Project Wonderful

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

So I decided to pick up smoking.

I've been kicking around the idea of trying my hand at smoking meat, so the other day I picked up a slightly used smoker on Craigslist for 15 bucks. I've been reading up, doing some research and it looks like the particular smoker I just picked up is plagued with problems in its design. There are a bunch of simple modifications you can do to make it a kick butt smoker,  but in the meantime, there was a this smoker: Just sitting there on my deck; Not being used. 

So I proclaimed in my best manly voice, "Damn the mods, we will smoke TODAY!" I then kissed my confused girlfriend, hopped on my motorcycle and sped off to "harvest" 3 lbs of St. Louis cut pork ribs.

Beef ribs give you that classic Fred Flintstone, caveman look, but they just cant compete with the juicy tender awesomeness of properly cooked pork ribs. And I figured this was a fairly straightforward way to test out the smoker. Even a failure would still be pretty tasty.

Now, the schools of thought about smoking meat are as varied as the snowflakes I never get to see. If you ask 100 different people, you're going to get 100 different answers for what they think is the best. The recipe I used here comes from BBQ Pit Boys and turned out to be a really nice way to cook the ribs: Sweet, a little tangy, a hint of some spice, but not overpowering. Its a winner.

The key thing to remember here is timing. The ribs are going to cook for about 4 hours, but it takes two hours of marinating the meat before that, so if you're planning this for dinner, you need to factor that time in. Points are usually not awarded for dinner after 11:30pm.

First we start with meat.

This cut of ribs is officially listed by the USDA as "Pork Ribs, St. Louis Style." They are categorized this way because a guy named Steve Olson - whose job it was at the USDA to draft the name for this particular cut of meat - was a Cardinal's fan. True story. 

This is about 3lbs of St. Louis style pork ribs. This style removes the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips, leaving an almost rectangular section of ribs. 

To prepare the ribs you have to remove that tough layer of membrane on the inside section of the ribs. Some people argue that this membrane is beneficial to holding the meat together as it cooks. Some say the membrane should be removed because it prevents the rub from getting into the meat. My reason: its a hunk of gristle I'd rather not spend time chewing. So I remove it. I get a butter knife under it and pry up a corner. then  grab a hold of it with some paper towels and pull up. The membrane should tear away in one piece. 
Its a little hard to remove the rib membrane and take a picture of the process at the same time. Just thought I'd mention that. 

Aye, there's the rub. This is a super simple recipe that delivers some wonderful flavor to the pork:

1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of paprika
1 tbs black pepper
1 tbs salt
1 tbs chili powder
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tbs onion powder
2 tbs ground cumin

Sprinkle the mixture on the meat and rub it into every nook and cranny. Dont forget the sides!

Pop this seasoned bad boy in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to marinate. 

Soak the wood chips in water while the meat is marinating. When you sprinkle this on the hot coals, the wet wood will smoke instead of burn. I decided for apple wood this time around. Also, I recommend wood CHUNKS over wood chips as it produces more smoke over a longer period of time. But since this was a test smoke, we were just experimenting. 

Here's she is in all her glory.  This design uses a pan of water hung over the coals which helps regulate the temperature inside the smoker. The problem with this design is that there is minimal air flow to the coals, and the way the fire box is designed the ashes block the little air vents underneath the smoker and end up snuffing out the coals. Still, I was able to get an 8lb bag of charcoal to last about 3 hours at my desired smoker temperature of  220-240 deg.

On the smoke. The ribs are placed on the grills and away we go.

I made a mop sauce of 1:1 apple cider and apple cider vinegar, then a tablespoon of yellow mustard. Ever hour I basted the meat by mopping on this solution to keep things hydrated. It also imparted a wonderful flavor to the meat itself. The rub was a sweet outer crust and the meat was a slightly tangy apple flavor. 

Oh yes, they were pretty freakin awesome.

After 3.5 hours, the ribs were ready to come off.  Wrap em in tin foil and let them rest for at least 10 minutes.

