Time is the secret ingredient to cooking great food

I love to cook as much as I love growing vegetables and flowers in my garden. I’m probably one of the least patient people on the planet, so it’s ironic that the two things I enjoy most require time and patience to come out right.

I grew up watching my family members spend time and effort in the kitchen preparing the meals that we shared together. My grandmother was well known for her cooking. She even wrote a cookbook in 1975 published by Vantage Press. Cooking has been a constant theme in my life, and I can’t remember not being interested in it.

When I was in second grade, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven. My mom’s response was something like, “you don’t want that little thing, if you want to cook, you can cook for real.” And that started it all. She helped me learn to make chocolate chip cookies. She spent time teaching me how to measure ingredients and why cooking time was important.

When I was 12, I requested a copy of my grandmother’s cookbook. She thought I was too young for it, but I persisted. When I visited her I wanted to cook with her using recipes from her book. She took time and taught me her methods. The next thing I mastered was her chocolate cake, which is the standard for which all other chocolate cake is judged.

Fast forward to my life today and cooking is still a central theme. The kitchen is the heart and soul of our home—metaphorically speaking and literally. It’s the very center of our house’s design and it’s the soul of our home. The best parties end up in the kitchen and some of the best conversations happen there too.

Over the years, I’ve found that the best-tasting food is the easiest to cook, has fewest ingredients, and is the healthiest for you. But it also takes the longest to make because the best dishes include the magic ingredient of time.

The amount of time cooking is just one aspect of the ingredient. It’s also about the time spent and shared with those you hold dear.

My husband and I spend copious time in the kitchen, cooking up good eats, entertaining friends and family, and cleaning up the mess. We include our son in the process. When he expresses an interest, I encourage it and take a moment to help him, teach him and share with him. I hope he learns skills in the process, like self-reliance, resourcefulness, how to follow directions or knowing when to ignore them.

Like life, cooking can be messy, but I hope my son always loves to cook and wants to try his recipes in the kitchen and in life. Cooking is more than preparing the next meal and providing nourishment to the body. It’s the vehicle of sharing hearts, minds and souls. I never regretted cooking with those I love or sharing meals with those I want to know better. Cooking and sharing food with others is high-context expression. Mostly it’s investing in the most precious and scarce ingredient of all—time.

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Cooking with Kids: Apple Love Pie & Garlic Toast

When I was a girl I wanted an Easy Bake Oven so badly. My mother just said, “here, you can cook with a real oven.” And then she helped me make cookies. That began my love of baking and it lit my sweet tooth on fire. So when my son wanted an Easy Bake Oven, I guided him to cook for real.

We cook a lot in our household. And it’s natural that our son wants to cook too. I’ve always included him when he was interested, letting him peel carrots, helping him make “stew,” and just letting him create “concoctions” with our amply stocked spice cabinet. I’ve even used a box cake (dare I say it out loud) so that he can say he did it all by himself.

Today he really wanted to cook and create. He announced his after school snack should be garlic toast. So we made garlic toast.

 

He wanted to cook more, and I had several apples that needed to be used. He wanted to make a pie, but halfway through, he said he wanted to make cut-out cookies.

We came up with the best of both worlds by making a pastry top with cut-out heart shapes. We called it our Apple Love Pie. (Complete with the pie bird.)

Apple Love Pie

 

St. Mary’s Sausagefest

Out here in north Texas, when the Fall hits we get to take our choice of festivals every weekend.  From cooking competitions to fundraisers and heritage celebrations, we get a decent selection of weekend activities within  a quick drive for just about anyone in all of the north part of the state.  One of the best you can find is right in Young County held every second full weekend in November.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church started making homemade sausage in the 1970’s after one of their parishioners who had a German family recipe for sausage came up with the idea for a fundraiser.  Originally, they harvested the pork in the local fields as hog hunters would provide the meat.  As it grew, though, the church had to go to a more reliable source of pork.  Decades later, the annual fundraiser lives strong, and the entire church turns out to lend a hand to pull off the impressive event.  The church will feed 1,200-1,500 people hundreds of pounds of homemade sausage made over a weekend.  Named “Sausagefest” (funny name acknowledged), folks from all over flock to the church to eat lunch on Sunday and buy the uncooked sausage for their freezer so they can have it all year long (or at least until summer when they run out). Here’s a little tour behind the scenes.

The week before the festival, the pork roasts arrive in boxes.

The roasts are then taken out of the boxes and cut up into small chunks by volunteers.

