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11  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / Edible Gold Popcorn on: February 23, 2013 03:05:44 PM
Have an Oscar Party to go too that the newspaper sponsors and  decided I would try my hand at making gold popcorn for the party.

Used some caramel popcorn and a can of Wilton's Gold Color Mist spray that I picked up on the cake aisle in Hobby Lobby.

It actually turned out pretty good, Here are a couple of pics.

The spray actually cost only $4

It sprayed on more yellow looking, but dried gold.

Also tried an Apple, it turned out pretty good, although I think Snow White would have passed on taking a bite.

Story and more pics here.
12  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / Valentines Day Lobster on: February 12, 2013 09:05:03 PM
My local Central Market had cold water lobster tails on sale for $5.99 a tail. Thought it would make a great Valentine's Day blog post.

If you have not made lobster tails before, they are actually pretty easy to fix. Here in Fort Worth the hardest part is finding good tails.

There are two basic types of lobster tails: cold water and warm water, and there's a significant difference. Cold water tails, from the waters of Maine, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, are considered the better tasting tail. The meat is whiter, more firm and sweeter. They also cost more and are harder to find in grocery stores. Most restaurants serve cold water tails.

Warm water lobsters, which come from Florida, the Caribbean, Cuba, Nicaragua and Latin America, do not have claws like the true lobsters that come from Maine, and are normally sold just as tails.

How do you tell the difference? First, simply ask or check the label. Chances are, if it's not labeled cold water, Maine or from one of the cold water regions mentioned, assume it's a warm water tail. You can also check the shell; warm water tails usually have yellow spots and yellow bands across the tails.

Here a couple of pics of my lobster dinner I fixed for my wife.

Cold Water tails

Using kitchen shears, cut the top of the first tails shell length wise to almost the end of the tail.

Put tail on its side and push down until you here a crack.

Pick up the tail and work your thumb in-between the bottom of the tails shell and tail meat. Wiggle your thumb around to loosen the meat from the shell.

Work the tail meat out of the top of the shell, leaving it connected to the end part of the shell.

Rinse the tail off with water to remove any bits of shell out of the tail meat. If you see a vein along the back of the meat, remove it. Spread tail meat on top of the shell.

If you are grilling the tails, skewer the tails to keep them from curling up like shrimp on the grill. Just run the skewer through the bottom of the tail lengthwise.

The prep only took a few minutes and is easier than it looks.

My Valentines lobster blog post is here. http://www.dfw.com/2013/02/11/752945/weekend-chef-grilled-lobster-tails.html

There are more pics and a recipe for a bacon butter cream sauce.
13  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / Cowboy Beans/Blazing Saddles on: January 23, 2013 07:14:32 AM
Was finally able to get some bean humor into the paper today with a story I wrote about making Cowboy Beans Grin

Here is a link to the story.

The Stock Show is in town so we are in full Cowboy mode here in Fort Worth.

Back to the beans. I make my Cowboy beans with pintos, coffee and smoked meat.
I also like adding some kombu (kelp seaweed) to my beans.

Kombu has enzymes that break down the indigestible sugars in beans, making them softer and easier to digest.

If that isn't enough, kombu works all sorts of magic with the taste and texture of beans. They become soft and tender with a thick, silky sauce. The kombu itself does not have much taste other than a salty ocean flavor, but it really enhances the flavor of the beans and adds minerals. It also cuts down on the cook time. Best of all, it dissolves after an hour or so, leaving no trace, other than the beans being more tender and delicious.

All you need to do is fix your beans like normal, just add 2 pieces (3 to 4 inches) kombu to the pot. Start checking your beans early, they will get soft faster with kombu in the pot.

Here are a couple of pics of my Cowboy beans.

14  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / Beef Stew Tips! on: January 15, 2013 07:41:43 PM
It is getting downright cold around here in Fort Worth as the Stock Show comes to town.
Time to make my Stock Show stew. I wrote down some stew tips on my blog that i thought I would share here.