In hindsight, I recommend that you flip the ribs and mop the meat every hour. Dont lift the lid at any time before that. Use the old adage: "Lookin aint cookin!"

I didn't manage to take a photo of the ribs nicely assembled on a plate with a little dash of sauce and the vegetables and fork and napkin. Strangely enough, I was overcome by a feeding frenzy that had been building for 4 hours.


Friday, July 26, 2013

More Smores: Part Deux

While shopping the other day, I found these miniature graham cracker crust pie cups. They were cheap and required little prep, so I figured I'd give them a test run in my ongoing attempt to improve on the classic campfire culinary confection known as the smore. 

If you recall from part one, my effort to make the humble smore a bit more fancy-shmancy turned into a sugary failure. Too many marshmallows in a ramekin made the dish too sweet. To correct this and make it a bit more adult, I thought I would try mascarpone cheese blended with honey instead of the marshmallows. Mascarpone is a traditional Italian soft cheese made from cream that is then thickened with a citric or tartaric acid. The result is a smooth, spreadable cheese that's sometimes used instead of butter or Parmesan to thicken and enrich risottos. It's also one of the main ingredients in the Italian desert Tiramisu.

Mascarpone originated in the area between Lodi and Abbiategrasso, Italy, southwest of Milan, probably in the late 16th or early 17th century. The name is popularly held to derive from mascarpa, an unrelated milk product made from the whey of stracchino (a young, barely aged cheese), or from mascarpia, a word in the local dialect for ricotta (although ricotta, unlike mascarpone, is made from whey). 
- Wikipedia

The idea of using a pre-made pie crust in a self-contained little package wasn't in the original plan, but I thought this might improve things.

Here's what I did:

I wrestled these little babies away from a bunch of elves. I brushed some egg white on them and baked them in a 350 deg oven for 5 minutes just to crisp them up a notch.

For the filling, instead of overly-sugary marshmallow, I used 8 oz of mascarpone cheese, blended with 1 tablespoon of honey and a little half & half to thin things out to a frosting-like consistency. 

This gets scooped into a zip-lock bag and worked down to the bottom. I cut the corner of the bag off and was able to pipe the mixture into the graham cups.

I made up a ganache of chopped up dark chocolate and boiling hot half & half. I whisked this together with the bowl sitting on a block of ice to get it to both thicken slightly and incorporate a little air into the mix to lighten it up.

To build the desert, I drizzled the ganache into the cups, piped in the mascarpone, added another little drizzle of chocolate, sprinkled graham cracker crumbs and a few mini dark chocolate chips on the top and called it done. Other than the 5 minute baking of the pie crusts, there's no actual cooking involved. The individual parts can sit in the fridge till its ready and then assembled in minutes, even right at table side if you want. 

The verdict: "Meh." 

I went from too much to too little. The dark chocolate adds a level of bittersweet to the desert that is very pronounced when you aren't competing with the whipped sugar, corn syrup and gelatin of marshmallow. The marscapone/ honey blend was delicious, albeit not quite sweet enough on its own. Perhaps a little more honey would help. Also maybe a drop or two of vanilla.

The other problem was the taste. Because no marshmallow was used and nothing was toasted or torched, it kills any resemblance to the taste of a Smore, which was the goal of this project from the beginning.

On its own, this desert is delicious, but as a substitute to a smore it doesnt cut it.

So back to the drawing board I go.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Roasted Potatoes

This was my first year planting a fairly productive potato crop. We had picked up a couple of types of seed potatoes at the Natural Gardner and planted them in March. They probably could have gone a little longer, but the tops were wilting and drying out, so we figured it would be time to harvest them.

A member of the nightshade family, the potato was first domesticated in Peru and Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BCE. It was carried with settlers to other parts of the globe and is now the world's fourth largest food crop.

We didn't have much of a harvest with this crop, but I managed to make a nice dish of roasted potatoes using my usual oven technique. Its not rocket science, but I thought I'd share.

Preheat oven to 400...

