Not much speaks to me like the freshly made, warm tortilla, nada. Memories of the food I grew up with in California often comes rushing back with every bite as I eat them full of shredded pork, beans and rice or my favorite way, stuffed with avocado. Serving as the ultimate vehicle with which to serve a multitude of eccentric items, this is the pinnacle of street food vehicles.
I’m not intending to place any shade on this recipe, but it does take a little time, patience and some experience to make these. Go easy on yourself while following the recipe and play with the ingredients to see how it best works for you. My wife and I (this really is her recipe here as she has perfected them) have learned through trial and error some of the roadblocks to avoid and when to throttle the gas (i.e.- adding the water, see below). When you hit this right, you’ll never but premade again, that’s a promise.
A few after the fire critiques: You’ll notice that I placed the weights next to the amounts. This is for consistency, as any true baker will tell you, as my cup of flour may be different then your cup of flour. I’ve used other oils over the years; olive, corn, etc., just ensure it is a neutral oil with the noted exception of grape seed oil, it just wasn’t good.
3 Cups (405g) All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Warm Water
1/3 Cup (80g) Vegetable Oil
1 Heaping Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Baking Powder
Stand Mixer w/ Dough Hook
Cast Iron Pan
1. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of the stand mixer. With the dough hook attached, mix all the dry ingredients until well combined. Set the mixer to medium then add the oil and ¾ of water and monitor if more needs to be added. Mix for one minute, stopping several times to scrape the sides of the bowl. After about one minute, or when the mixture comes together and begins to form a ball, slow the speed to low. Continue to mix for one minute or until the dough is smooth.
2. Place the dough to a well-floured work surface. Divide the dough in half, then in half again. Continue until you get 14 (50g) equal portions for small tacos or 23 (30g) for street size tacos. Form each into a dough ball then cover them with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 15 minutes.
3. After letting it rest, heat a cart iron pan over medium-high heat. Roll each dough ball into a rough circle, about 6-7 inches in diameter making sure to keep the working surface and rolling pin lightly floured. Stack the uncooked tortillas with some wax paper in between each to avoid them becoming soggy.
4. When the pan is hot, place one of the tortillas into the pan and allow them to cook for about one minute or until the bottom surface has a few pale brown spots. Similar to pancakes, you’ll begin to notice a few little bubbles. Flip to the other side and cook for about 30 seconds. You’re looking for the tortillas to remain soft but have a few small pale golden brown spots on the surface.
5. Remove with the tongs and store in a covered container or zippered bag. Eat now and serve warm or allow them to cool for later use. When ready to eat later, microwave uncovered for 15-second increments (or until warm), then cover to hold the heat. Store in the same containers as listed above as they will last for a few weeks, if you don’t eat them all first.
Winter is here! Much warmer a winter then I had anticipated, but that won’t stop me releasing a great cold weather recipe like the classic Broccoli & Cheese soup. This recipe is near and dear to my heart as it brings me back to my days of strolling down the paths of my favorite place to experience Southern California with my family, Disneyland. Outside if the crashing waves of my beloved Southern California shore, Disneyland is what I think of most when people ask me about my time spent growing up there. On a side note, I’d also consider retiring there and working with the Disneyland Fire Department, which I came to find out, is comprised of mostly retired Southern California Firefighters. What a job!
More specifically with this recipe, Broccoli & Cheese soup was a staple that my family and I would look forward to when visiting the Disneyland California Adventure Park. Inside the park was a recreation of Fisherman’s Wharf located in San Francisco the way only Disney can do including the great bakery and soup restaurant, The Pacific Warf Café. The warm and comforting soup in a bread bowl was a fantastic way to dust off the chill of the night and sit back and enjoy the great atmosphere. Sharing this recipe with you is my hope to recreate the same sense of warmth and comfort when spending time with your family or crew. Indulge!
Some after the fire critiques: Before you ask… Yes, most broccoli and cheese soups contain milk, half & half or heavy cream, but I’m trying to keep the soup light and with a Latin flair. Same thing with the sliding scale on the amount of cheese, add to taste. But when at home and not operating heavy machinery, substitute a cup of the chicken stock with a nice beer or dairy (milk, half & half or heavy cream). I recommend something with some dark, bold flavors like an IPA or stout.
Broccoli (roughly 3 cups as follows:)
· Florets (2 cups, chopped)
· Stems (1 cups, peeled and chopped)
White Cheddar Cheese (2-4 cups shredded)
Canadian Bacon (1 cup, chopped)
Poblaño (charred, peeled, de-seeded and chopped)
Onion (one medium and chopped)
Potato (1 cup chopped)
Garlic (2-3 cloves chopped)
Chicken Stock (4 cups)
Cumin Seed (1 tsp. toasted and ground)
Butter (2 Tbs. cubed)
Flour (3 Tbs.)
Pepper and Salt to taste
Place the poblaño over direct flame on the stovetop. Char on all sides then loosely wrap in aluminum foil and allow steaming for 10 minutes. Place the poblaño under running water and peel the skin, split open the poblaño and remove the seeds (and veins if you don’t want it to be too spicy) then chop into bite size pieces. Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds in a small sauté pan over medium heat and toast until slightly browned and their aroma is strong. Remove from heat and grind until a fine powder.
Place the Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Place the Canadian bacon in and brown for about 5-8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined bowl. Put onion in and cook for 5-8 minutes or until translucent. Add Garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Make a small well in the middle of the sautéed vegetables then add butter. Melt butter then add the flour then mix until incorporated and cook for an additional 3 minutes (to remove the flour taste). Pour in the chicken stock and deglaze the bottom (use the spatula to scrap the bottom to remove the goodness). Add the potato, broccoli stems, poblaño and cumin, and stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the broccoli florets, Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese then mix to combine (and melt cheese). Pepper and salt to taste. Enjoy.
