Monday, December 24, 2007

The Essentials Part Two: Want vs. Need

Some of the things I use every day in the kitchen are, in the world of MRP, needs, not just wants. On the top of the list in the needs category is a really good knife. I've gone back and forth about the differences between German and Japanese made knives. I have both- the Henckels five star series representing Germany, and the beauty below speaking for Japan. She's a Shun and she's become my favorite.

Notice the purty wavy lines. Like a Samurai sword.

There is much to say about knives. The main thing is this: get a good one. It'll make your life in the food prep department so much easier you'll actually want to cook even if you don't think you like cooking. And for the rest of what there is to say about knives, I give you Alton Brown:

This teapot is a want but it sure is nice to have. I start my day off with a cup of green tea in lieu of coffee. Like a Samurai.
Sauciers are more of a need at this point in my game. They're great for making a lot more than sauces, too. The Caribbean blue one is made by Le Creuset, the shiny one is All Clad.

The next items are definitely needs. You can't cook without shallots, garlic, or olive oil. I realize that these are ingredients, but what good are all the fancy pants pans without the right things to put in them?

You want prep bowls. You can measure out everything you need, if you're into measuring, which I'm not. It's still nice to have some place to out all the stuff I slice and dice before it goes in the pot. These have lids, too, which is nice when I over slice and/or dice.
And all this other stuff is mostly want, with a few need. You absolutely need some good tongs. These are made by Oxo, and they're my favorite. I have one other pair, but they were in the dishwasher. That's why I have three- cause one is always in the dishwasher. Whisks make the creation of sauces much easier. The wooden spoon I include because of its beautiful patina. I've been working on that stain for over ten years.
Now you know what to get yourself when you start returning all those unwanted Christmas gifts.

The squirrels are getting feisty around here, so that means it's blowgun time. I'll try to get some video for all the dudes who read this site in hopes of more lung-powered mayhem. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Essentials, Part One

If I've ever come to your house to cook something, I probably brought a few tools to the party. If I didn't, I probably wished I had. Here's why: Most people don't have some of the basic weapons of war for the modern culinary warrior. And if I say it like that it sounds way more masculine than, "you don't have good tongs or a zester."

I've been meaning to post this info for awhile, but I kept putting it off because I was busy learning huge lists of anatomy and neurology at school. Now that the tests are over and the lists are forgotten I can get back to the important things in life. This episode of The Essentials will focus on cooking vessels. You do, however, need a good pair of tongs.

Item number one- A cast iron skillet. If you've hung out here at all you've seen this a few times:Just look at her. So shiny. So smooth and glassy. This is a Griswold skillet, which aren't made anymore. Cara's grandmother gave it to me. I have several other skillets in several sizes, but this one is special. I often scramble eggs in her with no sticking. You don't have to have a Griswold, but you should have a cast iron skillet. Lodge makes good ones for cheap. And you too will be able to pass yours along to your grandson-in-law one day because they last forever. You can get a Griswold on ebay if you want to go old school.

Next on the list of essentials-the Dutch oven. Want to convert a cheap cut of meat into a succulent main course that melts in your mouth? Then you need to master the art of braising. If it weren't for braising we'd be in trouble these days while we're getting by on a student loan budget. Braising is essentially simmering something in a little liquid of some sort (which usually ends up becoming a sauce) for a long time until collagen breaks down and the target food gets tender. Pot roast comes to mind, but there is so much more. Do yourself a favor and get Molly Steven's All About Braising. I've made many of the recipes in that book, and they've all been home runs. The big difference between a Dutch oven and a slow cooker is the fact that you can sear meats and caramelize onions in a Dutch oven, and a slow cooker just slow cooks.

