Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Open-faced BBQ Chicken Wonton

The first time I had this crispy-chewy, salty-sweet dish, I fell head-over-heels for it. I wish that I could take credit for creating it, but the but those rights belong to my inventive wife. I re-created it for my family last Saturday. Needless to say, we all stuffed ourselves until we couldn't move!

 - Wonton wraps
 - Chicken
 - Your favorite Barbecue sauce
 - Sharp cheddar cheese
 - Cream cheese

I started with a Costco whole roasted chicken (very tender and juicy!). I shredded it thin enough that it wouldn't pull off other chicken when bit into, but not so thin that it was mushy. Then I added enough barbecue sauce to cover every shred without over-doing it and losing the flavor of the chicken. 

Next I fried the wonton wraps in some vegetable oil. It is easy to over-cook them, so be careful! It only takes about 30 seconds to 1 minute with the oil on medium heat to brown them perfectly. When they were done, I set them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. This helped keep them from getting soggy. I also salted them lightly immediately after pulling them from the pan.

When the wontons and chicken were ready, I began building the dish. I started by spreading a generous layer of softened cream cheese over the wonton. Then I added a scoop of BBQ chicken, and finally I topped it with sharp cheddar cheese. Other garnishes can be used to add color and flavor. The key is to strike a balance between the amount of cream cheese, chicken, and cheddar. I found that equal amounts balanced very well. The sharp cheddar cheese was noticeable but not overpowering, and complemented the savory-sweet BBQ chicken. If you choose to use a milder cheese, consider using more so that the flavor is not overwhelmed by the barbecue sauce.

I paired the open-faced BBQ chicken wonton with a dark green salad covered in balsalmic dressing, and a baguette with some spinach dip. Even though the flavors were distinct, each part of the dish supplied a unique flavor combination that was complimentary to the others. If I could do it over again, I would have the chicken much warmer before plating it, enough to melt the cheese a little.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm a travlin' man

This summer has been nothing short of wild for me and my family. If you have been wondering why I haven't posted anything in 2 months, I'll give you a run-down:
  • April 12th we left Rexburg, most likely for the last time. If you ever get a chance to visit Rexburg, find one of the two taco buses in town, and gorge yourself on some of the best Mexican food you'll get north of Flagstaff.
  • By April 22nd we had been to San Francisco and Camp Pendleton (to see my best friend and his family), and were on our way to Phoenix. In Phoenix we stayed with some old friends and made some delicious food (I'll be sharing that recipe sometime soon :). 
  • After a few days we were on the road again, this time making the trek to Lafayette, LA to see my parents. We stayed one night in a dirty, overpriced hotel, but man was it nice to have a bed! 
  • We stayed for a week in Lafayette, where we enjoyed a whole new world of food. Believe it or not, I had my first gyro at a festival in downtown Lafayette, and I was sold! We tried a few patently Cajun foods, including boudin (a unique, uh..., sausagey thing) and a fried chicken kabob. Yup, you heard right, they made a chicken kabob, dipped it in batter, and fried it all the way to heaven (did I mention we bought it at a gas station?). Aubrie has declared that chicken to be the absolute best she has ever had. 
  • While in Lafayette we also had the chance to visit the Tabasco factory, where I had my first-ever bite of spicy ice cream. I suppose it is poetic that such an even occurred deep in the South...

  • After Lafayette we headed to Birmingham for the wedding of my brother, the Marine, to my now-sister-in-law, the TV news producer. 
  • The last leg of our journey took us through Nauvoo, IL, a teeny-tiny town with huge importance to my family and religion. I actually got to see a plot of land that one of my ancestors owned! Through a bit of serendipity, I happened to run in to a buddy from college. That has proven to be one of the most important events to have occurred this summer (more details on that, later).
We finally arrived in Houghton, MI nearly a month after our journey began. Interesting fact: the McDonalds up here puts salt and pepper on their burgers. I don't know if this is a new, company-wide policy, but let me say that it makes a world of difference! Up here in the UP they have a unique dish I haven't seen anywhere else, though I am told they have a version of it in Montana: The Pasty (short a, not long a ;). I hope to try my hand at making one, and to take you along the ride with me!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Key Lime Pie a la Emeril Lagassi

This tangy and uber-sweet concoction is sure to make your mouth water. I could hardly control myself while digging into this pie. By the end of the night there was not a single delicious morsel left!

I can't claim this one for myself, so here is the recipe I used to guide my pie-cooking experience:

Picture of Key Lime Pie Recipe

Here is an interesting fact: acidity in a dish is what makes your mouth water. Literally. After having a piece of this pie, I was drooling like a toddler! I was afraid that the sweetness would be overwhelming, but the sour cream topping brought a wonderful balance to the dish. The crunchiness of the graham-cracker crust created a flavor dichotomy with the limey filling that was perfectly complimentary.

