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Monday, December 20, 2010

Four Ingredient Challenge Flank Steak

And this month's challengers, flank steak, beets, gnocchi and kumquats.  Who chooses this combination of ingredients?  Oh well, the interesting thing about the challenge this month is how to conceptualize a menu when ingredients are limited in curious ways.  I think this is even more interesting when you take a look at my fellow Blog writing compatriots this month.  Each of us brings a unique and varied experience to these ingredients and how we approach using them.  I am just going to throw an image in here, because I think it is pretty cool.
Those are the kumquats and the beet greens.  When I first got the list of ingredients, I knew that beets come with a bonus edible portion, as long as your grocer has fresh beets.  In my case, they had fresh baby beets, with nice looking greens, which I knew would work well with the gnocchi.  The kumqauts, not a familiar fruit for many, is a small (inconveniently tiny) citrus with almost no flesh to really speak of.  The rind however is a very tasty element that combines some strong citrus qualities with a subtle sweet and then bitter element.  It is often made into a marmalade or syrup.
And then there is the actual beet root and the potatoes, as you can see, the beet roots I was able to get where small, hence very tender and sweet.  The greens were well hydrated and crisp, I knew that I would be able to use both of these elements.  The potatoes were because I felt that potato gnocchi were going to be easier for me to handle, I am bad, BAAAD, with the more tender ricotta gnocchi.  I was able to get some local northern California potatoes as well, these were thin skinned, with some russeting, and quite heavy for their size.  By now, I am thinking the beet root is going to be a standalone element, their being so fresh and of good quality, I wanted to highlight them a bit more.  The greens, with a slight bitter and herbaceous taste would contract beautifully with the blander gnocchi and maybe some garlic.  Fresh produce wants little to make it really work.  Pantry elements would be limited to garlic, sweet barnea olive oil, AP flour and some shallots.

Beet roots and potatoes were roasted over an open flame of charcoal and oak chunks, I was hoping to impart some flavor, but, I can't say I got the flavor of smoke that I had hoped for.  I did get some very nicely roasted roots, with a nice texture and some sweetness that I had hoped for.  These were allowed to rest over night, peeled and prepared.  The beets only needed some heating and a little salt.  The potatoes were peeled and then grated through a medium textured microplane grater.  Gnocchi were made using a relatively simple recipe of egg, flour, potato, salt and a little nutmeg.
I know, impressive photo, la blanc mange!  I digress...  To the kumquats, what to do with them, well, they had a terrific aroma and testing one, I decided there was a definite bitter flavor on the finish, I could exploit this.  The beets would be sweet, the meat savory, the gnocchi savory and herbal, the bitterness could be used in a couple of elements, along with some sweetness, to add depth to the flavors on the plates.  Also, the rinds would add texture.  The flank steak came to mind as well, as I was going to go very simple with a good piece of meat, just some of my usual Top Rub mixture, then onto a very hot fire.  Cook a few minutes each side and done.  I was going to rely on the meaty, savory flavor of grilled meat to carry the main plate.
By now, I realize that I have a good main portion for my salad and meat dishes, along with a side that I know will work great.  This is the decision point of how to pick up the main flavors for each plate.  For the salad, with roasted beets, being primarily sweet (there should have been smoke I tells ya'!) I needed something more punchy, arugula is punchy, baby arugula looks good and is on sale. Done.  Now, I have decided to use the kumquats as an element for bitterness and sweetness, what I really want is something salty to balance it.  Feta is salty, and goes with arugula and with beets...There we go...

Warm Roasted Beet Salad with Arugula, Shaved Shallots, Feta Cheese and Kumquat Preserve, with a Chervil and Tarragon Vinaigrette.

Then onto the main plate, what to do about the flank steak, I was confident that I could pull off the grilled flank steak to a nice medium rare. I knew I had the side dish worked out.  How to pop the flavors on the steak.  My initial thought was to go with chimichurri, but, that ignored the ingredients and materials I had already prepared.  And there were those kumquats.  Well, the meat will have a savory profile, some heat from the black pepper and I had some sweet and bitter I could add from the kumquats.  The idea of borrowing some of the flavors from the salad to carry to the main plate makes a lot of sense to me.  Hence, I worked with what I had already.  And thus...
Flank Steak with a Kumquat Preserve, Feta cheese and Shaved Shallots with a Chervil and Tarragon Vinaigrette along with Pan Seared Gnocchi with Beet Greens and Garlic.  This was an excellent dinner.  I have to thank the Four Ingredient Challenge creators for inviting me into their fold, I think the two meals I have cooked so far have been the best meals I have cooked on my kettle thus far.  I look forward to the next year of cooking with these folks.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and encourage you all to look at my fellow Four Ingredient bloggers.

Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail - Entry Here
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed on as one of the top BBQ blogs.
Paul Haight of No Excuses BBQ – Entry Here

The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author’s goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world.  Somewhere along the way things got out of control…
Rob Bergstrom of In To The Flames- Entry Here
Rob launched Into The Flames in the summer of 2010 as a way to share his passion for cooking, eating, and exploring food.
Marc Van Der Wouw of Grill Adventures - Entry Here
Grilladventures by broadcastmarc is started on march of 2010.I started the BBQ thing when I was 30,before that we eat a lot outside.have fun,but when the kids came in our life We start serious cooking.Most of it is realy healthy I think;-)The grill has a special place in my heart,We love to do things outside..Everything I make is an adventure,and sometimes we use the books.We try to grill as much as we can year round.
Chris Grove of Nibble Me This- Entry Here
Nibble Me This is Chris Grove’s blog about his misadventures in live fire cooking. ”I have no culinary training….I’m just entertaining myself with fire and food”.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yakisoba-Fusion style

I made yakisoba for dinner tonight, but, it had to be at least partially cooked over a live fire.  What to do?

Well, I decided to go Fusion-style and grab a few different elements of flavor.  Tofu was crusted with a Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy rub crust, the bacon was made onto bacon candy, some nifty herbal work fusing pesto with Japanese herbs, and a few shiitake mushrooms and peppers.
The tofu is from a local tofu shop, I selected a firm style, as my preferred kinugoshi has a tendency to slip through the grate.  I used the lemon and satsuma skins for flavoring the soba water.  Just a little twist.  Bacon is bulk purchase from Berkeley Bowl West, I like the idea of buying bacon in bulk form, I get just what I need.

For the bacon candy, a standard amongst many BBQ enthusiasts snack recipes, I took thick cut bacon and liberally coated with a mix of Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy along with 5-Spice powder, cinnamon and some turbinado sugar.  This was smoked for an hour at 300F.  The tofu recieved a similar treatment with some added kosher salt. This went on with the bacon candy.
While these smoked, I prepared a pesto of mitsuba, spring onion, chives, perilla, freh garlic and a little bit of mint.  These were combined into a pesto with olive, sesame and neutral oils to create a herb oil.  This would be used for several different steps along the way.  I also fried the shallots with a light flour coating, then added the sliced Fresno peppers to the oil the shallots were fried in.  This seasoned oil was then partially drained then mixed with some herbal oil to fry the soba pancake.  Hot oil everywhere, no photos. Here is the tofu fresh off the grill and sliced.  I think this is looking good at this point.
From here it is just a matter of assembling the various elements into a finished plate.  The soba going down first, very similar to how chow mein was served when pan-fried.  Then the tofu and various aromatics and sauces were added to soak into the tofu and noodles.  Given a little time, the crusty, crunchy noodles soften slightly with the oil and liquids and the whole dish really comes together.

This dish had some pretty good punch, the borrowed elements of using fresh red peppers and raw garlic gave it some real heat on the tongue, and lips as well.  The tofu and mushrooms provided the savory counter balance to the heat along with the fatty sweetness of the bacon candy.  Each flavor distinct yet balanced, each bite changing with how the elements are combined on the fork.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wine Blending

An interesting experience came my way this past weekend, the opportunity to test out a Cabernet sauvignon that a friend has purchased for bottling and sale.  One of the interesting issues that arose with this wine was that while it represented an good Napa Valley Cabernet, it lacked some color.  The color unadjusted was more of a dark brick maroon, not the deep red/purple color that we look for in a Cab. Here is a photo showing the wine and color.
Hopefully you can see that the color has a warmth to it that is not as desirable as could be.  To be sure, I have had some wonderful tasting wine that the color was off.  In fact, in my own beer brewing, I have had some brews that tasted incredible, but, the color was not true to style.  This wine represents the same paradox.  But, we have a cure.

In fact there are a couple of cures to this problem.  One more of a 'good living through science' process and one that is centuries old.  Mega-purple is an additive used in the wine industry that is essentially a concentrated grape juice derivative that can be used to adjust the color of a wine.  Since it is a 'natural' grape product, it is not required to be included in the labeling of wine.  The rumors are that many wines, even some very highly priced and rated wines use a touch or two of this product to correct color.  We chose the more traditional method of using a blending wine to adjust the color.  In this photo, you can see the Cabernet in the white capped bottle and the blending wine, a Petite verdot in the black capped bottle.
Here was the start of our blending session, there were three of us, one of the glasses had gone missing prior to my hitting the shutter.  As you can see, there is a graduated cylinder, the classic candle (for looks really) and some Reidel glasses.  We also had notepads, a calculator and a dropper to measure out small amounts of the blending wine.  The really surprising thing is how much of an effect the Petite verdot had on the Cabernet base wine.  

