Friday, April 3, 2009

Make Your Own Hummus

Hummus is easy to make at home, but it is a recipe that defies hard and fast measurements. You can flavor your own hummus any way you choose, the possibilities are endless.

The word hummus comes from the Arabic word for chickpea; which constitutes the main ingredient in the dish. Though the full name for the dish is hummus bi tahina, it is commonly referred to simply as hummus.


  • Chickpeas - A.K.A. Garbanzo Beans - You can use canned chickpeas, but I highly recommend the dried variety. While they take longer to prepare, they do not contain the high levels of sodium found in most canned chickpeas. I also find they have more flavor and the water produced in cooking them adds a great deal to the flavor of the dish. About 1 to 1.5 cups of dried or 2 cans is a good place to start.

  • Tahini - Also known as sesame paste, tahini adds a strong sesame flavor to hummus. Make sure you stir the jar well. Much like natural peanut butter, tahini tends to separate in the jar. If you have trouble finding tahini at the grocery store visit a local halal market or Mediterranean deli.

  • Olive Oil - Any decent extra virgin olive oil will work.

  • Garlic - 1 to 3 cloves, depending on how much you like garlic. Roasting the whole cloves in the oven, until golden brown, will bring out their sweetness.

  • Lemon Juice - One large lemon works well.

  • Spices - You can garnish the finished product with any number of spices. Salt and pepper are a must, but sumac, paprika, cyan pepper, chopped parsley or basil make great additions too.


If using dried chickpeas, soak them in water overnight or for 24 hours. Once they have been re-hydrated, rinse the beans thoroughly and cover them with water in a large pot. Boil the chickpeas for about 2 hours or until they are soft and save the water in which they were cooked.

For the next step you will need a food processor. You can also use a potato masher, but I have not tried this method. Since this is one of the oldest recipes in existence it should be possible to make it without the assistance of an electrical appliance. However, unless we enter a post apocalyptic world without power, or my food processor breaks, I'll stick with the modern method.

Blend the chickpeas in the food processor, slowly adding the cooking water until you have a thick, yet creamy, chickpea paste. Next, add about 1/3 cup of tahini, garlic (mashed or chopped), lemon juice and about two tablespoons of olive oil. Blend everything together and taste.

This is where the fun begins because you will want to add the spices to taste. Throw in a handful of pitted olives or some roasted red peppers. You may also need to add more Tahini, olive oil or cooking water to get the flavors right. Don't be afraid to play around with the recipe.

Garnish with some sumac, paprika, black olives and a little olive oil. You're sure to have a filling snack in which to dip pita chips or veggies. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Braising: The Long, the Low and the Tender

Cooking is about more than just following recipes. Almost anyone can follow directions, but learning technique is the way to really understand cooking. I try and present recipes as a means to learning a new technique. This time I am skipping the specific recipe and going straight to the heart of the matter.

What is it?

The word braise comes from an 18th century french term for coal, which referred to a method of placing hot coals on top of and below a cooking pot. The brilliance of braising is that you can take a tough, muscly and nearly unusable piece of meat and transform it into a melt in your mouth, fall apart on your plate, decadence.


You only really need liquid and meat to braise, but some spices and an onion certainly add to a more flavorful final product.

  • Meat - Short ribs, shank or shoulder are all excellent candidates for braising. You can use lamb, beef, pork or even buffalo if it is available.
  • Liquid - Have an unfinished bottle of wine sitting around or some beers in the back the fridge that you keep forgetting about? A good quality liquid doesn't hurt, but it isn't a necessity either. I suggest using up something you may have laying around.
  • Spices - Again, you probably have enough spices in your pantry to make something work. Mix some fine coffee grounds with cayenne pepper and brown sugar for a rub. You can try cumin, coriander, nutmeg and red pepper flakes for a middle eastern flavor. As long as the spices go well together they will work just fine. If you only have salt and pepper that is okay too.
  • Onion - Simple, just a regular yellow onion or two. You can even throw in some garlic or shallots if you want to get fancy.


First, give the meat a good rub down with your spices. You really want to put a good coating of spices on the meat. Heat some olive oil in wide deep pan. You want enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil until it just starts to smoke.

Using a set of kitchen tongs place the meat into the hot oil. Be careful is will be really hot and the oil will splatter. You want to get a nice brown caramelized color on all sides of the meat. The oil should be hot enough that it doesn't take long to brown. Once the meat is browned remove it from the pan and set it aside.

Throw your sliced onion into the pan and let it cook in the olive oil and fat from the meat. Once the onion is well cooked and has soaked up most of the oil you can turn off the heat.

