This might just be NOT “not your grandmother’s peach pie”

Because there’s in fact nothing wrong with grandmother’s peach pie. Nothing at all. That’s why they call it “grandmother’s peach pie” — it’s a bit of a cliché, and this cliché has survived two generations of pie-makers in your family. That’s why your mother bakes it the way her mother did. And let’s face it, your father, if he was born before 1955, probably didn’t bake anything, so I assume it’s your mother’s mother and not even your aunt’s mother, because then it wouldn’t be your grandmother’s peach pie but rather your great-aunt’s peach pie, and it’s your cousins who cook their grandmother’s peach pie and not your grandmother’s peach pie. And that’s fine. This is the way we avoid fights at Thanksgiving.

But this peach pie has the crust and filling of a very simple pie, like that of grandmother, and the ingredients and a couple key techniques seem to make this special.

The ingredients

Good ingredients give you a head start with any dish, and just like your grandmother used ingredients that were more farm-based and less grocery store-based, so you would do well to adopt this practice. This goes without saying.

Peaches, I’ve learned from being married to a Texan, are better in Texas than from, say, Georgia, even if that’s not verifiable because taste — like anything related to the five senses — is subjective. Texas claims the best peaches, and therefore it is true. Even if I was married to a woman from Georgia, her imaginary sister, who moved to Texas in 1988 to be with her imaginary outlaw country music boyfriend would try to convince you that Texas peaches are best, especially if it’s in the Hill Country at Fredericksburg’s Jenschke Orchards.

Jenschke has been family owned and operated since 1961. There was a store by that name in Kerrville owned by a family cousin as I understand it, but that location was shut down as H-E-B expanded. I’ve heard they still make deliveries to local outlets.

Karen and I went to Fredericksburg a couple weekends ago, because I had a hankering to bake a peach pie that every same day, and it was this that ended up as good as “grandmother’s peach pie.”

I should be quick to add a couple caveats:

  • Neither of my grandmothers cooked peach pie.
    • One of those grandmothers, a well-to-do New England lady, had a housekeeper who also cooked, and to my recollection she made only a cherry pie, which would pass muster with my grandfather, whose opinion carried the weight of a Supreme Court Chief Justice on all matters culinary (and hunting, and hunting dogs, and basically anything related to being alive).
  • I had made only two pies previously, an apple with fruit picked from Cider Hill Farm when we were living in Massachusetts, and a strawberry-rhubarb pie with rhubarb given to me by a colleague who got it from her family’s farm in Vermont.
    • I should note that both of these pies, especially the latter, kicked major ass.
    • But both of these pies were made prior to 2007, and I was a bit intimidated to bake another now, 14 years later, having been focused lately on the improvisational art of cooking and not baking, which truly is a science. (Yes, baking certainly has its artistic side.)
    • Which reminds me, as a college senior majoring in English with two housemates who were civil engineering majors, I’d be up late writing a term paper, in which all I needed to do was outline my perspective and then justify it with selective texts from the source material — this is the “cooking” form of study — while my housemates were cussing their way through thermodynamics — the “baking” form of study which, if not followed to the decimal point, will cause the bridge to fall like a failed merengue. I think you get the point: I could fake my way through an essay, frankly. You can’t fake baking.

You can see from the photos that to eat a ripe Texas peach, I needed to bend over to keep the juices from running down my chin.

I purchased discounted “seconds,” ripe and ready to eat or bake with that same day. Otherwise, you can get peaches that will ripen in two or three days’ time. Being ripe as they are, whatever peaches I didn’t bake, we made sure to eat relatively soon.

The process

Here I’ll share a couple things that helped me turn what would have been a mess into a crowd-pleaser. It comes down to (1) a good crust which, I think I can make even better next time, and (2) a key spice in the filling.

THE CRUST

In some ways it’s the crust that makes all the difference.

Being the pie’s public face, so to speak, either it attracts you or you start eating with a grumpy attitude. Only then, once you commit to it with a fork, does its flakiness count.

I used the pie crust recipe HERE from Cookies and Cups. Again, ingredients are important just as is one key technique that I learned from a colleague who had cooked many a pie.

One of the ingredients called for is, of course, butter. First, as the recipe says, make sure your butter is cold. While an experienced baker can give a more detailed explanation why it should be cold, common sense says it would be more likely to produce the “coarse sand” texture called for, rather than a mush that would surely result from using warm butter. I used Plugra butter, which is now the go-to butter for my serious cooking and baking.

The technique I first learned, also from a colleague in Massachusetts — apparently many of us talked about baking when we should have been working — and that I applied to the apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies, was that one should NEVER OVERWORK THE DOUGH. Most of you reading this probably know that, but it was news to me back in 2005. This means, in practice, to not over-knead it or roll it too much, and if it tears or comes apart, simply use your fingers to gently press back the torn piece onto the larger piece. I.e. don’t use the rolling pin to roll it out again.

What I didn’t do which I will next time was to wrap the dough (I did that part) and chill it longer than I did.

THE FILLING

The nutmeg was in my opinion that item that made for a successful filling, for which I used a recipe HERE from Taste Of Home.

Everyone expects the standard things: sugar, corn starch, salt, lemon juice, butter…even the cinnamon and brown sugar aren’t eye opening. But for me it was the nutmeg, even though it was only 1/4 teaspoon’s worth — in combination with the other ingredients like the brown sugar and cinnamon — that gave it that catalytic “oopmh.” And perhaps it was also that you’re cooking the reserved juice from the peaches, because this means that you’re using the juice from the aforementioned Jenschke peaches, which I’ve already pointed out are the bomb.

And, to be honest, having these peach “seconds” meant that they were ripe THAT DAY, and to wait even a day longer would have produced a different taste. As it was, the juiciness and sweetness of the fruit were optimal.

In sum

If I had to point to four things that made this peach pie a success, and even though I can improve for the next one, I’d say it was the (1) quality peaches, which also positively impacted the reserve juice, (2) dough technique, (3) quality butter, and (4) the nutmeg.

I might be wrong on the nutmeg, since it was such a small amount, but it seemed to jump out at me. And it still jumps around in my memory.

