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Excelsior! As promised, I’ve finally got around to finishing up the first piece in a new series of cook-the-book style posts! First at-bat is Stan Lee Presents the Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook. 

The book begins with a brief introduction and some basic tips on safety and kitchen cleanliness. Then, as any good morning would, delves into some breakfast.

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A wise man once said “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food” and a trip to your local diner will prove that every time. While studies have more or less debunked the conventional wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, starting your morning with good food is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the day.

With Captain America’s Day Starters, we get a few different options for easy, healthy and delicious kick start.

‘Fresh fruit or fruit juice. Lots of vitamins C and A’

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I’ve wrote on here a few times about how great smoothies can be for breakfast. Blend up your favorite mix of fruits and veggies with some juice or milk (I also like to throw some type of sea vegetable in the mix) and you’re ready to go. Once you blend your mix, you can freeze it in an ice cube tray to make things even easier while you’re still groggy. This particular blend I threw together features banana, pineapple, orange, mango and sweet potato.

‘Milk is the best source of calcium. It’s need for strong bones and teeth. It also supplies protein – essential building blocks for our bodies’img_4825

Milk is certainly nutritious, if not a little bit weird as a concept, but yogurt has even more calcium and is loaded with beneficial bacteria. Mixed with granola and some fresh fruit, it makes for a hearty, protein-packed breakfast.

‘Bread or cereal, lots of variations in this department’

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For simplicity, flavor and customization, look no further than Avocado Toast, loaded with Omega 3 fats and complex carbohydrates. The only two things you need are in the name itself. Apart from avocado and toasted bread, the possibilities are near endless. The folks over that The Kitchn have a great piece to get your creative juices going; Here, I’ve got 12 grain bread with butter and sesame seeds, mashed avocado, and thinly sliced cucumber tossed with salt, pepper, chili flake and lime juice.

Now, for those looking for a more traditional American-style breakfast, look no further than Hulk’s Fried Potatoes with Bacon and Eggs

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This dish needs little explanation, if any at all. Bacon, eggs, toast, breakfast potatoes; Maybe some coffee, if you’re so inclined. I will give one little trick I recently picked  up while working mainly breakfast shifts: par-boil your potatoes with onions and garlic. This cooks them through, so when you fry ’em up they’ll be soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s the same principle to making great French Fries.

In Our Next Exciting Issue…

The Thing’s Clobbered Omelet

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We all know and love tacos. They’re one of the many, many foreign foods that have readily entered American culture and persisted for generations. Whether you hail from the southwest and grew up with the more traditional styles of Mexico, or you’re like me and longed for the nights when your parents would bust out the big red Taco Bell kit-in-a-box, everyone has their favorites.  The best tacos I’ve ever had came from Tacos Garcia, a small white truck in Yountville, California, about a block down the street from The French Laundry: fresh corn tortillas, slow roasted pork, pineapple, radish and cilantro; super traditional Al Pastor. If you’re unfamiliar with tacos, I don’t think I have enough skill as a writer to illustrate exactly how amazing they are and what exactly you’re missing out on. So with that being said, I think it wouldn’t do me any favors to try and go on and on before getting into the recipe. I’ve had my share of experience working with traditional taco styles, so this week I wanted to play around with probably the least traditional form they’ve taken over the past three decades: The Choco Taco.

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A Choco Taco is a specific kind of ice cream sandwich built to resemble a taco. Normally wrapped in a thin waffle cone type shell, filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with a hard chocolate shell. Lacking the ability to make a waffle cone myself, I opted for a thin, sweet pancake-like wrapper. Taking a cue from the folks over at Food52, once the cakes were done cooking, I draped them over the spine of a book to help them form as they cooled. For the filling, I wanted to try Avocado ice cream. I  already knew that avocado and chocolate make a surprisingly awesome pairing, so it really wasn’t that much of a leap. Sweet, but not too sweet, and a healthy dose of the rich avocado flavor made it perfect for dessert. After a quick dip in dark chocolate and a topping of hazelnuts, the tacos are ready to go. They hold up really well in the freezer, but if you’re at all like me, they won’t last very long. Feel free to play around with your favorite kinds of ice cream and various different toppings! I bet this would go great with cinnamon and chili, sort of like Aztec-style cocoa drinks.