Here are a couple of stew pics first.

And here are my tips:

Beef stew is one of those dishes that is more about technique than recipe, and can sometimes be a little counterintuitive. Tender cuts of meat can end up being dry and tough when cooked in stews. The whole process of stewing meat is to use slow, moist heat to break down the collagen (connective tissue) in tougher cuts of meat to make them tender, similar to braising. The collagen turns into a tender gelatin.

On the other hand, tender cuts of meat are usually well marbled with fat, which makes them tender and juicy. But the same moist heat process that turns tough collagen into tender gelatin will melt the fat out of tender meat and make it dry and tough.

So chuck, round and bottom round are all good choices for stew. Meats that braise well like short ribs and beef shanks are also good. But with this being Texas, I have a soft spot for brisket, and brisket is perfect for stew!

Here are some tips and techniques for making a good hearty beef stew.

Cut your own stew meat. Sure, you can save a little time by picking up that pre-cut package of meat for stew at the grocery store, but whats really in it? Maybe youll get lucky and they sliced up an extra roast that was lying around or maybe it is just all the leftover scraps form a days worth of butchering. I say its best to just pick out a nice 3-pound roast or brisket and slice it yourself into 1 inch cubes, no luck needed.

Know your potatoes. Not all potatoes are created equal. Russets are high in starch and can fall apart in stews. Boiling potatoes like Red and Yellow keep their shape, but can be a little waxy. So try Yukon Gold, which will keep its shape and has enough starch to not be waxy.

Time it just right. Stew meat usually takes 1 to 3 hours to become tender, vegetables take 30 minutes to an hour. So give the meat a head start and put vegetables in the last hour. Also, when using herbs in stew, start with dry herbs at the beginning and finish with fresh herbs at the end. If your stew is not thick enough, add Wondra flour at the last minute for thickening; it does not clump. Just mix a few tablespoons with a little cold water and add to the stew. Give the stew another 5 to 10 minutes and it should thicken nicely.

Give it a rest. Stew tastes better after it has had some time to sit, especially overnight in the fridge. But even an hour or two helps. So if you have time, let it set an hour or two off the heat to let the flavors improve, then reheat and serve.

I have more pics and my Stock Show Stew recipe here on my blog.

I am planning to make a lot more stew this winter so if you have any tips I missed, please pass them along Grin
15  COOKING / Dessert / Bacon Pecan Cookies on: December 10, 2012 02:15:58 PM
Made some Bacon Pecan Cookies this weekend

I am not really into sweets (a big disappointment for my wife), so I made some savory cookies made with bacon and pecans.

This was the first time for me to use my wife's mixer.

I have some pecan trees in back, plus I smoked some homemade bacon not to long ago. I also used some herbs from my herb garden.

Then, being a guy, I decided to bake them on my grill with hickory wood.

Turns out my wife loved them, even though they were not sweet. I think they will be great with beer.

The recipe was pretty simple. I looked around the Internet for some savory cookie ideas and came across a bunch of recipes that used a cup of flour, a stick of butter, a half pound of a soft cheese, an egg and a cup of pecans. So that is pretty much what I used plus I added 5 strips of chopped, fried bacon and some fresh herbs.

I have some step-by-step pictures on my blog if you are interested. I usually take way to many photos while I am cooking.

I am more into BBQ than baking which should be pretty obvious, and I was able to use my wife's mixer without braking it, but I think I will stick to baking pizzas instead of cookies on my grill.

16  COOKING / Dessert / Christmas Cookies recipe on: December 05, 2012 12:29:49 PM

We just finished our 2012 Christmas cookie recipe contest at the paper I work at. The contest is a lot of fun and we do get to eat a lot of cookies.

I sometimes wonder if the idea was thought up just to get free cookies delivered to our newsroom. Grin

Readers submits recipes, we had 130 entries this year, a group of local pastry chefs look at the recipes and pick semifinalist to submit actual batches of cookies to the newsroom to be judged. This time we had 28 semifinalist. We taste and rate the cookies and a winner is chosen.

