From the Kitchen, from the Bar and from the garden: a meandering post about various things

I haven’t had a food and drink post for awhile. A handful of weeks ago we decided to see if we could grill whole Cornish hens on our small barreled shaped grill. We didn’t want to butterfly them which would be simpler, but to have a little whole chicken for each of us.

Many years ago, I was a member of a medieval recreation group called the Society of Creative Anachronism. I was friends with some folks who were part of a somewhat parallel group called the Tuchux, a group that recreated fantasy barbarians, and got their name from the rather atrocious Gor books by John Norman (very bad fantasy of a fellow who ends up on a alien planet where his fantasies of submissive women come true). They are quite a bit more egalitarian than the Gor nonsense and were some coolest people I ever met in my sojourn in the SCA (it’s been about a decade since I’ve had any contact with the SCA). At one of their Yule Feasts that I was kindly invited to, we each got a small loaf of fresh bread and a roasted Cornish hen and it was the best feast I think ever had. I wanted to recreate that.

We managed to do so by putting a pile of charcoal on both side of the grill aka indirect grilling and putting the chooks between them for about 45 minutes and then moving them over the dying coals to crisp up the skin for about 15 minutes at the end. I do recommend getting the biggest charcoal chimney as you can get because then you never have to worry about having lighter fluid or having that nasty taste on their food. We use brown craft paper to light ours since some inks smoke like crazy.

As for a recipe, all it was consisted of thawed chooks, with butter stuffed under the skin and smeared over the skin. Continue reading

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From the Bar and the Back Room: nostalgia on my part – Blennd and a new beer

Like most regions, humans come up with foods that are beloved locally but pretty much unknown outside of a day’s travel. I grew up in western PA which has this stuff called Reymer’s Blennd. This is a orange and lemon fruit based syrup that you mix with water to your taste.

It’s been around for a long time and now is made by Byrnes & Kiefer (B&K) Manufacturing, in Callery, PA, just north of Pittsburgh.   It is a bit hard to get a hold of, (horrors, amazon doesn’t carry it!) but one can still get it in various grocery stores in western PA. I have yet to find a place that you can order it from online, without paying a crazy amount for it or having to get an industrial sized quantity.

Blennd is a unique thing. Orange juice concentrate and lemon juice are its flavorings (it contains 15% actual juice, and it’ll give you quite a hit of vitamin C). Despite the acidity of these, Blennd doesn’t have a harsh aftertaste like a lot of juice based beverages, that are marketed as healthy or for kids. Something that is close to the taste, and is a wider distribution is Turkey Hill’s Haymaker Punch in the lemon flavor. If you’ve read the Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll recognize that punch as something Laura and Pa drank when working in the fields. Along the lines of these types of drinks are shrubs, which are vinegar and fruit syrups that one mixes with water. We also indulge in just vinegar to sip, and have tried a lot of infused ones.

just like this one!

Blennd has a very smooth consistency, thanks to some of the chemical thickeners in it (sodium hexametaphosphate, xanthan gum and propylene glycol) . And it has high-fructose corn syrup, which may frighten some people, but heck, if this is going to harm a human, I certainly should be feeling some effects thanks to the gallons of Blennd I’ve drank over the years. It was the go-to drink for any church picnic or family reunion, kool-aid was a distant second.   An aunt had a huge galvanized steel drink cooler that found its way everywhere from the barn when hay was being baled, to weddings. I probably got my zinc quotient for my entire life from that thing.

Since we hadn’t had it in a while, I asked my parents to bring some along when they visited recently. And since we have quite a full liquor cabinet, I decided to figure out what was the best mixer. I think anejo tequila is the best (I use Lunazul) since it works well with the citrus flavor.   Vodka is a close runner up, and Blennd really hides the alcohol, which can be a good or bad thing. Bourbon is okay, but reminiscent of a rather redneck blend of Mountain Dew soda and whatever kind of whiskey one might have. And rum makes what amounts to a very smoothly textured variant on a daquiri.

Blennd, along with chip chopped ham (a loaf of ham bits sliced raggedly and as thin as possible), are archetypical of the western tail end of Appalachia. For me, it’s comfort food. Indulging in a bit of nostalgia can be a remedy for how crazy the world is.

