Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Some photos from last night's pizza. Tasty, but there are still many areas for improvement. There are still many things that I am learning.  
Pizza Margherita.
 Italian sausage (somehow got it for free, along with another sausage, from the butcher at Whole Foods).
Assortment of toppings.
Dairy free/vegan pizza.
Peach, caramelized onion, goat and mozzarella cheeses.
Pizza crust bottom-view. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Caprese Salad

This is salad in its simplest form. Caprese salad is quite easy to make. It is also a summer salad - don't even try making it anytime but the summer (unless you live somewhere very warm) because the tomatoes will not be great out of season, and great tomatoes are essential for a good caprese salad. Good mozzarella helps too. A balsamic reduction raises this caprese salad to the next level. 

Caprese Salad:

2 large, ripe tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
10 slices fresh mozzarella (about one mozzarella ball)
20 leaves fresh basil
1/4 cup balsamic reduction (see below)
freshly ground black pepper
kosher salt

To make this salad, simply assemble thinly sliced ripe tomatoes (about 1/4 inch thick), fresh mozzarella slices of about the same size, and several basil leaves. To make each stack, begin with a tomato slice. Place several basil leaves on top of tomato slice, followed by a slice of mozzarella. Then drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil and a liberal amount of balsamic reduction (see below) on top. Add some extra smaller basil leaves to the top as well. Season with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt (this depends on the salt content of your mozzarella. I barely added any salt this time because the mozzarella I used was very salty to begin with). Enjoy!

Balsamic Reduction:

3/4 cup good balsamic vinegar

Simply bring the vinegar to a slight simmer in a saucepan for 10-20 minutes allowing the liquid to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Any extra can be stored in the refrigerator. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chinese Steamed Goat Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Homemade wrappers in back, store-bought in front.
Chinese dumplings are one of my favorite foods. They are simply amazing. The combination of texture, sweetness, saltiness, and juiciness make my mouth water. While I am usually somewhat picky when it comes to a food's quality, I am not at all around chinese dumplings, even when they come from a mediocre chinese restaurant. I love 'em all. It only makes sense, then, that homemade dumplings go above and beyond making me happy.
In these dumplings I used ground goat meat (with a little ground pork to add some fat) from a friend's goat that I helped butcher last week.
Ground goat meat with rib cage.
I also got to use my new bamboo steamer that I bought earlier today (for the main purpose of steaming dumplings). After soaking it in water for several hours it was ready to use and worked great. Rather than settling on just one type of dumpling wrapper, I decided to use a combination of store bought dumplings wrappers (Twin Marquis brand from my local asian market) and homemade wrappers. The homemade wrappers (flour and water) are thicker and have a better texture than the thin store bought wrappers, however both worked well and tasted good. I made a simple dipping sauce from soy sauce, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, sugar, scallions, and hot chili oil.

Bamboo steamer 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wood-fired Pizza in the Virginia Backcountry

My friends and I tend to cook well when backpacking in the mountains. I don't understand buying all that expensive freeze-dried stuff anyways. This weekend we drove out to the Mount Rogers Wilderness/Grayson Highlands State Park to do some backpacking. We set up camp at an incredible campsite in a grassy open area at about 5000 feet above sea level.
We constructed a "stone-hearth oven" prior to building the fire. After building up a good pile of coals and "pre-heating" the oven, we cooked out first pizza. We used pita that we cut in half as the pizza crust. Due to the way the oven was assembled, we were able to achieve high heat from below and above the pizza which was ideal.
I highly recommend trying this next time y'all are in the backcountry as there is nothing better than freshly cooked pies on the mountain top.
Improvised peel.

