Well…that didn’t last long.

I’ve hung up my raw food hat.

Well, not entirely. I was doing the fully raw before 4 diet and ended up running into a serious flaw: my lack of willpower.

Basically, I ended up constantly craving hot food, whether it was healthy or not, almost always manifesting itself as me eating stuffed jalapenos from Jack in the Box. The cravings were so bad that I often overdid it, adding cheese and bacon to the jalapenos in addition to the buttermilk ranch. Something like 900 calories, 60g of fat, and almost 2500mg of sodium. No bueno.

So to manage the chaos and get myself back on track, I’ve made a few changes to my diet. Back in 2011 I had a ton of success by cutting fat out of my diet. Going from almost 200g a day to 35g a day, I shed 25lbs in about 2 1/2 months with regular exercise.

I love the fundamental benefit of the raw diet, so I’m going to keep raw foods as a strong component of my new diet, but I have to add a higher level of satiety.

I also just turned 30 on Sunday, and I’m ready for some real change. Positive change. So I started my diet yesterday. I’m keeping it simple so I don’t have to worry about keeping track of rules, but I’m also keeping it healthy.

These are the guidelines:

1. eat a vegetarian breakfast every morning.

I want to skip the breakfast meats because they’re too high in saturated fats and sodium, and as a result make me feel sluggish all morning. Generally I eat about 3-4 fruits, a Clif Bar, handfull of raw almonds or brazil nuts and a chocolate milk. I might replace the Clif Bar with brown sugar oatmeal and apples or craisins.

2. No more fast food. Ever.

It’s disgusting, culinarily-speaking, and it’s void of any useful nutrition. It’s only benefit is a misplaced sense of comfort that we acquired during childhood and are unable to shake decades later; addiction that rivals that of cigarettes. The way I feel after I eat fast food is never worth the few seconds of childhood nostalgia. If I want to feel nostalgic I’ll go play checkers.

3. If I crave a burger or steak or fried food, I’m going to make it myself.

There are multiple reasons for this. One, the required effort may serve as a deterrent to those foods. Two, if I’m going to eat unhealthy food, I may as well use the opportunity to practice my craft and build my menu for a food truck. Three, if I cook it myself I have more control over what goes into it. And four, for what I’d spend on myself at a fast food “restaurant” I could feed a family of four by cooking it at home instead.

4. No more soda.

There’s a lot of debate over the benefits of caffeine. I see caffeine as a drug (which it is), and given my past struggles with my addiction to the drug, I see it as something worth avoiding. Your body needs water to live, might as well give it water. This is another way to save money, also.

5. No eating after 7pm.

If I’m going to sleep, I don’t need calories or energy. If I ate an early dinner and the hunger pangs are making it impossible to get comfortable enough to fall asleep, I’ll eat a spoonful of peanut butter and a small glass of milk. So satisfying, and it keeps me from eating an entire bowl of chips and salsa, or leftover pizza, or cake or whatever. Late night hunger pangs aren’t always about filling your stomach, but about calming your brain. Peanut butter and milk works wonders for me.

6. Become Captain Obvious

Bacon, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, butter, cheese, oil (fried), etc are obviously not healthy choices. If I can do without, I will. I won’t ever eat a salad without dressing, so I may put a tiny bit of ranch on it to make it appetizing, or search for a healthier option like red wine vinaigrette or honey mustard. I don’t need to add bacon or mayo to my sandwich to make it edible. I opt for pickles and hot sauce to add a powerful and vinegary kick. Skip the fats and use texture and spice to keep your palate entertained. Cabbage, pickles, pretzels, etc are all good ways to add texture without fat. I put hot sauce on everything.

7. Snack smart

I snack on raw nuts or dried fruit (not freeze-dried). Or, as I do at night, I’ll eat a spoonful of peanut butter, which keeps me sated long enough to get to my next meal without being distracted by hunger. Nuts and peanut butter are great snack options because they last forever and you can keep them at your desk at work. Sometimes I’ll push it and eat pretzels or beef jerky. Neither is absolutely terrible for you, but they have a high amount of sodium, so moderation is encouraged.

 

One thing I learned while doing the raw food diet is just how bastardized our food system really is. It caters to commercialization and mass-production, leaving us with a product that’s barely “good enough” for consumption. It’s infuriating to know that there’s very little nature left in our food. The system itself requires us to cook the shit out of our food to stay safe.

Another sad reality is that small farms who aim to fight the food production giants aren’t viable enough to initiate a real change in the big picture. And their small size often results in prices the general public, myself included, can’t afford to pay. As much as I love raw milk, there’s no room in my budget to pay $11/gallon for it every week. It boils down to: if you want to eat truly natural raw foods, you have to grow it yourself or make 6-figures.

Defeated, I’ve adjusted my diet to something a little more practical for the sake of sanity. Rather than focusing entirely on raw, I plan to focus on eating 15+ servings of fruits and vegetables every day, raw, or otherwise (raw should probably be in quotes). By focusing on making manageable healthy changes, I’m hoping to segue into a more realistic diet with sustainability.