We also made a new beer kit. The kit was Northern Brewers White House Honey Porter kit (ours was a partial mash and it seems they only have the extract kit now). This was from a recipe from the White House during President Obama’s first term (I think) when it was nattered about having a beer with the president. It is a very good porter, but I honestly can’t tell that honey has anything to do with it. Ours is as dark and transparent as a cola soda.   A definite one to make again. And a reminder that there can be decent people as president and not that orange idiot that we have now.

I also bought NBs Don’t be Mean to People: A Golden Rule saison kit. They got together with a bunch of North Carolina breweries to make this to point out that North Carolina’s HB 2 was pure discrimination against the LGBT (and I’m sure I’m missing a few letters) community. NB is donating proceeds from the sales of this kit to the NC LGBT community, which I very much like. Not sure if I’ll brew that soon or if I’ll wait until this fall.

NB also has this nifty, and expensive, toy, a pico brewery!   Ah, to have won the lottery and play with this stuff.  🙂

That’s all. Eat and drink well!

(I don’t get any recompense from any of the companies mentioned.  I just like their stuff!)

From the Kitchen and the Bar – samoa pie, and wine

The samoa in the title is the Girl Scout cookie.  My spouse *loves* them.   They are basically a shortbread cookie covered in caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate.   They still are pretty good, though many of the cookies seem to less than what I remember.  Of course it could simply be the glow of nostalgia.  I, for the record, was a Brownie for about 6 weeks.  I was there long enough to make a “sit-a-pon”  and then was bored with the antics of little girls.  Such is the burden of reading way way early and just not caring who had what doll, etc.

Spouse found a recipe for a “samoa pie”, and asked nicely for one.   The recipe came from Averie Cooks, and is a very nice recipe indeed. It is quite the sugar bomb.  I think it is better than the cookies.  It is also very close to the circa 80’s Seven Layer Cookies, but I find it much easier to make since I almost always have the ingredients on hand.  I got randomly lucky and the chocolate on top evidently hit the tempering temperature and it ended up shiny.   I do recommend baking this on a sheet pan because the sweetened condensed milk got very very close to boiling out of the pie pan.  This is very very good with a cup of dark roast coffee with a bit of cream. I’m really enjoying the Gevalia Majestic Roast lately.

As for the wine, we finally got a bottle of Apothic Crush.  This is one of their limited editions, and I think for Valentine’s Day.  It’s very much like their Red and Dark, velvety and rich, but a bit lighter than both.  They are now coming out with a Rose for the spring/summer.

That’s it.  Eat and drink well.

Postscript:  if you are a new visitor, be warned that the bulk of my posts are my opinions of politics (pragmatic liberal) and religion (hard atheist).  If you only want to see the food and drink posts, just pay attention to the titles. They’ll always have “from the kitchen” or “from the bar” on them.  Occasionally, you’ll see a “from the back room” which will detail our adventures in home brewing.  Visit The Boss’s Office to find out about your host.

What the Boss Likes – much better lyrics for Deck the Halls

The original lyrics and much more fun. Thank you, Wikipedia!

Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
‘Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Fill the meadcup, drain the barrel,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Troul the ancient Christmas carol,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

See the flowing bowl before us,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Follow me in merry measure,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
While I sing of beauty’s treasure,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Laughing, quaffing all together,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

From the Kitchen and From the Bar – a less than standard Thanksgiving: Thai pork roast

filled-bunsThis year we decided to part from the norm of having our usual chicken dinner and try a new recipe we found in my subscription to Food & Wine magazine. This new recipe was for Thai Pulled Pork Sandwiches by Chef Jamie Bissonnette. This where my new Thai ingredients came into play. The online store, importfood.com,  has great deals on boxes of darn near everything you might need to cook Thai.

It’s a pretty straightforward recipe, with a pork roast being covered in a spice paste, roasted for hours to become fork-tender and then having a sauce added to the shredded flesh. My departures from this were minimal. I used a far larger pork roast, a pork shoulder with the skin on that weighed nearly 10 pounds. My eyes are always far larger than my stomach when it comes to purchasing my favorite meat.

raw

the raw roast with the paste on it.

