A Couple of Rancho Gordo Tweaked Recipes

I wrote about RG beans not long ago, and frankly, they’re still on my mind, as is their stunningly good Pineapple Vinegar. That combo had me digging through old favorite summer recipes and tweaking them for these newfound delights. So here, for your reading and eating pleasure, are a revamped teriyaki marinade, and an incredible three bean salad. Enjoy!

Summer is grilling season, and it wouldn’t be right without teriyaki in the mix. That pineapple vinegar inspired me to alter my go to marinade thusly.

Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar powered teriyaki marinade
Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar powered teriyaki marinade

RG Pineapple Vinegar Teriyaki Marinade

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock, (Veggie stock or water are both fine too)

1/4 Cup Tamari

1/4 Cup Pineapple Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 Tablespoons Rock Sugar (Dark Brown Sugar is fine too)

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon Arrowroot

2 Cloves fresh Garlic

1” fresh Ginger Root

Trim, peel, and mince garlic and ginger.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine tamari, vinegar, agave, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.

Whisk to incorporate – When sauce begins to scale, reduce heat to low.

Combine arrowroot and stock, which to incorporate thoroughly.

Add stock mixture to sauce and whisk thoroughly. Allow sauce to heat through, whisking steadily, until it reaches the thickness you like, about 2-4 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and transfer to a non-reactive bowl, allow to cool to room temperature before use – You can set up an ice bath in a second bowl to hasten that process if it’s hot where you are, like it was today where we is…

marinated skewers, full of summer goodness!
marinated skewers, full of summer goodness!

Separate some to use as a dipping sauce if desired.

That same stuff, along with dang near any or all RG beans, inspired this twist on Three Bean Salad.

Classic Three Bean Salad
Classic Three Bean Salad

Three bean salad is a delight in the dog days of summer – Cool, tangy, and hearty to boot. While I truly love the traditional base of pinto, wax, and green beans, you can and should do whatever mix you like – This is the perfect time of year to play with whatever is fresh at hand. The beauty of that freedom is that the dish really does change in very fundamental ways when you vary the bean trio, even with the same dressing. What I show below is my personal fave, but there too, you can and should go with what you’ve got fresh in the garden whenever possible. The mainstays to me are the rhythm section of that dressing – Rancho Gordo’s incredible Pineapple Vinegar, and fresh avocado oil – It creates a beautiful base to go just about anywhere from – I just got this stuff, and am absolutely enamored with it, so I re-did my go recipe, (which used live cider vinegar), to reflect same.

Bean salad should have whatever you love in it, period.
Bean salad should have whatever you love in it, period.

Speaking of Rancho Gordo, it’s there that a raft of stunningly delicious bean options await – Their heirloom stuff is so good, you can easily hop down the rabbit hole trying out different combinations. Their garbanzos, limas, and yellow woman beans make an incredible trio, with a delightful depth and breadth of flavors and textures, and again – That’s just one of many, many options. The quality of these beans is so far above anything else, you truly must try them.

Yet another combo...
Yet another combo…

Three bean salad definitely likes a little time for things to marry, so it’s a great dish to make ahead. And of course, if you have other veggies you love, that are ready to rock, add those too – You sure don’t need my permission!

Urban’s Go To Three Bean Salad

1 Cup Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans

1 Cup Fresh Green Beans

1 Cup Fresh Wax Beans

1 Cup Sweet Onion

1 stalk fresh Celery, with leaves

Sea Salt and fresh ground Grains of Paradise, to taste

For the Dressing

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/3 Cup Pineapple Vinegar

2 Tablespoons fresh Shallot, minced

1-2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon fresh Thyme

1 teaspoon fresh Dill

1/4 teaspoon Chile flake

Rio Zape Beans should be cooked to al dente.

Blanch green and wax beans in boiling water until al dente, about 2-3 minutes – Have a bowl of ice water ready beside the stove, and plunge the beans into that as soon as they’re right.

Rinse and stem onion and celery, and then medium chop, (chiffonade celery leaf).

Rinse, stem and mince garlic, thyme, and dill.

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine all beans, onion, and celery. Season with a three finger pinch of sea salt and a half dozen twists of grains of paradise – Gently toss to thoroughly incorporate.

In a second non-reactive bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk to incorporate thoroughly.

Allow dressing to marry for 15 minutes, then dress salad with a steady drizzle – You may or may not want to use all of it, so stop when you’re happy with the ratio.

Allow salad to marinate, chilled, for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

Will do fine refrigerated for a couple days, if it lasts that long…

Do you need an Instant Pot? In a word – Yes.

