In praise of the world’s tiniest grill

photo 1Being an apartment-dweller means that I’m pretty short on porch space. I mean, we do actually have a front and back porch, but there’s just not a ton of room for outdoor activities like grilling. But man, I love grilled food. So when the 4th of July rolled around this year, Jess and I decided we’d go down to the Walmarts and see if we could find a grill that would suit our needs: it needed to be small, it needed to be easy to put together, and it needed to be cheap. Like, way cheap — because let’s face it, I’m not sticking an expensive grill out on my porch in the middle of Little Rock.

What we found was this little 156-square inch grill for the bargain price of $10. Assembly took about 15 minutes, and it fit nicely on the corner of the front porch. A bit of charcoal and some fire later, we were ready to cook. So how does the world’s tiniest grill stack up? We cooked burgers, dogs, and chicken on it and were happy with the results. You wouldn’t want to feed a crowd off this thing, but for a little two person cook-out (or a way to keep from heating up the house with the stove on a hot summer day) this thing was perfect. 

photo 3Because the surface area is so small, I decided to go with a couple of Cornish game hens, butterflying them so that they would lay flat on the grill. This technique, known as “spatchcocking” is a great way to cook chicken evenly — you remove the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears, then pop the breast bone loose so that the bird lays flat, cooks evenly, and doesn’t dry out. These little guys were tasty.

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A couple of days later, I came across some small fryers at the market that were split completely into halves. This is my other favorite way to grill chicken — there’s nothing like settling down to a complete feast of white and dark meat; it also makes me feel like a medieval lord to tear into one of these birds. Again, the grill did a great job, and we were left with chicken that was flavorful, juicy, and had a crisp, crackling skin. The only complaint I have with the grill is that the single air vent on the lid isn’t sufficient to keep the oxygen flowing over the coals, so sometimes I had to leave the lid askew so that my fire wouldn’t cool down too much. But after some experimentation, I found that with a little tenacity, the world’s tiniest grill turned out some great food.

Summertime is grill season, and even if you don’t have a lot of room (like us), there’s no reason not to pick up one of these cheap-o grills and get to it. You’ll be glad you did. Happy cooking!



White trash enchiladas

pbeerI’ve been known to cook fancy, and I’ve been known to cook trashy. This “recipe” is decidedly in the “trashy” column, but it’s so tasty that you might want to try it for yourself. Enchiladas aren’t exactly considered high-brow fare in even the best of times — and these little bundles of joy really take the cake for white-trash glory. They’re quick, they’re cheap, and they hit the sort of guilty spot that I just love.

White Trash Enchiladas

  • 2 cans chicken. Yes, cans. Canned chicken is found in the supermarket with all those other great white trash items — tuna fish, Vienna sausages, potted meat, and Spam.
  • 8 (or so) flour tortillas. Because you aren’t going to use traditional corn tortillas in a dish like this.
  • 1 block cream cheese.
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce. Old El Paso makes a fine version for this dish.
  • Shredded cheese
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • Chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, red pepper

photo 2(9)Open your cans of chicken, drain one of them. Glop them into a skillet and heat until the juice starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the lime juice and as much seasoning as you want, going heaviest on the chili powder. Simmer this concoction until the liquid is almost gone, stirring frequently — you’ll want to kind of mush the chicken around with a spatula to get it nice and chopped.

Once the liquid has almost all boiled off, add the block of cream cheese and stir the dickens out of everything until you’re left with a mass of goo that doesn’t look all that great but tastes pretty good. Divide the goo onto the tortillas and roll them up. Place rolled tortillas into a baking dish, splash on the green sauce, then top with shredded cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and the edges of the tortillas begin to crisp. Serve on a paper plate. Enjoy!

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Beer-braised chicken with fennel

IMG_9950 (640x427)Any of you who have kept up with this blog for awhile know that Jess and I love our beer. And while drinking the stuff is normally just fine with us, we also like to cook with beer. Brown ales and porters are some of our favorite cooking beers, and tonight’s dish uses Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale as the base for a braising liquid that it quite potent and savory. Sammy Smith’s might be a little bitter for some of you out there, so feel free to substitute any other brown ale, amber ale, or porter in this dish — pick something without a strong hops profile that you like to drink and you’re guaranteed a good dish. The addition of fennel to the mix adds a nice layer of complexity to the sauce, not to mention a tasty addition to the finished dish.

