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Super Bowl Time: Chili Cheese Mac Dog

February 5, 2012

I’m much more of a college football fan than a NFL fan, but I have a long history of loving the food aspect of Super Bowl Sunday.  The Super Bowl should be a national holiday because we treat it like one in the United States.  The event is the center of festivities: a day for friends to get together, a day to be amused by the newest commercials, and a day to watch the big game.  Supposedly the Super Bowl is the second-largest food consumption day in the United States, trailing only Thanksgiving.  I can believe that with some of the over-the-top meals my brother and I have made for this day over the years.

This year, the highlight of our Super Bowl Sunday feast is an indulgence of my own creation: the Chili Cheese Mac Dog.  Inspired by a love of chili on my hot dog and a love of chili in my mac and cheese, I’ve made a place for the three in the same bed—my hot dog bun. It’s as if these ingredients were meant to be together: a bite of dog smathered in tomatoes and beans and spices, oozing with creamy, melty pasta.   There are a million different ways to make both chili and mac and cheese, but I’m going to use my favorite two recipes for today.  If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to experience the greatness that is the Chili Cheese Mac Dog, just make some Kraft Mac and Cheese and heat up a can of prepared chili.  Spread those on a hot dog, with maybe some ketchup and mustard and you are pretty much ready to go.  For those of you who are serious about this day of consumption, what follows is for you…

Bill’s Chocolate Cinnamon Chili (serves 8-10+)

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of olive oil

2 good size onions chopped (roughly 2 cups)

4 red peppers chopped

5 cloves of garlic

Three 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes

2 pounds of ground beef

2 15-ounce cans of black beans

½ bottle of pilsner or wheat beer

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon hot paprika

2 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons molasses

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Method:

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the chopped onions, red pepper, and salt, and sauté for approximately 8 minutes or until softened.  Add the garlic and the ground beef and cook until evenly browned.

Add the beer, chili powder, paprika, chipotle powder, and ground pepper.  While stirring, bring to a boil for one minute.  Drink the rest of the beer yourself.  Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil and then reduce heat until the mixture is simmering gently.  Add the cocoa powder, cinnamon, and molasses.

Simmer the chili for approximately 1 hour.  Rinse the beans and add them to the pot, and cook for another 30 minutes.  

The Ultimate Sharp and Spicy Mac and Cheese (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter

3 1/2 cups whole milk

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Kosher Salt

10 oz (3 to 5 cups) Sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup Dry Jack cheese

1 teaspoon ground fresh pepper

1 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 pound elbow or rotini pasta

½ cup sliced and sautéed scallions

3 tablespoons roasted, seeded, and chopped Serrano chilis

Method:

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot heat the butter until melted on low heat.  Whisk in the flour and continue to heat and whisk for 3 minutes.  Slowly add the milk while whisking, whisking until the sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream, about 6 minutes.  Raise the heat to medium.  Cook for another 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.  Turn off the heat and add your cheeses, black pepper, chipotle powder, and dry mustard.  Season the sauce to taste with kosher salt and keep warm over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat and add pasta.  Stir the pasta occasionally and cook until al dente.  Drain well and return to pot.

Add the cheese sauce, the scallions, and the Serrano peppers to the pasta and stir to combine.  At this point I feel that Mac and Cheese is ready for the hot dog.  If you prefer your Mac and Cheese a little stiffer you can bake it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. 

Chili Cheese Mac Dog (serves 8)

Ingredients:

8 ¼-pound all beef kosher hotdogs

8 good quality large hotdog buns

¼ cup Piri piri sauce or other hot sauce of choice

4 cups of mac and cheese (see above)

4 cups of chili (see above)

Assembling this bad boy:

With a brush coat all the hot dogs with a generous amount of the Piri piri or hot sauce of your choice.  Place hot dogs either under the broiler or on a grill, turning occasionally until cooked through or skin of casing splits.

Without opening inner part of bun, toast each bun on each side until lightly browned.  Less than one minute.

Cut open each bun, layer ½ cup of mac and cheese on bottom, place hot dog in the middle, and cover with ½ cup of chili.  If you so choose, top with ketchup and mustard.

