Homemade Harissa

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When I think of my favorite flavors for cooking, spicy and peppery are the first things that come to mind. My pantry is full of hot sauces, pepper pastes, and kicked-up condiments. Despite this, I don’t consider myself a chili-head. In my experience chili-heads keep track of scoville units like the Forbes top 100 keep track of their bank accounts. For them, it’s a badge of honor. To the uninitiated, scoville units refer to the ever-increasing level of burn most associated with the hotness of a variety of pepper. To me fire takes a back seat to flavor. After all, what’s the point if I can’t taste anything but the heat? I do like a little heat to certain dishes but not melt-my-face-off-heat. The culinary world certainly has its gold standards like Tabasco and the immensely popular sriracha. Lately however, an emerging audience is discovering a new generation of fiery flavored condiments. Among them are Korean gochujang, sambal, and one of my favorites: the North African chili paste, harissa. Continue reading…

Grilled Tuna Steaks

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I love meatMy family has always eaten plenty of tuna. As a kid, I, however, did not. My discerning palate didn’t much care for anything outside of plain cheeseburgers, French fries, and pepperoni pizza. To me, tuna was something that came out of a small aluminum can and was then mixed with diced pickles and mayo. Under no circumstances could I imagine something that smelled so bad tasting good. Lucky for me, as I grew older my tastes changed as much as my body did. I decided I would try anything at least once. While I’m still not a big fan of the “chicken of the sea,” I’m forever grateful I was introduced to the grilled tuna steak. This recipe is now a staple at my house when high quality steaks are available. Simply put: Tuna steaks = tasty. Continue reading…

Mussels in white wine

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I love meatMany moons ago I was a college student, and like most college students I was lazy, broke, and inept in the kitchen. I relied heavily on a steady diet of pizza, instant noodles, and cheap beer. Fixing a fancy dinner for my girlfriend meant deep-frying a frozen puck of “chicken,” and placing it on top of a pile of overcooked spaghetti – boot-leg chicken parm, if you will. Looking back, my idea of “good food” was embarrassing and it’s downright amazing my girlfriend stuck around and eventually agreed to be my wife. Had I known this cheap and simple recipe for mussels and white wine as a college student, I may have been able to seal the deal with her sooner because it’s now one of her favorite dishes. This fine fare can turn a kitchen zero into a hero, and as an added bonus, it just happens to be quick, easy, and cheap to make. Continue reading…

Smoked Turkey

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­­chicken_logoAs a kid, I hated the holidays. I was a picky eater, and my family members weren’t the best cooks when it came to meat. Most proteins were tortured to the consistency of well-worn shoe leather and were devoid of any flavor. Turkeys prepared around Thanksgiving and Christmas were no exception. These birds were usually so dry even waterboarding them with an entire vat of gravy couldn’t wring out a mediocre eating experience. After enough complaints, the family finally decided to leave the cooking to a local deli. We happily ate that deli’s bird for at least a decade or more.   Years later, I found my stride as a pit master, I suddenly found myself in charge of cooking during the holidays. They cleaned the carcass of that very first turkey I prepared like a school of piranha. Through their hazy tryptophan induced food comas pointed questions about my new found culinary skills came to light. “What the hell took you so long?” “We could have been eating this good years ago!” Do you know how much money we could have been saving?!” Sigh. Below is exactly how I returned the home cooked bird to my family’s table. Continue reading…

Cajun crawfish boil

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I love meatFor me, there is nothing better than cooking a big communal meal for friends and family. My favorite foods to cook often involve large crowds and parties. And it’s icing on the cake if I get to cook outdoors on a warm summer day.  So when my good friend threw his annual pool party, I decided it was the perfect time to prepare a Cajun classic: crawfish boil.  Depending on where you live, you may know these little crustaceans as crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, or mudbugs. I call them simply delicious. So grab a cold one, turn on some Zydeco and let’s cook some mudbugs. Continue reading…

Jamaican oxtail stew

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beef_logo-cOxtails, like many other “scraps” synonymous with peasant food because of its toughness, require lots of patience. These cuts found their way into the pots of the poor the world over because they have been historically very cheap. Eventually, gourmands discovered the deliciousness of these “inferior” bits.  People who would normally have turned their nose up at such a lowly piece of meat have discovered the incredible flavors that are unlocked when someone takes the time and care to cook it with love.

One of my favorite ways to prepare oxtail is Jamaican oxtail stew. Since oxtail is very tough and contains lots of cartilage, it requires a long, slow braise to break it down into soft, succulent, beefy goodness. So, on a lazy afternoon, grab your Dutch oven and a few Red Stripes, turn on some Bob Marley, and discover the joy of creating something rich and decadent from such a tough cut of meat. Continue reading…

Pork rinds. Cracklins. Grattons. Chicharrones.

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Pork_logoWhatever the name, each is synonymous with crispy, crunchy, fried pig skin. While there may be slight variances between each, they all have a rich and regional culinary history.

I like to use every bit of an animal when I can. Bones for stock, bits of extra fat for sausage, and, when it comes to extra pig skin, chicharrones.

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Homemade Bacon : Part 2 The Smoke

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Pork_logoAt the end of Part 1 we made sure we had our salt levels where we want them and our belly had dried uncovered in the fridge over night.  Now it’s time to add one more layer of flavor. Infusing the belly with smoke is the pièce de résistance.   In my opinion bacon just isn’t bacon without a nice kiss of smoke.

Right before the belly is placed in the smoker I like to add an optional coating of black pepper. While the pepper in the cure helps get some flavor into the meat, I’ve found that a nice coat of black pepper right before it goes on really punches it up.  There really is no specific amount here. Use as much or as little as you like.bacon-21a Continue reading…

Homemade Bacon : Part 1 The Cure

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Pork_logoIf bacon had it’s own Twitter account it would have more followers than Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Barack Obama combined. Everyone loves those slabs of salty goodness. Even those forbidden to eat it have been known to long for it. I cured more than 20 pounds to get the photos below, and all of it was consumed before I finished my first draft a week later (With the help of family and friends of course – I’m not that big of a glutton).

I hold bacon’s many virtues on such a high pedestal that I struggled to write about it because the words always felt unworthy. Then I remembered: Bacon is awesome, and you aren’t here to read my attempts at witty prose, you are here because you love it too, so let’s get on with it!

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Grilled oysters with habanero butter

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I love meatA group of friends and I have started an annual tradition of traveling to Austin, TX for the United States Grand Prix. This four-day weekend is one of the highlights of my year. The race is always exciting and the city of Austin is amazing.

The food and gluttony of the weekend are almost as fun for me as the race itself. In the sea of Austin’s amazing restaurants, one that stands out is Lucy’s Fried Chicken. My friends and I enjoy spicy food and absolutely love their Diablo Oysters. I find myself craving them constantly after I return home. So, I decided to head to my kitchen and devise a plan that would allow me to enjoy this dish year round.   The recipe I crafted is surprisingly simple and is fairly accurate replica of those spicy shellfish I’ve come to love. Continue reading…