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Hasselback Potatoes

Hasselback Potatoes Promo Pic.jpeg

With many of my crew preparing for the next promotional exam with eyes on moving up in the ranks and spearheading our new wave of leadership, I thought it prudent to offer an alternative to the tried and true steak and potatoes promotional dinner. Make no mistake; there is a time and place for a perfect rib eye and mashed potatoes as a thank you for the support during what can be a busy time for the hopeful. But I wanted to show that you can ‘dress up’ the standard potato in other ways so let me introduce you to the Hasselback Potato.

 

Technique and presentation are on display here as more surface area is created by carefully slicing transverse cuts from tip to tail exposing more tater to take flavor. Some stuff with leaves (sage or bay), cheese, and bacon, but I want these naked so that you can appreciate the craft. Much like upgrading your helmet to leather with a dope shield, it is impressive sight to behold and elevates what is a very humble tuber.

 

A few after the fire critiques: I’ve tried this same recipe with sweet potatoes and butternut squash to great effect so give them a try. Don’t limit yourself to just these particular tubers: carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, etc. are all great options. Topping the potatoes is another fun dive be it maple syrup with Fresno peppers, garlic butter, chipotle crema, or in this case, chimichurri. Lastly, you can consider using the broiler for the last few minutes to get the top extra crunchy.

 

Fuel:

 

Russet Potatoes (4 large)

Butter (2+ Tbsp.)

Pepper and Salt to taste

 

Tools:

 

Baking sheet

Chopsticks (preferably metal)

Pastry or BBQ Brush

 

Tactics:

 

Heat the oven to 425°F. Meanwhile, melt the butter and reserve. Carefully slice ⅛“of the bottoms of the potatoes to create a flat surface. Cut ⅛” cuts across the length of the potatoes from tip to tail ensuring not to cut all the way to the bottom.

Using the brush, lather ½ of the butter on the top of the potatoes attempting to get some in between the cuts. Place the potatoes evenly spaced on a baking sheet spray lathered with oil or butter, sprinkle salt on top, and place in middle of the oven to roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and apply the last brushes of butter. Since not all potatoes are created equal, cook in additional 5-minute increments until the desired doneness. Top with additional melted butter or olive oil, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and allow cooling for 5 minutes, then indulge!

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Báhn Mì

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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 jalapeno, chopped 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 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.

 

 

 

Fuel

 

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)

Salt

 

Pork Brine

 

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.)

 

Fish Aioli

 

Mayo (½ Cup)

Fish Sauce (1 tsp.)

Lemon Juice (1 tsp.)

 

Teriyaki Sauce

 

Brown Sugar  (⅓ cup)

Soy Sauce (⅓ cup)

Honey (1 Tbs.)

Fish Sauce (1 tsp.)

Toasted Sesame Oil (¼ tsp.)

 

Pickling Fluid

 

Rice Wine Vinegar (1 Cup)

Hot Water (1 Cup)

Sugar (2 Tbs.)

Salt (1 Tbs.)

 

Tools

 

Large Deep Pot

Large Deep-Sided Skillet or Cast Iron Pan

Baking Sheet

Small Skillet

Various Bowls

Mandolin (if possible, you’ll want it)

Mortar & Pestle

Colander

Cooking Spray

 

Tactics

 

Teriyaki Pork

 

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.

 

Pickled Veggies

 

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.

 

Fish Aioli

 

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.

 

 

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Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

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Serves 4

 

With the wintery conditions starting to build this time of year, we inevitably start to crave meals that warm us from the inside. After running up and down the cold concrete of the interstate getting whipped around by zooming cars and trucks, nothing warms the fingers and toes like a hot soup. With that, I wanted to share an inspired version of Thai Coconut Chicken Soup that has been a family staple for many years.

 

With that, I wanted to introduce a rich, clean broth with salty, sweet, and sour notes all highlighted by red curry paste.  This traditional paste combines many of the flavors that the Thai region has to offer: lemongrass, fresh and dried red peppers, galangal /ginger, shallots, cilantro, lime leaves, coriander seeds, and peppercorn. Without a well stock Asian market near you to collect all of theses ingredients, this curry paste is a great alternative and available at most grocery stores in their International section.

 

A few after the fire critiques: Fish sauce is something I often use for its action packed umami but do yourself a favor and don’t smell it, it will put you on the floor. I list Anaheim peppers as optional for a spicy condiment but jalapeńos or Serrano peppers are subtler options. As toppers go, cilantro is the classic choice but consider additional fresh sliced mushrooms, Thai basil and a wedge of lime. Lastly, in Asian markets cilantro and coriander leaves are the same thing so purchase with confidence.

 

This recipe was inspired from America’s Test Kitchen, they are awesome.

 

Fuel

 

Chicken Breasts (2 8-10 ounce, boneless, skinless)

Chicken Broth (4 cups)

Coconut Milk (1 can /13.5 ounces)

Shallot (2, minced)

White Mushrooms (6-8 ounces, trimmed and thinly sliced)

Snow/Snap Peas (6 ounces, strings removed and cut in thirds on the bias)

*Anaheim Pepper (1, sliced)

Cilantro (⅓ bunch, chopped)

Lime Juice (2 Tbsp.)

Thai Red Curry Paste (1 Tbsp.)

Fish Sauce (2 Tbsp.)

Vegetable Oil (1 Tbsp.)

Sugar (2 tsp.)

Pepper & Salt

 

*Optional and spicy

 

Tools

 

Large Sauce Pan

Small Mixing Bowl

Small Plates

 

Tactics

 

Place chicken breast on paper towels, pat dry, and season with pepper and salt. Place on a small plate and let the chicken sit for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Sauté the chicken until lightly browned about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove and transfer to a small plate to reserve.

 

Lower the heat to medium and add the shallot to the saucepan and cook until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken broth, coconut milk, 2 teaspoons of fish sauce, sugar and mix to combine. Add the chicken and any juices to the pan, bring the broth to a simmer, and cook until the chicken hits 160°F, about 8-12 minutes. Note to flip the chicken breasts halfway through. Remove from heat and let the chicken rest in the broth for 1 hour (that is correct, one hour). Remove the chicken breast and using two forks, shred the chicken into bite size pieces. Reserve.

 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add the red curry paste, lime juice and remaining fish sauce and mix to combine. Reserve.

 

Return the broth to a simmer, add mushrooms and snow/snap peas and cook until just tender, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add red curry sauce and shredded chicken and allow them to heat up in broth for 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately topped with cilantro, optional Anaheim peppers, and fresh cracked pepper.  Indulge.