If I do it if over again, I would do one of two things differently (maybe both): I would either add another egg to the filling or I would chill at a lower temperature for longer. While the pie was delicious, it did not set as well as I would have preferred (thus why there are no pictures. Well, that and it was gone before I could get my camera out!). If you make it before I do, tell me about your success!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bacon-wrapped BBQ Ham

I'm sure all I had to say was "bacon-wrapped" and you were sold! This sweet, tangy, and savory dish will warm your soul. It is sure to be a favorite with bacon fans!

 -Long strips of bacon (any kind of smokey flavor and seasoning is appropriate)
 -Ham shank cut into thick rectangles
 -Your favorite BBQ sauce
 -Shredded cheddar cheese

Your ham shank should be pre-cooked when you purchase it. If for some reason it isn't, cooking one of those well is another beast in, and of, itself. So, let's assume your ham is cooked. At my house we cook the whole ham, then cut it up and freeze it in ziplock baggies. A whole ham shank can last us 2-3 weeks, and at $1.50/lb, it is waaaaay cheaper than getting most any other kind of meat. But I digress... I'm sure you are more excited to hear about the bacon!

I used long rectangular pieces of ham small enough that it only takes 1-2 strips of bacon to wrap the piece completely. As I wrapped the ham, I overlapped the sides of the bacon. being careful not to stretch the bacon width-wise. Otherwise, the bacon-to-ham ratio would have been somewhat less than desirable. I placed the bacon-wrapped ham on a cookie sheet with the ends of the bacon down; this keeps the bacon from pulling away from the ham. I put a little bit of BBQ sauce in a strip across the top, keeping in mind that the how tangy-sweet the sauce is. Too much sauce would overpower the flavor of the meat, and too little wouldn't bring enough flavor. Finally, I garnished the ham with some shredded cheddar cheese. I broiled it in the oven just long enough to brown the bacon and give it a little crisp.

When I took my first bite, I was surprised at how moist the ham was. I believe this could be because the ham was moist enough when it was originally cooked, and broiling it cooked the bacon quickly enough that the ham didn't lose a ton of moisture. The BBQ sauce added some moisture and smokiness, complementing the bacon very nicely. The melted cheese added a nice texture element, and the crispy-outside, moist and soft inside was reminiscent of the texture of perfectly-cooked pork chops. My mouth is literally watering right now thinking of it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sweet and Savory Pork Stir-Fry

In my family, we eat so much Italian food, that sometimes I unconsciously start impersonating Marlon Brando. A couple nights ago I caught myself making my son an offer he couldn't refuse, and I knew it was time for some variety. This is what I came up with!

 -Rice noodles (I actually used pork-flavored Ramen)
 -Pork (I used pork loin)
 -Soy sauce
 -Asian spices (all I had handy was garlic and sesame seeds, but ginger works really well, too)

I started by slicing the pork loin paper-thin with the grain. Cutting it this way allows the muscle fibers to contract more freely during cooking, giving the meat that curly shape characteristic of meats in Asian foods.

After cutting the meat I placed it in a bowl with a soy sauce and sesame seed marinade and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. By cutting the meat thin, the surface area to volume ratio is maximized. Thus, the meat rapidly takes in flavor from the marinade, reducing the amount of time necessary to achieve delicious and juicy pieces. Interesting note: when I took the meat out of the fridge, it had absorbed a noticeable amount of the marinade. We could definitely taste it later!

Next I prepared the noodles by cutting each sheet into thirds. I cooked it in water like the directions specify, but pulled the noodles out of the water before they were fully cooked so that they could finish cooking in the stir-fry. I cooked the meat on high heat. Then I set it aside in the pan and cooked the eggs separately to get nicely-sized pieces of egg. I added the frozen vegetables to the mix, then finally added and finished cooking the noodles.

The most beautiful part of this meal was the sweetness. The noodles had a very mild flavor and the egg added very nicely to the texture. The sweet peas and carrots contrasted very nicely with the savory-saltiness of the pork. I topped it with a little bit of black pepper and paprika to add a slight pungent note. This meal was truly a masterpiece, if I do say so myself!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Keys to Good Cooking

For anyone interested, here is a link to buy the book I talked about earlier:

Umami, Oh so savory

I admit, that, up to this point, my blog has been somewhat less-than-scientific. Truly, I try to view food and the preparation of food from a holistic perspective, but I find it most fascinating to ask and explain why. Recently I have become fascinated with the five basics tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, or savory. As it is with most people, the umami taste was the most unfamiliar to me, so I decided to start researching it first. Here is what I have discovered:


Taste has been recognized throughouot literature as primarily a chemical interaction. Kikunae Ikeda, who introduced the world to the concept of umami, observed that, "there must be a close relationship between the chemical structure of a substance and its smell and taste." Four of the five tastes mentioned above have been recognized for quite some time. Ikeda conjectured that a fifth taste existed that was "brothy, meaty, or savory," and could not really be described as a combination of the other basic flavors.