Here in the south, the abundance of locally sourced fresh produce still amazes me. With a decade+ in Georgia clocked in on my odometer, I never tire driving by the many green farm lands and the diverse crops they offers. With so many vegetables, fruits and grains available, inspirations for inventive twists on culinary favorites are the norm now, not the exception. All one must do is take a drive down famed Buford Highway or dive into Atlanta to find out this is true. It’s a misnomer that all southern recipes are slow cooked, time honored affairs full of flavorful rendered fats and handheld edible mops to clean it up with. No longer is fried chicken, biscuits and gravy the heralded trinity as we’ve moved towards farm-to-table eating. So should it be at the firehouse.
I remember fondly the innocent ignorance as a displaced Californian settling into my new home in the south expecting what is often perceived the ‘southern’ culture when it comes to food. It was through this culinary baptism that my want to improve my skills in the kitchen was truly begun. The love affair with the land in the south is one to cultivate nationally as we strive to improve our sourcing for fresh, organic foods. So I implore you to seek out the local equivalent to ‘farm-to-table’ near your firehouse. It was through this yearning and my marriage of west and south that has fueled this want to bring my upbringing and current locale to the kitchen table. Thus the Charred Corn & Jalapeño Salad was born.
This is a speedy, composed side dish will carry you through the peak summer season of fresh corn and peppers highlighted with the zest of lime, earthiness of cumin and the herbaceous notes of basil. Served cold, room temp or hot off the fire, this is a multi-tool dish as adaptable as your trusty haligan. As a born and breed Orange Countian, I appreciate quick, fresh takes on food as we were always on the go. This still drives me today as time at the firehouse can come quick and without forgiveness as the clock moves forever onward so enjoy!
Corn on the Cob (3-4)
Jalapeños (2-3, diced)
Basil Leaves (15-20)
EVOO (2 ounces)
Lime Juice (1-2 ounces)
Honey (1-2 ounce)
Cumin (1/4 tsp)
Pepper and Salt to taste
A medium bowl
Place the corn and jalapeños on the stove top directly over high heat turning them with the prongs to achieve an equal char, 2-3 minutes (sometimes longer). Place them on the cutting board and loosely cover with aluminum foil for another 5 minutes. For the jalapeños, remove the charred flesh with a paper towel or under running tepid water then dice and reserve. For the corn, cut the tail end of the cob off to create a flat (and safe) surface and place in the center of a medium bowl. Remove all the kernels carefully with your blade. Note that the flavor of the corn really is at its core, so take the time and the dull end of your blade and run it down the cob to get ever last bit of flavor. Place the basil onto the cutting board and stack the leaves, rolling them tightly, and then slicing the leaves perpendicular to the roll (AKA- Chiffonade). In the medium bowl of kernels, place the EVOO, lime juice, honey and cumin and mix to combine. Add the jalapeños, basil and pepper and salt to taste. Indulge.
Some after the fire critiques: Jalapeños are like snowflakes, no two are alike. Some are as benign as a green pepper while others give the habanero a run for its money. As the cook, it’s your responsibility to take the ‘temperature’ of this pepper before serving it. I take the Goldilocks approach: want it hot, leave it as is; flesh, veins, seeds and all. Want it cooler; remove all the capsaicin via the seeds and any white veins attached to the inner wall of the pepper. Want it just right, just remove the seeds. Also, consider substituting cinnamon for cumin to make the salad more thought provoking and give the guys a different twist as cinnamon pairs well with basil.
With all the sprouts spawning green leaves and the smell of fresh growth in the air, I often am drawn to bring a little nature into the kitchen. This often leads me to find any excuse to cook with natural wood, which delivers that subtle earthiness and structured tannins. I find the best way into the world of wood in the kitchen is Cedar Plank Salmon. This is a time-tested technique that draws you out to nature to cook on the grill, the way it’s meant to be.
Often the issue with many is the cost of purchasing the planks of wood (there are many more then just Cedar) from specialty stores or online gourmet sites. The simple solution is to drive down to the local home improvement store and purchase an untreated board and cut it to your desired length. Once acquiring the board, the only question is whether to grill it or roast it in the oven?
A few after the fire critiques: remember to soak the plank for at least an hour, more if you have the time. You should get a few rounds of grilling per plank so don’t throw them away. Remember to check your salmon for bones and you can serrate the flesh into portions to allow it to cook quicker. I also made a Ginger Maple glaze for the salmon (recipe below) but it isn’t needed.
Salmon Fillet (1-2 lbs.)
Maple Syrup (1 Cup)
Lemon Juice (4 ounces)
Soy Sauce (3 Ounces)
Ginger (2 Tbs. minced)
Garlic (2 Cloves smashed)
Pepper and Salt
Cedar Plank (8” x 24” is ideal)
Fine Mesh Strainer
Place the cedar plank in water and submerge for a minimum of an hour (4 hours being ideal). I used an empty trashcan and water hose but use what works best for you. Remove from water and wipe dry. Ignite grill and set to medium-high with a target temp of near 300°F. When the grill is heated, place the plank smooth side down and allow it to heat up for 3-5 minutes. Flip over, apply 1-2 Tbs. of EVOO on the smooth side, sprinkle pepper and salt on the plank and then place the salmon skin side down. Apply the glaze over the salmon and then cover to cook. Cook for 20-25 minutes (or until the fish flakes when gentle pressure is applied) continuing to apply additional glaze after 10 minutes and again when the salmon is removed from the grill. Allow the salmon to rest for a few minutes then serve immediately with the remainder of the glaze. Indulge!