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Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

I love coffee. Full stop. The smell alone will wake me up and stir all my senses. However, a cruel twist of fate doesn’t allow me to consume it with out paying a terrible price. So whatever vehicle coffee is consumed has to be worthy. Enter Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti.

 

The fire service has been run on it for generations. I can remember my first year tour in Riverside, CA, rushing to the firehouse to make a fresh cup of coffee before the outgoing shift left and my shift began. Even though I couldn’t drink it, I understood the importance it played with tradition and fueling the fellas. These biscotti are a great way to share that coffee.

 

Biscotti, or “twice cooked” in Italian, are oblong shaped cookies perfect for cold or hot beverages. The double exposure to a hot oven makes these keep there texture even after sitting in a hot cup of Joe. Not too sweet with a good distribution of fixings, these are a great holiday gift or cookie for Santa, indulge!

 

A few after the fire critiques: I added the pistachios and semisweet chocolate chips here but feel free to add any nut, dried fruit, or chocolate. All are welcome! I dunked mine in milk but they have been known to pair well with coffee, latte, or hot chocolate so dunk away.

 

Fuel

 

AP Flour (2 Cups)

Baking Powder (1½ tsp.)

Cinnamon (1 tsp. ground)

Salt (1 tsp.)

Unsalted Butter (½ Cup at room temperature)

Light Brown Sugar (½ Cup)

Granulated Sugar (½ Cup)

Instant Espresso or Finely Ground Coffee (1 Tbsp.)

2 Eggs

Pistachios (1 Cup, coarsely chopped)

Semisweet Chocolate Chips (1 Cup)

 

Tools

 

Stand Mixer

Baking Sheets

Wire Rack

Various Bowls

Silpat or Parchment Paper

Fine Mesh Sieve

Serrated Knife

Spatula

 

Tactics

 

Makes about 2 dozen.

 

Preheat oven to 325°F.

 

Using fine mesh sieve, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl; set aside.

 

Using the mixing bowl on the stand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and espresso/coffee. Set the mixer to high-speed and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add the pistachios and chocolate ships, and mix in. Add flour mixture and mix just until incorporated or flour disappears.

 

Divide the dough in half. Place each half onto a prepared baking sheet. Using lightly floured hands, form each half into a log measuring 3 inches wide and ¾ inch high.

 

Bake until firm to the touch, about 25 minutes (the logs will spread some during the baking, this is normal). Remove the whole logs from the oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheets, about 5-8 minutes.

 

Using a spatula, carefully transfer the logs to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut into ½ inch slices thick. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheets and bake until the bottoms are brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and turn the slices over. Bake until the bottoms are brown, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Should keep for 2 weeks if they don’t get eaten.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Promo Pic.jpg

Don’t look now but we all blinked and the holidays are here again. As we all collectively shake our heads and forlorn the passage of time, I repeat but with more vigor and enthusiasm this time, THE HOLIDAYS ARE HERE AGAIN! So while the thought of the upcoming family get-togethers and holiday parties around the corner sink in, I wanted to offer a new spin on a traditional fixture for this time of year to help ease your worry. Let me introduce you to a non-traditional version of Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

 

Often relegated to the forgotten and lonely side tables during the big feasts, Brussels sprouts are one of the miscast vegetables worthy of being at the head table. Being a relative to the likes of broccoli and cabbage can earn you this shame. However, they are flush in nutrients, fiber, and vitamins and when prepared right, offer a sweet, nutty flavor that navigates the sulfurous and bitter reputation that these sprouts have undeservingly inherited. Waffles aren’t the only good things to come from Brussels.

 

With the addition of roasted pumpkin seeds to help reinforce the nuttiness and holiday theme, sesame oil and fish sauce the rich umami, the lime juice the acid, and red pepper flakes the needed heat, this is a non-traditional approach to a forgotten classic. This can be a stand-alone dish or a wonderful accompaniment to a healthy breakfast or a special holiday meal with loved ones, you decide. Happy holidays!

 

A few after the fire critiques: I used lime juice to wake the sprouts up and balance out the dish but feel free to use any vinegar (i.e.- rice wine) as an alternative. I’ve also added Italian sausage, Spanish dried chorizo, or bacon to help usher the meat eaters to the table. Lastly, sometimes I’ll blast the sprouts over the broiler to bring additional char to the leaves, a nice touch.

 

Fuel

 

Brussels sprouts (1 Lbs.)

Pumpkin Seeds (3 Tbsp.)

Olive Oil (3 Tbsp.)

Fish Sauce (¼ tsp.)

Sesame Oil (¼ tsp.)

Red Pepper Flakes (¼-½ tsp.)

Lime Juice (1 tsp)

Pepper & Salt

 

Tools

 

Baking Sheet

Medium Mixing Bowl

Aluminum Foil

 

Tactics

 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Trim ends and any yellow leaves off of Brussels sprouts than slice in half and reserve. In a mixing bowl, add the olive oil, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins seeds, and pepper and salt to taste and toss to combine. Place the Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet cut side down with the pumpkin seeds, cover with aluminum foil, and place in the center of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to cook for an additional 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, add the sesame oil, fish sauce, lime juice, and red pepper flakes to the bowl and mix to combine. Remove the Brussels sprouts from the oven, place in bowl, and toss to coat. Season with additional pepper and salt if desired and serve warm. Indulge!

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Homemade Ricotta

Many things will bring you joy and satisfaction when you first begin the wonderful journey that is cooking. Creating your first soufflé, nailing the perfect poached egg, baking your own bread, all these rank high and for good reason, as they require perseverance, a level of technique and some skill in the kitchen.

 

Along these lines, making cheese from scratch with nothing more then some dairy from the local grocery store has to measure up to all of the above with one caveat, this recipe is so easy to the point of being laughable. Very little perseverance, technique or skill is needed, so all are welcome to the wonderful world of homemade Ricotta.

 

With nothing more then some milk, cream, vinegar and salt, one can be moments away from the famous Italian cheese. This whey based fresh cheese is reliant on acid, in our case white distilled vinegar, and near boiling heat to unlock its potential and coagulate the protein. Time and some quick labor stirring are all that is left to bring this silky smooth delicacy to your table in under an hour.

 

A few after the fire critiques: Some add lemon juice in replacement of a portion of the vinegar (2 parts lemon to 3 parts vinegar). It’s a nice flavor but can distract from the cheese flavor for some so make both and be your own judge. A drizzle of honey, some cracked pepper, fresh fruit or smoked salmon over some baked bread or crackers is the call here but feel free to stuff into some lasagna or blueberry pancakes. You’ll thank me later.