This was the big harvest. The little turd-looking ones in the top right are purple seed potatoes that we put in the pantry to grow into seeds that will be replanted soon.  Wash all the skins completely with cold water and pat dry
This is the inside of one of the younger purple potatoes. I don't taste too much difference in flavor or texture, but they look pretty in a potato salad or lightly smashed.

Try to cut all the potatos to relatively the same size so they cook evenly.

I added some sweet potatoes that had started to sprout. We already had several sweet potato seedlings (slips) and planted a bunch already, so this was two we decided to sacrifice to the food gods. 

I also tossed in a bunch of quartered onions that were leftovers from a catered event the Salt Lick provided.  

I then drizzled some olive oil and sprinkled some of Emeril Lagasse's "essense" on it. OK, that sounds a little weird. but this is actually a good mix of salt and herbs that work really well on chicken and potatoes. I made too much when I did a roasted chicken a while back, so its been sitting in the cupboard taunting me. 

I covered the whole thing with aluminum foil and tossed it in the oven until they are fork tender. The combination of herbs and the sweetness of the potatoes worked great together and made a perfect side dish. 


Friday, July 12, 2013

McDonald's and Bolivia: Not A Victory Over Fast Food

Over the past couple of weeks you may have noticed (or will soon begin to notice) a lot of blogs  and websites talking about how McDonald's has decided to close all of their restaurants and leave the country of Bolivia. Every one of these blogs touts it as a big a win for healthy eating. "This South American country isn’t falling for the barrage of advertising and fast food cooking methods that so easily engulf countries like the United States." says one tinfoil hatted fear monger.

But the problem is that this isn't really a victory against a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The truth of the matter is that Bolivians LOVE fast food and corporate chains like Burger King and Subway - along with over 20 pizza joints, fried chicken chains, hot dog stands and several international corporations all make a tasty profit hocking their greasy grub in the Bolivian capital of Santa Cruz.

Not to mention that McDonald's shuttered the last of its 8 restaurants over 11 years ago - back in 2002 - after operating in the country for over 14 years.

This is hardly breaking news, yet everyone seems to be talking about it. 

The reason why is that a recent documentary titled "Por qué quebró McDonald’s en Bolivia" (Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Broke,) helped to stoke the fires of interest in the story. In it, the documentary paints a picture of an evil corporate empire taking advantage of the poor Bolivian country but was finally driven out of existence by the will of the people. Sort of a David and Goliath kind of deal.

However this also isn't true. 

Blogger Monica Heinrich posted about this almost two years ago, highlighting the things that the documentary got wrong. For one thing, McDonald's didn't go bankrupt, they closed after restructuring their operation in Bolivia and several other countries. There's a big difference there. 

Monica - who lived in Bolivia at the time McDonald's was there - said the biggest problem with the restaurant wasn't so much the food, but the traffic. Lines were long and as Monica states, if you tried to get fast food at either lunch or dinner time, the last thing you got was anything considered "fast."

Look, I'm no fan of Mickey-D's. I think their food is absolute crap. When your oatmeal has more sugar and calories than a Snickers bar, (and only 10 calories less than a cheeseburger) and you bill this as a "wholesome choice" for breakfast, I have some pretty big issues with this. 

With the average Bolivian earning a little under $500 a month in salary after taxes, it's a more likely scenario that McDonald's just couldn't deliver a product at a value to Bolivian consumers.

Anti-corporate voices will have you thinking that the Bolivian public shunned the American franchise, but that's just not the case. 

Peach Cobbler!

Nothing says Summer like Peach Cobbler - but with the freeze that happened in late march, the Hill Country peach harvest suffered. If you notice, those ubiquitous stands that pop up around town this time of year boasting "Fredericksburg  Peaches" are this year hanging signs that say "Texas Peaches" instead.

But not to worry, as most stores are still finding sources of quality peaches - even if they have to be trucked in from distant parts of Texas. Now, I'm all for eating local, but when its Summer, I want my peaches, dammit!

