Cookbooks

As long as I’ve been cooking and talking to other people about cooking, I’ve been asked about cookbooks. Of course, with the sudden proliferation of online recipe sites, I’ve been getting more and more requests for links rather than book recommendations, but some people still want a hard copy and are curious about the books I choose to keep around.

I pulled my cookbooks out of the cabinet where I store them and took some photos.

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Cracker Crust(ed Halibut)

Well, hello there! Long time no see.

It’s been eight months of radio silence, but I’m back. I have some banked recipes that I’ll be posting in the near future, but I wanted to share this simple dinner first.

Cracker crusts are really versatile. You can use them on fish, chicken, vegetables, and a lot more. You can bake them, deep fry them, or shallow pan fry them and they end up crunchy and golden and delicious.

Halibut’s in season, and I picked up a lovely 1-lb. skin-on filet tonight.

Halibut Filet

A thick piece like this is not perfect for frying, because you run the risk of burning the crust without fully cooking the center. I opted to bake it in a 475° oven instead.

The cracker crust is very simple, but it’s a multi-stage process. I like to use Ritz crackers because of their buttery flavor, but you can use just about any kind. Crush them nice and small for the best coverage.

Here are the ingredients for the crust:

  • 1/2 cup cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp milk

The flour and egg wash will probably be more than you need, so if you scale up the recipe to prepare more food, just increase the crackers.

Cracker Crust Ingredients

You’ll want to set up three “stations,” one for each portion of the breading process. Pie plates work great for this. I didn’t have three clean pie plates, and the small plates I ended up using were a little awkward – you want more surface area if you’re breading a large object like that filet.

For the first station, blend the salt and pepper into the flour. On the third, spread the cracker crumbs.

Flour and Cracker Crumbs

The one that goes in the middle is the egg wash. Beat together the egg and milk.

Egg Wash

I didn’t get any photos of the actual breading process, because it’s fast and not terribly compatible with handling a camera.

First, pat the surface of the fish dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Dredge it in the seasoned flour until well coated, then shake off the excess. I just coated the flesh side of the fish, since I was going to bake it skin-side down. If you’re frying, make sure all surfaces are coated.

Next, dip it in the egg wash and let the excess drain off for a few seconds.

Finally, roll the fish in the cracker crumbs until well coated. They should stick to the egg wash.

Cracker Coated Fish

 

This filet was about 2″ at its thickest point, so it took 20 minutes to cook at 475°. Don’t overcook your fish – it just needs to be opaque and flaky.

Here’s the cooked filet, all nice and browned on the outside:

Cooked Halibut

I couldn’t for the life of me get a good picture of the inside, but white fish looks like white fish :)

I hope you enjoy this super versatile technique, and it’s nice to be back!

 

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Venison with Roasted Chestnuts

I’m coming up for air from the holidays to post this fantastic dish and also to say that I’m probably going to go completely dark for a while. My lovely assistant and I have both accepted jobs that will take us overseas for most of 2013, and I’m not entirely sure I’ll have a) internet access and b) the time and opportunity to create new blog posts. This isn’t the end of my blog here, I hope, but it’s certainly a bit of a timeout.

This dish is a worthy send-off, though.

Venison is a robust and flavorful meat, and I’ve noticed that a lot of grocery stores carry it around the holidays. I bought a 4-pack of D’Artagnan venison medallions for this preparation. Venison medallions come from the backstrap of the deer, and are sometimes compared to filets mignon from beef.

Venison Medallions

Another food you see crop up around Christmastime is the whole chestnut. These gorgeous brown beauties have a lovely soft nutmeat and a really unique flavor. Like the venison, they’re a bit “wild” tasting, so I thought they would be a great combination. I wasn’t disappointed!

Here’s your shopping list:

  • 1 lb whole raw chestnuts
  • ~1 lb venison medallions
  • ~28g (1 oz) bacon
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

I didn’t add any salt here, because the bacon I used was cured and added plenty of saltiness on its own. My favorite method for using bacon is to keep a brick of very fatty bacon in the freezer and shave off bits to cook with. The shavings melt very quickly, and it’s a super convenient way to use bacon in cooking. You could also use about 1-2 tablespoons grease poured off of cooked bacon.

Combine your spices and rub the venison all over with them. Return to the refrigerator for one hour. During this time, roast the chestnuts.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut an X into each chestnut skin with a sharp knife – the chestnuts usually have a nice flat side to cut into. Place them in a single layer on a baking pan and cook for 10-15 minutes. The skins will begin to peel away from the meat.

Chestnuts

Allow them to cool just enough to handle and then shuck off the outer skin and the inner, papery covering. Don’t worry about breaking the nutmeats.

Chestnut Meats

Chop roughly and set aside until your venison has been curing in the spices for an hour.

Cook the bacon in an oven-safe pan over medium heat until the fat has rendered out completely and any meaty bits have begun to brown. Shake the pan slightly to spread the bacon grease out and turn the heat up to high. Definitely turn on your kitchen vent fan – this will smoke a bit!

Place the venison medallions in the pan directly from the refrigerator.

Sear the meat on both sides. Just after you’ve turned the medallions to sear the second side, add the chestnuts and cranberries and toss them a bit to coat with bacon grease. Place the pan in the oven for 3-5 minutes to finish.

The chestnuts and cranberries absorb a lot of great flavor from the bacon and make a rich, tangy accompaniment to the venison.

Venison with Roasted Chestnuts

Fantastic. And very seasonal! The perfect last dish for 2012, I think.

 

I’ll see you when I see you, I guess. Thanks so much for following my food journey this year, and I hope to come back swinging. There are some plans in the works for a new direction for this blog (or a new “sister” blog for this one), but they’ve gone on hold while we’re out of the country, so I’m going to keep quiet and save them as a surprise ;)

 

Have an amazing and delicious New Year, everybody!

