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.


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 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!

“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.


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.)


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!


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:


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

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 — 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, 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.

How to cure ham: My “maiden voyage”

When I was a kid growing up in New York City, every Easter we’d head down to North Carolina. There, in Williamston, I fell in love with country ham on scratch biscuits with some butter on them, too. Here I’ll tell you how to cure ham — the simple way — and what I learned from this first-time experience a few days ago.

Watching Hattie

It was Hattie, a roundish woman with warm, rich dark skin, who worked for my two great aunts, Aunt Sally and Aunt Jane. Hattie made the biscuits. I knew this, but I don’t think I appreciated her home cooking until years later. I didn’t value cooking, and I didn’t see Hattie as more than someone who made Sally’s and Jane’s lives easier.

However, I did spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen with her. I’d lie on the floor as an aging labrador retriever named Joe-dog ate his meal. I even ate a piece of his dried food once. As many of you know, I’m a foodie. I loved Joe-dog and I loved the cooking in that white house with the wrap-around porch and the back porch with a cooler of full-on-sugary Coca-Colas and, I suppose, I loved Hattie. She had a caring if, I assume, burdened, spirit. This was when I was 4 or 5 years old; the late 1960s. Not an easy time for Hattie to be Hattie in white eastern North Carolina.

Eastern North Carolina was tobacco country, and everyone smoked as if their lives depended on it. Because it did. In eastern North Carolina you were either saved by salvation in Christ, or you were a sinner. I was not the former, and though I was equally unaware of either status at the time, eventually I would earn quite a few memories of being the latter.

Hattie was the one who cooked, along with Aunt Sally. So you could say I “watched” Hattie, and you wouldn’t be incorrect to say I absorbed her love of simple cooking. You also wouldn’t be incorrect to say that I watched a woman make a living in a tough time to be living then, and what I remember years later is her cooking and her grace toward this inquisitive white boy who, at the time, seemed to be as fond of ham biscuits as of dog food.

Just today, I was amused to read an Instagram post by a fellow foodie who somewhat acerbically joked about having to read family histories of great aunts — she actually did write that part about great aunts — before getting to the recipe.

The good news here is: there’s no recipe.

Just a story in which my great aunts play a role. A supporting role at that. The ham is center stage. As are the scratch biscuits I made a day after curing the meat — also a first-time experience.


The right salt

The “right salt” assumes you are even using salt to dry cure your ham. There are other methods that I won’t go into here that complicate a procedure that already has complicated variations. I wanted country ham that was both dry and salty and would sit nicely on a scratch biscuit with a generous amount of fresh unsalted butter. That being my aim, I decided it would be difficult — nay, impossible — to have that salty ham without salt. Call me crazy.

I used Morton Tender Quick.


A right-sized tub or tray

This step is really combined with Step 3 below, because you want to match the size of the meat with the tubs or trays with sides that you have at home. I got a cut of ham that was almost too big for any container I had. The tub I used was probably 8×8 inches (~20.5 cm square) with 3-inch sides.

I suppose you could cut the ham into two pieces and place them in a smaller container, but I wanted a single piece both for aesthetics and for practicality.

I didn’t use a lid, by the way; not sure if that is recommended. The site I checked didn’t specify whether to cover it or not while curing.

Later in the steps, you’ll see that the cured meat should hang in a cool place or refrigerator so that air can circulate, so I took that to mean that the salt itself didn’t need to be covered.


The right ham

As basic as this might sound — and I’m talking to the real beginner here, like I was — make sure your ham is both not sliced already and also that it’s cooked. There are certain methods of cooking ham once it’s cured, but I wanted much quicker results. So I consulted another website outlining various ways of curing and also how to avoid important failures, like having the meat spoil while you’re curing it.

If you are more of an intermediate at this rather than a beginner, check out this website HERE.

I went to our local grocery store, H-E-B, the smaller one on S. Sidney Baker, and finally found a ham that met the two criteria above: not sliced and already cooked. This piece of ham would make a nice experiment. It was also relatively thin, perhaps 2.5 inches (6.35cm), so the curing process would be quicker.

