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.

Better Butter

Alert follower Jenn writes,

“I was surprised to see no post on fresh made butter in the UrbanMonique archives. Chris got me a rotary butter churn for Christmas and it’s been one of my favorite gifts in memory. Of course, we’ve done fresh pepper butter, dilly butter, rosemary and lemon peel, and obviously brown sugar and cinnamon. I know it can be done with ease in a stand mixer, but the rotary is fun to pass around at brunch parties or before dessert is served. I’m just curious to see what you’d put in butter given your expansive spice collection and superior wisdom.”

Knowing this young Texan as I do, I’m still not sure if that last line is her being a smartass or not… In any event, I’m cool with it, because she sent me filé that she grew and dried and powdered her very own self, and she’s a hell of a good cook to boot.

She’s also got an excellent point. Having relocated to an area rich in local dairy, we revel in fresh milk, cream, butter, and eggs. If you can get your paws on fresh cream where you live, making your own butter and compound butters is easy, and a true delight. We’ll cover both herein, as well as delving into the history and chemistry a bit.

First, let’s address a couple of core issues.

The Butter Is Evil mantra. If you’re late to this party, let me formally state for the record that it’s simply not so. The premise raised in the ’60’s and touted for several decades, to the effect that animal fats cause heart disease, has been roundly rejected. While it’s true that there are plenty of fine alternative vegetable fats, the artificial pantheon that replaced butter has been banned from our pantry for all time. The facts bear out that food from properly pastured animals is actually quite healthy. In particular, butter from grass fed cows is high in nutrients like vitamins E, A, beta carotene, and essential fatty acids. That last caveat, grass fed, also happens to yield butter that is notably tastier than that from grain fed cows.

The Cow Monopoly. There are thousands of species of mammal across our world, and all of them produce milk, yet here in the U.S.A., roughly 97% of our dairy products come from cows. Even at our quite enlightened local Co-Op, there are only a couple of goat milk options. Granted, when we turn to cheese, we find offerings from goat, sheep, and buffalo, but cow is still the king, hands down. Elsewhere in the world, folks drink camel, yak, water buffalo, elk, reindeer, and even mare’s milk on a regular basis. 99.9% of those critters are ruminants, mammals whose four-chambered stomachs yield prodigious quantities of milk from high-fiber, low-nutrient pasturage. On top of that feat, ruminants sport large, graspable teats that makes milking easy for humans, (hence, cats and dogs are safe for the time being). Goat, sheep, and cows were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 years ago. While all three have since been intensively bred to improve temperament and output, cows have far and away ruled the roost.

The Middle Eastern ancestor of the milk cow was the auroch, which went extinct in the 17th century. While wild aurochs were a handful, domestication quickly yielded a critter that quietly lines up to be milked, and produces about 100 pounds of milk a day. That docile nature sets cows apart from most other ruminants, including, as a for instance, the water buffalo. Bred for milking to this day in Italy and India, water buffalo are notoriously cranky, and considering their size, quickness, and very large horns, they’re potentially downright dangerous to the milker.

Here in America, the last great ice age that swept through around 20,000 years ago effectively removed all large ruminants, with the exception of the bison. When Europeans showed up with cows, they not only did just fine, they genuinely thrived. The easy separability of cow’s milk lends itself to a broad spectrum of things humans like to eat, the fat content is quite close to human milk, and it’s widely tolerated by human digestive systems. Goat’s milk, on the other hand, is richer and more complex in flavor, predominately because the cream does not separate as it will in cows milk. Goats produce the most milk of any ruminant by body size, but they’re so much smaller than cows that the advantage is null. That lack of cream separation also means that goat milk won’t readily make butter, either. As for the third member of the Fertile Crescent troika, almost nobody in this country drinks sheep’s milk. With twice the fat of cow and human milk, it’s far too rich to be popular, and the overall low yield weighs against them from a commercial production standpoint. That fattiness does make sheep’s milk near and dear to cheesmakers, however, for obvious and good reason.

On then, to butter, a part of the human diet for nigh onto 7,000 years. Through 99% of history, butter was cultured to enhance shelf life. Culturing allowed milk gathered in multiple milkings to last longer in the days before effective refrigeration; it also encourages cream to separate relatively quickly when churned. Raw cream is blessed with ample benign bacteria, so it will ferment and sour without the need for added cultures. This natural fermentation notably alters its chemistry, generating much more complex and subtle flavor profiles. One such flavor note stems from lactic acid, so cultured butter tends to taste tarter than uncultured, or sweet cream butter.

Chemically, butter is a relatively stable mixture of triglycerides from several fatty acids – predominantly oleic 31%, myristic 19%, palmitic 15%, and stearic 15%. The natural color of butter derives from trace amounts of carotene. Over time the glycerides break down, releasing free fatty acids; two of these, butyric and caproic acid, are largely responsible for the nasty smell of rancid butter.

Butter is made by churning cream. Exactly how and why churning works is still somewhat of a mystery; if that sounds unlikely, rest assured that it’s not. Delve into the chemistry of churning at the university level, and you’ll find analyses filled with detailed supposition and almost universally followed by the phrase, “not well understood.” While the process is ages old, there’s still a PhD up for grabs there. What we surmise is that air is incorporated into the liquid matrix of cream as it begins to turn into butter. A foam forms, and fat globules collect in the walls of the bubbles. Churning warms the cream slightly, to the point that those fat globules soften and liquify. Further churning bounces the softened fat globules off each other enough to break their protective membranes, and liquified fat cements the exposed droplets together. Material from the broken membranes helps in this process, as it contains emulsifiers such as lecithin. Once enough of the liquified fats have been freed by the churning process, the air foam collapses and butter granules form into larger and larger masses.

Once thickened and separated into butter grains and buttermilk, the buttermilk is poured off. 50° F water, at 20% of the volume of the cream used, is then added to the fresh butter; this ‘wash’ helps it separate thoroughly from the buttermilk. Churning continues until the butter granules are about the size of wheat grains. As with many kitchen processes, precision is important, and often enough, the difference between a pro and an amateur. Making butter is easy; even little kids can do it. Making great butter takes a bit more discipline. If you buy really good, local Jersey cream as we do, you’ll find that it’s not cheap; it certainly deserves extra attention. Of course, back when everybody did this at home such knowledge was not as arcane as it is today.

