Lazy Morning Luxury

For some reason, I have always held waffles in very high regard among breakfast foods. This is by far - and I've done quite a bit of testing - the best recipe for waffles. Add nuts, spices, fruit or any flavorings you desire to make your waffles special. This recipe is a blank canvas.

Best Waffles Ever
(Recipe makes 4 waffles)

2 eggs, separated (yolks in one bowl, whites in another)
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 T. Canola oil
1/4 tsp. Vanilla extract
2 cups, AP flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar

Whisk egg whites and 2 T. sugar to form soft peaks.

Whisk to combine yolks, vanilla, milk and oil.

Sift flour, salt, 1/4 cup sugar and any dry ingredients into yolk mixture.

Stir to combine. A key here is not to over-mix, which will result in a tough texture.
Rest the batter for 15 minutes. This is another key step that allows the flour particles to fully hydrate and creates a better texture.
Fold the egg whites and any nuts/fruit into the mixture just to combine.

Add mixture to a sprayed, pre-heated waffle iron to coat.

Cook until golden-brown and delicious.
Serve with whipped cream, maple syrup, butter and any fixings you desire.


Asian Persuasion

People always ask me how I choose what to cook. I go to the store/farmer's market and see what looks good, and I go from there. That's it. No elaborate planning. Cooking from the hip, as it were. Seasonal squash, lovely Niman Ranch pork and a love for soup inspired this Asian influenced creation. Crispy, succulent pork loin offsets the sweet and spicy Butternut soup. The time put into this dish is definitely paid back to you in delicious spades.

Spicy Butternut Soup with Crispy Pork and Pear/Daikon Slaw
(Recipe serves 6-8)

For the Soup:
1 Butternut squash, split, seeded, peeled and diced

1 T. Canola Oil
2 cups Stock
2 cups Water
1 T. Ginger, minced
1 T. Garlic, minced
2 Star Anise pods
3 Bay Leaves
1/4 cup Sweet Chili Paste
1 T. Sambal
1 T. Sriracha
(Note: This does make for a very spicy soup, so if you'd prefer less heat, use less chili paste, Sriracha and Sambal.)

Toss Butternut squash with oil and a pinch of salt. Roast at 300 F for 20-30 minutes until browning starts.

Add squash to a pan with stock, garlic, ginger, star anise, and bay leaves.
Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is soft.

Strain liquid and reserve.
Puree solids in a blender with some of the cooking liquid until smooth.
Add back to a pan and adjust consistency with reserved cooking liquid.
Whisk in chili paste, Sambal and Sriracha.

Adjust flavor with salt and sugar.

Crispy Pork:

1 1/4 lbs. Pork Loin, Center Cut, Fat still attached

1/4 cup Mirin (Rice Wine)
1/4 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1/8 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 T. Sriracha
1 T. Canola Oil
1 T. Hoisin sauce
1 T. Brown Sugar

Combine all.

Marinate Pork Loin for at least an hour and up to four.

1 T. Canola Oil
1/2 Onion, medium dice
1 Jalapeno, sliced
1 T. Ginger, minced
1 T. Garlic, minced
1 cup Mirin
1-2 cups stock/water

Heat a saucepan. Add canola oil.
Sear all sides of the pork loin and remove.
Toss onions and jalapeno and saute until softened.
Add ginger and garlic and saute a minute or so more.
Add pork back to pan.
Add liquid to cover by about 3/4.

Bring to a simmer.
Cover, and place in 300 F oven for about 3 hours, flipping the loin halfway.
Remove pork from the liquid and shred with a fork (or tongs.)

Heat a saute pan on high, add a little oil and saute pork until browned and crispy.

For the Slaw:
1/2 Asian pear, peeled and diced
1/2 Daikon radish, peeled and diced
1 bunch Green Onion, green parts, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. Rice Wine Vinegar
Pinch of salt

Toss together and refrigerate.

Serve soup with a pile of crispy pork and some of the pear/daikon slaw.


Food Democracy

My attention was directed towards a petition being circulated to influence President-elect Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture. Make a difference, sign the petition here.

While you're being political, why not endorse the Food Declaration?

Doesn't that feel good?



A really nice Chorizo from Spain (thank you Central Market) and a hankering for a hearty potato soup inspired this original creation. The flavors of Spain come to life in this delicious and easy recipe that's sure to be a crowd pleaser this winter.

Potato and Leek Soup with Chorizo
(Recipe serves 3-4)

1/4 link, Spanish Chorizo, diced (not the Mexican stuff, Spanish Chorizo is cured and smoked)
1/2 Leek, sliced thin
1 Yellow Onion, sliced thin
2 Russet Potatoes, peeled and diced
3 Bay Leaves
2 tsp. Pimenton (Sweet Smoked Paprika)

1/2 cup Heavy Cream
Water, Salt, Pepper as needed

In a saucepot on high, heat 1 T. of Canola Oil.
Add Chorizo and brown.