Every year on my birthday, I buy myself a gift, often kitchen-centric. This year, after resisting for quite some time, I bought an Instant Pot Ultra. Monica was a bit dismissive at first, thinking it’s just another toy, and said as much. After we’d used it a few times – enough to experience what it’s really capable of – she said, and I quote, ‘Why did it take you so long to buy one of these?’ 

Instant Pot - Do you need one?
Instant Pot – Do you need one?

Do you need an Instant Pot? In a word – Yes.If you cook and you honestly don’t know what an Instant Pot is, then I’d kinda have to believe that you’re living in a cave and singing your fingers over an open fire. Instant Pot is a brand name for a Canadian designed version of an electric, programmable pressure cooker. That said, comparing this to your gramma’s old 500 pound aluminum behemoth is like equating an AMC Pacer to a BMW. Yes, these things claim to do a bunch of things well, and with most consumer goods of that ilk, it really isn’t the case – But with the IP, I’m here to tell you it’s all true. 

Instant Pot was formed in 2009 by a bunch of Canadian tech nerds who cooked – That synthesis lead them to brainstorm a cooking device that would genuinely do things well, but faster than many common alternative methods. They state their ultimate aim as, ‘to enable busy families and professionals to prepare quality food in less time, promoting better eating and reducing the consumption of fast food.’ I’ll  go so far as to say they’ve achieved that, in spades.

The Instant Pot Ultra - Not the top of the heap, but there isn’t much it can’t do.
The Instant Pot Ultra – Not the top of the heap, but there isn’t much it can’t do.

There are several iterations, of course. The Ultra model we have claims a raft of functions, with settings for Soup/Broth, Meat/Stew, Bean/Chili, Cake, Egg, Slow Cook, Sauté/Searing, Rice, Multigrain, Porridge, Steam, Sterilize, Yogurt, Warm, and Pressure Cooker – It’ll even do a pretty damn good job of sous vide. Then there’s what IP refers to as the ‘Ultra’ program, which in essence just gives you a very wide margin of adjustability for most parameters of the various functions mentioned above. In other words, instead of being stuck with the maker’s idea of perfect for cooking beans, you can go in and tweak the settings to your needs, and for the record, this is, for my mind, actually important. Say you cook a lot of beans – You’ll quickly learn that they do not all do well with one cooking time – so being able to adjust that makes the machine very good instead of just OK at that task. For those that really don’t care for the extra bells and whistles, there are simpler models with less of that kind of thing aboard.

At the heart of these things is, of course, a microprocessor, so yeah – in essence, it’s computer controlled. With multiple sensors monitoring temperature, pressure, cooking time, and food volume, the IP takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking, and has so far performed flawlessly for us – Take those beans again – From precooking, to sautéing ingredients for the final dish, to cooking all that thereafter, everything can be done seamlessly, in one pot.

Loading up an IP for the final run
Loading up an IP for the final run

And as we’ve known for a long time, pressure cooking – the heart of these things – seriously cuts down on cooking time for dishes that traditionally take quite a while. A primary impetus for my purchase was the fact that almost every posting member of the Vietnamese cooking group I belong to has one, uses it regularly, and swears by it. Even for something as sacred as broth for Pho, these folks go almost universally with an IP, and swear that you can’t tell the difference in the finished dish, vis a vis traditional low and slow methods.

sautéing in an IP
sautéing in an IP

Pressure cooking also does great things for flavor, because all that you add is sealed in, and relatively little escapes. Add the ability to slow cook, or do fairly tightly temperature controlled souls vide, let alone all the specialty settings, and you’ve got a seriously powerful kitchen tool.

These things come in a range of sizes and versions, and the Ultra, as lux as it may sound, isn’t the top of the heap. They range from 3 to 8 quarts, and $45 to $200, as of a quick check today. If you cook a bunch, and you appreciate what these things can do, you really can’t go wrong with picking one up – The scary part is how many people own, and use, more than one IP – I’m not there, and frankly, I’m cool with that.

Now, final caveat – No, I didn’t get an IP for free, or less, or any other version of paid BS endorsement. I bought mine, fair and square, for market price, just as you’ll do. We don’t do the endorsement thing here – Never have, never will, OK? OK.

Why Does American Produce Suck?

Got this message the other day, from Mike and Sally Poutiatine,

Hey Food-Dude,

Sally and I have a query – we noticed recently in Ireland that the produce there is SO much better than we get in our restaurants or stores in Spokane. We found eating either in a hole-in-the-wall pub or a 4-star Castle dining room the greens were equally good and way better than we find most of the time in Spokane. The veggies in general in Ireland were much better (though they tended to cook them about 10 times as long as necessary) – We found the same thing before when traveling in Italy, Japan and the UK in term of quality. Is it as simple as faster, more direct farm to table? Or do other countries just take green veggies more seriously than we do? Why is that?

