Spatchcocked Chicken

I finally got around to spatchcocking my first chicken.  Spatchcocking, also known as butterflying, is extremely easy and produces a bird that cooks quickly and evenly by removing the backbone and the keel (breast) bone.  I learned my technique from this here video.  Rather than use poultry shears, I used my very sharp, very honed knife.  Everything worked out.  Below is a picture of the raw bird, post spatchcock.  I totally blanked and forgot to take a picture of the finished product, but I assure you, it was some of the most deliciously moist chicken I’ve ever had.  I dusted the chicken in a heavy blend of Greek-ish spices (oregano, thyme, salt, lemon pepper, garlic) and olive oil.  I fired up the gas grill until the temp reached 450 degrees.  I then turned the middle burner (out of 3) off and placed the chicken skin side up over the now turned off burner.  Close the lid and walk away for 45-50 minutes, and you have a perfectly cooked chicken.  This was paired oh so wonderfully with a greek salad.

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Creole in a bowl

That was the name of a Good Eats episode the other day on Food Network that inspired me to make red beans and rice.  An American, creole classic.  This dish is very satisfying.  The only omission for me on this recipe was the pickled pork.  I subbed 9 ounces of bacon instead.  I didn’t have the foresight or time to pickle pork.  This still turned out damn good.  I topped the concoction with pan fried andouille.  Screw that zataran’s box nonsense.

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Heavenly Hash

Ok, so the hash made from my corned beef leftovers was 100 times better than the original meal.  For serious.  I love a good corned beef hash (or any breakfast hash for that matter).  The Washington Post recently did a write up on the awesomeness of hash for all you breakfast lovers.  Since I had leftover mashed potatoes, rather than boiled or roasted potatoes, I formed them into small potato patties.  These patties were then pan fried until each side was golden brown.  This was the base layer of my hash.  It was then topped with a sauteed mixture of green bell peppers, mushrooms, and leftover cubed corned beef.  The finishing touch was the oh so lovely sunny side up egg.  Amazing.

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A feast in honor of St. Patrick

For the upcoming day to celebrate St. Patrick, I took advantage of grocery store specials and made an Irish style feast.  Corned beef brisket (point cut) was down to $.99 per pound, and cabbage was basically free this weekend.  I simmered the corned beef in water and spices for about 4 hours until it was fork tender.  The cabbage got sauteed down (after a 30 minute salting to squeeze out some moisture) for 15 minutes in some olive oil with onions.  Lauren provided some serious mashed potatoes and biscuits (not Irish, I know).  All in all, it was a solid attempt at a hearty Irish meal; all that was missing was a leprechaun and a pot of gold.  Check back later in the week because I’m going to treat the leftover corned beef the only way it should be treated…diced and put to use in a good corned beef hash.

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Cube Steak

The New York Times did a great piece on a recession friendly piece of meat, the cube steak.  Cube steaks are a darling of southern cooking, so after reading the article, I became a bit nostalgic for a this wonderful slice of pierced round slathered in some sort of gravy.  I decided to try out the braised cube steak recipe that’s listed in the article.  The recipe is from Gillian Clark, noted southern chef located in the DC area.  This recipe was super simple and definitely affordable.  The total cost of the ingredients (pantry items like oil, flour, salt, and pepper aside) was about $5.  The instant I tasted the thick brown onion gravy, memories began to flood in (some good, some not so good) of the cube steaks of my past.  I bought about 3 packages of cube steak when I was at the store (I couldn’t resist at $2.50 a package), so I’m eager to try some variations on the tried and true Southern style.

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I’m back. Sort of.

I just found out that my roommate has a card reader for digital cameras, so I can get back to taking pictures and posting them on this site.  I know you all have been dying to hear from me.

Anyway, since I didn’t know of the existence of said card reader, I had not been taking any pictures 😦  I promise to be better at documenting my culinary endeavors, so my dedicated readers can fill their lunch hours with joy and websurfing.  Attached is a picture of my old pizza making attempts.  Hopefully this will hold everyone over until I can think of stuff to blog about.  Also enjoy the tiny snow man I constructed on top of my car.  I was very productive during my snow day away from the office.

Stay dry.

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A Pizza Story.

First, I shall apologize for not blogging in about 6 weeks or so.  My 6 year old laptop finally kicked the bucket, so I was out of a computer for a while.  However, I’m the proud owner of a shiny new Macbook, and I’m back in business.

Now, on to the food.  I’ve had a huge obsession as of late when it comes to making pizza at home.  I’ve been chasing the perfect pie much like the whale was hunted in Moby Dick.  Before attempting to play pizzeria at home, I did some serious reading on what makes a good dough in terms of both preparation and baking.  After hours of research, I got elbow deep in the good stuff.

