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!



My tortilla soup recipe has been selected as one of the finalists in the MarxFoods Comfort Food Recipe Contest, and they're deciding the winner by popular vote. Head on over there and vote (for me presumably) and I assure you the gift certificate will go to good use!


As Cheesy as I Wanna Be

While most people are content to get their mac 'n cheese fix from a box (I admit, there are times when it's easier) there's really no comparison to homemade macaroni and cheese. It's easy, delicious, and completely open to creativity. There are a plethora of cheeses and flavors you can incorporate into this classic, and once you understand the basic technique, the possibilities are limitless.

The basis for good macaroni and cheese is a good cheese sauce (or Sauce Mornay). Constructing the Mornay requires first making a Bechamel
(a white sauce made by thickening milk or cream with a Roux,) one of the French 'Mother Sauces' that's a very handy and quite useful technique to have in your repertoire.

Three Cheese Macaroni

(Recipe serves 3-4)

2 T. Butter
2 T. Flour

1 1/2 cups milk (skim, whole, 2%, whatever you'd like)
1 Bay leaf
5 Peppercorns
2 cloves
1 clove Garlic, smashed
2 sprigs Thyme

2 cups Cheese, shredded (I used a combination of Fontina, Sharp Cheddar and Parmigiano)
1 tsp. Dried Mustard
1/4 tsp. grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper as needed

1 cup dried Macaroni

Melt butter in a pan.
Add flour, and stir until incorporated. This should result in an off-white paste.
This is your Roux.
Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Add bay leaf, thyme, cloves, peppercorns, garlic and milk to a saucepan.
Bring just to a boil and remove from heat.
Let steep for about 15 minutes.

Remove spices/herbs and bring milk back to a simmer.
Whisk in the Roux, adding a teaspoon at a time until sauce is thickened (should just coat the back of a spoon.)
Simmer, stirring, until flour taste is gone.
This is your Bechamel.

Strain the sauce (to remove any lumps).
Add dried mustard and nutmeg.
Off of the heat (very important to prevent cheese from getting stringy) gradually add the cheese, stirring until incorporated. Take the pan off and on the heat until the cheese is melted.
This is your Mornay.
Adjust seasoning as needed.

In a pot of salted (like the sea!), boiling water, cook the macaroni until al dente.
Strain and add Mornay to coat.

For the topping:
2 strips Bacon, cooked, chopped roughly
2 sprigs Thyme, picked
1/4 cup bread crumbs (make your own!)

Combine all in a food processor and pulse until mixed.

Add macaroni and cheese to bowls, ramekins, casserole, etc. (as long as they are oven safe) and top with the breadcrumb mixture.

Pop under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the topping.
Serve and enjoy!

Homemade is Best

Why buy something like breadcrumbs when making your own is easy and full of infinite creative possibilities? Good question, I say. If you eat bread, and I bet you do, then I'm sure you're left with scraps or end pieces that you otherwise discard. Don't! Save them, freeze them, and when you've got enough, you can make your very own breadcrumbs.

Homemade Breadcrumbs
(Recipe makes 1 cup)

2 cups bread scraps

Set scraps out on the counter for a day or so, until they're dry.
On a sheet tray, toast scraps in a very very low oven (175 F) for an hour or so, until the scraps are thoroughly dry.

Remove from the oven, combine with any number of things (herbs, cheeses, spices) and pulse in a food processor until the desired texture.
Crumbs will store in an airtight container for a month or so. (Crumbs with cheese and other perishable products should be used immediately or refrigerated.)

Divine Swine

There are a lot of ways to cook bacon, most of which result in burnt or soggy and otherwise unappetizing slabs of swine. Here is my favorite, and as far as I'm concerned, the only method.

Place metal racks on a sheet tray.
Spray the racks.
Arrange bacon on the racks, making sure to leave space between pieces.

Place the tray(s) in a cold oven.
Turn oven to 400 F.
Once oven preheats, check in on your bacon every two minutes or so. Careful, do not neglect your pork, as it can and will go from perfect to inedible quite quickly.

This method will get you crispy, perfectly cooked strips of bacon with no shrinking or curling every time. Plus you still get to save that precious bacon grease that drips down onto the sheet tray.


If it ain't broke...

...don't fix it. But you certainly can modify it a bit. This was my mantra today, as I took my favorite cookie recipe and gave it a twist. A delicious, dark chocolate twist.

Dark Chocolate Snickerdoodles
(Recipe makes 15 medium sized cookies)

1/4 cup Butter, softened
1/4 cup Shortening
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 oz. Dark Chocolate (semi-sweet)
8 oz. AP Flour
1/2 tsp. Cream of Tartar
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
Pinch Salt
Cinnamon Mixture (2 T. Sugar, 1 tsp. Cinnamon)

Cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until smooth.
Add the egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated.
In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate.
Add the chocolate to the butter/egg mixture and mix until incorporated.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar.
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the others, mixing until combined.
Let dough rest about 10 minutes, refrigerated so flour can hydrate.

Form dough into 1" (diameter) balls.
Roll dough in cinnamon mixture to coat.
Flatten balls and place on a greased sheet tray.

Bake at 400 F for 8 minutes.
Remove immediately from the tray to a wire rack to cool.


Note: The original Snickerdoodle recipe I use is Mrs. Sigg's found on AllRecipes.com.


Comfort never paid so well...

Heads up on yet another rewarding recipe contest over at Marx Foods. Nothing fancy here, just your favorite/best comfort food recipes. I've submitted my tortilla soup recipe (see below), and I recommend you head on over there and submit your own. A $250 gift certificate can get a lot of goodies!