My immediate response was this, ‘Oh, I am SO making this the next blog post – Great question!’

Simple salad with real lettuce - A whole ‘nuther animal
Simple salad with real lettuce – A whole ‘nuther animal

The serendipitous part of the question is this – Earlier, while watering our very bountifully producing little veggie and herb garden, (a daily ritual I not only love, but seem to need), I was contemplating the same thing. Our stuff tastes so much better than 90% of what we find for sale – The only thing that rivals it is found in trips to our local farmers market, and through good CSA operations. And therein lies the short answer – While M and I choose not to accept the produce status quo here, most Americans accept (and have been indoctrinated to expect), relatively shitty produce. That is not good, and it needs to change.

Typical Grocery Store Produce - Bletch!
Typical Grocery Store Produce – Bletch!

The first thing that comes to most folks minds when they experience this is the natural assumption that some combination of basic factors are better over there – Better soil, environmental conditions, and so on – But truth be told, that’s a bunch of hooey – writ large, there’s demonstrably nothing special about european soil, etc, that makes their produce taste better than American produce. This has been pretty well studied, and it comes down almost solely to the fact that most world food cultures other than ours value flavor and taste in their produce more than we do – That’s it. That said, we could be, (and more and more folks are), growing stuff every bit as good – it’s just not often sold in mass market grocery stores.

Mighty ‘Mato’s - Not your typical grocery store fodder
Mighty ‘Mato’s – Not your typical grocery store fodder

Let’s take tomatoes as an example – Many will cite the famous Italian San Marzano as the ne plus ultra of tomatodom, but truth? There are a lot of shitty San Marzanos, gang. Like anything else that gets wildly popular on a worldwide scale, production needs outstrip high quality real quick – And by the way, those things are basically Roma’s, a paste tomato variety – They’re great for sauce when grown right, but for other stuff – Not so much. Here on this side of the big pond, (where tomatoes originally come from, after all), you can bet there are some amazing ones. We make a point of planting Mighty ‘Mato grafted tomatoes each year – They’re a thing developed by Dr. Jim Baggett of Oregon State University. Grafting makes them stronger, more disease resistant, and boy oh boy, do they yield – And they’re stunningly lovely. Yet despite all that, they don’t lend themselves well to being sold en mass, so… Or take the case of horticulture Professor Harry Klee, of the University of Florida, creator of the Garden Gem. That’s an incredibly tasty, hearty, disease resistant variety with a great shelf life – But at roughly half the size of the ‘average’ grocery store tomato, virtually nobody appears interested in bringing those to you and me. And here’s the kicker – The Italians have ordered tens of thousands of Garden Gem seeds – Insult to injury for American consumers.

Lettuce, real lettuce, just doesn’t ship, store, or last all that well...
Lettuce, real lettuce, just doesn’t ship, store, or last all that well…

How about lettuces? Well, M and I grow those, and let me tell ya, those are exactly what I was thinking of when I was watering the other day – A simple salad we’d made had taste and texture, because of the lettuce – Shut up! Ah, but those aren’t nice, uniform, large, tough, resilient heads you can ship and display and sell for days, so, they’re out too.

Real Celery isn’t insipid - It’s flavor packed and seriously crunchy
Real Celery isn’t insipid – It’s flavor packed and seriously crunchy

Celery, maybe? Celery?! Tasteless, boring celery? Well, in the store, yes, that’s exactly what it is. Our plants are anything but. They have bold flavor to match a crisp, crunchy texture – The leaves alone are potent and complex – But they don’t grow in big, tight, uniform bunches either so again, no go.

Herbs should never come in plastic containers...
Herbs should never come in plastic containers…

Whatever you name – Chiles, peas, cucumbers, radishes, and any herb there is – You’ll find them in the store, but what you’ll find in this country is chosen for the unholy trinity of shipability, shelf life, and the appearance of relative bounty – Three things you and I definitely do not need.

Wanna take a guess at how many folks know that this is how artichokes grow?
Wanna take a guess at how many folks know that this is how artichokes grow?

Mike followed up with this thought, ‘I have always assumed that the produce we get from our stores is tasteless because the distance from producer to table is so far – and I am sure that is part of it. But your observation that we have grown used to bad produce is insightful. We eat bad produce because we just don’t care about produce.’

Sad but true, my friends. There’s a local garden here in our area, much beloved, and big enough to regularly supply local grocery stores with produce in season. It’s pretty, and it’s fresh, but frankly – It’s a local version of the same stuff we always see – It’s chosen for those three criterion I mentioned – And as such, there’s really no magic there.