A bit more on nomenclature: Sweet Cream Butter means simply butter made from cream that has not been fermented, or cultured. When first introduced to Americans in the late 19th century, it was not popular because consumers thought it tasted ‘flat’, a sentiment raised by the lack of complexity found in cultured butter. Nowadays, sweet cream butter in some form or another rules the supermarket roost, but not all are created equally. Sweet cream butter is the taste of the cream, pure and simple. If you make butter with fresh, local cream, you get the flavor of that particular terroir – The grass, sun, water, everything. It’s sublime and truly lovely. As the seasons change, so will your butter. Change sources, and you’ve got a whole new pallete; taste, smell, and color will all vary. This is how it was before industrialization, when all butter was made locally. Back then, early spring butter commanded and received a higher price than any other.

Making butter at home, starting right now, will bring you back to where you belong; trust me when I say you’ll be buying far less commercial butter in the days to come. From buttered veggies, to homemade baked goods, everything is notably better. And speaking of baked goods, expect the biggest difference therein. Homemade butter totes a higher percentage of butterfat than the industry standard 80%, so your baked goods will taste and feel better as a result. Cultured butter can also be made at home. If home made sweet cream butter is champagne, homemade cultured butter is caviar. Those subtly complex flavors must be experienced first hand. Doing so really isn’t very much more work than making sweet cream butter, so do try it once you get in the swing of the basic process.

So, we need good cream to make all this wonderful stuff happen; the fresher, the better. If you have a choice, donor cow breed matters somewhat. Our favorite local dairy, Twin Brook Creamery, milks Jersey cows, the winner of the milk fat award. According to Iowa State University, (A pretty good judge of things dairy), Jersey’s weigh in just shy of 5% fat in raw milk, as compared to Holsteins at 3.7%, which rounds out the two most popular milking cows – or put another way, the most popular breed’s milk contains about 30% less fat than those Twin Brooks Jerseys. While there are other breeds making inroads, it’s likely to take some time – the U.S.D.A. reports that Holsteins account for 90% of the U.S. milk cow population, followed by Jerseys at 7%, with all others at a paltry 3% combined.

Some of that milk gets made into cream, and at your local store or coop, the one you want for making butter is Heavy Cream. You may have heard or been told that this is synonymous with Whipping Cream, but it ain’t necessarily so. To be called Cream in this country, dairy must contain no less than 18% milk fat. Half & half can run anywhere from 10% to 18%, so it’s right out for butter making. Whipping Cream is at least 30% milk fat, and rarely more than that. Heavy Cream is no less than 36% milk fat, and that’s our cream. If you’re allowed to buy raw cream where you live, by all means do it. Raw cream needs nothing to yield all the glory of real, live butter. It’s literally biologically active, packing its own culture, and it is absolutely redolent of its terroir. Your primary guide for what to buy is, naturally, what tastes best to you. Keep your cream refrigerated until you’re ready to churn, and do so right away; time is the enemy of freshness.

OK, let’s make butter.

In addition to cream, you need some form of churn. That’s literally anything that can agitate the cream in until butterfat comes out of suspension and separates from the buttermilk. You can use a blender, mixer, food processor, canning jar, or a dedicated churn, (Lots of places sell manual and powered versions). Whatever you use should be in good working condition and clean before you start. I use a small processor powered by a stick mixer; it holds a pint of cream perfectly. I recommend a blender if you have one – they work well and keep everything nicely contained.

 

House Made Butter

1 Pint fresh Heavy Cream

Option: Pinch of Sea Salt

1/3 Cup 50° F Water

 

Remove cream from fridge and allow to stand at room temperature, in its carton, until cream temps at right around 60° F; the optimal range for butter making is 55° F to 65° F.

Pour cream into blender vessel.

Turn to highest setting that won’t splatter the cream and keep a close eye on things.

Within a couple minutes, the cream will begin to thicken visibly – Increase blender speed a notch or two.

 

You will see butter begin to form, as you do in the image below; turn the blender speed down several notches. As butter formation increases, you may need to use a spatula to scrape down the butter as it forms. This process will take about 3 to 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer.

 

When butter is well formed and buttermilk is clearly separating, turn blender off and transfer butter to a mixing bowl.

 

Add 50° F water and knead butter by hand, thoroughly washing the butter.

 

Pour off the water and buttermilk, and continue kneading by hand, removing very bit of moisture you can find – Both water and buttermilk will cause your butter to spoil relatively quickly, so be diligent in this process.

 

If you wish to salt, or add other ingredients to make compound butters, now is the time. Note: Finishing salts with distinct flavor profiles make fabulous salted butters.

When done, transfer butter to clean glass or ceramic containers and refrigerate.

Butter should last about a week, providing you were diligent about removing the buttermilk.

 

Ready to try your hand at cultured butter? Cultures that work on butter are referred to as mesophilic, meaning they will activate in relatively cool temperatures, (As opposed to the thermophillic, or high temperature cultures we use in cheesemaking). Again, raw cream cultures naturally, but most of what we have access to has been pasteurized, and as such, it will require additional cultures to come alive. Outfits like New England Cheesemaking Supply and Leeners sell a wide variety of cultures that will work for butter, but it is easier and cheaper to use good quality, local cultured yoghurt, buttermilk, or kefir; just make sure that what you buy specifically reads that it contains live cultures. Allowing pasteurized cream to just grab whatever comes along is not a good idea: Pasteurization kills all cultures, including the good ones, so without it, cream is stripped of its natural defenses – This is why a known, quality controlled culture is your best bet. Here’s how to do it.

Use one of the following options to culture your cream;

For pasteurized cream, add 1 Tablespoon of live culture yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir to each cup of heavy cream, and whisk gently to incorporate. Allow to culture for 12 to 24 hours.

For raw cream, culture for 12 to 48 hours.

Use a clean glass bowl or jar with a clean cloth or paper towel rubber banded to cover. If you use canning jars, boil them to sterilize, then allow to cool to room temp prior to filling.

Culturing needs to be done between 70° F and 75° F for the stated intervals. If it’s not that warm in your house, you’ll need to gently heat the cream in a sauce pan over low heat, to about 75° F before transferring it to a bowl or jar and adding culture. Find a warm, quiet spot for the process to work, (On top of the stove works nicely.)

When the cream has successfully cultured, it will be notably thicker.

Stir cultured cream gently but thoroughly, then put it in the fridge to cool down to around 50° F; this will stop the culturing process and prepare the cream for buttermaking. Once it’s cooled, churn it as per instructions above.