The winning cookie is sold at our local Central Markets with the proceeds going to charity.

I also shot a video of the cookies being made at Central Market with my DSLR camera. Another designer also brought a DLSR so we ended up with a 2 camera shoot. It is surprising how good DSLRs are at shooting video now. The problem is usually the sound, but I picked up a $25 lapel mic that works great in these situations.

Here is a link to the video http://www.star-telegram.com/videos/#vmix_media_id=156527121

And here is this years winning recipe by Andrea Hicks

Chai snickerdoodles

Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (or 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup Crisco shortening)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Hersheys cinnamon chips
4 tablespoons Oregon Chai Tea Latte Mix (see note)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter and sugars until creamy; mix in eggs.

2. Combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt, and stir into cream mixture. Stir in cinnamon chips. Mix well.

3. Scoop into 1-inch balls and roll in chai mix to coat. Place on cookie sheets (or a baking stone) about two inches apart.

4. Bake 7 to 9 minutes; cool slightly on pan until firm. Cool completely on cooling rack.

A note: Because cinnamon chips are rather new, one judge went to three stores before finding them. Central Market has them in plentiful supply; some Tom Thumb, Kroger and Wal-Mart stores are stocking them, too. If you can't find them, the judges agreed that butterscotch chips would work well in this recipe.

Andrea Hicks, Keller
17  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / Thanksgiving turkey cooking tips on: November 20, 2012 10:15:56 AM
Had to fix a Turkey for my wife's work Thanksgiving lunch party. Started last year fixing them some smoked chickens, then a brisket for xmas, and now a Turkey. At least this time they invited me up to lunch. Smiley

Like always, I documented my cooking adventure with photos for my blog. I also decided to write down a few of my turkey cooking tips.

Here are some of the pics followed with my turkey cooking tips.

Turkey Cooking Tips

1. If you have time, brine! This is actually true for all poultry. Brining makes the turkey extra juicy and moist, even if you accidentally over cook it a little. Brining is easy to do (recipe below), but it does take a little extra time. Do not brine if your turkey is a self basted, flavor enhanced or a kosher turkey since they already have salt added.

2. Turkey is done at 165F, not 180F. The USDA changed the recommend safe internal temperature form 180F to 165F back in 2006, but a lot of recipes still have the old 180F. That 15 is the difference between juicy and dry breast meat in most turkeys.

3. Use an oven-proof thermometer to see when the turkey is done. Forget wiggling the legs or trusting that pop-up thermometer that comes with the bird, or you will end up with an over cooked turkey. The best way to tell if your turkey is done is with an oven-proof thermometer stuck about 2 inches in the thickest part of the turkey breast (make sure the thermometer is not touching bone or your temp will be off). I like pulling my bird at 160F, the internal temperature will carry over another 5 after being pulled getting you to the recommended USDA 165F.

4. For crispy skin, let your turkey air-dry before roasting. To do this you need to pat the turkey dry with paper towels and put in the refrigerator uncovered for at least 4 hours to air-dry the skin. Then rub a couple of tablespoons of canola oil over skin before roasting and you will have nice, crispy skin.

5. Use aluminum foil to protect skin from burning. I keep a close eye on my Turkey the last couple of hours roasting to make sure the skin does not burn. Once the wing tips and the ends of the legs look the right shade of brown I will cover them up with foil to keep them from burning. Sometimes I will also need to cover the whole breast or part of the breast with foil. Really, the best rule of thumb is once any area of the skin is the color you want, cover it with foil so it stays that color and does not burn.

And here is my Smoke & Roast Turkey recipe

Smoke & Roast Turkey

Here is a simple turkey recipe where you first smoke your bird for 1 to 2 hours before roasting to give your turkey a little smoky flavor. Dont like smoke? Then just skip the smoking step and go straight to roasting.