Produce magic begins at home
Produce magic begins at home

The good news is that things do seem to be changing for the better. Folks of many generations here are growing tired of paying for crap, which is forcing Big Agro to change, some anyway. We see far more varieties of apples than days of old – Same goes for lettuce, onions, chiles, and so on – And there is stuff therein that is quite good, if we choose wisely. More and more stores are stating straight out where stuff comes from, which is good, and if you do your due diligence, there’s quite a bit more to be sussed out.

A lot of that process means really, truly checking out what you’re choosing – Do you squeeze, poke, prod, and sniff what you’re buying? Do you find a produce person and ask pointed questions? That might be anything from, where is this from and when did it get here, to what’s the harvest date on this, (there is damn near always a harvest or packing or production date), to ‘I don’t know how to tell a good (your selection here) from not – how do you do that?’ In any store worth your hard earned dough, they’ll be able to answer those questions – And if they can’t, (or you don’t ask), shame on you – You get what you pay for.

Mike’s next query was, ‘So what do we do in the US that shows the care and quality that we found in the seemingly universal high quality of Irish produce?’

The good news is that there are things to be found here, and that trend is slowly but surely growing, all over the country – If you read the Rancho Gordo bean post, there’s a shining example. Try those, and suddenly you’re thinking, ‘why am I buying these plastic bags and cans full of tasteless crap when these are out here?’ I’ve seen it first hand with stuff from our friends CSAs in Minnesota as well – How folks react when they have celery that has taste, what good lettuce is like, and so on.

That’s what fresh produce looks like, gang
That’s what fresh produce looks like, gang

As for a specific answer to Mike’s last question, I’d say this – If they come here planning to cook, and have facility for such and then go to an average grocery store, what will they get? Mostly crap, unfortunately. If they’re smart, which I think many are, they’ll seek out and find farmers markets – those are the gold standard here these days. In our relatively little town, there are dozens of producers offering gorgeous produce, grown with genuine love and care, just as we do here at home – I’ve had everything from rainbow carrots with amazing taste and crunch, to tiny fingerling potatoes that were melt in your mouth delicious, with a slight tang of the earth they came from as a back note.

So if there’s a unified field theory as to how we go about changing the status quo, this would be my three cents worth.

1. Always grow a garden. You can do this, damn near no matter where you live or what you live in. From window sill to big ol’ plot – Do it – You’ll get better produce, and perhaps more importantly, tending a garden and playing in dirt is good for your soul.

2. Find a Farmers Market near you and patronize that. You’re supporting the little, local folk, and nobody deserves that more – And again, you’ll generally get far superior produce to anything in a chain grocery store.

3. Find a CSA operation Netra you and patronize that. That’s Community Supported Agriculture – we’re the community, and the growers can be anything from those same folks who sell at farmers markets, to larger scale folks who do most of their selling through CSA – Again, no one I know is more deserving of your patronage, and frankly, no one I know is more deserving of great produce than you are.

Great Post on Cherries

From my Sis, Ann Lovejoy – Including a reveal of one of Washington State’s most jealously guarded cherry secrets, the Rainier.

I write it every time I share one of her posts, and I’ll do so again – If you’re not following her on the Log House Plants website, you should be!

Here’s the post, now go check it out!

Canada Day? 4th of July? Here’s your Meal.

Canada Day Dinner, Eh?

Living as close to the border as we do, (you can pretty much throw rocks at it from here), Canada Day is a bit of a big deal. Held each July 1st, what once was known as Dominion Day harkens back to 1867. In that year, the British North America Act came into play, uniting the independent colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into one big, happy Canada. Fifteen years later, the Canada Act made It Canada Day, and the rest is glorious history. Our northern pals pretty much have a holiday three day weekend every month, (which is incredibly sensible, by the way), but this is a biggy – Coming when it does, it means food, and in particular, stuff appropriate for a picnic, barbecue, what have you. We gathered our one available kid, (the eldest, sans grandkids but with dawg), and decided to do up an appropriate meal – And as fate would have it, this wouldn’t suck on the 4th of July, either.

We settled on brisket, because we had a lovely, local grass fed hunk of beef just begging to be honored. Naturally, we just had to do some bbq beans and potato salad to go with it. Might seem heavy, but frankly, it wasn’t at all – It was ethereal – Perfect, in fact.

Heavy meal? Not at all - Ethereal, in fact.
Heavy meal? Not at all – Ethereal, in fact.