 

Fuel

 

Whole Milk (7 Cups)

Heavy Cream (1 Cup)

White Distilled Vinegar (5 ounces)

Salt (1 Tbsp.)

 

Tools

 

Medium Heavy-Bottomed Sauce Pan or Dutch Oven

Cheesecloth

Colander

Thermometer (instant preferred)

 

Tactics

 

Dampen the cheesecloth ensuring to remove any excess water, fold in half to form a double layer, and spread in the base of the colander and set aside in the sink. Bring the milk and cream under medium-low heat until it reaches 190°F ensuring to stir frequently to avoid scorching the dairy. Add ½ the vinegar and all the salt and stir for 10 seconds. Remove from the heat, cover the saucepan with a lid, and let sit for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the remaining vinegar for a few minutes, 2-3. Pour the dairy into the prepared colander and cheesecloth.

 

Let the dairy drain until you achieve the consistence you want, about 15 minutes for soft ricotta, 20-25 minutes for firm and 30 minutes for firm and slightly dry. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a week. Indulge.

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Smoked Baked Beans

Smoked Baked Beans Promo Pic.jpg

As my son’s football team season is in full swing now, the best time of the year in my opinion (IMO), my culinary thoughts often turn to slow cooked meals easy for communal feeding. This drives me to the tailgating nirvana AKA- barbeque.  As the title eludes though, we are here to share my recipe for beans and not smoked meat (perhaps another time). However, these are not your average beans; a southern version of smoked baked beans is the call to action for football.

 

Beans are near and dear to my heart as they provide many health benefits for the consumer; protein, fiber, vitamin B, iron, potassium and they are low in fat. I love them in salads, burritos, soups, etc. Agreeably, this particular incarnation gets balanced out with some barbeque themed sauce, but it is for football season after all, we can all stand to live a little.

 

I prefer the process of soaking my beans overnight in a brined solution (3 Tbsp. table salt to 4 quarts water) and then cooking over heat on the stovetop. This prevents more splitting of your beans. However, I understand the desire at the firehouse (and the busy home) to bring something together without as much forethought, so the canned variety will serve you well. Navy beans are the norm but feel free to use whatever beans you have on hand.

 

A few after the fire critiques: I added the meat and bone from a smoked pork rib I recently cooked to enrich the meatiness so add it if you have it. I call for blackstrap molasses (a more condescended punch), muscovado sugar (an unprocessed sugar with strong molasses flavor) and liquid smoke (smoky in water form) and all are readily available in farmers’ markets and select grocery stores so get hunting.

 

Fuel

 

Navy Beans (2 Cups, rinsed)

Bacon (½ lb. ¼“ dice)

Onion (medium, diced)

Ketchup (½ Cup)

Molasses (2 Tbsp., Blackstrap preferred)

Muscovado or Brown Sugar (2 Tbsp., light)

Mustard (1 Tbsp. Yellow Mustard)

Worcestershire Sauce (1 Tbsp.)

Liquid Smoke (1 tsp.)

Salt (1 tsp.)

Pepper (¼ tsp.)

 

 

Tools

 

Slow Cooker

Medium Saucepan (AKA- medium pot)

Medium Sauté Pan

Wooden Spoon

 

Tactics

 

Place slow cooker to LOW and add beans. Add bacon in a cold sauté pan and then slowly sauté over medium heat until rendered, 10-15 minutes. Toss bacon with beans in the slow cooker ensuring to reserve about 1 Tbsp. of bacon grease. Add onions to the sauté pan, salt and cook until translucent, 5-8 minutes ensuring to add 1-2 Tbsp. water to release the fond on the bottom of the sauté pan halfway through. A wooden spoon scrapping the pan here is good for that. Toss onions with bacon and beans in the slow cooker.

 

Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in the saucepan and bring to a boil, 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add to beans. Add enough water to just cover beans, stir everything and cook for 2-3 hours covered or until beans are slightly al dente but breaks easy under pressure. Add water should it appear that it needs some. Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Let cool for a few minutes and serve warm. Indulge!

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Pickled Onions

Pickled Onions Promo Pic.png

When searching for that elusive balance with a dish I often find that I am craving some much needed acid. Be it to cut through a rich meal to refresh my palate or as a final kick to compliment that perfect bite, acid is often considered one of the pillars of cooking.

 

There are many ways to introduce acid into a dish, be it with citrus, vinegar, wine, buttermilk, etc. that exist at your disposal. When first wading into the deep waters that are acid I often advise my fellow cooks to lean into pickling as a great first few steps. This speedy and nearly mistake proof technique is a skill you will use forever more.

 

For most, pickling brings images of cucumbers, pickling salt and boiling glass containers. Though this does produce an excellent product and one worthy of conversation down the road, quick pickling is a tool that many professional chefs use to great aplomb and what we are focusing in on today. This allows for maximum punch in little time often using the fruit or vegetable of your choice. Welcome to the wonderful world of acid.

 

A few after the fire critiques: We went with onions here but you can exchange them for carrots, jalapeños, peaches, jicama or whatever your heart desires. Also, don’t be limited by the flavoring components I listed below. Adding all spice, cinnamon sticks, cumin or coriander seeds are not uncommon, have fun with it.

 

Fuel

 

Red Onion (quartered and thinly sliced)

Jalapeño (deseeded, deveined and minced)

Garlic (2 cloves minced)

Apple Cider Vinegar (½ Cup)

Peppercorns (10-12 whole)

Sugar (2 Tbsp.)

Salt (1 Tbsp.)

 

Tools

 

Small Saucepan

Sealable Plastic Container

 

Tactics

 

Place all fuel and ½ cup water in the saucepan sans the onions over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  Bring to a boil ensuring all the salt and sugar have dissolved then immediately remove from the heat.  Meanwhile, place all the onions in a plastic container and pour the pickling solution over them to cover.  Let it cool on the counter top then place in a refrigerator for no less then 10 minutes. Note that the longer it is pickled the more intense the flavor and spiciness.  These will last for a few weeks if covered. Enjoy cause they’re good.

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Adobo Chicken

Adobo Chicken Promo Pic.png

Some say that necessity is the mother of invention. As the sun falls out of the sky during a hungry summer night, I could think of no other famous quote to capture my spirits as I was dropped off at the front doors to the local grocery store to search for sustenance for my crew. With inspiration waning as my energy dipped, I was in search for an epiphany along the perimeter of the produce section when I came across the in season citrus selection and saw the vibrant green of limes.