Cobblers originated in the early British American colonies. English settlers were unable to make traditional suet puddings due to lack of suitable ingredients and cooking equipment, so instead covered a stewed filling with a layer of uncooked plainbiscuits or dumplings, fitted together. The origin of the name cobbler is uncertain, although it may be related to the now archaic word cobeler, meaning "wooden bowl" 

So here's my version for a great Summer Peach Cobbler (via a recipe from

First, preheat the oven to 425...

Peel and slice 8 peaches into thin wedges (or chunks, since its pretty impossible to wedge the whole peach.)

To peel the skins, blanch the peaches by submerge each one in boiling water for about 45 seconds, then plunge them into an ice bath. the skins should come right off.

Save the pits that have peach still clinging to it (I'll explain this later)
Add 1/4 cup of white sugar, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4tsp cinnamon, 1/8tsp nutmeg, 1tsp lemon juice, and 2tsp cornstarch. toss this mixture together till the peach chunks are coated wtih the sugary slurry. 

Pour the peaches into a 2qt baking dish and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. This helps make the peaches softer and converts even more of the fruit sugars.
While the peaches are cooking, mix the dry ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1tsp baking powder, and 1/2tsp salt.

Then cut 6 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter into the dry stuff until its the texture of coarse meal.

Add about 1/4 cup of boiling water and combine everything together.

Remove the peaches from the oven and drop spoonfuls of the batter mix over the top. 

Make up a topping with 3 tablespoons of white sugar and 1tsp of cinnamon and sprinkle over the entire cobbler.

Bake in the oven about 30 minutes until the topping is golden brown. About 10 minutes in, the smell of peaches and sugar will begin wafting through the kitchen. Be prepared for this. You will need to fight off the hungry hoard of people that will start drifting into the kitchen. I recommend handing them those peach pits that you saved from before. It's a fun little activity that should buy you some time.

Once finished,  serve this into bowls with your favorite ice cream.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  In making the cobbler for these pictures, I accidentally added a tablespoon of baking powder instead of a teaspoon. As soon as I dropped this amount from the measuring spoon, it hit me that it was the wrong quantity. Like slow motion I watched - unable to do anything - as the white powder plopped into the bowl with the other white ingredients in a motley melange of fail. Immediately my geek brain kicked in and I started wondering what would happen. Baking powder is a chemical leavening agent - a mixture of alkali and acid that cause a release of carbon dioxide gas in the batter. This carbon dioxide forms bubbles that allows the dough or batter to rise. But would adding too much cause a foaming mess in the oven? Would anyone even know?

Immediately I started making excuses. (It was the cat! I was distracted!) However I'm not above going back in with a spoon and scooping out the excess powder.

In the end, the batter came out fine. Perhaps a little lighter than originally anticipated, but definitely not a problem.

Just wanted you all to know.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Truth and Consequences: Paula Deen

Haven't we all heard quite enough about Paula Deen? Well, yes, but that's not going to stop me from throwing a few stones anyway.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not one of Paula's biggest fans. The reason for my contempt is quite simple: she's a con artist. That whole folksy, down-home Southern charm thing - while not an act, per-se - has definitely been exploited and exaggerated to help churn her into a commercial juggernaut, placing her in the top five of the biggest earning chefs, while also pandering to a society that has made the US the second fattest country in the world.

My biggest peeve with her is her absolute unabashed hypocrisy: While she was being treated for Type II Diabetes, she went in front of cameras and continued to push her butter agenda with fat-laden food and deserts. (Because as we all know when it comes to food, fat sells.) And then, only when she had successfully secured a multi-million dollar contract with pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk to hock their Diabetes drug Victoza, did she suddenly come out of the pantry. And then, while she's telling people about the dangers of eating too much fat and the importance of watching what you eat, she turns around and releases a line of tortilla chips, chocolate and "finishing butters" - which is really nothing but flavored butter that you smear on your food at the end of the cooking process instead of the beginning. This, my dear foodies - is the definition of hypocrisy.

So how exactly did Paula's empire of grease dissolve? Here's a breakdown:

March 6th, 2012 - Radar posts that a discrimination lawsuit has been filed against Deen and her brother Bubba. In the court documents the former employee stated what kind of a wedding Deen wanted:

“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n***ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. Now, that would be a true Southern wedding wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”

Gee Paula, ya think? But for some reason, most people ignore this news until over a year later.