Ginger Maple Glaze
Pour all ingredients into the saucepan and heat over medium heat until reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes. Place the glaze through a fine mesh strainer to remove the solids. Reserve till needed.
This is so easy, maybe even too easy. Simple ingredients, one pot, a few minutes of active cook time (really, 4-5 minutes, maybe) and you go to bed. Wake up the next morning at your leisure and warm up the pot, done. If you can boil water and place a lid on a pot, this is in your wheelhouse. And what is produced is so good that 12-year-old boys will eat it (the ultimate firefighter taste test focus group). People, I give you overnight steel cut oatmeal like you’ve never had it, this is good.
When oatmeal comes to mind, thoughts of rolled, soggy oats that taste as well as it sounds filter into one’s mind. Over filled with expired cinnamon, dried out brown sugar, and fake butter is the norm for the fire service (sad but true). I wanted to provide a tasty, healthy alternative and prove that oats can have a place in the firehouse breakfast pantheon (pancakes, scrambled eggs, grits, toast, sausage, and bacon).
Know I have a soft spot for oatmeal for all the Quaker microwavable packets I ate as a youth on the go to school. But there is just something magical about steel cut oats (AKA: Irish/Scottish/Pinhead Oats). They retain some much-needed texture that makes one think of Irish/Scottish style porridge or Italian risotto. Nutty and chewy, they provide a great vehicle to top with a plethora of fresh or dried ingredients. Indulge.
Water (3 cups)
Steel Cut Oatmeal (1 cup)
Buttermilk (½ cup = 1-2 Tbsp.)
Milk (½ cup)
Unsalted Butter (1 Tbsp.)
Sugar (1 Tbsp.)
Salt (½-1 tsp.)
Dutch Oven or similar
Spoon, spatula or similar
Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and add the butter. Melt then lightly brown the butter, 1-2 minutes. Place the oatmeal in and toast till a nutty aroma hits the nostrils. Add the water, milk, buttermilk, and salt and bring to a boil. Add the oatmeal, stir once and lower to a low boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover with lid and go to sleep.
In the morning, return the Dutch oven to low-medium heat till warmed throughout. Add the sugar and enough liquid (water/milk) to reach your desired consistency if desired. Provide a buffet style offering of toppings from fresh/dried fruit, nuts, granola, sugar in any form (maple syrup, agave, turbinado, etc.), peanut/almond butter (it’s kinda cool), etc. when serving for the masses.
A few after the fire critiques: I removed ¼ of the oatmeal and added quinoa and it was fantastic. This can easily be made the same morning and there is many a recipe for that on the internet (expect 30-40 minutes) with the same ingredients. FYI, doubling the recipe made enough for 10 people (probably 7-8 FFs) with some sides (eggs, toast, fresh fruit). This was too easy and may not challenge enough those wanting to make a mess in the morning in hopes of making the crew do a lot of dishes.
As I stood framing the window in my firehouse kitchen contemplating the night’s dinner, I watched the fellas bring the rigs around in the freezing cold. The south, know for it’s sweltering heat and humidity during the summertime surprises many with it’s bitter bite of winter. And I cannot deny that weather plays a large part on where my action plan for food drives me and considering my brethren and I where exposed to the elements during most of it, soup was the call of the day.
Given the near freezing temps and busy work schedule of the day, I usually go towards a hearty soup. Being inexpensive is just one of the bonuses (this entire meal cost less then the steak one of my rookies paid for the shift previously) as they’re also filling, healthy and too easy. My California roots will often drive me towards Latin flavors so Mexican Tortilla Soup came to mind.
A few after the fire critiques: Some will preach adding tortillas to the soup to thicken it up, and I have, in other iterations, but I enjoy this consistency more. The chicken can be substituted with shredded pork. For a different take, consider adding fire-roasted tomatillos in place of the tomatoes. And yes, I always prefer fresh ingredients versus canned but in the case of corn, they’re out of season so canned or frozen are preferred. Indulge.
Chicken breasts or thighs (4-6)
Celery (4 stalks, chopped)
Carrots (4 carrots, chopped)
Garlic (4 cloves, minced)
Chicken stock (2½ quarts)
Fire-roasted tomatoes (1 can)
Black Beans (1 can, rinsed)
Corn (1 can)
Jalapeno (2-3, seeded and minced)
Cumin (1 tsp.)
Coriander (1 tsp.)
Cilantro (¼ bunch, chopped)
Tortillas (6 cut lengthwise into ½” strips)
Pepper and Salt
*Small Skillet for frying (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Place the chicken breasts/thighs skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to slightly brown. Add the garlic, cumin and coriander and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, corn, black beans, jalapenos, 1 Tbsp. salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 tsp. pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in half, then cut them crosswise into ½-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste.
- *Optional: fry the tortillas in shallow oil over medium heat or serve with store bought tortilla chips
- Consider when serving: sliced avocado, crema/sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and the fried tortilla chips
Oh the holidays, how we love the. A chance of snow, a crackling fire in the hearth, corks popping off bottles… all things that we enjoy to get us in the holiday spirit and simultaneously ensures our job security. But alas, with all the family and friends coming and going, the demands on our time in the kitchen to produce end-of-year worthy dishes increases. Which leads me to potent but time reducing recipes such as my Nutella Mousse.
