Homemade Brown Sugar

Anyone who has spend any serious time in the kitchen one time or another will realize they are out of a key ingredient. In my case recently that was brown sugar, although I figured that out while at the store luckily. Been even more luckily I remembered that I really didn’t need any. Thinking back to an old Good Eats episode, I knew I had cane sugar on hand as well as molasses. A food processor and then you have all you need to make your very own homemade brown sugar.

Homemade Brown Sugar

Two simple ingredients, that means you need to select wisely. First off I want flavor so black strap molasses it is. Black strap also contains some vitamins and minerals not found in your everyday refined sugar. The second ingredient is the sugar itself. In our house we use Zulka Morena Pure Cane Sugar. This sugar is non-GMO and is not refined, which is why it has a golden color.

Homemade Brown Sugar

The difficult in using this sugar is that it’s coarse. I wanted to really intergrate the molasses, so before I added it to the food processor I let it run for 30 seconds with just the sugar in it to make the crystals more fine.

Homemade Brown Sugar

As you can see from the above picture that is much better. Now add the molasses and mixed until fully incorporated. It should take about one minute. Make sure to scrap the sides of the bowl if a lot is sticking. Place into an air tight container until ready to use.

You can print out the recipe below or go to Food Network’s site to see Alton’s instructions.

Alton Brown's Homemade Brown Sugar
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound pure cane sugar
  • 3 ounces (by weight) Blackstrap molasses (less and not Blackstrap if you want a lighter sugar)
Instructions
  1. If you have a coarse sugar, pour it into food processor and run for 30 seconds to make the sugar fine.
  2. Add the molasses. Process for 1 minutes. Stop and scrap the sides if a lot is getting stuck to them,

 

I used this brown sugar when I made my wife a peach pie for her birthday. It was the best peach pie I ever made! It’s also really yummy on a bowl of cereal with some blueberries on top.

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Phyllo Asparagus Text.jpg

With a new found love for asparagus I have been setting out to try out new recipes to use with this tasty sping time vegetable. As the calendar now turns to summer that time to enjoy asparagus is about up. One last thing I wanted to try was wrapping the asparagus in something. A quick check in my freezer I found the perfect thing to use, Phyllo dough. For those of you now familiar with this product, Phyllo is a dough made out very thin layers of unleavened flour. When I mean think I mean paper thin. When baked off in the oven it creates many layers that are crispy and flaky. It differs from puff pastry dough, which is richer and as the name as puffy. That kind of dough I think would overwhelm the asparagus.

To find the Phyllo dough check the frozen section of your favorite grocery store. Before I use I threw it in the fridge overnight to defrost. For the asparagus I like the thicker ones, I think the taste better. I always cut off the bottom 2 inches of my asparagus as it is too woody. But don’t throw those ends out. They can be used to make an asparagus soup.

Phyllo Wrapped Asparagus
 
Ingredients
  • 1 sheet Phyllo dough, de-frosted
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • olive oil
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • optional - mustard or a mustard/mayo combo for dipping
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Take out one sheet of Phyllo dough. Separate the layers in half so that it won't be too thick.
  2. Season the asparagus with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  3. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus and lay them on top of the dough. Using a pizza cutter, cut of enough dough to cover the asparagus minus the tip.
  4. Wrap the dough around the asparagus and place onto a baking sheet lined with Parchment paper. Drizzle some oilve oil and kosher salt on top of the wrapped asparagus.
  5. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the dough is browned and the asparagus is softened. Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce.

For serving suggestion,  I recommend dipping them in a good mustard like Alton Brown’s Homemade Mustard if you are feeling ambitious. My wife mixed some of that mustard together with some mayo.

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Grilled Pizza

It is true? Does everything taste better grilled? I don’t know yet as I have not grilled everything. But what I have thrown over the charcoal has tasted better. Particularly an American favorite – pizza. A couple years ago I watched Alton Brown make pizza on the grill during the final season of Good Eats. At the time I sadly did not own a grill. That is no longer the case. I followed his instructions last year and the results were wonderful. I didn’t know what to expect of the crust, would it be too flat for my liking? The crust is just about as perfect as crust can turn out. It is still chewy but it has that wonderful grilled flavor that knows your taste buds into a coma!