June 19, 2013 - The National Enquirer breaks the news that they have a copy of the deposition. Huffington Post confirms it with a copy of the transcript. In it, Deen explains that, "I can't, myself, determine what offends another person."

June 20th - The Daily Show grills up Paula nicely:

June 21st - Paula bails on a scheduled exclusive interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, issuing three separate video apologies instead. Social media explodes. A "We Support Paula Deen" Facebook page gets created.

Later that afternoon, Food Network gives her the axe.

June 23rd - An attorney for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition adds fuel to the fire stating white employees are routinely paid more than black employees and are promoted more quickly. He also added that Paula allowed a "family member" in the restaurant that Paula and her brother own to regularly refer to one of the black employees as "my little monkey."

June 24th - Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer boots Paula.

June 26th - Paula finally gives a tear-filled interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show. Later that morning, Ceasars Entertainment - which owns four of Paula's themed buffets in various casinos around the country hops on the bandwagon deciding not to renew their agreement. That same day, Walmart also drops the Deen-branded line of cooking products that includes among other things, whistling tea kettles, rolling pins and (I kid you not) pie cutting boards.

June 27th - Pharma giant Novo Nordisk - sensing that Paula has become the third rail of celebrity endorsements decides that a bigoted racist made may not make the best choice to help hock their Diabetes drug. Later that day, Target jumps ship as well.

June 28th - QVC diplomatically decides to "take a pause" with Deen and her products for the next few months. The same day, JC Penny, Sears, Kmart all follow suit. In addition, book publisher Ballantine Books decides to pull Paula's latest book - likely a good decision as the book is titled “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up”

I shed no tears for the fall of the Deen empire; She needed to go. Anyone that boasts about creating a hamburger that uses two glazed donuts instead of a bun, while also shilling herself for a Diabetes drug, has some moral issues to work out.

People are taking both sides of the issue with Paula. Some argue that she's just the latest sacrificial lamb in the media frenzy to create a story out of nothing. Some want her head on a pike. Either way, she was forced to face her bigotry head-on and confess her sins to the court of public opinion. And now she's paying the price for that. I don't think it was something she wanted to do (and her handlers have been in damage control ever since.) But it needed to happen. It should have happened long ago and she now has to deal with the consequences of her actions. "buy the ticket, take the ride," as the good doctor once said.

Anthony Bourdain once called Paula Deen "the worst, most dangerous person to America." From the health perspective alone, I sincerely hope that people are starting to realize this as well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bread Pudding

I love bread pudding. Not only is it a simple and delicious desert, but the fact that you can use stale bread to make it means its the perfect dessert for not letting food go to waste.

From its humble origins, chefs have spun this into some seriously fancy dishes. There's a golf course here in Austin that is said to have the best bread pudding in the world. I've had it, thought it was OK. I didn't hear angels singing or feel anything special, but it was a pretty tasty dish.

Bread puddings date back centuries. For the vast majority of human history, most people could not afford to waste food, so a number of uses for stale bread were invented. In addition to bread pudding, cooks also used stale bread to make stuffing, thickeners and edible serving containers. Although the Romans did use eggs as binding agents in various recipes, custard was not invented until the Middle Ages, so early bread puddings were probably made simply from milk, stale bread, fat and perhaps a sweetener. Bread puddings were not only made by the Romans. Ancient versions of bread pudding include Om Ali, an Egyptian dessert made from bread, milk or cream, raisins and almonds; Eish es Serny, a Middle Eastern dish made from dried bread, sugar, honey syrup, rosewater and caramel; and Shahi Tukra, an Indian dish made from bread, ghee, saffron, sugar, rosewater and almonds.
- Emily Maggrett, eHow Contributor

I've made this version of bread pudding so many times now that I think its time to declare it mine. This is a great recipe for someone new to baking as its pretty difficult to screw this one up. 

