On Trial: ToH Best Desserts Ever – Toasted Butter Pecan Cake

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During February and March, we’re going to be taking a baking tour through Taste of Home’s “Best Ever Desserts” and putting them to the test: Do they stand up to their claim of best ever? Last week we tested their cover recipe, a Layered Mocha Cheesecake, and found it lacking. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend someone make this for a casual dessert. There are better and more satisfying cheesecakes out there.

This week, we’re taking a look at their Toasted Butter Pecan Cake. I only took one picture of this while making it, because it’s essentially created with the usual cake ingredients:

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

The white cake is spiced up by melting 1 1/4 cups of butter in a pan and toasting 2 cups of chopped pecans in it. You can pick up bags of chopped pecans at your local grocery store’s baking aisle, although they can still be a little large, regardless of saying “chopped” on them. If you prefer them smaller, take a small meat mallet to them while they’re still in the bag or, if you’ve already removed them from their package, put them in a sealable bag and give it a light whacking.

While that was happening, I went to work on preparing the rest of the cake batter. It’s pretty standard: Mix your ingredients thoroughly in a bowl.

When I was done with that, I realized I had ignored the pecans for too long and burned some of them. When they’re done toasting, remove them from the pan and spread them out on a cookie sheet lined with foil.

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As you can see, I have a few burned bits in there. Before putting this into your cake batter, be sure to remove them, then mix them into your batter. Spread the batter evenly among three greased 9-inch baking pans and bake. I used two round pans and baked the cakes for a bit longer – hey, it all tastes the same.

The frosting is a delicious cream cheese frosting, but again, nothing an amateur baker hasn’t seen before. I would definitely recommend this over any store bought frosting, as I am not a fan of that canned crap. The frosting is pretty, uh… I don’t want to say “generic,” but it is not specific to the taste of the pecan cake, and can be used on many, many other cakes and cupcakes. It is also so simple (don’t be thrown off by the list of ingredients) that any novice can make it. In fact, I put my husband to work on this while I was doing other things. So easy even a Neanderthalspouse can do it.

Frosting:
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter, softened
1 packages (2 pounds) confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 to 3 Tbsp. milk

Basically, you take these ingredients, put them all in a huge bowl, and combine. Simple as that. If you are someone who is looking to build a nice repertoire of frostings you can use on different cakes and cupcakes, I would snag this. That may sound funny but I have a lot of excellent cake and cupcake recipes, but it’s harder to find decent frostings. Even I have entertained ideas of purchasing canned frosting. Don’t do it! There are better tasting frostings out there, and this is one of them. It tastes fun and light, and is truly the star of the the Toasted Pecan Cake. It does make a lot, even for this cake, so if you’re going with cupcakes, you may want to consider cutting the recipe in half.

The Verdict: Not Guilty of being a Best Ever Dessert

This is a nice cake, moist with a great texture, and is something that I would make again to finish off a casual springtime BBQ. Unfortunately, the wow factor just isn’t there — it’s a wonderful white cake with some pecans in it. Additionally, the frosting is nice but it is the crowning glory of the cake, upstaging the dessert, rather than acting as its spectacular sidekick. In my opinion, as a best ever dessert, the frosting should be over-the-top and tailored only to this cake, but it isn’t. I could use this frosting on fifty other cakes, and a “best ever” shouldn’t do that. I would recommend this to you as it is definitely worth making again once or twice for a casual occasion, but I do not think it is a best ever.

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Note: I couldn’t capture a picture of my cake because I was late for an event and had to run. By the time I had a chance to take a picture of the cake, it was mostly eaten. The picture you see above is from the Taste of Home Magazine, and looks pretty much like the cake I made, except mine was only two layers.

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Weeknight Cooking: Indian Chicken Curry with Golden Raisins

This is another one of those dishes I keep in my regular rotation; by far one of my favorite RecipeZaar finds. Not only does it taste delicious and is healthy, but it takes 20 minutes to make. And it’s so simple a novice can make it successfully.

Whatever you do, don’t omit the yogurt! The yogurt really does make the dish and, if it ends up being a little too spicy for some tastes, the yogurt will temper it.

