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Honey-Butter Salt and Pepper Wings

February 16, 2017 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments

I was never a huge fan of easy pickin’ foods that are slathered with sauce. Whenever I grill ribs or chicken, I always opt for a nice dry rub as opposed to brushing it with barbecue sauce. Because of this, chicken wings are not usually on my radar. And when they are, I am very particular on how they are prepared. I don’t like them breaded, I don’t like them fatty and I don’t like them floating in a sauce bath. This past Superbowl weekend, I decided it was time to give it go and figure out how to prepare wings to my liking.

The last time that I had enjoyed wings, they were prepared with just a salt and pepper rub on them, and they were finger-licking good. The salt and pepper blend was baked perfectly into the juicy chicken meat, making the plate of tiny wings and drumsticks truly addicting. This was the recipe that I decided I was going to start with for my game-day party plate.

Te recipe that I used was very simple: 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper, combined, for each pound of wings (which is approximately a dozen wings). Making the adjustments for a larger batch would be simple using the ratio of 1:1:1 (meaning 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper per 1 pound of wings). The challenge that I had was how to properly cook them. Frying is the traditional method used to cook the perfect crispy and meaty wing, rendering off any of the unnecessary fat. But my preference is almost always baking over frying. However, baking wings often leaves the skin a bit fatty, which is one of my wing no-nos. In order to achieve the desired crispness, you really have to crank your oven temperature up to at least 425˚. While the higher temperature will help achieve the desired texture, the high-heated fat will start to splatter, which will lead to a smoky oven. Not fun if you have a smoke alarm close to your kitchen quarters.

This is where celebrity chef Alton Brown’s admirable food and science knowledge comes in to play.

Alton’s method is to steam the wings prior to baking them. As Alton says, “the trick is to steam them first to render out a lot of the fat. Then you cool them to tighten the skin.” This step, which does involve a little bit of labor, will help cut back heavily on oven splatter, since much of the fat has been rendered off. The end result is a beautiful crispy and flavorful wing, without a smoke-filled kitchen when you remove the tray from the oven!

As I mentioned earlier, I am not a big fan of wings that are slathered in sauce. But I also did not want serve wings that were too dry. Because my wife and kids do not like hot or spicy food, I opted to make a sweet honey-butter sauce that I would quickly toss over the wings. This quick sauce was just enough to coat the wings, and was a great complement to the salt and pepper rub. Just enough of a sweet coating without over-saturating the wings.

Below is the step-by-step process to my wings. Again, you can use the ratio method of 1:1:1 for the salt and pepper rub. The honey and butter measurements for the coating can be increased per pound as well.  The ingredients are simply a starting point. Additional spices can be added to the rub, and hot sauce can be added to the honey-butter coating to your liking.

 

Honey-Butter Salt and Pepper Wings

Makes approximately one dozen wings.

1 pound party chicken wings
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
(optional – fresh chopped parsley for garnish)

 

Step 1: Steaming the Wings

This is Alton Brown’s method for steaming the wings. This step helps render the chicken fat, which will reduce the amount of splatter and oven smoke while baking. You can eliminate this step if you do not have a steamer basket, but there will be some oven smoke and splatter made while baking.

For Alton Brown’s complete Buffalo Wing recipe, click here

Load a 6-quart saucepan with a steamer basket and 1 inch of water in the bottom, over high heat, cover and bring to a boil.

Place the wings into the steamer basket, cover, reduce the heat to medium and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the wings from the basket and carefully pat dry. Lay the wings out on a cooling rack set in a half sheet pan lined with paper towels and refrigerate for one hour. You can do the wings in batches if you can’t fit them all into the steamer basket at once.

 

Step 2: Coating and Baking the Wings

Preheat the oven to 425˚. Combine the salt and pepper. Once the wings have completely cooled and dried, coat the wings on both sides with the salt and pepper rub. Either place the wings on a small rack sitting in a baking dish (my preference for even cooking), or place the wings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake the wings on the middle rack of your oven for 20 minutes. Flip the wings and bake for another 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

Step 3: The Honey-Butter Coating

While the wings are in the final 20 minutes of baking, you can prepare the honey-butter coating. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add the honey, stir well and continue to heat until warm and thoroughly combined.

*Note – you can add hot sauce or spices to your liking to add heat to the honey-butter coating.

Once the wings are done, toss them with the honey-butter coating. Sprinkle the wings with some fresh chopped parsley, serve and enjoy!

 

 

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Comté Cheese, Please!

November 17, 2016 Appetizer, Menu No Comments

One of the greatest pleasures in the life of a foodie is the moment that you get to unexpectedly taste something amazing and new. Being a lover of cheese, these moments of new discovery often take place for me during my regular visits to my local cheese shop. The cheesemongers who work at this location are very friendly and knowledgable, and I have gotten to know a few of them over the years. My curiosity and conversation reaped big rewards during my most recent visit as I was treated to a sample taste of their latest and greatest offering, Marcel Petite Comté.