First we tested the base wine alone, it definitely showed the characteristics of a Napa Valley cabernet, this one showing extremely well integrated tannins, smooth black fruit and minerality along with a decent nose.  We are working with a wine from just below the Howell Mountain AVA, so this is somewhat off-style from what we were looking for.  The Petite verdot was not impressive on any account, it was extremely subdued in all aspects and certainly not a wine I would drink.

Upon blending to create a 99% CS-1% PV wine, we found that not only was the color greatly improved, but, the nose and tannins we more pronounced.  A 1% solution seemed so minute, yet the effect of the Petite verdot was quite noticeable.  Further blends of 3%, 5% and 6% produced even more profound improvements in the base wine.  Here is what dining room blending looks like...
Nothing quite like blending red wines on someone else's holiday table runner.   In the end, as big fans of Napa Cabernet sauvignon and big wines in general, we selected the higher concentration of 5%, as this offered a really nice dark ruby color to the wine, with pronounced tannins and fruit.  The blending of the Petite verdot really affected the overall appearance, but even more so, enhanced and defined the flavors of the base Cabernet wine.  Of course, the final verdict of this decision will not be known for over a year, as the blend ages in barrel.  After this, it was off to get some dinner.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Four Ingredient Challenge Game Hen

This is my first post for a blogging event created by some fellow bloggers which features four ingredients and the requirement that at least some part of the meal be prepared over a live fire.  We decided on four base ingredients that we each interpret in a manner that suits our cooking style and interest, then post on a given day each month.  This month, and my first challenge, has the ingerdient list of:

Mini-fowl, which I interpret as Cornish Game Hens
Green Beans
Yams, which I interpret as sweet potatoes
Cranberries, which I interpret as cranberries

I started with the grilling of the sweet potatoes as this ingredient was going to require a double cooking process. Here they are ready to go on the grill, after first being marinated in a simple olive oil and parsley marinade.  I also added some salt, to aid in moisture removal, just before putting on the kettle.
These were grilled until mostly done, probably around 85% done.  I then allowed them to cool and then fried them to crisp the outside. Due to the thickess, approximately 3/16", they were not going to turn into chips. I wanted them to have some chew for textural interest. After frying, they were hit with some kosher salt for flavor.

Next was the preparation of the three sauces I intended to use:

Sauce One was an cranberry/apple chutney that got a little over-cooked.  Still, the sweet and spicy components rant through.  You can see the aromatics and fruit (except apple for some reason) here.
 I used candied ginger, dried cranberries, apple chunks, lime zest, extra sweet onion, rice vinegar and salt to aid in drawing moisture out.  These were simmered until slightly over-done. I then added 1 tablespoon of cranberry-habanero jelly, a little fresh vinegar and some ground black pepper.

Sauce Two was a curry sauce made from a mix of lemon grass, garlic, lime zest, yellow onion and cornish game hen back and bones.  I sauteed the ingredients until the chicken bones were browned and aromatics wilted.  These were simmered for a couple of hours, strained and de-fatted.  Honestly, I do not know why I de-fatted the broth.  I added salt and pepper to correct the flavor once the simmer and straining was done.
 There were three additions of curry spice. I started with a Madras Curry powder (store bought) at the start of the saute. I added a second does of curry powder, this time a mix I made just before the simmer with the third addition occuring just as the simmer was done.  This third addition was done off of the heat and steeped into the broth.  Finally, just before serving, I reheated the broth and added in some coconut milk and some salt and pepper to adjust.

Sauce Three was an herb oil, made from olive oil, flat leaf parsley, spearmint, lemong grass, green onion and garlic.  The oil was heated and the elements of the herbs were added, heat was cut and the herbs were allowed to heat.  No sizzle, the object in to release aromatic oils and not to fry the herbs.  I then blended the oil and herbs to create a herbal oil.  One of the keys for me is to bruise the herbs with the back of the knife to break down the structure of the herbs.

Finally, I ended up marinating the chicken in a vinaigrette of olive oil, rice vinegar, spearmint, lemon grass, Bob's Top Rub rub and flat leaf parsley.  I then fired up the kettle and grilled the cornish game hens over a medium fire, hoping to get some smoke on the chicken.  I also grilled the beans, which were marinated in a similar vinaigrette after grilling.  Here are the chickens...
By the way, that is a Greenpan, which is supposed to be a ceramic non-stick pan, as you can see, unless I take a brillo pad to it, there is a problem with release.  It is now my pan to move stuff from the grill to the kitchen.  As you can see, there was an excellent color to the chicken skin, the marinade did a good job of flavoring the meat as well.  The salt in the Top Rub really helped with getting flavor into the meat.

Plating was a little fancier than normal, I had made some pie dough circles and wanted to do a Southeast Asian inspired, deconstructed pot pie plating.  The napolean of pie crust rounds, sweet potato chips, green beans and chicken was stacked up with some curry sauce introduced here and there, the plate was also covered with some curry sauce.  I decided there was a need for more veggies, so the beans were dressed with more of the herb oil and added, along with the cranberry/apple chutney.

