Gosh, it has been a very long time since the last post here… In the gap, I’ve started a part-time barbecue business. Fun stuff! It’s called Egghead’s BBQ & Grill.
But this post isn’t about Egghead’s… it’s about some serious freaking chicken! Although most of what I do with Egghead’s is traditional southern barbecue (whole hog, brisket, etc.), lots of the folks I cook for also want chicken. I have a Paprika Chicken Thigh thing that is tasty and that I use a lot, but I’ve been wanting to expand the chicken horizons, as it were.
In my barbecue travels (yes, I can actually take tax deductible business trips to research barbecue now!) I’ve noticed a lot of “half chicken” menu items, so I figured that was a good place to start. I get a whole chicken, and cut it in, well, half. It’s not terribly complicated if you have a big knife… ahem… and remember to cut out the backbone. Sometimes it is easier to do this with shears, but I like the knife. I cut through the breastbone, then open up the cavity and cut down each side of the spine. Remove it (save it for stock, or whatever you do with chicken bits).
Then, some simple seasoning. I make a little mixture of kosher salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. You can use whatever ratio you like, I go with 3:3:3:2:2:1 respectively. Keep in mind that there are three teaspoons to the tablespoon, and the ratio makes a little more sense.
Okay, so chicken cut in half, backbone out, each half seasoned well on both sides. I just built a steel fire pit for my Egghead’s adventures (it’s 4 feet by 6 feet, 2 feet tall, to accommodate lots of whole pig!), and I like to play around with it even for small batches. But you don’t need a fire pit… any charcoal, lump, or wood fire in a grill-like enclosure will do nicely.
I decided to also char up some corn on the cob and a few sliced peaches (actually found some tree-ripened peaches!). Here we have the starting arrangement on the grill. The racks slide back and forth, so it’s easy to control how direct the heat is. Although all the picture shows are the charcoal briquettes, there are a few fist-sized chunks of hard wood in there, too (two chunks of apple, two chunks of pecan), because, well, because I love smoke!
I start the chicken halves skin-side down to make sure they get nice and crispy!
There’s all sorts of debate about how to grill corn. Some folks suggest soaking the whole ear, husk and all. Some folks suggest removing the husks and grilling it “naked” for maximum char. Personally, I take a middle approach. I remove most of the husks, but leave enough to still cover the cob. This lets me still get char on the kernels, but also means it won’t burn to a crisp if I leave it on a little too long… yeah, distractions happen!
After a while (in this case it took about 20 minutes, but your grill may work differently than mine) the skin will have turned a nice golden brown. This is the time to flip the chicken over and add the peaches! Note the nice color on the corn, too… not burned, but getting plenty of heat and smoke.
Hmmm… chicken skin… is there anything it can’t do?
As the chicken continues to cook, I like to rotate it every so often on the grill (about every five minutes) to make sure it is heating evenly. This also lets me keep tabs on the internal temperature (I don’t know what I’d do without my ThermaPen). Once the chicken has reached a safe internal temperature (165F is what I go by, and I check it in a few spots, since the halves are relatively large), it’s time to flip it again to get the final color and crispness on the skin.
Then, all that’s left to do is plate it up and chow down!
Sakes alive… crispy, salty skin… super moist meat… smokey goodness on the corn… sweet charred peaches! Wah! I’m getting hungry all over again!
I like to dress the corn with butter (duh), but also a little lemon or lime juice, followed by salt and pepper. Alternately, you can make a very simple chili-lime mayo (just add a little lime juice and chili powder to some mayonnaise) and spread it on the corn for super yumminess. The peaches? I don’t put anything on them. Although I’ve heard that a little vanilla ice cream is quite tasty on top, if you’re into that sort of thing.
There we are. Pit roasted chicken with grilled corn and peaches. Cheers!
Well, I had no idea that the word “arugula” did not exist prior to the 1960’s. It’s an anglicized version of the Italian rucola, itself a version of the Latin name Eruca. In other parts of the world, this plant is called roquette or simply rocket. Whatever we call it, fundamentally it is an edible herb, originally cultivated in the Mediterranean. It has a wonderful, pungent, peppery flavor.