For those of you who are not familiar with traditional Comté cheese (I, myself was not familiar with it prior to this visit), it is a French cheese made from unpasteurized milk, and has similar taste and texture to Gruyére cheese. The aging process takes place in special caves, which helps produce a unique, complex taste that helps classify this as one of the finest cheeses in the world. The piece of Marcel Petite Comté that I sampled, and eventually purchased, is considered by my cheesemonger friend to be one of their greatest and rarest cheeses that they offer. The French cheesemaker allows it to age for 24 months, producing one of the most flavorful and complex cheeses that I have ever tasted. Hints of mushroom, pasta and beef broth were pointed out to me, and I was able to detect them all. Simply amazing. There are only eight wheels of this variety produced by this particular cheesemaker each year, which made this incredible find all the more exciting.

After doing some further research of my own, I was happy to discover that other types of Comté cheese are often sold regularly in super markets. While they may not be quite as complex and unique as the one that I had the pleasure to sample, I will definitely be looking forward to trying out these other varieties. With the holidays quickly approaching, I encourage you to consider serving Comté cheese at your dinner parties and get togethers. All of the information that you need to know about Comté cheese can be found in the links below. After looking at these sites for reference, I figured it would be best to just share the links with you, rather than try to explain what they have already covered in fine detail.

Cheers!

www.thekitchn.com/why-french-comt-cheese-needs-to-be-in-your-fridge-comt-cheese-tour-206217

www.cheese.com/comte/

www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/whole-story/discover-french-cheeses-comt%C3%A9

Image courtesy of istock.com

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Talking Turkey on the Grill

Holidays play an important part in my family’s deep-rooted traditions. A holiday wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t spending time together, most likely while enjoying a beautiful, home-cooked meal. While the ‘big’ holidays are always special, we also look forward to the casual, summertime holidays that are celebrated over grill-outs, cold beers and fireworks. Not only are these holidays fun and exciting, they are also stress-free! We’ve started the tradition a few years back of spending these summer holidays with our close friends, Chrissy, Carl and their son Lucas, who are as near and dear to us as our own family.

A few months back, as we were enjoying a Sunday dinner with our friends, we shared conversation about how much we love Thanksgiving dinner, and how it’s a shame to enjoy such a great meal only once a year. This immediately led us to deciding on having a Friendsgiving Dinner on Memorial Day weekend. The timing would be perfect – it would be exactly 6 months until the actual Thanksgiving holiday, and we would have the rest of the summer to grill up burgers and hot dogs. From there, the wheels were in motion and the menu was planned between all of us…and a new holiday tradition was born!

The Menu

We decided to stick with a traditional Thanksgiving menu: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, cold apple cider, a pumpkin dessert and, of course…the turkey. Chrissy and Carl also kicked the mood up a notch by digging out their Thanksgiving decorations and playing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD…complete with popcorn as a snack. Since Memorial Day is the official kick-off to summertime (Carl’s awesome mojitos were a nice reminder of this), I thought it would be fun to cook the turkey on the grill. I have always heard that grilled turkey is fantastic, so what better opportunity to give it a go?

*Note – there was one additional item added to the menu, which I will be sharing in the future. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!

The Turkey

The first thing that I learned right out of the gate was that whole turkeys aren’t cheap this time of the year (and the local supermarkets aren’t giving away free turkeys with your bonus points). To not risk over-grilling a $45 bird, I decided to just go with a 6lb turkey breast. An additional benefit to going this route is that you can always purchase legs and wings separately, so you can prepare as many as needed. Being that this was my first try at grilling a turkey, I spent a good amount of time doing my research on the proper cooking methods. One of the key steps that I followed was to soak the turkey overnight in a brine. Not only does brining add flavor to the turkey, it also adds extra moisture to avoid the turkey from getting dried out while on the grill.

Brine Recipe
1-1/4 cups coarse salt
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 gallon cool water
Place water, salt and sugar into a large pot, bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat, let cool completely. Place turkey breast into pot, be sure to cover completely with brine. Cover the pot tightly with a lid, refrigerate for 8-12 hours. Rinse brine off of turkey breast before seasoning.

After rinsing the brine off of the soaked turkey, I brushed it with 1 cup vegetable oil, then coated the entire bird, inside and out, with 1 tbspn Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper.

There are a few methods for grilling a turkey that I found online. The most common method that I found and decided to follow was to cook the turkey sitting over a drip pan, using indirect heat. After warming the grill up to 350˚, I placed the seasoned turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack and placed it inside of a roasting pan. I added 1 cup of water to the roasting pan (adding additional liquid as needed while grilling, to prevent the drippings from burning. I sat the roasting pan over indirect heat and let it go for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the turkey was 165˚. After removing it from the grill and letting it rest for 20 minutes, the turkey was ready to be sliced. While the turkey was resting, I put the drippings to good use by making a home-made gravy (click here for the recipe).

