28 April 2015

Pulled Pork - Alton Brown's Barbecue Pork Butt (AB-BQ)

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Yes, there is life after Good Eats.  Altonbrown.com has done a nice job of churning out new AB applications over the past few years, and the AB-BQ application is my favorite.  The simplicity of the method produces incredible results.
Brine, smoke and bake, that's all there is to cooking it.  Water, salt, and molasses, that's all there is to the brine.  Charcoal and wood chips, that's all that's needed for the smoker.  Aluminum foil and a sheet pan, that's all that's needed for the oven.  Oh, and about 10 hours.  That's all that's needed until it's done.  Accounting for brine time, it does take about 24 hours from start to finish, but the end result is more than work it. 
Time and patience.  I have become pretty good at getting my smoker regulated and can maintain 225 degrees for about an hour or so at a time before I need to adjust the charcoal or wood chips.  This allows me to get a lot of other stuff done around the house while the pork is smoking, like playing basketball or sipping iced tea on the glider.  I'm almost sad when I see the meat reach 150 degrees.
The 4 to 5 hours of smoke time is really nice, though, and I am happy to finish cooking it in the oven.  I have done 10-12 hours on the smoker, and that starts to take its toll after a while.  In my opinion, finishing it in the oven produces better results and there is still plenty of smoke flavor in the meat.
So, the question remains, is it worth it?  The time, the energy, the patience?  The answer:  a resounding YES!  This is the best pork I have ever had, maybe even the best meat.  No joke.  The meat is moist, tender, smoky, salty, you name it, it's got it.  The definition of lip-smacking good. 
I like to serve it with a little east Carolina barbeque sauce (mmmm....vinegary) and coleslaw on top.  We were already out of coleslaw by the time I got around to taking the picture, or it would be on there.  On the other hand, it is good enough to stand alone, just a plate full of pork and your fingers.  I could go for that, too.

3 quarts water
12 ounces kosher salt
8 ounces molasses
8-10 pound boneless pork butt

Special Equipment: Smoker and 4 ounces hickory or oak wood chunks

Add the water, salt, and molasses into a 12-quart container and stir until the salt dissolves.  Place the pork butt into the brine.  Cover the container and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the pork from the brine, and pat dry. Then, heat the smoker to 225 degrees F. Add the wood chunks, and place the pork into the smoker.  When the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F, remove from the smoker, about 4 to 5 hours.

Allow the meat to rest until it reaches 140 degrees F, then heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Wrap the pork in aluminum foil and place on a half sheet pan. Cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 200 degrees F, about 3 to 5 hours.  It should be tender and pulling apart easily. Remove from the oven, keep it covered, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before serving.

18 April 2015

Dark Chocolate Mousse

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My memories of chocolate mousse stem from the Ponderosa buffet.  Rich, fluffy, and chocolaty, it was always a dessert I piled high in my bowl.  I have had the thought of making my own chocolate mousse many times, but the Alton Brown recipe didn't intrigue me enough to do it.  AB's calls for espresso and rum, two ingredients I don't keep on hand, and my desire to make the mousse wasn't strong enough to make the investment.

Queue Geoffrey Zakarian's mousse featured on The Kitchen.  It was the Valentine's Day episode and we were having a family gathering at my house one Saturday morning.  For some reason, Food Network always seems to be on when we have a bunch of family over for breakfast.  I happened to hear Geoffrey Zakarian talking about how simple and delicious this mousse was, so I decided to surprise Valerie with some on Valentine's Day.

Emilie helped me make the mousse, and it really was as simple as Zakarian made it sound.  Basically it's just melting, whipping, beating and folding.  The only thing I didn't know for sure was how much to heat the egg yolks over the water bath.  I did it until they were just warm to the touch, and it came out perfectly.  I don't know if the temperature really has that much impact on the final result, but it worked for me.

The mousse came together in no time, and we were dishing it in serving bowls to cool.  After few hours in the refrigerator, we topped the mousse with whipped cream and some shaved chocolate and it was time to devour.  The first bite was all it took to realize this is probably the best dessert I have ever made.  The mousse was rich, dense, smooth, airy, and soft, with an intensely satisfying chocolate flavor.  Combined with the sweet lightness of the whipped cream, it just hit on all the right notes.  I really can't describe how amazing the texture was, I guess I'll just have to make it again to see if I can better put it into words.

Geoffrey Zakarian's Dark Chocolate Mousse

1/2 cup chopped chocolate (72 percent)
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Whipped cream, for serving
Chocolate shavings, for garnish

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a simmering water bath.  After melting the chocolate, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks in a separate bowl. Set both bowls aside.

Add the egg yolks to the bowl of a stand mixer and set over the same water bath to slightly heat while beating them with a whisk. Next, add the sugar to the yolks and then transfer the bowl to the stand mixer set up with the whisk attachment. Beat the yolk and sugar mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and it doubles in size, about 5 minutes.

Delicately fold the melted chocolate into the yolks. Finally, fold in the whipped cream. Divide the mixture into 4 bowls or glasses and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

Just before serving, top the mousse with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings.

04 April 2015

Baked Eggs

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Ah, Easter.  Time to hard cook some eggs.  As we all know, and have probably done hundreds of times, you could just boil your eggs for dying or eating.  However, if you want to do more than one dozen at a time, baking is the way to go.  Yes, I said bake those eggs!

First, make sure the oven racks are positioned in the center of the oven,  Then, arrange the eggs on a metal cooling rack and place them in a cool oven.  Set the oven to 325 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, move the eggs directly from the oven into a bowl of ice water.

If you are peeling the eggs and not dying then, make sure to peel them as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  You can then return them to the ice bath to chill thoroughly.

A fun little tidbit I recently learned regarding the peeling of eggs is that the age of an egg does make a difference. Freshly laid eggs are more likely to stick to the shell, while older eggs release from the shell more freely.  Here in the U.S., eggs can sit for up to 30 days before being packaged, and the sell-by date can be another 30 days after that.  Say what?  This means that the eggs you're getting at the supermarket are old enough that no further aging at home should be necessary to get a nice clean shell release. If you are buying farm fresh eggs or you keep a few hens around, then you may want to let your eggs sit for a couple of weeks before hard cooking them. 

I learned this the hard way as deviled eggs had become bane of my existence.  I always ended up abandoning that idea and just making egg salad after I mangled the eggs.  On the bright side, I know that my eggs were really freash.  But now I know age is important, and my eggs will be mangled no more! 

02 April 2015

Chicken Salad

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Spring is in the air and chicken salad is calling.  For me, all I need are four ingredients.  Chicken, mayonaisse, celery, and dried cranberries.

To prepare my chicken salad, I start off with two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts.  I drizzle them with oil and then sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.  I roast them in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  Once the chicken is done, I let it cool completely before shredding.

After the chicked is shredded, it's just a matter of combining all the other ingredients.  To the shredded chicken, I add about 1 cup of maionaisse, preferrably homemade.  Then I dice 3 stalks of celery to add to the chicken.  Last but not least, I chop about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries and add them to the party.

That's all there is to it.  Simple and delicious.  Roasting the chicken gives it a deeper flavor and keeps it tender and juicy.  The creaminess of the mayonaisse, combined with the crunch of the celery is all complimented by the chewy sweetness of the cranberries.  All the flavors shine.  All you need is some toasted bread and maybe a little lettuce for the perfect chicken salad sandwich.  Although, I have been known to just sit down and eat it out of the bowl with some club crackers.  Who's hungry?


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