This was indeed somebody’s grandmother’s peach pie.

First time smoking a brisket

This past Saturday evening into Sunday midday was my first time smoking a brisket. As I mention in the standard introduction to my podcast, also called “Biscuit Aisle” on Spotify, I come from the land of pizza and bagels. The main thing that’s smoked there is salmon from Zabar’s and now weed in Times Square. (Apparently, it’s a bit like Woodstock but with fake Spidermen shysters and without Jimi Hendrix.)

Smoking a brisket

Smoking a brisket falls into a cooking category referred to as “low and slow”–low temperature over a long time. Like sous vide but in a smoker rather than a pot of water. Incidentally, in an upcoming podcast episode, I speak to a Danish man who longs for a smoker to make dishes such brisket and pulled pork but, because his neighbors would throw a fit about the smoke, must satisfy himself with sous vide cooking. (Not a bad second at all.)

That’s one of the natural and, I should add, delightful aspects of smoking a brisket: to stand near the smoker and feel and smell all the smoke of the meat becoming more tender and flavorful.

There are of course different kinds of grills, and I have owned three: (1) charcoal: everything from a $25 cheapie you throw out at summer’s end to a quite decent $200 grill we had on our porch in NYC; (2) gas, which I had in Massachusetts and grilled all kinds of meat and fish and veggies, year-round and which I thought I missed; and now, replacing my former love, (3) a Traeger.

Traeger as a brand is near synonymous with the type of grill it is: wood pellet. And it has a following with a hashtag that always says everything about the brand itself: #traegernation. (The only thing that has a fan base as devoted but no similar hashtag is Texas, which is already a nation.)

How I got mine

Family and people I had met through Instagram had talked about Traeger, but somehow the mechanics of it eluded me, and I also didn’t know what the big deal was. Deciding to get a Traeger was more of a discipleship process than actually buying and setting it up. Which, since it came assembled, wasn’t an issue. (More of an issue was getting in it the back of our Hyundai Santa Fe, which we did gingerly.)

I first heard about Traeger from an Instagram foodie friend named Angela Schweikert, who was a pescatarian until she met a pitmaster boyfriend who converted her not only to eating meat again but also to cooking everything on a grill from meat to seafood to something she calls “Bambi Bites” (you can guess) and even pies. You can make in a Traeger anything you can make in an oven. She told me about the grill–as had my brother-in-law Brian some time back, but it didn’t stick–and she referred me to another devotee, an authority named Pat (@Traeger.rage.BBQ) on Instagram. (He plays a role later in the narrative.)

I continued to research Traeger and finally got a Pro Series 34 at Home Depot here in Kerrville, Texas.

I have to say, it is impressive, and my first meal was chicken kabobs, which cooked in about 8 minutes. I like the idea, also, of burning wood and not charcoal or gas. It of course gives it a more pure flavor, and while the fumes are not as clean as real wood, it’s better than standing over a charcoal grill.

First time smoking a brisket

As I mentioned, I first made kebabs on my Traeger, which turned out not only respectable but rather quite good. I then tried smashburgers, which were just ok. I cooked something else which I now can’t remember. But it was time for me to try what a grill/smoker is known for, at least in the nation of Texas, which is brisket.

I must say, I was quite intimidated at first.

Brisket seemed the meat dish that required the most patience, finessing, time and know-how, not to mention a Texas passport. I had only the patience, which came in handy.

I was going to go to a butcher called Bernhard’s Meat Processing up Junction Highway between Kerrville and Ingram, Texas. It’s known for high quality, but I ended up getting mine from H-E-B, which has a 25-yard long waist-high refrigerator with nothing but brisket. I chose a 9.5lb job, and there were choices at least in the 16+lb range. As it was, we still had enough left over after two ravenous sons dove in to give a chunk to my mother- and sister-in-law and also make ourselves chopped brisket sandwiches for two meals. Homemade macaroni and cheese (cheddar and gruyere) accompanied the meat.

I can see how brisket would be the perfect choice for a large group of people.

There are a lot of nuances about brisket that I didn’t know and won’t go into here, such as differentiating between the fat cap and thin end, and other essentials as what kind of rub, and a myriad of variations in how to cook it.

Jedi Masters are real and they sometimes suck as friends

One of the people I had met on Instagram was a well-known devotee within the Traeger fan base, and I sought his counsel on a number of fronts early in my use. I knew I’d need to ask his counsel during this maiden brisket voyage.

He was super helpful until… I was following a recipe on the Traeger iPhone app and also using this man’s basic framework. That was a mistake. There is the Jedi way — which must be the Jedi Master’s way — and there is everything else: the dark side. For example: those who use foil or butcher paper to wrap the meat toward the end, admittedly resulting in different outcomes, each defend their way to the hilt. Especially butcher paper, which is the Jedi way. My sense was that foil users feel less strongly about their way and could be coaxed to the butcher paper Way, but once you are in that camp, to go back is true apostasy.

When I chose to use foil toward the end, because the app said I should and because I didn’t have butcher paper to follow Master’s way, I asked a question related to the app instructions, and his text back to me was curt:

Sounds Like A Good Enough Process.

I don’t do that.

Ciao Brother.

– my “Jedi Master”

Some might write that off. “Guy’s an asshole” and all that. But this was my first brisket and when you get right down to it, I trusted him more than the 27,813 reviewers (really; there were that many) who gave the recipe a 4.8-star rating. Because it’s all too possible for 27, 813 people to follow a recipe and be merely satisfied, giving it a high rating, rather than follow a Jedi Master and get proven Jedi results.

I wanted to learn the Jedi mind tricks necessary to please my eaters. And I did. They were overcome with the result and apparently forgot I was a Yankee making the national meal of Texas.

18 hours and 4-5 N/A beers

Traeger instructions are quirky. In a good way. As you read through the set-up and initial firing up steps, each step is accompanied by the icon of a six-pack of beer, with individual bottles disappearing along the way, showing you how long each step and the entire process should take. Likewise, recipes often have that same time-to-beer pacing icon.

Since I drink only non-alcoholic beer, the metrics would no doubt be different.

Or so I thought.