 

Note that you will typically not get enough buttermilk from a pint of cream to be worthwhile, but if you love the tangy richness of that wonderful stuff as much as we do, you can also use your favorite milk to create homemade.

1 Cup of cultured Buttermilk

3 Cups Whole Milk

Pour buttermilk and milk into a sterilized quart canning jar and seal tightly.

Shake vigorously to incorporate, then leave jar to sit at room temp for 12 to 24 hours. When properly cultured, the fresh buttermilk will nicely coat the sides of the jar when shaken.

Refrigerated, it’ll last a good week or so.

 

And finally, compound butters, or beurres composés, are simple mixtures of butter and whatever else floats your boat. They’re ridiculously easy to prepare, making them a nice, quick way to add a custom touch to many, many dishes. They’re perfect as a general flavor profile enhancer, or used as a sauce/condiment all by themselves.

 

Freshly made butter is in perfect condition to make compound butters. We boil half pint jam jars with our pint butter jar, and use the smaller for compound butters. You can also go the more traditional route, and wrap them in waxed paper – Either way, pop them in the fridge until they’re nice and firm.

Proportions and constituents are up to you. Plan on doing some tasting to get things where you like them, (darn…) I use a fork to whisk everything to a nice, uniform consistency, then scoop them into jars or waxed paper. You can use them to top hot meats or veggies, or as a base or finishing elements for a sauce.

Here are a few classics, as well as some our favorites; the rest I leave up to you – It’s a very personal decision, and too much fun to just use somebody else’s ideas. All are prepared as described above.

 

Classic French Compound Butters

Beurre d’Ail – Garlic Butter

For every 1/2 cup of butter, add

2-4 cloves of pressed or smashed garlic and blend thoroughly.

 

Beurre a la Maître d’Hôtel – Hotel Butter

To each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 good pinch of sea salt

A couple twists of white pepper

Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 tablespoons of finely minced, fresh parsley.

 

Beurre de Citron – Lemon Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add the

Zest of 1 small, fresh lemon and blend well.

Note that any other citrus zest you like will also be delightful.

 

Beurre de Frais Herbes – Fresh Herb Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, start with a couple teaspoons of whatever fresh herb(s) you have on hand – Rosemary, parsley, chives, lemon thyme, marjoram, basil, tarragon, or oregano are all wonderful.

 

And here are a few of our faves.

Montmorency Cherry & Vanilla Bean Compound Butter

Cherry Vanilla Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

2 tablespoons minced Montmorency Cherries

Seeds from 1 freshly scraped Vanilla Bean.

 

Deep Citrus Compound Butter

Deep Citrus Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

Zest and juice of 1 small Lemon

Zest and juice of 1 small Lime

1 teaspoon powdered Kaffir Lime leaves

About 3″ of fresh Lemongrass, minced.

Add juice, zest, and lemongrass to a small bowl, mix well and allow to steep for 10 minutes.

Add butter and all other ingredients and mix well.

Squeeze butter by hand to remove all excess juice

 

Smoky Compound Butter

Smoky Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1/2 teaspoon Smoked Salt

1/2 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1/4 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1/4 teaspoon granulated Onion

1/4 teaspoon fine ground Black Pepper

 

Best Veggie Compound Butter

Best Veggie Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Savory

Zest of 1 small Lemon

Pinch Sea Salt

 

Filé Compound Butter

Jenn’s Filé Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 Tablespoon filé powder

1 pinch Sea Salt

Add to sauces, stocks, or soups as a thickener, or at table side for use in individual bowls.

 

Enjoy.

 

 

Gloria’s glorious Turkey Chile Verde with Heirloom Eye of the Goat Beans and Homemade Salsa Verde.

This week, it’s time for another special guest chef. One of the things I love about social media, when done right, is the meaningful and lasting relationships that can be formed. For me personally, some of my dearest and closest friends, members of my real family, were first met online. Now, we vacation with them every year, and I can’t imagine not having that in our lives. What we get from stuff like this blog, or food groups on FB, or any other decent source, can and should be genuine connections that grow and prosper, even when we live worlds apart. Here, as elsewhere, the six degrees of separation principle is very much in play – I became FB friends with Gloria Goodwin Raheja through our Soul Sister, Christy Hohman – They met at a house concert in Crosslake, Minnesota, which is just a bit southeast of where we conduct the annual Stringfest Gathering that y’all have seen posted here for many years now – Andy Cohen was playing, and we met him last year – at Stringfest. For the final degree, here’s Gloria’s glorious Turkey Chile Verde with Heirloom Eye of the Goat Beans and Homemade Salsa Verde.

Gloria is a Professor of Anthropology at the U of M, Twin Cities, from which she conducted many years of fieldwork and wrote extensively about rural northern India. For roughly the last decade, her research has been focused in Appalachia. Her front burner project is Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields, a book about music and the coming of industrial capitalism to the mountains.

Harry, the de facto head of Gloria’s household.
Harry, the de facto head of Gloria’s household.

Our online interaction is in keeping with many who haunt FB, namely what we’re cooking and what our pets are up to, (Her dog Harry, like our Bandito, is quite sure he is the de facto Head of Household, and strives mightily to train his humans on proper etiquette.) Like so many brilliant and driven people, Gloria loves to cook, and does so very well, indeed. She dabbles in Indian, Moroccan, Mexican, and Appalachian foods for people who like to eat, and she frequents the St. Paul Farmers Market, and other shops that offer local and ethically produced meats.

She has, of late, become a devotee of the incredibly popular kitchen tool, the instant cooker, (or multi-cooker). If you’re not familiar with this tool, then, well… I don’t know what to say – They’re ubiquitous in online cooking groups and sites. They are, fundamentally, programmable electronic pressure cookers. Instant Pot is a brand name, and hands down the most popular one out there. These things will pressure or slow cook, cook rice, sauté, steam, or warm, and advanced version add yoghurt making, cake baking, egg cooking, sous vide, and sterilizing to the menu.

While many a kitchen gadget gets bought or gifted and soon forgotten, these things seem to have serious legs. In a very authentic Vietnamese cooking forum I belong to, almost every home chef has and regularly uses an instant cooker. For dishes like Pho that normally take 24 to 48 hours to cook, an instant cooker can do the job in an hour or two – And believe me, if the folks on that site find the results not only acceptable, but preferable in many instances, there’s something to these cookers.