    1 natural turkey (thawed if previously frozen)
    2 tablespoons of canola oil
    Zest of one orange
    Aluminum foil
    Oven-proof thermometer


4 to 6 quarts of brine

For every 2 quarts of water mix:

     cup canning/table salt or 1 cup kosher
    1 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon pickling spices (optional)
    1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
    Juice from 1 orange (optional)
    Plastic brining bag or a resealable plastic bag large enough for your turkey.


Place turkey into brining bag, be sure to remove the giblets and neck from body and neck cavity first.

Mix up 2 quarts of brine at a time by mixing brine ingredients with water.

Add brine to brining bag, 2 quarts at a time until the turkey is fully covered, and then seal bag.

Place bag in a roasting pan to catch any liquid (if the bag springs a leak), then place into the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Remove turkey from brine and rinse off in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel, and put back into refrigerator on roasting pan for 4 hours to air-dry the skin.


Pre-heat smoker to 225, if you dont have a smoker you can set your grill up for indirect heat and put some wood chips in a foil pouch to add some smoke.

Take turkey out of the refrigerator and rub 2 tablespoons of canola oil on the skin along with the zest of one orange (optional).

Place turkey breast side up in smoker directly on rack (no-pan) and insert thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast. Smoke for 1 or 2 hours depending on how much smoke flavor you want. I would suggest trying 1 hour the first time smoking a turkey and adjust your smoke time accordingly for the next time you fix a smoked turkey.

After smoking, raise the temperature to the smoker/grill to 325F and roast until the temperature on the thermometer reaches 160F. If your smoker cannot get to 325F, use your oven.

Here is an approximate roasting time chart to use after the bird has been smoked. Times can vary wildly depending on all sorts of factors. So be sure to keep checking the temperature on the thermometer.

  Turkey Weight              Cooking Time
  8 to 12 pounds      1 to 2 hours
  12 to 14 pounds      2 to 2 hours
  14 to 18 pounds      2 to 3 hours
  18 to 24 pounds      3 to 3 hours

While turkey is roasting, use aluminum foil to protect skin once brown from burning (tip 5).

Pull Turkey from oven/grill when the thermometer reaches 160F, then let rest, uncovered for 20 minutes before carving.

If Turkey finishes early you can leave the temperature probe in breast and cover or place in (cool) oven to try to hold the temp of the bird. If the thermometer temp goes bellow 140F, wrap bird in foil and reheat in oven at its lowest temperature settings till the temp reads 145F - 150F, then turn oven off. The Turkey should be good for another hour.

Did I mention gravy?

I find the drippings from a brined turkey a little to salty to make gravy, so I just use the stuff in the jar. Besides, a brined turkey is pretty juicy and does not need that much gravy.

Oh, if you have not picked out your turkey yet, be sure to get a fresh one. It is way to late to start thawing out a frozen bird!
18  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / Making homemade bacon on: November 06, 2012 08:52:53 AM
There have been a lot of stories about an upcoming bacon shortage popping up lately. Turns out it is just going to be a slight price increase.

But I thought I would go ahead and bone up on my bacon making skills. Just in case...

Bacon is cured pork belly and is actually easy to make. I guess the hardest part is finding a pork belly to cure.
I was able to find some at my local Asian market for $2.50 a pound. That is actually a lot cheaper than buying bacon.

The key to making bacon is curing it, which is pretty easy. I use 1 tablespoon Morton Tender Quick curing salt (my local Kroger carries it), 1 tablespoon sugar (white, brown or maple), 1 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon pepper per pound of pork belly and rub that all over the belly.

Then seal the pork belly into vacuum-sealed bag or a large resealable plastic bag with all the air forced out. Place bag with pork belly into a pan (in case the bag leaks) and place in refrigerator and let cure for 7 days, flipping the bag once a day.

After 7 days you have bacon. Just rinse the cure off and let it air dry in the refrigerator.
Here s a link to a more detailed step-by-step recipe along with pictures of each step.

