30 December 2010

Pepperoni bread

We've been having our annual holiday party since 1998. In every city we've lived, we have a regular crew of friends who attend the party. And amongst our scientist friends, there are more than a few cooks (turns out, bench the skills that are required to succeed at bench science make for being good in the kitchen). One of regular attendees in Houston is a good friend, biochemist, genome biologist and fantastic Italian-American cook. His contribution, without fail, was his pepperoni bread. We left Houston in 2003, but this pepperoni bread is still a regular part of our party.

2 tsp dry yeast
¼ C warm water
1 C warm milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
3 - 3½ C all purpose flour
1 C thin sliced pepperoni
grated monterey-jack cheese

tomato sauce

Mix the water, yeast, milk and sugar in a large bowl. Give a few minutes to let the yeast hydrate and get all fired up. Mix in the flour bit by bit. Mix in the salt and oil. Flour a board and knead for 15 minutes by hand (or about 7 minutes if you're using a mixer). Put into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a cloth.

Allow to rise for two hours. Split dough in half, and roll into two balls on a lightly floured surface.

roll out dough

Allow to rise for 15 minutes.

Roll out each ball with a rolling pin into a rectangle, roughly five inches by twelve inches. Layer on the pepperoni, like a pizza (i.e., leave the edges clear).

lay on cheese and pepperoni

Cover the pepperoni with a thin layer of grated cheese.

roll dough

Roll up the dough tightly into a log. Pinch the seams shut.

rolled loaves

Place the loaves onto an oiled cookie sheet. Allow to rise for another half hour while you preheat the oven at 375°F. Bake the loaves for 20-25 minutes until browned nicely.

pepperoni bread

Either slice and serve now, or let cool. This pepperoni bread is best served hot. Toast the loaf in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 300°F. Slice and serve.

pepperoni bread

Dip the slices of bread in briefly warmed tomato sauce. This bread is always a Christmas party hit, we get cleaned out within minutes of removing them from the oven. Greasy, salty, cheesy tastiness. Yum.

28 December 2010

Turkey stock

I first started getting interested in cooking as an undergrad in the mid-1990s. Everything I had learned about cooking stemmed from my Mennonite family (good cooks, all) who wasted *nothing*.  My mother and her family had survived the Great Depression in Canada (called the Dirty Thirties in that part of the world). So they know how to make the most of every scrap of food. Indeed, one of my favourite aunts would make a chicken noodle soup using the bones, necks and other cheap scraps of the chicken, and leave all of these parts in the soup. We knew frugality.

One of the first cooking resources that I used was Gourmet magazine. And when I found a recipe for a sauce that used chicken stock, I thought I would impress my girlfriend by making it all from scratch. I made the chicken stock, and was mortified at the last step where they suggest sieving out all the chicken bits. You just don't waste all that good stuff! So I added all of the chicken stock, bits and all into the sauce.  Needless to say, the bits overpowered the sauce. I may as well have left out all the sauce components. It was like eating chicken necks and an over-boiled carrot poured over a boneless-skinless chicken breast. The effect was almost the exact opposite of what I had hoped. My girlfriend was polite, but... unimpressed.

These days, I make stock pretty frequently, from all sorts of critters, usually from the carcass of something I've just cooked. However, for Christmas dinner, I need turkey stock to make the turkey gravy. And I need it in advance of smoking the turkey. So for a couple bucks, I can a bag of turkey necks with the my turkey and make some stock.

4 turkey necks
2 carrots
1 rib of celery
1 onion, sliced in half
3 whole cloves
handful o' parsley
small handful o' fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Pre-heat your oven at 400-425°F. Place the turkey necks in an oven-safe pot. Brown the necks in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Browned necks

Peel the onion. Slice it in half, and poke the cloves into the onion. Put everything into the pot. Cover with water.

Stock components

Heat over medium-low heat to a boil. Boil for 3-4 hours. Sieve out the chunks. Really, you don't want this stuff in your sauces and gravies.