Pictured below are three of my favorites. Up first is my go-to pot. It's just the right size (4 quarts?) for the two of us, and, hey, I like the color too. It's a Staub:
Next up, another favorite- the Le Creuset. If you watch the Food Network at all you've seen one of these. Le Creuset is the most famous Dutch (they say "French" because they're, um, French. Whatever.) oven on the planet among the foody crowd. And again, I like the color. This one is 5.5 quarts. I think.
I saved Old Faithful for last. This Lodge Dutch oven is the stuff of cowboy legend. If I had to live on the trail this would be my pot of choice. The only drawback to the non-enameled cast iron is the fact that acidic foods like tomatoes and wine can taste a little metallic if left in the pot too long. I love cooking potatoes in this bad boy. I get them crispy on the outside and then steam them a little with the lid on. Speaking of lids- both the Staub and the Lodge lids have convex dimples that redirect the condensation back onto the food, which acts as a self-basting mechanism.
Now that I've done some frying in the Lodge , she has a good non-stick surface. Makes those taters really easy to make. I love black, shiny surfaces.I've gotta go make some taters now, so I'll stop here.
Next post: Knives!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fish n' Chips

I warn you, what you are about to read is going to inspire you, and the results just may not be too healthy. There. You've been warned. I made this for the first time a few weeks ago, Cara took the photos, and now guilt compels me to write this up, since we had it again tonight. I just can't continue to allow myself to deprive humanity from the crispiest fish ever eaten. The fries are most excellent too. All in all, this is one of the best monochromatic plates of food you've ever eaten.

The first thing you gotta do, is get yourself some fish. I used some Orange Roughy that was on sale at our local grocery store (Publix- a name I still can't seem to get used to). It's a nice white fish that comes in fairly thick fillets. Cod or any other white fish would work too. Step one- cut your fish into the perfect sized fryable pieces. That's right- "fryable." Observe:Step two- cut four taters into French fry shapes. I made mine into slightly less than 1/2 inch planks of love. No need for a picture. Cause we didn't take one. It does make it easier to cut the sides flat so that you have a rectangular shaped cubey thing. I'm sure there's a geometry term for it, but I'm too lazy to check. Once you have the afore mentioned shape, cut it into fries.

The secret to the perfect homemade fries is the "double fry." DFing ensures a perfect inner texture with a crispy exterior. Trust me. But before you fry them even once, you've got to pre-cook them just a touch. Just coat them in oil, then cover them and microwave them for five minutes. They'll look like this:In the meantime, start heating your oil. Go for about 350 degrees, or so I'm told. To be honest, I can tell by looking at it when it's hot enough. I have a deep cast iron frying vessel, which is perfect for this recipe for the two of us, but if I were having a fish n' chips party I'd break out my Dutch oven. It's what Bobby Flay does, and that dude can cook. Fry your fries the first time for about six minutes.

I used peanut oil, which is also what Bobby Flay uses. Please review the warning at the top of this post.

Once Fry-Down Part One is complete, mix up your batter for the fish. You'll need a cup and a half of flour; a half a cup of corn starch; a couple of big pinches of salt; a teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, paprika and, baking powder; and a few grinds of black pepper. And a beer.

Whisk everything but the baking powder and beer together, and reserve 3/4 cups on a pie plate (or a regular plate or whatever- you're going to dredge the fish through it twice before you're done). After you have your reserve set aside add the baking powder and then the beer. Stir it up until it's just incorporated. There will be some lumps, but that's cool. The batter will be very thin- when you pull your stirring device out, it will run off in rivulets. So now you have a wet beer batter, and a pile of heart healthy flour and cornstarch. Dredge (cookin' term for "drag") the fish in the dry pile, then dip it into the wet, and take it for one last romp through the dry. set each piece aside until you've got your fish piled up like gold bricks in Fort Knox. Delicious gold bricks that go great with malt vinegar that is:

Next step: fry 'em. Golden brown, please.
Oh yeah.

Now refry the fries until they too are golden brown.
Get yourself a bowl of malt vinegar, a pile of ketchup, and go to town. London town, that is.