Feel free to change up the amounts however you want - Paula Deen's recipe is so ungodly heavy with sugar, cream and butter that you'll gain 5 pounds just reading it. This one is a little lighter - but make no mistake, it aint diet food.

First, pre-heat the oven to 350...

I used half a baguette of HEB bakery bread. I purposely let it sit out on my counter for a few days to get nice and dry, then tossed it into the fridge so it wouldnt spoil. The result was some SERIOUSLY dry bread. Break the bread into medium sized chunks into an 8" baking pan. You can probably make the pieces smaller if you want. I was in a hurry. 

Add a good handful (maybe 1/2 a cup) of raisins - golden ones add a nice level of fancy to it, but use what you have on hand.  Even dried out ones work good as they plump up fine with the wet ingredients.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle it over the bread.

In a separate bowl add four eggs...

...2 cups of milk (I used half and half), 3/4 cup of sugar, 1tsp of cinnamon, and 1tsp of Vanilla.

Mix all this together till its well blended. 

Pour the whole mixture over the bread and raisins. Use a fork to push down the bread into the mixture. I personally think the longer it soaks, the better the results.
Bake at 350° for 45 minutes, until things are golden brown and spongy. Let it sit for a couple of minutes  to cool (the hardest part of this recipe)

To make a sauce for this, add some rum, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of butter and some water into a small pot. Reduce this down to a nice syrup and pour over the individual servings.

Dig in!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Carrot and Pesto Grilled Cheese

The other day I was encouraged to think outside the box when my girlfriend sent me a link to's post about roasted carrot grilled cheese sandwich with carrot green pesto. They apparently got the idea from The Hoot Eats recipe.

Carrots in a grilled cheese? Carrot greens as a pesto? SACRILEGE!

But I gave it a try anyway and I have to say it came out pretty damn good. I used some smoked Gouda cheese and that worked out really well. The carrots when roasted have a nice sweetness to them that works with the smokiness of the cheese. And the pesto...oh my god, the pesto! I'm convinced at this point that you could take just about any leafy green and turn it into a pesto. I bet my front lawn would make an awesome pesto (Though I don't think I will actually try that).

Wikipedia: Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy (pesto genovese),[1] and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep's milk).[2] The name is the contracted past participle of the Genoese word pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and wooden pestle.

The carrots were ones that we had grown from seed last fall and we left in the containers till we thought they were done. They took forever to grow and were definitely not as large as I had hoped, but any food you grow yourself is going to taste better than anything you buy at the store.

Here's how I did it. (sorry a few of the pics are blurry):

Here are the carrots, washed, trimmed and ready to pop into the oven. I sprinkled some salt and pepper, drizzled a little olive oil and roasted them in the oven at 450° for about 35 minutes. You want them soft and browned a little.

For the pesto, I saved the best of the carrot greens, washed them really good and tossed them in the food processor.
Toast up some ridiculously expensive pine nuts - or sesame seeds, or walnuts, cashews... any oily nut will work, but they will each impart a different flavor to the pesto.

Toss the nuts on top of the carrot tops, along with salt, a couple cloves of garlic, some Parmesan cheese, the juice of one lemon and just enough extra virgin olive oil. Puree the mix just until its a spreadable paste. Add more or less olive oil to get the consistency you want.

Slice up the cheese into thin slices. Some use Asiago, I went with some nice smoked Gouda here because that's what I had in the fridge. 

To build the grilled cheese, butter the bread, add a spread of pesto, lay down a few of the roasted carrots, add the cheese, more pesto, a sprinkling of grated Romano cheese (or not if you don't have it) and the other slice of buttered bread. Grill it up the way your mamma taught ya.

And voila: roasted carrot and Gouda grilled cheese with carrot top pesto.

Super secret pro tip: add a small pinch of coarse salt to the top before you serve it for an added pop of flavor.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dismantling and Re-designing S'mores

S'Mores -  That sugary, gooey mess of awesome that sticks in many a camping memory - about as strong as it sticks to your fingers and clothes - is a big part of American Summer traditions. According to Wikipedia, no one is entirely sure of the exact origins, but apparently the first recorded version of the recipe can be found in the rather-humorously titled book, "Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts" from 1927.

