Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pizza at G's

Had a great time visiting with the Gunter's.  Had a wonderful meal at Margot's Cafe.  Really cool bistro in an old gas station.  Atmosphere was fantastic and the aioli with housemade potato chips were so good, I ordered again for dessert.  In follow-up, I met a lady, oddly enough in Augusta last night who had taken cooking classes there and is to email the aioli recipe soon.  That I shall post ASAP.

The highlight, however, was pizza night at OG's and my favorite was the squid pizza.  My rendition appears above.  For the squid, I used Mario's recipe which is basically olive oil, lemon juice, chili flakes, salt, pepper, garlic, and mint all tossed together for a brief marinade.  Instead of cooking on the grill as OG did (Mario uses a piastra ?sp), I dropped into a blazing hot pan and placed under the broiler to char slightly.  The result was good, but not as good as the smoky squid we enjoyed at Oliver's.  My neighbors dropped in to say hello, and good thing, I had made 4 pies and even the teenage girls gobbled up the squid pie....mmmm....squid pie!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

St. Paddy's Day revisited, chocolate cake with beer!

I broke down and made the Guinness Stout chocolate cake to take over to dinner last night. This is part of the dessert that accompanies the St. Patrick's day menu. Our host prepared braised corned beef with cabbage and root veggies, and it was great!
The cake, I picked because it was relatively easy to prepare, and 45 min from start to finish, it was ready. 30 minutes of that was baking time. It was supposed to go with Guinness vanilla ice cream, I didn't have time to do it. I wish I had. The cake itself is not a typical chocolate cake thanks to the addition of some savory elements that give that little extra. The temptation is to want to add strawberry or raspberry syrup but it might overwhelm the subtle savory parts of the mix. If you want that combo, I would consider not adding the spices.

Guiness Chocolate Cake (adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)

Preheat oven to 350F

As usual, Goin's recipes require some pre-planning in order to make them go smoothly and not screw up something that is very time sensitive. It's not that it's that difficult, it's just that I think it's hard for anyone to write down what they do without thinking and have it make sense for anyone but them. The recipe is made in four simple parts:

  1. Prepare the flour and flavor it
  2. Prepare the beer/molasses mixture
  3. Prepare the eggs/sugar mixture
  4. Combine, and bake
Prepare the flour and flavor it
2 cups AP flour
3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1.5 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and whole cloves

Sift the flour and cocoa powder together (after measuring of course), add the remaining ingredients. It should go without saying that the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves should be whole and ground/grated a la minute. This was the part that I got to do over because my little helper (DOG) decided to dump a bunch of (1/2 cup or more) of baking powder to the mixture. Remix!

Prepare the beer/molasses mixture (seriously, click on the link)
1 cup molasses
1 cup Guinness or other stout
1.5 tsp of baking soda

Combine the beer and molasses together in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Take off the heat, and add the baking soda. You might at this point start wishing you had used a larger pan. I did.

Prepare the eggs/sugar mixture
4 large eggs
1/2 cup of brown, 1/2 cup of regular granular sugar or 1 cup of either

Whisk these together in a large mixing bowl after you've done the other stuff. Add 1 cup of oil and whisk into an emulsion.

Combine, and bake
Make a well in the flour, and start combining the slurry from the center out. Only mix to the point that the powder is combined with liquid. Don't use a mixer, if you overcombine, the cake will become too rubbery and tough. Pour it in your buttered bundt pan, and put it in the oven to bake for about 30 minutes, until you can stick it with a toothpick and it comes out mostly clean.

When it's done, cover it until you're ready to serve, and get your ice cream ready. Either cinnamon ice cream or whole bean vanilla goes great with it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Paddy's Day lunch

I'm working nights this week, but I thought it would be fun to cook up something spring-related for St. Patrick's day. I decided to turn to "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Goin, where she does a bunch of seasonal menus, because I remembered that there was a St. Patrick's day menu.
The whole menu is as follows, I only did the soup and the toasts with relish.