How to Grill a Steak with a Hair Dryer

November 11, 2011

Among my friends I am known to be a little over the top.  The same can be said for my father-in-law.  Although we have pretty different personalities, after a couple glasses of wine we have this in common: we think we are the smartest people around.  So, I have to give some credit to the vino for the idea of cooking a steak in the fireplace directly on coals.

Warning: This grilling technique is not for the faint of heart, so I would suggest wearing long sleeves and having some fire mitts ready, just in case.

 

Here’s how it went: We got some really nice steaks.  New York Strip and Porterhouse are nice steaks, but we weren’t messing around with this meal.  I got four Niman Ranch French cut bone-in-ribeye, each about 2-3 inches thick, or as some people call them Cowboy Steaks.  These monsters weighed in at about two pounds each.  (Some level of control was used when we decided two might be enough for four people to share.)  These bad boys were salt- and peppered generously.

After cleaning out the fire box, we got some wire mesh to help hold the coals and began the process of making a big fire.  My father-in-law is still a Boy Scout at heart, as proven by his perfect stacking of the logs.  We preferred to use, because it was around, a combination of Oak and Beech wood.

We watched fire burn and drank wine. We waited. We drank some more wine.

By the time  the logs began to break down into glowing ember, we were inspired to stoke the fire.  Actually, we were just getting impatient and wanted to get some coals faster, so we could start cooking, and start eating.  I used a little hand crank stoker (barely seen on the left), which was as effective as me blowing on the fire.  My elder and wiser partner was not messing around and pulled out my mother-in-law’s hair dryer.  Brilliant!

Now we were ready to get in touch with our inner caveman.  As you can see, the steaks were placed directly on the coals.  No using grates to set the steaks above, no wrapping in aluminum foil, no girly-man stuff.  Just coals and meat.

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD IT WAS HOT!  I think my eyes were fully constricted and my eyebrows were in a questionable condition as this point.  More wine consumed.  Of course that was a great idea as we were wielding fire like Typhoeus.  At this time a not-so-little voice in my head was thinking, Maybe we should not be doing this inside a log cabin home.  Oh well.

We brushed off the steaks so that we didn’t have too much carbon with our cow… Considering that they had been through every circle of hell, I thought they looked pretty great.

You can see that these turned out beautifully.  The high heat seared the outside and left a really nice crust, but the inside was still a beautiful rare to medium rare.  I think the total cook time was probably 8 minutes on each side, followed by a lathering in olive oil, and a rest for about 10-15 minutes.

We served our Hair dryer-cooked Cowboy Steaks with homemade cornmeal-crusted onion rings.  Those are also great.  Of course, we had more wine.  There might have been something green we had with this meal, but it obviously was not that important.

Donuts! Donuts! Donuts!

October 23, 2011


I know we’re “supposed” to think of January as the beginning of the New Year, but after being in school for 25 years of my life, I always think of fall as a fresh start.  The air has a crispness that foretells the coming coldness, leaves show their colors, pigskins get passed around on weekends, and cider mills start producing cider and donuts.

A donut can be the perfect treat to start a fall weekend day.  Relatively simple to find with a large variety to choose between, a donut gives almost no significant long-term health benefit, but they’re great.  They can be fried, dipped in sugar, crunchy, chewy, oozy, and generally delicious.  The question remains: where to buy them?

If you’re not willing to do the work to make donuts at home, there are a variety of places to choose from to cure your fall-time craving. Excited by this, we chose three local hotspots known for their baked goods: Washtenaw Dairy , The Dexter Bakery, and Zingerman’s Bakehouse.

The donuts were rated on three characteristics: taste, texture, and value.  Here are our thoughts:

The Dexter Bakery (pictured from left to right):


Classic Jelly Donut:  Filled with a standard raspberry filling, this donut is what a classic jelly donut should taste like.  I personally prefer a more fruit-like center, while this has more of the gooey, gelatin-like consistency.  I found the texture of the donut to be a little too doughy.  The glaze was not too sweet and paired well with the flavor of the donut and filling. Overall the taste of the donut was simple, but pleasant.

Sour Cream “Dunker” Donut: This, like the jelly donut, is a classic.  At first bite I noticed a slight crisp from the glaze, yet the inside was nice and airy. It had a nice tang from the sour cream, which paired well with the sweetness of the glaze.  A great donut with a cup of coffee, milk, or tea.