I always promote healthy living and recipes for my fellow firefighting brothers and sisters, but come on people, it’s the holidays so indulge. This is a decadent but light dessert that requires maybe 10 minutes of active prep as there is NO cooking, I mean it’s mousse. The espresso accentuates the chocolate flavor (something to note for your future recipes) but it’s not overwhelming. It allows the kids of the firehouse to play with a heavy rescue style tool and you can make it well ahead of its intended serving time. But perhaps most importantly, it has Nutella.
Heavy Cream (2 Cups)
Nutella (½-⅔ Cup)
Vanilla (1 tsp.)
Espresso or Finely Ground Coffee (¼ tsp.)
Salt (¼ tsp.)
Whipped Cream (1 Cup, home made preferred)
Toasted Nuts (¼ Cup chopped or Tbsp. powdered)
Stand Mixer with Whisk Attachment
Re-sealable Container (if needed)
In the bowl of the stand mixer with the whisk attachment on, place the heavy cream and espresso powder in and stir briefly to combine. Let the coffee steep for 5 minutes. Add the Nutella, vanilla and salt. Then using the mixer on its slowest setting, begin whipping the mousse. Begin slowly at first then gradually pick up speed until the mouse holds a soft peak when the whisk is removed. Depending ion the temp in your kitchen it can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Place the mousse in a re-sealable container or in individual serving vessels and store in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours or up to over night. When ready to assemble, add some of whipped cream and top with toasted nuts. Enjoy.
A few after the fire critiques: Chilling the stand mixer bowl in the freezer for a few minutes before mixing aids in building the mousse. I added a layer of Nutella to my cups for some extra flavor and fun when scooping to the bottom. I just warmed the Nutella in the microwave till it was spreadable and spooned/poured it in. Remember though, a little goes a long way. Consider berries, other toasted nuts or coconut and/or a sprinkling of coco or cayenne powder on top as alternatives to the pistachio. Above all, have a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!
Pumpkins are the epitome of fall and it’s favorite holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Scary faces and pumpkin pies are not the only things that they ‘re good at though. Like a good firefighter great at advancing a hose, don’t forget that they can force a door, stick an IV or clean the bay floor. Pumpkins are so much more then sweet; they can be savory and comforting.
Now I admit that soup sounds as exciting as, well, cleaning the bay floor. But rest easy friends, this is not your average vegetable soup. The infusion of Chinese Five Spice (cinnamon, anise, cloves, ginger and Szechuan pepper), coconut cream and apple cider vinegar ensure a savory comfort food versus pumpkin pie in a bowl. Enjoy making it early between incidents and warm it up when ready for dinner, it doesn’t get easier then that. Served as a side (think Thanksgiving dinner folks!) or as a pairing with sandwiches for a meal, enjoy this quick and healthy soup to help warm up the crew on a cold fall day.
A few after the fire critiques: ensure that you get pumpkin puree and NOT pumpkin pie filling. Fell free to roast pumpkins in lieu of canned pumpkins if afforded the time and you want to entertain your rookies (or spouse/kids) with separating seeds from gourd. As the pumpkin is from the can (or in my case, box), the extra step of reducing on the stovetop is worth the effort. Making it early helps the soup come together throughout the day and it’s even better the next shift. Indulge!
Pumpkin Puree (32 ounces)
Veggie Stock (32 ounces)
Carrot (1 cup shredded)
Coconut Cream (½ cup)
Garlic (clove minced)
Butter (2 Tbs.)
Chinese Five Spice (1 tsp.)
Apple Cider Vinegar (1 ½ Tbsp.)
Honey (1 Tbsp.)
Pepper and Salt
Sour Cream or Crema
Blender (Immersion if available)
Place Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add butter and allow it to slightly brown, about 2-3 minutes Add onion, carrots and Chinese Five Spice and cook until onions are translucent (about 5-8 minutes). Lower heat to medium and add pumpkin and cook to reduce water content (about 10 minutes). You’ll need to stir on occasion so don’t go anywhere as you’re looking to slightly reduce (remember, we’re reducing moisture and strengthening flavor) and deepen the pumpkin color. Add stock then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and return soup to a simmer. Add cream and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes. Reduce to low and allow the flavors to meld together for a minimum of 20 minutes. Carefully transfer the soup to a blender (it’s hot so take care or use an immersion blender if on hand, they’re awesome) and blend till a smooth consistency. Pepper and salt to taste. Consider serving with sour cream or Crema, chives and drops of hot sauce on top. Enjoy.
Stay low, stay safe and stay hungry!
I'm proud to announce that my first article with the prestigious Fire Engineering is now live! For those that are regular visitors of this site, this recipe will be familiar as we struggle with the last remnants of summer leaving us for the cool of fall but it's a good one. Very happy to be apart of the team contributing where I can for the Fire Service. I hope all is well and watch out for an out-of-the-box recipe for October around the corner. Hit the link below to be taken to Fire Engineering. Hope all is well!
Stay low, stay safe and stay hungry!
I often strive to provide inexpensive meals as we can all feel the pinch of lean financial times. At the firehouse, we Firefighters pool our money together to procure all things culinary including all our meals for our 24-hour shift. And like at home, we must maintain an active pantry, stocking up on all the essentials. So there are times when the money runs a little low. But as I’ve always looked to cut costs where possible, I never look to sacrifice taste.
Shepherd’s Pie has often been viewed as a peasant food, not a showcase meal, hearty though it may be. I approached this as a challenge, looking for ways to instill some added depth and flavor while using inexpensive staple items and different techniques. I tried to stay as honest to the original recipe but in an effort to keep costs down, I eliminated the ground lamb (that, and the fact that it is not readily available), finely shredded the carrots and used frozen peas. I like to break molds.