Remove Chorizo and set aside.
Add Leeks and Onions to pot, toss to coat, and lower heat.

Slowly cook Leeks and Onions, stirring occasionally over low heat until they start to caramelize.

Remove from heat, add Pimenton. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes. This is called 'blooming' the Pimenton.

Add potatoes, Bay leaves and enough water to cover and bring to a simmer.

Simmer until potatoes are soft.
Strain vegetables and reserve liquid.
Remove Bay leaves.
Puree (blender works best) vegetables with a little of the cooking liquid.
Transfer back to a pot.

Adjust consistency with reserved cooking liquid.
Over low heat, whisk in the cream and season to taste.
Garnish with the browned Chorizo, grilled bread and a nice Spanish cheese like Iberico or Manchego.



Friday Night Feast

While browsing the meat case at Wheatsville, I happened upon a unique and interesting ingredient. Oxtail. Oxtail?

Thank you Niman Ranch. Traditionally used in soups or stews, this delicious ingredient just screams for a slow-and-low, moist-cooking method. In that spirit, here's my take on a winter feast for two.

Beer Braised Oxtail with Winter Vegetables, Creamy Polenta and Collard Greens

(Recipe serves 2-3)

For the Braise:
1 1/4 lbs. Oxtail
1/2 Leek, sliced
1 Parsnip, peeled and diced
1 Fennel bulb, sliced thick
1 Yellow Onion, sliced thick
2 cloves Garlic, smashed
2 tsp. Tomato Paste
1 Beer, 12 oz. (I used a Shiner Hefeweizen)
2 cups veggie stock

Wash, clean and cut the veggies.
The best way to clean leeks (in my opinion) is to cut them, and then soak in a large bowl of water. The dirt/sand falls to the bottom while the leeks float.

When you're done cleaning/cutting your vegetables you might end up with a pile of trimmings that looks something like this.

Yes, this could be compost fodder, but there's a lot of flavor here, and there's no point in wasting it.
Put the trimmings in a pot, cover with water, and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Strain and reserve. Voila! Vegetable stock.

Season the oxtail with salt and pepper.
In a hot Dutch Oven (or large Saucepot, etc.), sear the Oxtail on all sides in Canola Oil.

Add the veggies.

Add 1 tsp. of the tomato paste. Stir to coat, and let veggies continue to caramelize.
Deglaze with a little of the beer. (This is a French method called 'pincer' that adds a nice depth of flavor and aids in the caramelization of the vegetables.)

Replace the Oxtail in the pan, pushing them to the bottom.

For the Bouquet:
4 Bay leaves
1 sprig, Rosemary
2 sprigs, Thyme
5 Peppercorns
1/2 tsp. Corriander seed
1/2 tsp. Fennel seed
2 Cloves

Wrap in cheesecloth.

Add the Bouquet, garlic, beer and vegetable stock until the Oxtail are about 3/4 covered.

Cover and cook in a 300 F oven for about 3 hours. Keep an eye on the liquid level.

Remove Oxtail, and separate meat from the bones. Reserve.
Strain braising liquid, pass through cheesecloth and reduce in a new pan for your sauce. Season to taste.

Serve Oxtail meat with veggies and the braising liquid sauce.

For the Polenta:
(Recipe serves 6-8)
2 T. Butter
1 1/2 cups Polenta, coarse grind
1 cup Milk
1 cup, White Wine
2 cups, stock
1/2 cup Parmiggiano, grated

In a hot pan, melt butter.
Add Polenta, and toss to coat. Toast Polenta lightly (no color.)
Add liquids, and stir occasionally until desired creamy texture is achieved.
Off the heat, stir in the Parmiggiano.
Season to taste and serve.

For the Greens:
(Recipe serves 3-4)
1 bunch (16 leaves) Collard Greens, cleaned, stems removed, sliced
6 strips, Bacon, cut into strips
2 quarts water/stock/wine
1 cloves Garlic, smashed
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Wash the greens thoroughly.
Remove the stems from the greens. I cut a V on each side of the stems.

Stack the greens, and cut into 1/2" strips.

In a sauce pot, simmer (covered) 2 quarts of liquid (water, wine, stock) with the bacon and garlic for about 30 minutes.
Add greens and red pepper flakes, simmer until desired tenderness is reached.
Season to taste.
Remove garlic and strain liquid.


Keep that Edge

Plowing through all of that Turkey Day prep probably leaves you with sore hands and a sense that maybe, just maybe, those knives you've had for years could use a good sharpening. While I'm sure a good portion of cooks have invested in a nice set of knives, the average set of home knives, while awe-inspiring in its multitude of different blades and sizes, don't hold and edge and simply can't cut it anymore. Without rushing out and buying a hugely expensive new set, here are a few tips and tricks of the trade to achieve and maintain a cutting edge worthy of your hard work.


That long metal rod in the middle of your block isn't for chasing away grazers from the kitchen, it's a honing rod, and it's a good idea to use it before every cutting session. Don't confuse honing with sharpening, a honing rod simply eliminates slight imperfections in the cutting edge and keeps the blade of your knife balanced and straight.

