frozen corn kernels, thawed

The Method:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Prepare 10-inch cast iron skillet or glass baking dish by spraying lightly with canola oil.  Baking parchment paper may be cut-to-fit and laid down in the bottom of the dish, though this step is not necessary if you have a clean, well-seasoned surface on your cast iron.   

Add 1 Tbsp. of canola or corn oil to a sauté pan on medium heat.  Add thawed corn kernels to pan and add a few pinches of salt.  Sauté for 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside. 
Cream together butter and sugar in electric mixer.  Add the eggs, one at a time allowing a few seconds for each egg to be incorporated into the mix before adding next egg.  Decrease mixer speed and add milk and corn kernels.  In a separate bowl, add flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine.  Add dry ingredients to mixer and mix on low speed until incorporated but still somewhat lumpy (don't over-mix).

Pour batter into center of cast iron skillet.  Bake for 24-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Place skillet on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Invert skillet and dump cornbread onto cooling rack.  If baking parchment paper was used, peel paper layer away.  Flip cornbread from cooling rack to cutting board and cut into wedges. 

Optional but recommended: Cut each wedge in half with bread knife or other serrated knife.  Place cornbread halves on grill, cut side down on direct high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Apply butter, honey, fruit spread or other favorite spread and enjoy.   

Food for Thought:
A little extra work makes a big difference.  Two additional steps here greatly improve the taste and texture of this cornbread: first, the addition of corn that has been sautéed and sweated to remove some of the moisture prior to adding to batter and second, finishing the cornbread on the grill.  It is wholesome crumbly, corny deliciousness.