 

What to pair with the tartness of the lime? I have always wondered how it would pair with a top shelf favorite of mine, chipotles in adobo. This Latin-inspired wonder hits so many of the culinary boxes; spicy, smoky, acidic all in one, it is magic in a can. Chicken thighs were the sale choice du jour that I noticed when entering the store so this was a natural choice for the protein. The addition of a little brown sugar rounds out the bitterness while allowing for a deeper caramelization during cooking. And what this produced was an inexpensive, quick dish worthy of any inventor.

 

A few after the fire critiques: the need to add water is optional but suggested. I like the way the adobo sauce became shiny and tacky like a good Chinese take out dish when adding the water. It also ensures that the clean up of the cast iron won’t take forever (you’re welcome). This can also lean into an Asian direction by adding any Asian inspired condiments (i.e.- soy sauce and honey roasted peanuts). Have fun.

 

Fuel

 

Chicken Thighs (2-3 Lbs., boneless, skinless)

Chipotles in Adobo (1 can)

Cilantro (1 bunch, chopped)

Lime (zested and juiced)

Brown Sugar (1 Tbsp.)

Neutral Oil (1 Tbsp.)

 

Tools

 

Cast Iron Pan, 10 or 12” pan

Blender

Fine Mesh Sieve

Large Bowl

Brush

Zester

 

Tactics

 

Place the chipotles in adobo in the blender and blend until it resembles a sauce, 30 seconds. Place the sieve over the bowl and pour in the adobo sauce. Using a large spoon, push the contents into the bowl ensuring to scrap the underside of the sieve leaving only the solids behind. Zest then juice the lime while also adding the brown sugar into the adobo sauce and mix to combine. Place the chicken into the adobo sauce and marinate in the fridge ensuring to toss 15 minutes in. Remove the chicken from the fridge and season with salt and pepper.

 

Meanwhile, preheat the cast iron pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Place a cup of water near the pan and reserve. Cook the chicken in batches ensuring not to crowd the pan, 4-5 minutes, or until the chicken releases from the pan. Use the remaining adobo sauce and brush to apply additional coats to the chicken while cooking. The water should be used whenever the sauce begins to burn by adding 1 Tbsp. at a time. Flip the chicken over and cook an additional 3-5 minutes or until cooked through (165F) and coated on all sides. Remove and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Top with cilantro and indulge.

        Magic in a can

        Magic in a can

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Strawberry Granita

Strawberry Granita Promo Pic.png

In the hallowed pantheon of firehouse food, I can’t think of one more deserving of entry then that of ice cream. Whether the vehicle of a the wide-eyed firefighter hopeful transferring a gallon in the hopes of gleaning information towards getting their dream job to that of the rookie beaming as he passes out the scoops as penance for their first fire, ice cream has sweetened the stomachs of the fire service for generations. But in the current climate of health and nutrition that has swept our profession as we look to improve our lifestyles and extend our careers, we firehouse cooks are ever endeavoring to provide that sweetness but without the calories or glycemic spike.

 

Enter granita, the Italian dessert that exists somewhere between shaved ice and sorbet but with a technique that builds a coarser crystal. It is a name that when done correctly is earned as it resembles small stones of granite. With typically only three ingredients; water, sugar and fruit, this is a healthier alternative to the legend that is ice cream, very refreshing on a warm summer day and as varied as the market’s fruit offerings.

 

A few after the fire critiques: I’ve used strawberries in this recipe as they are in peak season (their most affordable and tasty time) but have made versions with watermelon, mango, kiwi and coconut. Long story short, make whatever you want (I’ll eventually make an almond granita) and be limited by only your imagination.

 

Fuel

 

Strawberries (3 cups, cored and sliced)

Sugar (3 Tbsp.)

Lemon Juice (2 Tbsp.)

Lemon Zest (from one lemon)

Salt (½ tsp.)

 

Tools

 

Blender

Rectangular Dish (13 x 9” being ideal)

Medium Bowl

Fork

 

Tactics

 

In a bowl, place the strawberries, sugar and salt and mix to combine. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or until macerated enough to form syrup. Place the strawberry syrup, lemon juice and ½ cup of water into the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the dish and top with lemon zest. Take the fork and stir in the lemon zest and then place in the freezer. Freeze for 1½ - 2 hours while stirring the granita every 30 minutes ensuring that you drag from the outside to the center every time. The ice should start to resemble coarse pebbles. You can serve immediately or cover and serve when you are ready, just shave the ice from the top, scoop up, dish out and indulge!

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Shakshuka

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Shakshuka. Say it with me again but properly. SHAK-SHU-KA! What fun. With a name like that, one would expect a bold and powerful dish and I’m proud to say that the final product doesn’t belie the name. This recipe heralds from the lands of North Africa and the Middle East and is as common a dish as falafel within the region and rightfully so. All the right notes are hit; acid, spice, heat… Shakshuka indeed!

 

Peppers and onions stewed in spicy tomatoes with poached eggs is a great way to start the day in any land and a worthy addition to your firehouse. The best part being that this is a one-pan meal and is most at home in a reliable firehouse cast iron pan.

 

A few after the fire critiques: This is traditionally a part of a hearty breakfast dish but feels just as good as a lunch or dinner. Consider serving over a piece of toast (did someone say Naan?!) or over a bed of roasted root vegetables with a nice side salad. Lastly, can’t find any turmeric (you really should search this spice out) or Swiss Chard? Substitute with cumin or spinach respectively. Lastly, I love to sprinkle either Feta or Queso Fresco over the top to add some brine cheese flavor to the meal.

 

Serves 4-6

 

Fuel

 

Eggs (6)

Onions (2 medium, julienned)

Red Pepper (seeded, julienned)

Poblano (red preferred, julienned)

Swiss Chard (3 Cups, ribs removed and chopped)

Cilantro (⅓ bunch chopped)

Crushed Tomatoes (28 ounces)

Garlic (3 cloves minced)

Tomato Paste (1 Tbsp.)

Smoked Paprika (1 tsp.)

Turmeric (1 tsp.)

S&P to taste

Olive Oil (2 Tbsp.)