Beer-braised chicken with fennel

  • IMG_9955Four chicken thighs, skin on.
  • One bulb fennel, julienned.
  • One bottle brown ale.
  • One cup chicken stock.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • Two tablespoons cider vinegar.
  • Two tablespoons butter.

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs. In a deep skillet, brown the thighs on both sides until they’re nice and golden brown. Remove chicken to a platter. Deglaze your pan with the chicken stock, then add the beer and fennel. Add the chicken back to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and let the chicken work until it’s nice and tender. Remove chicken and add the vinegar, cooking the liquid until it has reduced by half. Adjust seasonings to taste, then swirl the butter into the finished sauce for a nice, glossy look and luscious taste. Serve with sweet potatoes or over wide egg noodles. Happy cooking!

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Sausage stuffed galantine and dill celeriac mash

Photo courtesy Farm Girl Natural Foods

Photo courtesy Farm Girl Natural Foods

One of our more popular posts is this recipe for a roasted chicken galantine, a play on the classic French dish that roasts a boneless, stuffed chicken to serve hot rather than the traditional method of poaching and serving cold. And while I’m not the most efficient at getting a chicken boneless without tearing the skin, I’ve gotten a lot better at it — so much so that I rarely have to watch the Jacques Pepin video embedded in that original post for pointers anymore. The galantine takes a bit of work, but the results are so attractive and tasty that I just can’t help wanting to make one every time I get my hands on a whole chicken. Such was the case last week, when I used one of the Farm Girl Natural Foods chickens gifted to us by grower Katie Short to make a bird stuffed with bread crumbs, bacon, and some linguiça that also came from the Arkansas farm. I did more cooking than picture taking last weekend, though, and didn’t get any good shots of that lovely bird — so I went to Hillcrest Artisan Meats today and bought another one of Katie’s chickens, not only to get some pictures, but also to taste that delicious chicken once again. We served the galantine with a blend of mashed celery root and potatoes and some French-style green beans.

Sausage stuffed galantine

  • IMG_9525One whole chicken, de-boned (see previous post for de-boning instructions).
  • 3/4 pound sausage. Use whatever sausage you like. Or make your own by seasoning ground pork to taste.
  • 1/4 pound bacon, cut into lardons.
  • 3 tablespoons diced shallots
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs. Roughly tear your own and let dry overnight or just buy the pre-bagged kind made for stuffing.

Brown your sausage in a skillet, place into a bowl and set aside. Brown the bacon and add it to the sausage, reserving the fat. Use the bacon fat to saute your shallots and garlic, just until the shallots start becoming opaque (do not brown them). Add shallots, garlic, remaining bacon fat, and bread crumbs to the bowl, stirring to mix. Stuff your galantine and truss (again, see previous post for instructions). Roast for 20 minutes in a 300 degree oven, then finish for 10-20 minutes at 400. Because there are no bones in the bird, it will definitely cook faster.

Mashed celeriac and potatoes with dill

  • IMG_95351 medium celery root, peeled
  • 1 cup or so peeled potatoes. I say “or so” because my amount of potatoes was the rest of a bag of baby Yukon Golds that I had left over from a previous recipe.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop your celery root. Blanch for five minutes in acidulated water (use vinegar or lemon juice). Drain and add fresh water, bring back to the boil. Boil blanched celeriac and potatoes until both are soft. Mash with the butter, then add the sour cream, dill, and salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings as needed. Serve immediately.

This meal was a lot of fun to make, not only because I was cooking with a new ingredient, but also because I was once again using some quality local product. Happy cooking!