With the day kind of cloudy and cold, I decided I’d rather do the brisket in the oven, rather than on the grill and smoker. This raises the issue of authenticity – A beautiful hunk of beef like that deserves all glory, laud, and honor, so the prep and cooking absolutely cannot be half assed. Secondly, I decided on beans too late in the day to do traditional slow cooked, so those would have to go in the Instant Pot, and again, be as good as the real deal. M rounded things out with a stunningly good potato salad. While this may sound pretty pedestrian, I assure you, it’s not – Everything came out surprisingly good – Good enough that we had to write it down and share it. While we do the same kind of things a lot, we’re constantly tweaking methods and recipes. When the stars align and a meal is this good, it’s time to stop, think, and write down exactly what you used and what you did, because yeah – It’s so worth recreating again.

Let me say that again – Whenever you make something great, write it down, right then and there. Stop and write it down. I do this daily – Everything from a few scratches on a post it note, (sometimes fast enough that I later can’t read them), to more than a few thousand words. My food notes are vast, and many haven’t yet been revisited since they were recorded – Some have been researched, added to, recipes fleshed out, etc, (which sometimes leads to me saying, ‘Yeah I gotta recipe for that,’ after which I discover that answer to be sorta kinda true at best.) In any case, here is a shining truism – The worst thing we can do when cooking is to think, I’ll remember that, because chances are real good that you won’t. Sure, if it’s a thing you do the same way every time, or a basic, you don’t need to record that, (unless you want to share it, of course.) When I’m after a new idea, more oft than not, I’ll plow into my raw notes, see something that triggers a memory, (or at least piques my interest), and away we go. If it struck you as great food, write it down, don’t lose it – As for remembering what you wrote it down on, and where that is – you’re on your own.

So the first challenge was that brisket. Having lived a dozen years in Texas, I know better than to screw with something so culinarily sacred – You are welcome to try alternatives to the Gold Standard, (even if it might earn you some sideways glances or a mumbled comment), but whatever you produce had damned well be real good, y’all hear? Now, far as I’m concerned, there are three non-negotiables for a finished brisket

Great Brisket requires a great dry rub
Great Brisket requires a great dry rub

It must have a nice, crisp crust formed by a dry rub.

It must have notable smoke to the flavor profile.

It must end up fork tender and juicy as all get out.

This version was good enough that, when M noted that Joe didn’t have a knife, his response was, ‘You don’t need one.’

Obviously the quality of the beef is paramount. We had that covered, but I guess I’m getting wimpy in my old age, because I just really didn’t wanna cook out there on a gray, drizzly day, so I sussed out a viable alternative method. When I do brisket on a grill, it’s charcoal, for sure – Two zone set up. Once it’s mostly done, it goes to the smoker for the last hour or so. My solution was to incorporate smoke into the rub, in the form of smoke powder from Butcher and Packer. Through what they call a “highly refined process,” smoke is turned into powder form and mixed with dextrose so that it won’t clump too much. What you get is true to the wood smoke flavor that will fool damn near anyone into thinking you smoked whatever it is you apply it to – In the immortal words of Jackie Chan, ‘No bullshit.’ They make hickory and mesquite, and they’re sublime stuff, indeed. Next, we plugged in an uncovered dry/covered wet cooking process that approximates grilling to a very acceptable degree.

My big twist here is a North African Berbere spice mix to the rub, which was totally serendipitous – It added a delightful, exotic warmth and heat that really popped. I intended to do my typical brisket rub that calls for chili powder, only to find that I didn’t have any mixed up. As I was searching, I saw the berbere and thought, why the hell not? Here’s the deal with that stuff, (but you could absolutely just sub chile powder if you’re not feeling adventurous.)

Urban’s Indoor Brisket

3-4 Pound Beef Brisket

1 1/2 Cups Beef Stock

2 Tablespoons Berbere Spice Blend

2 Tablespoons Sea Salt

2 Tablespoons Mesquite Smoke Powder

1 Tablespoon Granulated Garlic

1 Tablespoon Granulated Onion

1 Tablespoon ground Tellicherry Pepper

1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar

2 teaspoons Dry Mustard

1/2 teaspoon crushed Sage

Preheat oven to 350° F

Unwrap and trim brisket, leaving a nice fat cap.

Combine all dry ingredients and hand blend thoroughly.

Rub a generous layer of the mix into all surfaces of the brisket – Do it by hand, take your time and really work the rub into the meat.

Place the brisket fat side up on a broiling pan.

Roast for 1 hour, uncovered.

Reduce the heat to 300° F, carefully add the beef stock to the bottom of the broiler pan, then tightly wrap and seal the entire pan with metal foil – Wrap it fairly tight to the meat – Don’t leave a whole bunch of air space around the brisket.

Roast for about another 3 hours, until the brisket is fork tender.

Remove from oven, keep the brisket covered and allow a 15 minute rest.

Carve roughly 1/4” slices across the grain and serve.