Place the meat back into the pan over the onion and pour in your liquid. (The picture above shows a pan right before the liquid is added.) The liquid should come to about the middle of the meat.

Place the pan covered in an oven set to 200 degrees. After about a half hour turn the oven up to 250 degrees, then in another 30 minutes increase to 300 degrees. The meat will cook for about three hours. It could be less or more but you don't really need to mess with it until you get close to three hours. To check the meat just squeeze it with your tongs. If it flakes apart or falls from the bone it is done and you can remove it from the oven.

Let the meat cool in the juices so it retains the flavor.


You can serve braised meat with just about anything. If you used Asian spices serve it with rice; middle eastern spiced meat might go well with cous-cous. I like to shred the meat and take it for lunch during the work week. It tastes great on a tortilla with some avocado.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuna in JalapeƱo Escabeche

Canned tuna has long been the meal of last resort for collage students and those waiting anxiously for payday. Canned tuna is America's most popular fish, and like most foods popular with the masses, canned tuna gets a bad rep from food snobs.

It also gets negative press for mercury levels, but as long as you are not pregnant or elderly and don't eat the stuff everyday you should be fine.  Also, tongol and white albacore are the healthiest of the canned tuna options available. I happen to think the tongol works best for this recipe, but you be the judge.

On the the bright side even high end canned tuna can be had for under $3 or $4 bucks.

This one comes from Rick Bayless who's show on PBS is a must see for fans of Mexican food. It is easy and quick to put together.  I like to serve it with a squeeze of fresh lime and some avocado to temper the heat.

If you prefer to buy tuna packed in water just add more olive oil to the tuna when cooking.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Grant's Family Reserve: Blended Scotch

Blended scotch whisky has, rather unfairly, been saddled with a bad reputation. Sure there are some bottom shelf blends that will turn your stomach, but there are also blends that offer excellent quality at an affordable price. In fact, it is far easier to find an affordable blend that tastes great, than it is to find a single malt of similar quality at a similarly low price point.

What is it?

A blend contains a mix of single malts and a component of grain whisky, which unlike a single malt is made from grains other than barley. Grain whisky is lighter in body and should ideally allow the complexity of the malt to shine through.

The difficulty for the master blenders, who figure out the exact proportion of different malts and grains to use in a blend, is maintaining a consistent product and sourcing enough malt to widely distribute the final product. The beauty of single malts is their variability, but blenders want a consistent end product. When you buy a bottle of Johnnie Walker you expect it to taste a certain way. Blenders must work with what is available and continually tweak the recipe to offer a final product that is familiar to consumers from batch to batch.

William Grant & Sons

The art of blending becomes a great deal easier when you have a massive supply of quality malt available. William Grant and Sons is still a family owned company. They are the makers of Glennfiddich, Belvenie and the lesser known Kininvie single malts as well as Grivan grain whisky.

Grant revolutionized the sale of single malts when Scotland's largest blender went bankrupt and he was forced to sell Glennfiddich as a single malt. Glennfiddich remains the largest selling single malt in the world. With all of this wonderful malt, it is no wonder Grant's is able to produce excellent blends. It doesn't hurt that David Stewart, the companies master blender, has been at his post for 42 years. This is the longest tenure for any master blender in the industry.

The Whisky

Grants Family Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky smells slightly of banana, ripe fruit, toffee and contains a hint of smoke.

The taste is a mix of toffee, biscuits, cream and chocolate.

There is some smoke on the finish along with a rich fading fruit.

For around $15.00, this is tough to beat in its category. It has a little of everything and offers enough complexity to hold your interest. I would recommend this to someone who has never tried scotch and doesn't want to spend a lot of money giving it a shot.

I give this a 9/9 value to quality rating.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mexican Chocolate Pudding

I found this recipe in a recent Gourmet Magazine. If you already have basic baking ingredients in your kitchen you will not need to spend much to make this recipe. It is an easy desert to make ahead if you are having people over, but make the whipped cream fresh just before serving. You can even use some of the fresh whipped cream to make Irish Coffee. Don't get freaked out by the almond milk. It adds a nice nutty flavor that goes well with the cinnamon and the chocolate.

You can find the full recipe here on the Gourmet website . Ignore the comment on the site about the recipe not working. They probably forgot to add the corn starch.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Green Onion Risotto with Brie

Don't be frightened of risotto. It is a lot easier to make than you think. If you tried the polenta you can make this too.

A Brief History

Rice came to Italy from Spain and flourished throughout the Po Valley. Italians who had already developed and had a fondness for polenta, tried a similar cooking method with newly cultivated rice. The result of this method was risotto, a rice dish unlike those found anywhere else in the world. Risotto, when made properly, is a creamy and versatile dish.