I found myself, at around 3AM, pacing through my six pack of non-alcoholic Bitburgers. I had probably drunk 4 or 5 since 6PM the previous day. I had never, and I mean never, had more than two at any one sitting. (Which is telling for a guy who calls himself a recovered alcoholic.)

And though I nearly finished off “a six” while cooking, there was no hangover the next day.

Only the smell of smoke permeating the living room (next to the patio and the grill), which I didn’t notice since I’d been breathing it in for more than 18 hours.

“Name this burger”

Some readers might know that Biscuit Aisle is creating a new cuisine called “Spaghetti-Western Food.” People fuse all kinds of cuisines for diners who will pay top dollar for tiny dollops. Like the photo to the right, it’s “Big Plate, Small Bite, Big Bill.” Wolfgang Puck pioneered this format of paying a lot for a little, and outcomes have been heresies like “pad thai taco,” “kimchi quesadilla” or “sushi pizza.” (These are real examples.)

But, as has been said by orthodox Christians about “Christian Science,” it’s neither Christian nor Science.

I love all those dishes separately, but together…? Not so much. In fact, it’s adjacent to scandalous.

Fortunately for Biscuit Aisle, “spaghetti-western food” is not an invented fusion but rather is a mealtime companion to the eponymous film genre whose most famous director is Sergio Leone and whose most famous examples are movies like Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or his “Dollars” trilogy (e.g. “Fistful of Dollars.” And notice that it’s a fistful, not a pinky’s worth, of dollars).


Lee Van Cleef was the “Bad” in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” He now has a burger named after him. (Though I mixed him up with the “Ugly” character, played by Eli Wallach.) Nevertheless, my hunt for the ultimate ugly burger continues. And the journey must end, of course, with the ultimate spaghetti-western burger, which would be one named after either Clint Eastwood, the star of many movies in that genre–though, notably, not in the most famous “Once Upon A Time In The West”–or director Sergio Leone.

On the occasion of my 100th Instagram post (at bottom), I decided to crowdsource the name, knowing that someone would come up with the favored moniker for the simple but still ugly burger. (I don’t recommend this process for newborn humans, and you will shortly see why.)

Here are the entries, and after that I’m going to ask a favor of you that will come with a reward:

  • Black Forest Bacon Double Trouble Burger
  • Cheesecon Burger
  • Tuscan Baconator
  • Upchuck Corral
  • The Good, the Ham and the Patties
  • Under the Tuscan Bun
  • Grand Canyon Massacre
  • Patty Capone
  • Sundance Burger
  • The Killer B Burger
  • Double Hop-Along Howdy, with bacon
  • El Corozanary
  • Il (capital “I” lower case “l”) Cuoronary
  • Burger You Can’t Refuse
  • The Eastwood
  • The Widowmaker
  • Congo
  • T-shirt Burger

In the COMMENTS section below, please list your TOP 3 FAVORITE NAMES. The person who first suggested the winning name will win a FREE t-shirt–sent to them anywhere in the U.S. at my expense–and I will also send a t-shirt to one of those who pick the winning name.

Honor system: don’t read through the comments to see how the voting is going. :))

So vote today and win a chance at a free t-shirt for yourself or for a foodie friend!

“We are happy to serve you,” said the coffee cup to the world.

When designing what is now not only an iconic coffee cup but perhaps the iconic one, Leslie Buck introduced a simple concept to start New Yorkers’ caffeinated daily grind: “We are happy to serve you.”

Buck, born Laszlo Büch in 1922 in Czechoslovakia, survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in WWII, though the Nazis killed his parents.1 He moved to America and ultimately sold cups for Sherri Company, breaking into the large NYC market of Greek-owned diners by designing a cup that appealed to them. In fact, the coffee cup that Leslie Buck designed in the early 1960s was so iconic that now, even after the cup is no longer being mass produced, the company still prints them on demand.

“Service” is not exactly a New York thing, or is it?

My first job out of college was with John Wiley & Sons, Publishers. In the mid-1980s, the global company had its headquarters in two buildings facing each other off 40th Street: 600 and 605 Third Avenue. I worked in 600 Third, the building on the west side of the avenue.

In the lobby of my building there was a coffee shop. Most of us would stop there on our way in and get a coffee and either a muffin or bagel with something on it. The cashier was an older lady, probably around 60 at the time and now probably turning a ripe 130 years (that’s not true).

Truth is, she was ripe then, maybe a bit past ripe, for her remarks were acerbic and you didn’t want to be on the butt end of them.

One morning as I was waiting to pay for my coffee and toasted corn muffin with butter, a delivery boy came back to the cashier and said that Mr. Jones on the 9th floor complained his toast was too dark.

While counting change for the customer in front of her, she said, “Go tell the kitchen to make another order, and tell Mr. Jones that next time, send a swatch.”

“We are happy to serve you” only sounds different in NYC

This might give you the impression that New Yorkers are gruff, mean-spirited people. On the contrary, they are deeply intimate, in-your-face people. They have to be. They ride nose to nose on the subway; they walk shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk; they have jousting grocery store carts in the narrow aisles. (Hence the name for this blog when I first encountered H-E-B.)

For example, many corner delis in New York City are run by Korean immigrants and are highly efficient purveyors of morning meals-to-go, in particular, to the New York white collar customer. One such place was famous for having a cashier, a Korean lady of about 40 or so, expedite the long line of customers getting their breakfast orders, with a clipped and accented, “Step DOWN! Step DOWN!”

Her service sounded quite different from that of a southern diner, for example — “What’ll you have, hon’?” — and was all about getting people into the deli and back out to their workplace which, for a New Yorker, is where they want to be. Her “service” was a function of the location.

Therefore, while it’s unlikely you’ll hear many in the food industry there say out loud, “We are happy to serve you,” they really are.


1 The New York Times

2 PHOTO CREDIT: “Peddler

“Hands-up” the number 1 best hamburger recipe

Many of us go online to find recipes — rather than looking in printed cookbooks — and when we go online we want to find family-friendly recipes. For kids of all ages, including 57-year-old men, one of the best hamburger recipes is the one I’ve included below, which is not mine, but which I’ve tweaked to near perfection.