Avocado Ice Cream

makes about 6 cups

  • Avocado, ripe, 4 each (small to medium)
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk, 1 14oz can
  • Heavy Cream, 1 1/2 cups
  • Whole Milk, 1/2 cup
  • Granulated Sugar, 3/4 cup
  • Vanilla Extract, 1 teaspoon
  • Lemon Juice, 1/2 teaspoon

Peel and pit avocados. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and process until thoroughly combined. Churn in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Pancake Shells

makes about 6 shells

  • All-Purpose Flour, 2/3 cup
  • Granulated Sugar, 1/2 cup
  • Kosher Salt, 1/8 teaspoon
  • Butter, unsalted, 2 tablespoons
  • Whole Milk, 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon
  • Almond Extract, 1/4 teaspoon
  • Vanilla Extract, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Egg White, 2 each

Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, melt butter. Combine with milk, extracts and egg whites, mixing thoroughly. Add wet mixture to dry mixture, mixing just enough to combine. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook batter about 2 tablespoons at a time, spreading out as thinly as possible, about 1 minute on each side. While cakes are still warm, drape over the spine of a book while cooling to form shells. Fill with ice cream to form tacos and allow to set 15 minutes in the freezer.

Chocolate Coating

  • Dark Chocolate chips, 10 oz
  • Coconut Oil, 3 tablespoons

Melt chocolate and coconut oil together over a double boiler. Dip pre-frozen ice cream tacos in chocolate to coat, and top as desired with nuts, sprinkles, or candy.

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Any chef worth their salt knows their way around a knife. Keeping a sharp knife and knowing a few basic cuts will put you leagues ahead of most home cooks, and plenty of professionals that I know. Uniformity of your knife cuts will not only increase the visual appeal of your food, but will also make it cook more evenly. I could sit and go on about how important proper knife skills are, but any introduction I could give would pale in comparison to Alton Brown’s “American Slicer” episode of Good Eats. In the episode, Brown goes over the basics of which knife to use for what application, sharpening and honing, and classical knife cuts. The full episode is available on YouTube for $1.99, or for free download on The Pirate Bay. If you’re looking to boost up your knife skills, I cannot highly recommend enough watching this episode.

For the 15th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, I was a bit stumped as to what could really showcase precision cuts. Other than brunoise-ing a bunch of veggies to garnish a consomme I couldn’t come up with much. I went to think of some dishes where presentation was just as important as the taste of the product and quality of ingredients, and immediately struck a chord. When I was a kid, we didn’t have cable or satellite TV at our house for one reason or another. So when we went to my Nana’s house for Sunday dinners, my brother and I got our fill of the ol’ boob tube. For my brother, that mostly meant catching up on cartoons. While I took in my fair share of cartoons as well, it wouldn’t be hard to catch me curled up on the floor with a pillow and taking in reruns of Essence of Emeril, the show that would inspire nine-year-old me to become a chef. Among the various episodes of Julia Child and Martin Yan, one of my favorites was the Japanese import Iron Chef. For those unfamiliar with the original series, challengers were selected by the mysterious Chairman to do battle in the kitchen against the Iron Chefs, masterful cooks each specializing in a particular world cuisine such as French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. I was always a big fan of Hiroyuki Sakai, Iron Chef French, but the viewers more familiar with the American series will know Iron Chef Japanese, Masaharu Morimoto. Known as much for his personality, Morimoto is was the only chef from the original series to return for the American version. Morimoto is known for his absolute precision in intricate presentation, which he displays prominently in his sushi. Morimoto was the first introduce many style of traditional sushis to American diners. One particular style of sushi, the Shikai Maki roll, is made to replicate the design of stained glass and showcases exact knife cuts and the true skill of a sushi maker. While I am, by no means at all, a sushi maker, I’ve always enjoyed sushi and figured that it would be a great opportunity to showcase some knife work.

Shikai Makizushi

I’ll admit, I did not have high hopes for this attempt at such an intricate roll. However, once I started to assemble it it turned out to be much easier that it seemed at first. Using Morimoto’s own recipe for sushi rice, I made enough to fill a few rolls, then got to making my knife cuts. I’m quite partial to California rolls, albeit not that tradition, so for ingredients I used cucumber, avocado and crab meat. Most California rolls are down with imitation crab sticks which are made from pollock, but I wanted to go with the real deal. I nice fine julienne of the crab and avocado got piled in between a roll of nori, cucumber and rice, then shaped into the four section. The interior diamond design is really what should shine through in a shikai roll, so I think in that respect I kind of failed. The overall appearance is still pretty nice though, and it definitely tasted good, so I would consider the dish as a whole a success. In any case, it just gives me a good excuse to practice making more sushi!