Apple Fritter:  I have a warm place in my heart for apple fritters.  I found the texture of this donut to be a little too chewy and doughy, which was a bit unappealing.  The glaze is somewhat simple and tastes a little too sweet.  I would like more cinnamon and complexity to the flavor, but it does have the necessary stickiness that I appreciate in apple fritters.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse (pictured from left to right):


Lemon Cloud: Incredibly light and airy—truly like a cloud—and almost hollow inside.  The center has a thick, lemony curd, which was excellent and delicate in flavor, with lots of bright citrus zestiness.  Rolled in sugar, the outside has a nice crunch and its sweetness pairs well with the curd.

Apple Fritter:  Wow, lots of fresh cinnamon, right upfront. The outside is crispy and fresh and the texture is luscious and tender.  There were noticeable chunks of real apples protruding from its crust and the overall flavor was fresh and complex.  This was a truly excellent apple fritter.

Vanilla Cruller:  Wow, tons of vanilla.  This donut is light and fluffy with a nice glazed outside.  It has the gentle taste of vanilla bean with the perfect sweetness.  There seemed to be a little problem with this donut as it was a little wet inside when we tasted it, and therefore the texture was not as good as some of the other donuts we had at Zingerman’s.  I found out later that they had a problem with this donut in production that day.

Washtenaw Dairy (pictured from back to front):


Maple Frosted Donut:  Similar to the Dexter Bakery, Washtenaw Dairy has great traditional donuts.  The texture of this donut is cake-like, while the glaze is a little too sweet for my liking and overpowered the flavor of the donut.

Maple Frosted Donut with Nuts:  Similar to the one just mentioned, but it is amazing the difference the nuts make.  I would always get it with nuts.  The sweetness of the glaze is a lot more appealing when balanced with the saltiness of the nuts, and the whole overall texture and taste of the donut is improved with this addition.

Cinnamon Sugar Donut:  This is the most “fall feeling” of all the donuts that we tasted, as this type of donut always reminds me of being at a Cider Mill.  The granules of sugar help give this donut a nice crispy outside, while the cinnamon helps keep the donut from tasting too sweet.  I’m a crazy cinnamon lover (I put it in my chili even), so I wish that this donut had more cinnamon or cinnamon of a greater potency.  I like the lightness of this donut and the texture is spot-on: fluffy and cake-like.

It is always interesting to taste products side-by-side, and in my opinion the only fair way to really assess one versus another.  Certain things are evident immediately upon comparison, most obviously the freshness and quality of the ingredients.  On a whole, the taste from the Zingerman’s donuts is far superior to the flavor of the other two places and I attribute that to great ingredients being used throughout the whole process.  Also I found that their texture tended to be more pleasurable and in fitting with each of the donuts: the Apple Fritter was not doughy but still gooey, the Lemon Cloud was light and delicate, and so on.  However, when one talks about value for something, price becomes an important factor.  The donuts from Washtenaw Dairy are $0.60 a piece, the Dexter Bakery runs from $0.75 to $1.60, and the donuts from the Bakehouse run from $2.50 to $2.95 a piece. So, there is a big difference in price between the Zingerman’s donuts and the others.

Are the Zingerman’s donuts “worth” four times as much as the donuts at Washtenaw Dairy?   It depends.  Food taste is such a subjective thing and can be tainted by the environment you’re in.  If I’m at a tailgate and have had a little too much rum with my hot cider, I’m probably not going to care if the donuts are from one place or the other.  On the other hand, if I am going out for one great donut with a good cup of tea or coffee, than I am going to want the best tasting one and the price is worth it to me.  So, my opinion about the places is as follows:

Dexter Bakery:  This would be my overwhelming recommendation for a day-to-day donut shop.  They are open every day at the crack of dawn, they have a wide variety for the different kinds of donuts people enjoy, and they are very well priced.  I go to a meeting every Wednesday that always has these donuts and they are perfect for that.