I also have to admit that I have never really considered using it in a pasta sauce… My change of heart came after a conversation with one Mr. Eric Moore, a fellow food lover, who talked about adding arugula to a sausage and tomato sauce that he and his wife would make for “at home” dates. Always on the spy for a new culinary treat, I decided to give it a try.
My research showed that arugula is actually used quite a lot in Italian cooking, especially in tomato sauces and on pizza. Well, I didn’t really need to do much research to justify this experiment, as Eric’s tastes are quite trustworthy. But it didn’t hurt that his suggestion had the backing of the Italian masters!
I decided to use ravioli for this attempt, mostly because I love ravioli, but also because my daughter was going to be out of town. She’s normally the one to make our fresh pasta at home, and although I know how to do it, it just doesn’t “feel” right unless she does it! Ha ha! So, I opted for the next best thing to freshly made: store-bought fresh (the kind you find in a refrigerated section). And of those choices, the ravioli looked the best. So, ravioli it was.
Mostly following Eric’s description, but adding a few tweaks here and there to suit my own particular tastes, here is what we got, and how we got it.
20 oz. fresh ravioli (I used a cheese-stuffed variety)
1 pound mild Italian sausage
2 T regular olive oil
8 cocktail tomatoes (or a 12-14 cherry tomatoes), whole
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T apple cider vinegar
2 t crushed red pepper (optional)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste
2 big handfuls arugula
Grated Parmesan to serve
Get a pan on medium heat and add the regular olive oil. Start a large pot of water on high heat for cooking the pasta.
In the hot pan, add the full lengths of sausage. Brown all over, then remove from the pan (they will finish cooking later). Cut the sausage into 1/2 inch slices and set aside. Add the garlic to the pan, let it get aromatic (about 30 seconds), then add the whole tomatoes and crushed red pepper (if using). Toss them about to coat with oil and garlic. Return the sausage to the pan. Add vinegar, toss everything together, then cover and let cook for 5 minutes.
Remove the cover, flip all the sausage slices over, cover and cook another 5 minutes. Remove the cover and press each tomato until juices just flow (we’re not trying to smash them, just “pop” them open). Season with salt and pepper, mix fully. Remove from heat and set aside.
In the pot of boiling water, add your fresh ravioli. Cook only for 3 minutes, then immediately drain – reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Toss the ravioli with the extra virgin olive oil.
Add the ravioli to the pan with the sauce and return to medium-high heat. Once the liquids start boiling, add the reserved pasta water. Stir and cook for a few minutes until everything comes together.
Finally, remove from heat, add the arugula, and stir together. Serve immediately with Parmesan and additional black pepper as desired.
We have done meatloaf before, as a bacon wrapped pesto meatloaf, but I wanted to do something different to take it over the top. I had recently come up with a pineapple BBQ sauce that we were using on chicken, but I thought “why not on meatloaf?”
The other thing I hadn’t tried with meatloaf yet, although I’ve been doing it for burgers and tacos for a while now, was to grind the meat myself. I got the idea from the excellent blog post at Griffin’s Grub, and will really never go back to buying pre-ground meat! The flavor, the control of the final product… it’s really a no brainer.
For this meatloaf, we used three different meats: sirloin, chuck, and pork tenderloin.
You may have noticed the mass of each of these selections is roughly 1.3 kg… In this case I was making three total meatloaf loaves for a company lunch, but the ingredients list below is for just a single meatloaf. I mean, don’t let me stop you… go ahead and make a bunch of them! Invite some friends over, get some extra beer, and freaking enjoy!
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to buy pre-ground meat, when you can see this little batch of ground sirloin tips… the color, the texture, it’s all so gorgeous! Since I don’t have a dedicated meat grinder, I just do the work in my food processor (a 9-cup Kitchen Aid) and it works out just fine. In fact, for this meatloaf, the only kitchen gadget I needed was the food processor… it literally did just about everything! And you’d think grinding and then building nine pounds of meat into lovely loaves would leave a mess, but since it was all done in the Kitchen Aid, clean up was actually the fastest part of this endeavor! (No, I don’t work for them… 🙂 )
So, once the meat was all ground up, I started making the sauce. My plan was to have the sauce simmering away as I added the other items to the batches of meat. As it turned out, it took the sauce longer to reduce than I thought, but it all worked out in the end. If I were to do it again (oh, and I will!) I’d start the sauce before even grinding the meat.
