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

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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!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How NOT to use curry powder

Whenever I fail this badly, I always have to remind myself that doing something wrong is a form of learning (provided you can identify your mistake). Today I learned that curry powder can easily be over-used in a dish. With some ingredients there is a little wiggle room, but NOT WITH CURRY POWDER. You can thank me in advance for saving you from making the same mistake ;)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


For those of you who missed my teaser on Saturday, here are the details: Nielsen's Frozen Custard has what is called the roommate challenge. It consists of eating a burger made with 5 1/3-lb, flame-broiled Angus beef patties, two types of cheese, four other toppings, two sauces, a basket of french fries, and a 24-oz soda, all in under 10 minutes. If you can do it, you get a free frozen custard on your next visit (or the same visit if you can stomach it!), and the first one of the group to finish gets their meal for free.

Mine is in the middle. I couldn't believe Ryan went for the Bacon!

Look at all that ooey-gooey cheese!

My challenge.
And the winner is (drum roll, please), PDDDDDDD PSH!: Me, with a time of 6:50! Alex came in second at 8:20, and Ryan decided to enjoy his burger rather than shovel it in and miss all the wonderful flavor. IF YOU THINK YOU CAN BEAT ME, YOU ARE WELCOME TO TRY! I'LL SHOW UP AND TAKE YOUR MONEY EVERY TIME!

From left to right: Alex, Me, Ryan.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chicken Alfredo and Penne

This variation on a home-cooking classic has a rich savory flavor that lingers on your tongue. Depending on how much Parmesan you use, the umami component can be varied from slight to intense.

For this dish I was in somewhat of a predicament. I wanted to make a delicious dinner, but I didn't have a lot of time. I found some store-bought Alfredo sauce, but I hate how runny that sauce can be. It never sticks to the noodles, and I end up eating plain noodles with Alfredo soup underneath. Yuck! So, I decided to spiff it up.

 -Store-bought Alfredo sauce
 -Grated Parmesan cheese
 -Shredded mozzarella
 -Chopped chicken tenders
 -Creamy Cesar salad dressing
 -Penne noodles

I had already marinated and cooked the chicken tenders with the creamy Cesar salad dressing the day before, so that really cut down on the preparation time for this dish. I made sauce by combining the store-bought Alfredo, Parmesan, mozzarella, and chopped chicken tenders. I mixed it all together and let it simmer while the noodles cooked. While the sauce and noodles cooked, I steamed the broccoli with some margarine and salt. Then I tossed the noodles with the sauce and plated it with a bit of broccoli on top. I'll admit the presentation isn't phenomenal (definitely not my forte), but, according to my wife, it was "cheesy awesome."

My Philosophy: Cooking Genetics

I tend to be of the school of thought that every dish has a basic form which arises from the expectations of those eating that dish; a hamburger is sandwich-like, a soup is creamy or liquid-y, and so-on.That said, the beauty of this science, even its artistic essence, is in the uncountable variations that can be applied to a dish. In this way I think cooking is somewhat like genetics, except instead of chromosomes, a dish has basic ingredients that can be varied in type and quantity. Thus you can have two sandwiches that are each easily recognizable as such and have totally different flavor and texture profiles.

This mode of thinking guides my approach to cooking. Thus, I am rarely satisfied with simply opening the box and following the instructions. When I cook, I spend most of my time trying to discover unique variations. As such, you will notice when I talk about what I have made, I will generally stay away from talking about the specific amounts I used. My hope is that you will be inspired to discover new variations of your own. After all, is that not most of the fun in cooking?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nielsen's 5-patty challenge

Me and some buddies tackled the roommate challenge today at Nielsen's Frozen Custard: 5 1/3-pound patties, 2 types of cheese, 4 different toppings, two sauces, a ton of fries, and a large drink. The first man to the finish line gets his meal for free, and free frozen custard for anyone who finishes in under ten minutes. MORE DETAILS TO COME!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Allow me to introduce myself...

Hello World.

(Te-he-he, just a little computer-humor to set the mood for my blog) Welcome to my world of cooking! I was born with the brain of a physicist and the soul of a chef. I simply hope to share with you my love of all things food, to learn about the art of cooking and eating, and maybe to contribute a little of what I learn the body of culinary knowledge. Feel free to browse the site as I add content, and please come back often.