The church has a large commercial kitchen in its annex where all the magic occurs.

The chunks of pork are loaded into large tubs, which are stored in a refrigerated storage container, retrofit with a large air conditioner.

The chunks are then fed thru a commercial grinder not once but twice.  The pork is dusted with the special secret seasonings that includes cayenne pepper and garlic before the first grind.  The smell is overpowering when you walk into the kitchen.

There’s a guard over the grinder to avoid injury.

The pork after the first grind:

And after the second grind:

And here’s the grind:

Then the casings have to be filled.  What are casings?  Well…if you don’t know, it’s probably best I don’t explain it.  Let’s just say that the sausage is all natural.  The casings are soaked in warm water:

Then loaded onto PVC pipes so they are easier to push onto the sausage filler…

And then the casings are filled.

The sausage filler is pretty ingenious.  You load the barrel with the the ground pork

Which is powered by a water hose attached to a water faucet outside.  It’s a pretty cool system…the pressure on the water builds up, you slowly release the water into the barrel and the sausage shoots out of the cap:

The casing is loaded on the spout and the pressure inflates the casings with delicious spiced pork.

Want to see it in action?  Check it:

The sausage is then moved to tubs…

…and then hung in the refrigerated storage container to cure for a couple days before it’s cooked.  The sausage is hung on 1″x1″ boards that run the width of the container.

Outside the kitchen is a commercial smoker with 12 rotating racks.  On Sunday morning, the sausage will go on and given the perfect combo of heat and Texas smoke from wood cut down and seasoned locally, usually a combo of oak and mesquite.

And lo, we have sausage.

It’s a delicious bite all the way thru with the perfect blend of spice and flavor.  The ladies in the church also make a special secret recipe of sweet mustard, as well as fresh cobblers for the crowd.

And there you have it…St. Mary’s Sausagefest. You don’t want to miss it.

Grilling A Proper Ribeye

As luck would have it, we just got a shipment of fresh beef from slaughter off the ranch. As a “quality control” measure, we try to reserve a steer a year to make sure the bloodline we are breeding is producing the highest quality beef. The standing beef is put into our own version of a feed lot, which is just one of our stalls in the barn where we can finish out the beef with 120 days of high corn feed without a lot of exercise by the steer. This builds nice marbled fat within the meat fibers, which will go a long way when we go to cook these bad boys.

If we look at the diagram of a beef:

You see the group of muscles along the back of the beef just below the shoulders labeled as “rib”. That’s where our ribeyes come from. It’s a long muscle that, when the beef is finished out, doesn’t get as much work as a cow or a steer that’s out roaming for grass to chew on. It’s the most flavorful cut of steak you can get while maintaining a tender chew.

Our steaks:

See all the white specks within the meat? That’s good…those bits of fat are going to melt and lubricate the meat fibers, which will make the steaks juicy and easy to masticate. There are a couple different muscles here, and the outside of the steak is just as good if not better than the inside.

Most people take these chunks of bovine heaven and throw them on a hot grill or a hot skillet, which usually sears the shit out of the outside but can make for an uneven cook as the inside of a thick steak can still be cold even if the surface is burned. Traditionally, the solution to this is to sear the outside and then finish off in an oven set at 400deg until the steaks are cooked to the desired temp. This is how I did it for years, but Cooks Illustrated proved that if you go the opposite way…bring the steaks to temp first then finish them off on a grill or skillet…then you get the perfect steak every time. EVERY. TIME. It’s foolproof, and it’s how I do my steaks now. However, a true Texas beef eater will tell you that the thing that beef needs to really be perfect is a little bit of wood underneath to give the beef just a little bit more rounded flavor. That means you finish out on a pit, with a bit of pecan/hickory or, preferably, mesquite. No oak is allowed around here unless it’s in the fireplace.

I recently acquired a kamado-style cooker, so I’m going to do the finish out on it. My first order of business: get a nice, rolling smoke going on the cooker.

Then, we want to lay the steaks out onto a cookie sheet and into a 150-170deg oven with the rack as far away from the heating elements as possible. We want to bring the steaks up to 90-100deg, but it doesn’t have to be exact. The least amount of pokes, the better, so leave the thermometers in the drawer and trust your eyes and your hands. If the red meat turns gray, it’s too hot. It’s not ruined, but that’s too hot. If you take your hands and cup them around the rim of the steak, you can squeeze the steaks together and see the muscles begin to separate.