The sauce is pretty simple, if you think about it. What you want is a nice complexity, with a blend of sensations, without any one of them overpowering another. To achieve that, it’s important to use various sources of sweet, sour, and spice.
In our case, the base is pineapple juice. It’s an awesome base, because it already has sweet and acidic components! We layer it with apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire, and lemon; brown sugar, molasses, and ketchup; then chipotle (en adobo) and mustard.
Tasting this sauce… oh my! It starts off nice and sweet, with the fruity pineapple, and it fades into a kick from the mustard, then the heat from the chipotle. Lots of action!
You have to make sure to reduce this by half, otherwise the sauce will be too runny.
How do you know when it’s been reduced by half? That question bugs me every time! Generally, I would just watch the sides of the pot or pan and “guess” when I thought it had reduced sufficiently. Then, while making this batch of meatloaf, I hit on an idea… I’m sure someone has done this before, but I don’t know who, so I can’t credit them. I just use a bamboo skewer and dip it into the sauce before starting it to boil. Make a mark at that point. Measure halfway down the stick from the first mark, and make a second mark. When the sauce is at the height of the second mark, it’s volume has been reduced by half. So freaking simple, I don’t know why it took me this long to think of it! Obviously, this only works with straight sided pots (because “half way” won’t always mean “half volume” for, say, sloped sides).
In this case, it took about 45 minutes of gentle simmering to reduce my sauce by half.
As the sauce cooked, I added the other items to the batches of meat: onions, chipotle, bread crumbs, milk, eggs… the usual suspects. The final step for “prep night” was assembly…
Yeah… I’m getting hungry all over again just pasting these pictures into this post! I laid out the bacon on some heavy foil, overlapping them for a span of 12 inches. Do it however is easiest, but just leave two or three slices to place on top, as shown.
The whole process of making these loaves took a few hours, mostly because I didn’t time things well with the sauce.
All that was left to do was pop them in the frigidaire over night, and the next day, fire up the Egg and go for it!
As you can see, the three of them barely fit on our large Big Green Egg, but I made it work. And finally, we had the finished product!
What I did was, after the three loaves reached about 140-150F internal (measured with a little temp probe to be sure, but at 200F it took about three hours), I removed them from the Egg. Then, one by one, I applied more sauce as a glaze and returned each one, by itself, to the Egg for another 15 minutes at 350F. This firmed up the glaze, finished cooking the top-most bacon, and gave it all a lovely warm glow! When each came off the Egg, I just wrapped it in foil to rest.
1 pound chuck steak (I used eye rounds)
1 pound sirloin tips
1 pound pork tenderloin
1 pound bacon
1 c bread crumbs (or for gluten free meatloaf, use regular oatmeal)
1/2 c whole milk
1 red onion
2 chipotle en adobo
crushed red pepper
1/2 c pineapple bbq sauce
Sauce Ingredients (makes just over 2 cups)
2 c pineapple juice
1 chipotle en adobo plus 1 T of the adobo sauce
3/4 c ketchup
3 T apple cider vinegar
3 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T dark brown sugar
2 T molasses
2 T mustard
1 T rum
1 T lemon juice (about half a lemon)
Make the sauce first. Mix all the ingredients, bring to boil, and simmer until volume reduces by half.
Grind the meat in a grinder or food processor, one pound at a time, for about 10 pulses if using a food processor. In the same processor bowl, chop the onion and chipotle on low speed for about five seconds. Beat the eggs. Except for the bacon and crushed red pepper, mix all ingredients together.
Lay long sheet of heavy duty foil on counter and layer the bacon on the surface, covering a 12 inch span. Reserve 2-3 slices bacon. Dump meat mixture onto bacon “sheet” and form meat into roughly 12″ x 4″ loaf. Pull up edges of bacon around sides of loaf. Top with remaining strips of bacon. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper. Wrap in foil.
When ready to smoke, poke a few holes in the bottom of the foil (to allow grease to drain). Get smoker to 300F, set up for indirect cooking. Roll foil back to create a shallow “baking pan” with the meatloaf. Add flavored wood chips, if desired, to fire box of smoker. The addition of the wood chips and the meatloaf will lower the temperature, which is why we start it at 300.