Here is where food science departs slightly from the traditional notion of science: Taste is highly subjective. I have a theory that this is related to the fact that every one has different amounts of the basic chemical receptors we all have in common (I will be researching this in the near future and will let you know what I discover). Thus, an individual is likely to perceive the "flavor chords" of a particular food quite differently from anyone else. For example, I suspect that is why some people are sensitive to trimethylamine in foods, otherwise known as "fishy" taste. I mention all of this because each of us will have a different appreciation of savoriness. Most of us have tasted salt, sugar, highly acidic fruit (sour), and onions or beets (bitter), so those flavors are easily recognizable. However, savoriness is not so easily distinguishable.

The chemical which has been attributed to umami was first identified by Ikeda in an experiment involving macroscopic marine algae, also known as sea weed. Glutamic acid was discovered to be the savory culprit.

Ionic glutamic acid

Okay, for those who are not brushed up on their chemistry/biology, lets refresh our memories: Glutamic acid is an amino acid, and amino acids are key components in proteins (is it starting to make sense why meat is called "savory"?). When a purified acid is in solution, or liquid form, it breaks apart into pieces called ions. Ions have electric charges on them, and can combine with other oppositely-charged ions. One ion that glutamic acid ions readily bond with is sodium; its chemical formula is NaGlu, but most of us know it as monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

As it turns out, the ionic form of glutamic acid is what gives the savory sensation on the tongue. Salts of glutamic acid, such as MSG and MPG (monopotassium glutamate), are simply a convenient glutamic acid delivery system used to enhance savory flavors. A lot has been said of the dangers of MSG, but research has proven that, in general, MSG is as safe for human consumption as salt or sugar. Interesting fact: the lethal dosage of MSG is five times higher than that for salt. If you have concerns about MSG, check out the Wikipedia site. It has some great references and presents some compelling data.

I hope this has been as enlightening for you as it was for me. If I have presented anything you believe to be inaccurate, I would love to hear your comments!

Pi Shirt

Check out my Facebook page!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New cook book

I just got this new book in the mail today. For a while I have been getting ideas from recipe books, but I started feeling like I could do more if I really understood food. I started doing some research and learned about a guy named Harold McGee. He is one of the principles behind the midden food movement known as Molecular Gastronomy. Well, considering myself to be like-minded, I found the cheapest book I could that he had written. I have already read through the first seventeen pages, and it seems to be EXACTLY what I have been looking for. As I make my way through the book I'll give you my thoughts. Check back weekly for updates!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Scrumptious Cheesy Potato Soup

I made this soup for my family last Sunday. I put a little too much black pepper in it, but my wife, who hates black pepper, could not stop eating it. The best part: its a mix-it and forget-it type meal that is simple but will keep you coming back for more.

 -Red potatoes, sliced or cubed your favorite way
 -Assorted veggies, try to stay sweet, stay away from the acidic (I used corn and carrots)
 -Chicken Stock
 -Some sort of meat, or beans if you want to go veggie-style (I used chopped ham)
 -Flour and fat (to make a roux, I used margarine)
 -Cheese that is creamy when melted (I used medium cheddar)

I started by making some chicken stock with water and bullion. At this point I really wasn't too sure what kind of soup I wanted, so I surveyed my pantry and discovered some red potatoes. I sliced the potatoes thin to maximize uptake of flavor and added them to the boiling stock. After I added all the potatoes, I decided I wanted to make the soup creamy, so I melted some margarine and made a roux (for the uninitiated, it is pronounced "roo"; I'll be doing a special next week talking about how to make and use a roux). I added some of the chicken stock and shredded cheese to the roux to start blending it with the liquid and some then added that mixture back into the pot of boiling potatoes. Then I added my meat and veggies, and I let the soup simmer for something like 2 hours.

When I came back to it, everything was melt-in-your-mouth soft and the flavors were practically melded into one. Aubrie (my wife) made the rolls from scratch. When we dipped the rolls in the soup, it was liquidy enough that the roll could take it up, but not so liquidy that the roll became soggy. The consensus: INCREDIBLE!