A few notes; when making the mashed potatoes, reserve salting them until after adding whatever cheese you decide to go with (some cheeses contain high levels of salt), the raw yoke that is added to the mashed potatoes is cooked in the oven so worry not, and beef broth can always be substituted for the red wine at the firehouse.
Ground Lamp (1 lbs.)
Carrots (2 large stalks shredded)
Onion (½ medium, shredded)
Peas (½ cups)
Garlic (2 cloves, shredded)
Red Wine (½ Cup, Pinot Noir)
Dried Porcini Mushrooms (1/2 Cup)
Worcestershire Sauce (2 Tbsp.)
Ketchup (2 Tbsp.)
Flour (¼ Cup)
Unsalted Butter (2 Tbsp.)
EVOO (2 Tbsp.)
Potatoes (2 large Yukon)
Aged White Sharp Cheddar Cheese (¾ Cup shredded)
Half-and-Half (½ Cup)
Unsalted Butter (3 Tbsp. cubed)
Pepper (white if you have it) and Salt
Cast Iron Skillet
6 x 4 ounces Cast Iron Ramekins OR Porcelain
Potato Ricer OR Fine Mesh Drain
Add the potatoes, salt and enough water to cover it all in a medium pot and place over high heat to bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until fork tender. Drain then add back to the hot pan. Begin breaking down the potatoes via ricer/mesh while adding the butter, half-and-half, ½ cup of Cheddar, egg yoke, white pepper and salt. Mix to combine and reserve.
Using the spice grinder, grind the dried mushrooms to a fine powder. Reserve.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Add the butter and EVOO into the cast iron pan over high heat. Add the lamb, season with salt and brown, 5-6 minutes. Once browned, add the flour. Mix to combine and continue to cook for an additional minute or until the raw flour taste is gone. Add the carrots and onion (grate them directly into the cast iron skillet), peas and garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Create a well in the middle of the pie and add the Worcestershire, powdered mushroom and ketchup then mix to combine. Add the wine/beef broth and cook until reduced. Test the filling at this time and add more liquid if necessary. Spoon the filling into the ramekins then add the potatoes by spooning small mounds to create a thin layer ensuring to cover the entirety of the ramekin. Shred additional cheese to lightly cover the top. Place in a pre-heated broiler set for high for 1-2 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Indulge.
*If time permits, consider adding small micro salad (Arugula or similar) to top or side with an emphasis on vinegar (i.e.- balsamic).
Let me first pay my respects to those that suffered this day so many years ago. We lost 343 that day, a number that will live in infamy, but so many others lost too. May we Never Forget, remain every vigilant and be thankful for the safety that we have today for those that paved way it's path. Thank you.
Made an appearance on the local Atlanta 11 Alive when reporter Ryan Krueger came by to visit my firehouse for a follow up to talk about my appearance on NBC's Food Fighters, life as a firefighter and the September 11th anniversary. I wanted to thank Ryan and his work on this piece as well as his enthusiasm about the tools and vehicles at the firehouse and our lifestyle in general. It was refreshing to see. Here's a link to the video: 11 Alive
Need a way to alter the barren landscape that is chicken? This tried and true protein is an American staple but it has become synonymous with everything boring. Many a chef (and Frenchman) would heartily disagree but I see the average home cooks' dilemma. How many different ways can one bust down a door (obligatory firefighter reference)? Turns out a lot; the classic set of Irons, through the lock method, rabbit tool, rotary saw to the hinges or make a doggie door, etc. All that is needed is some imagination and some spices.
Centuries ago, man pushed themselves to their limit and across the globe in pursuit of spices, turing the exotic into a real world commodity and helping shape societies worth and influence. Today, with the advent of local farmer's markets and this thing called the Internet, the availability of spices from around the world can be overwhelming. I have over a dozen different Indian spice mixes alone. Everything from Anise to Zatar and everything in between is there to be played with.
These are obviously nothing new as spice mixes and for dishes are common amongst all cultures. They are used for their ability in small doses to impart huge aroma and flavor, their typically low cost and availability and the diversity of different cooking techniques they can be used with. As they are often toasted and then ground, spices are more ideal then fresh herbs for higher temperatures and longer cooking times (AKA- more forgiving of absent minded or new cooks) too.
Take hold of your internal Magellan and set to the high seas of the culinary playground and start exploring the wonderfully, diverse world of spices to take back the beauty of chicken and spice it up.
Stay low, stay safe and stay hungry.
Had my Captain celebrate his promotion to Battalion Chief yesterday and in celebration, we went with the time-honored meat and potatoes meal. It's customary in the fire service that when one makes a promotion that they honor all those that helped them along the way with a steak dinner. As we subtly shift away from beef in the fire service and towards a more balanced, plant friendly diet, we are still carnivores and enjoy a well prepared cut of steak as much as the rest of them. But what to do when serving 20 firefighters ribeyes all at once and limited grill/stovetop space?
The answer lies in a slow approach and the oven. After aggressively seasoning the steaks with salt (the sooner the better), place them uncovered in the fridge on a rack up until just prior to placing in the oven. Set the oven to between 225-275 degrees F and for anywhere up to 30-60 minutes. Why such a large range you ask? It all depends on the amount of time you have till the dinner bell rings and the thickness of the cut. Use a thermometer and place it into the center of the thickest cut and let it gently come up to temperature, usually between 110-120 degrees F. Carry over heat will bring it just to rare as they rest for their final treatment on either the grill of the stovetop. Flip continuously a few minutes a side to achieve a good sear/color till the intended doneness (medium rare for this guy, 125-135 degrees F). And lastly, let them rest! 10-15 minutes is usual or until it drops 5 degrees F internal temp. They will be awesome, trust me...