If you are looking for a new method for making a turkey, I highly recommend grilling it. There is minimum prep time and effort involved, and if you follow the brining method, you will be sure to end up with a turkey that is flavorful and juicy!

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

What, No Cranberries?!?

Aside from finding out that turkeys are not in large supply this time of year, it was also a challenge to find fresh cranberries for my home made cranberry sauce. Instead of resorting to frozen cranberries, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of a summertime flavor to the table by making Bon Appetit’s Cherry Compote recipe (click here for the recipe). This an excellent substitute to the traditional cranberry sauce. It offered a nice summertime sweet/tart flavor combination, and the leftovers worked very well served over vanilla ice cream!

You Can’t Forget the Pumpkin!

It’s no secret that I am a nut for all things pumpkin. Even though we are not in pumpkin season, we made sure that it would somehow be represented at our Friendsgiving meal. For dessert, my wife Daria made a pumpkin crisp that has been a signature at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner for a few years now. We made sure to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which put this dessert over the top!

Pumpkin Crisp
(Originally posted at myrecipes.com)

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 c. of evaporated milk
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (18.5 oz) pkg butter-flavored yellow cake mix
1 c. melted butter

Optional:
1 c. chopped pecans
Ground nutmeg
Whipped cream
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350F.  Stir together the first five ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13×9 inch baking dish.  Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture (if you wish to add pecans, sprinkle them evenly over cake mix).  Drizzle melted butter over cake mix. Bake at 350F for 60 – 65 minutes or until golden brown**.  Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  IF desired, serve with whipped cream, sprinkle of nutmeg or vanilla ice cream.

** If baking ahead of time, I baked for about 55 min then re-heat again for another 10 min before serving.

I am very fortunate to be thankful for a lot of things in my life, most of all for my family and friends. I am also thankful that we started a new tradition to look forward to every Memorial Day!

Here’s to friends…and Friendsgiving!

Friendsgiving mascots!

Friendsgiving mascots!

 

TDay2

The turkey breast, fresh off the grill!

 

TDay3

…and dinner is served!

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Grilled Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

April 28, 2016 Appetizer No Comments

I first made this recipe as an appetizer for our family’s Easter dinner. I had wanted to somehow get lamb onto the holiday menu, and decided that ground lamb would be the easiest solution. After seasoning and browning the lamb with classic Mediterranean flavors (mint, thyme, rosemary, Italian seasoning and feta cheese), I used the mixture as a stuffing for miniature sweet peppers. The stuffed peppers were baked and were a huge hit, but I knew that they would be even better grilled.

After getting my grill up and running this past weekend, I wasted no time firing up the stuffed peppers over an open flame. The peppers softened and blistered beautifully, making this dish even better than the first go! You can substitute the ground lamb with ground beef, turkey or sausage if you wish. But if you are looking for a true Mediterranean flavor, give the ground lamb a try. It makes for a perfect outdoor grilled appetizer.

 

Grilled Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

8 oz ground lamb (you can substitute other ground meats if you wish)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbspn olive oil
2 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tspn fresh thyme
1 tspn rosemary, finely chopped (I prefer to use ground rosemary)
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup crumbled feta (plain or flavored variety will work well)
1 dozen miniature sweet bell peppers

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add shallots, stir. Cook until softened and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, stir. Cook for 1 minute. Add ground lamb, mint, thyme, rosemary and Italian seasoning. Stir together. Cook until the lamb is fully browned, stirring occasionally. Once browned, drain excess oil, place ground meat into a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in feta cheese. Set aside to cool.

Slice off the top of the peppers, remove seeds and stems. Once the ground lamb is cooled, stuff each pepper with the stuffing mixture. Be sure to pack each pepper tightly.

Preheat your grill, making sure to lightly oil the grates. Once heated, carefully lay each pepper onto the grate over direct heat. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, carefully flipping occasionally, so that the peppers are evenly cooked on each side. Once the peppers are softened and slightly blistered, carefully remove and plate.

Serve immediately.

peppers2

Multi-colored mini sweet bell peppers.

 

peppers1

The cooked ground lamb, mixed with feta cheese.

 

peppers3

Prepping the peppers.

 

peppers4

Stuffing the peppers. Be sure to pack them tight.

 

peppers5

Cook the peppers over direct heat, until the peppers are softened and blistered.

 

peppers6

Ready to serve!

If you choose to bake the stuffed peppers instead of grilling, simply place the peppers on a baking sheet into an oven at 350˚ for 20-25 minutes, until peppers are softened.

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