Regarding her Instant Pot, Gloria noted, “Well, we totally love ours, really. It’s so great for things like chili verde, ragus, and of course beans. Tonight we’re making black chickpeas with kale, Moroccan style. Chunks of lamb and pork turn out, well, divinely – I dislike having a lot of kitchen toys piling up, plus my counter space is quite limited, but I cleared a permanent space for it, after using it just once!” That’s a pretty solid endorsement, in my book.

Now, before we dive into that Chile Verde, let’s talk about beans, because this is another place where Gloria and I are much of a mind. When M and I lived down in Tejas, I became acquainted with Rancho Gordo, Steve Sando’s Napa, California based magnum opus of heirloom goodness, and specifically, with their heirloom beans – If you don’t know about them, y’all should. Steve took frustration with a lack of great local produce (while living in Napa, fer cryin’ out loud) from a gardening whim to a full blown conservation operation, and Rancho Gordo is the result. What Home roasting brought to coffee beans, Steve brought to heirloom beans. He writes, ‘All of my agricultural pursuits have been based on being someone who likes to cook but gets frustrated by the lack of ingredients, especially those that are native to the New World.’ What I learned living and cooking down south was a primal love for all things culinarily Mesoamerican, and frankly, no foodstuff speaks to that more clearly than beans do. Like tomatoes, beans were devastated by the green revolution, and it’s only through the tireless work of folks like Steve that we’re blessed with what was and what shall be, if we’re even halfway smart.

Rancho Gordo’s heirloom Eye of the Goat beans
Rancho Gordo’s heirloom Eye of the Goat beans

And now, on to Gloria’s Turkey Chile Verde with Heirloom Eye of the Goat Beans and Homemade Salsa Verde. What I love about this, and I mean dearly love, is what she has to say about the genesis of this recipe, because folks? If you’ve been here at all, you know my mantra – Here’s a recipe, try it, and then do what you like to it and make it yours – That’s exactly what she did.

She writes, ‘I got the idea for this dish from Coco Morante’s “The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook,” but I modified it quite a bit. For one thing, I made my own roasted tomatillo and poblano and serrano chile salsa instead of used store-bought salsa, and for another thing I used heirloom Ojo de Cabra beans instead of canned pinto beans.’

Gloria’s glorious Turkey Chile Verde with Heirloom Eye of the Goat Beans and Homemade Salsa Verde.
Gloria’s glorious Turkey Chile Verde with Heirloom Eye of the Goat Beans and Homemade Salsa Verde.

For the tomatillo salsa.

1 1/2 Pounds Tomatillos
5 cloves Garlic cloves
2 Poblano chiles
2 Serrano chiles
1 bunch Cilantro

Remove papery husks from tomatillos, rinse well, and cut in half.

Rinse chiles and cilantro. Stem serranos and rough chop. Rough chop cilantro

On a foil lined baking sheet, arrange tomatillos cut side down, along with the unpeeled garlic cloves.

Position an oven rack 5” to 6” under your broiler. Broil for 5-7 minutes, turning evenly, until tomatillos are lightly blackened.

Remove from oven, set aside to cool.

Arrange poblanos on a foil-lined pan, place them under a broiler until blackened all around.

Transfer poblanos to a a paper bag with the top folded closed. This allows the cooling chiles to steep in their own steam as they cool, which adds a bit to their flavor, and helps loosen the skins – You can also do this in a baking dish or casserole with a tight fitting lid.

When the poblano are cool enough to handle, remove the skin, stem, and deseed.

Skin the roasted garlic.

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender, and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and evenly mixed.

Transfer to a mixing bowl or glass jar.

For the beans.

1 Lb Eye of the Goat Beans (Yes, use what you’ve got, but honestly – Try these!)
8 Cups Water
3 cloves Garlic, trimmed and peeled
2 Bay Leaves
2 tsps Sea Salt

Gloria cooked her unsoaked beans in an Instant Pot, with all ingredients shown, for about thirty minutes, and used three cups of the cooked beans for this recipe.

If you don’t have an instant pot, the oven method works great and is pretty speedy to boot.

Set a rack in a middle position and preheat oven to 325° F.

Rinse beans in a single mesh strainer or colander, checking for debris.

Add beans, garlic, bay, and salt to a 4 quart (or larger) dutch oven, braiser, or baking dish with a tight fitting lid.

Add enough fresh water to cover the beans by 1”.

Cover and bake for 60 – 75 minutes. When beans are slightly firmer than you want them, they’re ready to go to the next step.

For the Chile Verde.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Pound ground Turkey
3 Cups cooked Beans
1 3/4 Cups Salsa Verde
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 medium Onion
1 bunch fresh Cilantro
2 Poblano or Anaheim chiles
2 Serrano chiles
3 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
½ to ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Chile flake

Peel, trim, and dice onion, garlic, and chiles. Rinse and chop 1/4 Cup cilantro.

For an Instant Pot-
Select the Sauté setting on the Instant Pot and heat the oil.

Add the turkey and sauté, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula as it cooks, for about 5 minutes, until cooked through and no traces of pink remain.

Add the onion, chiles, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes, until the onion has softened and is translucent.

Stir in the beans, salsa verde, and broth.

Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing.

Press the Cancel button to reset the cooking program, then select the Bean/Chili setting and set the cooking time for 20 minutes at high pressure.

Let the pressure release naturally for at least 10 minutes, then move the Pressure Release to Venting to release any remaining steam.

Open the pot and stir in the chopped cilantro.

For stove top cooking –
Add oil to a stock pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat.

Add turkey and sauté until lightly browned and no pink remains, about 4-6 minutes.

Transfer meat to a mixing bowl. Add onion and chiles and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until onion begins to turn translucent. Season lightly with sea salt.

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates.

Add chicken stock and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all the good stuff.

Add beans, salsa verde, meat, salt, oregano, cumin, and cayenne and stir well to incorporate.

Reduce heat to medium low and cook, covered, for at least 1 hour, and more is fine.

Add cilantro, stir to incorporate, and serve.

And of course, Big Thanks to Gloria for this delightful dish!

Ginger Ale II

If you missed our original home ginger recipe, I can tell you it was a huge hit. That said, there’s always room for improvement. Hence we hereby give y’all Ginger Ale II – The Sequel.

Specifically, while the ginger taste was front and center, we found that honey not only added a fairly dominant taste note, but was rather expensive. Replaced with cane sugar, we found the recipe still good, but the sugar tended to bring the heat of the ginger out even more. We thought back to that Reed’s we liked so much and decided to try pineapple. The results were spectacular; you get a delightful pineapple note on the front end, with a well-tempered ginger finish, a more natural sweetener, and with pineapples at 2 for $5, a genuine bargain. We also increased the citrus, and added lemongrass and vanilla for some really lovely background notes.