Washtenaw Dairy:  While these are Jen’s favorites, I think that they do not have a good enough variety, and I prefer the taste and texture of the Dexter Bakery donuts.  They are relatively inexpensive, but I like more than just the three or so types of donuts they have to offer.  Ann Arborites will knock me for saying so, but I’m not excited by them at all.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse:  The Bakehouse makes the best donuts, hands-down.  They have the most intense flavor and texture combinations.  However, you can only get them on Saturdays after 10 AM and they cost 4 times as much as some of the other places.  I would think of these donuts as being more like a pastry and something that you buy as a treat, not something you buy three-dozen of for a group.

If you are in the area and you know of other local donut places that you think are great, let us know below in the comments area.  I’d be willing to make the sacrifice of trying your recommendations :)

Sometimes what everyone thinks is actually true: Napa valley is magical

August 11, 2011

I sometimes feel like my life is unique and special in its own way, containing problems that are unlike other people’s problems, joys that are unique to Jen and me, and opinions that are all my own.  Maybe this thought process is a result of being a twin and trying to create my own individual perspective and identity since I spent the first twenty years of my life doing the same things as my brother. Or maybe it’s just that fighting the popular opinion allows my own opinions be more unique.  Sometimes I think I disagree to just have my own opinion.  Pretty silly when I stop and think about it.

For the past few months, people have been telling me how great Napa Valley is. Some friends talked about how great the wines from 2007 are and how breathtaking the scenery is; others reveled in memories of amazing meals eaten there, how great the climate is, blah, blah, blah, blah.  It became nauseating.  By the time last Thursday rolled around I was resenting Napa already.  No way could it be as great as everyone talked about.  After landing in San Francisco, I was negative, irritable, and just annoyed that I had to spend two hours in traffic to get to this “heavenly” destination.  And what was worse, Jen had plans as a busy bridesmaid and I was going to be alone for most of the weekend.  I was a grump the whole day.  I hated Napa and the fact that I was there.

I was wrong.

As I headed north of the city of Napa Friday morning, mountains surrounded me on my left and right.  Almost like protective gates, they helped seal off the rest of the world.  The hillsides, fledged with honey-golden undergrowth and bushy green trees, beckoned me to explore and immerse myself in them, just as flowers attract bees.  Thousands of rows of vines were everywhere, bursting with fruit, and giving a sense of order and purpose, yet at the same time bestowing the area with a sense of peace and excitement.  So much of what takes place in Napa is focused on the idea of learning about what the earth has to offer and making it part of your life: wine making, organic gardening, cooking, and so on.

My time in Napa was as awakening and refreshing as cool water on a hot day.  I was able to spend some time alone (a rarity since having becoming a father), as I explored the different jewels off of St. Helena Hwy and Silverado trail.  A tour through Robert Mondavi’s winery made me feel more than 50% Italian, as I reflected that the man is from the same generation as my grandfather.  I wrote verbose descriptions of different wines I tasted, and had lengthy discussions with the wine experts at Paraduxx trying to really understand how food can change the flavor of wine and vice-versa.  Mustards was the place to make friends with a couple from British Columbia, while exchanging factoids with the bartender on subjects as diverse as the origin of the name Pabst Blue Ribbon to the different tomato varieties that they include in their salads.  Gott’s was a refuge when all I needed was the simple homey comfort of a cheeseburger and a chocolate malt.

All of these little side trips and adventures all paled in comparison to the wedding we attended, the very reason we had made this trip to Napa.  Set among the gardens of the Beaulieu winery, our dear friend exchanged vows with her husband while surrounded by vines and their maturing fruit. Dinner was served under a ceiling of sycamores, and dangling from them little white lights and sparkling chandeliers. We danced time away through a cool Napa night, the setting was a juxtaposition of the luxury of a 5 star restaurant, the overflowing beauty of a luscious forest, and the endless expanse of a starlit night.  It was a thing of dreams.

In the end everyone was right about Napa and I cannot wait to find an excuse to visit one of my new favorite places again.

Baby Feast: An Adventure in Making Baby Food

July 27, 2011
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I started attending a Mom and Baby Group at Ann Arbor’s Lamaze Center when our son was only two months old. The group was comprised of babies who were born during the months of December, January and February, which ensured that, developmentally, they’d all be in about the same place. The group meets every week to discuss how we’re doing, how our babies are doing, any questions we have or problems we might be facing. We also use the time to let our little ones play and interact with one another. A great deal of mom-araderie has come from experiencing the fun, scary, exciting, confusing adventure of first-time parenthood together. We started getting together outside of the planned group time pretty early on and have enjoyed an array of excursions, playdates, and mom’s-night-outs since then.