Alton Brown’s Recipe | Print the recipe

The main thing I took from Alton Brown’s recipe is the dough. I didn’t try his Date and prosciutto pizza as that sounds awful to me, and I didn’t quite follow this Margherita pizza – I made my own. The dough itself is wonderful. The dough makes 3 small to medium pizzas depending on your definition of small and medium. I think keeping the pizza a reasonable size is a good idea considering you don’t want the pizza to be raw in the middle and burned on the bottom. A couple notes below about working with his dough.

Pizza Grill Marks

1. I used honey instead of malted barley syrup. This substitution worked out perfectly fine.

2. I had to add more flour when making the dough. My dough ball wasn’t really coming together so I add a little more flour at a time until the dough starting forming a ball.

3. The one hour rising time was perfect. The dough has doubled.

4. When you get to the second rise start getting your toppings ready and the grill fired up.

5. Each side of the pizza took about the 3-4 minutes Alton called for. The challenge is too make sure your coals if using charcoal are spread even so that you can have even heating.

Again this dough is out of this world amazing! You can use whatever homemade dough recipe you like. Just remember you want this pizza to be no more than a medium size so if your recipe normally makes a large consider cutting the dough in half. Here is how I made my Pepperoni Grilled Pizza.

Grilled Pepperoni Pizza

 

Grilled Pepperoni Pizza
Pizza
Cuisine: Italian-American
 
Ingredients
  • 1 recipe pizza dough divided into 3 small to medium pizzas
  • 20-30 slices pepperoni
  • 1 lb freshly grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1½ cups tomato sauce (homemade if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
  • olive oil for brushing on the dough
Instructions
  1. Divide your pizza dough into 3 pizzas. Roll them into a ball. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it 45 minutes to rise.
  2. Fire up the grill!
  3. Roll out each dough out into a circle. Place on a floured pizza peel or floured cutting board.
  4. Brush with oil. Place the dough flat onto the grill. Close the gril. Cook for 2-4 minutes or until grill marks have formed on the bottom of the dough. Brush the top of the dough with oil and flip over.
  5. Work fast adding the ladle your sauce on top, add the cheese, herbs, and pepperoni. Close the grill as soon as your done. Allow to cook for another 2-4 minutes until the cheese has melted and the bottom has grill marks. Repeat steps for the remaining pizzas.

 

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Parsnip Muffins

The struggle of many a parent. A kid who won’t eat her vegetables. I have a major battle with my 2-year old daughter who doesn’t want to eat any vegetables. We struggle to even get her to eat corn, which seems to be the kid’s vegetable of choice. We have to think of unique ways to get the nutrients of veggies into her. On one of the later episodes of Alton Brown’s Good Eats, we does a show on how to hide parsnips in a variety of dishes. I have been looking to try out his parsnip muffin recipe for a while and finally got to it this week. Visit Food Network’s website to print out the recipe. You will find my notes from this recipe below.

1. The recipe calls for almonds on top. Not a fan, so I left them out.

2. The recipe also calls for 10 ounces of grated parsnips. When I got done grating them, I only had 9oz, so I had to use 1oz of grated carrot. I don’t think this took away from the parsnip flavor in the muffins.

3. It is important that you use freshly grated nutmeg. The flavor is so much better than something that has been already grounded and been sitting in a container for who knows who long. I like to grate my nutmeg with a Microplane Grater. It’s a very useful tool that comes in a handy a ton in the kitchen.

4. When selecting parsnips, try to pick ones that aren’t huge clubs you could knock someone out with. I believe the smaller ones taste better and are less woody. It might be harder to grate but worth your effort.

5. Make sure you spray the muffin tin while or these suckers will stick.

6. Alton says baking time is about 20-25 minutes. I clocked in right in the middle of that with 22 minutes.

It took me a while to get around to this recipe but it was worth the wait. The flavor of the parsnip really stood out – the licorice/anise flavor along with the spice that nutmeg provided was a home run. The muffins were moist too. I would take these any day over a carrot muffin, I do love my carrots. My 2-year old devoured one. Little did she know that she just got some veggies in her system!

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Photo from the NY Daily News

Photo from the NY Daily News

This morning I spend some time working researching ham prices in the home state of Michigan. One ad that I came across offered a Paula Deen Crunchy Glazed Spiral Ham from Smithfield. The ham comes wrapped in a beautiful blue package with the southern queen herself right on the label. Check out this YouTube video to see what I am talking about.

Is It Worth My Money to Buy Paula Deen’s Smithfield Crunchy Glazed Ham?