Stabilize the temperature around 200F, and let it smoke for a few hours. Once the internal temperature reaches 140-150F, baste with more sauce. Raise smoker temperature to between 300-400F and cook another 15 minutes to let the glaze firm up.
Finally, once the internal temperature is near 160F, remove meatloaf from smoker, wrap in foil, and let rest for 10-20 minutes. Slice, and enjoy!
Someone once told me that “if it’s hard to pronounce, it’s probably hard to make.”
Obviously, “hard to pronounce” is subjective… I grew up in an Acadian strong-hold, so I can pronounce French stuff relatively easily. Still, that doesn’t make pâté en croûte any easier to make!
So, aioli… it’s got an awesome “word pedigree.” In Latin, it would be allium oleum, which just rolls off the tongue! The phrase, I mean… hopefully you don’t let aioli actually roll off your tongue, and certainly not at the table with guests.
Anyway, allium oleum is literally “garlic oil” (we might call it “garlic mayonnaise”) and that is, basically, all there is to know about aioli. Except how to pronounce it… and that is Eye-Oh-Lee. And maybe how to make it… because some folks will have you jumping through hoops trying to make this stuff, but it really is very, very simple.
3 eggs yolks
3 cloves garlic, whole
Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon (about 1 T)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sure, I said “3 egg yolks” and “3 cloves garlic” but you can use however much… the trick to remember is “one clove of garlic for every egg yolk.” Then, just bump up the salt, lemon, and oil as needed. The only real prep is to peel the garlic and separate the yolks.
Start your timer, because you’ll be amazed how fast it is to make this most excellent garlic mayo!
Add the egg yolks, garlic, big pinch of salt, and lemon juice to a food processor. Close it up nice and tight (sometimes I will put Crisco on the seal when I’m making aioli, because it leaks out of my old, beaten up food processor otherwise).
Start up the food processor on a low setting, and slowly and continuously drizzle the olive oil in through the top. Over the course of about 30 seconds, the mixture will turn from being a runny liquid to being mayo – in technical terms, it has emulsified. “Emulsify” is a fancy sounding word that means we’ve forced two liquids that didn’t want to mix, to mix.
Don’t stop at 30 seconds just because 30 seconds have elapsed… you need to keep adding oil until the whole thing spontaneously turns from liquid-y mess to mayo-y goodness.
In our case, the emulsification is between the water of the egg yolk and the oil, and the egg fats, garlic, etc., get carried along for the ride. The nice thing about the egg yolks is they also provide lecithin, which is an emulsifier… oh, the wonders of circular reasoning! It just makes our mixture of water and oil thicker, and voila, we have mayo!
What does your timer say? Last time I actually timed myself (no pun intended), I got 5 minutes, 45 seconds from the moment I thought, “gee I really want something to put on my sandwich” to spreading this super stuff onto a lightly toasted Kaiser roll.
The proportions listed above make about 1 cup of aioli, which will keep about a week in the frigidaire. Although, to be honest, I’ve never tested that, because it’s too yummy to last more than a couple days!
One last sort of warning… I like garlic, and 1 clove per egg yolk makes a very garlicky mayo, indeed! Feel free to adjust.
My Dad’s family is ginormous. Really, he’s one of like 13 siblings! Recently, his brother, my uncle, Len died.
Although lots of my Dad’s siblings had moved to various other parts of the country, my Uncle Len chose to remain in northern Maine (up until the last few years, anyway). As such, I got to know him growing up. He was quiet, but funny. He never had kids, but he clearly cared about his nephews (my brothers and I are the only ones I am qualified to talk about). I would work summer jobs of carpentry with him and my Dad. We cut, split, and stacked our share of wood together for my grandmother, his mom, Marie.
He was as active as his injuries would allow him to be. He was a US Marine in Vietnam. When I was deciding where to enlist, his quiet dignity and pride in his time of service helped convince me to also become a Marine.
So, he was my uncle, but also my brother… a brother in service to our nation, a brother in the Marine Corps.
He died down in Tennessee, but was eventually brought up to northern Maine to be buried near his own parents. I drove up for the service, and was able to perform some music during the Mass (everyone is Catholic in northern Maine, just about). A Marine Corps color guard had driven up from Boston to give him his military honors and present the US Flag to my eldest surviving aunt and uncle, and my Dad.