 

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Smoked Bourbon Turkey

Ever since I bought my smoker, my family has asked that the Thanksgiving turkey be smoked instead of roasted. One year I served one of each, and the smoked turkey clearly carried the day. This year I smoked a single 17-lb turkey for seven people. We had lots left over.

Typically I dry-cure my meats before smoking, but I decided this turkey was going to be brined instead. Either method helps make for a more moist, flavorful final product. I used a “long brine” method, which calls for a weaker (less salty) brine and a longer soaking time. I started the brine on November 17th, so the turkey soaked for almost five full days. The finished product had a beautiful smokiness and a strong (but not overwhelming) bourbon flavor.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 fresh, all-natural (no added solution) turkey, between 15 and 18 lbs.
  • 1 five gallon bucket (preferably with lid) and fridge space for said bucket
  • 3.5 liters mid-grade bourbon
  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup black cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp whole allspice
  • Roughly three gallons of cold water

Don’t spend a huge amount of money on your bourbon, but don’t buy the cheapest brand either. The really cheap rotgut will impart unpleasant flavors to your bird, and the top-shelf stuff is wasted on this application. I bought Evan Williams, which is a decent middle-grade brand.

Pour the bourbon into a large stock pot and add the salt, sugar, and spices. Bring it to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Allow to boil for 30-40 minutes, or until reduced by about 1/4.

Set this aside to cool to room temperature.

Prep your bird by removing the giblets and neck. I usually give my turkey a quick rinse just to get rid of the stickiness of a shrink-wrapped bird. If your turkey has a plastic bracket holding the legs in place, remove it. If your bird is tied with twine, you can leave it in place.

Lower the turkey into the bucket head-down, with the legs pointing upward. Carefully pour in the bourbon solution through a colander (to catch the spices) and then add cold water until the bird is completely submerged. Refrigerate.

The night before you intend to smoke your turkey, place 2 cups of wood chips in a bowl with sufficient water to cover. I used cherry wood this year, and really liked the results, but I’ve also smoked poultry with apple and hickory and they’re both excellent. I’ve heard that oak is nice for turkey, but I’ve never tried it.

Heat your smoker to about 250°. While the smoker is warming up, remove the turkey from the brine and let it sit at room temperature. Once the smoker has heated up, drop the set temperature to about 215-220° and place the bird inside. Cook the turkey breast-side up. I’d recommend buying one of those metal racks with handles they sell around the holidays for just this purpose. It made it much easier to remove the turkey from the smoker when it was done cooking.

Smoke at this temperature for 6-8 hours, replenishing the wood about every 2. Don’t worry about internal temperature – the turkey will definitely reach 165°.

This method results in a very dark skin on the turkey. It’s not burned! The skin doesn’t take on the nice crispy texture you would get from roasting at a higher temperature, and has a tougher consistency and a VERY smoky taste. No one in my family particularly likes to eat the skin anyway.

Smoked turkeys are a little easier to carve than roasted, as the connective tissue has begun to break down. The meat also keeps a lot longer in the refrigerator. I’d say the only downside to smoked turkey is that it seems to dry out in the fridge more easily than roasted turkey, but you can submerge it in gravy to prevent this.

This bird had a definite bourbon flavor. It was not so strong as to be overwhelming, and between cooking the brine and cooking the bird I wasn’t worried about any remaining alcohol content. Just a nice little hint of bourbon and spice.

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Tomato Basil Mussels

Steamed mussels are an amazingly easy dish. With the increasing popularity of rope-grown mussels, they’re also surprisingly available and inexpensive. Rope-grown mussels tend to have less grit in them than wild-caught, and are more sustainable.

Mussels are best cooked live in a quick steam, though I’ve also cooked them in the smoker (which was delicious, if quite different than steamed). The heat causes them to open their shells, making them easy to extract and eat. You don’t want to eat a mussel that doesn’t open on its own, or one with a broken shell (broken either before or after cooking). A fresh, live mussel will snap closed if you run fresh water over it, and you should throw away any raw mussels that remain open after rinsing. Check the dates on the packaging and only buy mussels from stores whose seafood departments you trust, and you should end up with very few “dead soldiers” in your kitchen trash can.

This version of steamed mussels is one of my favorites. Here’s what you’ll need to serve two people:

  • 2 lbs raw mussels
  • 1 cup fresh basil (I used a mix of Thai, lemon, and Italian)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cups white wine (1 750 ml bottle)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • Salt to taste
  • Crusty fresh bread

Start by checking over your mussels. Use a pair of kitchen shears or needle-nose pliers to remove any “beards” that remain on the outside of the shell. Rinse off any visible dirt.

Combine the basil, broth, wine, and tomatoes in a large stock pot and bring them to a boil, stirring frequently. Allow to reduce by 2/3. Turn the heat down to medium-high and drop a steamer basket or colander down into the pot. Gently pour your mussels into the basket and lid the pot. A glass lid is useful here because you can see when the mussels begin to open. This should only take a few minutes. Don’t overcook your mussels! They turn tough very easily.

Once the majority of the shells have opened, remove the steamer basket (carefully!) and let the broth stay on the heat while you check over the cooked mussels. Discard those that haven’t opened.

Arrange the mussels in a bowl or soup plate and pour the cooking broth over top. Serve with a few slices of bread and provide a bowl for discarded shells. A narrow fork is the best way to remove the mussels from their shells.

A pound of mussels per person is enough to make this a full meal, or you can serve these as an appetizer in smaller portions. They’re also great over pasta.

 

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