Friday, December 17, 2004


Late night for me tonight, that's OK, playing some music, ripping some CD's now. I bought a whole pork shoulder (picnic-style, meaning the lower/leg part) of about 13 lbs, and a 4.5 lbs. boneless pork butt/shoulder. Rubbed the big 13-lb behemoth with the Wolfgang Puck rub I used successfully the last time, and the smaller one with a 50/50 of the Puck rub and another rub I found on the web.

The reason for this smoking extravaganza? My department is having a potluck tomorrow, and a bunch of people are bringing crummy food, so I figured I'd bring something meaty & good. Incidentally, what makes the whole thing even super crummier is the fact that the two managers who run the department are too cheap to anty up any money for a decent lunch for their staff. Look, they're managers, I'm sure each of them make over $75K, why couldn't they foot a $200 lunch bill and write it off of their own taxes as a business expense? Lame management sucks! I would do that kind of thing if I was the manager, I think it should be part of your responsibility. Anyways...

So in this very windy weather, I had to move the trashcan & smoker near each other to ensure that it doesn't get blown over while it's smoking tonight. Sheesh, when will this insane wind end?
I started the pork butts at around 9:30pm this evening, so hopefully by tomorrow morning they'll be pretty nicely done. Smoking them with 50/50 mesquite & hickory wood chips. I'll have to try wood chunks sometime to see if that works better. It would also be really nice to get an external gas hookup run outside the house so I could fire a BBQ or the smoker using natural gas. I think that would make it really easy to maintain the heat the smoker needs. Oh well, another home project for me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

smokey and the bandit

Burt Reynolds was funny in those 70's movies, damn. Speaking of smoky, I made my chili recipe yesterday, and decided to crack open a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I've heard a lot about these things but never tried them, and I figured if they tasted "smoky", the flavor should go really well with the chili.

Chipotle peppers are simply jalapeno peppers that have been dried, smoked and then rehydrated. You can buy them in a can in "adobo" sauce, which is a red sauce, in most grocery stores, and certainly in any Mexican markets.

I cranked the can open, dipped my finger in for a! Very warm but smokey heat, just like you'd expect from a smoked jalapeno. I blended a couple for two seconds, mixed it in to the chili, and it really added a new dimension of richness & thickness.

Alas, I was missing tomato paste, which I realized after yesterday's chili adventure is absolutely necessary to enhance the "richness" of the chili; you really can't do without it. I also tried substituting shallots for yellow onions (because I have a big bag); it worked fine, but I think onions have a bigger, brighter, "louder" flavor than do shallots. Still, it tasted very good.

On another note, I tried a recipe for Lithuanian rye bread from a cookbook I bought in Lithuania and it turned out abysmally bad. I think the failures were the following:

1. The yeast may be too old. I didn't proof it, but I think I need a new jar, as I remember from my prior pizza making experience.
2. Too much rye flour makes the dough too thick & gummy. Without wheat flour & gluten, it's too dense.

Well, cooking as always is a learning experience.

Friday, December 10, 2004

grandma's bread

Well, well well, it's that holiday time off year again when I take on the tradition of making my grandmother's bread recipe. It's no easy task, because my grandmother did this at least once every week so the recipe was always in her head, never written down. She never bought bread from the grocery store, always made from scratch. My memories of this dark rye bread involve me sitting at my grandma's white formica table in their small 1950's kitchen, the bread coming out of the toaster and being slathered in butter. It tasted like the bread equivalent of the perfect french fry: a little crunchy on the outside and so soft and chewy inside. Mmm. My "mociute" Antonia and my great aunt "Manyte" or "Teta Maryte" would let me help them knead the dough sometimes. I think it was in their kitchen that I learned to appreciate the beautiful smell of freshly baking bread.

Anyway, here's her recipe. When I was in Lithuania, I found a Lithuanian cookbook with a recipe that I think will approximate her bread even more closely. I had some black rye bread in Lithuania that was almost (if not) exactly the same texture and flavor as my grandma's bread. I'm going to transcribe my grandma's recipe word-for-word from Lithuanian, because it's funny & it's difficult to know how she made this bread. Her "cup" measurement could have been a coffee mug, I just don't know exactly: this recipe was all in her head, because she did it every week.

"Musu Duona ("Our Bread")

4 cups buttermilk
3 cups water

Warm in on the stove while constantly mixing, so it doesn't curdle.

Add rye flour until the consistency is like sour cream and set aside to ferment, covered in a warm spot. (I set it aside to ferment at 4-5pm in the afternoon the day before). The next day after it has fermented, I add 1 cup of honey, a large spoon (tablespoon?) of caraway seeds, a large spoon (tablespoon?) of salt, and the yeast. I use 2 packages of fresh yeast cakes (ed. note--this was preferred) or 2 small spoons (teaspoons?) of dry yeast. (First I prepare the yeast with a little flour and a bit of sugar and set it aside to let it rise).

Having combined all of the ingredients, I add 1 pound of rye flour and the remaining white flour (unbleached) so that it would be quite thick. Then I knead the dough for 20 minutes (ed. note--always by hand, she didn't have a stand or bread mixer!!), and I transfer the dough into bread pans, to let the dough rise. When it rises I put it in a 350 degree oven and bake for 1.5 hours. It should turn out good, good luck (ed. note--translated as "Turetu buti gerai. Sekmes")"

Today I'm going to try the cookbook version of this recipe. I'll post it later & let you know how it goes.

warm arugula and potato salad

I lived in West Hollywood for 6 months, on Spaulding Ave between Melrose & Santa Monica Blvd. Interesting neighborhood, Oki-Dog right around the corner, lots of Russians and Jews & Russian Jews, horrible parking (I got SO many parking tickets from stupid street cleaning). I had a tiny studio with hardwood floors, overflowing with packed boxes because my last apartment was so huge. Funny, the boxes never really got unpacked.