In the days preceding the service, I put together this arrangement of Amazing Grace. I mean, it’s a great song, but it’s also done at military funerals, so it all just seemed to fit. I like bagpipe versions of the song, so I added a “drone” in the first few chords: I keep on the low-G string through the C, C7, Fadd9, and back to C. (The chart is on the Ukulele Page).
No one knew that I was trying to mimic a bagpipe with my ukulele… that wasn’t the point. It was just a little something extra, a little something special for my uncle… just a little something to say “thank you” and “goodbye” and “I love you” and “Semper Fi” all at the same time. Because he deserved it.
So I was making a pulled-pork for some excellent visitors we were having at the office. These folks, although work colleagues, were actually visiting us while on vacation! Their office is out in Colorado, and our office is here in Maine (the corporate office is in Nashville), and they were on vacation to New England – decided to drop in for a spell.
Now, these folks work in Colorado, but used to live in Texas. They know their BBQ, and there were a number of “gauntlets” thrown about how New Englanders use Hamburger Helper and call it “bar-b-que.” Ha! 🙂
I decided to go with pulled-pork – it has universal appeal, and the pork here is of higher quality than the beef, and they get plenty of beef out west. Okay pulled-pork. I’ve done that a bunch, felt good, felt peppy. But I always try to do something new or different with each cook, and this time I decided to sauce the pork at serving time, which meant I needed a killer sauce!
After searching the Intertubes, and doing a few test batches, I found what I was looking for… a KC-style sauce with multiple dimensions of heat, a diversity of sweet, and a thick, glossy, scrumptious texture.
I actually had to make two batches of the final sauce, because once I started testing… I couldn’t stop eating it! I just sat there and ate three full cups of sauce… and I tell you, in a less forgiving culture I would have been arrested for sexual harassment for what I did to that pan of sauce!
3 T olive oil
1 small sweet onion
4 cloves garlic, roughly minced
2 c good ketchup
1/2 c yellow mustard
1/2 c cider vinegar
1/4 c teriyaki or soy sauce
1/4 c lemon juice (about two lemons)
1/3 c dark molasses
1/4 c local honey
1 t hot sauce (your favorite)
shot of bourbon
2 T chili powder (bonus for chipotle powder)
1 t pepper
1 t kosher salt
1 c brown sugar
Get a pot hot, add the oil, cut up the onions and garlic. Add the onions to the hot oil, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds.
Once the garlic has gotten fragrant, add dry ingredients except for the brown sugar. Let the hot oil extract some of the goodness from the dry stuff… maybe a minute or two. Then add the wet ingredients. Stir it all up, and bring to a boil. Add brown sugar, and return to boil. Then, reduce heat, and let it simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. The goal is to reduce the liquid and thicken up the sauce, but not too much.
Makes 3-4 cups, depending on the degree of reduction.
This sauce is thick and smooth. You get an immediate punch of heat, but it dies away and the various sweets start to take over. Following all that is a bit of trailing heat. Damn… I used it to sauce the pulled-pork, and on the side for anyone who wanted more. Would also be brilliant on ribs, or, as I discovered, eaten all by itself!
[Thanks to Allison Everett for the use of a special phrase.]
Broody: “Hello there. I am a Barred Rock chicken. I’m 13″ tall, weigh about 8 pounds. I like to scratch around in the yard for nibbly dibblies. Oh, I also like to poop on stuff. And lay eggs. For some reason, my humans only like my eggs. They fail to be fascinated with my poop. I guess I’ll just have to keep pooping on their stuff until they see how awesome it is!”
Right. Thanks, Broody.
Anyway, Broody lives on our homestead, along with six other chickens. Apart from all the poop, they are actually very good egg layers. We get maybe four or five eggs a day. And really, they are the best eggs! Yolks rich, creamy, deeply colored… Well, you’ll see.
I decided to make a yummy breakfast, so looked around at what was on hand. Focaccia bread… Some left-over Gruyere cheese… Of course, fresh eggs. Butter. The rest, as they say, wrote itself.
2 slices Focaccia bread (mine was herbed with rosemary)
4 T butter
Enough Gruyere to cover bread
4 fresh eggs
Salt, pepper, hot sauce (optional)
Slice up the bread, get the butter ready to go, cut into 1 T segments, and slice up the Gruyere.