We also continued our work on our joint patio area for our firehouse with all three shifts contributing. Our latest project was updating the old, worn out patio table. We sanded, primed and painted it bring it back to life. The love is in the details which are represented in the station numbers which still reflect the old look while embracing our present. It was a great crew building adventure and continues to show the pride and ownership that has made our firehouse famous.
Hope everything is well.
Fire Roasted Salsa is a McKay family staple; part canned, mostly fresh, it can be made all in a blender and in minutes. Have the time to roast your tomatoes? I totally encourage it, especially if it’s fresh from the summer crop. But if you’re in the weeds and need something to hit the kitchen table sooner rather then later, aim for organic fire roasted tomatoes in a can. I have found that organic tomatoes seem to stray away from the tinny flavor that standard ones do so I feel the extra cents are well worth it.
The beauty of blending is the lack of knife work that needs to be done. If you have some around the house that enjoy heat in their salsa (two thumbs pointing at this guy), then skip deseeding the jalapeno and the knife doesn't even need to see the light of day. It makes enough to last the week at our house, is inexpensive and doesn't make you loosen your belt after eating. Win-win.
Organic Fire Roasted (2 cans)
Onion (white or yellow, medium)
Garlic (2 cloves)
Cilantro (½ bunch)
Vegetable Oil (¼ cup)
Lime Juice (½ to all)
Salt and Pepper
Add all ingredients to the blender. Blend till smooth. Slowly add the oil to the vortex. Done.
Eggs, the bane of many a pro chefs and home cooks a like, nothing tests the culinary skills quite like these shells of potential. Ah, but what a wonderful conundrum to contend with. Cooking an egg properly has no equal in the food world. Rumor has it that many a renown chef will have a hopeful student apply by simply cooking an egg. So, in my never-ending search to master them whilst simultaneously serving up cheap flavorful eats, I bring you my version of Huevos Ahogados.
This recipe was born from laziness as most great accidents often do. I’m half joking here as there wasn’t much at the house to cook with and our protein stores were running low. But I had an overabundance of dried peppers and fresh herbs growing in the garden to work with. With a recent Yotam Ottolenghi recipe providing the inspiration and my love of Latin food the drive, I set about constructing my own, unique version of drunken eggs. Indulge.
1 can diced tomatoes (24 ounce)
⅔ can of chipotle salsa
2 dried chipotles
1 dried guajillo
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. Creama
4 garlic cloves minced
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup water
*Creama (or sour cream)
Cast iron pan
Small deep saucepan
2” deep 10-12” wide saucepan with lid
In the cast iron pan, place over medium-high heat and add the dried peppers. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, 3-5 minutes. Place in a small bowl and cover with boiling water and let it sit for 20-30 minutes.
Sometimes it's good to heat your spices in fat.
In small sauce, deep saucepan, add the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, dried oregano and cumin, mix and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, chipotle salsa and dried peppers (chipotles and guajillo) then bring to a soft boil. Lower the temp to a low simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Give the flavored complexity (and heat) a chance to build.
Remove the dried peppers. Add the Crema and mix to combine. Place the tomato sauce into the blender with the water and blend to combine, 30 seconds. In the wide saucepan, add the tomato sauce and bring to a low simmer (really, just have small bubbles gently break the surface) . Crack the eggs in ramekins and slow add to the tomato sauce and cover (don’t crowd the pan). Cook until done to your likeness, 5-8 minutes for the various stages of runny, 10+ minutes for fully cooked. Hint: mine hit near in the 6-minute mark for perfectly running interiors.
Poach gently! Nice double yolk there.
One of the very few times a clear lids came in handy.
Plate the egg with a generous spoonful of the tomato sauce on a small plate. Garnish with sliced avocado, Crema and cilantro then salt and pepper to taste. Indulge!
Cumin, chili, dried oregano, onion, salt& pepper.
*I’d recommend frying a corn tortilla huevos rancheros style to plate the tomato sauce on. Also consider some Mexican seasoned potatoes (as I did), black beans and avocados for your sides.
I have a confession to make. Well, perhaps not a confession but more of an admission of a ‘blind spot’. Before I get too deep, please allow me to explain. I honestly feel that those of us in the fire service should consider ourselves professional athletes and thus should treat our bodies as such. But some of you might question, "Professional athletes, really?" I'll give you the definition and then let you be the judge:
Athlete: a person trained to compete in sports or exercises (i.e.- firefighting) involving physical strength, speed, or endurance.
I couldn’t have summed up our actions on the fire ground more succinctly. Some would argue that we don’t get paid enough money to qualify as professional (ok, maybe that was just me), but you see it’s a worthy comparison. So, with my case being laid out, I try to eat appropriately to keep my body always in the “go” mode so I can perform at my peak when it matters most. My diet reflects that.
All that being said, I have times when I say,” ____ it, I’m eating what I want, when I want it”. What I’m showing y’all here falls into the before mentioned ‘blind spot’ realm. Deep within this realm I find that I’m a sucker for homemade biscuits. As everyone who has had homemade biscuits knows, they’re the epitome of good Southern food, but often requiring kneading, folding, measuring, etc. Too much time for a rushed morning at the firehouse to pay it homage and give it its due respect, so I give you the abbreviated version, the drop biscuit.
This is a quicker alternative to the traditional rolled biscuits, with the same tenderness and buttery flavor. We’re still getting from point A to point B folks; it’s just a straight line, no curvy road for us. The addition of buttermilk ads acidic tang, ramping up the salt (not Kosher but regular table salt please) adds flavor and the cayenne pepper, the needed subtle smokiness. Remove the cayenne pepper if using in a sweet recipe. This recipe was adapted from America's Test Kitchen. Indulge!