EVOO

 

Tools

 

Large Sauté/Cast Iron Pan 12” with Lid

 

Tactics

 

Place pan over medium-low heat and heat 1 Tbsp OO. Add onions, pepper and poblano and cook 20 minutes. Make well in middle and add additional 1 Tbsp. OO, paprika, turmeric and garlic to bloom for 30 seconds then mix to combine. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and ½ C water then bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Add Swiss chard on top and cover with lid and cook 5 minutes. Remove lid and mix in Swiss chard until combined and cook additional 5 minutes. With a large spoon, make 6 shallow wells in the sauce and carefully crack eggs into them, place lid back on and cook till whites are set on the eggs 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, top with cilantro, season with salt, pepper, splash of EVOO and a pinch of paprika and serve immediately. Indulge!

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Lemon Posset

My calories are sacred to me so I want the biggest bang for my buck when in search of a delicious confection. But I’m also a government employee on the go so I need a cheat day dessert that doesn’t require much time or money. This often leads one toward the simple classics. The trade off is that they often don’t provide much complexity or luxurious feel. I crave the best of both worlds and often won’t settle for less.

 

This led me to a British classic that has made something of a renaissance in recent years, the posset. Think custard crossed with curd, creamy with substance backed by a tart kick. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? You haven’t even heard the best part yet. It takes only three ingredients.

 

High heat is the key to unlocking the door that lies between cream and posset to create something magical. Boiling breaks down the fats in the cream much in the same manner as good vinaigrette does while shaking it in a mason jar forming a thicker texture. One could call it a sweet emulsion.

 

A few after the fire critiques: This is a rich tasting dessert and a little goes a long. If you should feel so inclined to top it like me blueberries and raspberries at the top of the list. I also fancy toasted coconut that provides a textural relief from all that custard. This is also a fantastic short cut for anything asking for a classic lemon curd (AKA- Lemon Tart). In the unlikely event of your not eating them right away, wrap in plastic and they can last a few days in the fridge.

 

Annie Petito inspired this recipe

 

Fuel

 

2 Cups Heavy Cream

⅔ Cup Sugar

3 Lemons/6 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

1 Tbsp. Lemon Zest

*½ tsp. salt (optional but recommended)

 

Tools

 

Medium Saucepan

Fine Mesh Strainer

Large Bowl

Zester

2-Cup Liquid Measuring Container

Ramekins

 

Tactics

 

Add heavy cream, sugar and lemon zest to medium saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. Bring to a boil stirring frequently until reduced to 2 cups. Don’t be afraid to take it off of the heat to avoid boiling over as this can take 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add 6 Tbsp. lemon juice and salt and stir to combine. Let cool for 15-20 minutes or until a skin forms on top. Strain the mixture through the fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Divide into 6 ramekins or equal sized containers (think cereal bowls) and set in fridge uncovered for 3 hours. When ready to serve, let sit out for 10 minutes then top with fruit or nuts. Indulge!

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Lemon Sriracha Fried Chicken

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With spring now knocking on winter’s door, visions of bright colors and flavors start sprinkling into my kitchen often with lemon as the chief culprit. Whether a twist of juice added to some yogurt, zest added to a creamy lemon posset (coming soon!) or whole lemons stuffed in a roasted chicken, it is as diverse as it is tart. With that, I centered a recipe around the flavors of lemon highlighting both it’s sweet and tart attributes with the warmth and spice of Sriracha to formulate a sticky sauce that pairs well with chicken.

 

As a transplanted west-coaster living in the south, I quickly found that I needed to arm myself with a good if not great fried chicken recipe. I have tinkered with many a rendition from tempura style to adding cornflakes and everything in between. One wonders if they will ever really perfect it but this is one that I am proud off.

 

A few after the fire critiques: The first incarnation of the recipe was with wings so know that the sauce is dynamite on them as well. I’d suggest a shorter fry time and then finishing them off under a broiler until just right. Obviously this is a recipe for home with the addition of beer, however, if you want to share this special meal with the lads at the firehouse, simply remove the beer and go full seltzer. Lastly, with all things fried, cooking times vary with the size of the pieces so use a thermometer to remove the guessing game.

 

Fuel:

 

EVOO (2 Tbs.)

Chicken Drumsticks (3-4)

Lemon Curd (½ Cup)

Lemon Juice (2 Tbs.)

Sriracha (1-2 Tbs.)

Rice Flour (½ Cup+ 1 Tbsp.)

AP Flour (½ Cup+ 1Tbsp.)

Cornstarch (2 Tbs. + 1 tsp.)

Garlic (1-2 cloves, minced)

Chives (NOT green onions, minced)

Pepper (freshly ground @ course setting, 3 Tbs.)

Beer (preferably high alcohol ALA malt liquor, ½ Cup)

Seltzer (¾ Cup)

Water (¼ Cup)

Vegetable Oil

Salt

 

Tools:

 

Dutch Oven

Small Saucepan

Various Bowls

Whisk

Oil Thermometer

Wire Rack

Baking Sheet

Paper Towels

 

Tactics:

 

In the saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the EVOO for 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant. While whisking, add the lemon curd, lemon juice and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the Sriracha and cracked pepper, reserve over very low heat.

 

In a bowl, whisk both flours with the cornstarch. Add the seltzer, beer, and salt (1 tsp.), then whisk until smooth (it should resemble pancake batter). Add the chicken to the batter and turn to coat all sides.

 

Heat 2-3 inches worth of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F (use of a thermometer is suggested). Meanwhile, remove the excess batter from the chicken before frying. Then, working in batches, fry the chicken (slowly wave the chicken into the oil tempura style) for 3 minutes, or until it is starting to turn golden on all sides. Salt then drain in a wire rack for 10-15 minutes.

 

Return the oil to 375°F and re-fry the chicken until a deep mahogany color is reached (or an instant read thermometer reaches 165°F in the thickest part), about 5-8 minutes. Momentarily drain the chicken on the rack and salt again.

 

Transfer the lemon mixture into a large bowl. Gently toss the chicken in the lemon curd sauce, sprinkle with the chives, and then serve immediately.

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Italian Bean Soup

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With Spring not to far away though really, we have to admit that it is not here soon enough, it always makes me think of quick soups for the pleasantly cool evenings and whatever is in season to highlight. This is great in theory for when Spring arrives. But what doesn’t have to wait for any season to be highlighted in a recipe, beans.

 

As I was bean adverse while growing up in Southern California (thankfully I changed gears after settling in down in the south), I’ve become aggressive with my experimenting different bean recipes as my exposure to them has grown. Fava, green, black, kidney, I’m infatuated with them all. Which led me to incorporate beans into a quick, relatively healthy soup to share.