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I, as I’m sure many of you can relate, do not live in a tropical area. In fact, northern Vermont is pretty much the least tropical you can get. But in recent years, even the smaller grocery stores have started carrying a variety of tropical fruits. While most people may think of tropical fruits as just pineapples, mangoes, papayas and the like, Wikipedia defines a tropical fruit as any fruit with an intolerance to frost. This definition would include things such as Cape Gooseberry, Honeydew Melon, Pistachios, Olives, and even allspice and nutmeg! As you may have guessed,  tropical fruit is the theme for the 28th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge!

What I think is great about tropical fruit is their natural colors and flavors. Fruits grown in tropical environments always seem to have brighter, more vivid colors and provide a great visual element to any dish. To highlight their great natural qualities, I picked a few tropical fruits that were available up here and made a fruit terrine, which is totally not just a fancy jello cup.

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 There really isn’t too much to say about this, since I didn’t really cook very much. Thinly sliced mangoes and avocados, pineapple and pomegranate seeds, all set in a lightly sweetened gelatin. Fresh pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, which breaks down proteins and is commonly used in meat tenderizers. This enzyme will also stop gelatin from setting properly, which is why I had to blanch the pineapple for a few minutes before adding the gelatin. A friend of mine runs Tea Rex Tea Co. and I was lucky enough to get a sample of their Ice Age blend: a great mix of black tea, orange and mint. I thought that these flavors would compliment the tropical fruits nicely, so I made a simple coulis infused with the tea and drizzled it over the fruit. Sweet, tart, creamy; this dessert was perfect finish to a nice summer evening.

Tropical Fruit Terrine

makes about 4 cups

  • Avocado, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Mango, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Pineapple, small diced, blanched, 2 cups
  • Pomegranate seeds, about 2 cups
  • Cold Water, 1 cup
  • Gelatin, 4 packets
  • Hot Water, 3 cups
  • Sugar, 1 cup

Line a cupcake pan with alternating slices of mango and avocado. Combine pineapple and pomegranate and fill cups with mixture. Bloom gelatin over cold water, let stand 5 minutes. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add sugar and let dissolve. Dissolve bloomed gelatin into hot water. Fill fruit cups with gelatin and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours to set.

Black Tea Coulis

  • Tea Rex Tea Co. Ice Age Tea, about 9 grams
  • Water, 1 cup
  • Sugar, 2 cups

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea. Allow to steep 4 minutes. Strain liquid into another pot . While still hot, add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and  allow to cool completely before serving.

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Jus Alpukat

In the past, the avocado had a well-entrenched reputation for inducing sexual prowess and wasn’t purchased or consumed by anyone wishing to protect their image from slanderous assault. The name avocado actually comes from the Aztec word for testicle, which makes sense since the avocado is technically a berry. Most notably known in the cuisine of it’s region of origin, the avocado has spread to all corners of the globe. Sushi, sandwiches, guacamole; the uses are nearly endless. In Indonesia, avocado is the main ingredient in a popular drink, Jus Alpukat.

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The recipe is pretty basic and seems to be fairly standard across the various sources I found. A few ripe avocados, blended with some milk and ice and topped with chocolate syrup. Now, I know what you’re thinking. At first, I too was skeptical about the chocolate-avocado combination. I’ve never really had avocado in a sweet preparation, so the thought of mixing it with chocolate seemed incredibly foreign to me. However, the end result was reminiscent of a chocolate covered banana, which is pretty much the only good way to have banana. The natural sweetness of the avocado was brought out by a little sweetened condensed milk, but I would have preferred mine to be just a touch sweeter. The fattiness of the fruit gave an incredible texture to the drink, kind of like the smoothest milkshake in the world. It may not be for everyone, I’ll even admit that it didn’t come out tasting quite as I expected it to, but it’s definitely worth giving a shot and simple enough that you won’t be out too much time or effort.

Jus Alpukat

  • Avocado, ripe, 3 each
  • Whole Milk, 1 1/2 cups
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk, 1/2 cup plus more as needed
  • Ice Cubes, 5 each
  • Water, 1/2 cup
  • Sugar, 4 oz
  • Cocoa Powder, 1.5 oz
  • Vanilla Extract, 1 teaspoon
  • Kosher Salt, 1/2 teaspoon

Cut the avocados in half, then remove the pit and remove flesh from skin. In a blender, blend avocado, milk, ice, and sweetened condensed milk. Blend until smooth, adding more sweetened condensed milk to sweeten to taste. In a small pot, combine water and sugar and bring to a simmer to dissolve sugar. Add cocoa, vanilla and salt, mixing to combine. Pour shake into a glass and top with chocolate syrup.