Overall, the flavors and concept of this dish was outstanding.  I loved both the depth of the flavors and the way some flavors carried through the dish, while others contrasted perfectly with each other.  The addition of fire and smoke really contributed the additional complexity that made this dish work very well.

Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail - Entry Here
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed on as one of the top BBQ blogs.
Paul Haight of No Excuses BBQ – Entry Here
The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author’s goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world.  Somewhere along the way things got out of control…
Rob Bergstrom of In To The Flames- Entry Here
Rob launched Into The Flames in the summer of 2010 as a way to share his passion for cooking, eating, and exploring food.Robyn Medlyn of Grillgrrrl – Entry Here
Robyn Medlin is the “grill girl” behind Her focus is on healthy, simple and creative recipes on the grill. She encourages women to learn to grill as it a great way to create healthy, flavorful dishes without all the fuss and clean up in the kitchen. This “grill girl” holds quarterly “Women’s Grilling Clinics” as a way to encourage women to not be intimated by the grill. As a McCormick’s flavor correspondent for their “This Week in Grilling Campaign”, Robyn shares fun, tropical video recipes documenting her grilling adventures from her backyard in Sunny, Hollywood, Florida. 
Marc Van Der Wouw of Grill Adventures - Entry HereGrilladventures by broadcastmarc is started on march of 2010.I started the BBQ thing when I was 30,before that we eat a lot outside.have fun,but when the kids came in our life We start serious cooking.Most of it is realy healthy I think;-)The grill has a special place in my heart,We love to do things outside..Everything I make is an adventure,and sometimes we use the books.We try to grill as much as we can year round.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Biscuits on the kettle

I decided to make biscuits on my kettle.  They would become breakfast sandwiches.

They looked like this at the start.  They are not healthy, although they used very good ingredients, especially the organic dairy and king Arthur flour.  But, they were cooked over a fire running at 400F in lard.  Yes, in fact, lard that was used to make duck confit.  I cannot begin to explain why I did this, or how good they are.  Biscuits bake/fried in duck fat laden lard.
To assuage my guilt, a little, maybe, I added a saute of baby spinach, baby shiitake and onions over a nice country milk gravy and a smoked sausage patty.  The red stuff is cranberry habanero jelly.  I still think this is gonna be healthier than a McMuffin.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Steak Cubes in X-faux Sauce

I recently had the chance to check out some shots from my friend Rob on his blog Into the Flames which chronicles his travels in Australia. Amongst the incredible foods that he had the chance to eat was an old classic, a treat from my youth that we do not see here much, Steak Kau is how I knew it. Traditionally made with beef tenderloin cubes in a green onion and hoisin based sauce.  This was a standby of the banquets of my youth, where Cantonese food was the standard of Oakland and San Francisco Chinatown foods.  I was inspired to take a second look at this dish with a little live fire thrown in.

First, I decided that beef tenderloin was a little out of my league budget wise, so I went with flat iron roast, which is a remarkably tender cut of beef.  It is now finding favor in many restaurants as a more budget friendly cut of beef that closely mimics tenderloin in texture, while being a little more beefy in flavor.  I rubbed it with a dusting of Salt-free Dizzy Pig rub and then a second coating of my Top Rub. This was put on the kettle at a temperature of 300F with a chunk or two of peach.
Woo hoo! Fire is a burning.  Anyways, I let this go for an hour or so, just to get some smoke on and get the temperature up to 120F internal or so. Then onto the flames to get a little color and some of that good old fire onto the meat.
This was allowed to run over direct flames until done to about 130F, I chose to keep the fire as hot as possible to get the color and a little char while not over-doing the meat. I wanted it rare, as my intent was to cook it again once it rested and was cubed. I may have gone a little too long, but, the flat iron steak cut lived up to it's reputation for being tender.
And there it is, resting in my old BBQ pan.  I allowed the meat to rest for over an hour to make it possible for me to cube it into the size I needed for the end product.  I also made a sauce which combined elements of seafood, fruit, hoisin and pepper which I hoped would suffice for my lack of XO sauce.  Traditionally an XO sauce has dried shrimp and scallops, neither of which I had, but I did have some frozen shrimp shells and a few fresh prawns. What? You don't keep frozen shrimp shells in your freezer?  I added the drippings from the meat to the sauce as well. Veggies were prepared as well, green onions, young ginger, garlic and shiitake mushrooms all cut to size and separated for throwing into wok at correct time.
A quick tossing in a hot wok, fresh shiitake first, then the young ginger, white part of the green onions, then the garlic. I then added the steak cubes to the wok, tossed to heat and added the green part of the green onions and immediately added the sauce.  This was cooked long enough to set the sauce and then plated.
This sauce really worked great in this dish.

