Category Archives: Cooking

Grilling With Citrus Marinates

It’s Grilling Season so get those rubs and marinates ready! A lot of stuff requires orange, lime, or apple juice. Instead of keeping fresh on hand, I just buy frozen concentrate. The HEB version even has a screw top lid! Keep them in the freezer, scoop out a teaspoon, add some water, and you’re set. They are pretty potent, so work great in a marinate (and cheap, too).

If you add some fresh garlic, or even dried herbs, to your marinate, try this: nuke the combined mix for about 30 seconds. It helps the flavors to “bloom”.

Healthier Hot Chicken

I am a fan of fried chicken, Buffalo chicken, hot chicken, and other such gut-busting creations. When you want something that at least seems a little healthier, try making some Buffalo Chicken Wraps. I might have posted this one before, but it’s worth looking at again.

Chop up some cucumber, carrots, and celery into bit-sized pieces. This can be done ahead of time and put in the fridge — it’s also a good mix for salads.

Cut up some chicken breast into bit sized pieces. Toss with some “Cajun” spice mix, or just some Salt and Pepper. Let it sit for a bit for the spices to sink in. This can also be done ahead of time and kept in the fridge. Or, make a bigger batch and freeze into individual meals.

Generic “Cajun” Spice Mix

This is mostly by ratios, I made a batch that will fit into a big spice container so I have it on-hand.

2 Tb paprika
2 t onion powder
2 t garlic powder (I use granulated garlic — doesn’t clump, tastes better)
1 t ground coriander (you can make due with cumin)
1 t white pepper (if you don’t have any, just add some more black pepper)
1 t black pepper
1/2 t cayenne

You can also add salt, but I usually leave spice mixes salt-less so I can adjust as needed.

In a measuring cup, mix together 1/4 cup of lime juice (about 2 limes) + 1/4 cup of honey (cheap stuff is fine) + 1/4 cup of Franks Red Hot Sauce. Like the rest of this, it can be done ahead of time and stored in a sealed container in the fridge.

In a non-stick fry pan, add a little oil. Get it hot. Add the chicken breast bits and brown over med-high heat for about 4-6 mins. You want to get them nice and well browned (kinda overcooked) but not burnt. Make sure there’s no liquid (except oil) left in the pan.

Once the chicken is browned, add the sauce mix. Reduce heat and allow to simmer until the sauce is very thick — like honey or syrup. Everything will be well coated and not very watery. It will take 5-10 minutes, depending on your chicken to sauce ratio. You really can’t screw it up, just reduce at a reasonable rate so you don’t burn the sauce.

Once the sauce/chicken mix is done, you can take it off the heat and think about assembly.

If you want to go healthier, use individual leaves of Boston Bibb Lettuce as your serving container. Take a leaf, add some chicken, put on some of the veggie mix. That’s about it. I end up eating about 4-5 of these little wraps of lettuce.

If you want a wrap style, just heat up an uncooked flour tortilla (see this post). Make a burrito out of the chicken and veggies. Probably a good idea to add some chopped lettuce, too.

Since Buffalo Chicken often includes some heat-reducing white dressing, feel free to add some. If you don’t have a lot of time, just add a little dab of store bought Ranch dressing. Or you can go up market a bit and try this:

Blue Cheese Sauce

1/4 c mayo
1/4 c crumbled blue cheese
1 Tb minced parsley
1 t Worcestershire sauce
splash of milk to thin as desired (not too thin)



Ditch The Dried Pasta

For Manicotti, ditch the dried tubes. Instead, make the crepes version — which is much more authentic (at least from an Italian American perspective) — same sort of way you’d make Cannelloni. Let me know if you need a recipe. Here are my tips:

  • The crepes are super easy to make with a good 10″ non-stick skillet. About 1/4 cup of batter per pan. Tilt pan to coat. Cook 60 secs one side, 20 on the other.
  • The crepes store well. Put them on a plate, with individual pieces of waxed paper between each. Cover finished stack with tightly wrapped foil and put in fridge.
  • I used crepes I made that were 3 days old and they were perfectly fine.
  • Same for the filling. That will last a couple of days if in a tightly closed container (I use glass).
  • My 1/4 cup per crepe amount yielded about 14 total. And 7 fit perfectly in standard 9″ x 13″ glass bake ware.

The crepes are SO much better that the dried pasta. Light and tasty. Uses a lot of eggs (6) but delicious. Manicotti is not a health food.

All You Need – Kitchen Knives

I’m not a gourmet, nor a foodie, and definitely not a chef. I cook. And I enjoy cooking. It’s probably my favorite hobby and I wish more people enjoyed it.

One thing that always drives me nuts is how complicated people want to make it. “I spent three days finding the perfect tomato” and “I can’t do that withing gizmo X, I must get one” and so on. Take knives. The other day I was flipping through Chefs Catalog and saw a 36 knife & block set! Thirty six! You have to be kidding me.

To be fair, every hobby has this problem. I see it in woodworking. I see it in metal working. Cycling. You name it. I can’t do this until I get that. Those people are called tool collectors. They keep buying things for their kitchen/shop/bike but never actually cook/build anything. Don’t be a tool collector!

I’ve done the “buy expensive knives” thing. The forged ice hardened stuff. The Japanese giant made by sword smiths. Nice knives. But not so good for everyday use.  Here’s what you really need for everyday, home cooking:

DSCN2580 (Medium)

From top to bottom:

  • Joyce Chen cleaver. It has a thin blade, but hefty enough to go through bone easily. Also great for smashing stuff. Do not bother with an expensive, bulky, forged cleaver. You can’t sharpen them properly and a cleaver should be sharp.
  • Scalloped knife. For cutting meat, bread, cakes, whatnot. Get a good one, as they are hard to sharpen.
  • Dexter chef’s knife. About $25 of stamped steel goodness. 8″.
  • Victorinox chef’s knife. Almost identical to the Dexter, but a more comfortable handle.
  • Santuko knife. Not required, but I like a non-rocking blade for some uses.
  • Cheap OXO 4″ chef’s knife. A good stamped utility knife. I used mine so much I broke the plastic handle and replaced it with a homemade wood version.
  • Paring knife. This is a better brand, but cheap is fine, too.