Indian Chicken Curry with Golden Raisins
Serving Size: 2
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
Basmati Rice

Okay. First things first. Decide how many cups of rice you need and follow the package instructions. While you’re waiting on the water to boil, it’s time to make your shake-n-bake.

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Pour the canola oil into the frying pan and set the burner to medium. Take your flour, salt, and cayenne pepper and put it into a sealable sandwich bag. Cut your chicken into small, bite sized cubes. I realize “small” and “bite size” may sound redundant, but some have bigger mouths than others, making “bite size” a relative phrase. If you find that you still disagree, please refer to Rachel Ray.

The chicken should go into the bag of spices, receive a light dusting, and go into the frying pan.

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The pan should be hot enough that the chicken sizzles when it hits the oil. Cook until the chicken is browned on all sides. At this point don’t worry about whether or not it’s cooked through the center, because it isn’t done cooking. If you cook the heck out of it now, it’s going to be like a chewy mass of jerky when the dish is done. For now, just make sure the chicken is cooked on all sides, and you’re good to go. Toss in the curry powder and make sure the chicken is coated in it.

Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.

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Don’t worry, it’s going back into the pan, just not right now.

Turn the burner down just a little bit and let the pan cool slightly off of the burner while you slice up the onion and mince the garlic. Toss it in the pan, put the pan back on the burner, and let it cook for two minutes. At that point, you will start to smell the onion and garlic, and when someone asks you if you’ve ever smelled awesomeness, you can officially say yes.

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Now add your broth, raisins, and tomato paste.

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Add your cooked chicken.

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Cook for 8 – 10 minutes. The broth will thicken and your chicken will cook through. Put your rice and chicken curry together, and top with the yogurt. In this picture, I added a ton of yogurt because I knew I had made it very spicy.

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Enjoy.

Weeknight Cooking: Chicken, Rice & Spices Bake

Lately, I’ve been on a search for recipes to Indian dishes. I love the sweet flavors of Indian cuisine. Combine that with an easy to make dish you can throw together on a weeknight, and I’m sold.

About a year ago, I found this recipe on RecipeZaar and stuck it in my stack of recipes that I wanted to try. Of course it was tossed into my stack of “recipes to try out” and was promptly forgotten about. After a kitchen reorganization, I found it and decided to put it through the usual regs.

Here is what I found: This dish takes approximately 15 minutes to prepare, and another 40 minutes of baking time. The name is quite deceiving. After altering this dish to my preferences, I came up with a chicken that had great flavor and a very sweet rice. The chicken was prepared with a bit of salt to the spices mixture, giving it some depth, and the rice had no salt at all, creating that delicious sweet/savory contrast. The ingredients to this recipe have been changed on RecipeZaar since I printed it, so this is my take on it.

Chicken, Rice & Spices Bake

Serving Size: 2
2 cups water
2 – 3 bullion cubes
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/4 tsp. curry powder
1/3 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional) or chili powder (optional)
salt
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained or regular medium grain rice or long grain rice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.

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Bring water to boiling and add chicken bullion cubes. Lower heat and simmer until dissolved.

While that’s dissolving, heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat (not high). You want the oil to be hot enough that when you put your chicken in there, the chicken will sizzle.

Wash and pat your chicken dry, then lay it down on a plate or cutting board. Sprinkle one side of the chicken with half of the cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, curry powder, cayenne/chili powder and a little bit of salt. For the record, I did not measure anything when I seasoned the chicken. All I did was lightly sprinkle them over the chicken. It looks like this:

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Don’t go gangbusters, just lightly sprinkle so that you can barely see it on the chicken surface. Don’t over-think this or try to evenly coat your spices. In the end everything is going to get mixed around for a couple of minutes in a frying pan and olive oil, so you just want enough to give it flavor. It’s better that you season the chicken too lightly than too much. Also, I only seasoned one side. Contrary to what you’re seeing in the photo, you should put your chicken into the pan seasoned side down (I placed the chicken spices up just so I could take a picture).

Once it starts to sizzle, you’re ready. Toss your chicken in there (seasoned side down) and let them get brown. It should only take a couple of minutes to each side because you don’t want to cook your chicken all the way through, you just want to jump start it. After your spiced side is done browning, flip it over and cook for another couple of minutes.

After your chicken is browned, take it out of the pan and put them on a plate.