X-faux Sauce:
1/4 cup shrimp shell and prawn broth
2 tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1 tablespoon Peach Habanero sauce
1 teaspoon Oyster Sauce
Whisk together to combine.  I believe this sauce will work best cooked once with the meat and vegetables.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back to the Grill

Well, I am back to cooking on the kettle.  It has been since August 6th since I could cook on the kettle and make some good food.  I am still recovering from the troubles, but, I can get to the kettles which is a big deal.  And I have been wondering, what to cook for the first cook, prime rib, very fancy, or maybe a brisket, I would enjoy making a nice brisket or pork butt.  So many choices, go fancy with grilled lobster or shrimp etc...

What I chose was chicken, yes, chicken.  The maligned food of banquets and Caesar salads.  Well, not that kind of chicken, I am a huge fan of properly wood-fired grilled roasted chicken, I think it really shows off when you get it right.

When I was a child and through my teen years, I participated in an annual event at my church, it was the annual Teriyaki Chicken dinner feed, and out church really did it right. One of the keys was that we had a huge live fire pit, another key was the secret sauce, but, the key in my mind was that we dipped the chicken twice as we cooked it.  It was a right of passage to be welcomed to the chicken cooking, it was where the men worked. When I saw the double-dip, I knew this was a technique I wanted to hang onto.

So, I made up a rub for use on the chicken, rubbed it up and let it sit for 2 hours in a bowl. This was because I forgot to open the fire vents on the kettle, so it took an hour for me to realize my mistake and an hour to reset and refire.  The chicken looked like this.
Once the kettle was ready and rolling at 300F, the chicken was put on. My butcher and I had an issue today, which I believe he was a little offended when I mentioned the thighs looked tiny, hence I got the mixed bag of one regular one and 7 tiny ones. This could normally be an issue, but, I can handle that on a grill.
Once the chicken was on for about 40 minutes, it was placed in the chicken wash, tossed and allowed to sit for a few minutes. The process was repeated at around 50 minutes.  The idea is to dip and soak the chicken just as it reaches being done to aid in penetration of the wash. Top image is dunk one, second image is dunk two.
Once dipped, the chicken cooks on until done. In this case, about another 10 to 15 minutes, it ends up with a rich dark color and wonderful texture and flavor.  The wash is largely acidic with some sweet/sour flavors that really complement the chicken. The skin was crisp yet tender enough to bite through, which I attribute to the fact that apparently dwarf chickens provided the thigs, so the skin was very thin.
Here is the chicken wash recipe as well:

Chicken Wash/Dip/Bath
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Turbinado sugar
2 tablespoon rub mix
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons herb mix (I used Todd's Dirt which I grind down to a fine texture)

Thoroughly whisk ingredients prior to each use. Put in bowl and dip chicken when desired.

The nest time, I am using red wine vinegar, fresh chopped garlic, crushed onion instead of the cider vinegar and rub.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Jamaican Blue Mountain

First off, one of the things this blog is all about is the multitude of vices that I seek to hide from my doctors and medical team by broadcasting it out over the internet. This post is about coffee, something I have not blogged about before, but, I got to taste a special roast today.

I go into the local coffee shop, sit down to chat with the roaster, who was busy roasting some small batch of coffee.  She offered me 5 samples of ripping hot beans fresh from the roaster, once my fingers had recovered from absent minded picking up of the beans, I realized these were something special.

Could they be?  I was told they would not be purchased this year, but these were so sweet, with a light fruity/floral characteristic, mild acidity and a lingering finish, I start scanning the bean area and see the small cask. Indeed, it was Mavis Bank coffee.  This is one of the best coffees in the world.

After crunching through a few samples, I was pretty sure that roast profiles 3 and 5 were the best, I don't want to get into detail on the roast, as that is not my right to disclose.  But, this bean worked so well with a more moderate roast, even better as it closed in on what is called acceleration.  I can't wait for the brew.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pork Chops on the grill griddle

Well, what is a BBQ guy supposed to do when he still cannot easily get to his cooker?  He can grill indoors, at least he gets to use his spice mix, gets those nice stripes on the meat and see a little smoke.  I bought some Niman Ranch pork chops, gave them a good rub with the spice rub I normally use as a base for pork butts, but with a little salt and black pepper added to complete the flavor profile.  One of the things I noticed that cause me to choose these chops was the pure bright white fat rim, this tells me these chops are fresh, always want to see a nice white layer of fat, yellowed or cracked fat is a sure sign of old meat.  Anyways, here they are resting with a bit of rub on them.
The grill pan was brought to heat, I wanted as high a heat as possible, even though these look thick, they will cook fast over direct heat. I like to bring pork to a slightly lower level of being done than normally recommended by the USDA. I feel since I am buying pork raised with good practices, I can cook it to just past medium rare.  Ideally I will get them to where there is just a barely detectable pink hint. Here they are on the grill.
And yes, I used this shot because you could see the smoke coming off the griddle.  They ran about 5 minutes a side, with a little oil on each side to aid in heat transfer and browning.  The plate, I ate one tonight, gotta watch that protein!
These were tasty, there was a detectable crunch to the outside, while the inside stayed moist and tender.  I love simple food like this, a little bit of collards and some grilled whole wheat bread and the meal was complete.  Well....not quite...