Cooking Enthusiast has a great illustrated guide to proper technique.

Diamond Steel:

Similar in look to a honing rod, the diamond steel (easy to find at restaurant supply stores or on the internet) can provide quick sharpening and is a very handy and useful tool to have on your side. Use the same technique as you would with a honing rod, but don't get over zealous, diamond steels can be harmful to a blade if overused.

Nothing, of course, can be more beneficial and produce better results than sharpening. While sharpening can be done for yourself, I would recommend locating a local business that provides the service for you, and sometimes they'll even come to you. Also, several knife companies offer lifetime sharpening for your knives, all it costs you is shipping. Relatively inexpensive and not particularly time consuming, your knives and your hand will thank you.

The Newspaper Trick:
After a quick honing and before you get started cutting away, nothing kicks your edge into gear like this little gem. As you use a knife, and especially when you hone/steel the blade, tiny little metal particles collect along the edge and get in the way of that razor sharp edge. Much like a barber runs his blade over a leather strap, a slightly moist piece of newspaper can provide similar results for your cutlery.

Place one sheet of slightly moistened newspaper on a flat surface (cutting board preferably.)
Hold your knife with the blade against the newspaper, and pull along the length of the blade, keeping it in contact with the paper.

Flip the knife and repeat.

A couple of passes should do, and it will leave your blade particle free and ready to slice and dice.

Storage and Handling:
The above tips can keep your cutlery sharp and straight, but most knife damage and wear results from improper storage and handling.

-Always store your knives in a block, magnetic wall strip or in some kind of protective sheath.
-Never use knives on surfaces like glass, metal, or tile. Wood and food plastics are best.
-Always wash and dry knives after each use. Hot water promotes quicker drying.

While knife care can be intimidating, utilize these tips and tricks to extend the life and usefulness of your knife, and make your cooking much more painless. More cuts result from dull knives, so keep those edges sharp and treat your knives with the respect they deserve. Your food will thank you.


Breakfast of Champions

While I usually keep my breakfast simple and light, occasionally I splurge and really go for the gusto for the most important meal of the day. One of, if not my favorite morning meal treats has to be crepes. Crepes do have a bit of mystique and have been known to frustrate many a cook, but with the right technique they can be easy, very rewarding, and always delicious. This recipe could be breakfast and even dessert, but don't overlook crepes' role on the savory side of cooking either. With a few minor adjustments to recipe, they can be a great addition to any meal.

Goat Cheese Crepes with Spiced Orange Syrup
(Recipe makes 6-8 small crepes)

3.5 oz. Cake Flour (AP works as well, but Cake flour yields a more tender product, less gluten)
1 cup Milk
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 egg
1 T. Sugar
Pinch, Salt

Combine wet ingredients (milk, cream, egg) and whisk to combine.
Sift dry ingredients together (flour, salt, sugar) and add to wet.
Stir until moist. Do not over-mix, there may be lumps, leave them alone.
Let the batter rest, refrigerated for 15 minutes. This allows the flour to hydrate, and will provide the best texture.
Remove from the refrigerator, whisk briefly until smooth, and your batter is done.

For the Filling:
2 oz. Goat Cheese
1 T. Confectioner's Sugar
1 T. Heavy Cream

Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and combined.

For the Syrup:
1 cup Orange Juice
1/2 cup Sugar
1 stick, Cinnamon
2 Cloves
2 Star Anise pods
5 Allspice Berries
5 Peppercorns

Heat the juice and the sugar to a simmer, whisking to dissolve.
Add in the spices.
Reduce to a light syrup.
Strain out the spices.

The trick to making crepes successful and easy is all in the technique. The most important tool you'll need is a very good non-stick pan. The size isn't that important, but the quality of the non-stick surface is. An old worn pan will definitely not do. Yes they sell crepe specific pans, but there's no need to rush out and buy one, a simple non-stick skillet will do just fine.

To get started, heat the skillet on a medium setting.
Pour (or ladle, for consistency) about 3-4 oz. of batter into the middle of the pan.
Immediately rotate the pan to spread the batter, and continue doing so until you have a nice, even coating of batter that covers the entire base of the pan.

Using a spatula, push down the thin edges around the outside of the crepe to form a uniform shape, and make it easier to flip when ready.
Unless you're quite handy with a pan, I'd recommend using the spatula/your hands to check and subsequently flip the crepe when the first side is browned.

Continue to cook until both side are brown.
Set cooked crepe on parchment/paper towels and brush the top side with butter/oil.
Repeat and stack those crepes.
They keep quite nicely in a warm oven.

When you're done cooking, it's time to fill and roll (and yes, eat!)
Spread about a tablespoon of the filling on your crepe.

Roll the crepe, and gently apply pressure as you roll to distribute the filling throughout.

Serve with the spiced orange syrup and a dusting of confectioner's sugar to make it extra fancy.
Most importantly, enjoy!