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Reduce the burner to medium and saute the onions in the pan. You’ll keep them in there for about a minute and then add the garlic and remaining spices.

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This time you will measure the spices. I like things pretty well seasoned, so I used probably 3/4 tsp. – 1 tsp. of seasonings. Of the curry powder, I added a little more (I love curry). Cook for another 2 minutes and turn off the burner completely.

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Add the uncooked rice. I used basmati; it’s delicious and has more flavor than the standard white. Stir the rice gently until the rice is evenly coated with the spices. Cooking newbies may have a tendency to get impatient and fling the rice in the stirring frenzy – be patient. Gently fold until everything is evenly coated.

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Spread the rice in the baking dish and place the chicken on the top of the dish. Gently pour the chicken stock and cover tightly with foil.

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The foil is the key. If you do not completely seal the baking dish with foil, your water will evaporate and the rice will not cook properly. Take two fingers and pinch the foil tightly to the rim of the dish.

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Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. Serve with a side vegetable. Corn works well, especially for those of us food-mixers who like to combine our rice or potatoes with a veggie. The surprising factor of this dish is the rice: Despite the bullion, it is a very sweet dish.

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*Note: The rice is doubled in the photo you see above.

A Public Service Announcement: Please stop sucking.

OK, so I’m taking a cooking class from Chef Tory Miller, head chef and owner of L’etoile (much more on both of those in another rant), on really festive foods for the holidays. I mean we are talking Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin with White Truffle Pesto and Crisp Vegetable Salad in a Verjus Vinaigrette, Pan Roasted Lobster Tail with Claw-Meat Risotto and Sauce Americaine, and Chocolate Cake with Warm Dark Chocolate Sauce and Peppermint Stick Ice Cream. It was stupid-good, which is where you put a bite in your mouth, and then you put the fork down and curse silently to yourself until you can remember how to speak again.

There were about 15 of us at the class, and I notice a clutch of college-aged girls at the end of the table. And they are talking and giggling and being college girls. These are the ones who said they were vegetarians, right before Chef Tory bifurcated the lobster’s brain. Yes, that was as funny as you imagine it was. No, they wouldn’t give me their lobster to eat, but I did ask. Anyway, I am chewing on the lobster shell searching for errant grains of risotto and it hits me. These idiot girls are talking. They are talking while they have this food in front of them. They are completely oblivious to the rapture that should be spasming through their young nubile bodies (which would have been like, awesome).

It was then I realized just how far down the foodie path I had come. I no longer understood people who weren’t foodies. I don’t understand people who don’t at least in some measure seek out good food. And those are the people this message is addressed to. You are going to eat today, right? You probably ate yesterday? Then why in God’s name wouldn’t you at least try to make it something good???

OK here you go, I’ll make your excuses for you: I don’t like to cook, I don’t have enough time, I can’t afford to eat out, I like junk food, I’m not going to pay alot for this muffler, I need to watch my weight, it all tastes the same, I only eat because I have to, I’d rather just throw something in the microwave. I get all that, I really do. I work, I am not independently wealthy, and I have a 9 year old daughter. Most nights when I come home everyone else has eaten, so some quick pasta or a bowl of cereal is dinner. But while I am eating those Strawberry Yogurt Cheerios, I am looking though a cooking magazine while watching the food channel, dreaming about what I’m going to make when I do have time.

Cooking good food, is easy. Cooking stupidgood food is something else entirely. But cooking good food? Find a recipe that looks good, get good ingredients (yes that will cost more, suck it up) and follow directions. Chop that up, put it in the thing, put the other part on top of it and bake it at whatever and then it beeps and you have dinner. You want to make it really good? Serve it to someone you love. If it’s good that will make it great. If it’s bad that will make it hilarious.

What I’m really ranting against here is not lack of knowledge, but ignorance. That willful disdain of learning something, and then the audacity to try to turn that into a badge of honor. People confusing being an asshole with strength of character. We are all still learning about cooking. We will never stop learning about cooking. But you don’t want to put something good in your body because you can’t be bothered to put forth the tiniest effort? And then you are going to be proud of that? Here you go. Bon appetit.