 

Though soup was what I leapt to first when ushering in a bean recipe to the fire service, I implore you to consider adding beans to salads as well, either cold or warm. A great source of protein, fiber, carbs, vitamins (vitamin B especially!), minerals, and needed lipids (polyunsaturated fat!), they’re often considered one of the healthiest foods available.

 

A few after the fire critiques: White butter beans from Italy are not an everyday grocery item, I know. Hence, white kidney beans and/or cannellini beans are very complimentary substitutes and are readily available. Feel free to skip pancetta all together to make it vegetarian or add some shredded roast chicken (a favorite at the firehouse). Spinach can be replaced with any dark leafy green, just adjust the cook time to accommodate.

 

Feeds 4-6 comfortably.

 

Tools

 

Dutch Oven

Wooden Spoon

Colander

Various Bowls

 

Fuel

 

Pancetta or Pork Belly (6-8 ounces, cubed)

White Butter/Cannellini/Kidney Beans (2 cans, well rinsed)

Chicken Stock (8 cups)

Spinach (2 cups)

Onion (large, diced)

Carrots (2 large, diced)

Garlic (3 cloves, smashed)

Tomato Paste (2 Tbs.)

Dried Oregano (1 Tbs.)

Smoked Paprika (2 tsp.)

EVOO (1 Tbs.)

S&P too taste

 

Tactics

 

Place the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the EVOO and heat for 30 seconds. Add the smashed garlic and pancetta and render till browned, 5-8 minutes. Remove and drain in separate bowl lined with paper towel. Carefully remove the smashed garlic pieces. Remove all but 1 Tbs. of the leftover pancetta grease. Add the carrots and onion, season with salt, and cook to soften, 5 minutes. Add the dried oregano and smoked paprika, mix to combine, and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, mix to combines and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

 

Pour in the chicken stock and then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the beans, spinach, and pancetta and cook for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Indulge!

 

 

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Raspberry Java Ribs

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My love for the Sunday pastime that has become football was a fire that burned slowly before resembling the inferno that it is today. Many recent changes have added fuel to that fire. First and foremost is my young son’s involvement in youth football. Seeing his passion for the sport grow with every weekend has been a real joy. He has seen that his hard work and dedication pay dividends. It is a special moment for a parent.

 

Living in a city that actually has a professional football team has contributed as well. Growing up in Southern California, we witnessed a myriad of pro teams sweep in then sweep away. It was hard to establish roots with both the Rams and Raiders as they jumped from city to city, the Chargers were in San Diego and the 49ers were in San Francisco. Having a pro team in town and one that is successful, like the Falcons, has given me a vested interest in watching on Sundays. And I thank you in advance for not mentioning last year’s Super Bowl.

 

Which brings me to the topic of today, how best to feed one’s self and those who stand beside him/her as they lament the days losses? My go to meal for football are ribs. ‘Football food’ should be of the finger variety, fulfilling the meat quotient, and requiring mostly unattended cooking. Ribs do this in spades. Rain or shine, on the grill or in the oven, dry versus wet? All these questions are arbitrary but allow me to direct to what I consider football ‘nirvana’ with this deep and complex raspberry java barbecue sauce. Indulge…

 

A few after the fire critiques: This recipe suggests an oven which has more control over temperature fluctuations then the grill or smoker which is exposed to the outside weather but feel free to use this on either. If you have a Trader Joe’s anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and use their raspberry jam for this recipe, it’s amazing. Don’t want the coffee grounds? Replace with 2 Tbsp. of strong coffee.

 

Fuel

 

Ribs and Dry Rub

 

Baby Back Ribs (3 medium racks)

Brown Sugar  (½ Cup)

Salt (¼ Cup)

Pepper (2 Tbs.)

 

Barbecue Sauce

 

*Rib Juices (1 Cup)

Orange Juice (2 Cups)

Ground Coffee or Espresso Powder (2 Tbs.)

Chipotles (3-4 Minced)

Raspberry Jam (1 Jar or 16-18 ounces)

Brown Sugar (½ Cup)

 

* see recipe for directions

 

Tools

 

Baking Sheet

Dutch Oven

Fine Mesh Strainer

Aluminum Foil

Various Bowls

Spatula

Brush

 

Tactics

 

Pre-heat oven to 275°F. Mix dry rub ingredients in a bowl and reserve. Rinse the ribs under cold running water. Dry with paper towels, clean of any loose meat/skin and then apply the dry rub liberally to all sides of the racks. Wrap the racks tightly in foil meat-side down ensuring the seams rest on the top of the racks. Place the racks on the baking sheet, place in the middle of the oven and cook for 3 (three) hours. Remove the racks from the oven, open one foil packet and drain the juices into the Dutch oven (roughly a cups worth). Remove the other two racks from their foil, discard the juice and place the racks side-by-side back onto the sheet and place in the oven for an additional hour.

 

Meanwhile, place the Dutch oven over medium heat and add the coffee, chipotles, orange juice, raspberry jam and brown sugar and mix to combine. Bring the sauce to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and pour the sauce into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer. Repeat ensuring that all chipotle and raspberry seeds have been removed. Note that most, but not all coffee grounds, will be removed, which is to be expected. Bring the sauce back to a boil and reduce to a cup and ½. Quickly place the sauce into a chilled bowl and stir the sauce until cooled and thickened.

 

Remove the ribs from the oven and apply a coat of sauce to all sides. Place back into the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the first coat sets. Repeat for a total of 4 (four) coats an additional hour. Remove the ribs from the oven and allow them to cool to the touch. Once cooled, slice the racks into individual ribs, place in a flat single layer on the sheet exposing the sides, and apply a coat of sauce. Place under the broiler set to LOW and caramelize (5-6 minutes). Flip, apply and broil. Serve immediately. Your welcome…

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Pull-Apart Rolls

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Holidays make me appreciate the aromas from the kitchen like no other time. Be it succulent meats, warmed spices, or baked goods, we inevitably find ourselves being drawn towards the gastronomical pull of the kitchen. So in an effort to boost the wonderful gravity of these happy smells, let’s make some bread.

 

For most, bread making can be daunting task. Weighing ingredients, moisture levels in the house, time demands… These are all roadblocks most people lean on to not try bread making during this most wonderful time of the year. Don’t let this dissuade you from giving this a go. This is a forgiving recipe and a great gateway dough towards more advance yeasty breads. So lather up with some butter cause we are about to be on a roll!

 

A few after the fire critiques: these are best straight out of the oven but they can be stored for a week at room temp, a month in the fridge or frozen for quarter the year. I’d suggest a flavored butter or fruity jam to top these with but these are so good you really don’t need anything.