There was this little eclair, which found it's way home today from A Taste of Denmark Bakery in Oakland, CA.  This is an old bakery, once known as Neldam's Bakery, anyone who grew up in Oakland or the East Bay most likely knows of this place, it was a stalwart of birthdays and holidays for decades. It was old when I was born.  A few months ago, years of financial hardship ended with the old owner's finally having to shut down.  The landlord and head baker decided to give it a go with a different approach and this is what they are producing once again.
I am nothing if not supportive of local businesses.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Foolish Poolish

Well, as many know, I have not been cooking much due to some physical ailments, but, I have a big event coming up this weekend and I really wanted to contribute, even though my friends have told me not to cook.  I decided, since there will be a new wood fired pizza oven there, I have to cook something in it.

I prefer making bread and pizza dough with what is called a preferment (say it French style please) which can be anything from the commonly known sourdough starter to the less commonly known poolish or biga.  I have, for some years now, used a combination of the poolish, a watery flour/yeast mixture with the process of fermenting the poolish for 5 days.  While this is normally not a recommended practice, as many bakers find the yeast can die during the ferment, I really like the mild sour/yeasty flavor it lends to breads and pizzas. I find that a cold ferment also yields a superior lift and texture. Now to the foolish part.

Said poolish was started 3 days ago, it has been working along fine with a daily feeding of two teaspoons of AP flour and a little water. In and out of fridge for a couple hours per day or so. It has a nice aroma going.  I needed to feed it today and as I took it out of the fridge, I immediately noticed the lid resembled nothing more than the lid on a beer bottle just before it explodes.  I make beer, I know about fermentation.  I am a fermentation pro!  I did wrap a towel around the jar, it was incredibly hard to get the lid off, I actually had to use the jar opener.  And when the gas started escaping slowly, I put it down and walked away for 5 minutes.  Psssssssss...all is well, hissing stopped...I am good!  Go back and open lid with impunity. Am greeted with FOOOOOMPH!

And let me say, as I sit here in clean pants and shirt, with a nice clean counter and spice jar collection, the amount of poolish, although appearing to be the entire jar, was the smaller amount of poolish. There was much more on me, the counter, the floor, the cabinets and all of the fruit I just bought. Suddenly I feel a 2 gallon fermenting bucket and an airlock coming in the future.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Home made pasta for dinner

I have not forgotten that I have a blog, it is just that not getting a lot of cooking done of late.  This is good for my favorite BBQ joint, less good for my wallet.  Does this mean I will not be there for stuffed jalapenos on Saturdays, well, no it does not.  Anyways, the knee felt mediocre, so to the kitchen.  I threw together some pasta combining one egg with enough flour ( I use 50/50 all-purpose flour and semolina flour), a couple pinches of salt and a little kneading.  After a one hour rest to hydrate and rest the gluten.  It gets rolled, hand cut and allowed to dry on a rack.

I also used some jar sauce, fried it up with a little olive oil, some Lucky Dog Hawaiian Pepper hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste.  Once the pasta had tried for a couple hours, I boiled it for 3 to 4 minutes, since it was fairly random and thick pasta, the minute extra got it to al dente.  I think it needed maybe even a minute more as it turned out.

I added the pasta and a little pasta water to thicken the tomato sauce and plated. Fairly low in protein and very filling.  I ended up eating only half of what is in the photo.
A little more fresh black pepper ground on top and dinner was complete.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yakisoba Fridge Challenge

Well, as the recovery goes along, I am finding that some days are better than others.  Last night was one of those nights that I did not feel up to getting out for some groceries, so, it was time to forage in the kitchen for something to put together.  Now, coming off of having been sick, the freezer and refrigerator are not as well stocked as normal, but, the spice rack and pantry is still there.

I found a package of ramen, a package of frozen mixed vegetables, some fresh-ish myoga and a stub of liguica (conveniently just about 2-3 ounces).  So, I decided on yakisoba, Japanese style fried noodles, which is not usually made with ramen noodles.  I also found some Japanese-style Worcestershire sauce, some Furikake and a small pack of katsuo-boshi.  This could actually work.