~Citizen Chef

On Trial: ToH Best Desserts Ever – Layered Mocha Cheesecake

A few years ago, I was given a subscription to Taste of Home Magazine as a Christmas gift. I had never heard of it before. At the time, the subscriptions I had were from Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Chocolatier, so you could imagine what I thought of this little country bumpkin magazine with recipes by amateur chefs. However, as most of my cooking repertoire was baking, I thought I should give it a whirl so I could at least try to find some dinner recipes. As I cooked through the magazines, I found as many misses as hits, but it eventually won me over.

Just the other day I had a brief discussion about this magazine with Citizen Chef, who apologetically remarked that Taste of Home is a bit “low brow” as far as cooking is concerned. At first I took great offense. Then I remembered he is a huge Rachel Ray fan, and the best recipe I’ve had of hers is a chicken breast plopped into a pot with a quarter cup of store bought hot sauce, slapped in between two buns with some blue cheese salad dressing and a slice of lettuce, and I started to feel a lot better. In fact, I am laughing as I write this, knowing that Citizen Chef will read this paragraph and know of my ultimate victory based on the paragraph above. As a consolation prize, I offer this ridiculous photo of Rachel Ray:

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You’re welcome. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

In the last year, the Taste of Home editorial staff has changed, and the magazine has taken on a new format. Rather than miscellaneous pages with random recipes everywhere, the magazine is organized and focused, with themes a reader can actually follow. It appeared to me that they were stepping up their game to target the slightly more food savvy “Food Network” fanbase. It was a commendable change.

But then, a couple of weeks ago, I received this:

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Best Ever?

To say that I love baking wouldn’t be strong enough. I have purchased expensive books just for that one must have delicious dessert recipe that I could not live without, spent a great deal of money on pricey ingredients and spent long, long hours on a single dessert. Twenty-four hours on a cake? No problem.

If you claim best ever desserts, you’d better be prepared to rock my socks off. The cover looked great, but after flipping through the recipes I had serious doubts.

This month we’re putting Taste of Home’s “Best Ever Desserts” on trial, starting with the cover recipe: Layered Mocha Cheesecake.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients. You can get a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be like based on the list.

Crust
1 1/2 cups cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted

They lost me on the first ingredient. This is supposed to be a decadent, best ever mocha cheesecake and the crust is crushed Oreos? This is a red flag if I’ve ever seen one.

But I had to keep going in case they proved me wrong. After tossing a bunch of Oreos into my food processor, I mixed them up with the melted butter and pressed them into the bottom of a springform pan. It does not get pre-baked as most other crusts do. Just set it aside and make the rest of the recipe.

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Sure, it looks delicious, but don’t be fooled. It tastes like nothing more than oreos and butter. I know what you’re saying: “Oreos are delicious!” And they are. While we may love the delicious taste of Oreos, they have no business being in a “best ever” anything, much less something that supposedly tastes like a mocha. They get dipped into a glass of milk and then go in my mouth, and that’s it.

Moving on. The filling is simple, and that’s fine. I’m okay with simple as long as the result is delicious. In this case, the author of the recipe has you make one basic cheesecake filling, then divide it evenly into two bowls. From there you alter each bowl to create your layers.

Filling:
2 Tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules
1 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 all purpose flour
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

Once again, they lost me at the first ingredient and I’ll explain why using a mathematical formula:

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I don’t care how expensive that espresso powder was, but it does not translate into a delicious mocha. No. Stop arguing with me. It doesn’t turn into something you would want to top with whipped cream and inhale. In fact, I can assure you that it tastes as far from a mocha as anything could taste. So if this is true and it does not taste like a delicious mocha, what makes anyone think that putting it into your recipe is going to turn it into a decadent mocha cheesecake?

It isn’t.

Ingredients 4 – 8 get dumped into a bowl and mixed up until it is creamy. Simple enough.

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Separate it into two evenly distributed batches. Bowl #1 gets some melted chocolate. This goes fine with the Oreo crust. Then there’s Bowl #2 that receives a funky concoction of the boiling water, cinnamon, and espresso powder – something I would never have imagined in a million years would go with an Oreo crust.

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Bowl #1 is poured on top of the crust, followed by bowl #2. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes and refrigerate overnight.

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The verdict: Not even close to being a Best Ever Dessert.