The size of the shoulder meant that I thought I needed more curry paste (the curry, sugar and fish sauce mixture in the recipe) to cover it. I doubled the recipe and found that it was not needed. When I put the paste on the pork, I did not put it on the skin side.

The skin side was scored and then shoulder was roasted skin side up in my faithful black speckled roaster. When it was a couple of hours in, I took a fork and lifted the skin off and painted more curry pasted on the fat layer. The recipe has that one can take off the meat juices, remove the fat and mix the juices back in with the fork. Since I roasted this so long (4.5 hours), I got 9/10 fat, which I deemed not worth the effort to get that 1/10 juice separated (though it did inspire me to order a fat separator).roast

The coconut based sauce was done as indicated in the recipe but I added about a tablespoon of lime juice at the end since the sauce tasted a little flat to me. I think this would have been balanced using the lime wedges indicated as condiments at the end of the recipe but I found it easier to just add.

Packet of spices that are charred for the sauce.

Packet of spices that are charred for the sauce.

My husband also requested bao (you can find the link for the recipe here) rather than the brioche buns indicated. I made the steamed buns without filling using Andrea Nguyen’s recipe from Asian Dumplings. It works just as always and they are so very tender and mild. I can see little kids loving these with a little jam.

unfilled bao

unfilled bao

As a condiment, we just used cilantro since my husband isn’t much of a veggie eater and I forgot to pick up the cucumber that I wanted. I wasn’t going near a store because people lose their minds here when it comes to Thanksgiving and then the curious American habit of Black Friday.

Definitely a keeper recipe. We had a couple of Great Lakes Brewing beers with it. Their Celebration Ale is a higher alcohol ale with honey and spices. It’s sweet but not as sweet as some, like our local Troegs Mad Elf which is more than I can handle. The other was their Ohio City Oatmeal Stout, a perhaps smoier than usual stout but still very nice. The sweetness of both beers was good with the slight sweetness of the pork.

Incidentally, I did try to make the removed pork skin into cracklings. It worked somewhat. I took my cast iron griddle, got it smoking hot and put the skin bits on it. They puffed up, but somewhat irregularly, so some were nice and crunchy, and some weren’t. It was enough for a small chef’s snack 🙂

That’s it. Eat and drink well!

(postscript: in case you are new, and don’t want to see my opinions on religion and politics, just choose to read the “from the” posts. These will be about food, drink and whatever the subject is.)

From the Kitchen – port peppercorn sauce and a petit beef tenderloin filet

steakAlthough we’ve wandered a bit off of the South Beach diet lately, we are doing pretty well in keeping any new weight from being added back on.   It does help us to weigh ourselves every day, just to keep an eye on things.  We also got back some lab reports and everything is better, including cholesterol (your mileage may vary).

One of the things we started when losing weight is buying a whole beef tenderloin, doing a little butchering ourselves, and keeping easy to cook filets in the freezer. I did a stint in the meat department of a fancy grocery store and gained the skill of being able to take apart a tenderloin e.g. removing the silverskin, and knowing how the multiple muscles run to get the best result (I also became a good hand at discombobulating a whole chicken. Get a set of kitchen scissors, but a sharp knife also works fine). Out of a whole tenderloin, I generally get around a pound of inedible scraps, a pound or two of scraps I can use in stirfry or stroganoff, and, depending on the size of the tenderloin, 10-13 nice filets.

The steaks were simply cooked at high heat in butter. I do like mine “Pittsburgh style”, very brown on the outside and damn near raw otherwise.   We often use cast iron but a heavy non-stick frying pan also works if you pay attention.

The side was a baked potato, done a la the Joy of Cooking method (slick potatoes with oil or butter, then 40O F for 20-30 minutes, then pierce and put in for another 20-30 minutes). We didn’t have sour cream but we did have a nice purchased tzatziki from Cedar’s (a little more dill in it than I generally put in my own but not bad at all).