First, to get the juices flowing, let’s take a quick survey of the burgers found on Instagram today:

  • best hamburger recipe

My recent big win

My recent Van Cleef Ugly Burger pleased the hometown crowd big-time, and I used the special ingredients I mention below. (P.S. Yes, while this burger was inspired by the movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and while Lee Van Cleef played the “Bad” character and Eli Wallach the “Ugly,” I wanted a Van Cleef burger, but calling it a “Bad Burger” wouldn’t play.)

what a burger recipe

Here’s the “secret-not-so-secret” recipe

The secret of my recipe is pork and egg. So, right out of the gate, this might not be the recipe for everyone. You can’t claim to have an “all-beef” patty with this recipe, of course. And if you don’t eat pork as a rule, or if you have an egg allergy, then this is not for you. I will tell you, however, that even without the pork or egg, I have found this somewhat basic recipe to be absolutely the best one I’ve tried.

But having made killer meatloaf with pork (and veal, which is not included here), I think it gives it superior taste and juiciness.

Technique

The following techniques are things I did on my most recent burger, which seemed to help the taste quite a bit. One of the tweaks — smashing the burger — was suggested by my son, who worked at a Culver’s restaurant for a while.

  • SMASH THE PATTY. I never wanted a burger to be so thick it would never get well-done (as I like it) before charring the surface. But I also never smashed down the patties. Once I tried it this time, though, not only did I find that it stayed juicy — I attribute that in part to the pork, as I mentioned above — I found it easier, of course, to offer my hungry home diners double patties with whatever toppings they wanted.
  • TWO CHEESE SLICES per patty, placed 45 degrees off center. I rotated the two slices 45 degrees off one another, to give it a more dynamic look. I also used a variety of cheese with my Van Cleef Burger: cheddar, white American, and of course Manchego, since we were going with a Mexican theme.
  • THE BUN: Most of us overlook the bun. First, I’m not a fan of sesame seed buns. I like the concept of sesame seeds in general, but on bagels and buns, they get stuck in my teeth. So, no. I use Dave’s Killer Bread buns, which are hearty and made by an awesome company. I butter the insides of both halves and then broil them briefly, blackening the edges only slightly. They don’t need a lot of crisping–they’re already firm and feel toasted. But warm and crisp them a little more, and you have the ultimate hearty bun to hold together your handful of heaven.
  • GET CREATIVE. With thin-ish patties and a hearty bun, you can add almost anything in between. (I myself would not recommend corn, as pictured above, but that’s just me.)

Enjoy!

The “Lee Van Cleef”: What a burger recipe!

The “Lee Van Cleef” is a burger based on the classic spaghetti-western film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and Lee’s character as the “Ugly” one. I wanted to create a burger for each of the three main characters. “Ugly burgers” are kind of thing now, so we named one after his character, and what a burger recipe it is!

[EDITOR: since publication of this article all-too-recently, we have been reminded by Emily of @smalltowncook that in fact it was Eli Wallach who was the “ugly.” Lee was obviously “bad.” You’ll see clearly why in the slideshow just below. I mean, the dude just looks bad. We knew this. We really did. But we obviously need a fact-checking crew. If you want a job, we can’t pay you, but we can guarantee free “ugly burgers” and no “bad ones.” Thanks, Emily, for setting us straight!]

In addition to the patty, we’ll discuss the onion rings and bacon, the special sauce (which is kind of the secret ingredient here), the cheeses and even the bun. You can’t overlook the bun: it’s the first thing you bite into.

The bun

Most people think, “Eh. What’s the importance of a bun?! Just make sure it’s not Wonder Bread.” Well, my criteria for buns is its having an al dente texture, ability to brown or get crisp, and density. I also happen to prefer a bun that’s made by my favorite bread company: Dave’s Killer Bread. Dave is an ex-convict, and the company hires many people who were formerly incarcerated.

There’s a nonprofit I’m familiar with that employs ex-convicts and markets itself with this tagline: “How’d you like to be known for the worst thing you ever did?” We look at convicts only as “murderer,” “rapist,” “drug dealer” or the like and rarely as “Employee of the Month” who’s also not a “felon” in our unspoken thoughts.

Whoa, whoa whoa. This post is about burgers, dude!

True.

But as we eat, there are realities upstream from our dining room table, aren’t there? We talk about sustainable farming practices, organic foods, local businesses, ergonomics and worker protection. Professional development. Team-building. Performance reviews and incentives. I believe that a company’s ethos in how they hire employees is naturally integrated with how they produce their products or offer their services.

I buy Dave’s breads not just because they’re delicious and stuffed with protein (contrasted against other breads) but also because in buying their products I know I’m supporting employment of people who I would otherwise know “for the worst thing they’ve ever done.” I’d like to know them now for helping produce the bread I love.

Here’s a snapshot of their company:

A WORD ABOUT THE BUNS THEMSELVES

What I like about the buns is that they feel substantial. When you bite into this burger hugger made of unbleached flour, with some of it still dusting the top, you simply feel…healthy.

I butter my buns on the inside and briefly broil them. (I should have stated that, still without a grill, all my prep is on a stove, an electric one at that. Don’t judge.)

Onion rings and bacon

We’re working our way down the burger. We’re now at the onion ring and bacon “upper mezzanine” level. It’s not the upper deck nosebleed seats of the bun crown, but rather starts to get a better view of the meat. (I really have no idea why I’m using a baseball stadium analogy; perhaps because a good burger seems so American.)

The bacon is a basic Central Market brand (made by H-E-B grocery store). I typically get the Cherrywood, not the Hickory smoked shown here. My druthers is to get the Jalapeño thick-cut, but I didn’t want to overdo it on the burger.

For the onion rings, there was no way I wasn’t going to make them myself. That’d be like putting Swanson’s brand tater tots on top. I used the recipe HERE. The one and very important tweak I would make to the recipe is to cut the onion rings thicker than the “very thin slices” called for. These onion rings burned easily and gave me a result that felt more like fried batter than onion.

Creamy avocado sauce

Although we are still in the mezzanine, we are in the lower mezzanine and have a better view of the action happening in your mouth. Because, there’s actually a rock concert going on. Believe me: bring earplugs.