Stock bits

Cool the stock, and skim off the fat.

turkey stock

It's hard to photograph stock and have it look lovely. Sorry about that colour.

This turkey stock is great for soups, sauces and gravies. And cooking stock is so much fun. It takes 5 minutes to set up, and then you can feel like you're being productive while doing nothing but boiling a pot for hours.

23 December 2010

Smoked turkey

[In honor of the upcoming feast of Christmas, I re-post my Christmas post from last year.]

I'm not much for the "traditional" Christmas dinner. Turkey is far from my favourite bird. It's not as flavourful as goose, and certainly more dry than a duck. But I have a deal with my wife. If I make her traditional Christmas dinner, that is, turkey, cranberry sauce, salad, veggies and rhubarb pie, then I'm allowed to cook whatever I want for the rest of the holidays.

Well, what better way to heighten the flavour of a turkey, than to brine it and smoke it. I start the night before with a fresh, unaltered turkey. Three points to keep in mind before you start. First is that most turkeys have been extensively injected with salty chicken or turkey broth. While that makes the flavour stronger, it also makes them fairly salty. If you brine a pre-treated turkey, you'll create an inedible salt bomb. Secondly, don't forget if you're starting with a frozen turkey, it'll take a day per 5 pounds to thaw it in the fridge, and it needs to be thawed (or nearly thawed) when you place it in the brine. We started thawing our 10 pounder a day and a half prior to brining. Third, smoking takes longer than roasting a turkey. That said, for food safety sake, don't stuff your turkey, and don't smoke a bird bigger than 16 pounds. You'll need thirty minutes per pound, so anything bigger than that will be too long in the danger zone, and you don't want to serve your family a big poultry bag of Campylobacter. You really, really don't.

Okay, the brine:
1 ½ gallon water
1 ½ cup salt (2 ¼ cups Kosher or coarse salt - Kosher salt is flaked to make it less dense)
¾ cup sugar
½ cup dried tarragon
1 ½ tsp black pepper
Boil the water to get rid of any chlorine in it. Let cool to room temperature. Mix in the salt and sugar until they're dissolved. Add the tarragon and pepper. Place in a large container. (I reserve a bucket just for brining a turkey every year - it's carefully labeled, to ensure we don't use it to bleach the floor):

food only

Place in a sink, so that when you add the turkey to it it doesn't overflow all over the kitchen counter. Not speaking from experience, or anything. Nope. Nope. Didn't happen to me *ever*. (At least, not since the first time).


Remove the turkey neck and the bag with the guts in it, (I save the neck and heart for making gravy). Submerge the turkey in the brine, and place back in the fridge. Leave in the brine for approximately twelve hours.

The next morning, remove the turkey from the brine, briefly rinse in the sink, and pat dry.

Clean the turkey

When dry, rub the bird down with olive oil. This will crisp the skin up nicely, as there's not enough fat in turkey skin to make it nice. Truss or not. I won't discuss trussing, because my trussing skills are pretty rough (see the photos). Fire up your smoker to a toasty 225°F. Place the bird breast side up in your smoker. We're using indirect heat here. I use wet hickory for smoke (hickory that's been soaking a few hours in water) and charcoal (not briquettes - it's easier to control the heat with lump charcoal) for heat.

Turkey on the smoker

Smoke for thirty minutes per pound. Half way through, open up the smoker and and rotate the bird so the other side of the bird is facing the heat source.

This photo is at about three quarters done:

Smoked turkey

Sadly, photos taken after this point aren't beautiful (it got dark, and I had to use a flash). But look at that turkey deliciousness!

Take the bird down when a meat thermometer shows 180°F at multiple checked points (don't start checking too early, you don't want to put too many holes in this bird!). Let the bird rest 10-15 minutes before carving. Carve and serve.

These days, this is the only way I enjoy turkey. The smoke adds a reallllly great flavour, and the brine makes the bird salty and moist. Roast turkey is truly bland and boring in comparison. The other bonus point? Having the bird on the smoker leaves the oven free to make pie or bread or any number of other things. It's like having a second oven for the holidays.