The steaks are still raw, but what we’ve done is begin to melt the connective tissue between the muscles. THAT’S GOOD. Taking a closer look:

You can see little pockets or canyons where the meat pulls apart. THAT’S GOOD. Onto seasoning…

The great Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene uses three ingredients on their steaks: salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That’s all you need on your steaks. Dust the steaks with kosher salt evenly, and then scatter garlic powder right on top of the salt. You’ll want to press down just a bit to push the seasonings into the meat. Notice that I didn’t add pepper? That’s by design…if you cook pepper over open flame, it becomes bitter and loses its peppery punch, so let’s save the pepper until the very end.

Notice also that the steak is kinda round…that’s a tip I learned from a buddy of mine that runs a steakhouse. When you cup your hands around the steaks, you can simply form them into a round steak. Don’t get too rough…just press it together so it’s round.

Get your grill as hot as it will get, and throw the steaks on. After 3-4 minutes, turn them with tongs from 11o’clock to 2o’clock to get those neat diamond sear marks. After another 3-4 minutes, flip them and repeat. You can test how well done the steaks are by pressing the meat with your finger. If it feels like your cheek does right around your canine teeth, then it’s med-rare. Inflate your cheek with as much air as you can…that’s well-done. If you cook your ribeyes to well-done, leave your address so I can send you a bag of crap in the mail.

When finished, this is what you should have:

There’s a red tint to the steaks from the wood/smoke. Notice, also, that there’s just the smallest amount of char…that adds so much flavor to the steaks.

Pull them off the fire, add freshly cracked black pepper, and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes. The rest is important to even the cook.

A closeup of the steak….see how the fat that was yellow before creates pools of liquid right on top of the steak? Sweet beautiful liquid.

I like my ribeyes medium-rare. Rare will give you stringy meat, and we don’t want that. At med-rare, you still get the juiciness of the fat with all the tender toothiness of the melted connective tissue.

 

Served with a baked potato, some fresh salad, and a dark beer or a super red wine, you’ve got the meal I’d request for my last if I get the chance.

Trav’s Corner: Cream of Hatch Chile Soup

First, assemble the ingredients:

1 cup Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced

¾ cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 roma tomatoes, diced

1 large avocado, diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

2 cups half & half

1 cup chicken broth

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in some olive oil & butter until soft and translucent. Add the chiles and garlic and sauté briefly. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add the chicken broth and bring to a rolling boil for two minutes. Add the half & half, lime juice, tomato, avocado, and ½ the cilantro. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Put into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of cilantro and a twist of lime.

Trav’s Corner: Pork Loin Roulade Stuffed w/Crawfish in a Cajun Butter Sauce

Our South Texas chef buddy, Trav, checks in with another great recipe. For more info on Trav’s culinary offerings, services and contact info, visit his Facebook page.

1 pork loin section

8 oz crawfish tails

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 onion, chopped

Chopped parsley

Celery seed

Old Bay

White wine


First, make the filling. Drain the crawfish tails and sauté with the onion and bell pepper in a little olive oil. Season with Old Bay and celery seed. When the onion is translucent, deglaze with a little white wine, squeeze in a little lemon juice and reduce til the liquid is almost gone. Remove from heat, toss in the parsley and set aside.


Next, make a roulade with the pork loin. Using a long, sharp knife, start cutting the loin the loin about an inch from the bottom, like so:


Continue cutting, turning as you get to the sides, maintaining a constant thickness until you have a flat sheet.



Season the meat with salt and pepper, then spread the crawfish filling on the loin.


Roll up the loin and tie with butcher’s twine.


Season with Tony’s, the roast in a 375 degree oven until a thermometer inserted to the middle reads 160 (about 30-45 mins). While it is cooking, make the sauce:

White wine

Lemon

Shallots, minced

Chicken broth

Cream

Diced tomato

Paprika

cayenne

1 stick of butter, room temp, cut into pats

In a small sauté pan, boil the shallots in half and half mix of white wine and lemon. Reduce to a glaze, and then add a little chicken broth, three times as much cream and the paprika, cayenne and tomato. Reduce to a sauce like consistency, and then strain. Whisk the butter into the hot sauce, one pat at a time, until completely incorporated. Keep the sauce warm, but not hot. If it gets too hot, the butter will melt and the sauce will break.

When the loin is done, slice, plate, and pour the sauce over the top. Serve immediately.