The creamy avocado sauce truly is the “secret ingredient” of the Lee Van Cleef burger, though it’s not really a secret and I just gave you a link to prove it. Once you take the first bite, this sauce alone will make you exclaim “What a burger recipe!”

It’s smooth and creamy, soft enough to apply to the burger easily, yet firm enough to not squirt out all over the place when biting into this 4-inch tall creation.

The cheeses

Since this was a mash-up of Italian and western, I used a bit of Mexican cheese — Manchego, for Mexico was one of the main areas these Italian directors used to film; they also filmed in Granada as well as other areas of Spain — and white American and cheddar. This color blend of white and orange, plus using the cheeses liberally, provided a photo-worthy “cheese pull” (as I’ve come to know it’s called when the cheese drips over the side of a burger and onto a top Instagram post).

The patties

Now we’re in the field-level seats. And, quite honestly, this is an aspect of this otherwise near-perfect burger recipe I’m going to need to change.

For the last couple burgers I’ve made, I’ve used this mixture:

  • ground beef (two-thirds of the meat)
  • ground pork (one-third)
  • one egg per 2lbs of meat
  • Worcestershire sauce (2 tsp per pound of meat)
  • salt and pepper
  • a swipe of butter on each burger (on the side that goes on the griddle first)

But if I want to say “all beef” in my description later on — and I do — I have to lose the pork, even though I think it makes the burger taste better and even though the home crowd loved it. Besides, some people might not eat pork, or they might have egg allergies. So that’s going to have to go as well.

Now, you might think I’m crazy, but until this burger, I never smashed them down in the pan. I thought it would be better to have thicker burgers. Cooked through and through of course — I like mine well-done — but thick nonetheless. Thin patties had always meant “fast food” to me and were therefore undesirable. But I found that smashing them down to between 1/4 to 3/8ths of an inch not only cooks them more quickly, obviously, but also allows for a truly ugly burger to take shape. Without smashing, the burgers would be too thick to stack and, if stacked, would cause even more jaw dislocations and additional lawsuits.

And without stackability, I can’t add in extras like onion rings on top or cheeses in between that can create those beautiful cheese pulls over the sides.

All in all: “What a burger recipe!”

This burger stampedes through your mouth. From the initial crispiness of the Dave’s bun buttered and toasted to a tastiness honoring its neighbors below, to the juicy patties topped with creamy sauce, this is a burger I’ll make time and again.

Please visit our advertisers and keep Biscuit Aisle free to visit and enjoy!

Cuisinart burger smasher

Misen Knives: “Yeah. No.” My 3-minute review

After seeing a fairly amazing demonstration of Misen knives on Instagram, I thought, “I must have one!” Now, a solid nine months into it, I think, “Yeah. no.” Not worth the price nor the hassle of having to track down my shipment.

That said, I’ll take a brief look below at its pros and cons.

This is the video that convinced me to plunk down my credit card.
The knife was disappointing, and I was frustrated at myself for buying the sizzle and not the steak.

The “pitch” got me

Perhaps the most effective thing Misen knives does is to slice through competitive noise with awesome demonstrations of their tools’ sharpness — nay, beauty — as the video above shows. They truly “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

For a home cook like me who wants a great utensil that can make up for my average technique or a knife that can make me “look” like a chef –c’mon, all of us home cooks want to look like the real deal! — this seemed like a good investment. Well, the second part is for sure, since my “investment” is now subject to a buy-and-hold strategy, and I’ll bequeath this knife in near-mint condition to one of my three offspring.

The Pro’s

It’s pretty. I’ll give it that. It will win in a beauty contest. Unfortunately it’s sitting at home, in its basement room without paying me rent, watching anime and eating sour patch kids. (Or something like that.) What counts — the sharpness of the blade and its ease of use — is equalled or bested by other, more affordable brands like Dexter and Victorinox, both of which I review here on Biscuit Aisle.

The Con’s

There are really only two negatives, but one is something I should have known about through better research, and the other is now inconsequential after its resolution.

THE UNIMPORTANT NEGATIVE: CUSTOMER SERVICE

I ordered the knife on July 20, 2020. USD $65.

This, we all recall, was when we were still stir-crazy and everyone wanted new ways to spend time at home on lockdown. For me, cooking was one of them.

misen knives

The first knife they said they shipped was mysteriously lost, which I found out about ten days later. They said they were processing another order, but after a week of back and forth emails, I still had no new shipment confirmation. (Their emails, however, have a real nice design.)

I got an email saying the second knife — who knows where the first one went; it apparently did arrive somewhere here in little Kerrville, Texas — would arrive on a given date. It did finally on August 13.

I’ll put this in perspective, I was able to order things that were supposed to be sold-out nationwide and still get them within 48-72 hours due to the awesomeness of some companies. Misen has a long way to go in the department of Customer Service, which is more than pleasing email design.

THE NEGATIVE THAT COUNTS: WEIGHT

Since ordering the Misen, I have bought a Dexter and a Victorinox that both excel in what I need them to do, and a big part of each of those knives’ virtue is in its lightweight but durable handle, without sacrificing a superior blade.

As you can read in those reviews, the handle — a lightweight, grippable plastic that’s also durable — makes the knife easy to cut with. The blades of each, both of which are far lighter than the Misen’s — since the Misen’s extends through the handle — are great for dicing and mincing, which is difficult with the Misen because the latter is less versatile. My quick review on the Victorinox has a table I created with some knife weights, so you can compare while shopping.

Safety

In the end, the sexiest feature of any knife is not how it looks slicing a grape that was probably superglued onto the cutting board anyway but is its safety. I feel much safer handling my Dexter or Victorinox for the reasons stated above.

Whether we’re talking low digits to the left of the decimal point or maintaining the ten on your hands, I’d go with something other than Misen.

“May contain one or more of the following”

Know how when you are in that liminal space between sleeping and waking? And when your thoughts are half illogical and half brilliant? Sort of like you have just stumbled upon your life’s work, only to learn later that it’s highly unlikely that at age 57 you can become fabulously wealthy by surfing in exotic locations and posting photos on Instagram?