I am going to answer NO to this question. I don’t think it’s worth the money. Check this example. D&W Market in Michigan is selling Smithfield Honey Glazed Spiral Half Ham for $1.27/lb. The Paula Deen ham costs $2.77/lb. So let’s say you get a 8 lb ham which is about the average size. You would be spending $12 more for the Paula Deen ham. Basically you are buying her glaze for $12. Even if the ham is tasty and it probably is this is not a good deal at all.

What Is In Paula Deen’s Crunchy Ham Glaze?

So what is exactly in this glaze? I couldn’t find the answer online or at the Smithfield website. I was able to find one of these hams at my local Meijer store. Here is what I found on the ingredient list for the glaze: Sugar, Brown Sugar, Water, Honey, Maltodextrin, Corn Syrup Solids, 2% or less of the following: gelatin, soybean oil, spices, salt, potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate. Yep, definitely some ingredients that I would never naturally use in my kitchen. What makes this glaze crunchy? Corn syrup solids?

Other Options for a Crunchy Glazed Ham

There are other options out there that I think would be more economical. Alton Brown has a recipe for a ham with a glaze made of ginger snap cookies, mustard, and brown sugar. This will give you that crunchy glaze and it’s not going to cost you $12 for those extra ingredients, in fact when you are done you will probably have leftover mustard and brown sugar (you probably will eat any remaining cookie with the ham is cooking!). I think this is much better option to get that crunchy glaze you want. Buying the other ham would basically mean you are paying Paula Deen to make the glaze for you and have her face on the packaging.

What About Using a Paula Deen Ham Recipe?

If you still want Paula to be a part of your ham experience, she does have several recipes online that you can give a try to. The one that sounded unique to me was her peanut butter glazed ham. The glaze is made of peanut butter, garlic, soy, and honey. I haven’t tried it before but I might for a different kind of flavor.

As I was searching for a Smithfield/Paula Deen commericial I came across this video of Paula being hit in the face with one of her very own hams. I attached it below to provide you with a quick chuckle.

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The first biscuits that I ever made were Alton Brown’s original biscuits from an early episode of Good Eats starring his late grandmother. That is a good classic recipe that turns out a good biscuit. But what I like about Alton Brown is that he doesn’t just rest on his laurels. I believe in always striving to improve my recipes. I think some of the best recipes I have are ones that I worked on over years, changing little things here and there. Alton has done that now with his biscuits. On an episode of the Best Thing I Ever Made, Alton pulls out his current, best biscuit recipe. This one uses a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour (there is the healthier part!). It also opts for lard instead of butter or shortening. The lard will help make for a flakier biscuit.

Check out Food Network’s website to print out the recipe. You can watch a video of Alton making the biscuits. Here are my notes from my experience with this recipe

1. The first time I made these they didn’t turn out that well. I saw the episode but didn’t make the biscuits for a while. Then I just looked at the ingredients and went to work. I missed a couple steps when I did this – such as folding the dough and placing the biscuits in a round cake pan. I put them on a half sheet pan. Big mistake. They need to be right next to each other to rise the best or they just end up spreading horizontally when they should be vertically.

2. I was out of buttermilk when I made these the second time. So I used Alton’s substitute of mixing 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice with 1 cup of milk. That worked out fine.

3. I came out with 10 biscuits total, after re-rolling out the dough. I had to squeeze them in to fit them into my 9 inch round cake pan. The one he used in the video had a lot higher sides than mine.

4. I bake mine for around 21 to 22 minutes – were golden brown on top. As Alton recommend make sure you wait at least 10 minutes, so they don’t turn out gummy inside.

Alton has definitely improved his biscuit recipe. These have more flavor than the original and a better texture. Kudos for him not resting on his laurels. It also gave me a reason to bring out my honey collection as there is no better use for honey than biscuits.

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This weekend was a lot of fun-food wise that is. My daughter Grace (age 4) has been talking about making tamales ever since she watched an episode of Special Agent Oso called “Tamale’s With Love.” For those of you who have not had the privileged (ahem!) of seeing this show (a million times like I have), it gives 3 “special steps” on how to accomplish a task. This time it was making tamales.

On Saturday Grace headed out with daddy to collect the materials needed for the tamales: corn husks, masa harina, pork shoulder, cumin, lard. All of the makings of a delicious Mexican dinner. The process of making tamales is definitely not just 3 steps, it’s more like 8, so we cooked the pork on Saturday afternoon and assemble them on Sunday after Church. We did our own hybrid version Alton Brown’s recipes for tamales, you can find them HERE.