Badass Buffalo Wings

If you’ve spent anytime in a sports bar and/or Hooters, then you’ve been exposed to the chicken wing. Some approach chicken wings like a necessary evil in order to go to crappy restaurants with big boobed waitresses, but I love chicken wings. The texture of the meat and the amount of sauce-to-meat ratio is until any other piece of chicken, especially if you know how to eat one correctly. However, the average home chef tends to avoid cooking chicken wings at home because it’s so much quicker to go pick some up on the way home from work. If you give yourself some time to learn the correct way to cook them, you’ll realize how easy they really are. I think the biggest issue people have is a) how to prepare the sauce and b) how to cook the wings themselves.

I like my wings baked. Wings have a ton of connective tissue in them, and if you cook them too quickly then you’ll have wings that are kinda hard to eat because the meat has a lot of sinewy parts holding it all together. This is by design…the bones of a chicken are very thin and easy to snap, however they don’t fly. This means that the wings are nice and meaty so you can eat them. Without any hesitation, I’d tell you that the wing is my favorite part of the chicken to eat, and the best way to cook it is buffalo style.

Tools

Butcher’s knife/cleaver, sharpen and put to steel
Cutting board
Shallow cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, shiny side up
Oven preheated to 425deg

Prep

When you buy wings, you should plan on 14 pieces per hungry adult heterosexual male. That’s going to be 7 full wings, and you can count them inside the package when you buy them. We are looking for WINGS…not drummettes or wings that are already cut. We’ll do the heavy lifting here, so buck up.

When you get your wings home, make sure they are defrosted. For some reason, butchers are starting to keep these things in the freezer frozen. Take them out of the package and wash them down with water just to rinse off the slimey shit.

REMEMBER – Mishandling chicken can kill your ass, so you need to wash your hands before and after dealing with chicken, including any other kitchen tools you touch as well.

This is what we are looking at:

There are three parts to the wing: The “tip”, which is akin to a hand, the “flap” or the “flat” (I’ve heard it both ways) which is the middle section, then the drum. If you lay the wing skin side down, you can spread the wing out and get a good working surface.

If you feel the joint where the tip meets the flap, you’ll feel a little ball. Put your knife right on top of that ball, put the tip of the blade down on the cutting board and your free hand on the top of the blade to steady it and cut down in a sharp snap. This will cut thru skin and bone at the same time, leaving a nice clean cut. Then, take the wing and set it upright on the tip of the joint so both remaining parts stick up into the air in a V shape. If you spread the wing out, you can see that there is a piece of skin connecting the two parts. The joint is a ball joint, so we can easily sever the two parts by cutting directly down into the V of the joint and working the knife around the ball joint to cut all the way thru.

Admittedly, this is a hard thing to explain and probably harder to understand just by reading. So, click this link and you can watch a video of it.

As you chop the wings, align them on your pan skin side UP. I like to align mine by either flap or drum. It will make sense why later.

Season with garlic salt and pepper, but not too much. Flip them over (skin side down now) and do the other side.

Pop them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Sauce

Buffalo-style sauce is relatively easy, but it’s all up to you on how you want it to taste. Start with five tbls unsalted butter, melted. Do not let it get to hot or it will separate and make a mess. Then add 1/2c of Frank’s Red Hot sauce.

Whisk it in. Now, I like to put a lot of shit in mine to flavor the sauce. All this does is make it spicier and/or hotter, so at any time feel free to stop.

Let’s add 1/2tbls of garlic chili sauce:

And a few squirts of sriracha sauce (chili sauce):

And since this is so acidic, lets throw in a sprinkle of sugar to cut it and some soy sauce for salt. For extra heat, I add just a bit of this bad mother fugger:

Taste it along the way. You’ll want to put it in the middle of your tongue when you are testing it to get the full flavor.

After 20 minutes, flip the wings and cook them another 30 minutes. Watch them…you are looking for crispy but not burned or dried out. After 30 minutes you can put them under the broiler for a couple of minutes to really crisp them up, but be careful because they will burn very quickly.

If you let them sit out for a couple of minutes, they are easier to pull off the pan w/o tearing the skin. Give them a jiggle if they stick to let the fat work its way under the wing.

Put some sauce into a large bowl and add a few wings at a time. Toss, add more wings and sauce and repeat until you are done. I like to do equal parts drum to flap when I toss them. The sauce should be room temperature and the butter solids may begin to solidify. That’s ok…when the wings are added, it will heat up the sauce and melt it down perfectly. You just want the sauce to be kinda runny so it coats the wings good.

Plate them up and serve with blue cheese and/or ranch for dipping. I’m a big fan of fries with wings as well as all the beer I need to wash down the heat.