Surely you know what I’m talking about. Surely you have your own dreams elevated by those states, only to come crashing down by the time the dog needs to pee or — going the other way from waking to sleeping — you get elbowed and told to stop snoring.

Last night entering a waking state but having spent sufficient time dreaming about it — could have been three hours, could have been three seconds, but who’s counting — I realized — that is, I knew it was in the process of being adopted industry-wide — that food package ingredient labels were soon to replace — nay, some already had — the phrase “May contain one of more of the following” with symbols representing those various ingredients that we like to think don’t make their way into what we’re about to take a bite of, but actually are there.

That’s what I was dreaming about. It made total sense to me.

And now that the dog and two of the three cats are awake, now that I had to pull the chaise lounge chair off the backyard lawn so that the grounds crew could cut the grass, now that my Coffee #1 is almost finished, getting cold in fact, I realize that this move by the food industry makes total sense. If a company can make more money doing something, and do it legally and without losing customers, why would it NOT do that?

“What are you talking about? It’s not even 8am yet in Kerrville, and MY coffee is still hot, even if yours isn’t.”

To explain further what I mean — not replacing words with symbols; everyone knows what that would be; rather I mean the advantage of doing it — I’m going to use an example from the music industry that many of us who are of a certain age are familiar with.

LED ZEPPELIN

This is the “Zoso” symbol that the legendary rock band chose to be on the cover of their fourth album.

For those who are too young to know, an album is a “10-inch sound storage medium” that a band or singer would use to deliver their music. They had only three channels to get their music out: this medium (we called them “records”), live concerts, and the radio. The only medium we could access at anytime was records. Concerts didn’t happen all the time and, even then, getting tickets was challenging (as it is now), and for a radio station to play the song you liked, you had to call in and ask the DJ to play it. Of course, there was a fourth medium available to listen to your band’s music: to record it when the song happened to play on the radio! Alas, you’d usually need to be ready with your hand on two of your cassette player’s buttons at the same time: the play button and the record (two syllables, class) button. And you’d still have the DJ’s voice over the first few notes: “And here is the song jumping to #1 on the charts this week by the Bay City Rollers, “I Only Want To Be With You.” So when you listened to the recording on your cassette player, the only corrupting sounds were the DJ’s introduction of the song and the jackhammer in the background working on the New York City steam pipes.

Back to Zoso.

A fan page claims that the band never came out and said what the symbols meant, but the two best-known members of the four had this to say:

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page (whose symbol is first, the “Zoso,” which is the only one that can be pronounced) said about the exercise: “We decided that on the fourth album, we would deliberately play down the group name, and there wouldn’t be any information whatsoever on the outer jacket. Names, titles and things like that do not mean a thing. . . . I had to talk like hell to get that one done.”

Adds frontman Robert Plant: “Each of us decided to go away and choose a metaphysical type of symbol which somehow represented each of us individually — be it a state of mind, an opinion, or something we felt strongly about, or whatever. Then we were to come back together and present our symbols.”

I actually think this is awesome.

It was their fourth album. It wasn’t their first one, which either established your trajectory or is often forgotten due to your sophomore album. This one had “Whole Lotta Love,” to give you an idea that the band was here to stay. By their fourth, they’d already been topping charts for two albums.

This is where we bring food back in.

They apparently wanted to avoid getting in a rut, and everyone also knew their names. But Robert Plant didn’t mysteriously transform — now watch this closely — Robert Plant didn’t mysteriously transform from “sodium caseinate” (a milk protein) to the symbol above.

According to that same fan page, Plant’s symbol, the frontman’s humble caboose of Zoso, “features the feather of Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice and fairness. It is also the emblem of a writer. Plant says the symbol he created was drawn from sacred symbols of the ancient Mu civilization, a fantastical place that supposedly existed until 14,000 years ago.”

If you’re still reading, my point is this: Zeppelin avoided being in a rut and decided to do something different. But they still ended their Zeppelin years as Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and the fourth guy. Plant continues to write music and collaborate with others such as Alison Krauss. “Pagey,” as Plant calls him, is now raising Vizslas in the Scottish Highlands. Bonham passed away in 1980. And the fourth guy is still a symbol, hoping to resurface as the symbol for monosodium glutamate.

(That’s true of Plant and, sadly, Bonham. I made up those things about the other two gentlemen, as far as I know.)


The heart of the matter: packaging

Parsons graduate student Maya Weinstein made her own high-fructose corn syrup. Here is her recipe:

“Mix 10 cups of Yellow Dent #2 corn extract with one drop sulfuric acid, one teaspoon Alpha-Amylase, one teaspoon Glucose-Amylase, and one teaspoon Xylose, strain through a cheesecloth, and heat. Then, once the slurry has reached 140 degrees, add Glucose Isomerase, bring to a boil, let cool, and enjoy!”

Every time you eat one of the following foods, you are ingesting sulfuric acid:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Sweetened Yogurt
  • Salad Dressing
  • Frozen Junk Foods
  • Breads (popular brands)
  • Canned Fruit
  • Juice (popular brands)

In effect, next time you watch a movie with a Coke and Twizzlers, don’t trip getting seconds because you’ll explode.

My liminal waking state solution was simple: make some of the most egregious ingredients into a symbol, something — as Robert Plant had suggested for the rest of Led Zeppelin — “metaphysical…which somehow represented each of us individually…a state of mind, an opinion.”

On second thought, now that I’m awake, just buy an apple.

“Spaghetti-Western” Cuisine

“Spaghetti-Western” films were gunslinger movies shot in Italy or other parts of Europe and directed mostly by Italians. Perhaps the best-known example is Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” An eminently watchable movie in its own right, it also was the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino to become a filmmaker, according to Tarantino himself. (You can read about that below.)

Clint Eastwood’s smirk with that cigarillo — lit with a match struck on his boot sole, or maybe it was against his eyelid, one can’t be sure — and its lazy smoke caught beneath the brim of his hat and perhaps irritating his left eye and causing him to squint. The occasional dialogue that looked very different when you watched the actors’ mouths and what you heard. Evil men who were never children; they were born as 45-year-olds wearing black hats.

My question today is: didn’t those people ever get hungry?