View from the back of the oven with sliding rock "doors" open.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Roasted Tomato Risotto

Risotto can be somewhat time consuming (and daunting) the first couple times you make it, but once you become comfortable, it does not require any more effort than rice rice (slight exaggeration...), and risotto is absolutely incredible tasting. Risotto takes rice to a completely new level. Better yet, it is very adaptable and can therefore be made using many different ingredients. For this recipe, I simply used the Parmesan Risotto recipe from the New Best Recipe and added about a cup of roasted tomatoes and garlic about 15 minutes before the risotto was fully cooked. Next time I will definitely begin with more tomatoes as they cooked down tremendously. I also need ideas for a proper garnish for this dish. Any suggestions?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grilled Bruschetta with Tomatoes and Basil

Bruschetta is a great example of a dish that depends entirely on the quality of the individual components. Bruschetta looks and tastes wonderful when each component receives the necessary attention. The bread should be crispy (I usually grill it for the great grill marks, although putting it under the broiler for a minute or two also works.). It should also be "garlic-y". If using tomatoes, they should be perfectly ripe (different colored tomatoes add to the apperance). The combination of tomatoes and basil is incredible. While mozzarella cheese is another good addition to this bruschetta, I believe the simplicity of this version allows the bread and tomatoes to stand out.

Grilled Bruschetta with Tomatoes and Basil:

10 slices of a baguette, cut at an angle 3/4 inch thick (other crispy white breads can be used, however the french baguette looks the prettiest)
2 large ripe tomatoes
5 cloves garlic, minced
10-20 large basil leaves, chiffonade
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into 1/4-1/2 inch cubes (be careful not to mush the tomatoes when cutting the tomatoes as they are fragile. I recommend using a sharp serrated bread knife). Combine the tomatoes with 3 cloves minced garlic, chiffonade basil, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, and all of the vinegar. Carefully fold together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Marinate the tomatoes in this mixture for about 15 minutes.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Combine 2 cloves minced garlic with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and paint a light coating of this mixture onto both sides of the bread slices using a kitchen paint brush. Grill the bread t for a couple minutes per side until they develop light grill marks.
Put a generous spoonful of tomato mixture onto grilled bread and serve.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Smoked Whole Chicken

Now that I am home I can now use the Big Green Egg again. I decided to smoke chicken this time. I have had plenty of chicken recently, so I think I might take a rest before I cook it again. As I usually do when cooking chicken on the grill, I butterflied it and seasoned it well with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. In order to impart the most flavor, I rubbed the salt and pepper underneath and on the outside of the skin. I then put the chickens on the grate which was sitting on top of the ceramic plate setter (feet-up) with a fire box filled about 1/3 full with BGE Lump Charcoal (much better than charcoal briquettes). I also threw on a generous handful of hickory chunks that had been soaking in water for an hour or so for a extra smokey flavor. I cooked the chickens at about 260-290 F for two or three hours until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the thighs reached about 170.
The chickens turned out real good, although grilled barbecue chicken with homemade barbecue sauce is hard to beat.

There is no need to flip the chicken.

Hickory chunks on left and BGE lump charcoal on right. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Herbs, Chorizo, and Cherry Tomatoes

One of the unique advantages of homemade pasta is the ability to add additional ingredients to the dough, such as herbs or vegetables. I decided to add basil tonight in hopes that the strong and spicy flavor of the basil would enhance the taste of the pasta. Well, the basil flavor was much more subtle than expected. The basil did little to change the flavor of the actual pasta, however the green specks in the pasta definitely looked very appealing. In the end, I believe that the addition of basil was worth it, even if it only added to the appearance (and because "basil fettucine" sounds cooler than "plain fettucine").

Notice the green specks of basil.

This recipe is very flexible and can be tweaked in many ways. The exact amount of each ingredient is very flexible (the ratio of flour:egg in dough must be consistent). The amount of dough can be increased easily by using 2/3 cup flour for one large egg. 

Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Herbs, Chorizo, and Cherry Tomatoes

Basil Pasta Dough:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
15 basil leaves (more or less)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 medium sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
fresh herbs, minced (oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, etc. I used oregano, basil and thyme this thyme)
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (more or less)
1/3 pound chorizo sausage (more or less)
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 basil leaves, sliced thinly for garnish
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Coarsely chop the basil leaves. Pulse the chopped basil and 2 tablespoons olive oil in food processor until the pieces of basil are very small. Add flour and eggs and turn processor on until the dough comes together into one ball (about 30 seconds). The dough should barley stick to the sides of the food processor. Add a couple drops water if the dough is too dry. Add 1/2 teaspoon flour if dough is too wet. Cover dough ball with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Dough can sit in refridgerator up to 24 hours.