 

Fuel

 

4 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1 Cup Buttermilk

¼ Cup Water, lukewarm (100-110°F)

¼ Cup Sugar

8+ ounces/1 stick Unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 package Active Dry Yeast

2 Eggs

2½ tsp. Salt

 

 

Tools

 

Stand Mixer

9-by-13 Inch Baking Dish

Large Bowl

Plastic Wrap

 

Tactics

 

Brush a large bowl with butter. Place the water, yeast and a pinch of sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix to combine. Let it stand for 10 minutes to get foamy. Add the buttermilk, melted butter, eggs and remaining sugar and mix till combined. Switch to a dough hook and add the flour and salt. Knead at a low speed for about 2-minutes or until it forms a smooth ball. Scrape the ball into the prepared large bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-13 inch baking dish. Place the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and work into a ball. Cut in half, then slice each half into 7 wedges and arrange them into the prepared dish. Cover with plastic dish and let it stand in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.

 

Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Indulge.

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Savory Stuffed Pumpkin

The holidays are coming and the delight and/or pressure of serving many a worthy dish comes with it. As with all firehouses, this time of the years brings our families together to celebrate all things life has to offer outside of the fire service. Chief among them is food. What I offer you here is an impressive vessel that celebrates the season and many a mouth in a Holiday table-stealing stunner.

 

This is an essence a stuffing but cooked in a moisture-locking gourd instead of a casserole dish or Dutch oven. With this artisan style baking vessel imparting the orange-fleshed flavor, the advantages are many; one ‘pot’ cooking, no filling restrictions, serves many and has an easy clean up. This will take a permanent place in your holiday meal rotation.

 

A few after the fire critiques: As I stated above, your imagination is your only limitation with what you can stuff in here. Don't want rice; add quinoa, coucous, or cubed bread in its place. Remove the protein (sausage) and dairy to make it a vegetarian dish. You can even consider making it a sweet version as well... Oh, and the pumpkin travels. Wrap in aluminum foil on a baking sheet or large plate and take with you to your next holiday party. Simply reheat in a 350°F oven until warmed through and serve.

 

Fuel

 

Medium to Large Pumpkin (8-10 lbs.)

1-2 Cups of Rice, cooked

1 lb. of Sausage, cooked

1½ Cups of Cheese, cubed (Gruyère, Emmental or White Cheddar)

2 Cups Heavy Cream or Half-n-Half

4-6 Cloves of Garlic, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp. Thyme, minced

1 Tbsp. EVOO

1 tsp. Cinnamon

½ tsp. Nutmeg

½ tsp. Smoked Paprika

½ tsp. Cayenne

Pepper and Salt

 

Tools

 

Mixing Bowls

2 Baking Sheets

Parchment Paper or Slit Pads

Cast Iron Pan

 

Cooked to perfection.

Cooked to perfection.

Tactics

 

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Carve a large enough hole into the top of the pumpkin to allow a large serving spoon to fit in. Remove the seeds, innards and top and reserve for later. Wipe down the pumpkin inside and out ensuring there are no strings. Season the inside of the gourd with salt and pepper. Combine the heavy cream, 1½ tsp. thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and reserve. Add the rice, sausage, cheese and cream mixture into the pumpkin and mix to combine.

 

Place the pumpkin in the middle of the parchment lined baking sheet and ensure the top has been put back on. Place in the oven for 1½-2 hours (or more depending on the size of your pumpkin). Remove the top of the pumpkin and using a knife, check the doneness. When the knife penetrates with little resistance, remove the top and continue to cook for an additional 20-30 minutes. Remove and reserve. Turn the oven OFF and place in prepared pumpkin seeds (see below).

 

To prepare the pumpkins seeds, place the innards in a large mixing bowl in the sink and add enough water to cover. Remove the strings while rinsing the seeds and place on a paper towel lined baking sheet to dry. Place the cast iron pan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp. of EVOO, smoked paprika and cayenne in and heat for 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin seeds and cook stirring often for 8-10 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from heat, season with a pinch of salt and reserve. Dry the baking sheet, line with parchment paper and place the seeds on top. Place in the oven after the pumpkin has finished cooking and cook with the carryover heat for 10-15 minutes or until dry and crunchy.

 

When ready to serve, use a large serving spoon and gently scrap the inside of the pumpkin to release some of the flesh and stir to incorporate. Either place a generous scoop into serving bowls or cut a wedge of the pumpkin and carefully place on a plate ensuring the contents remain. Top with reserved thyme and pumpkin seeds and indulge!

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding

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All Hallows Eve is quickly becoming my favorite holiday. I realized this when I recently went down to my basement to gather all my ghoulish decorations and my traditionally Christmas decorations looked as though they had some competition. This feeling was reinforced when my son and I were staging our front lawn and a car slowed down in our cul-de-sac and the back window rolled down and a young little Princess politely asked when our Halloween house would be ready? The young girl’s mother then chimed in that we are known for having the best Halloween decorations in the neighborhood… score.

 

So, we traditionally set up a fire pit in the middle of the cul-de-sac for all our neighbors to sit around as we dish out treats to the 1,000+ people that come far and wide to haunt our streets. It is a delightfully entertaining night to see all the colorful and creative costumes but it is also taxingly long what with refilling the candy cauldron, scaring prowlers away from the decorations and keeping tabs on my own ghouls (sounds like the average shift with the crew). So, my goal is to provide a Halloween themed dessert to keep all the parents happily stuffed.

 

My love for bread pudding and pumpkin pie is well chronicled so I felt compelled to try and combine the two together. The result was quite surprising. The dish offered the homey decadence of bread pudding crossed with the creamy, spiced pumpkin flavor. And for the piece-de-resistance, top the pudding with a quick caramel sauce, it will be guaranteed to be the talk of the night.

 

A few after the fire critiques: for those in the hunt for all things natural, you can secure some sugar pumpkins to roast, scoop and puree en lieu of using the canned variety but it is not necessary. When selecting a good canned pumpkin, make sure it is NOT pumpkin pie filling (disaster). I have been known to reduce the pumpkin puree on the stovetop to remove much of the water content and deepen it’s inherent flavors, a fun twist to mix it up. Lastly, this can be made ahead of time and rewarmed in an oven before serving, always a plus.