I want to weigh 215 or less on my 40th birthday. Whether I take 10 years to do it, or do it in the next year and keep it off for 10 years, my goal is to step on a scale on November 2, 2024 and see “215” or less. I’m starting now.

Ultimate Comfort

The other day I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. I was craving it and i couldn’t tell you why. I just wanted one, but not a crappy fake american cheese on white bread grilled cheese. I wanted something fancy.

So I created grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches on french bread with a dill mayo that I concocted on the spot. And, since man cannot live on grilled cheese alone, I decided to whip up some creamy tomato basil soup for dipping. Why not?

Grown Up Grilled Cheese
French Bread loaf – cut into 5-6″ lengths
Cream Havarti
Baby Swiss
Muenster
Gruyere
butter

Simple enough, slice the bread in half and butter a hot sandwich press (I used a Foreman Grill). toast the insides of the bread on the buttered griddle while you prepare the dill mayo (recipe below).

Once the inside of the bread is toasted, add an appropriately-sized slice (or two) of each cheese to the bread. I used half a slice of swiss (the slices were pretty large), a slice and a half of both gruyere and muenster, and a slice of havarti.

Slather the top slice of the bun with the dill mayo, close the sandwich and grill for about 3-5 minutes, depending on your grill, or until the cheese is oozing and bubbly and screaming your name. Done.

Grown up grilled cheese with tomato basil soup

Dill Mayo
1/4 c mayonnaise (Blue Plate)
1 Tbsp fresh chopped dill
light sprinkle of lime juice (1/2 tsp)
dash of garlic salt

Tomato Basil Soup
4 medium hot house tomatoes, peeled and seeded
4 cups tomato juice
2 oz package of fresh basil, chopped (15 leaves or so, roughly 1/3 c when chopped)
1 stick (1/2c) butter. Real butter. sliced into Tbsps
1 cup heavy whipping cream
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

To peel the tomatoes, put enough water in a large pot to submerge the tomatoes. Bring the water to a boil. Slice X’s in the bottom of the tomatoes, just deep enough to go through the skin. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water just until the skin begins to wrinkle and peel back. Transfer them to a bowl full of ice water to stop them from cooking. The skin should come right off. Easy peasy.

Cut the tomatoes open and remove the seeds and gel. Add them to a large pot with the tomato juice, and boil for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes turn to a deliciously soft mushy state. Add the chopped basil to the bottom of a blender, then top it with the hot tomatoes. Blend until thoroughly incorporated and return to pot.

Over low heat, add the butter to the soup mixture and stir until the butter melts. DO NOT BOIL! Remove from heat, add the cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with your grown-up grilled cheese. Garnish with basil or cream if you’d like.

Undeniably comforting!

 

Breakfast Tacos!

Not too long ago our neighborhood hosted it’s community garage sale. I’ve been dying to try out some of my recipes on the general public, so I capitalized on the opportunity and decided to make breakfast tacos for the residents and patrons of the garage sale.

Emily and I both had insane amounts of anxiety about the idea. Having never done this, I was nervous if I’d be able to make enough to meet the demand, but even more concerned about how people would respond to a recipe I created. I had a lot of myself invested into those tacos. I was passionate about them, but feared the possibility that I may be delusional.

Sourcing the ingredients was fairly easy. Breakfast meats are insanely expensive. And Emily convinced me to use organic farm fresh eggs from a local farm (which is awesome, but it almost tripled the food cost for that one ingredient.) That had me nervous, because people will only pay so much for a breakfast taco, regardless of what’s inside. If I used nothing but wholesome, natural, organic ingredients, I’d have to sell my 4oz tacos for $8 a piece to make a decent profit. So we ended up compromising and i used conventional ingredients for the rest of the tacos.

I make killer home fries, so I wanted to make potato tacos with them. My test batches came out  perfectly. Unfortunately when I had to make them in large quantities, something was lost in translation. Instead of pan frying a handful of diced potatoes in a little oil like I did with my test batches (and like I do when I make home fries), I opted to fry all of the potatoes together in a large amount of oil. The oil wasn’t hot enough, so the potatoes came out greasy and bland 😦 I was so excited about the potato tacos, but couldn’t make it happen. Lesson learned I suppose :-/

All of our tacos had seasoned farm fresh eggs and my homemade chile con queso, then they were topped with breakfast meat or potatoes, and rolled up in a super thin, grilled flour tortilla (super thin is absolutely key!). I made my roasted poblano sauce, and creamy chipotle sauce to go on the side so customers could take some if they wanted. I put them in tiny 3/4oz souffle cups with lids.

We ended up making 60 breakfast tacos – 20 bacon, 30 sausage, and 10 potato, and sold all 60 in less than an hour! But more importantly was the overwhelmingly positive response I received. Below are just a handful of the comments that people posted on facebook:

Breakfast Tacos Reviews

 

As you can see, they were a big hit. Definitely the confidence boost I needed to keep this food thing going! 😉

 

Despite all the positive reviews, I would still change a couple things. 1, I learned how to make my own breakfast sausage and save $1.50/lb. so I’d definitely do that next time. And 2, I’d make sure to do the potatoes in small batches so they’re crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Oh, and I’ll make even more next time 😉

Update

Over the past few weeks, the raw food diet has gone out the window. Stresses from life have made it hard to care about my diet, and I sought comfort in fast food.