Following your child’s lead with food is a wonderful way to encourage them to try new foods. Grace has never had tamales, and we were excited that she wanted to try something so adventurous. Her excitement and enthusiasm made the whole day so much fun for everyone. The smells and textures of the food are also important aspects of appreciating flavors, and we always look at it as a process. Exposing children to various cultural foods can be a great springboard for all kinds of discussions about geography and native foods around the world.

We began the assembly of the tamales by making the masa. Masa is corn flour that smells so delightful. Grace and Faithy both helped mix in the liquid and lard to make the dough. Then we soaked the corn husks in water. We talked about how the husks protected the corn on the stalk, and now it is going to protect our tamales when we cook them.

Both girls had a blast smooshing the masa dough into the husks and rolling up the shredded pork filling. Even Faithy (who is only 2) was able to manage the entire process except for tying them together at the end. They were able to get messy and have fun, but they were also helping to prepare dinner.

Once we rolled up all 40+ tamales they got a steam bath for an hour. The whole house smelled like the small streets of a Mexican village.

Once the tamales were finished cooking, it was time for tasting…..or at least, that was the plan. Faithy took one look at the meal and refused to even try a bite. Grace ate about 1/2 of a tamale and said “I don’t love it.” with a sad look on her face. I think she was so excited about making them herself that she was disappointed that she didn’t like them. She did finish her entire tamale, and said “I still had fun making them though!”. SO even though we didn’t have a huge success in the eating department, the girls learned a lot about food, and participated in a fun project with Mom and Dad. And Mom and Dad LOVED the final product–the really were delicious!

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Living on a tight budget causes you to learn how to take cheap cuts of meat and turn them into flavorful dishes. One of those cheap cuts that I use and have talked about before on this blog is bottom round. It’s a cut that will be tough if you don’t do it right. I previously talked about how to roast this cut. But today I am going to take a different direction, one influenced by Alton Brown. Bottom round can be turned into a swiss steak that you can cut with a fork come dinner time.

Below you will find my notes from Alton’s Swiss Steak recipe. The recipe is available for printing via Food Network’s website.

1. You will first need to take your bottom round roast and trim of it any excess fat. Then slice the meat into as close of slices as you can get to 1/2 inch. I have some brand new knives, making the slicing task much easier.

2. Alton uses a needle blade meat tenderizer. You can buy these online via Amazon. I actually got mine as a gift one year bought at Cost Plus World Market.

3. For the dredging I opted to use potato starch instead of all-purpose flour. My son seems to have a sensitive to wheat. Going gluten free with the potato starch was a better option for our family. I also have to watch out for gluten in the stock I am using unless it’s homemade.

4. When you born the meat make sure to watch your heat. Cast iron heats up pretty good. You don’t want really high heat or you will blacken instead of brown. I had to turn my heat down as the surface was getting too dark.

5. Instead of canned tomatoes, I pulled out some tomato sauce from the freezer that I made late last summer. I didn’t want any chunks of tomatoes in it, but you don’t have to follow my example if you don’t mind chunks.

6. I did not have any smoked paprika on hand. Next time I want to use it to add a smoky component to the dish, which I really think completes it.

7. I cooked mine for 2 hours. At that point was a easy to cut with a fork.

Definitely a tasty way to stretch a piece of beef that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. It was easy to make and I had enough leftover to serve again. The only thing I was missing was the smokiness from the smoked paprika. I really got to try that next time, I think it would put the dish over the top.

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Oh citrus what would I do without you in the winter? I never run out of the things to do with you. Sweet treats are definitely high on the priority list. Like sherbet. Fruity, creamy, and delicious. I have made sherbets in the past. I have made Alton Brown’s orange sherbet, which is my go to recipe. I went to it again this weekend. But I change the game a little bit. Instead of the standard juice orange, I opted for something more wild, almost scary even – blood oranges. I knew they would get the sherbet a beautiful color and their flavor would be unique enough to be worth the effort.

Here are my notes from the recipe:

1. In order to get the required 2 cups of blood orange juice I had to squeeze 9 Blood oranges. Since they vary in size and amount of juice plan to use 8-10 blood oranges.

2. One thing I changed from the original recipe was omitting the vanilla extract. I like it in the regular orange sherbet, but I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that unique orange-berry like flavor the blood orange offers. I also left out the lemon juice. Blood oranges have an acidic bite to them, so I didn’t feel the lemon juice was necessary.