I’d ordered the salt off Amazon, because though H-E-B had various similar salts, it didn’t have what I thought was the correct salt for this kind of curing.

With the salt, the ham and the proper-sized tub, I was ready to start.


The process

You might not believe the process is this simple:

  • Cover the bottom of your tub with salt, perhaps a finger-width deep.
  • Take the ham out of the package
  • Place the ham in the salt
  • Cover the ham with salt completely, probably a finger-width over the top
  • Put ham in fridge
  • Wait 24 hours before removing

That’s it!

At least, that’s what I did.

You can watch the video of the big reveal above or HERE — grace please; I am awful at taking videos and selfies — to see the result and how nice and dry the meat came out.


How to store your meat

Once again, there are different methods of storing your meat — avoiding spoilage is paramount — but all I did simply was to bore a hole through the thinnest area of the ham and run a twist-tie through the hole. Then I hung it from the grill in a mini-fridge in my office at home.


The process itself of curing this ham was easy and gave me the outcome I’d hoped for. I made scratch biscuits from a recipe I found on HERE. Even the biscuits were relatively easy to make, and I’m no baker. Further, all my measuring spoons were in the dishwasher at the time. Aside from the flour, for which I had a measuring cup, I had to eyeball the sugar, salt, cream of tartar and baking powder. The biscuits still came out excellent, so you know the recipe is good if it accommodates beginner mistakes like this.

If you still have questions, please feel free to email me at howard (at)

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Recipes with Italian sweet sausage: “Skip A Rope Risotto”

I wasn’t looking so much for recipes with Italian sweet sausage as I was for risotto recipes with sausage. I got both. This dish with risotto and a combination of Italian sweet sausage and Jimmy Dean hot sausage make a delicious meal that is both sophisticated enough for adults but also crowd-pleasing for kids.

“Skip A Rope”?

How did we come up with “Skip A Rope Risotto” as the name of this recipe?

Biscuit Aisle features “Texas takes on Italian classics.” A classic Italian dish is risotto. Well, the logical choice for meats, if we’re using sausage, is sweet Italian sausage, of course. But what if we are stubborn and have to get all Texas on this bad boy? There’s no more Texan a sausage than Jimmy Dean. (In fact, around here, there’s no other self-respecting sausage than Jimmy Dean.)

Jimmy Dean was a country singer (later a TV host, actor and entrepreneur) born in Olton, Texas in 1928. His song “Skip A Rope” was somewhat sad and stoic too, but Harlan Howard was attributed with the saying, “Country music is three chords and the truth.” “Skip A Rope” seemed to add the right cadence to risotto, so for that pedestrian reason, we named it so.

A version of the song I like better than the original or earlier covers is by George Jones:

The Recipe

Again, substituting Jimmy Dean for sweet Italian sausage gave it a distinctive Texas flair — for a Texan, that is (which is not me, but I know quite a few of them here in the Texas Hill Country) — that Texans can smell at a hundred paces. By all means, you can use sweet Italian sausage instead of Jimmy Dean. But: why?

Until I come up with something better, this is my favorite recipe with sweet Italian sausage (of course, subbing in Dean).

“Skip A Rope” Risotto

The classic Italian risotto with sausage, Texas-style

  • large skillet
  • stock pot
  • 2 lbs Jimmy Dean sausage (hot) (Live dangerously: Don't get mild or medium.)
  • 5 cu chicken stock
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 1-1/2 cu Arborio Rice
  • To taste Salt
  • To taste Pepper
  • 1/4 cu Olive oil (We've recently discovered Terra Delyssa)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cu Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cu Cilantro ((optional for regional Texas flair))
  • 1/2 cu Dry white wine (We used a Pinot Grigio)
  • 1 cu peas (Kids bristle at peas, but this is good for them, so…)
  • 1 cu Parmesan cheese, roughly grated
  1. Pour stock into pot, salt and pepper to taste; heat until hot; lower heat; keep warm.

  2. Take a large round skillet or sauce pan (we use a 15" Lodge cast iron skillet, because it seems that, in Texas, we should) and pour all the oil into it. Heat on medium.

  3. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the sausage (do not break into pieces) and cook a few minutes on each side, till browned. Then break up the sausage.