The sauce is something I’ve been wanting to try for years. When I was in college, I went to a nice restaurant in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh called Pasta Piatto (or at least I think that was the name). They had this steak absolutely crusted with coarsely crushed black peppercorns with this fabulous slightly sweet red wine sauce on it. I spent an entire month’s allowance (for extra things I might need at college) on this. I also learned that one should make sure that one’s hosts are indeed going to pay for your dinner rather than assuming it.

There are quite a number of versions of this on the internet. This is my take on it: Continue reading

What the Boss Likes – something from the kitchen and a new winery/brewery

I’m currenbeertly hiding in our one air conditioned room on a 95+ degree (F) day.   I do love the varied seasons of PA but I could do without the really really hot days. At least I’m not still working as a field geologist out on a hazardous waste site in level C gear.

Though that did work wonders for losing weight….

A couple of weekends ago we went to a new brewery/winery that we didn’t know about and it’s within 7 miles of us (as the crow flies). It’s Spring Gate Vineyard and Winery and Spring Gate Brewery. They can share property but can’t share a building because PA liquor laws are peculiar at best.

Harrisburg is a rather strange little city. You go out a road just a few miles of city center and poof! You’re in farmland.   This allows for 60 acre old farmsteads to be a great location for a place to get wine and beer.

They have live music and they have caterers and food trucks come to offer food to go with the drinks.   These are usually themed events. We went on a lobster fest day and had a most excellent lobster roll. It went very well with the apple juice laced saison and the Sparkling Pink Peignoir wine.   They also have ciders, including a very good hopped one. There is a large bricked courtyard behind a large white barn where the wine is. There’s a decent amount of parking, though some of it is on old farm fields. If you are fussy about where you park your SUV, good, I’d keep the place to my self.  🙂

This past weekend we made a recipe I got from an email from the Penzeys Spices folks. They don’t currently have a link to the recipe on their website and I’ve asked for one. So I hope they forgive me when I post it here. It’s for seekh kebob, and was sent to them by Major Saleem Khan.   It’s absolutely delicious, as good or better than the seekh kebob from our local indian restaurant.

We grilled this on a very hot charcoal fire.

Seekh Kabobs

If you don’t feel like fussing with skewers, the mixture would also make great burgers.

1 1/4 lbs. fresh ground beef (80/20 is a good mix); frozen doesn’t work as well
2 tsp. CAYENNE PEPPER
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. GROUND CORIANDER
1 tsp. POWDERED GINGER
1/4 tsp. GROUND ALLSPICE
1/2 tsp. PENZEYS PEPPER
2 tsp. GROUND CUMIN
1/4 tsp. GROUND CLOVES
1/4 tsp. PENZEYS CINNAMON
1/2 tsp. GROUND CARDAMOM
2 1/2 TB. garlic paste
2 TB. ginger paste
2 TB. roasted chickpea powder (this is helpful for keeping the kabobs from falling apart; use 1 TB. all-purpose flour if you can’t find chickpea powder)

2 TB. lemon juice
1/2 Cup oil (see note)

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the oil. Mix well with your hands. Refrigerate for 21/2-3 hours. Add the oil and mix well. Roll the meat into small, round meatballs. Thread each meatball through a skewer. Dip your hands in water to prevent sticking, and flatten the meatballs in a thin layer around each skewer. Grill over low heat, turning the skewers at least once, after about 5 minutes, until the meat turns to brown on both sides. Don’t overcook or they will not be as deliciously tender.

NOTE: We used 73/27 ground beef and didn’t find we needed ¼ cup of the recommended oil. We also just made little patties, about the size of a golf ball, then flattened out. They flared like crazy on the grill but we like the seared bits.

tamarind fruit aka poop or little aliens about to get you

tamarind fruit aka poop or little aliens about to get you

We had these with the cilantro-mint chutney from this post. We also made tamarind chutney from real tamarinds. They are tasty little fruits, though they do look like poop. I cooked 8 oz or so of peeled tamarinds in a couple of cups of water, threw in a couple of star anises, boiled briefly, squished and strained what was made, then followed this recipe from one of my favorite food blog sites, seriouseats.com. Jaggery or palm sugar is worth getting for this. This was rounded out with some greek yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of grated fresh garlic and slices of sweet onion and shredded lettuce. Most excellent!

That’s it. Eat and drink well!