Attempt #1:  Making pizza for Valerie, Patrick, and Sarah.  For the dough, I used this recipe.  The only thing I changed was the flour.  I used AP flour rather than “00” flour.  I understand that “00” flour has a higher protein content, therefore allowing for the release of more gluten (kneading releases gluten from protein in the dough etc. etc.).  Higher gluten = better crust flavor.  More on this later.  Regardless, AP flour suffices.  I made the dough in the afternoon, let it rise, and then stored it in the fridge.  I had great difficulty stretching the dough when it came time to cook.  As for baking, the only way to go when making pizza at home is using a pizza stone in an oven that has been preheated to 475-500 degrees.  The oven needs to rock steady at this temperature for at least 30 minutes as well to give the stone time enough to get hotter than the sun.

The dough yielded two very small and bready pizzas due to the difficulties stretching the dough.  The bottom was certainly crispy, but for me, the overall package didn’t cut it.  FYI, I topped the pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, salami, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers.

Attempt #2:  The following weekend, I wanted to give pizza another shot, so I recruited friends Maggie and Phillip as victims.  After careful reasoning, I got in in my head that the dough’s poor performance the first time was due to me a) refridgerating it and b) not letting it rest on the counter long enough, allowing it to come to room temperature before stretching.  For this go around, I made the dough right before I was ready to cook the pizza.  This extra preparation still yield a pretty bad result.  Drats.

Before my next attempt, I needed further research.  I consulted Alton Brown and his infinite wisdom.  The Good Eats episode “Flat is Beautiful” covers the process of making pizza at home (part 1 and part 2).  As always, Alton Brown had all the right answers.  GLUTEN.  I had not been kneading the dough for long enough; therefore, I hadn’t been developing the proper amount of gluten.  I had previously only been kneading for 7-10 minutes.  I needed (pun intended) to step up my game.

Attempt #3:  While at my parents’ house for Christmas, I decided to make pizza for my dad’s birthday.  I continued on with the Tyler Florence recipe, but I went for the extra long knead.  15 minutes.  By hand.  Non stop.  It was back breaking work (especially since I was making two batches!).  I also made the dough 24 hours in advance and did the refrigerator rise as shown in the Good Eats episode above.  These pizzas were to be topped with olives, mushrooms, cheese, and spinach.

Overall, the extra knead yielded a damn good result.  The pizzas streched much better, allowing for a crisper crust.  I was finally proud of my output.

I was going to retire from pizza for awhile when I was perusing the local Trader Joe’s this morning.  In the fresh foods section, they sell pizza dough rounds for a whopping 99 cents.  I was lured in and decided to purchase the whole wheat round not expecting too much.

Attempt #4:  The whole wheat dough round from Trader Joe’s stretched quite large.  I was able to make a 14 inch circle with this little ball.  So far, so good.  I topped this bad boy with some tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, hot italian sausage (chicken sausage), and roasted red peppers.  I threw it on the preheated pizza stone for about 10 minutes, and the result was…well…it…was…perfect.  Seriously.  This pizza tasted better than almost any pizza I’ve had before, anywhere.  I’m assuming that since the dough was kneaded for a long time by a machine that it had a high gluten content which produced a super crisp crust for me when stretched and baked.  I guess I’m going to put off making crust for a while and just stick to the Trader Joe’s dough!

I learned a lot from my 1 month journey with home pizza.  I used to be afraid of working with dough but no longer.  I also learned that good pizza is made on a stone at home.  Accept no substitutions.  Treat yourself to the 20$ stone and take care of it.  It’s well worth it.  I also learned to always stretch pizza by hand.  Don’t use a rolling pin.  It knocks the air out of the crust.  Seriously.  Don’t do it.

I’m sure you are wondering why I went through all this trouble when I could just pick up the phone and order delivery or eat a frozen pizza that tastes pretty decent.  Well, first of all, Washington, DC has bad pizza.  Delivery pizza here sucks.  There are some strong pizzerias that produce authentic  and overwhelmingly delicious pies (2 Amy’s and Pizza Paradiso come to mind), but a) they aren’t close to my house, b) they don’t deliver, and c) look at the prices on the menu.  These aren’t pizzas you eat while watching football on TV.  Making pizza at home is cheap.  The cost of producing the dough is non existent because it’s mostly made of pantry items.  I always seem to have some cheese and tomato sauce lying around the house.  Creating something tasty at home always leads to a sense of personal satisfaction as well (at least for me it does).  Plus, I can control the quality of my ingredients and toppings.

I wish I could give you all a picture of my pizzas, but unfortunately, I can’t find my USB cable for my camera.  I’ll get some up in the next week or so.  Until then, I hope that I’ve inspired one or two of my readers to get in the kitchen and make some dough.