You can use pan juices as is, or transfer them to a sauté pan, add a little butter and a little more stock over medium heat, and use that as well.

Next came Beans, which I defaulted to the Instant Pot – I can assure you that they were amazing, and suffered not at all from that cooking method, (and I have witnesses). As you’ll see, it’s a three step cooking process with the IP, but it’s all done onboard, it’s super efficient, and the results are stunningly good.

Here again, quality matters a lot. You’ll recall that not long ago, I wrote a bit of a paean to Rancho Gordo beans – On the social media site for RG Club members, a newer convert recently commented as follows, ‘I love my beans so much, but… RG has ruined other beans for me. I can no longer grab a can of garbanzos or a bag of black beans, because they don’t even compare to the quality of RG beans.’ This is so true. I used a variety called Rio Zape, which RG owner Steve Sando describes as, ‘the classic heirloom bean that inspired the birth of Rancho Gordo. Suggestions of chocolate and coffee make this pinto-family rarity one of our favorite and most requested beans.’ It’s no joke – Those beans, coming out of the initial cook with nothing involved but a little salt, are amazing – Taste them, give them to others to taste, and everyone’s eyebrows go up and they start making little spontaneous yum yum noises – Get the picture? If you love beans, you must try Rancho Gordo – They’re that good.

Perfect indoor brisket
Perfect indoor brisket

Urban’s BBQ IP Beans

1 Pound Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans

1 small Sweet Onion

1-2 Serrano Chiles

6 slices Bacon

3/4 Cup Blackstrap Molasses

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock

1/2 Cup Ketchup

1/4 Cup Agave Nectar

1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

3-4 Shakes of Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil for sautéing.

Add dry beans and 6 cups of water to the IP.

Set to Beans and 60 minutes and start the cook.

Allow the pressure to reduce by natural release.

Transfer beans to a colander and drain, (save the liquor for soups and stews – It freezes great)

Dice onion and chiles, cut bacon into roughly 1/4” strips across each piece, (the short way, so you end up with strips about 1/4” by 3/4” or thereabouts.

In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine molasses, ketchup, mustard, agave nectar, vinegar, and Worcestershire – Whisk thoroughly to incorporate.

Set the IP on sauté, add the tablespoon of avocado oil and allow it to heat through.

Add onion, chiles, and bacon – Sauté until onion is soft and bacon lightly browned – about 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn IP off, leaving veggies and bacon therein. Deglaze the bottom of the IP pan with 1/2 cup of chicken stock, scraping up and loosening all the naughty bits.

Add beans and sauce to veggies, bacon, and stock, and gently stir to incorporate thoroughly.

Set for normal pressure run, 30 minutes.

Natural release.

Go wild.

And finally, M’s potato salad incorporates two different pickle flavors that really shine together – Dills in the salad, and bread and butter brine in the dressing. It was stellar.

Instant Pot Beans that taste like all day low and slow
Instant Pot Beans that taste like all day low and slow

M’s Two Pickle Potato Salad

4 large Potatoes

3 Eggs

1/2 Cup Sweet Onion, diced

1 stalk Celery, fine diced

1 Cup Olive Oil Mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

1 Tablespoon minced fresh Dill

2 teaspoons minced fresh Parsley

2-3 dill pickles, fine diced

1/3 Cup Bread & Butter Pickle Brine

Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste.

Prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl.

Put eggs in a pan large enough to cover with 2” or so of water.

Bring to a boil, cover, then turn the heat off, and let them sit in the covered pan for 20 minutes.

Pour out the hot water and replace with cold a couple of times, then let the eggs sit in that until you’re ready to deal with them.

Boil potatoes until just fork tender, then plunge into the ice bath to shock, (stops the cooking process).

Prepare veggies as per above.

In a large non-reactive mixing bowl, add potatoes and veggies, including pickles, and eggs. Stir gently with a kitchen spoon to thoroughly combine.

Add mayo, mustard, dill, parsley, pickle brine, and lightly salt and pepper. Stir to combine and thoroughly coat the salad. Taste and adjust brine, salt, and pepper to your liking. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.

M’s Two Pickle Potato Salad
M’s Two Pickle Potato Salad

There ya go – Happy Days, whatever they are!

Printing Restored

Yet another alert reader let me know that the print function for posts seemed to have disappeared, further noting, ‘I’m pretty sure you used to have one…’

Glad somebody was paying attention, ’cause clearly I wasn’t, and yeah, I sure did have one.

Anyway… Print services have been restored. There’s a little green button at the bottom of each post. Click that, and it’ll give you options to print, convert to PDF, email, and such. You can also edit, pruning off my long winded harangues and just printing recipes and what not, too.