Menu 2 St. Patrick's Day
McGrath Farms' Watercress Soup with Gentleman's Relish Toast
Buttered Cockles with Peas, Pea Shoots, Green Garlic Champ, and Brown Scones
Corned Beef and Cabbage with Parsley-Mustard Sauce
Chocolate-Stout Cake with Guinness Ice Cream

Her current recipe for today is this:

tuesday, march 17

four course saint patrick's day dinner

coddle and slow-roasted salmon boxtys with

lambs lettuce, thick cream and soft herbs


emerald green watercress soup with

dublin lawyer and bay prawns


buttered cockles with sweet peas,

green garlic champ and brown scones


corned beef and cabbage with carrots,

turnips and parsley-mustard sauce


chocolate-stout cake with

guinness ice cream

irish whiskey flights and guinness stout available

I did the watercress soup with the relish toast. If you've never seen this book, I think it's worth picking up. It is VERY labor intensive, and takes far, far longer to cook the food than to eat it. But there are great lessons in there, and I've never made anything out of this book that wasn't incredible, unless I just totally screwed it up.

Watercress soup (I don't have access to McGrath farms, sorry, and it looked silly as Harris Teeter's Watercress soup)

This is a slightly bitter, buttery soup that would be best served in small portions. On the surface it's easy to make, but you'll see that she raised the bar a bit. This soup is made in three parts:

Make a vegetable stock
Fortify the vegetable stock
Wilt the watercress/blend the soup

1 cup thin sliced onion, preferably yellow
Red pepper flakes or a small dried chile crushed
Butter, unsalted, of course
5 cups of watercress, which amounts to two bunches at my grocery store
2 diced celery stalks, 1 diced carrott, 2 diced leeks

Make a vegatable stock
Medium heat. Melt and foam 4 tbsp of butter. Add the onions, celery, leeks, carrots, and chile with a dash of salt and pepper. Sweat the veg and just start to caramelize, approx 5-10 min.
Turn to high heat, add 2.5 quarts of water and bring to quick boil, immediately dropping back down to let it simmer for 30 minutes. Add a couple of stalks of flat parsley and a couple of sprigs of thyme or some coarse powedered thyme if you don't have it fresh.
She of course, never mentions defatting the stock or skimming it. It's implied, and although a little painful and needs babysitting, results in a better product in general. For this soup, it's hard to know exactly how best to approach that. The final blended soup should be sort of an emulsion, and the less fat, the more likely it will "break."

An easy trick you can do when it's simmering is to pretend you're skimming a pool, use you're skimming spoon to sweep everything to one corner, and then skim.

Once it's done, strain coarsely with a colander and then with a chinois or cheesecloth. You could let it cool and then defat it a little more. It's easier to do it that way. For this recipe, it's not critical, because it's going to be a blended soup. By itself, this stock is really incredible, and if you just wanted to throw some chicken or pork and a couple of vegetables, it would be great. Set the stock aside when you've "fixed it" and prepare to fortify it.

Fortify the vegatable stock
1 cup of diced onions
Cayenne pepper powder
3 tbsp of butter

Medium heat, melt and foam the butter, treat the onions the same as before. Sweat, just start to caramelize. Add the seasoning, then add the stock and bring to high heat just under boiling point. Taste for seasoning. You're not reducing this, so salt to taste.

Wilt the watercress/blend the soup
1 cup of heavy cream
2 tbsp each of flat parsley, chives, and tarragon
Fortified veggie stock, approx 6-8 cups

Things will go pretty quickly from here, and this is one of the easiest parts to screw up. You can do this in two batches, I think.
Add piping hot broth to a bunch of watercress, and let it wilt. How and where you do that, I'm not really sure, but I think this is where you have to wilt a little at a time. The alternative is to blanch it in the stock. The point here is that you want it to soften, you don't want to overcook it. The alternative is to wilt it in a sautee' pan, but you risk overcooking it because the heat of the broth could mess it up.
Mix 2-3 cups of broth with half of the watercress and half of the herb in the blender and blend slowly increasing speed until you have smooth puree. As with all of the blended soups, you're looking for the texture of heavy cream. Speaking of which, add 1/2 a cup of it with the blended mixture. Put it into a separate sauce pan. Repeat with the rest of your ingredients. Balance your seasoning, and you're done. Man, all that for soup.
The quick way is to skip both stock parts and do it with store bought veggie stock or light chicken broth, but that wouldn't be the same, would it?
Your finished product is nearly fluorescent green soup, perfect for St. Patrick's Day!

Now, what to serve it with? Make little crostini and serve it with her "Gentleman's relish" which is an anchovy/herb butter.

6 tbsp (yep) of butter
1 tsp of anchovy, oil packed (one whole fillet) minced
dash of lemon juice
tsp of lemon or orange zest
tbsp of parsley
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
Whip all of that together, and put it on the crostini. If you have anchovy haters in you house, don't tell them you put it in there, they won't really be able to taste it. It actually has a very sweet flavor, would go great with breakfast or as part of an appetizer.