21 December 2010

Fried pork dumplings

It's leftover season. What with the cooking for holiday parties, there's a fair amount of food floating around our house. What to do? What to do? How about fried pork dumplings?

Start with twice- boiled Chinese pork dumplings.

Boiled dumplings

Pour one medium-sized splatter of sesame oil into a heavy pan, and heat over medium-high heat. When hot, toss in a few dumplings, far enough apart that they're not touching.

Frying dumplings

Sear on each side a few minutes, until nice and crispy.


Serve with mixture of soy sauce and sambal olek.  This is a nice, crispy alternative to standard Chinese pork dumplings.  Yum.

17 December 2010

Last minute Christmas gifts

So, it's 8 days until Christmas. And you have to get something for that adventurous home cook in your life. But what to get them? Let me give you a few suggestions of things that have entered my cooking life in the last year that I can heartily endorse.

While other lists may be recommending books that came out in the last month, I will only recommend books that I have cooked from.


Momofuku was published in 2009, and I received it as a Christmas gift from Mrs. Dude. Momofuku is a book that's hard to classify - and that is its biggest strength. This is a book eschews words like "authentic" and strives instead for "tasty". When he can't get the right kind of kelp in New York, he substitutes high quality bacon. We keep around his ramen broth in the freezer, and serve it up on weeknights with some veggies and noodles. It's my favourite thing to eat on a weeknight. His rice cakes were unique and delicious.

While I wouldn't say that the recipes in this book are challenging, they do require commitment. The ramen broth is not challenging to make, but it does basically take a full day. And many of the recipes later in the book require things created in earlier recipes in the book.

Seve Fires

Seven Fires is an awesome Argentine barbecue book. This is the perfect book for the barbecue enthusiast in your life. Most of the recipes are relatively simple with few ingredients, and bright, fresh flavours. Take the Argentine steak with chimichurri. Nothing could be simpler to prepare on the grill (Cooking steak is easy. Cooking steak perfectly takes practice - so practice a steak tonight!). Or the grilled chapa bread. Start a couple hours in advance, and you can serve it with your dinner. The flavours here are simple, but really great. They emphasize fresh herbs and acids to brighten them. I can't recommend this book enough.


A newer one, Meat: A Kitchen Education was published in October of this year. For such a slim volume, it's really a very complete reference on all things meat, and has recipes for all kinds of cuts. A recent favourite was the beef shank. This book also includes sections on game, and less-common meats (at least in this part of the world) like squab. It's a more ambitious book than Seven Fires, but an excellent addition to any cook's library for simple information like learning how to dismember poultry.

In the "late-night reading" category, the biography of Ferran Adria, Ferran is a good read.


This book takes you from the simple beginnings of the experimental restaurant El Bulli, which started as a pretty sleepy little restaurant in the middle of nowhere that often struggled to have a single visitor in a night, to becoming the hardest-to-get restaurant reservation in the world. (Check out some well-photographed food here). The author is no sycophant, indeed proclaiming that there are dishes he's been served at El Bulli that are "vaguely punitive" or take this quote:

Just your everyday mix of sea anemone, raw rabbit brains, oysters and calamondin (a sour-sweet Southeast Asian citrus) in lukewarm dill broth. I wouldn't go as far as one blog entry I later happened across, which described this creation as "Vile. Vomitous. Nightmare!" But I found it so utterly unpleasant and cacophonous that I wondered for a moment whether Ferran had gone off the rails. It made my teeth ache.

This is a fun read. Even for those of us who will never get to eat at El Bulli, Ferran Adria has affected cooking in ways that we'll be feeling for decades. Fascinating read.

And the final food book that I'm recommending is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.

Catching Fire

Okay, so this one I will not unreservedly recommend for the foodie in your life. I loved this book. But, you know. I'm a microbial geneticist. I love human genetics. I love hearing about the evolution of early hominids. This book describes how much of an advantage cooking was to early humans, and how much it has shaped our evolution. All animals extract 20-30% more calories out of cooked food. We require *much* less time to chew cooked food, freeing up time to hunt, work and write poetry. (Indeed, it takes so long to chew raw meat, that most meat-eating non-human primates will only eat the intestines and organs of other animals - the meat takes too long to chew).