The whole thing was a mess, and the texture was more like a thick mousse than a cheesecake. The “mocha” was only in the top layer and, aside from the problem of it not tasting anything like a mocha, the concoction did NOT go with the Oreo crust. It tasted more like a curious chocolate dessert than a mocha anything, and most people who tried it failed to even recognize it as a cheesecake. Eating this is akin to the disappointment you receive when someone says “Britney Spears” and you’re hoping for the “Baby One More Time” girl, but you’re instead getting the pimply, post K-Fed, shaved head girl in need of some panties. I am ashamed to say it, but there are better cheesecake recipes in the (older publications are better) Better Homes and Gardens red-and-white checked cookbook.

Next week we’ll put ToH’s “Toasted Pecan Cake” on trial so stay tuned!

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Weeknight Cooking: Peanut Chicken with Jasmine Rice

DH loves peanut sauce. If it were up to him, he’d smother everything he ate in it – chicken, beef, vegetables, Skittles, vanilla ice cream. Everything. To date, he’s tried every peanut sauce available at every Asian restaurant in our city.

While perusing RecipeZaar, I found a good looking recipe for a peanut chicken dish. When I brought it home to try, it went under intense scrutiny. In the end, not only was it deemed worthy, but also that the dish tasted just as good, if not better, than what is available at restaurants. While we’re pleased with the delicious taste and creamy texture, I’m also very happy with the fact that it takes only 20 minutes to make.

For those of you who live alone or only cook for two, this is a perfect dish for you to put into your rotation, as it makes two servings and is great as leftovers.

Creamy Peanut Chicken with Jasmine Rice
Serving Size: 2 or 3
Prep Time: 20 minutes (includes cooking time)
Note: I guarantee that by the time your rice is finished cooking, your dish will be done.
Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. peanut oil
1 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 tsp. chili sauce
2 chicken breasts, cut into small cubes or strips
1 cup light coconut milk
1 Tbsp. fish sauce, optional
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. crunchy peanut butter (I use creamy – it’s just a textural preference thing)

The way to go about getting the maximum efficiency in making your meals is the order in which you do things. I really do think this is why Rachel Ray can do 30-minute meals. It’s not just the meals, but the order that she goes about doing it all.

First things first. Grab out your Jasmine Rice and figure how much you want. For two people, I usually make 1 1/2 cups of rice. So, follow the instructions on the package. Measure your water and put it in a pot. Put the pot on a back burner and set it to high. Now forget about it for a minute.

Grab your chicken breasts and cut them into either small cubes or strips. I cut them into cubes, just because when I sit down to eat I don’t want to deal with cutting things up – I’m hungry and just want to shove it into my mouth.

At some point during your chicken cubing, your water will start to boil. Add your rice and follow the instructions, which is usually something about adding some oil and salt (always optional – I never add the salt), covering the rice, and turning it down. Set your oven timer for 15 – 20 minutes, or however long it takes for your rice to cook. The package should say. I try to avoid brands that take 30 minutes to cook, because your dinner is done cooking well before then.

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mmm… rice.

As you can see from the picture, I add a bit of oil to my rice to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. This will get stirred up and covered. Turn the burner down low and turn a timer on so you don’t overcook your rice.

When you’re done, put the 1 Tbsp. of peanut oil, 1 Tbsp. of red curry paste, and 1 tsp. of chili sauce into a frying pan and set it to medium. I tend to like my dish a little spicy, so I will put in a rounded spoonfuls of curry paste and chili sauce. And that’s something great to note about this dish – you don’t have to be exact with anything in this recipe. Some dishes are fussy and will come out wrong, this one isn’t. However, the quality of ingredients matter – I have found that the curry paste you use really makes a difference.

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You don’t have to get fancy and use a wok – a frying pan is fine. This will heat up quickly. Stir it all together with your spatula. This concoction will not come together like a fine, smooth mixture. Instead, as you can start to see in the photo, it will bubble up.

Toss in your chicken and mix well. Cook the chicken for about four minutes.

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If you’re not so good at judging when to stop cooking the meat and you end up with something dried and tough, use a timer. You’re already using the oven timer for the rice, you say? Use the microwave timer for the chicken. It should appear cooked on the outside. Don’t worry about this too much – it doesn’t take long to cook small chunks of chicken through, and it’s going to simmer in the pan for the next 10 or so minutes – more than enough time to cook.