Get the pan evenly hot, over medium heat. Add 1 T of the butter. Once melted, swirl it around, then add the bread slices. Swish those around to soak up all the butter, and fry until golden. Remove the bread, add another 1 T of butter, and return the bread to fry the other side. Add sliced Gruyere to the top of the bread while frying the second side. Once done, remove and set aside on a plate.
Add the remaining 2 T of butter, let it melt and just start to brown. Add the eggs. If you want to be tricky, crack the eggs ahead of time into two cups. Then, with a cup in each hand, you can add all four eggs at once. Once the whites start to set, sprinkle with sale and pepper. Cover the pan, and lower the heat. Continue cooking until the sunny yolk starts to get white forming along its perimeter. Basically, you want all the whites done, but the yolk runny.
Remove the eggs and place two eggs on each slice of toast. Add a few dashes of hot sauce, if using.
The combination of the creamy yolk, the crispy Focaccia, the velvety cheese… Oh, my! I’ve done this basic thing with lots of kinds of bread, but it wasn’t until I tried it with Focaccia that I wanted to write about it!
You’ll notice only one assemblage in the photos… that’s because once I tried the first bite I knew two things: 1) I would have to finish that first piece right there, right then, and 2) I needed a photo record of the remaining piece so I could share it! Cheers!
Although it was the very first song I learned to play on the ukulele (in 2011), I only recorded The Marines’ Hymn this last summer (on Memorial Day, 2013), and have delayed posting it until now. It’s not for lack of pride in my time in the Corps… it is that a former student of mine, inspired to enlist as a Marine partly from my encouragement, was KIA in Iraq. No, I don’t blame myself – many factors led him to service, and many factors led to his being killed. But he was my student – I saw the best and worst of him in math class, and on the football field, and I don’t want to dishonor his memory by botching up the job.
Where Dan really shined, though, was on the wrestling mat. It’s where he was meant to be – strong, nimble, smart – everything you want in a wrestler. Everything you want in a US Marine. Everything you want in a friend.
Cheers, Dan. Where ever you’re hanging out these days, save a spot for me at the bar.
I layered up the vocals as the verses go on, imagining walking along gathering more grunts who join in the singing. Also played around with a vocal filter to make the first verse sound “far away” -ish, but not sure if it worked as well as I thought it might.
My deepest musical influences are Bach, Beethoven, and The Ramones. But, along with other weird stuff in my head, is a fascination with Vangelis. Although almost everyone knows his music from Chariots of Fire, I first heard his electronic brand of awesome in the music of the Carl Sagan series Cosmos. I started collecting his work for the next decade or so.
One of my favorites was Opera Sauvage, which I think was actually written for some kind of animal documentary… but whenever I see cool natural events, this tune would play in my head: Hymne. Of course, Vangelis was all about synthesizers and whatnot, but I think my little arrangement for ukulele and melodica gives it a woodsy cabin sort of feel.
One of our fun pastimes out at our little homestead is to rewrite the lyrics for songs. We turn them into our own little version, generally poking fun at something we’ve done, or something one of the animals has done. I was watching some old video clips of The Muppet Show, and saw this awesome one where Rowlf and Fozzie sing the classic Country Gardens tune. It’s hilarious, and a piece of brilliant puppeteering! “Can you play hatless?” “I don’t know, who wrote it?”
So I looked up the actual folk song, and found out it was a way to teach British children about flowers and insects and stuff. I thought, “well, we’ve got stuff around the homestead… we should write a song about them, too!” Everyone pitched in on figuring out the words, and it’s been a frequently played song around the house. We have four verses: one for the lack of flowers (my superpower is killing all useful plants, apparently), one for our three dogs, one for our three ponies, and a final one for the chickens. It’s a fun tune.
Both of these tunes are also available on the Ukulele Page, and although one started as a piece of synthesizer music, and the other as an English folk song, they both have connections to animals, and in my version Hymne sounds sort of like a country folk song… Well, who cares if the connection is tenuous at best… they’re simple, fun tunes! Cheers!
I have a new Saturday morning tradition: baking scones.
Okay, so maybe doing something just two weeks in a row doesn’t quite qualify as “tradition.” But, you’ve got to start somewhere, and two weeks in a row is actually pretty good for me.