Here is one of my favorite ways to cook risotto.

Green Onion Risotto with Brie


  • 1 bunch - Vidalia Salad Onions (These look like scallions on steroids and they are not always available.  If you cannot find them buy two bunches of regular scallions)
  • 1 bunch - Scallions (or 2, see above)
  • 2 cloves - Garlic finely chopped
  • 1 cup - Arborio Rice
  • 1 32oz container - Chicken or Vegetable Broth (Make sure it is at room temp.)
  • 3 oz - Brie at room temp (If you are allergic to cows milk or just want to try something different use goat brie.)
  • 1 cup - White Wine (Dry is fine, but if you already have a bottle of something a little sweeter open and need to use it just use a little less.)
  • 1 Tbsp - Butter
  • 2 Tbsp - Olive Oil
  • 1/4 tsp - Lemon Zest
  • 1/4 cup - Lemon Juice
  • Salt and Pepper

First, chop the white part at the bottom of the vidalias or scallions up to where the start to turn green. Set aside the top part of the scallion for later. You can save the top of the salad vadalia too, but it can be tough. I recommend using it in a homemade veggie stock.

Saute the white part of the onion in the oil and butter in a medium sauce pan on medium heat. Once it becomes translucent add the cup of rice and the garlic. Stir the rice until it begins to brown in the butter and oil. It is important that the rice becomes toasted, because it helps to bring out the starches that will make the end result creamy.

Once the rice has started to brown add the wine and stir well. Let the wine cook off and add one cup of stock. Again, stir frequently until the stock has almost completely cooked down. Then add another cup repeating this process until the risotto is creamy and tender. You may not use all of the stock, so after you have added two or three cups of stock be sure to taste the risotto to see how it is coming along before adding more.

With the risotto cooked add the lemon zest and juice. Let it cook down until liquid is cooked out of the risotto.  Add the brie (remove the rind and slice into small pieces first) and stir until well incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste and serve topped with a small handful of thinly chopped scallions.

The Leftovers

If you have any left over the next day make risotto cakes. Mix the cooked risotto with fresh chopped scallion and one egg yolk.  Make a ball, about the size of a meatball, and roll it in some bread crumbs (panko crumbs are the best). Now fry them in olive oil until golden brown.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desk Coffee: The Shredder

I first sampled Desk Coffee at the new Whole Foods Market here in Richmond, Virginia. Tom Thorogood, a former barista from Can Can Brasserie, was giving samples of several varieties of their coffee. Tom is arguably the best barista in Richmond, so with high expectations, I gave the coffee a try.

Beyond Tom's recommendation, Desk also has a great marketing hook. All of their coffee bares the name of a piece of office equipment (The Shredder, The Eraser...) or uses other office related terminology.

The Company

Desk is an acronym for David, Emily, Stephen and Kelly. The four principals, coffee lovers, spouses and longtime friends boast 15 years of coffee industry experience with Blanchards and Advance Coffee Tech Services, both based in Richmond.

Further flavoring their unique professional experience Stephen and Emily are classically trained orchestral musicians while David is an investor and Kelly is an interior designer.

The Beans

I contacted Desk Coffee Company to find out more about the process they use to select their beans. Stephen was happy to explain the four main criteria used to create Desk Coffee's range of products.

  • Quality - You must have great beans to make a great cup of coffee.
  • Sustainability - They focus on coffee that is grown sustainably and follows fair trade practices.
  • Availability - In order to provide customers with a consistent product, the beans must be available throughout the year and into the future.
  • Price - They strike a balance between quality and affordability by sourcing coffee at prices that allow them to offer their product to consumers at realistic prices.

Stephen also explained that Desk Coffee's roastery is certified organic, which means the roasting process is organic from start to finish. Not all of their coffee is labeled organic because sourcing organic beans can be extremely difficult and expensive. The processes used in farming coffee beans is by-in-large organic, however, the process of organic certification is often too expensive for many farmers who live from crop to crop. Therefore, Stephen believes it is more important to source beans that are sustainable and fair trade.

The Coffee

I like my coffee dark so for this review I sampled The Shredder, which is labeled as a "dark, bold blend". Based on the description I was expecting the coffee to rip my head off, but it turned out to be an extremely smooth, drinkable and almost delicate coffee. The flavor is rich with hints of nuts and chocolate. However, there was not a single hint of bitterness or acidity.

This is a great everyday cup of coffee for me. I will certainly be trying some more of the offerings from Desk Coffee. All of their products are available online at

At $10.99 per pound Desk Coffee is a great value in high end coffee. I give The Shredder a 9/9 value to quality rating.