For those 6 months I only had a mini-fridge, but it was a good thing that Trader Joes was just down the street, so I could keep in quick supply. One particularily frugal evening I devised this recipe & loved it. It's warm and satisfying, and the pepperiness of the arugula goes nicely with the oil, vinegar, and warm flavors of potato.

Warm Arugula and Potato Salad
Serves 2 persons

1 medium potato
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
4 cups arugula
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, flaked (preferably) or grated
1/4 tsp. Salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice potato very thin (1/8" or thinner). Heat oil in skillet over high heat and add potato slices to oil when almost smoking, arranged in a single layer. Cook for 2 minutes, turn to flip, and then add minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. Allow potatoes to brown slightly. Place arugula in large mixing bowl. Transfer potatoes and leftover pan drippings to arugula. Add balsamic vinegar and toss. Plate, top with parmesan flakes and fresh ground pepper, and serve immediately while warm.

Chin Chin!

Here's a funny anecdote about "chin chin" which is supposed to be a toast:

I think the salad dressing for Chin-Chin's Chinese Chicken Salad is excellent, and here's my attempt at replicating it (I've been digging through my old recipes this morning at home, waiting for an appointment with a phone system repair guy). I did this a while ago (maybe 1998-1999?), but I do remember that it came out pretty damn close to the original (I acually had some of the original and was tasting it as I went along).

Chin-Chin Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing
Makes 1/2 cup

2 tbsp pickled ginger, minced
4 tbsp "juice" (vinegar) from pickled ginger
1-2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp corn oil
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Small pinch red chili flakes OR dash of Tabasco

Whisk ginger, pickled ginger "juice", 1 tbsp soy sauce, brown sugar, corn oil and chili flakes. Taste and adjust soy sauce by 1 tbsp. if necessary to taste (2 tbsp. is salty for my palate). Add pepper to taste & whisk again.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

blustery outside, warm inside

Thanksgiving has come and gone. My first Thanksgiving cooking, with my girlfriend Beckey, and first Thanksgiving in the new house. Beckey's were there and so was my mom, and a big feast was had for all. The menu:

Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash soup
Green salad with endives, pears and a Dijon vinaigrette
14-1/2 lb turkey
Beckey's mom's stuffing
My mom's dressing
Roasted Garlic Mashed potatoes
Roasted Cipollini Onions
Sauteed mushrooms with garlic and onions
Steamed green beans
Canned beets
Canned baked yams with marshmallows
Fresh Cranberry sauce (from my mom)
Pumpkin Pie, Berry Pie, and Pecan Pie
Dinner Rolls

I made the soup, salad, onions, and helped with the Turkey.

The squash soup recipe came from the Williams Sonoma "Complete Entertaining Guide". It's rich, sweet, and spicy, and yet is quite low fat & healthy. Beckey's dad proclaimed "...and I don't even like squash!", a testament to this soup's tastiness. I made the soup the night before, it refrigerated beautifully, and reheated the next day just as nicely.

Serves 6

2 tbsp. butter
3 c. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 c. onion, diced
1 green apple (such as Granny Smith), cored and diced
1/2 green apple, for garnish
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp allspice, ground
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
6 cups chicken stock
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt butter and add diced onions and apple. Cook at medium-low heat for around 15 minutes, until onions are soft. Add nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon, and cook for about 1 minute. Next add diced squash, and add enough chicken stock to just cover the mixture. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour mixture (in 2 or 3 batches) into food processor. Blend with food processor until smooth, about 15-20 seconds per batch. Add salt & pepper to taste, and adjust other seasonings as necessary (nutmeg, allspice, cinammon)

At this point, you can pour it into a bowl and refrigerate uncovered until cool, then cover it. It will easily store until the next day. Just bring to a near boil the next day and serve. Or, serve it in soup bowls garnished by thin apple slices. Mmm...I just had a bowl for lunch, and it was excellent.

Roasted Cipollini Onions

Cipollini Onions are smaller than shallots, and look kind of like a small, flattened white or yellow onion. This recipe comes from Janus Wilder from an old FoodTV episode.

Serves 6
1 tbsp. olive oil
24 Cipollini Onions, peeled
3 tbsp. brandy
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. In a skillet, heat oil and add onions, cooking for around 5-10 minutes or until they get some color. Take skillet off flame, add brandy, and tip into flame (watch out!) to flame off brandy. Add salt & pepper to taste. Transfer onions to baking dish (or cook the onions in a cast iron pan) and cook them in the oven for 45 minutes.

Some holiday cooking hints:

  • For mashed potatoes for a group, estimate about 1 medium or 1 large potato per person. A nice proportion we found was: 6 potatoes, 2 sticks butter, 2 heads (not cloves, HEADS) of roasted garlic. I read in a cooking-related book that a good proportion for mashed potatoes is a 1-to-1 ratio of potato to butter, but my heart almost stopped while thinking about that. Even so, the above proportion made for some very rich, creamy mashed potatoes.
  • Throw in the garlic to roast in the over about 1 or 1.5 hours before the turkey is done, to best coordinate with the completion of mashed potatoes.
  • Apparently it's easier to peel cipollini onions if you blanch them in some boiling water for about 15 seconds.