The good news in that is that I quickly discovered the horrible toll that fast food takes on my body. I was back to being lethargic and having constant abdominal discomfort. Terrible gas and a week of diarrhea.

My problem is that I don’t trust the raw diet to make me feel better, even at my weakest moments. I fall back on the comfort of fast food, which obviously makes me feel significantly worse. It got to the point where I would tell myself “i don’t want fast food. that sounds so unappetizing right now. I want to find something healthier,” but I would end up in a drive thru anyway, eating something covered in grease.

The key to success with any diet change is to have faith in it. Believe that it works and will get you through. Find comfort in your passion for the new diet, whatever it may be.

Something I noticed that helped me get back on track, even if just briefly, was to focus on one particular raw food item that I enjoyed eating, and focusing on how good it tastes. Essentially forcing myself to crave that one item. For me it’s been avocados and bananas. “I can run to the store real quick and get an avocado or two.” Then, while at the store, I’d see all the other stuff I love eating, and end up buying enough for a couple meals or more.

I even took it so far as to time myself to see if it was faster to go to jack in the box, or to HEB. I found that it took me 15 minutes regardless of where I went for my lunch. Since I only shop in the produce section of HEB, it’s easy to get in and out.

I’m starting over today, and hoping to go raw for breakfast and lunch every day this week. No more cheating. I always regret it and end up feeling worse.

Baby steps for BIG change 😉

A day in the raw

One of the biggest problems I’m having transitioning to raw is figuring out what to eat every day. When I cook food, I have no trouble being creative, but raw food is a completely different beast to tame. Combining raw flavors produces wildly different results than cooking them together. Not to mention, there is a whole range of ingredients that become off limits. No dairy, no meat, no grains/rice/wheat, no potatoes, etc since they have either already been cooked or require cooking to be edible and palatable.

So, I decided to just stick to what I know and love and keep it simple. It may seem boring while you read it, but it hasn’t bored me yet and my body seems to love it.

Breakfast:
Fruit/veggie smoothie
– greens, like kale or spinach
– fruits, depending on the flavor I want:
– pineapple mango peach
– strawberry banana
– mixed berry (blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry)
– strawberry lime
– veggies, like carrots, cucumber (use sparingly), maybe a jalapeno if I’m feeling bold.
– spirulina, for added protein
– almond milk
– ice

I just blend it all together in a blender and take it to go in a mason jar to drink on my way to work.

Or, if that doesn’t happen, which is often, I keep fruits and veggies on hand at work, and I’ll usually eat…

1 whole cantaloupe
2 bananas, or whatever fruit I have on hand
handful of mixed raw nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, pistachios, walnuts, etc)
40-60 oz of water

Lunch/Dinner:
2-3 carrots
1 large avocado (sometimes I add a dash of garlic salt, or mix it with the diced tomato below to make a quick guacamole salad)
3-4 fruits (usually an apple, banana, mango, some strawberries, or one cantaloupe if I didn’t eat one for breakfast)
1/2 c (2 servings) mixed raw nuts
1 globe tomato
1 green bell pepper (great for scooping guacamole)
1 red or yellow bell pepper (also great for scooping guacamole)
40-60 oz of water

DSC_0280

(typical work day lunch – $6.57)

DSC_0323

(I get these mixed raw nuts from HEB for $6/8oz bag. This is the fastest way to get a healthy mix of raw nuts. If you want to save money, look for bulk nuts at HEB, Whole Foods, Kroger, etc, and mix your own.)

That’s my ideal day. Now, I can tell you that while I’m transitioning I still slip up. I try my best to at least eat 2 full raw meals a day during my transition (typically breakfast and lunch). I will admit that it’s incredibly uncommon for me to eat all three raw meals in a day. I don’t want to create the illusion that the transition is a snap, because it’s not, but once you start to notice the health, mood, and cost benefits of raw, your cravings slowly start to shift. You’ll start to feel even worse after consuming the foods you’ve lived on for years, and you’ll start to push yourself away from that stuff pretty hard. But there’s still that tiny amount of lingering comfort left that will keep drawing you back. It’s a vicious cycle, but it shouldn’t last too long [I hope].

So anyway, that’s the stuff I eat throughout the day. Maybe it will help you get an idea of what to expect if you decide to transition, or at least give raw a try.

I challenge you to replace at least one meal with one of the raw meals above and see how it affects you the rest of the day. You’ll probably be surprised.

Why Raw?

