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 Kitchen and from the bar – new beers, new food and a tattoo!

Well, we never made it to the March for Science.   I did watch it on CSPAN, and they had pretty good coverage of it.   Some of the signs were priceless. I did like the one that read something like “we knew it was going to rain because of science”. I find it terribly weird that some people are offended that anyone dare have fun making the signs and dressing up, seeming to indicate that we all must be the stereotypical scientists with no senses of humor and no lives outside the laboratory.

This is to catch up on some of our gustatory and other adventures over the last few weeks.

On a visit to the grocery store, I found a “prime” top round aka London Broil. Prime generally indicates a cut that has a lot of marbling in it, and that is just a weird thing to claim for top round which is very, very lean. But there are other ways to determine “prime”, so maybe that’s how it works.   In any case, my curiosity got the better of me and I bought it since it was on sale. I couldn’t tell it was any more tender than a regular top round (the south end of a north facing cow).

I found a marinade on Saveur’s website. Since I didn’t have fennel, I used some star anise that I’ve had lying around.   I generally don’t care for the flavor of anise/licorice but I do like it in combination with other things. Spouse made a very hot fire in the charcoal grill and we had flames licking up around the meat as we like, and grilled it to a nice medium rare. Cut on the bias, it was tolerably tender and had a great flavor. We had it with fried potatoes and onions.

During that same shopping, I also found a pair of small beef tenderloins for about half their usual price. They were netted, which indicated that they weren’t holding together well (being three separate muscles).   But they’ll make a treat for beef stroganoff, or just slices of it raw since I tend to like that kind of thing. Continue reading

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.

From the Kitchen and the backyard – crispy sticky rice, cheesecake, a mutant challah, plus a possum

rice-cakeAfter cooking the Thai flavored pork shoulder for Thanksgiving, we decided we needed another side dish for it since there was about 8 pounds of pork to eat.   The December 2016 Food & Wine magazine presented yet another Thai flavored recipe and that’s what was made as a side to accompany the rest of the pork. This recipe, Crispy Coconut Sticky Rice, is great, and could serve as a meal on its own with perhaps a nice salad. I used a cheap 10” non-stick skillet to make this in; my cast iron skillet is a bit of a monster and far too big to use for the amount of rice. You just need to watch it, and it doesn’t take that long to get a nice golden, with a few darker spots, crust on the rice. It is soft in the inside, a bit crispy outside and has a lovely coconut curry flavor with a fair amount of heat. It also nukes up very nicely.

The cheesecake was a bit of serendipity. I had been craving a crustless cheesecake like I used to get when I was on my internship in Washington DC all of those year ago (no, not the White House). I would go to the local Giant grocery store and they would have lots of items that were for single folks. You could buy a slice of cheesecake and I could make it last a week, nibbling on it. (that’s when I also discovered Frusen Gladje praline ice cream which I also crave and which is no longer produced).

cheesecakeThen, at weekend before Thanksgiving, my mom hands me this yellowed slip of newspaper. “Do you remember this?” she asks.   It was a clipping of Father Guido Sarducci’s cheesecake recipe. Now, for those of you who perhaps were too young, non-existent, or not from the US, Father Guido Sarducci was a character most known from Saturday Night Live, the Vatican’s gossip columnist and rock critic, played by Don Novello (who also did a character on the Disney Atlantis, Vinny Santorini, an explosives expert).

This is the recipe which has been around for at least a couple of decades now.. I haven’t the slightest idea why it is named for him:

1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 c. sour cream
16 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted and cooled,
3 extra lg. eggs
3 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. cornstarch
5 tsp. vanilla
5 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Makes 1 (10 inch) cheese cake. Let all ingredients come to room temperature. First process ricotta in food processer to make smoother (this doesn’t have to be done but I like sinfully smooth cheesecake). Then, combine ricotta cheese and sour cream in a mixing bowl. Beating slowly, add cream cheese, sugar and butter. Increase speed to medium and add eggs, flour, cornstarch, vanilla and lemon juice. Beat on highest speed possible without splattering for 5 more minutes. Pour mixture into a 10 inch springform pan.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 1 hour. Turn heat off and leave in oven with door closed for 1 more hour. Cool on rack.

I had a standard spring-form pan of about 9 inches that you get in the sets of three that are commonly seen around the holidays. I did put about two teaspoons of micro-planed lemon zest in since I had a whole lemon right there. I think if I made this again, I would cut the temp to 325 degrees F and up the active bake time to 1 ½ hours. That might cut the browning just around the edge and make it more even. The batter did not escape the pan (I did put a layer of aluminum foil around the pan in case) though at the time and temp indicated on the recipe, it did rise like a soufflé about an inch and a half out of the pan much to my consternation (it sinks as it cools). I would also make the batter and stir to release more air, and then let it sit overnight, then let the batter come back to room temperature to make a denser cake.

As you see, there is a big crack in it. Oh well. That would be easily covered by sweetened sour cream/crème fraiche or some fruit. Or both!

The two of us ate the entire thing in a week; it makes a lovely breakfast. I’d also like to try it with less sugar and some sweetener in it, like Splenda. Continue reading

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!