Now our babies are at the stage when solid foods are typically introduced. As foodies and cooks, Bill and I have been anticipating this stage with enthusiasm for the past few months, picturing the faces our son might make when tasting food for the first time, imagining his likes and dislikes.

Recently, a mom from the group, Kim, and her husband, Shaun, invited the moms over for a baby food making party. We contributed the ingredients and equipment, and they provided us with lunch and a great space for the babies to spread out and play. The day was organized and chaotic. Their living room was like a sprawling circus in miniature, with toys dangling from the arms of a soft playmat, colorful balls and stuffed, rattling animals strewn across the floor, and chubby-thighed infants practicing their tricks: one sitting cautiously then wobbling to the floor, another raising himself from the floor with his arms then crashing gracefully down; that one passing a toy back and forth between her hands, this one sucking his toes. It was a coo-ing, squealing, crying spectacle, with a sideshow of amateur cooks, chopping and steaming vegetables, peeling and pureeing them.

Kim and Shaun had just gotten back from a trip Up North and brought home a bunch of pasties for our lunch. We ate at their large table in shifts; the lightly-dressed greens and meat- and potato-filled pastry were like the pause in the storm when the wind dies down and the rain slows to a drizzle for one calming moment before pouring ceaselessly on. Shaun ran the show in the kitchen, hopping from one task to another like a little sparrow, delegating duties to whoever wandered in the room. The job was simple: to get each ingredient cooked and pureed to a smooth consistency and into a bowl for serving. We would each then fill our freezer containers with portions of each of the following vegetables or fruits to take home for our babies: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, peas, peaches, black- and red-skinned plums, and sweet Michigan cherries.

Making homemade baby food proved to be quite easy, and required a surprisingly small amount of time. I deduced that I could probably make our little guy fresh, tasty food every few days and only spend an hour or so doing it, or once a week for a couple of hours. The process is simple; here are some tips:

For Vegetables:

For many vegetables, steaming then pureeing until the desired consistency is reached is all you really need to do to make them baby-friendly. For veggies with tough skins (sweet potatoes, squash, etc.), bake in the oven until tender to a fork, scrape the insides out while still relatively warm, puree and push through a food mill if necessary (if the veg is particularly chunky or stringy). All purees can be thinned out with water during production or breastmilk or formula at mealtime.

For Fruit: Many fruits do well with pureeing and then cooking them down over the stove top; you could also leave them runny and add rice or oatmeal cereal to them at mealtime for a thicker texture. Fruits with firmer skins (apples, peaches, plums, etc.) can be either skinned first and then cooked, or steamed, bathed in ice water, and then skinned before pureeing.

For Grains: Most grains can be well-ground in a food processor or blender, but rice and harder grains seem to prefer something with a little more edge, like a spice or coffee grinder. You may have to experiment with these.

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America Celebrates its Independence on the Grill

July 9, 2011
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While the Fourth of July is the celebration of our nation’s birth, the beginning of July is also a time to reflect back to the early summer in 1863 and the fields of Gettysburg.  Like a family split, The Civil War was an awesome show of American spirit and determination, but in the most awful and destructive of ways. While I do not look upon the War as something to reflect fondly upon, I do believe it shows the great importance of independence that was alive in the South then and that still lives throughout the United States today.  Having lived in the South for a small part of my life, I cannot imagine this country without having the Southern states as part of it.  Alas I would not be able to credit my country for Pimento Cheese, Mint Juleps, Bourbon, and of course Barbeque. Read more…

The Winner for the Meal for this Weekend is…

June 29, 2011
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Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll, and for the comments on the last post. It was pretty exciting to have such a response from my first entry on Feast. The winner of the Fourth of July Extravaganza is….

The BBQ Chicken and Potato Salad!

Of course my mother-in-law was all ready to make her potato salad this weekend for another meal, so my apologies to her for making her change her plans.   She and I are excited for this meal, as it was what we were hoping would win.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone and wishing you all a safe and wonderful weekend from Jen and myself!

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