Remove casing from sausage. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Cook sausage in pan over medium heat until just cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Set aside on paper towels. 

Roll pasta using a pasta roller with the cutter set to fettucine. 

Bring 4-quarts water to full boil. Salt water liberally with kosher salt before adding pasta (do not skip this step). Cook pasta until just al-dente, about 3 minutes for fresh fettucine. 

Cook the onions with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil until translucent over medium heat in large sauté pan, about 8 minutes. Add sausage, garlic, and herbs. Cook until garlic begins to turn slightly brown, about 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add cooked pasta. Toss the pasta with the sausage and onion mixture. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle grated parmesan on top. Garnish with thinly sliced basil and serve immediately. 


Recipe by Luke Paulson

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Grilled Quail with Red Pepper Risotto and Tomato and Sage Essence

This is a based on a recipe out of Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill (not including the risotto). It was ambitious (probably too ambitious) to even try to replicate one of the Barker's recipes, but I certainly tried. I used The Pioneer Women's Red Pepper Risotto recipe for the risotto. The risotto (which I have cooked before) turned out great, as usual, however the quail and tomato and sage essence  came out so-so, and was not really worth the effort that I put into it.
The cookbook is great for reading, however (especially after making this dish) I find most of the recipes to be too complicated. It is obviously composed of recipes from the Magnolia Grill  kitchen (which actually just closed its doors for good about a month ago), many of which include sauces, ingredients, and techniques that are either too time consuming or too expensive to make it worth making for one meal.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NC Crab Cakes

I decided to catch some crabs and make some crab cakes after noticing the oddly high number of blue crabs in the surf at the beach this past week. I have never seen blue crabs in such numbers.
While catching the crabs was relatively easy, cleaning them was not. I have only "cleaned" crabs once before, and that was at least five years ago. Forming and cooking the crab cakes was actually quite easy once I finally extracted the crab meat.
Living crabs before being boiled
I was fairly pleased with the final product. They had lots of lump crab meat per cake and had a nice flavor. The texture is the main aspect I need to improve on. While there was a nice crispy outside layer from pan-frying, the inside of the cakes seemed a little bit mushy. Hopefully I can improve on this next time I make these things again. I think having a slight crunch throughout the inside of the cake would raise these to the next level. Anybody have any ideas for how to achieve this?

While I am not a regular crabber, it was awesome eating these cakes knowing exactly how and where they came from (I caught them that day!). I also do a lot of fishing at the beach, in fact I spend most of my beach time with rod and reel in hand, however I usually catch and release.

Grilled Whole Chicken

When at home I always grill/smoke chicken on our Big Green Egg, although I used a Weber charcoal grill this time because I was at the beach and therefore was without the BGE. This didn't seem to be a problem though, because I was able to cook the chicken the same way and it turned out quite well. I try to use whole butterflied chickens when I grill chicken as I believe they turn out the best.

After butterflying the whole chicken I seasoned it with salt and pepper and placed it on the grill skin-side up over indirect heat. I also added a couple handfuls of hickory chunks for a nice smokey flavor. Because I cook my chicken slowly over indirect heat (I believe this is the best way to grill chicken: it is moist and doesn't get burn on the edges), I do not flip the chicken at all while cooking. I "painted" the bird with my homemade barbecue sauce a couple minutes before (and directly after) removing from the heat.

Luke's advice for grilled chicken:

  • use bone-in chicken. whole chickens are ideal (butterfly before cooking)
  • season liberally with kosher (big grains) and freshly ground black pepper before cooking
  • grill over a low-temperature indirect heat (the exact grill temperature is not too important, especially when using grills such as the Weber kettle grill without a thermometer, but I would aim around 300 F.)
  • If planning on applying barbecue sauce as I did here, apply the sauce about 2-5 minutes before removing chicken from the grill to avoid burning)
  • Do not overcook!