If you're interested in cooking, and you find human evolution interesting, you'll love this book.

My final Christmas present recommendation is a bit of a surprising one (and a bit of an expensive one). Get a smart phone. I got a Droid this year.

Indirect Heat

Motorola DROID II is an excellent phone. I use it almost every week in the kitchen. I take my recipes with me to the homes of my friends and my family. And I look up tidbits in the kitchen. I knew that I would find my smartphone useful. I had no idea I would use it in the kitchen as often as I do.

And finally, to me, the best parts of Christmas are about food and family. Spending the day cooking, eating, talking and singing. Watching my son play, and giggle. In the end, the gifts don't really matter. Don't stress. Make something delicious and share it with your family.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.

16 December 2010


So in addition to celebrating Christmas this time of year, there are also folks celebrating other holidays.  Like Chanukah (which involves the consumption of copious quantities of latkes).  I'm a little late to be posting on latkes. So sue me.

So, as a Gentile, I must confess, my knowledge of latke-history is poor. But my understanding of the story is something like this:

Back in the day, the Seleucid empire was still stomping through the area currently known as the Middle East.  These folks were descendants of a general of Alexander the Great.  Yeah, that Alexander the Great.  (Incidentally, may I suggest Alexander of Macedon and Alexander to Actium by Peter Green as excellent books about this period?  These are awesome books, I've read them both twice).

Right, back to the Seleucid empire.  So, during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163BCE), Antiochus decided he wasn't happy with just controlling the Middle East.  From the book 1 Maccabees 17-20:
17 So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet.
18 He engaged Ptolemy king of Egypt in battle, and Ptolemy turned and fled before him, and many were wounded and fell.
19 And they captured the fortified cities in the land of Egypt, and he plundered the land of Egypt.
20 After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred and forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force
Well, Antiochus kicked ass and took names.  And he was very rude about it.  When he took Jerusalem, he tried to make the Jewish people become more Greekish.  So he did things like sacrifice pigs in the Jewish temple.  And tried to get them to convert from their religion to the worship of Greek gods.

Bad call, buddy.  Well, the Jewish people got cranky, and they organized, and whooped some butt.  They tossed Antiochus out of Jerusalem.  But before they could re-dedicate the temple to their God, they needed to prepare enough sacred oil.  That process takes 8 days.  But they only had 1 day of sacred oil.  So while they prepared new sacred oil, they burned their one day of oil.  And it lasted 8 days.  MIRACLE!

So really, Chanukah is a celebration of that miracle of the lasting of oil.  And Jews celebrate this miracle by eating foods cooked in fat.  In Israel, it is common to eat doughnuts (naturally, cooked in fat).  Ashkenazi Jews make latkes.  (Pronounced lot-kehs).  Fried in oil.  Yum.

As a good (Jewish) friend tells me, most Jewish celebrations break down to:
They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat.
Hear, hear. That's something I can *totally* celebrate.

I was first introduced to latkes by another Jewish friend last year at Chanukah.  I replicate them here, using the recipe from Gourmet, circa 2000:
1 pound thick-skinned baking potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil

apple sauce
sour cream
Start with your 1 lb of baking-style potato.


Convert it into a naked potato (i.e. peel it).  (Some day, I will write a screed about the rudeness inflicted on potatoes in your average grocery store.  Not today).

Nekkid potato

Shred your naked potato on a coarse cheese grater.

grating the potato

Chop your onion finely.  Mix with the potato shreddings, and place in a tea towel.

drying the potato

Wrap tightly, and soak up the liquid liberated by the shredded potato.

drying the potato

Lightly beat your egg.

egg mix

Mix with the dried potato/onion mix.

latke mix

Meanwhile, pour your oil into a pan. You want roughly a quarter inch of oil in your pan. I used a cast-iron pan. Heat over medium-high heat.