The finished product, with (what else?) a yard of Guinness.

Monday, March 16, 2009

(B)raising the steaks

One of the things that I really love about the winter is the one pot meal, and the need/opportunity to perfect your technique of braising and making soups. The more I've watched Jacques Pepin on the More Fast Food (see earlier post) I'm ever amazed at the precision with which he controls temperature, and knows when to sear and when to use steam to cook whatever he's making, simply by adding a little water and covering the pan. Add some aromatics (celery, carrots, onions, garlic, leeks, etc.) and bones/meat, and you've got meat stock. Add that appropriately to the right type of meat, and you're braising. It's really that simple. The complexity gets into what you want to put in your braising liquid. It can be milk, beef stock, water, wine, Guiness, whatever. That's the beauty.
Which brings me to a funny dish we threw together the other night. I'll never forget going camping one time, and my friend and I decided that it would be a good idea to buy round steak to cook over the fire. Good thing we had strong teeth, it was barely more edible than a shoe. Of course, over an open fire is not the way to cook that meat, just like you couldn't take a pork shoulder and cook it at 425 until it reaches temperature, and expect it to be edible. In St. Louis, a labor day thing to eat is pork steaks. They're sliced thin, cross-wise with the shoulder bone still in. It's like Boston Butt, sliced thin. They're supposed to be marinated for like a month, and then cooked wide open on the grill. The other ways to cook meat like this is slow roast at 225 or 250 (Kamado or not), smoker, or braise, sous vide, etc.

Grill braised pork steaks

6 pork steaks (shoulder cuts) thinly sliced, room temperature
Your favorite chicken roasting blend (something with some garlic and citrus like orange peel)
Apple cider vinegar 1 cup
Water 1 cup
Aluminum pan that will fit the steaks and your grill

What I did

Fire up the grill, max it out.
Rub the steaks with a little olive oil, and season
Sear until they're photogenic

Drop your grill down to around 300 or so
Put the aluminum pan with a cup of apple cider vinegar and water (optional)
Put the steaks in the pan, cover the grill and let it go for an hour or so
Taste the braising liquid again, and make sure there's enough salt
Pull the steaks out when almost falling off the bone.


Cooking them in the liquid (regardless of the grill temperature as long as they're covered with liquid) cooks them at the boiling point of water 100C, which is the temperature that you would roast your BBQ. This is an effective method of converting any meat that's too tough to something tender and yummy. It's the same as "slow and low" on the Kamado, it just applies the heat in a different way. Try it, I bet you'll like it!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Where do I buy charcoal?

This has been a question I've been working for a while now, since I bought my Dome. If someone else hasn't done the research for you, it's hard to know the answer to this question. You can ask the person that sold you your BGE, and guess what they're going to say? 20 dollars for a 10 lb bag wasn't particularly cost effective.
Maybe Walmart for Royal Oak, assuming I can get the one that's not from South America that has the proper size distribution. There's no web search that you can do for this, it's mostly word of mouth or stumbling across a good find. Take the dumb luck in my finding Fire King in STL. The BGE dealer was 30 min away, and I wasn't happy with the quality of stuff I was getting from chinamart. I called a local distributor of smokers and had to make up some story about how I would like to learn more about his products. Then again, he was using a lot of hardwood, so he couldn't help me. I happened across someone's blog that talked about buying it at the rival liquor store to the one that I had been going to, and there it was, 20 lbs for 10 bucks. Check nakedwhiz site, and you'll see it's decent stuff. Now, all of a sudden, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, World Market, Trader Joe's, etc is selling it, but a lot of that is Cowboy, which I've been told is terrible. I don't really like the idea of having to order charcoal. I'm not some environmental freakshow, it just seems kinda dumb to have to order "wood" by UPS or FEDEX.
For those of you that haven't moved for a while, you may not have ever had to answer a question like that. For me, having moved 4 times now since 2005, it can be a little more significant. I guess it's time to fire up the White Hawk and go a lookin'.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Well, we got the gang down to Nashville, and I have to say everything is really great! House is cool, I've got a new convection oven at my disposal, and I need to figure out my outdoor cooking situation. I'm currently in the process of planning for my new grill table, and I'm looking around at some ideas. Posting should pick up a lot here in the near future. Any ideas for the new blog title?