Add your 1 cup of coconut milk (the second cup can be stored in the refrigerator and used a few days later for something else), 1 Tbsp. of brown sugar, and 3 Tbsps. of peanut butter. I tend to be pretty strict about keeping to the 1 cup of milk and 1 Tbsp. of sugar, but I am rather generous with the peanut butter.

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If you like crunch in your peanut dishes, then go with a chunky peanut butter. I use creamy just because I do. It comes down to your own textural preference.

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Now you’re going to mix it. Do it carefully, taking your spatula or spoon or whatever you’re using and folding it. I say fold for two reasons. First, at this point the consistency of the dish is pretty runny and if you aren’t careful, you’re going to splatter everything like a big noob. Second, you want to make sure you scrape up the bottom and sides of the dish and get everything combined pretty evenly. Once it’s combined, turn the burner down a bit and stir periodically. After a couple of minutes, the sauce will thicken.

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Stir the chicken periodically until the rice is done. Serve.

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If you have leftovers, go ahead and store the rest of the rice with it. Now, a lot of people have trouble reheating rice the next day. Even after you pop it into a microwave, it will come out feeling a little dry and hard, and less than desirable eating. What you do is, put a little bit of water into the rice – don’t drown your rice. Put in just a little and heat it up. Stir the rice around a little bit – your rice will soak up the water and get that soft texture again.

Enjoy!

Oh, Monkey Gravy!

This is one of my personal favorites. A good monkey gravy goes well with chicken, but even better with some succulent turkey. Since you’ll go to some trouble for getting the monkey gravy, use good quality turkey cutlets from the store-the gravy will do the rest!

Oh, Monkey Gravy:

* Monkey: This is the difficult part. Western culture, specifically their laws, are pretty restrictive when it comes to monkeys. You can’t find them in the wild here, and the ones left either belong to science labs or zoos. They’re registered and have to be treated in accordance with animal cruelty statutes. So here’s my strategy:
* $12,000 US Dollars
* 1 Passport sized photo

First book yourself a flight to Paris. Take a train down to the capital of Spain, whatever that is. There’s a dude there, in a bar. I forget the name, but it has a picture of a lady singing on the door. Tell the bartender you’re there for “Louis” and buy a drink, it’ll be a while. In an hour or so, a man will come in and go to the bathroom. Go back there and hand him $1,500 and the passport photo. He will give you a number to call and tell you to call tomorrow. Call the number, they’ll tell you where to go, and you’ll find your new passport waiting for you. Now with your new passport, book a flight to Africa. Any of them will do. Once off the plane, you will need to steal 1 monkey. They are literally everywhere, it’s not too difficult to find them.

The important part here is to be picky. Most species of monkey are 70% hair. Hair is not tasty, you don’t want it in your food. I recommend chimps. Mountain Gorillas also work, but they’re harder to stuff into a suitcase. That’s the next part, pick your monkey and get him into a suitcase. Buy some butter at the store to get it in there if you’re having trouble. If they don’t have butter, get whatever looks oily. If they click at you, don’t be concerned, that’s how they speak in Africa. If there’s a revolt, make sure to bribe the guards when you get to the airport. Now get back to Spain, take the train back to France, and get rid of your fake passport before coming back to the states. Check your suitcase once in a while, you don’t want your monkey to die after all that trouble.

Once home, open the suitcase and feed your monkey some bananas. They like them. Shave your monkey to get rid of any hair. Now give the monkey a hat and a typewriter, and wait for him to type a recipe for gravy. Once he does, make the gravy and enjoy.

What? You thought… You’re horrible!!!!

Barbecue

If you want to know if a barbecue place might be good, ask when they started cooking when you get there. If they cook your dish around or near the time you order it, its probably not good barbecue. See good barbecue is not grilled, not cooked quickly-its cooked indirectly, and for hours. The emphasis needs to be on the hours. An optimal barbecue setup is having meat on a rack or some other permeable setting, displaced from the fire/heat source, and all this in some sort of container so you get a lot of nice smoke. The point of all this, aside from flavor, is that you get meat that falls off the bone. If you have to use your teeth to tear at the flesh on ribs, they weren’t barbecued well.