Panko-Parmesan oven-fried chicken salad with honey-Dijon dressing

IMG_9303A couple of weeks ago, Jess and I spent a lovely weekend in her hometown of Glenwood. We visited with her parents and brother (who was in from Colorado), and when the last, lazy Sunday came around, we gathered ’round the television and watched some reruns of Good Eats. The episode that stuck with me the most was one in which Alton Brown did all sorts of things with one of my favorite substances of all time: honey. He baked a honey cake, talked about bees, but the thing that got into my head was a simple mixture of honey and Dijon mustard that he recommended for salads or chicken fingers. Days went by, and I couldn’t get that craving out of my head — so I decided to whisk a batch up and combine Alton’s salad and chicken finger ideas into one glorious plate. Not wanting to fry the chicken, I decided to do the next best thing: coat some chicken breasts in Panko, the Japanese-style bread crumbs that make everything better, and throw in a little Parmesan cheese for flavor and cohesiveness. The results were outstanding.

Alton Brown’s Honey-Dijon Dressing

  • 5 tablespoons honey (we used some really good stuff from Whole Foods)
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard (we used some really cheap stuff from Kroger because I had a coupon)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (we used regular rice vinegar from Mr. Chen’s)

Whisk everything until blended. Yes, it really is this simple. Why would you ever buy honey-mustard at the store again when you can make it at home — especially since you can play around with different kinds of honey to change the flavor of this wonderful concoction?

For the chicken, create a coating with 1 cup panko and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Toss in some herbs de Provence if you have some. In a separate bowl, mix together 1 egg and another tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Salt and pepper your chicken, dip into the egg/mustard mixture, then coat with the panko/Parmesan. Bake on a wire rack atop a cookie sheet for 20-30 minutes at 375. Let rest, slice thin, and build your salad. Enjoy!

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Drunken Beans

IMG_9092I know this might surprise some of you, but there are times when I do really stupid things. Sometimes those things are forgivable, like eating a bag of Famous Amos cookies and a Diet Coke for lunch, but sometimes I pull some really egregious shenanigans that embarrass even me (and I’m a guy known to order pig intestines in restaurants). My most recent bone-headed move was buying a growler of Josiah Moody’s fantastic Scotch Ale yesterday at Vino’s…and then just letting it sit. By the time I got around to cracking that bad boy open, a lot of the carbonation had escaped, and I was left with the knowledge that I had committed quite a sin against one of God’s gifts to mankind: beer. And not just any beer, but a beer that I’ve waited around to be brewed since last year, from my favorite brewery on the face of this great earth. Something had to be done, something that could live up to the quality of the beer I had so carelessly mistreated. There was but one answer: a big pot of drunken beans.

IMG_9089Michael’s Drunken Beans

  • 1 pound dry beans. Pick your favorites. I like red beans the most with barbecue, so that’s what you see here, but this technique works with pintos, black beans, or navy beans.
  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce. Make your own, or use a good bottled kind. I’m using a new (to me) brand called “My Uncle’s Sauce” that was given to me by a nice guy I met recently who is trying to open a food truck. It’s good stuff.
  • Beer. If you want to use cheap, horrible beer, that’s fine. A good amber ale works nicely with beans. And since I’ve got some half-flat Scotch Ale at my disposal tonight — I’m using that.

Don’t worry about soaking your beans overnight. Cover them without about an inch of water in a kettle and bring them to a boil on your stove top. When they’ve reached a boil, turn the heat off, cover, and let sit for an hour or two. During this time, cook your bacon. You can either cook the 1/2 pound I called for and retain the meat and fat, or you can admit you are a bacon fiend and cook an entire pound, eating half and leaving yourself with a second half pound for the beans. Up to you — I won’t tell anyone.

Rinse your beans in a colander, returning them to the kettle. Pour a bunch of beer into the beans. If you have enough to cover them, do that. I like to pour in enough to get right to the point of covering them and then add some chicken stock for extra flavor. Crumble up the half pound of bacon you didn’t eat and toss into the pot. Using some of the retained bacon fat, cook the onions until they become translucent and somebody from the next room says, “My GOD what are you making that smells so good?!” When that happens, add the garlic just to tease them and saute for three more minutes. Dump the whole lot — onions, garlic, and bacon fat into the pot. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Add liquid if needed — more beer, stock, or water.

Once your beans have gotten soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add in as much of the barbecue sauce as you’d like, and adjust your salt and pepper to taste. Put the kettle into the oven and cook baked-bean style until the barbecue sauce has darkened and begun to caramelize. If you like sweeter beans, add a touch of brown sugar before baking. If you like hot, add your favorite hot sauce. Use your imagination. You’ll be left with a pan of beans flavored with the rich barley malt flavor of beer and brought to perfection by tangy barbecue sauce. Serve with cole slaw and barbecue chicken — or whatever floats your boat. Enjoy!