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Tacos. What can I really say about them that you don’t already know? A close cousin to the sandwich, a taco can really be anything that you want it to be. Take a tortilla, flour or corn, and add pretty much whatever your heart desires. Meat, veggies, cheese, beans, toppings; the choices are nearly endless.

For the 10th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, I knew I was going to have to do something extra awesome. To me, that means taking some traditional recipes and making them really well. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, the Cemita sandwich gets it’s name from the fluffy sesame seed bun that hold the toppings. Now, I’ve made no secret of my love all things sandwich and when I came across this one I knew that it would make some great tacos.

Tacos de Cemita

Slow cooked pork carnitas, fresh tomato, avocado, queso blanco, cilantro, and chipotle chili sauce, all atop a homemade sesame tortilla. I think the carnitas came out a bit dry, but  the fattiness from the avocado more than made up for it and they were otherwise very flavorful.  The chipotle sauce was definitely a work-in-progress though. Following the recipe, the sauce would destroy any other flavor in the taco, not to mention the mouth or stomach of anyone eating it. I ended up adding a little more than 1/4 cup of honey to tone it down to a puny human heat level. The end result was one of the best tacos I’ve had in a very long time. The spiciness from the pork and sauce was highlighted by the fresh, brighter flavors of the tomato and cilantro, and the creaminess of the cheese tied the whole thing together in one delicious mouthful.

Pork Carnitas

  • Guajillo Chilies, dried, 6 each
  • Ancho Chili, dried, 1 each
  • Cumin Seed, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Black Peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon
  • Clove, whole, 5 each
  • Cinnamon Stick, 1 inch piece
  • Garlic, minced, 2 cloves
  • Oregano, dried, 1 teaspoon
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Apple Cider Vinegar, 2 teaspoons
  • Vegetable Oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Pork shoulder or butt, 4lbs
  • Water, 1 1/2 cup
  • Lard or Vegetable Shortening, 3 pounds
  • Onion, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Orange, chopped, 1 each
  • Garlic, chopped, 8 cloves
  • Bay leaves, 3 each
  • Oregano, dried, 2 teaspoons
  • Salt, 3 teaspoons

Stem and seed chilies. Combine all spices in a pan over medium heat and toast until aromatic. Roughly chop chilies, then grind all spices in a spice grinder. Combine ground spices with garlic, vinegar, and oil. Rub spice mixture over pork and let sit overnight or at least 2 hours. In a medium pot, heat lard until melted. In a large pot or slow cooker, add vegetables and spices, then place the pork on top. Add water and lard to cover. Cook over low heat for about 8 hours. During the last hour of cooking, raise to high heat and allow to pork to become crispy.

Chipotle Chili Sauce

makes about 2 cups

  • Vegetable Oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Onion, diced, 1 each
  • Diced tomato, canned, 14 oz
  • *Chipotle in Adobo, canned,  about 7 oz
  • Water, as needed
  • **Honey, about 1/4 cup

In a medium pot, sautee onion in vegetable oil until translucent. Add tomato and chipotle and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and continue to simmer about 20 minutes. Blend sauce in a blender until smooth, adding water as needed. While blending, slowly add honey. Strain through a mesh strainer to remove solids. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

*Depending on your taste, you can rinse the sauce from the chilies or you can add it all to the mix. I left the sauce that stuck to the chilies, but didn’t add any leftover sauce from the can.

**Depending on your spice tolerance, you can add more or less honey. I like to think that I have a pretty high tolerance, and with no honey it was borderline painful to taste. You have been warned.

Sesame Tortilla

makes about 15, 1.5 oz tortillas

  • All-Purpose Flour, 3 cups
  • Baking Powder, 2 teaspoons
  • Salt, 2 teaspoons
  • Lard, 3/4 cup
  • Hot Water, 3/4 cup
  • Sesame Seeds, toasted, 1/2 cup

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Either by hand or with a pastry cutter, cut the lard into the flour until encorporated. Slowly add water, kneeding until the dough comes together. Add sesame seeds and continue kneeding until evenly combined. Let dough rest, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour. Divide dough into about 15 even portions. Using a tortilla press*, press the dough balls until evenly flattened. Heat a griddle or cast-iron pan to medium-high heat. Cook tortillas until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. To serve, place tortillas in a towel-lined steamer basket over a pot of boiling water. Steam tortillas about 2 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Serve warm.

Cemita Taco Assembly:

Sesame Tortilla

Pork Carnitas

Chipotle Sauce

Tomato, Diced

Avocado, sliced

Queso Blanco, crumbled

Cilantro

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