Unless you plan to set your couch on fire and hang meat from the ceiling, it’s unlikely that you have this setup. Your oven is the next best thing. Kept at 325 for several hours, it can make the difference between charcoal grilled mess and tasty, barbecue mess.

I’ve used the following recipe with some success:

Ribs with BBQ sauce:

Sauce:

* 4 tbsp EVOO
* 4 tbsp chopped garlic
* 1 cup red cider vinegar
* 1/2 cup soy sauce
* 2 cups ketchup
* 2 cups honey
* 1/2 cup strong black coffee or instant espresso or espresso
* Black Pepper

1. Saute the garlic in the olive oil
2. Add everything else
3. Store in fridge (do this at least a day ahead of time)

Ribs:

* 2 racks baby back ribs
* Gray sea salt
* Black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 325
2. Rub the ribs on both sides with the salt and pepper
3. Cut so you have approximately 7″ pieces of ribs
4. Cover a nice big cookie tray with aluminum foil
5. Stack the ribs on a metal pan so they form a sort of pile of ribs, but not directly on top of each other (think like you want to make a house-contains the heat!)
6. Cook for at least 2, maybe 2.5 hours, moving the ribs around every half hour so they all get to be in a different spot (cook more evenly)
7. Place the ribs on a grill (or heated pan on the stove) on very low heat, and baste with the sauce. Baste again every 10 minutes, both sides for each piece of ribs. The important thing here is that the grill is on very, very low heat-as a test, see how long you can keep your hand near the heat. If you’ve gotta pull away in less than a minute, its too high!
8. After at least 3 bastings, serve. If you want a stronger flavor, baste a few more times before serving.

Notes:

Sauce: The sauce given is not the only sauce that can be used with ribs, obviously. If you would like to make your own sauce, great. If you’re trying a store-bought sauce, save yourself the trouble of icky tasting ribs: heat up a little bit of the sauce, throw in a tiny bit of salt and pepper, see how it tastes. A lot of “barbecue” sauces in the store are actually just sugared ketchup to give a tangy taste with fried chicken, etc. They would not do well on actual barbecued foods, since the sugar would burn on the grill.

Salt: Sea salt is all the rage right now, the problem is a lot of it is…well…expensive salt. Nothing more! See purified sea salt is still just table salt, even if it has bigger grains. The point of getting sea salt is to get the dirty stuff. It might be a little more expensive, but its worth it. Part of the reason so many of us crave salt is that we’re actually craving the minerals that are supposed to come with salt-but we don’t get them because the white salt is nothing but sodium chloride. We want other minerals! The dirty sea salt, any color but white, has other minerals and a tiny bit of that salt will actually do more to make your body (and taste buds!) happy than a pound of the white stuff.

FAQ

Welcome to Amateurs with Knives! With this FAQ, you will know what to expect from the writers of AwK.

Q — Who are you people?
A — We’re culinary ninjas. By this we mean that we are neither culinary nor ninja, we’re just people who enjoy good food and cooking. Half of the staff has an unhealthy desire for Rachel Ray covered in maple syrup. The other half just wishes they were ninjas.

Q — What is your mission?
A — To convert people who enjoy food that comes in a jar and those sad, sad individuals who will wait two hours for a table at Olive Garden.

Q — But I like mac and cheese from a box.
A — That isn’t a question.

Q — What should I expect to read on this site?
A — Everything that’s food related. We are here to share recipes, photos, tips and techniques as well as review books, magazines, television shows and chefs – anything at all as long as it is somehow connected to food. There will also be be some instructional segments in varying degrees of difficulty.

Q — How is this different from any other food blog?
A — We are wittier, and don’t forget about us being ninjas, either.

Q — But you said you guys didn’t have any ninja skills?
A — A ninja’s main weapon is misdirection.

Q — So what makes you guys more qualified than any of the other bloggers out there, or myself for that matter?
A — Um…

Q — HAH! Got ya there didn’t I?
A — That’s not a question eith– oh wait, it is. Damn, you’re crafty. Well you’re already here, so why don’t you read something?

Q — Fair enough.
A — That wasn’t a question. Welcome to Amateurs with Knives!