Everyone knows how this works: Impale a defenseless marshmallow onto a stick, toast it over a campfire to your preferred level of "doneness" - which is anywhere from light beige to charcoal briquette - lay it on a hunk of chocolate and sandwich it between two graham crackers.

The problem with this (as we've all most-likely experienced) is that there are some serious structural  flaws with this design. If you follow the recipe to the letter, melted chocolate oozes out the other side as soon as you take a bite, followed closely by a glob of napalm-like marshmallow. And the odds of this hunk of sugary slag landing in your lap appear to be directly proportional to the cost of your pants.

I've been thinking about it and I keep saying to myself, "How can I make this better? Perhaps something that would be seen in a high-end restaurant instead of just a campsite?"

And thus began my unnatural obsession with building a better s'more.

My first attempt was fairly straightforward: I made a graham cracker crust (graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and a little sugar) and pressed this into a ramekin. Then I made a dark chocolate ganache by whisking hot half and half into a chopped up chocolate bar (71% cacao). I drizzled this onto the crust, then placed marshmallows into the chocolate.  I hit this with a brûlée torch to toast up the marshmallows and finished it by sprinkling graham cracker crumbs over the top.

Now as I read what I just wrote, you would probably concede that this sounds divine. But you would be wrong. First, I used too large of a ramekin, which meant that a single portion was like eating the equivalent of 4 or 5 s'mores. Naturally, my girlfriend was more than happy to be a guinea pig and has been very supportive in this process, but I could tell that even to a chocoholic, this was a bit much. Too much chocolate, too much sugar, too much everything. It was diabetes in a cup.

However, I remain undaunted. I've got some more ideas on how to perfect this and I will be posting my results here. And if you have suggestions for ways you think it could be better, please send em my way.

Stay tuned.

Dont Call it a Comeback...

Hey, what happened with the TV show?

Well it wasn't from lack of trying, that's for sure. Addie Broyles was amazing as our host and I really enjoyed working with my co-conspirator Sean Cunningham in producing something that we could all be proud of, but unfortunately even with a bare-bones budget, calling in favors with friends and begging/borrowing/stealing equipment,  it still comes down to greenbacks.

It always seems to come down to money. Producing a multi-episode cooking show for public broadcasting takes financial support. Every business we contacted for help either gave us the run-around or just never returned our calls. Some we met with seemed excited at the idea and then we never heard from them again. The worst was a rather large corporation that would have given us a lot of serious bragging rights that would help bring in other donors. We were on track with these guys and then they started scaling back how much they were willing to help. Something the equivalent of, "We'll be happy to sponsor your show. How does five dollars sound?" After months of trying to convince people that we had a solid idea, it ended up going nowhere and the stuff we'd shot was starting to get out of date.  I still held onto the idea that we could crank SOMETHING out, but by then it was too late and the project just faded away.

Its frustrating to watch something you've put so much effort into die like this. For a while I didn't want anything to do with trying to bring it back to life. Move on to other projects, focus on things you know you CAN accomplish and put everything else to the side. Its been a tough couple of years.

But during that time, I never stopped eating, cooking, and appreciating well made food. My day job keeps me watching other people's cooking shows pretty much all day, so I felt like I was picking up culinary skills just by osmosis.

So now I feel like I'm at a place were I can at least run a blog to show off things that I think are interesting in the culinary world. I like the name and Hell, I spent all that time designing the crest, so why not use it?

So with some gentle prodding from a friend of mine, I've decided to resurrect the Austin Supper Club blog. I figured, "why not at least waste some bandwidth dumping failed food ideas, restaurant reviews and home recipes into one location...for the good of all mankind... or something?"

So here we are.

I've also kept the Facebook group and will be using it to direct traffic to the blog and vice-versa. I hope you'll spend some time and read what I post. If you have suggestions for things I should be talking about or ideas for ways to improve things, I'd love to hear em.

Dig in!