We have a fabulous juicer that we used to extract the pineapple, but you could effectively employ a blender or processor as well.

 

1 Pound fresh Ginger Root

6 Cups Water

2 Fresh Pineapples

2 small Limes

1 small Lemon

Roughly 12″ Lemongrass

8-10 Kaffir Lime Leaves

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Pinch Sea Salt

OPTION: If this isn’t sweet enough for you, you can adjust each glass as you see fit, but try this first!

 

Rinse and dice ginger root – No need to peel it – Saves time, no difference in flavor or extraction.

Wash, rinse, zest and juice lemon and one lime. Cut second lime into quarters. Rough chop lemongrass into 1/2″ chunks.

In a large sauce pan over medium high heat, bring water to a simmer. Add ginger, quartered lime, citrus zest, lemongrass, and kaffir leaves.

When water begins to bubble, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

 

Remove pan from heat and let the mixture steep, covered, for 30 minutes.

Rinse and trim pineapple. Blend, process, or press flesh to extract all the juice.

 

Run the steeped mixture through a single mesh strainer, then discard the root.

Return strained liquid to the pan over medium-low heat. Add pineapple juice, citrus juice, vanilla, and pinch of salt.

Stir gently and allow to fully incorporate and heat through. Taste and adjust sweet balance with a little honey or sugar if needed, (you probably won’t, but you do want to taste hefty ginger and distinct sweet – This is your concentrate, so it should taste fairly over the top).

Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool. Transfer to a glass bottle or jar and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Mix drinks in a tall glass with plenty of ice. Start with 1/4 cup syrup to 1 cup club soda; stir, taste and adjust blend to your liking. A fresh squeezed wedge of lime goes very nicely.

 

Refrigerated and sealed air tight, the syrup will last for a good two weeks, though it’s not likely to survive that long.

 

NOTE: Some folks prefer to mix fresh citrus in to the final blend, rather than incorporating it into the syrup.

 

 

 

Boston Brown Bread

If you’re from New England, and specifically Boston, you know all about Boston Brown Bread – Pared with Boston baked beans and fresh cole slaw, it’s graced many a Saturday night supper throughout New England.

The B&M company, not to be confused with the huge British food conglomerate, has been making baked beans and brown bread for over 150 years, and there’s a reason they’re still around doing just that .

A lot of folks, even locals, think that B&M is a Massachusetts based enterprise, but it ain’t so. Way back in 1867, George Burnham, started a canning business, was then joined by Charles Morrill, and Burnham & Morrill was born. B&M has been a fixture in Portland, Maine at One Bean Pot Circle, ever since.

Their rightfully famous beans are still slow cooked in brick ovens, and their brown bread is the one, as far as I’m concerned. Their cans are filled with batter and the bread is baked in the cans, and that’s just how you do it.

In the 19th Century, Brown Bread was poverty food throughout the British Empire, although it eventually gained cache for the health benefits of the mixed flour used to make it. Brown Bread crossed the big pond, and became a staple for the colonists, then a sentimental favorite – Keep in kind, once upon a time, lobster was considered ‘poverty food,’ so there’s no stigma attached to liking brown bread.

Boston Brown Bread is a great recipe for folks who are nervous about bread baking – It’s easy, fast, and almost foolproof – Brown Bread is steamed, rather than baked, and requires very little prep time.

If you’ve never tried it, do. Served hot with fresh butter, ham, baked beans, and cole slaw, you got that legendary Saturday Night Suppah – And it’s great the next morning, too.

 

Boston Brown Bread

1 Cup Whole Milk

1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 Cup Rye Flour

1/2 Cup Corn Meal

1/3 Cup Dark Molasses

1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Allspice

1/2 teaspoon Orange Zest

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Tablespoon Butter for greasing cans

NOTE: there are folks, (even B&M), who make this with raisins or currants within – I’m not one of them, but if you are, you can add a quarter cup to this recipe.

there are also purists who pull eschew the addition of flavorings such as vanilla, allspice, and orange zest – I’m not one of those, either.

 

Rinse and dry two 28 Ounce metal cans with one end of each cut off.

Move a rack to the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325° F.

Choose an oven safe pot or dish deep enough so that you can fill it with water to about halfway up the sides of the cans. Boil enough water on the stove top to fill that pot or dish.

Lightly coat the insides of the cans with vegetable oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, and salt.

Add the molasses, milk, vanilla and zest to the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cans. Cover the top of each can with a double thickness of aluminum foil and tie securely with kitchen string. Place the cans in your deep pan and slide that into the preheated oven.

Carefully fill the pan with boiling water to about halfway up the sides of the cans.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes. At seventy minutes, remove the foil tops. When the edges of the bread begin to pull away from the sides of the cans, you’re there.

Remove the cans from the oven, place on a wire rack to cool for 1 hour before sliding the bread out of the cans. If the bread is a bit sticky, a thin bladed knife run around the can will free it up.

Don’t forget to have plenty of fresh, local butter on hand…

Brine That Turkey!

Truth or dare time – How many of y’all, when it comes to your Thanksgiving turkey, do not show the bird the proper love? Tell the truth, now… Do you simply throw a bird in to the oven? Do you fill it with stuffing? Thought so… truth be told, even if you rub it with something nice, you’re still not giving that poultry it’s holiday due. If you want to serve the best bird, you’ve got to brine that turkey. I’m gonna tell you how, but first, here’s why.

Turkey is an extremely lean protein. If you doubt that, buy some ground turkey, do nothing to it but cook it, and see what you get – unlike good, fresh hamburger, there’ll be no moisture in the pan, and the taste will be, well… less than optimal. Let’s face it, we don’t need fat from our bird, ‘cause we’re gonna get that from all the sides we make. What we do need is a tender, juicy bird, and again, brining is the way to get there. Now, I know there are some of you out there thinking, ‘yeah, but if I cook it right and season the skin nicely before hand, it’ll still be great,’ right? Well, no, no it won’t – it might be good, maybe even really good, but it won’t be great.

Seasoning right before you cook, or even an hour or two before you cook, doesn’t allow the salt you’ve added enough time to do its thing. It won’t penetrate the flesh at all, really, especially with a hunk of meat as thick as a turkey breast. It’ll do a bit of work on the surface, but no more. Truly, the only way to allow seasoning to work is to give it the time it needs – And that means you need to brine that bird.