**I edited this post because I don’t need to explain why fruits and vegetables are better for you than processed junk. I give the general population the benefit of the doubt in assuming they already understand this.**

 

I often think of ways to explain the concepts of nutrition without sounding like a crazy, pretentious hippie, and I’m at a loss. It doesn’t seem possible. So I think, maybe if I just put it into quick, simple terms, and make the knowledge relatable and accessible…that should work, right? Or if instead of barraging my readers with facts about why vegetables are healthier than double cheeseburgers, and offer a solution to help them get on track, maybe that will insight a change.

I’ve always struggled with nutrition. The idea of eating something other than the food I wanted to eat never took hold in my life. If I wanted a cheeseburger, I was going to eat a cheeseburger. Blogs, doctors, my parents, news stories, and personal experience weren’t enough to sway me. I still wanted digestive freedom. And looking back on how i used to think gives me insight into how most people probably view the subject of nutrition; “I’d rather eat what I want because it’s easier and makes me happy (read: fat).” Of course that was much easier to justify as a teenager, and quickly got me up to 295lbs. However, as with other aspects of my life, it’s time to grow up.

Everyone knows how to be healthy. It’s not really a mystery or a complicated puzzle. The problem is that junky, quick, cheap, easy food is all around us. We can get it without even trying. We’re far too busy to stop and pay attention to what we’re eating. Or even worse, we lie to ourselves and justify what we eat with outlandish misinformation. I had a lady tell me that cheese was made of healthy fats and was good for her, so she put it on everything. Cheddar cheese is 60% fat (21% saturated fat), and it’s an animal fat. Nothing about the fat in cheese is healthy. Yes it has protein, but most of the protein from animal sources is largely indigestible and lacks amino acids, making it an incomplete protein.

I know, I know, I said I was going to simplify things and I just explained cheese in the most complicated way possible. My point is that we can all largely agree that cheese isn’t good for your body. It’s fatty, greasy, and unnatural (cheese wouldn’t exist without human intervention). Despite that one example, we all have this built-in ability to decipher the “healthiness” of food. Unfortunately, as with the cheese story, we over think things and start making crazy justifications so we can live with our choices. The largest drawback to that mentality is that your body still suffers whether you can justify unhealthy choices or not.

Nutrition is an unbelievably simple concept: put good in, get good out. The confusion comes from the seemingly gray area of what constitutes “good food.” In the simplest terms, good food is something that provides your body everything it needs (vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fats, proteins, water, carbohydrates, sodium, etc) with the least amount of maleficial components (bad cholesterol, saturated or trans fats, etc.). And while most food begins with a plethora of nutrients, cooking is actually shown to reduce them significantly [as shown in this chart]:

nutrientloss
(click for source site)

The irony is that purely nutritious food that fits the above criteria is bountifully available, indefinitely renewable, and  cheap, but we’ve succeeded in pushing it aside in favor of the far more convenient fast food chains. To succeed with any diet change, the food needs to be accessible to a degree that meets or exceeds the accessibility of the garbage we normally eat. If you’re out and about, and you’re hungry, that drive-thru beckons. It’s a hard beast to tame. I wish I could tell you that personal restraint wasn’t necessary, but that would make me a liar. And I don’t like lying to people.

My best tool for success is to anticipate where I will be for each meal and make sure that place has all the fruits and vegetables I need to get through the day. I wake up and drive to work. I have a stash of bananas, apples, avocados, tomatoes, limes, oranges, spinach, almonds etc at my desk. When I’m hungry, healthy nutritious food is at arms length for my entire 8-9 hour shift. Right before I leave for the day, I eat a hearty handful of almonds, a banana, and a handful of spinach or some other green. It fills me up for the drive home so I’m not tempted to stop anywhere. And I have another stash of healthy food waiting for me at home. The best part is that I spend probably 60% less cash on food. I can eat an entire cantaloupe, a cucumber, an avocado, a peach, and 4 carrots for lunch, and spend less than $4. Price per calorie is significantly lower than any fast food, and nutrients per dollar is exponentially higher than junk food. You could save money and eat nothing but rice and beans, but that won’t get you very far nutritionally.

I hate when people tell me that healthy food is too expensive. My breakfast this morning was an entire canteloupe, 8 strawberries, and an apple. I paid about $2. I ate a supersized lunch the other day (1200 calories, 53g fat, 19g complete protein, 455mg Vitamin C), and total cost was about $5. You can get 1200 calories for $5 pretty easy at McDonald’s, but you get processed trans and saturated fats, incomplete proteins, and virtually no Vitamins. Those are foods that can only be described as dead. It does nothing more than provide calories; calories that turn to fat without providing an ounce of benefit. If you’d rather consume calories that don’t provide essential nutrients, you may as well eat a salted stick of butter.

I should disclose that I’m not a professional. I rely on logic to explain the world around me. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m not. But if you’re building a house, wouldn’t you want to use the best materials that give you the most function and purpose for your money? Or would you rather use whatever’s nearby to build something that slightly resembles a house, but lacks function and purpose?

I don’t think you need to be a professional to answer that question correctly.

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

I love comfort food. Who doesn’t? That’s why they call it that, right? It’s comforting. It holds your head and tells you that it loves you, looking longingly into your eyes and touching your soul.