Sheesh…

Garde Manger for the People

Alert blog follower Hannah sent this note from southwestern Oregon – ‘I read about you guys changing up stuff you made earlier, for subsequent meals – The last one was an Instagram of tacos where you did “a complete 180° on the seasoning” but you didn’t explain how or what you did. The same thing happened with the Chinese barbecued pork you converted to Italian, but you didn’t tell how to do that either. We’re not all wizards, so you need to explain this better!’

Hannah, with my sincere apologies, you are absolutely correct. Allow me to rectify that – And if it seems like Hannah’s reading me the riot act, she’s got a right to – I didn’t explain any of that stuff. Now, in my defense, these were both follow up images and short descriptives, secondary to a post, that as she mentioned, were on other social media sites – FB, Instagram, Twitter and the like. I though of them as throw away stuff, home food porn, but no longer – Hannah is 100% right – If I’m gonna crow about our mad skills, I gotta share the goods.

Before we talk about conversion, we gotta back up a few steps. If you’re making a French dish, what should the core seasonings be? What if it’s Italian, Spanish, Indian, North African, Mexican, South American, Caribbean, and so on? There are so many regional variations in all those examples that this kind of thing can be a bit hard to pin down – In northern France, you might find thyme, sage, and coriander, while in the south, it’s likely to be something more Provençal – marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and lavender, maybe. Same thing in every place I mentioned, frankly. With the very welcome spread of cookbooks and recipes focusing more on regional cuisines than some perceived national pastiche, us home cooks are blessed with many more options than even a decade ago. All that can make things a bit tougher to convert to something wholly different, but frankly, we don’t need to do that to succeed at the game.

Pork rib tacos? Absolutely!
Pork rib tacos? Absolutely!

So what is the trick to turning those ribs into tacos? Not as much as you’d think – Hell, you could probably do not a damn thing, call it fusion, and be on your merry way… But seriously, the trick, such as it is, is simply knowing what the major and minor seasoning notes are for the thing you’re working with, and building up or down from there – I say up or down purposefully, because if you want something Chinese to taste reasonable Italian, the task at hand may be to add, but it could also involve subtraction. Let’s use those two examples Hannah cited to dig into this thing.

In both instances we’re talking about proteins. This comes up as a thing we tweak fairly often because of how we cook and plan meals – A big ol’ batch of poultry, pork, or beef is oft what we cook early in the week, and then make a buncha meals thereafter, (and we covered this pretty well in our Meal Planning post btw). First step in swinging the seasoning profile of a protein in another direction is having a pretty good grasp of what’s powering it currently. If you made it, that’s easy enough, but what about a leftover from somewhere else, or taking a step farther out – tasting something and thinking, ‘I could do this at home, and I’d like to’ – How do you parse that? Far and away, the easiest way to suss it out is to ask the Chef – Chances are good they’ll tell you, and then you’re off to the races.

But what about sleuthing things out for yourself, how does that work? There’s no cut and dried formula for doing this that I can think of offhand, other than to state the obvious – The more herbs, spices and other seasoning constituents you own and use with some frequency, the better you’ll be at identifying them in the wild – Consider it a delicious form of behavioral conditioning. Again, not everybody has the same palate, but nonetheless, practice makes perfect, so build a great pantry and familiarize yourself with as much as you can – Getting curious about world cuisine is the way to discover new tastes and combinations.

OK, so Hannah’s Bane – starting with the ribs to tacos. The ribs were a first run experiment by M from something she’d found and tweaked to her liking – Ribs done in the slow cooker, with a nontraditional twist on the marinade and sauce. She did, for two racks of ribs,

For the Rib Marinade

1/2 Cup Water

1/3 Cup Live Apple Cider Vinegar

1/4 Cup Sweet Onion, minced

6 Cloves fresh Garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard

2 Tablespoons coarse Sea Salt

2 teaspoons Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon ground Tellicherry Pepper

For the Glaze

1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar

1/4 Cup Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon Arrowroot

1/2 teaspoon Chile flake

Pinch of Sea Salt

They were killer by the way – Try this on nice fresh baby backs and then thank M later. We had a slew of these things, and after 3 days of ribs, ribs, and ribs, we were kinda tired of that, so I decided to strip all the meat off the remainder and turn it into taco fodder. Now, looking at that ingredients list, you can see right off that I took poetic license with the line Hannah quoted, “a complete 180° on the seasoning,” ‘cause yeah – in a word, Eben? Bullshit. That’s already pretty damn close to a bunch of Mexican regional seasoning blends you’ve got on there. What I did was to throw diced chiles and more onion in a sauté pan, sweat them, then added chicken stock, cilantro, lime juice, and tomatoes to the mix, and let that simmer until everything was heated through and married – Boom, taco ribs. Get the picture? No, they won’t taste at all like they did as whole ribs, and yeah, now they are reasonably more Mexican in taste profile.