If indeed “Blondie” — the “Man With No Name,” played by Eastwood — or the other actors suffered from a lack of acceptable cuisine out in the salt flats near Granada, Spain, I’m here to help. I’m developing a new cuisine just for those kind of characters. They might be unsavory, so I’ll provide the savory for them. (Ba-dum-dum. I’ll be here all week, folks.)

It’s called “Spaghetti-Western Cuisine.”

“El Paso Porco”

Let’s put this in context.

You’re Clint Eastwood.

You’ve just endured a Mexican stand-off.

No, not “endured.” Not by a long shot (you might say).

No. You’ve kind of sauntered into and out of this life-and-death scene through which the viewer and other two gun-slingers tip-toed. You shot your main opponent and he rolls into a shallow grave. Then, approaching the other opponent, whose revolver you had sneakily unloaded, you shoot the dead man’s hat from the side of the grave into it. And then his revolver.

You might be a great shot, but you get hungry like everyone else. You don’t want a caesar salad. Not after shooting like that. You don’t want avocados, though those are plentiful not far from Durango, Mexico, where a portion of the film was shot. If you slung guns today in Rancho Santa Fe, California, avocados would be great, thank you.

No. You want meat.

Enter stage right: the “El Paso Porco.”

el paso porco

What is the “El Paso Porco”?

On my Instagram account, you’ll see the write-up, but I’ll expand here. I wanted to combine something Italian with something western. Not long ago, I made chicken-fried chicken parmesan. That attempt was nominally successful in terms of integration. In terms of taste, it was a home run. But the only “western” thing about the dish was that I soaked the chicken in buttermilk first. It was nonetheless a move in the right direction.

Generally, when any of us says, “a move in the right direction,” that seems to imply that we’re moving away from a wrong direction, and that we’re moving away from something.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, my father worked for CBS, which aired a lot of westerns. These movies became so predictable and tired that Dad and his coworkers took bets on how they’d end. The American-made westerns became tired, like lunchmeat in grade school. Baloney sandwiches, which had long been ripped from their original Italian context of Bologna. (See why we have all this culinary dysphoria?)

Onto the scene of that dusty and tired backdrop strode in Italian directors like Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Duccio Tessari and Franco Giraldi. These four, according to Quentin Tarantino, are the four greatest Italian movie directors. Tarantino, as any fan knows, often uses the trope of a “Mexican stand-off” as portrayed masterfully in the Leone classic. And he uses similar epic music. His latest movie, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is a direct descendent of Leone. (For the record, I don’t see the lineage. I see it in “Pulp Fiction” and of course in “The Hateful Eight.”)

In fact, it was Leone more than the others, who made a deep and lasting impression on Tarantino. And it was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” that for Tarantino was a primer in how to make films.

What’s more, Leone even influenced now-arcane video games like Billy Frontier:

But getting shot by or shooting a blue alien and chaps-wearing upright bull can make any gunslinger downright hangry.

For this man or for the woman identifying as a cigarillo-smoking gunslinger, spaghetti-western cuisine is heavy on carbs but is also designed for the paleo alpha male or, again, the woman who identifies as an alpha male. (If, however, she’s a beta male then the deal’s off; she can bloody well go to Dairy Queen.)

Sweet Italian sausage on a toasted baguette. Jalapeño relish and a creamy chipotle sauce.

A great experiment and a new addition to the line-up of “Spaghetti-Western Cuisine.”

my own summary of the “El Paso Porco”

How do you make “El Paso Porco”?

Thanks for asking. It’s really not hard. The hard part is the condiments. The meat is sweet Italian sausage with that hint of fennel. (Even a gunslinger has a sweet side. You might not see it, but it’s there. His mother can see what we can’t. Except for the ugly one. He had no mother.)

JALAPEÑO RELISH

If you’re eating a sausage, you’re basically eating an Italian hotdog. It’s Italian meat delivered in dachshund form. You might be tempted to put it on an Italian bread like a ciabatta or focaccia. But those are too seasoned and don’t look like hot dog buns. So instead you choose the Italian baguette. It’s a French type of bread with the word “Italian” modifying it. An Italian hot dog bun. Lean into it.

I made my relish using THIS RECIPE. The jalapeño pepper definitely enters the room without knocking. That’s why we have a doorman.

CREAMY CHIPOTLE SAUCE

That’s right. Cream. Chipotle to keep the palette fiesta going strong. And sauce to make this scrumptious. The recipe I used is HERE.

The recipe calls for the “cream” to be European-style yogurt or Mexican crema. Unless the European-style yogurt is of 19th century Spanish origin, I’d have none of it. I wanted authenticity, and our local and awesome H-E-B stocks Mexican crema. It’s about three feet to the right of the Hill Country brand, 128-ounce satchel of shredded Colby Jack cheese.

Despite its slight kick in the throat from the chipotles in adobo, it mercifully softens the tightening, noose-like effect of the relish. So: good-cop-bad-cop. But you’re still gonna be crying mommy.

Toast the baguette under the broiler, and skip any additional cheese. The Mexican crema serves a dual purpose.

Add sides like butternut squash and organic beets as urban sophisticates to your brutish entree, and you are good to go. Time to get more bad guys. And ugly ones, too.

As an alternate to the hot jalapeño relish, try my Billy Dobbs Rough Stock Salsa.

How “spaghetti-western” food differs from other food

Why does there need to be a “spaghetti-western cuisine,” anyway? Aren’t there enough food choices out there already? Furthermore, isn’t this a bit too niche: hungry gunslingers? Well, I’ll concede that latter point, because most hungry gunslingers either died a violent death 150 years ago or are aging conservative Hollywood actors who live off lime jello and cottage cheese. So, yes.

But, if you look at Instagram, there is a glut of food but absolutely NO choice for NextGen gunners. Say: gamers. We’re talking serious scale here.

Instagram has a cacophonous display of food (as it does with architecture, thatched-roof hotel huts over crystal waters or big-breasted Slavic women). How Instagrammers get people’s attention is using hashtags and obscenely beautiful photography and now video. The photos and videos don’t display how we live. Rather, they underscore how little we have. They are market-makers. I’m here to fill a hungry market. A market with a hole in its stomach. I’m on a mission of mercy.