I hope this post makes up for my absence of late- neuroanatomy is hard. I have a few ideas for other food related posts, as well as a general status of our days in Florida post, but for now, eat yourself some delicious fish. And check back soon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Grilled peaches and figs (yes, figs. They're good.) topped with mascarpone cheese and honey-lemon sauce. So simple there is really no need to say anything else.Well, okay, I'll say this: grilled peaches and ice cream are also super good. Or just grilled peaches by themselves. Or figs. I'm just trying to burn up some space so the first thing people see won't be a dead mouse when they open this page.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's About Time

It's with no small sense of irony that I finally post here on Medium Rare Please the way I cook my steaks. That is to say medium rare. When I was teaching I gave a once a year lesson that became legendary with the boys in my classes- the "how to grill the perfect steak" lesson. I justified this action as a "note taking exercise," but the reality was I just liked talking about this kind of stuff, and the kids were happy to talk about anything other than grammar. I almost always received an email or two from parents afterwards thanking me for the lesson after their 12 year old blew 'em away with a tasty dinner.

First step: the rub. There are rubs a plenty available in the grocery store, but there's nothing to making your own, and then you can say you did it. Also it's way cheaper to make a big batch of your own, which is important to us now that we're living on student loans for the next two and a half years. For the rub you need a container with a lid; it really doesn't matter what size you use because we're going to deal in proportions instead of precise measurements, ya dig?

The rub serves two purposes- first it imparts your own special flavor to your meat (or veggies if you want), and second, it gives you something to do while your grill is getting hot enough. Start by adding three parts brown sugar to your container. This is an essential ingredient, unlike all the others. If you look at any store bought rub, it'll be the first thing on its list of what's inside. It also adds a hint of sweetness that will contrast nicely with the heat of any chili powder you might add, which you should. The next ingredient, by the way, is chili powder. I make this about one and a half parts, or about half of the amount of brown sugar. Then after that it's pretty much a free for all. I add pinches of this and that, and smell and taste as I go. Onion powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, and coriander usually make the cut. Spanish smoked paprika, and dried thyme went in my last batch too, and that worked out quite well. I don't put salt in it because I like to control the exact amount that goes on, and that's hard to do when I can't see it. I added a tablespoon of coffee in my current batch, and it will now be a permanent member of the family. Once you've got everything in the container put the lid on and shake it until your arms hurt. Voila: you've got rub.

Now, go turn on your grill, if it's a gas grill, and let it start getting super hot. Not just hot, super hot. You want grill marks, don't you? Eat with your eyes before your mouth. Once the grill is on, apply rub to one or both sides of your steak. Cara actually prefers salt and pepper only with a decent steak, and I can respect that, but on lesser cuts of meat (fajitas and such) I rub it all up. The sugar in the rub will then begin to melt and combine with the other ingredients making a glossy red finish on the steak. By the time it looks like that, you're ready to grill. Don't forget the salt when you apply the rub, almost forgot that part. I prefer kosher salt in case you care.

Now for the important part- the grillin'. Like I said, I get the grill mega-super hot. This is important for the maillard effect, which is a fancy way of saying "meat brownin'." Contrary to popular belief, searing your meat does not, I repeat, not, "seal in the juices." It does make meat taste better, so you should do it. It also makes it look better. So you should do it. Now that your grill is mega-super hot, lay your steaks on at a 45 degree angle to the grate. Like this:I apologize for the flash photography, but the smoke was making the camera focus on the smoke and not the steak. Now, and this is very important, leave it alone. Walk away for a minute if you have to, but if you want these to look like they were lifted out of a commercial, you've got to trust me on this. And you should be using tongs for all handling of the meat. Got that? No forks or other stabby implements. You want juice in your meat, right? Then don't stab, cut or otherwise impale your food until it's time to eat it. Okay, now that a couple of minutes have passed, rotate your steaks until they're 45 degrees to the other side of the grate, or 90 degrees from where you had 'em. However you want to think about it. Like this:By the way, I do my veggies the same way. Sharing the grill is some squash with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