For whatever reason, I decided yesterday that I wanted to make a grown-up, gourmet version of mac and cheese for dinner; mac and cheese with roasted green chiles, bacon, and green onion. And since eating just mac and cheese for dinner seemed a little too “college” for me, I decided that I should probably make something else to go with it, so I decided on cracker-crusted chicken tenders with my go-to honey mustard.

Mac

PREP: The first thing I did, as with any other dish involving roasted chiles, was to roast the chiles (1 poblano, 2 hatch) in the broiler. And as before, I pull out the roasty chiles, wrap them in foil and let them sweat until I’m ready for them. I then started to boil the water for my macaroni shells while I made the delicious bacon cheese sauce. I cooked up half a pound of bacon in a large stainless steel sauce pan, making sure to get them crispy without burning them. I removed the bacon, and drained about half the grease. I wanted all those delicious bacon bits and grease in the cheese sauce, so I returned the pan to heat, and added about half a cup of whole milk, and roughly 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Once heated, I threw in 1lb of cubed american cheese (I did half white, half yellow – I used Boars Head instead of Velveeta this time. Insanely more expensive, but the flavor is far superior). Once the cheese melted, I diced up the roasted chiles after removing their seeds, and threw them into the cheesy, bacon-y pool. That’s all she wrote for the cheese sauce, so I covered it and set it aside.

The water still hadn’t reached a boil yet, so I started on the chicken. I developed the batter for this recipe back when I was 18 or 19, and it’s carried me this far, so I keep using it. I mix 1 cup of milk with 1 cup of buttermilk, 1 Tbsp Krystal (or louisiana, or franks) hot sauce, 1 tsp sea salt,  1 cup of flour, and 1 tsp lemon juice in a big bowl. It turns into a thick, salmon-colored batter, perfect for chicken. Pat your chicken tenders with a paper towel to remove excess moisture, then season with salt and pepper. Submerge the tenders in the batter and let them soak for a minute while you prepare the rest.

Your water is probably boiling right now, so go ahead and throw in the pasta.

Fill a cast iron skillet with a cup of shortening, and heat it on medium-high heat until melted.

While that’s happening I put 2 cups of oyster crackers in a food processor along with a tsp of black pepper and pulse it into fine cracker meal for the chicken. I also pulse another half cup of oyster crackers (sans pepper) to use on the mac and cheese.

I mixed up a quick honey mustard too. I whisked together 1/2 c of miracle whip (even if you’re a mayo person, use miracle whip. Mayo taste awful in this recipe), 2 Tbsp dijon mustard, 1 Tbsp Honey, pinch of cayenne (optional). Set this in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

Finally I chopped up some green onion for garnish, and crumbled the bacon from earlier.

COOK: Once the shortening is hot (drop some cracker meal into it and see if it sizzles), start breading your chicken. Take out a strip at a time, roll it in the cracker meal, and add it to the hot shortening. Fry em up until they’re golden brown and delicious. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep them from cooking too quickly. Cast iron holds onto heat really well, so don’t get impatient, just make small adjustments and wait.

Once all the tenders have been fried and drained on a towel, I place them on a cookie sheet and throw them into a 200°F oven to keep them warm and crispy until it’s time to serve.

About this time your pasta should be done, so you can drain it and set it aside for assembly.

ASSEMBLY: Put the desired amount of macaroni shells into a bowl, cover with the cheese sauce, add a sprinkle of oyster cracker crumbs (please don’t use the ones you breaded the chicken with),  a few green onions (don’t overdo it, these can quickly overpower the dish…unless you like that.), and finally add a decent sprinkling of crumbled bacon. I didn’t add an ounce of salt to the mac and cheese. The american cheese, bacon, and oyster crackers bring plenty of sodium to the plate.

I served the chicken on a side plate, because let’s face it, it was an afterthought. I only made it as a supplemental sidekick. The Mac totally stole the show.

REVIEW: I’m in love. Regular mac and cheese will no longer cut it in my house. The cheesy, smokey, salty, crunchy, creamy balance is so far above reproach. The only bad thing I have to say about my plate is that I used too much green onion.

The chicken, albeit sidelined, was really good too. Super juicy and the cracker crust held its crispiness like a champ. I noticed that I forgot to season the chicken directly, but the salt and pepper in the oyster cracker crust took charge and carried the chicken just fine.

the honey mustard was amazing as it’s always been (I’ve been using this recipe for a decade now). It had an odd, bitter aftertaste that I attribute to the crappy store-brand dijon mustard I used. I normally use Grey Poupon.

RATING: ★★★★★
I know you’re all probably tired of seeing 5-stars, but, honey mustard aside, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to improve this recipe. I’m being as impartial as I can. If I ordered this at a restaurant, I’d be very happy.

You gonna make Biscuits?!

My old college roommate is to blame for me knowing about Invader Zim, btw.

Yes, I’m gonna make biscuits. Delicious biscuits with gravy. OK, well obviously since I’m making this post, I’ve already made them, but just play along.