A/P Flour (2 Cups)
Buttermilk (1 Cup whole)
Unsalted Butter (8 Tbs. plus 2 Tbs., melted but slightly cooled)
Baking Powder (2 tsp.)
Baking Soda (½ tsp.)
Sugar (1 tsp.)
Salt (1½ tsp.)
Cayenne Pepper (½ tsp.)
Spoons (2 large ones)
Parchment Paper or SiltPat
Pre-heat oven to 475°F with the rack set to the middle position. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, cayenne pepper and salt. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk and melted butter until small clumps of butter are formed. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or the SiltPat.
Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir with the spatula until the dough just begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It will not be fully incorporated. Too sticky, add more buttermilk. Too wet, add more flour. Spray the spoons with cooking oil and in the style of making quenelles, form an approximately ¼ cup portion and drop it onto the prepared baking sheet. Space the biscuits 1½ apart. It should be enough for 12 biscuits. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
Remove and top with the reserved melted butter. Let them cool for a few minutes then serve.
More and more, I find myself making excuses to head outside and seek the warmth of the sun. More yard work at the house and more outdoor practical fire ground training exercises at the firehouse. Spring here in the south is just one of those times when you’ll regret not hanging out when the weather is just right because before you know it, it’s gone.
Being outside, especially outside dining, demands a different style food from the cozy, controlled confines of inside. When partaking in good eats out on the deck/patio/porch, it is beneficial to have something that is not dependent on being refrigerated for long amounts of time. One of the most revered ingredients down south just doesn’t make the cut, mayonnaise. So what to do with one of the most demanded springtime offerings, potato salad?
Hit the potatoes with the next most important condiment in the food chain, mustard. This acidic, spicy concoction tops many a handheld delight (hot dog, hamburger, sandwich, etc.) but can also be the headliner for your salad. Roasting the potatoes and then serving everything warm accentuates the flavors. Add some needed crunch and color (green beans) and you have the makings of a new, healthier version of a true classic.
A few after the fire critiques: You are more then welcome to boil your potatoes rather then roasting but I feel you’d be sacrificing flavor. Haricot vert or snap peas are recommended if you want something other then the classic green bean. Also, replace the whole grain mustard with a spicier version for a more adult slant (AKA- your fire seekers).
Red Potatoes (roughly 2 lbs.)
Green Beans (¾ lbs. chopped into ½” sticks)
Scallions (Bunch sliced and split between white and green)
Shallots (2-3 sliced)
Parsley (Bunch chopped)
Whole Grain Mustard (2 Tbs.)
Sherry Vinegar (2 Tbs.)
EVOO (½ Cup + 1 Tbs)
Pepper & Salt
Small Saute Pan
Medium/large Metal Bowl
Pre-heat your oven to 400°F. Wash and scrub your potatoes. Place ¼ cup of EVOO and a pinch of salt into a medium bowl and mix to combine. Slice into ½” cubes and place into the bowl and toss to coat. Lay the potatoes into a single layer and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Ensure that after 15 minutes, to toss them one time. Remove when done and cover with a kitchen towel and reserve.
Meanwhile, add a Tbs. of EVOO to a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and white scallions. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
In a medium/large metal bowl, add the mustard and sherry vinegar and mix to combine. Slowly add the remaining EVOO to create an emulsion. Stir to keep warm. Remove when the shallots/onions are done.
Place your steamer over high heat to bring water to a slow boil and plenty of steam is rolling. Salt the green beans then add to the steamer and cook 5-7 minutes. Remove and reserve.
Add the reserved potatoes and toss with the green beans, scallions, sautéed onions, parsley, green onions, pepper and salt to taste. Add more sherry vinegar for a more assertive kick. Serve warm.
 Condiment Food Chain Top Five: 1. Mayo 2. Mustard 3. Ketchup 4. Barbecue Sauce. 5. Sriracha.
The Báhn Mì, otherwise known loosely as “bread” in Vietnam, is a generic name of a filled bread roll served street side for any of the three major meals of the day (and everything in between). This French-Vietnamese fusion food has taken root here in America, and for good reason. The well-balanced sandwich has a thin-crusted French roll stuffed with grilled pork (or pretty much anything under the sun, literally), spiced mayo, sliced cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, sliced jalapeñochopped cilantro… Shall I continue or are you already sold?
The combination of well-seasoned protein (or tofu) coupled with fresh vegetables all hugged by heavenly bread is not new too most, (Eat Fresh?) but this particularly delicious combination most likely will be. And what a shame it hasn’t gotten more exposure otherwise this would’ve found a home (and heavy rotation) into firehouses (and hopefully, your home) sooner.
A few after the fire critiques: I added a teriyaki sauce to the pork, but because of the brine, it will be plenty flavorful for most so feel free to skip the sauce if you so choose. Also, I went with pork, but it’s not uncommon to use traditional pâté, grilled chicken, shrimp, tofu (always thinking of you too Vegans), meatballs in tomato sauce, sardines, fired eggs, etc., it’s all good. I also decided to use radishes in lieu of the fact that most grocery stores where I live don’t carry daikon (or even know what it is and those that do have their stock sit on the shelf so long it becomes flimsy). Lastly, consider topping with a spicy chili paste of your choice.
Pork Shoulder or Loin (3-4 lbs.)
French Rolls (6-8)
Carrots (pre-shredded bag or 4-5 medium carrots)
Daikon (1 medium) or Radishes (small bag 20-25)
English Cucumber (De-seeded and sliced)
Jalapeño (thinly sliced)
Cilantro (just the leaves please)
Whole Black Peppercorns (1 tsp.)