3. In the past I just mixed the mixture together in a bowl, but this time I followed his instructions and did in the food processor. This help to assure no big chunk of orange zest throwing off the texture. If you have a food processor or a blender make sure you do the same.

4. I churn my ice cream/sherbet/sorbets in a Cusinart ice cream maker. I have the ICE-20 model, and I have never had a problem with it. They do have a newer model available now.

Blood Orange Sherbet (Inspired by Alton Brown)
 
Ingredients
  • 7 ounces sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons finely grated orange zest
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice, approximately 8-10 Blood Oranges
  • 1½ cups very cold whole milk
Instructions
  1. Juice enough blood oranges to arrive at 2 cups.
  2. Weight out 7 ounces of sugar. Add that to your food processor or blender along with salt, zest, the juice and the milk.
  3. Mix until all the sugar has been dissolved.
  4. Place the mixture into a pourable vessel and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight.
  5. Pour into ice cream maker and process until it's like soft serve ice cream. Allow 2-3 hours in the freezer before consuming for optimal texture.

 

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Giada's Cranberry Orange Turkey

This past Thanksgiving, I picked up 3 turkeys over 3 trips to the grocery store. I couldn’t pass up paying under 60 cents a pound for meat. I tried Alton Brown’s Dry Brined Turkey with 2 of the turkeys, which was amazing both times. I wanted to try something different for the 3rd one as well as review another chef’s recipe. Just after the New Year I pulled out of my turkeys out of it’s cold winters nap and broke out Giada’s recipe for a Cranberry-Orange Glazed Turkey. The daunting task of this turkey was having to break down into pieces as the recipe calls for. But the fun part is getting to make a tasty, tangy glaze with cranberry and orange juice. Below you will my notes from this recipe. To print out the recipe, visit Food Network’s website.

1. The recipe calls for an 11-pound bird. Mine was a little bit over 12. Anything in that ball park of 11 is good. I wouldn’t want to try to cut up a 22 pounder!

2. Cutting this thing was a challenge. I followed the YouTube video below as a guide as I have never done it before. As you can see from above I had a little trouble keeping all the skin attached to the breast meat. In the end, I got all the pieces I wanted even if they weren’t perfect looking. Unless your writing for a food blog, don’t worry about being perfect. This kind of thing takes practice. Or you could do what Giada did and have your butcher do the work for you.

3. The recipe said to cook it for 1 hour 10 minutes before adding the glaze. I decided to check the temperature after that time and I had already reached my thermal destination. So I brushed on the glaze with my favorite OXO silicone pastry brush and just put it back in for 5 minutes to solidify the glaze. I then brushed on some additional glaze.

4. I opted for 100% juice instead of cranberry cocktail. I used Old Orchard which isn’t 100% cranberry, it has cranberry juice in it mixed with some cheaper juice fillers (like apple juice).

5. I decided to make a double batch of the glaze. I already had the ingredients on hand as you don’t use all the juice concentrates and marmalade. I wanted to be sure I had enough glaze to add to the gravy without worrying about having to go light on the turkey. I still had some leftover in the end, good for freezing for another day. I took the leftover orange and cranberry concentrate I had and mixed it all together with some water to make a cran-orange juice.

6. To make the gravy, you use the pan juices. The challenge is that there is a lot of fat to deal with. I don’t own a fat separator so what I did was pour the juices directly from the sheet pan into the widest bowl I had clean. Then I placed that bowl into the freezer for about 10 minutes. This helped to harden up the fat. I then used a turkey baster to suck out as much fat as I could. Don’t worry about getting every last bite.

7. To finish the gravy, I took 1 cup of homemade giblet stock from my last turkey that I had froze. I melted it in a large non-stick frying pan. Mixed in the pan juices, brought it all to a boil. Then I added 3 tablespoons of the glaze. Allowed it to reduce for about 4 minutes. Added 1 tablespoon of butter for that creamy mouth feel.

Final Thoughts
The flavor of the turkey was outstanding. Not too sweet and not too tart. The gravy was unlike anything I ever had. It had that great turkey flavor from the pan juices and stock, but it also the addition of the cranberry-orange glaze brought it to a whole another dimension. The turkey itself wasn’t as juicy as the brined ones I have made. It wasn’t dry by any means thought and the unique gravy helps to compensate. My family enjoyed experiencing a turkey with a different flavor. Next Thanksgiving I will probably still do Alton’s method, but that isn’t a knock against Giada’s turkey, just a testament to how good Alton’s is.

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