  4. Add the onions and let them become slightly translucent, maybe a minute or two.

  5. Add the rice and toss to combine. Cook briefly until rice appears brown and then pour in wine. Cook until wine is absorbed.

  6. Add 1 cu of the stock and stir until absorbed. Keep adding 1 cu at a time and let it absorb until rice is al dente. Do not overcook.

  7. Add peas and stir to warm. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan, parsley and butter.

Main Course

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The best homemade biscuits from scratch: “The Roaring ’20s Biscuit”

There was an Instagram post (below) that I couldn’t improve on. But I thought, “How can I make the best homemade biscuits from scratch to accompany the entree?”

I came across a recipe for biscuits that was good, but it seemed to lack kick. So I added something that all Texans think about first thing in the morning: sausage. And not just any sausage: Jimmy Dean sausage. Hot Jimmy Dean Sausage.

Really “the best homemade biscuits from scratch”?

There are probably better recipes out there, but let me tell you why this recipe satisfied my need for a scratch biscuit:

  • It was a drop biscuit and didn’t need cutting.
    • This was actually quite important, since I wanted them to look more “natural” and not so “thought out.”
  • The ingredients were straightforward and simple to mix.
  • I substituted almond milk for buttermilk — mainly because I didn’t want to buy a whole thing of buttermilk, which I never stock, and let it go to waste — and the result seemed as delicious anyway. (I wouldn’t know of course how they’d taste with buttermilk, but that really wasn’t a concern.)
  • They only needed to cook 10-12 minutes.
  • The butter sauce you brush on top made them awesome.
  • There’s nothing like warm biscuits coming out of the oven…oh my gosh.

Why try to fix what’s not broken?

It’s not that the original recipe is “broken.” It’s that it needed something more. I’ve learned that in Texas, it’s “go big or go home.” So it needed to be more fun, more scrumptious, more biscuit-y than other ordinary biscuits. It had to live up to the hype of naming a blog, “Biscuit Aisle.”

Who was Jimmy Dean anyway?

More important than “who” is “why.” Why am I so keen on adding Jimmy Dean sausage to this recipe.

Jimmy Dean was born in 1928 in Plainview, Texas, during the decade known as “The Roaring ’20s.” It was during Prohibition, a time when almost nothing seemed prohibited. Money was made hand over fist — “cheddar” (money) was made by the wheel. Until it wasn’t.

Dean was “multi-talented,” as the corporate website describes him. (They’re not wrong.) Singer, TV show host, actor, entrepreneur.

My wife won’t let me buy anything but Jimmy Dean. When we lived in New York City and Massachusetts, it was hard to find, and I could tell there was a wistful sadness about being away from Texas, away from H-E-B, and therefore away from Jimmy Dean.

(OK, you got me. She wasn’t that severe, of course, about sausage purchases. I mean, we lived outside Texas for 22 years, and none of us would have gone without sausage for two decades. But as soon as our American Airlines flight touched down in San Antonio, it was Jimmy Dean all the way.)

And you have to go hot Jimmy Dean, not mild. Again, go big, go picante, or go home.

Necessary kitchen tools

For the biscuits, you don’t need much. Just a cookie sheet and standard ingredients. You will need parchment paper, though, and for a long time I didn’t have that in my pantry. So make sure it’s on your next shopping list.

For the sausage, however, you have to have a cast iron skillet, and it has to be a Lodge. I wrote a review of Lodge skillets HERE. Making sausage in anything but an iron skillet just feels culturally heretical. And as for Lodge itself, it’s an American company that’s been around since 1896. Anytime you see a company with a founding date of 1900 or less, it has immediate credibility. At least, in my opinion it does. And did I mention it’s American?

You can get a Lodge on Amazon, along with things like a handle grip or scrub brush. I have 15-inch and 10.25-inch skillets along with a handle grip. You don’t really need the scrub brush. Just use steel wool. The myth is that steel wool will hurt the skillet. Not true. Even Lodge itself says so.

So for the best homemade biscuits from scratch, make sure to go with a simply recipe but make it kicky: add some Jimmy Dean sausage — only Jimmy Dean and only hot — and get your mouth ready.