I'm not sure who said the best way to handle hot oil. It is imperative that you not be afraid. If you drop material into hot oil from a height, you splash the oil and burn yourself. But if you scoop up roughly 2 tbsp of latke mix, form into a small ball, and gently set it down in the screaming hot oil, you don't splash, and you don't burn yourself.

frying latkes

Latkes should be small. If they're too big, they won't cook through properly. If there are too many latkes in your pan, it'll cool the oil and it won't cook properly. I can fit 5ish latkes in my large cast-iron pan.

frying latkes

Cook until browned on one side (~5 minutes). Then flip, and brown on the other side.

fried latkes

Dry briefly on a plate with paper towel. Season with salt. Garnish with sour cream and apple sauce. Serve.


Crispy on the outside.  Smooth and delicious on the inside.  Salty.  And good fun to eat.

We'll be adding this Chanukah tradition to our household.  Yum.

15 December 2010

14 December 2010


I am descended of hearty Scottish and Mennonite stock. Hence, my penchance for wereneke and haggis.  So it may be considered a tad odd that I have in my family recipe folder a recipe for the classic Greek dish - spanakopita.  My mum made this for us when I was a kid, and I've been making it at home as long as I've been cooking.  I bring this recipe out every year, and serve this as an appetizer at our annual Christmas party.  It's a crowd-pleaser:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + extra for brushing
2 small onions (minced)
4 tbsp fresh parsley
16 oz crumbled feta cheese
8 oz cream cheese (light)
8 oz Monterey jack cheese (grated)
4 eggs lightly beaten
2 tsp grated nutmeg
2 -12 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 package phyllo/filo pastry - found in the freezer section of most grocers


Make sure you thaw the spinach in advance, and squeeze it well. You don't want a soggy filling. Also, thaw the phyllo dough.

Sauté the onions in the oil until softened and transparent.  Remove from heat.  Mix well with the cheeses, eggs, nutmeg and spinach.

Filling mix

Prepare some oil for brushing the phyllo dough.

oil and brush

Pull out one sheet of phyllo dough.  When working with phyllo, you want to work fast, so that they don't dry out.  The individual sheets may stick together if they've gotten at all wet during the thawing process. Be gentle separating the sheets.

Place the sheet on your work surface, and cut into three equal strips, sliced so that each sheet is as long as the original sheet is.

brushed phyllo

Brush the strips very lightly with oil. Place a small dollop of filling on one end of the phyllo dough.


Fold the phyllo across the filling to form a triangle.


Fold again, continuing to make triangles with each fold.


Continue folding, until you run out of phyllo dough for that individual spanakopita.  Set aside.


I package the individual spanakopitas in tupperware containers between layers of wax paper.  They freeze well at this point, or you can cook them now.  Raw or frozen, you place them directly onto an oiled cookie sheet.  Bake in a pre-heated oven, 350°F. 30-45 minutes if raw, one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes if frozen until golden brown.

cooked spanakopita

Serve immediately. You won't often hear me praising vegetarian cuisine - but these are delicious. Rich, cheesy, spinachy goodness. Perfect.

09 December 2010


Even a hardcore carnivore such as myself has vegetarian and vegan friends. What's something that has protein in it, is filling and fits the vegan requirement not to bring violence or oppression to animal or insect? Honestly, I think hummus is the only vegan-approved thing we make.

3-6 large garlic cloves
2 15½ oz cans chick peas, drained and rinsed to remove excess salt
¼ C tahini
¼ C fresh lemon juice
up to 1¾ tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
½ C olive oil
When I was a poor graduate student, I would try to make this by crushing chickpeas in a ziploc bag using an old wine bottle as a rolling pin.  I do not recommend that technique.


Place the chickpeas in a food processor.  Pulse until well-ground.

Add all the other ingredients, save the oil.  Pulse until well-ground.  Slowly add the oil while grinding in the food processor.


You want a nice chickpea, garlic, olive oil emulsion.


Chill in the fridge a few hours prior to serving.  Serve with veggies or mushrooms.