Traditionally, brining is a wet process. We submerge the bird completely in a brine, and give it anywhere from eight to twelve hours to do its thing. That works great, frankly, and it really isn’t hard. Brined birds weigh more after cooking than a dry bird does – Up to 8% more, and that’s virtually all added moisture, which is very good indeed. The wet brine process also acts chemically to break down some of the tougher proteins within the bird’s muscle fibers, leading to tender flesh – Also good. So, if you’re of a mind to wet brine, here are some basics.

If you buy a frozen bird, you can thaw it while brining, which saves you some time, (if you buy a fresh turkey, you don’t need to worry about that.)

Proper brining is a function of both brine strength, the weight of the bird, and brining time. What you’re doing at home is technically called gradient brining – That is, putting food in a higher salt concentration brine than you really want in the food, because you don’t have the time to do what’s known as equilibrium brining – That’s when you use a lower salt concentration and allow the time needed for the salt content in the brine and the food to equalize. When you see or read about something like pastrami being brined for a week or longer, that’s what they’re doing, and that’s also why the Pro’s make stuff that consistently tastes better than what we do at home. All that said, don’t fret – What we do at home is safe, and it really does make a better bird. So, for reasonable gradient brining, we brine whole turkeys for about an hour per pound, in a 5% to 6% brine concentration.

Basic brine ratio is often shown as ‘1 cup salt to 1 gallon of water’, but not all salt weighs the same – what we really want is about 7 ounces of salt per gallon. When you brine, use kosher salt – The larger crystal size means it dissolves faster in water than fine grained stuff, and there’s nothing in there but pure salt, so it wont taint your brine. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, (And frankly, you should), then Morton Kosher weighs 7.5 ounces per cup, and Diamond 5 per cup. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with adding herbs or spices to a brine – If you like it, do it.

Basic Wet Poultry Brine
For each Gallon of water, add
7 Ounces Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon crushed Sage
1 Tablespoon Lemon Thyme

For a nice twist,

Cider Brine for Poultry
For each Gallon of Apple Cider, add
7 Ounces Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon ground Black Pepper
2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce

For a 15 to 18 pound turkey, you will need a couple of gallons of cider or water, and a clean, food grade 5 gallon plastic bucket. You don’t need to heat the water or cider. Just make sure all the salt has completely dissolved before you proceed.

You need to plan ahead for wet brining. You’ll want an additional 6 to 12 hours between the brining and the cooking, so, if you’re thawing and brining, your process needs to begin nice and early on the day before turkey day.

Pay attention to food safety procedures during brining, without fail! Your brine and bird must remain under 40° F at all times, period; if you need to add a little ice, do so. If you need to add a lot, compensate with a bit more salt. When your brining period is done, pour out the brine, (NEVER reuse it.) Gently rinse the bird in clean, cold water, then pat it dry with clean paper towels and then transfer to a roasting pan.

Now comes the secret to gloriously golden, crispy skin. Allow an air rest for your bird, by letting it sit, uncovered in the refrigerator, for 4 to 6 hours after brining. This will help moisture evaporate from the skin, and allow the meat to reabsorb some moisture as well.

Now, if all that makes you paraphrase George H. W. Bush, ‘Not gonna do it, not gonna go there,’ then here’s an even easier option that works just as well. And it’s funny that, right at this point, literally right at this point in today’s narrative, I got this text from my friend John Joyce, a fine guitar maker from the Twin Cities in Minnesota – ‘Hey E what do you think: dry brined or wet brined turkey. I’ve done wet for years but I’ve read a lot of good stuff on dry brining.’ Yep, dry brining is exactly what I was about to type, so, here ya go JJ.

While the term ‘dry brining’ might seem kinda oxymoronic, i assure you it’s not. In restaurants, this has been done for a long, long time. Often called ‘pre-salting,’ it acts on a protein more or less as a wet brine does, albeit without the water, equipment, or hassle. Think of it as a dry rub, like we use on poultry, ribs, and the like, and it’ll come to light for you.

The chemistry here is very cool, too. When we first apply a dry brine, osmosis occurs, meaning the moisture within the bird is drawn toward the higher salt concentration rubbed on the skin. As that moisture reaches the surface, it dissolves the salt and sugar in the brine. In the final stages, the liquified brine is draw back into the bird as things equalize. There, the solution acts as a wet brine does, breaking down those tough muscle proteins and acting as a tenderizer – Pretty cool, huh? And to top it off, all this is done in your fridge, during a simultaneous cold rest, so you get that crispy skin, too – Two birds with one rock, if you will.

Dry brining does require time, and in fact, more time than wet, usually. Since there’s no added water, you’ll need two to three days to let the process do it’s thing, so once again, plan ahead.

It’s also important not to get a bird that’s been pre-seasoned in any way, since that can and will upset the balance of things – Avoid anything that says kosher, re-seasoned, or self-basting. You’ll also want a fresh bird, or at the very least a fully thawed one.

Basic Dry Turkey Brine
5 Ounces Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon crushed sage
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Sweet Dry Turkey Brine
5 Ounces Kosher Salt
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

Prep your bird by removing any of the extraneous bits, then pat it dry with clean paper towels.

Gently gently separate skin from flesh over the breast area, taking care not to rip the skin. It’ll work much better in direct contact with the meat.

Rub a teaspoon or two of the mix into the bird’s cavity, then do the same all around the drumsticks. Rub 3-4 tablespoons of the mix onto the breast meat, and use the rest evenly across the skin.

Ct a small slit in each side of the bird about half way along the wing tips and then slide the tips into that cut.

Put the bird on a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, and into the fridge for at least 2 days, and 3 is better.

When the time’s up, you’re ready to cook. You can roast, deep fry, whatever floats your boat.

Keep your bread stuffing in a casserole dish, and prepare a nice juicy cavity filler for the bird.

1 Apple of your choice
1/2 Sweet Onion
1 stalk Celery
Tablespoon Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sage
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Rough chop the orange, onion, and celery, (and if you have celery leaves, use those!). Throw those in a mixing bowl, then add oil, Sage, salt and pepper, then combine thoroughly. Stuff your bird’s cavity thoroughly. Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan, and add 2 cups of clean water to the pan. Insert an internal thermometer to the thickest part of the breast.

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

Standard roasting times, stuffed, at 350° F follow; that said, the only real way to know when the bird is done is by internal temperature, and we’re looking for 165 F.