Why two chef’s? Not really required, but I find it handy, especially when working with meat and veggies. I use the green handle for veggies only, black for anything. It helps me prevent cross-contamination. The Santuko isn’t really needed, but it’s a knife I like, and holds a good edge.

Here is the secret sauce: Get the $25 stamped chef’s knife. And keep it damn sharp. These cheap knives keep an excellent edge and are super easy to sharpen. If they break, who cares? If you take off too much metal, who cares? They are also very easy to clean and can take a beating. There’s a reason why you see stamped knives in restaurant kitchens. You’ll see that there are only two forged knives in my lineup — the Santuko and Paring. That’s because I had them already and they are good knives. You do not need a forged paring knife. In fact, I’d recommend against it. Get a Dexter or Victorinox or something similar. The best source for these is either Amazon or your local restaurant supply house (GFS, ACE, etc). The Dexter is made in the USA.

You must be nuts, Ron! An expensive knife cuts/feels/works better! Bullshit. Expensive knives scare me. Why? Because I’m afraid I’m going to screw up the edge! Maybe that’s just my hangup, but I’d rather screw up a $25 knife than my $250 Masahiro. Either way, a sharp knife works better. Period. And for that you need one of these:

DSCN2584 (Medium)

It’s an AccuSharp knife sharpener and is the perfect mate for stamped knives. Put away your $200 electric sharpener. Put away the sharpening stones. Just get this $9 sharpener. Yes, $9. And it will last for ages. And it’s made in the USA.

You run it along the length of the blade a couple of times, wipe the residue with a wet paper towel, then dry the knife. Done. It takes about a minute to get the blade razor sharp. Because it’s a pretty aggressive sharpener, I mostly use it on stamped knives, where metal loss is less of a concern. I sharpen everything about weekly, but I cook a lot. How good is the AccuSharp? My fancy (and very nice) electric sharpener sits in a cabinet, unused. I only break it out if I need to hone some special knives.

You’ll also notice no knife block. I have one, but it holds my specialty knives that I might use once a year. I don’t like blocks because they are germ and grease collectors. Get a magnetic knife holder and mount it somewhere handy. Mine is right above the sink, so super easy to get at knives, and high enough to keep them away from kids/cats.

If you don’t believe my ranting, take the 30 day challenge. Get a good $30 chef and a $10 paring knife from your local restaurant supply house. Get the AccuSharp. Try it out and compare to the $150 forged knife you have in the knife block. At the least, you’ll be out $50. At the best, you’ll understand why I love sharp stamped cooking knives.


A good deal on all three of their sharpeners from Amazon:


Try out this knife, also from Amazon:

Faux Chicken Shawarma

True Shawarma is almost impossible to do at home. How many of us have a vertical spit? While I’d love to have a big chunk of gyro meat spinning in my house all day, it might be too attractive to the cats. And give me a heart attack. Instead, we can try and re-create the flavor and texture of Shawarma, using our grill and stove.

First, you need the marinate:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (bottled is fine)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 to 8 cloves of garlic, minced (through a press is fine)
  • 2 t ground black pepper
  • 2 t curry powder (I prefer the Ship brand)
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 t turmeric powder (important for color)
  • 1/2 t cumin powder
  • 1/2 t coriander powder
  • 1/2 t allspice powder

The key stuff is all the way down to the turmeric. You can leave out cumin, coriander, and allspice if you don’t have them. Not a big deal.

In a glass container (or a plastic one you don’t mind staining) combine the marinate well.

Take a mutant chicken breast (one of those 1 to 2 pounders) and cut it into thick slices. You should get 4 or 5 big slices out of it. Think really big chicken fingers. If you have smaller chunks left over, just put them on wooden skewers.  What you want is about a pound to two of chicken, in big chunks (on skewers) or slices (fingers).

Put the chicken in the marinate and make sure everything is well coated. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. Longer is better.

Once the chicken has marinated for a good long time, you have two choices: Cook it in the oven or the grill.

If the grill, get your grill hot and cook about 10 minutes, turning every couple of minutes. You want them browning, but not over cooked (you’ll do the final cooking step off the grill). Be careful: There is oil in the marinate, which means that this is prone to flare ups. If the grill starts to flare, remove the chicken, let the grill calm down, then continue cooking. Don’t cook on a flared up grill! Your chicken will taste like a grease fire.

If the oven, preheat to about 400. Put chicken on a baking sheet (spray with pan spray to prevent sticking). Cook for 10 minutes, flip all chicken pieces, and cook for another 10 minutes. Total cooking time in oven: 20 minutes. I’ve not tried this technique, but give it a whirl (see this Shawarma site for photos).

At this point, your chicken is mostly cooked. You can do all this ahead of time and put the chicken in the fridge for another day. Or make a lot, and freeze some of it.

The final step is making the Shawarma crispy and nicely browned. This is super easy. First, take your giant grilled/baked chicken fingers and cut them into small bite sized pieces. Next, take a fry pan, put in about 1 T of olive oil and get it nice and hot. Dump in the chicken and cook until the pieces are well browned around the edges. This might take 5 to 10 minutes. And you’re done!

Serve this with rice pilaf and some warmed up naan. I like Stonefire brand Naan — as close to restaurant as I’ve found (and better than most restaurants). It’s expensive, but one package will serve 2 hungry people or 4 people with a fistfight.