Biscuits and gravy

Biscuits are easily my favorite bread item. I don’t know why they make me so happy, but they do. Maybe because they’re so easy to make, and cheap. Or because they’re tangy and buttery and unbelievably delicious. It’s a toss-up.

PREP: I started with the biscuits because they take the longest and it would leave me with plenty of time to make the bacon and gravy while they baked. I love traditional rolled and circle-cut biscuits, but I’m far more partial to the mountainous drop biscuits (it makes easy biscuits even easier, and virtually eliminates waste). So I mixed 2 cups of all purpose flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, and 3/4 tsp salt. I then used a pastry cutter to cut in 2 Tbsp each of chilled butter and shortening. Once the mixture resembled course sand, I added 1 cup of cold buttermilk, and 1/4 cup of whole milk. This made a lovely lump of very sticky dough (if you want to roll out and circle-cut your biscuits, leave out the 1/4 c of milk). This is where drop biscuits are the bees knees: I don’t have to roll anything out, I don’t have to get flour all over my counter, I don’t have to cut, combine and repeat (giving me progressively tougher biscuits). I just take two spoons, scoop up some dough a little larger than a golfball, and scrape it onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat this about a dozen times, then brush the tops with melted butter, and throw in a sprinkling of sea salt.

COOK: Throw into a 350°F oven, and bake these for about 12-15 minutes, or until the tops begin to brown.

Meanwhile, I started cooking my bacon. Anytime I make a sauce, I use a stainless steel pan, not non-stick. You can’t deglaze a non-stick pan, and the sauce will taste greasy and…well…different. Since I don’t like washing dishes, and I really want the bacon flavor in my gravy, I cooked the bacon in the same pan I planned to make my gravy. Once the bacon (1lb) was cooked, I drained about half of the grease, then started cooking my sausage. Leaving the sausage in the pan, I added flour (trying to equal the amount of grease in the pan), and stirred it all up, letting the grease cook the flour a little bit before adding the milk. When I make sauces, I never measure anything. It’s all by eye. If I had to guess, I’d say I added about 3/4c of milk, followed by 1/4 c of heavy cream. You’ll have to play it by ear to get the gravy to to correct consistency. If you have too much flour, and not enough milk, you’ll get a lovely dough ball in your pan. If you add too much milk, however, it’s hard to thicken it again without changing the flavor. A good rule of thumb is to add just enough milk to cover the sausage, then add your cream.

Once the gravy thickens, which shouldn’t take long, take a taste and add salt until you’re happy with it. Now, I like a lot of black pepper in my sausage gravy, so I use about 2 tsp or so. You can adjust this to match your preference and tolerance for spicy. Once you stir in the salt and pepper, you’re done. Remove it from the heat.

ASSEMBLY: Simple enough. Take a delicious, craggy biscuit, or two….or three, toss em in a bowl, laddle the gravy on top, and serve with a side of bacon. Because, well….bacon.

REVIEW: Best Breakfast ever! I make this often, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to perfect it.

RATING: ★★★★★
Definitely one of my favorite things to make.

 

Biscuit Recipe:
2 c all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter
2 Tbsp shortening
1 c cold buttermilk
1/4 c cold whole milk
2 Tbsp butter, melted
sea salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Mix flour, sugar, baking power, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

4. Pour in the cold buttermilk and whole milk while stirring to combine.

5. Spoon golfball sized dollops onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

 

Sausage Gravy Recipe:
1 lb bacon
1 lb breakfast sausage of your choice
2 Tbsp flour
~3/4 c whole milk (may need more or less, to achieve desired consistency)
1/4 c heavy cream
1-2 tsp black pepper, to taste
salt to taste

Directions:

1. Cook bacon in large stainless steel skillet. Remove bacon, drain on paper towels. Set aside.

2. Add sausage to bacon fat and brown completely. Drain fat from pan, leaving at least 2 Tbsp behind.

3. Add flour to sausage and bacon fat and cook over medium-high heat for 30-60 seconds.

4. Add milk and cream, and stir to combine. mixture will begin to thicken. Add more milk as necessary to thin gravy. Keep in mind it will slowly continue to thicken as it cooks.

5. Cook until it reaches the desired consistency . Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Toss some on those biscuits and serve with a side of bacon. Enjoy!

Sliders!

I spent the evening with Carson (my son) last night and decided to make him some sliders. He keeps asking me for “really big hamburgers” and “little hamburgers” in his cute little 2-year-old voice, so I obliged to the latter.

I really wanted a hatch chile burger, and I knew he couldn’t handle the heat so I made him one with tomato and avocado. Along with some french fries.

sliders

PREP: I cut 3 yukon gold potatoes into strips, and boiled them with a little vinegar and salt. While they boiled I preheated the griddle for the burgers, put some oil into a big pot, and seasoned the beef with salt and pepper (it’s all you need for beef. Don’t get creative.) Once the potatoes were soft all the way through, I drained them on a towel, and sprinkled them with seasoned salt. I then threw them into the hot oil and fried them until lightly browned. I removed them and drained them on a towel, and let the oil get back up to a slightly higher heat, then threw them in for a second fry. Once browned and crispy, I took them out, drained them, and set them aside.