10 to 18 pounds 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours

18 to 22 pounds 4-1/2 to 5 hours

22 to 24 pounds. 5 to 5-1/2 hours

Start your roast with the bird uncovered, then cover loosely with foil for the last hour. Basting isn’t necessary, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

When the bird is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes prior to carving – That rest is vital to allowing juices to equalize throughout the cooked bird, so don’t cheat!

Carve, admire, enjoy, and get ready for leftovers,

Later in that text, JJ wrote, ‘I like those ingredients. I usually do two birds. I’ll do one dry and one wet. Is the cider recipe on your site?’ It’s right here for ya, Buddy! He ended with this – ‘I’m also making your ginger ale recipe. So I guess that means you’ll have a virtual seat at our table. 😁’

I told him I was honored and pleased by that to no end, and I truly am.

Spaghetti Sauce a la Urban

There’s no doubt that a great batch of homemade spaghetti sauce is serious comfort food. In an ideal world, you want to make something that cooks low and slow, developing serious flavors, but what about when you get a hankering at 4:45 in the afternoon? Here’s how I scratch that itch. This is a simple sauce that tastes much richer than it might sound, and I assure you, it’s incredible the next day. The fresh veggies, citrus, pungent lemon thyme, piney savory, and subtle, herby sweetness of the marjoram is the key – Spaghetti Sauce a la Urban.

For the proteins, keep in mind that you can and should grind your own at home; if you don’t have the capability for that, dice it and you’ll be fine. If you prefer a vegetarian version, I’d substitute firm local tofu, or eggplant. Make sure all your veggies and proteins are as fresh as can be. Do use whole canned tomatoes; they hold more flavor than stewed, crushed, diced, etc, the quality is often better than fresh at this time of year, and they’re certainly less expensive.

8 Ounces Fresh Angel Hair Pasta

2 20 oz cans Whole Tomatoes

1/2 Pound Ground Pork

1/2 Pound Angus Beef

1 Cup Black Olives

1/2 Sweet Onion

1/2 Sweet Pepper

1 Stalk Celery

1 small Lemon

1/2 small Lime

3-4 Cloves Garlic

2-3 Sprigs Parsley

1/2 – 1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 – 1 teaspoon Savory

1/2 teaspoon Marjoram

2 whole Bay Leaves

1 Cup Red Wine

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Dry Sherry

Sea Salt

Black Pepper

Toss the tomatoes into a large pot over medium low heat. Process with an immersion blender until you’ve got the consistency you like. I prefer to leave things a bit rustic, rather than going all the way to smooth sauce.

Rinse, peel, top and seed the onion, sweet pepper, celery, garlic, citrus, and parsley. Fine dice the onion, pepper, olives, and celery; if you have celery leaves, by all means, use them, that’s where the real flavor is. Mince the garlic, chiffonade the parsley. Quarter the citrus.

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the beef and pork, and season lightly with salt and pepper. When the meats are nicely browned, add the cup of red wine and continue cooking until the raw alcohol smell goes away. Add the proteins to the tomato blend

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan and allow to heat through. Add onion and pepper and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add garlic and continue to sauté until the raw garlic smell is gone. Add all that to the big pot

Add 1/2 Cup of Sherry to the sauté pan and deglaze, thoroughly scraping up all the little bits. Once the raw alcohol smell has burned off, add that to the pot as well.

Squeeze citrus into the big pot, stir to incorporate. Crush by hand and add the lemon lemon thyme, savory, and marjoram. Add parsley and bay leaves, stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as/if needed.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour or two, stirring regularly.

Serve Over fresh angel hair pasta, with freshly grated Parmegiano, crusty bread, a nice green salad and a glass or two of Old Vine Zinfandel.

The next day, add a cup of cheese to the blend, and bake for 30 minutes at 350° F. As promised, it’ll be spectacular.

Spare Ribs with a Citrus Fennel Glaze

We did up some ribs for dinner the other night, in honor of our middle son and his partner coming over for dinner. As we are want to do, we posted some pics all over social media, and as such, have had a bunch of requests for the recipe, so here goes – Spare Ribs with a Citrus Fennel Glaze.

Citrus Fennel Glazed Spare Ribs
Citrus Fennel Glazed Spare Ribs

The sauce is the star here, and for good reason. It’s a grade A example of the organic way M and I arrive at a dish, based largely on what we’ve got on hand, and often initiated by a single thing – In this case, a left over blood orange that had given up it’s zest for an earlier meal with our youngest kid.

Initially, we were leaning toward a Chinese style rub, but James is allergic to sesame, so we went off on a tangent. M found that blood orange and wondered aloud if we couldn’t do something with that. A short brainstorming session yielded what you see herein. This sauce could be used on a lot of things, from chicken or beef, to Brussels sprouts or carrots.

While this might seem like alchemy, I assure you, it’s not. Often, when we’re brainstorming things, I’ll whip out our copy of The Flavor Bible, a book that you aughta have in your kitchen, if you don’t already. You’ll find a wealth of parings and affinities therein that truly can and will spark your imagination and creativity.

And I can’t stress enough to be bold in endeavors like this – If you like stuff, and you think that stuff might go well together, then try it. If you’re at all nervous about committing to a full blown recipe, then cut off a little piece of this and a little piece of that,  pop them your mouth, and see what you think. If it’s good, go with it. If it’s not, search elsewhere.  That, in a nutshell, is how you build your own ideas into culinary reality.

We used a rack of spare ribs, but you can do any cut of rib you like, (Baby Back, St. Louis, Rib Tips, County Style, or beef ribs.)

Preheat oven to 250° F and set a rack in the middle slot.

Season ribs with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, (we use our go to seasoning salt for pretty much everything).

Wrap the ribs tightly in aluminum foil, fat side up and dull side of the foil facing out.

Set the package on a baking sheet, or the bottom of a broiler pan, and cook low and slow for about 2 hours, until the rib meat is very tender.

Citrus Fennel glaze is great for a bunch of dishes
Citrus Fennel glaze is great for a bunch of dishes

Citrus-Fennel Glaze

Juice from one fat and happy blood orange.
1/4 Cup Orange Marmalade
1/3 Cup chopped fresh Fennel bulb
2 small cloves Garlic
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco chile flake, (Use any chile variety you like here)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot.

Remove ribs from oven, set a rack on a high slot, and increase temperature to 375° F.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add fennel and sauté for a couple minutes until it has notably softened.

Add garlic and sauté another minute until raw garlic smell dissipates.