A small lexicon:
Myoga - A form of ginger plant, the Japanese eat the fresh shoots as well as the blossoms. It has a complex flavor with ginger overtones.
Yakisoba - Literally translates as 'fried noodles', it is more of a street food in Japan. Use a type of noodle called Chukasoba normally.
Furikake - A mix of dried seaweed, sesame seeds, chile peppers and other spices and seasonings. Typically served on rice dishes.
Katsuo-boshi - Flakes of dried bonito, resembles wood shavings, has a strong fish taste.  A staple of Japanese cuisine.
Japanese Worcestershire sauce - sweeter and milder than English Worcestershire sauce, they do not substitute for each other.

And off we go, I boiled up the ramen then allowed it to air dry for 15 minutes. This removes the moisture and makes frying the noodles go so much better.  I then took the katsuo-boshi and myoga, sliced thinly, and fried it in several tablespoons of safflower oil to season the oil, I removed the katsuo-boshi and myoga and added the vegetables to saute up until about half done (2-3 mins).  I would normally have left the Myoga in, but, it was a little woody in the center as the buds were not truly fresh.  The veggies were removed and the linguica, sliced very thinly, was added in to brown.  The sausage was removed and the noddles added back in, then the veggies and sausage were put on top.  At this point, I added a small amount of the Worcerstershire sauce over the veggies.  I allowed the noodles to brown on the bottom (perhaps 3 to4 minutes at med-high heat). I then tossed the mess, threw in 1/8 cup of water and covered to steam for a few minutes. I sprinkled the Furikake over the noodles, which adds a great seasoning to noodles, especially since I lacked the more traditional aonori flakes.

Plated on my finest disposable tableware, I would note that it is very difficult to photograph fried noodles. Somehow they just end up looking like a mess on the plate.  But, this was a simple and filling dinner which stayed within my ludicrous protein allotment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Protein...and not being a vegetabletarian

One of  the interesting aspects of my recent adventure into the health care system has been yet another interesting tidbit of information about how we fuel out bodies, and how interesting that process can become.  While undergoing the many tests and analysis of my somewhat deteriorated condition, it was discovered that I needed to pay more attention to how my previously massive protein consumption has affected my kidney function.  And a bit about that whole kidney function thing.

One of the myths many of use operate on is that we have these miraculous kidneys, and that they can heal themselves, that we have two (hence a spare, if you will) and that they function like filters sort of like an oil filter for our blood.  To some degree, these ideas are more true for your kidneys than they are for say, your pancreas or liver. However, they are filters that cannot be changed or flushed, it turns out that two kidneys are sort of the norm, and one is not a spare and that while they have some ability to heal themselves, they have a finite life span, which means, so do you.  One of the things that can actually damage a weakened kidney is protein.

So how much is too much, interesting question, as there are different needs based upon how you live and exercise.  My current situation finds me limited to 6 ounces or so per day, in grams this would be 198 grams of protein.  Prior to this latest round of illness, when actively weight training, I would supplement close to 50 grams of protein per post workout recovery drink and closer to 8 ounces of meat (226 grams) or other protein per meal.  I was ingesting closer to 700 to 800 grams of protein per day.  For a healthy kidney, this is simply excess material to be processed and dumped.  With a compromised kidney, much of this protein ends up as residual material that can lead to clogging and failure.  Certainly vegetarianism holds the answer, that is what everyone seems to think.

Of course, this would be simple, life is so rarely simple.  Vegetable protein is not a direct substitution for meat based proteins, the chemical constituents such as mineral content and amino acid structure vary widely between animal and plant.  The minerals phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and sodium play key roles in the muscular function (think heart here) of the body, the composition of amino acids in plants is often not complete in singular form and then there is the pesky matter of hormones in everything.  Faced with my particular situation in which potassium and phosphorous is excessive and magnesium and sodium are deficient, it turns out that plant based protein sources are actually potentially more damaging than lean meats to my overall dietary requirements. Staples in my prior diet, things such as bananas, beans, whole grains and soy are now foods I have been directed to avoid. Meats such as poultry, fish and lean cuts of pork are now the items that I am to build my diet around.  Anyone who has paid attention to 'common wisdom' in today's nutrition culture would be surprised to find that vegetarian protein is not the panacea to our dietary woes.

What is a BBQ aficionado to do. A big part of my passion for BBQ is eating the low cost, gristly, fatty cuts of meat such as ribs, brisket and pork shoulder, and in mass quantities too boot.  I am not certain if the direction I will be taking from here, although there are some references in my life that I am thinking about.  Growing up, we lived with my grandmother, in fact, I cannot remember a time in my life as a child that a grandparent did not live with us.  And their diet was very Japanese in nature, this meant limited protein, heavy on vegetables such as leafy greens, roots, herbs and fruit.  I also grew up at least in part in a rural setting, we grew out vegetables and they held a lot of the table space as well. I think in coming posts, I will begin to explore this avenue to cuisine, and as I return to the kitchen, I will cook in a manner that is more in keeping with this thinking.