I then threw a hatch chile onto a baking sheet and put it under the broiler for a couple minutes on each side, then wrapped it in foil to sweat while I cook the beef.

COOK: I always cook burgers on a flat top. I buy 73/27 beef and cooking them on an open flame makes all that beautiful fat disappear. Cooking on a flat top keeps the fat close to the meat, keeping it juicy. You can use 80/20 if you want. I used to, but have since discovered my preference for 73/27 (which works really well for taco meat also). My technique for cooking burgers is to roll the meat into 1/4lb balls and set them on the flat top (on HIGH heat. The hotter, the better) to let them brown on the bottom for a minute, then I flip the ball over, and press the burger as flat as I can. The sear mark helps keep the burger from swelling up in the middle as it cooks, and it also keeps the beef from sticking to your spatula. I’m not going to lie, I learned this method by watching the grill cooks at Steak-N-Shake. You can’t ignore success.

That being said, I will always prefer a thin, salty, greasy burger patty to a thick, dry, meatloaf style patty. Thick burgers have absolutely no appeal to me. Nor does seasoning the beef with anything beyond salt and pepper. Simplicity is key, and so is balance of flavors. Thin patties give you much more control over flavor balance in the final sandwich than a thick patty. Not only that, but layering thin patties with cheese gives you that incredible, juicy, flavorful characteristic in the burger. Thick patties tend to overwhelm the burger, and are often on the dry side. I can’t begin to explain the science behind it, so I won’t. I just don’t like the beef flavor to overwhelm the burger. I put other ingredients on the sandwich for a reason. They deserve some of the spotlight as well.

Once the burgers are brown and cripsy and flat, I throw a slice of white american on each patty, and I use the technique most of you may have seen on Triple D…I take a small metal bowl, or pot lid, squirt some water on the griddle next to the patty, and cover it. The  steam melts the cheese quickly and adds a little extra moisture to the patty.

At some point during the patty cooking process, I take 4 joined Kings Hawaiian Sweet Hawaiian rolls, slice them in half to make a hamburger bun, and throw them onto a buttered flat top to toast the inside.

Finally I slice up a tomato, avocado, and the roasted and peeled hatch chile.

ASSEMBLY: I take the toasted bottom of the kings hawaiian bun, and put two patties on top of it, then add the sliced tomato and avocado. I sprinkled a little salt and garlic powder on top, and a touch of mayo, then the top bun, and cut the sandwich into fourths, serving the fries between the sliders.

For the green chile sliders, I put the two patties on the bun, topped with the hatch chiles, a little salt, and mayo.

REVIEW: AMAZING! There are days where I completely amaze myself, and this meal is no exception. They were cheesy and juicy and packed with so much flavor. The balance of the salty patty, the fatty cheese and beef, the heat from the hatch chiles, and the sweet from the bun was absolutely on par.

The tomato avocado burgers were just as awesome. The tomatoes added a nice cool freshness, and the avocado added this perfect buttery creaminess. Absolutely divine.

RATING: ★★★★★
I seriously doubt I could improve on the burgers, nor would I really want to try. They are absolutely everything I’d want in a burger.

The fries could have done without the vinegar. I also need to figure out a method to keep my fries from getting soggy and limp. The color was perfect, but no one likes limp fries. Regardless, they’re not the ones on trial here, so the 5 stars stay. 🙂

 

 

 

Sliders Recipe
4 4-bun segments of Kings Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, sliced.
1lb 73/27 ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 slices white american cheese
roasted, sweated, peeled, diced hatch chile (for hatch sliders)
1 tomato, sliced (for tomato/avocado sliders)
1 avocado, sliced (for tomato/avocado sliders)
garlic salt (for tomato/avocado sliders)
Mayo

Directions:

1. Preheat griddle or pan on high heat. Season beef with salt and pepper and shape into 1/4lb balls. Slice tomato and avocado. Roast, sweat, peel, and dice your hatch chile. Salt to taste.

2. Place beef onto super hot griddle and sear for 20-30 seconds, then flip and press the burger flat to the griddle. The thinner the better.

3. Cook 1-2 minutes per side. After first flip, apply sliced american cheese to each patty to melt.

4. While burgers finish grilling, lightly butter the  inside of the sliced sweet rolls and add to the super hot griddle to toast.

5. Remove beef and buns from griddle, and assemble.

5a. Tomato/Avocado Sliders: top beef patty with sliced tomato, sliced avocado, a sprinkle of garlic salt to taste, and slather the top bun with mayo before closing the sandwich.

5b. Hatch Slider: top patty with diced roasted hatch chiles. Slather top bun with mayo and close.

6. Slice the burger into quarters and serve with fries.

 

[tweaked and untested] French Fries Recipe:
3 large yukon gold potatoes, sliced into fries
2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar (optional)
1 tsp salt
canola oil for frying

Directions:

1. Boil potato strips in 3-quart pot with water, vinegar, and salt for 10-15 minutes or until fork tender. Remove carefully and drain on paper towels.