What to cook with spam: Make it “country”

I suppose you could eat spam from the can, but why? Why eat it so literally and suffer from the color, the bland look, the imposed rectangular shape, not to mention the scorn from neighbors who rifle through your pantry during dinner parties? If you’ve asked yourself, “What to cook with spam?” let me offer an idea of how to cook it and what to put on top.

It’s a unique take on a “classic” that most of us would like to be kept on store shelves.

“What to cook with spam?”

A more helpful question to ask might be, “How do I cook spam?” or even “Why should I even eat spam?” There are so many meat choices that are better. (Is spam a meat or a “meat product”? A Kraft “cheese” slice is actually a “pasteurized cheese product.” Do you want to eat meat, or a meat product?

And if you must eat a meat product — if someone were to hold a spatula to your head and say, “Eat that spam or I’m going to turn you sunny-side up!” — you’d wonder how to transform spam into something that might keep the neighbors coming back.

Enter “Chicken-Fried Spam”!

Chicken-fried steak is a staple in Texas restaurants. Typically slathered in white gravy with sides like like mashed potatoes and green beans (and cornbread or hush puppies), chicken-fried steak has a cousin: “chicken-fried chicken,” which is essentially “fried chicken” without the bones. So we could say “boneless fried chicken,” but that sounds inferior. “Chicken-fried chicken” sounds much more justified on a menu, especially when even Cracker Barrel charges like $9.99 for it. (Plus three sides and a choice of breads, of course.)

So, I figured that if being “chicken-fried” made ordinary fried chicken into even better fried chicken, why not try it with spam?

What you’ll need

You’ll need these ingredients for chicken-fried anything.

  • buttermilk (I use almond milk)
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • paprika or cayenne pepper
  • eggs
  • Saltines
  • Panko bread crumbs


Do the following:

  1. Slice the spam to about 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Place the spam in a dish and cover the slices with buttermilk. I use almond milk, because I am trying to stay away from too much dairy, but buttermilk is good because its density holds the breading better.
  3. Chill for about 15-20 minutes (longer is better; 30 minutes is ideal)
  4. Meanwhile, set up the following:
    • Make three dipping stations, in this order
      • flour with salt, pepper and paprika/cayenne
      • eggs
      • crushed saltines to which you add Panko breadcrumbs
  5. Take the chilled and drenched spam slices and in this order dip and cover them well on both sides: flour mixture, eggs, and breadcrumb mixture.
  6. Place breaded spam on a plate and let sit for about 15 minutes.
  7. Take a cast iron skillet, pour 3/8ths of an inch of oil into it (or enough to cover the breaded slices) and bring to medium-high heat.
  8. When the oil starts to shimmer, carefully place the slices into the oil. Be careful not to splash the oil, and make room for each piece so they are not touching (or they will stick together).
  9. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, only until the underside of each piece is a light brown, and then flip, again taking care not to splash.
  10. Once browned on both sides, take out slices and place on a rack or on a plate with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

The good part

Here’s where we get to the fun part about what to cook with spam.

I was trying this out more out of curiosity than a desire to cook something so delicious that I’d do handstands. So I decided to make a caprese salad — Italian meets Texan — and put it on top of the slice of chicken-fried spam to make a sandwich out of it.

I used pumpernickel bread — as a dark bread, it gave me a feeling of “healthy” that was lacking by using spam — and first placed a piece of romaine on the bottom slice. This was to keep any remaining oil from soggying the bread. Then I placed a piece of chicken-fried spam on that.

And then, in a fit of what some would call brilliance and others would call “madness,” I placed tomato, a slice of mozzarella and fresh basil. A caprese salad. And then on top of that, I added a bespoke dressing of mayo mixed with sriracha.

A worthy experiment

On the side I made a small salad with baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and topped with a home-made raspberry balsamic vinaigrette.

I thought this might be a one-off. But my son, also a budding foodie, liked it. So perhaps I’ll try it again sometime. I still have three slices in the fridge.

For now, chicken-fried spam won’t become a staple in Texas restaurants or homes — I do make a mean chicken-fried steak, after all — but it’s always nice to know, in a pinch, what to cook with spam and how to do it.