Char Siu in all its glory
Char Siu in all its glory

Now, how about that Chinese barbecued Pork to Italian thing, then? This one admittedly took a bit more work to pull off effectively, but nothing earthshaking, and again – I made the original dish, so I knew exactly what was in there, right? The pork was my latest swing at Char Siu, derived from a Grace Young recipe in Breath of a Wok. I’ve not posted this previously, so here’s first look for y’all, (and John Joyce? This one’s for you, Buddy!)

For each Pound of Pork Shoulder

2 Tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce (I recommend Pearl River)

2 Tablespoons Tamari

2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce

2 Tablespoons Pixian Doubanjiang Chile Bean Sauce

2 Tablespoons Shao Hsing Rice Wine

2 Tablespoons Bakers Sugar

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 teaspoons Sesame Oil

1/2 teaspoon Ground Grains of Paradise

The Pork marinates in this mix for 48 hours, then is seared over an initially hot grill, basted with the remaining sauce and finished on a medium grill until internal temp runs 145°, then rested. If you use charcoal, a two zone grill set up will do this to perfection.

Seriously tender Char Siu
Seriously tender Char Siu

This stuff was fork tender and incredibly tasty, but again, after so many meals, I just needed to switch things up, and so I decided to make tomato based pasta sauce with the remainder. Granted, there are some potent Chinese regional tastes involved in that pork, but again, it’s not as discordant as it may seem at first glance. Central and northern Italian tomato pasta sauces can and do have some of those warm, earthy, and spicy notes, albeit not the same ones.

I gave the pork a quick rinse and ground it with the attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer, (you don’t need to do that, a simple rinse and mince would do just fine). As you can see from the plated image, the marinade, even after 48 hours, doesn’t get all that deep into the pork, so doing what you can to expose a bunch of the unseasoned meat gives solid ground for new flavors – The old stuff becomes interesting background that you can’t quite put your finger on, rather than a very forward Chinese.

Italian from Chinese? Yes indeed.
Italian from Chinese? Yes indeed.

Next comes the Italian rebranding – A big stew pot over medium heat, with a generous slug of olive oil gets soffritto – the classic Italian aromatic base mix of onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic. Add stock, tomatoes, the pork, bay leaf, oregano, rosemary, lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper, and basil to finish, and wham, you’ve got a complex, earthy pasta sauce that tastes like you put far more work into it than you did – Never a bad thing.

Now, who caught the trick I used in these examples? Somebody, anybody, Bueller? There was one ya know – A small but potent anchor to all such conversions – It’s the aromatic bases. For the switch to tacos, it was onion and chile. For the Italian, soffritto – See that? Fortunately for you, we wrote a very nice piece on aromatic bases that you can use as a launching pad for further exploration. It really is a key – When you take those deep, fundamental roots of a flavor profile and set them as your new solid base, switching gears becomes a simple matter of preference thereafter.

Now, resources – A thing I’ve mentioned here several times and online a lot – Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s magnum opus, The Flavor Bible. This is a reference work with some serious horsepower – Whole menus can be worked up from the stuff therein, and should be – For my mind, with that book, and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, you’ve got a very solid basic research library to design a world cuisine of your own from.

Garde Manger - The Art of Transformation
Garde Manger – The Art of Transformation

Now – One final note – This concept is not mine, and it’s not new. In fact, it’s very old, and it stems from common sense, first and foremost. In French, it’s called Garde Manger, and it loosely translates as ‘Keeper of the Food.’ This is way cooler than you can imagine if you really dig cooking. The first fine dining restaurant I worked in, back in the mid ‘70’s, was French, (and that cuisine is where the term comes from and from where, arguably, the art reached its pinnacle). The second was in Sun Valley, Idaho – Another kitchen run by French Chefs. In those places, the Chef de Garde Manger was the best there was – Old guys with a wealth of experience, tremendous patience, and endless inventiveness. Garde manger is still around, albeit not as prominent, or as likely to display that level of experience. It’s always the cold dish station – Salads, hors d’œuvres (horse doovers as my Sis and I like to quip…), appetizers, canapés, pâtés, terrines, and such. Although it’s less prevalent now, the key role of that Chef was transforming leftovers into something new, something appealing, something that would sell – And it was magical, indeed – That spirit is sparked within me every time I do something like we discussed today. If any of this strikes your fancy, then I’ll recommend another great resource – Frederick Sonnenschmidt and John Nicolas’, The Art of Garde Manger – It’s the real deal, and a delightful read. Dig in.