So how do I know exactly when to turn things over? By touching what I've cooked over the years I've developed a feel for how done things are. Really spongy= raw, and really hard=well done, not that I've ever cooked a steak well done in my life. As the name of this site would suggest, I like my steak closer to the spongy end of the spectrum. You should too. When it's been another minute or two, flip 'em and repeat the process. Nothing is more satisfying than flipping your steak to see this:Looks good, huh? After you repeat the process and take them off the heat, you've got one more thing to do: wait. Do not cut into that steak until it's had a chance to rest for five minutes. This gives the juices time to redistribute, keeping them from running all over the plate once you cut into it. This makes every bite juicy instead of only the first bite. So there you go. Follow these simple steps and your next slab o' beef will be too good to ever bother eating at a steak house again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cooking = Art?

If you known me for any length of time you know that I've gone through many phases of artsyness. My first foray into the world of self expression was the visual arts. I even had an art scholarship at Alvin Community College (now that is something to be proud of)- where I painted this:
Which is about four feet tall, and even scarier in real life. I quit painting when I started playing bass, which is mode of self-expression number two. I still play bass, and since I've been in Florida I've begun to gravitate toward more funky, island style bass lines. We'll just have to see if I come up with anything remotely original in that department. I have a friend that plays guitar and leads worship at a local church that I'd like to play with if we can ever get a break from the constant studying.

I did paint once more, by the way, for my old band's second album cover:
I thought it came out fairly well given the ten year lapse between painting projects.

So, I've covered art from the visual media, as well as the auditory. But cooking covers all the senses. Great chefs (and me) know that you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth. Therefore the presentation of the food appeals to the visual sense. Smell and taste should be fairly obvious for the intelligent crowd that visits this site. Preparing the food with the slicing and dicing and stirring and all that covers the tactile/kinesthetic senses. What else is left? Hearing you say? How is that covered? One of my favorite sounds is the moment diced onions hit a hot pan. Also high on my list of things to hear is the phrase, "dinner's ready."

And one more thing about the art of cooking. You gotta eat.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Like Migas, Just Better

One of my favorite breakfast menu items in Houston is migas, which is peppers and onions scrambled in some eggs with pieces of corn tortilla thrown in the mix. They usually have tomatoes in them too. This isn't Houston though, so I have to make 'em myself, which isn't so bad because these are better anyway. I made these for a little family brunch one time, and I think certain members are still feuding about who got the last bite.

Warning: most of what you are about to see doesn't quite qualify as anti-inflammatory menu items. This morning I felt like I needed a break from my non-miga eatin' ways. I've lost about 15 pounds since we've been in Florida, and you know, every once in a while, you've got to eat some pork fat. Just ask Emeril. Today was one of those days.

You may be asking yourself why this particular recipe is better than the original. If not, I'll tell you anyway: texture.

The old school way of making migas is good, but the tortillas are cooked with the eggs and they get soft. I like crispy. Mine also has bacon to add to the whole crispy side of the equation. Start by frying some Alabama style. What's that? You don't know about Alabama style bacon frying? Allow me to enlighten you. Do it reeeealy slow. It'll turn out much more even and crispy and delicious:
Ain't that pretty?

Next, remove the bacon and fry some tortilla strips in the bacon "renderings." Make no apologies for doing this.
Once the strips are crispy take them out and toss a pinch o' kosher salt on them. Now dice up an onion and a jalapeƱo or two. Throw it in the grease. Stir it all around a bit and let it cook until the onions start to barely brown and get soft. While that's going on lightly beat a couple of eggs. When the onions and peppers are just right, make a well out of them in the middle of the pan like so:
And pour the eggs in the middle. This way if your range top isn't perfectly level, which seems to be the case in most of the free world, your eggs will stay in the cookin' zone. It also gives the eggs a chance to cook before becoming one with the other stuff in the pan. Tomatoes could go in just before the eggs, by the way, but I'm still waiting on some to grow out back.
By the way, if you notice, I'm scrambling eggs in a cast iron skillet. I've heard it mentioned on the Food Network a few times that cast iron is good for just about everything but scambling eggs. This particular skillet however, is a Griswold. They don't make them anymore, Cara's grandmother (mom's side) gave me, er, us this one. It was made in the 50s I would guess, and it's seasoned to perfection. Eggs don't stick to this bad boy. Check it out:
No egg residue here. Thanks, Meemaw. Once you've got what you see above, add it to the pile of crispy bacon and crispy crispies you've got waiting to be made complete. It looks like this:

I don't know how to say bon appetite in Spanish, but that's what I mean.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Medium Rare International

I was reading my old friend (not that we're all that old or anything. Really.) Christy's blog a few days ago and she suggested that people put counters on their sites. This gives one the ability to see what countries your visitors are in, how many visitors a day you get as well as a ton of other nifty features that can either fuel or destroy the fantasy that anyone actually reads this stuff.

Now keep in mind here that I thought that only a handful of people knew about this thing, and out of that handful there would only be, well, less than a handful that cared. Don't hear me saying that the people who read do care, I wouldn't want to be that presumptuous. But like I said, part of the statistics being kept are the countries from where these posts are being read. Or at least accidentally clicked on for two seconds. MRP is international baby! Check it out:
United States

Germany Germany

Italy Italy

Spain Spain

Romania Romania

Argentina Argentina

United Kingdom United Kingdom

So the question of the day is this: what's the dealio, yo? Where are you? How did you get here?
I suppose that's three questions, but I am curious. So if you're in a country other than Texas, say hello. Everyone else- meet my new friends.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I don't speak much Spanish, but I think "carnitas" means "taco that can make Jack Bauer/Chuck Norris cry." And not because of the heat, although they do have a kick. The best thing about them, at least until I graduate, is the fact that making them is so cheap. After the money kicks in the best thing about them is the fact that they're so darn good. So how do you make 'em? Let us begin.

First, you need a big ol' hunk of fatty pork. I used a "pork shoulder picnic roast." Whatever that is. In Houston, if you happen to be in that neighborhood, the stores sell, "pork for carnitas," which makes it easy. But a big hunk o' pork is a big hunk o' pork. If it's fatty, you're in the right place.

Once the pork is procured, dice it into one inch cubes, like so:
Then salt and pepper 'em. I like using "salt" and "pepper" as verbs. It just feels right. Now for the esoteric ingredient of the day. You ever see those dusty lookin' dried peppers at the store and wondered what it is that people do with them? I'll tell you. They simmer them in salted water until they get soft. This takes 20-30 minutes. I use a combination of chili de arbol and New Mexico Red Chilis. They look like this:
The skinny ones are the chili de arbol. They're a little on the hot side.

Once you can easily pierce them with a fork, it's time for the blender. Don't burn yourself, and please don't rub your eye anytime during the handling of these things. I only show the next picture because I think our blender looks cool.
I pour some of the pepper water (a little more than pictured) in the blender to get the right consistency for the sauce it's about to become. That consistency would be about that of heavy cream. Mmmm, cream. Add salt- kosher salt is my go to rock for cooking.

Next, take the cubes o' pork and sear them until the outside is brown and the house has a smell that could convert the most fervent vegetarian. I show the next picture because the pot I cooked these things in is also very cool. And I know that people like pictures a lot more than my writing.
Once you get everything browned up, and that is an important step (it's known as the maillard effect, for all you fans of Alton Brown) take the pork out and throw in a finely diced onion. Cook it until it gets nice and soft and porky. Now it's time to add the pork back in and the braising liquid from the blender. By the way, that braising liquid makes a really good hot sauce. I add a little raw garlic, and a thimble full of champagne vinegar to it for that particular incarnation. Let the whole thing simmer for as long as you can stand it. I try for four to six hours, but I usually can't wait that long. It keeps getting better as the days go by until it's all gone. That's usually not too long around these parts. Grab yourself a tortilla, some sour cream if you're into that, and that's about it. It comes with it's own sauce. I threw a little cilantro on top since it's growing right out back and all.