If you have a smoker you can finish it with a little smoke. But smoking is optional, after it is cured it is bacon.

19  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / No-Boil Mac and Cheese on: October 12, 2012 07:57:16 AM
Been working up a recipe for Mac and Cheese that uses raw macaroni. I am also using all the main ingredients in their pre-packaged size amounts, the idea is to be able to make this with just a pan and a spoon on the grill with no need to measure things out or boil the pasta.

It turned out really good! I would have never guessed that the pasta was not boiled first.

Here is a list of ingredients. I picked up everything at Walmart.

    1 12oz. bag of Skinner Large Elbows macaroni
    1 8oz. bag of Velveeta shreds
    1 8oz. bag of Kraft Triple Cheddar with a touch of Philadelphia
    1 8oz. bag of Cheddar cheese
    1 8oz. container of sour cream
    1 quart milk (4 cups)
     stick of melted butter
    1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
    1 teaspoon chili powder
    1 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 teaspoon of mustard
    2 teaspoons of salt
    2 teaspoons fresh cracked pepper
    1 to 2 tablespoons of paprika

Basically, everything gets mixed in a pan except for one bag of cheddar cheese and the paprika.

I baked the whole thing on the grill at 350F for 50 minutes covered, and then added the leftover cheese and paprika on top and bake another 10 minutes uncovered.

There are more detailed instructions and pictures here on my blog.

I was really happy with the results, creamy, gooey, cheesy. Pasta had the right texture.

Best thing, I had only one pan to clean up!
20  COOKING / Recipes and Cooking Tips / How to BBQ Chicken on: September 28, 2012 02:19:58 PM
Made some BBQ chicken that turned out great! A lot of people make the mistake of try to cook them like burgers which usually makes a mess of it.
Here are some pics and 5 tips on barbecuing chicken.  

I like adding some honey to my BBQ sauce to make a glaze out of it.

BBQ the chicken with a rub and add the glaze in the last 15 to 30 minutes of the cook.

Here are some tips for the next time you fix BBQ chicken.

1. If you have the time, brine. Brining will make your chicken stay extra juicy and moist, even if you accidentally over cook it a little. Brining is easy to do (check recipe link below), but it does take a little extra time. So plan ahead and buy your chicken a day before you plan to grill it.

2. Legs and thighs. If you end up having to buy your chicken the day of the BBQ with no time to brine, you might consider skipping the white meat and just cooking legs and thighs. Legs and thighs are a lot more forgiving on the grill, so there is less chance of dry, overcooked chicken.

3. Low and slow. BBQ Chicken needs to be grilled over indirect heat at a temperature of around 300F (check recipe link below), so you need to fix up the grill accordingly. On a charcoal grill move the hot coals to one side of the grill, on a gas grill turn on only half the burners. Grill the chicken on the side of the grill without the hot burners/coals and with the lid closed. You can still grill your burgers and hot dogs on the hot side of the grill, just give the chicken an hour head start.

4. Rub, then sauce at the end. A common mistake when barbecuing chicken is to apply the BBQ sauce too soon, or even at the beginning. The sugar in the sauce then burns, leaving a bitter taste. Apply a BBQ rub at the beginning and sauce the chicken the last 15 to 30 minutes.

5. Get an instant read thermometer. You can cut into the chicken pieces to see if it is done, or check for clear running juices when poked. But the best way is to use an instant read thermometer if you really want to know when things are done on the grill. White meat is done at around 160F and dark meat is done a 165F. Be sure to get a thermometer with a fast instant read response time. Some instant reads can be pretty slow. ThermoWorks makes some of the best and are super fast. You can find them on Amazon starting at $19.

Recipe and more detailed instructions and pictures here.

The chicken turned out great! The glaze on the chicken has a nice caramelization, but is not burned. When I cut into the breast the meat actually looked wet. Now that is a juicy piece of chicken. I am really glad I took the extra time to brine it. Now for the taste, sweet, tangy, savory and juicy... I would call this perfect.
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