Roasted Chicken Galantine

In traditional French cuisine, a galantine is a deboned cut of meat which is stuffed with forcemeat, poached, and then served chilled – often coated in aspic.  This version does away with the poaching and the aspic, and instead re-imagines the chicken galantine as a hot dish, served like a roasted chicken – but still boneless and stuffed with something delicious.  I’ve been meaning to teach myself how to debone a chicken for some time now, and after reading description after description of different techniques, I had an epiphany: I was never going to learn how to debone a chicken by reading about it.  Lucky for me (and for you, if you want to try this recipe), the master of technique himself, Jacques Pepin, made an excellent video that demonstrates a very simple way to debone a chicken with a bare minimum of knife work.  After a couple of times practicing this technique, I couldn’t believe how easy it actually is to remove all the bones from a chicken and still have an intact skin!  I could describe the method, but instead I’ll just ask you to watch this:

So now that you’ve gotten your chicken all deboned, let’s talk about how to make that stuffing that Pepin was using in the video above, and what you need to do to get that wonderful stuffed bird onto a plate.

Spinach Stuffing

  • 5-10 ounces of fresh spinach, chopped
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups 1/2″ bread cubes
  • 1 cup Gruyère, Swiss, or mozzarella cheese

Heat oil in a skillet and sweat the garlic for five minutes, taking care not to brown (some shallots are also nice here).  Add the spinach and red wine vinegar and cook until nice and wilted, stirring to toss well with the oil and garlic.  Remove the spinach from the skillet into a bowl and set aside; allow to cool to room temperature.  Mix well with the bread cubes and cheese, adding a dash or so red pepper to taste.  Stuff your deboned bird, making sure to get some stuffing into the leg cavities; truss your chicken as seen above and to the right (for technique, see the Pepin video).

Once you’ve gotten your bird all deboned, stuffed, and trussed, it’s just a matter of cooking.  Traditionally, the galantine would be poached in broth (slow cooked at about 170 degrees for a few hours) and then allowed to chill overnight.  Then, after being decorated with herbs and vegetables, the whole lot would be coated in aspic – which is basically meat Jell-O.  But for our method, we sprinkled the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper and roasted it uncovered for an hour and fifteen minutes in a 400 degree oven.  This resulted in a chicken that had the crisp skin and rich flavor of a roasted bird – but one we could slice (like you see above) to reveal a gooey filling of fragrant cheese and spinach stuffing.  If you’re a fan of cold roasted chicken (like I am) then you can chill this and serve it cold for a more traditional appearance – it’s good that way too.  This was a fun technique to learn, and the resulting dish was elegant and delicious.  I can’t wait to try Pepin’s technique with Cornish hens and duck next!  Enjoy!

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

By its name alone, you’d think that a dish called Chicken Cacciatore (or Hunter’s Chicken) would be all about, well, chicken – but it really isn’t.  Indeed, the best part of this simple stew isn’t the chicken at all but the rich, thick tomato sauce that results from a long, slow simmer.  The chicken certainly does its part to add some flavor and a bit of protein to the dish, but it’s that spicy, flavorful sauce that will keep you making this dish time and time again.  The preparations for making our version of chicken cacciatore aren’t hard at all – you just need a little bit of time and a great big pot to cook in.  This is one of those dishes that is as varied as the cooks that make it, but this is the version we like best.

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

  • Four chicken thighs.  It’s your choice whether or not you want the skin on them, but make sure you use thighs – they give the sauce its best flavor.
  • 1 large can of good quality canned tomatoes (we prefer San Marzano).  If using whole tomatoes, have some fun and squish them up good with your hands.  If using diced, get petite diced.
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • Salt and Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan.  Salt and pepper the chicken and brown on both sides in the oil, cooking for around 5-7 minutes per side.  While the chicken is cooking, cut the flour into the butter to form a paste and set aside.  When chicken is browned, remove it to a platter and pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the oil and add the onion and bell pepper.  The water-heavy onions and peppers will serve to deglaze all the tasty brown chicken bits left in the bottom of the pan, so be sure to scrape the pan vigorously while they brown.  Once the onions have become translucent and start to brown, add the chicken stock and wine and return to a boil.  Add the crushed or diced tomatoes, paprika, and a dash more salt and pepper.  Add the flour and butter paste, stirring until well-dissolved and mixed in.  Add the chicken back to the pot and and bring it back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour or so – until the chicken is tender to the point of falling off the bone.  Serve over rice – and enjoy!