 

Fuel

 

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

 

Canned Pumpkin (15 ounce can)

or

Roasted Pumpkin (Sugar Pumpkin or similar, 1-2)

Challah Bread (French of Sour Dough are fine)

1 Cup Heavy Cream

1 Cup Whole Milk

2 Eggs (Beaten)

1 Cup Brown Sugar

1 Tbsp. Cinnamon

2 tsp. ground Allspice

2 tsp. ground Nutmeg

1 tsp. Cloves

1 tsp. Vanilla

 

Quick Caramel Sauce

 

¼ Cup Unsalted Butter (at room temp.)

1 Cup Brown Sugar

½ Cup Heavy Cream

1 tsp. Salt

 

Tools

 

7” x 11” Baking Dish

Various Bowls

Small Sauté Pan

Medium Saucepan

Spice/Coffee Grinder

Whisk

Spatula

 

Tactics

 

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut bread into ¾” thick slices and then into bite size pieces. Place the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, milk, eggs and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the spices (allspice, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg) and vanilla and mix to incorporate. Toss bread cubes into the bowl and gently toss to coat. Carefully pour the pumpkin bread into the baking dish and set aside for a minimum of 15 minutes or up to all night. Place in the middle of the oven of 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick is drawn clean from the middle. Place on a rack to cool. Slice into 3”x 3” cubes and serve with powdered sugar and quick caramel sauce.

 

Quick Caramel Sauce

 

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and brown sugar and allow the butter to melt. Stir for 2 minutes until the sugar crystals dissolve. Add the heavy cream and stir for 1 minute. Bring the sugar to a gentle boil for two minutes and then remove from heat. Allow it to cool and use immediately or store for up to a week.

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Onion Tart

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As I pondered the upcoming weekends filled with the American pastime of eating and watching football (and the EPL, go Man U!), I reviewed some of my favorites. While considering some of my recipes, they needed to hit a few basic criteria; must be handheld, be easy to make requiring as little time away from the big screen as possible, indulgent tasting but inexpensive and above all else, a crowd pleaser. Enter the Onion Tart.

 

This is recipe that like most started with a great woman, my Mom. She shared this with us many moons ago during a holiday visit and it struck a cord with all attending. It should speak volumes that this dish can be placed on a turkey-laden holiday table and stand up to all it’s competition. My wife then got a hold of it determined to make it a family affair and this is what she finished with. Crunchy, savory, slightly sweet, aggressively seasoned, this hits all the benchmarks (as does my wife). Wherever you are, whomever you are with, enjoy the football season!

 

A few after the fire critiques: Créme Fraîche is must here and can now be found readily available in most major grocery stores. It’s the subtle sour notes that make it so popular in both savory and sweet dishes but it is it’s fat content that makes it a star. Adding this to anything from soups and sauces will offer the creaminess one seeks but without it breaking or curdling. We regularly stock this in our fridge, a great find.

 

Fuel

 

1 Bag of Pre-Made Pizza Dough

2 Sweet Onions, sliced

2 Cups Portabella Mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces of Créme Fraîche

4-5 Slices of Bacon

1 Sprig of Rosemary, chopped

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil (AKA- OO)

1 Tbsp. Dried Parsley

2 tsp. Garlic Powder

Pepper and Salt to taste

 

Tools

 

Baking sheet (quarter or smaller)

Sauté Pan, large

Various Bowls

Plastic Wrap

Paper Towels

 

Tactics

 

Place 2 Tbsp. OO and the dough in a bowl insuring the dough is covered in the oil then cover with plastic wrap. Let it proof while preparing the remaining ingredients.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. Place the baking sheet topped with the bacon in the middle rack of the oven and cook until crisp, 10-15 minutes (check often). Place onto paper towels to drain then chop into bite size pieces, reserve. Whip out all but a Tbsp. of bacon grease and reserve baking sheet.

 

In a sauté pan, place 1 Tbsp. of OO over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, the dried parsley, garlic powder, Tbsp. of water and an aggressive pinch of salt and cook until slightly browned, 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve. Increase head to medium-high and add remaining OO, mushrooms and pinch of salt and cooked until slightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.

 

Increase oven temperature to 350°F. Gently stretch the dough on top of the baking sheet ensuring to reach all the corners while attempting to achieve a level thickness throughout. Lather the crème fraîche on top and then evenly place the bacon, onions, mushroom, rosemary and sprinkle with pepper and salt. Place in the middle rack and cook until bubbly and browned, 16-20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, slice and then serve, indulge!

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Horchata

After another sweat-drenched day of making hot laps on the interstate inside a fire engine with questionable cooling capability, a refreshing summer drink hits the spot. Yes, yes, yes, electrolyte charged drinks have their time and place but in 2017, we want more control over what we place into our bodies. And as I’ve always been partial towards Latin inspired cuisine, its no shock to see me gravitate towards the Mexican version of their classic rice based sweetened beverage called Horchata.

 

Horchata means different things to different parts of the world; it all depends on the cultural traditions (just like the fire service). Some use peanuts, cashews, almonds (as I do here), sesame seeds, tigernuts, etc. But no mater the regional ingredient, horchata has the basic tenants of water, grains/nuts, cinnamon and sugar all brought together in glass and ice.  It’s magic.

 

A few after the fire critiques: We’ve essentially made rice milk here but with an aggressively flavored slant, welcome to the world of homemade milks! Agave is used as the sweetener here but feel free to use any that you like. I’ve used honey in the past but some find it too strong. Many will also mix the horchata base and milk in a cocktail shaker before pouring into a glass and this works well but good luck finding that in the firehouse. Lastly, for your more pretentious guests (I’m raising my hand here), consider frothing some milk or cream to top the drink and a fresh grating of nutmeg for that little something extra.

 

Makes 2+ quarts

 

Fuel

 

6 Cups Water

1 Cup Rice

½ Cup Almonds, slivered

1 Cinnamon Stick, broken up

2 Cups Milk

½ Cup Agave

1 tsp. Vanilla

1 tsp. salt

Cinnamon Powder to taste

 

Tools

 

Baking Sheet

Blender

Large Pitcher

Fine Mesh Sieve

Cheesecloth

 

Tactics

 

Mix rice, almonds and cinnamon stick to combine than place evenly onto the baking sheet. Place in a 350°F oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until slightly toasted. Add toasted mix with water into the blender and blend for 5 minutes. Pour into the pitcher, add vanilla and agave and stir to combine. Place horchata mix in fridge for 8 hours or over night.

 

When ready to drink, pour horchata mix through the fine mesh with cheesecloth into a glass filled with ice, fill it ⅔ of the way then add milk near the top. Mix with a spoon or straw and top with a dash of cinnamon. Indulge!

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