Whole Coriander Seeds (1 tsp.)
Crush Red Pepper Flakes (1 tsp.)
Serrano Chiles (2 minced)
Garlic (2-3 cloves, minced)
Sugar (2 Tbs.)
Salt (1 Tbs.)
Mayo (½ Cup)
Fish Sauce (1 tsp.)
Lemon Juice (1 tsp.)
Brown Sugar (⅓ cup)
Soy Sauce (⅓ cup)
Honey (1 Tbs.)
Fish Sauce (1 tsp.)
Toasted Sesame Oil (¼ tsp.)
Rice Wine Vinegar (1 Cup)
Hot Water (1 Cup)
Sugar (2 Tbs.)
Salt (1 Tbs.)
Large Deep Pot
Large Deep-Sided Skillet or Cast Iron Pan
Mandolin (if possible, you’ll want it)
Mortar & Pestle
In a skillet over medium heat, add the peppercorn, coriander and crushed red pepper and, toss frequently to avoid burning, toast till aromatic, 3-5 minutes. Place them in a mortar & pestle along with the Serrano chilies, garlic and a pinch of salt. Ground until a paste has been formed. In a large pot or bowl, place the paste and 2 cups of hot water and mix till combine. Add ice cubes and cold water and mix till the cubes have melted and the water is cool. Add the pork (ensuring there is enough brine to cover) and then refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours (or up to over night).
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Remove the pork, wash over running water then pat dry with paper towels. Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray, place the pork in the middle, season with salt and then roast in the oven for 20 minutes per pound. Remove when the internal temp registers 145°F (we’ll be cooking it again later). Let it rest for 15-20 minutes then thinly slice into bite size strips.
In a large deep-sided pan over medium-high heat, add the soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, fish sauce, toasted sesame sauce and water (1 Tbs.) and bring to a low, simmering boil. Reduce by about half and thickened. Add the pork, toss to coat and raise the heat to high. Sear the meat till the sauce has slightly caramelized (3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.
Using either a mandolin or knife, cut the carrots and daikon/radishes into julienned slices. Place the veggies into a colander, aggressively salt (2-3 tbs.) while tossing to coat and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Rinse under running cold water until the salt has been removed.
Meanwhile, add the sugar, salt and hot water in a bowl and mix till the crystals dissolve. Add the rice wine vinegar and mix. Place the veggies in and ensure it covers. Allow it to cool then refrigerate and reserve.
Place the mayo, fish sauce and lemon juice into a small bowl and mix till combined. Refrigerate and reserve.
To Assemble The Báhn Mì
Slice the rolls lengthwise, apply a lathering of the aioli, and layer the pork, cucumber, pickled veggies, jalapeño and cilantro. Place on the baking sheet and toss in the still warm oven and toast for 2 minutes until warmed. Serve immediately. DONE.
The Fourth of July always evokes strong feelings of patriotism as I recall fondly the founding of our great nation. The American flag in all its glory is in full display around the community. It’s a special time to be alive. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the opportunity to connect with fellow neighbors (or firehouses) as we gather to celebrate (with good food) that which so much was sacrificed for.
And with most on this weekend, these gatherings are leading us outside to our grills, picnic tables, and pools. With that in mind, I wanted to provide a crowd favorite that can be made well ahead of time (up to a day), is high portable, and is easy as, uh, pie(sorry, couldn’t resist) to make. Very little is needed to craft this show stopping dessert, with graham crackers, some sweetened condensed milk and limes as the stars.
Speaking of limes, Key limes are the norm, so they say (if you can find them in your neighborhood, more power to you), as they provide a more concentrated flavor in a smaller package. But regular limes are more then sufficient here (and obviously abundant). Just don’t use any bottled lime juice, period. No exceptions. You’ll need the zest anyways, which is one of the keys (sorry again, just can’t resist) to this sweet goodness.
*Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen (they’re the greatest).
Sweetened Condensed Milk (1 can)
Egg Yolks (4)
Lime Juice (from 3-4 limes, or roughly ½ cup)
Lime Zest from the same limes (it’s a lot)
Vanilla (1 tsp.)
Salt (½ tsp.)
Graham Cracker Crust
Graham Crackers (10-11, or roughly 1¼ cup)
Unsalted Butter (5-6 Tbs.)
Sugar (3 Tbs.)
Heavy Cream (1 cup)
Powdered Sugar (¼ cup + 1 Tbs.)
*Lime Juice (1 Tbs.) *optional
Vanilla (½ tsp.)
Salt (¼ tsp.)
Food Processor (or plastic bag, wait, what?)
In a medium bowl, whisk the lime zest and yolks until it turns slightly green, about 2 minutes. Stir in milk then juice and allow it to sit a room temperature to thicken.
Pre-heat oven to 325. Smash the graham crackers in whatever method you desire (food processor or poured into a re-sealable plastic bag and crushed). Add the graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter and mix till it resembles wet sand. Pour the sand into a 9” pie pan and press to form an even crust. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Place on wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes.
Pour the lime filling into the pre-baked crust and bake for another 16-18 minutes, or until the center is set. Return the pie to the wire rack and allow it to cool for 30 minutes. Place in the fridge until well chilled, for at least 3 hours.
About an hour (or two) before serving, make the whip cream by adding the heavy cream to a chilled bowl and whip to form soft peaks. Add the lime juice, vanilla, salt, and powdered sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks are formed. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the pie. Garnish with lime zest and optional crushed pistachios and serve.