Does this mean no more smoking, hardly likely.  For me, BBQ has never been about sitting here eating my cooking by myself.  As opportunities arise, I will do as I have done all my life and cook for others.  Those who do not share my particular disability can still enjoy mass amounts of meat, I can still be the guy who cooks it. In terms of this blog, there will still be some pork butts burned up, some brisket flame dried and a few oddly cooked tri-tips, it is just that there will also be a little more of those heritage dishes along the way.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I was NOT on vacation

Well, I am back, more or less.  I had a brief interlude with the medical professions after having an 'minor' infection expand into something altogether life threatening.  The details not being altogether that interesting, or even fully understood, I managed to land in the hospital for 14 days with some pretty serious challenges to overcome.  It is amazing that with no external trauma or dramatic acts, you can somehow just fade into dire condition.  It is also amazing what the medical profession can do to keep you ticking while your body heals itself.

This little interlude will have an effect on this blog however.  I have been directed to make a concerted effort to limit my daily protein intake to no more than 7 ounces of protein er day.  Yes, per day, 7 ounces, I mean, 7 ounces of meat is a snack!  That means my daily limit if now similar to what I used to eat for a single meal. I anticipate that I will not really return to cooking for another week or two and this return will be marked by some changes, I suppose, to how I eat.

I suppose when you see changes like this, they are best faced as challenges to one's knowledge and skill.  How will BBQ fit into my new dietary lifestyle.  it is gonna be interesting.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Well, I am back, back from vacation, camping, a sort of bad case of altitude sickness and from having a non-functional left hand.  I decided I am not back enough to fire up the grill, but, I am back enough to cook on the flat top. And that means burgers.

The cold team consisted of locally grown tomatoes, Vidalia onions (not super local, or even remotely local) and kim chee mayonnaise.
The hot team consisted of these small, but not slider small, brioche buns I found at the store and some ground beef. The ground beef is grass fed/grain finished and was on sale. Bonus for a cheap meal (or it makes up for the really tasty brioche buns). Some Dizzy Pig Dizzy Dust was harmed in the making of these burgers.
These elements were combined to make a plate of burgerettes. I put the veggies on the bottom and kim chee mayo on top.  This turned out to be too much for dinner, so I did not eat all three, although I was tempted.
I know, the kim chee mayo looks a lot like cole slaw, which is not what I was going for, but, it was perfect for adding a little kick to the meal.  I love a simple burger, but, once in a while a touch of the exotic helps.

Kim Chee Mayonnaise
3 parts kim chee, spicy, chopped
1 part mayonnnaise, store bought or home made
1/4 part Lucky Dog hot sauce, a local not yet for sale roasted green jalapeno/carrot/garlic hot sauce that is really good.

Mix all ingredients well and allow to sit for 15 minutes covered in refrigerator to blend flavors. No salt or pepper is needed for this recipe. I would recommend home made mayonnaise so that you can control the salt even better.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back from Camping

Spent a week in Lassen National Monument and Park, where we did a little cooking over the camp fire. Sadly, I did not get pictures of everything we cooked, however, there were these.

Fire roasted Triscuits with cheddar cheese...
Just a slab of cheddar cheese on a Triscuit cracker, roasted on a rack and covered with aluminum foil to reflect some heat to assist in melting the cheese. Foil or metal reflectors are invaluable for cooking over a campfire, the ability to reflect heat allows more control and direction over heat distribution.
Here is a shot of the rack of cheesy Tricuits cooking under foil, and yes, that is a string cheese stick being roasted. Simple treats over the fire after a day of hiking can be so much better than when munched at home.
Life is a bowl of cherries, organic pitted cherries on the way to a cherry maple cobbler that is...
Most everything you eat here is gonna taste better than at home.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Home Made Sourdough

I recently was gifted a sourdough starter from my sister in Humboldt County.  I have been feeding and growing the starter and decided to make some sourdough. I decided to wing it a bit and make a wet dough, in an attempt to get the old chewy interior texture I like in bread.

I used roughly this recipe

900 g white flour
120 g whole rye flour
600 g water at about 74F
360 g ripe 100% hydration sourdough starter
23 g salt

Autolyse was 35 minutes
Rise was 2 hours
Proof rise was 2 hours

Here is the dough after mixing...

And again after autolyse, note how fully hydrated and relaxed the dough has become.

It was actually quit soft and difficult to work at this point.  I gave it a few folds and shaped the loaves, then proceeded to let the bread proof.
Here they are in the oven about 12 minutes in. So far, looking good.

Here is the bread, after cooling for an hour, it looks great.  At this point, the bread has a nice hollow sound and a perfect aroma.

Here is the cut, showing the airy texture and medium sized holes. The crust is a little thicker than I would like, I suspect it is because I forgot to spray the loaf with water before the first 12 minutes of cooking. The lack of steam would cause the thicker crust. This did not affect the taste of the bread at all.  The interior texture was moist and delicious.