Let me add that I’m no baker. I love to cook, and I’ll cook the hell out of a steak or a casserole… but I’ve always burned the cookies and ruined the pie, so to speak. Thus, it was with great hesitation that I tried my hand at scones.
Fortunately, the inter-webs are a wonderful place. And although I very rarely use recipes in my cooking, I figured I should have a reference point from which to diverge in my scone adventures. I went web searching, and found three promising sources: Alton Brown, Allrecipes, and America’s Test Kitchen. I stole their scone recipes and merged them into something I though would work for me.
I also chatted up my pals at my favorite bakery to get some tips. Behold, the recipe I came up with:
I had also recently purchased some pretty sweet stainless steel mixing bowls, and learned to make a simple sugar glaze. If all this information and equipment can’t help me make a decent fracking scone, then nothing would!
Dry Ingredients – Getting a Crumb
I added all the dry ingredients to the bowl, and whisked them together. Then, I removed the butter from the freezer (yes, you should freeze the butter!) and grated it into the mixture. I just used a regular, large tooth cheese grater. Then, a few chops with the pastry blender later, and the mixture should have a nice “crumb” to it… meaning, it looks a little like oatmeal, has tiny and small chunks of butter, but is otherwise dry.
Wet Ingredients – Getting the Dough
Make a hollow in the dry ingredients. Then, whisk the sour cream and egg together. Add it into the hollow.
At this point, I found the best way to combine everything was to begin stirring from the center, and slowly work outward. In math-speak, I let the radius of my circular stirring motion increase slowly with time. This keeps up a continual “feeding dry into wet” system that seems to work well.
Now, you sort of have to use some observational power. The dough was not holding together after a good mix, so I added one Tablespoon of milk. Stirred that up. Still not quite there. Added one more Tablespoon of milk. Stirred. Ah, there it went! The dough should NOT be anywhere near wet. When you reach in, you can grab a handful, squeeze, and it should come together, but not really stick to you.
Folding the Dough
Lay the dough out onto a floured surface, and using nothing but your fingers (I use the backs of my fingers, just because I like to), flatten it out into a rough rectangle. Flip it over and complete. Dust with flour as you need to. If anything sticks to the table, just toss on a little flour, rub it into a clump, and add it back to the dough.
Once you’ve gotten a nice shape to it (as above), you get to do “the trick” to light, flaky scones… Remember when we used to communicate with each other by writing letters? You’d have to fold your letter so that it fit in this thing called an envelope, and place something called a stamp onto it. You’d then leave the letter at the end of your driveway and some stranger would come along, pick it up, and take it to your friend for you! It was pretty slick.
Anyway, the point is that you want to fold up your dough like a letter, using a tri-fold, then flatten it again with your fingers into another rectangle. Do this three times.
Now we can add the fruit. In this case, I used some frozen blueberries. I had nothing fresh on hand (it is early April in Maine… the only fresh ingredient available to me is mud). Press out the dough a little larger than your earlier rectangle, being careful not to make it stick to the surface. Flip it at least once and dust with flour. Then, just press the berries into the dough.
Finally, tri-fold what you have, and press it with your fingers out into a nice, flat, log shape. Cut into four even pieces, and diagonally cut each of those pieces in half to form little triangles. Why triangles? Because people like to eat pointy foods! We’re then ready to put the scones on a buttered baking sheet and pop them into a 400F oven for 15 minutes.
Just whisk it all around with a fork or very small whisk. You want it to be the consistency of paste. If it’s too runny, add more sugar. If it’s too dry, add more milk (in very, very small amounts). You could use any kind of flavoring… I love this raspberry syrup, though! Other options would be regular maple syrup, vanilla, some orange or lemon zest… whatever you think will pair well with the fruit.
One Last Thing
I love coffee. I love all kinds of coffee. Even camp coffee that tastes like burnt grounds and smoke. And although I love me some Starbucks Grande Vanilla Latte, I really still enjoy basic drip coffee from my favorite little machine. (To the side of the coffee maker is my Plan B: PG Tips tea!)
After 15 minutes, the scones are ready. I remove them onto a cooling rack, and glaze them right away. This recipe makes 8 scones, but I tell my daughter it only makes 6… so that by the time she’s awake to start her Saturday, we can split those “6” scones “evenly” and have three each during the rest of our morning routines. (Please don’t tell her!)