According to Hootsuite, the most popular hashtags have little to do with these images. I find consolation in knowing that the #1 hashtag is “love.” I don’t know what “#instagood” means.

Back to food and “spaghetti-western.”

I won’t even go into all the food photographs. Anyone on Instagram has seen everything from the seven-patty hamburgers with American cheese dripping over the side — who’s gonna actually eat that?! — to the white-plated anorexic portion of wagyu beef on thin toasted bread, a bite that cost the Instagrammer “120$,” but was “so worth it.”

Really?!

Have you a hearty meal draining your kid’s 529 College Fund.

“Texas Takes on Italian Classics”

Spaghetti-Western Food — what I also call “Texas Takes on Italian Classics” — is a fusion of comfort-food and rustic Italian food, mostly southern Italian but also some northern. An homage to what puts meat on our bones — meat that a gunslinger needs to keep slinging guns, whether in Dead Man’s Gulch or Palermo — and Italian cooking that’s been passed down through the generations.

Chicken-fried chicken parmesan was another example. I made a tiramisù, but it was traditional. No gunslinger whom I’ve met would eat something with “lady fingers” in it. The “Texas-take” on that would be to substitute tequila for the cognac.

And of course there are Texas items we can put on pizza or over pasta, but we need to tread lightly there. We’re tip-toeing around tradition. No brisket or salsa as such on a pizza, and definitely not Velveeta. That deserves a showdown at dawn. Jalapeños? Yeah. Venison sausage? Sure. Especially in a ragout.

The fusion also blends the Texan “sovereign swagger” and the “bigger-is-better” ethos with the Italian stability of two thousand years of culture and European dominance. A Dallas Cowboy running back father mated with a woman identifying as a Roman centurion.

And because of an innate “manifest destiny” of the Lone Star State and its residents, don’t be surprised if you see Italian tradition on four wheels driving into a town near you.

Chicken-fried chicken recipe: Texas style

As Reese’s didn’t invent chocolate or peanut butter but put them together in 1928 to make a candy that we now see as separate from chocolate or peanut butter, so I didn’t give birth to Chef John at AllRecipes or to Guy Fieri. But putting them together gave me a chicken fried chicken recipe re-born as “spaghetti-western food”: Chicken-Fried Chicken Parmesan.

You read right.

You get the best of Italy and the best of western/country cooking in this mash-up.

I had started to write out the whole recipe here but soon realized it would be easier to direct you, my Dear Reader, to the two websites I used. For the chicken-fried chicken recipe, I have long used Guy Fieri’s method outlined HERE for chicken-fried steak. The process is similar, I figured, and I know it by heart, so…

For the chicken parmesan, I did two things:

  • Chef John at AllRecipes.com — always a winner supplier of recipes for me, I’ve found — provided the STEPS HERE for the chicken part. HERE, too, is his personal blog. I encourage you to bookmark it.
  • Secondly, I knew I wanted authentic marinara.
    • A fellow foodie on Instagram gave me her Italian grandmother’s recipe, but I forgot it.
    • Instead, I Googled it and found that the NY Times had a recipe for “classic” marinara — Awesome! I want classic! — but of course, like the weather or announcements of an incoming asteroid, all articles are behind their paywall.
    • But there is a hack for paywalls called Archive.is, which I often go to.

The Texas-Italy fusion Chicken-Fried Chicken Recipe

As I mentioned above, the disappointing aspect of this article is that it doesn’t contain a step-by-step recipe for “chicken-fried chicken parmesan.” I will write it down soon. For now, I wanted to get down on paper the overall sense of the entree, which turned out to be a hit.

The chicken was incredibly juicy. Since it fried for only four minutes or so, 15-20 minutes of baking inside the batter retained most of the chicken’s juice.

The marinara recipe, by Lidia Bastianich for the Times, indeed produced sauce that was magnificent. Flavorful but not overpowering. Two of the more interesting aspects of her recipe are to (1) let the garlic sizzle only, not brown, before adding in the tomatoes (which should be whole and peeled; I got relatively high quality ones), and then (2) “place [a] basil sprig, including stem, on the surface (like a flower). Let it wilt, then submerge in sauce.” How delightful a step, because it requires loving attention by the cook. Later, you remove it.

The Texas part in all this is first soaking the chicken in buttermilk.

I looked up the history of buttermilk, and it is quite sad. (It really is not, but this piques your interest and makes this post sound more interesting and informed, so I wrote it that way) But more to the point, my father-in-law used to drink buttermilk, which is all the more surprising considering this tragic development of buttermilk into today’s “soured yogurt-y” concoction. Likewise, my youngest son, Teak (the other foodie in the family) tried a sip and was as repelled as the author of the article linked above. So: you can skip it as a drink in itself.

But Guy soaks his meat (flank steak in the case of that dish) in buttermilk. I soak it for at least 30 minute, if not longer, because I think that the meat absorbs some of the liquid, and its bitterness is cooked out, leaving a juicy and tender piece of meat.

A new “spaghetti-western” food

There’s a fairly large group of “foodies” on Instagram, which of course is a visual medium, leaps and bounds more so than a website. THere’s also a glut of foodies there, a lot of “noise” with photos tagged #___porn. #BurgerPorn. #Dessertporn. Etc. I probably shouldn’t give more examples or my site will get flagged, but you already know about that suffix being added to almost every category.

That said, I needed to break away from the noise and the cliche of food accounts, and since I love Italian and also Texas cuisines — though here in Texas it’s less “cuisine” than it is the waitress’s “What’ll-you-have-darlin’?” — I decided to come up with “Spaghetti-Western Cuisine: Texas takes on Italian classics.”

YOu’ll be hearing more about this in the days and weeks to come.

The dish came out close to perfection, thanks to the great recipes I followed, and I hope you’ll give it a shot. (Once I post the combined recipe, which of course I’ll have to do. In the meantime, also click over to my write-up about another Texas original on salsa.)

Please VISIT OUR SPONSORS HERE and consider purchasing some of their products. I earn a small commission when you do, but this product below, which I did a write-up on recently (CLICK HERE), I used for this recipe and is my go-to chef knife.