Chicken and Egg Taco Salad

Any of you who have read this blog for any amount of time will know two things: we love eggs and we love taco salads – and I’ve been thinking to myself for awhile how I might combine these two loves of mine into one delicious dish.  A play on the classic huevos rancheros seemed in order, but I have to admit that fried eggs are easily my least favorite way to make eggs – and most versions of huevos rancheros you find come with the eggs fried.  I prefer my eggs poached, and so the solution was simple: make a slow-cooked homemade spicy salsa and use that to poach my egg, and instead of the traditional corn tortillas and chili sauce, serve it over grilled chicken and black beans in a crispy flour tortilla bowl with just a smattering of mixed greens and cheese.  The resulting dish looks rather messy but it’s very delicious, and the poached egg’s creamy texture blends well with the beans and chicken.

For the salsa, you can go as simple or as labor-intensive as you’d like.  Regular bottled salsa works just fine for this, or you can cook down onions, tomatoes, and peppers and flavor it any way you like.  For the salsa at the right, I did a bit of both – I used the last little bit of a jar of Pace picante sauce, and added tomato sauce, jalapeno peppers, diced onion, lime juice, and cilantro.  You want to get a nice balance of thin and chunky – thin enough so that you can achieve a proper simmer, but chunky enough that the salsa will support the egg.  To poach, bring your salsa to a light simmer, then crack an egg into a measuring cup and gently slip it in, creating a pocket to hold the egg (see above left).  Keep the salsa simmering, and soon enough you’ll see the egg white start to solidify (see above right).  The egg is done when the white is completely opaque and set and the yolk is thickened but not solid.

To build your salad, make a shell by spraying a burrito-sized flour tortilla with non-fat cooking spray.  Place the tortilla between two ceramic bowls and microwave for 3-4 minutes until the bowl is crisp.  Be careful, though, those bowls will get very hot!  Layer black beans, mixed salad greens, grilled chicken, and cheese in the bowl and top with the poached egg and as much of the salsa as you’d like.  Once you break the yolk and mix all this good stuff together you’ll have a very unique and delicious taco salad.  Eggs are too often relegated to breakfast, but I think they’re an every-meal food item, and they’re very good for you to boot.  Poaching eggs can take some practice, but it really is one of the most delicious ways to eat eggs and a skill worth learning. Enjoy!

Tracy’s Gumbo

Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time know how much we love comfort food, and gumbo is one of our favorites.  Jess’ mom makes a really tasty version of the Cajun classic, and on a recent visit she whipped up a batch – and of course we got pictures.  Packed with spicy andouille sausage, tender chicken, and succulent shrimp, Tracy’s gumbo is a rich and filling dish that’s good any time.  I learned a thing or two about making a dark, or “brick,” roux while helping with the preparation, and I think everybody had a couple of bowls of this delicious gumbo before all was said and done.  Like many soups and stews, this gumbo lends itself easily to improvisation, so you can always add any sort of seafood you like to it.  For me, it’s pretty perfect just as we have described it here, topped off with a scoop or two of white rice and a sprinkling of fresh green onion.

Tracy’s Gumbo

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound chicken
  • 1 pound andouille sausage
  • 2 pounds shrimp
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • file powder
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 tablespoon chopped green onions

Heat the oil in a heavy pot.  When the oil is hot, whisk in the flour.  Stir the mixture constantly for 15-20 minutes to make a dark brown roux.  Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves.  Cook for 12-13 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the stock and mix to blend with the roux.  Simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally.  Add the chicken and sausage.  Add the shrimp, green onions, and parsley.  Add the file powder to thicken at the end.  Serve in shallow bowls with steamed white rice and top with chopped green onion. Enjoy!