2. Spread potatoes out on baking sheet and freeze for 2-3 hours, or until frozen solid.

3. heat oil in large pot to 350°F. Add frozen fries and cook 3-5 minutes or until they’re almost golden brown and delicious. Remove from oil and drain.

4. Allow oil to return to 425°F. Toss fries in oil breifly to finish browning. Promptly remove golden fries from oil and drain on towel.

5. Spread out on cooling rack placed inside a baking sheet (this allows the fries to cool and drain without getting soggy). Salt liberally.

6. Serve and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Nachos, Batman

Last night I made some of the best nachos I’ve ever eaten. I may be biased, but hear me out…

Emily told me she was craving nachos, which was great because it’s something on my menu that I’ve been wanting to play with, so I daydreamed most of the day about how I’d concoct such a dish. Chips, seasoned beef, refried beans, cheese, chile con queso, jalapenos, and a roasted poblano cream sauce seemed like a great recipe to me.

image

Poblano sauce

 

 

 

PREP: i started with the sauces to get them out of the way. I made the chile con queso by sauteing my homemade pickled jalapenos with some garlic in canola oil. I added a handful of cilantro and let it cook breifly. I then added a little whole milk to the pan, and an 8 oz. block of velveeta (cut into chunks for quicker meltiness). I added a pinch or two of sea salt, and let everything cook together. Once the cheese was melted and everything looked harmonious, I killed the heat and added a diced hothouse globe tomato. I didn’t want to cook the tomato. I wanted to maintain the firm texture, which adds quite a bit to the overall umami of the sauce. I then covered the pan and put it off to the side.

Next was the poblano cream sauce. I roasted, sweated, and diced one poblano and one green serrano pepper. I added them to a food processor along with a diced clove of garlic, a handful of cilantro, 16oz of sour cream, a pinch of salt, and the juice of half a lime. I pulsed the mixture until combined and incredibly delicious. It was REALLY good. The only thing I think I would change is maybe cut the sour cream in half to bring out a better balance of flavors, and maybe a splash of cream to thin it out slightly.

I then made the seasoned ground beef: 1lb of 73/27 beef, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and oregano. Brown and drain.

ASSEMBLY: I thinned out a can of refried beans with whole milk, filled a 9×13 with tortilla chips, and topped them with the beans. I added the seasoned beef, then some shredded colby jack cheese.

COOK: I baked the nachos at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the cheese had melted, then threw it under the broiler for a minute to brown the cheese and exposed chips.

SERVE: I topped the nachos with the chile con queso, poblano cream sauce, and some of my homemade pickled jalapenos.

REVIEW: Absolutely phenominal. The sauces worked together in perfect harmony and carried the nachos across my palate. Iconic nacho taste with a perfect, creamy, spicy twist.

REVISION IDEAS: cut the sour cream in half for the poblano cream sauce, and add cream to thin. I also want to make my own processed cheese so I can get away from the supremely fake taste of Velveeta. I found a recipe to try on browneyedbaker.com.

RATING: ★★★★★
Even though these require a slight modification, I still rate this as the best nachos I’ve ever made/eaten.

 

[revised] Chile con Queso Recipe:

1/4 c pickled jalapenos
1 clove garlic, minced (roughly 1/2 tsp)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 c whole milk
8 oz. yellow american cheese, cubed
1 globe tomato, diced
salt to taste

Directions:
1. Add pickled jalapenos, minced garlic, and oil to medium sauce pan, and heat on medium-high heat until the peppers are tender. Add cilantro, stir, and cook breifly.

2. Add cold milk to the pan, and stir, followed by the cubed american cheese. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cheese is completely melted.

3. Add cold diced tomatoes and remove from heat. Serve and enjoy.

Creamy Poblano Sauce Recipe:

8oz. sour cream
2 roasted poblano chiles, sweated and peeled
1 roasted serrano chile, sweated and peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced (roughly 1 tsp)
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 c chopped cilantro
juice of half a lime

Directions:

1. Add everything (remove crowns and stems from chiles first) to a food processor and go! Serve and enjoy.

 

Nachos Recipe:

Seasoned Beef (mix together and brown in pan)
1lb ground 73/27 beef
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp mexican oregano

1-16oz bag tortilla chips (or homemade)
1-15oz can Refried beans (black or pinto)
1/4 c whole milk
1 cup shredded colby jack cheese
pickled jalapenos

Directions:

1. fill 9×13 pan with tortilla chips.

2. thin beans with whole milk in a bowl, then spread over the top of the tortilla chips

3. Top beans with browned seasoned beef.

4. Top beef with shredded colby jack cheese

5. Bake in 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

6. Toss nachos under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to crisp everything up (optional).

7. Serve immediately with poblano sauce, chile con queso, and pickled jalapenos.

Alternate serving: Top chips with chile con queso, seasoned beef, and jalapenos. Omit beans and shredded colby jack. Serve with poblano sauce.