Reduce heat to medium low.

Add orange juice, marmalade, and chile flake, stir well to incorporate.

Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is quite liquid, (that’d be the marmalade relaxing a bit.)

Add half the arrow root and stir to incorporate. Allow the sauce to cook for another minute or so. Sauce will thicken slightly – Add the rest of the arrow root if you want things a bit thicker.

Unwrap the ribs, and flip them meat side up onto the pan. Baste or pour sauce liberally onto the ribs in an even layer.

Uncover your ribs and flip them meaty side up for glazing
Uncover your ribs and flip them meaty side up for glazing

Return the ribs to the oven on the high rack, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and starting to caramelize.

Beautiful salad!
Beautiful salad!

We served ours with an gratin potatoes, a lovely green salad, and fresh, crusty bread. They were falling off the bone tender, and the sauce was a perfect foil to the richness of the meat.

Five Spice is good for way more than just Chinese cooking.

Chinese five spice powder – Got it in your spice cabinet? Odds are good that you do, but they’re also good that you haven’t used it for anything other than that one Chinese recipe you tried way back when and bought the stuff for – Am I right or am I right? I’m here today to fix that, and to tell you why you should -Five Spice is good for way more than just Chinese cooking.

Classic Five Spice, although more is OK
Classic Five Spice, although more is OK

So, what exactly is five spice? That depends, frankly, on where in China you ask the question. This blend is relatively ubiquitous in Chinese cooking, and culinary regions from all points on the compass points lay claim to its origin. There is, however, some general agreement about the intention of that ancient founder – To provide the culinary equivalent of Unified Field Theory – one powder to rule them all – Five spice touches on sweet, sour, bitter, heat, and salty – A blend for all things, if you will.

Now, that said, five spice is as unique as any other legendary thing. What that means is that every home cook, restaurant chef, and spice purveyor has their tried and true personal blend, and each and every one of those is the best, no questions asked. Truth be told, they’re all correct, because when you make it yours, its exactly what you want it to be – That’s the beauty of discovery and refinement. The end result of today’s exercise should be just that for y’all.

The big question, of course, is this – What are the Five Spices? Turns out, the title is a bit misleading. Take a look at the ingredients on the commercial stuff out there and you’ll find anywhere between five and ten ingredients – Interesting, yeah? That’s because ‘Five Spice’ speaks to the five flavors the blend contains – Sweet, sour, bitter, heat, and salty – Cover those, and the number of ingredients used to achieve it is open for interpretation.

The generally recognized standard however, is star anise, clove, Chinese cinnamon (Cassia), Szechuan pepper, and fennel seed, but again, you might also find regular cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, licorice, anise, turmeric, black pepper, sea salt, and mandarin orange peel as well. There’s nothing wrong with all that, frankly, though as with all things in discovery, it’s best to go to the classic roots first, and then branch out to make it yours.

For us here in the U.S., the blend has an exotic feel to it that can be a real treat for breaking up the ol’ routine. The combination of what Chinese culinary tradition refers to as hot (cinnamon and Szechuan pepper), and cold (fennel and clove), tastes does a really cool double duty with meats, especially fatty stuff – It highlights richness as it cuts through the fat – A neat trick, that.

If you have Asian grocers in your area, check them out and see if they make their own blends – If not, they’ll likely have a favorite that they sell – Diving into those is like touring the regions and towns folks come from – You’ll get a different swing on things from each one.

So, what exactly would you use this stuff on when you whip it out? The quick answer is that five spice is tailor made for proteins – Beef, pork, and poultry will all shine, (and frankly, you can’t make great char sui pork without it), as will tofu, and beans. For dang near anything you’re going to grill, barbecue, or smoke, it makes a fantastic rub. Five spice does great in flour, starch, or bread crumb coatings for fried foods, too. And frankly, there’s nothing in there that wouldn’t go great with savory eggs and veggies. And believe it or not, it’s great for baking too – Add it to a savory scone, pancake, or waffle recipe, for instance.

A note of caution for using five spice on things other than fatty meats – The blend can overpower a recipe really quickly, so a little bit goes a long way. The blend does best when it has some time to work, so employing it in marinades and rubs works best.

The gist of all this is that while five spice is a necessity for many Chinese dishes, it’s great to think outside the box and try it with other stuff as well – It’s easy enough to add a dab to a sample of something you’re cooking – A great way to expand your horizons. This is a blend that, while fundamentally simple, belies that label with a truly fascinating and complex palette of flavors.

Here’s a basic recipe to get you started – Again, use it as a springboard to tailor your own custom blend. As with all herbs and spices, freshness and quality are critical. Harkening back to that bottle you’ve got in your cabinet, chances are good it’s old, and maybe not the best stuff you could find, right? So, go to a known, high quality purveyor like World Spice, Penzey’s, or Penderey’s and buy your stuff there – They really truly don’t cost more than the junk in most stores, and the quality is far superior. Finally, it’s always a good idea to buy whole spices when available as well – They’ll stay fresher longer.

House made Five Spice
House made Five Spice

Classic 5 Spice Blend

1 Tablespoon whole Szechuan Peppercorns
3 whole Star Anise
1 stick Cassia Bark (AKA Chinese Cinnamon)
2 teaspoons whole Cloves
2 teaspoons whole Fennel Seed

Allow a dry, cast iron skillet to heat through over medium heat.

Add Szechuan pepper, star anise, cloves, and fennel seed to the pan. Toast the spices until they’re notably fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep the spices moving constantly to avoid scorching.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the toasted spices and cassia to a spice grinder, blender, mortar and pestle, or whatever you use to grind spices. Pulse the blend to a uniform rough powder.

Store in a clean glass container with an air tight lid – Keep in mind that all spices like a cool, dark, dry environment for storage. Spices are good for about 6 months, properly stored.

 

Here’s a couple of rubs to get you started.

5 Spice Java Dry Rub

2 teaspoons 5 Spice Powder
1 teaspoon fresh ground Coffee
1 teaspoon Dark Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

5 Spice Wet Rub

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
Juice & Zest from 1 small Lemon
1 Tablespoon 5 Spice
1 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

Salt Cured Egg Yolks

There’s no telling how long people have been preserving eggs. As one of natures most amazing sources of energy and great taste, there’s always been great interest in having them available whenever desired. Whether by brine, smoke, or chemistry, there are a bunch of ways to do it. And it’s a natural progression to go from preserving the whole egg to just focusing on the yolk, since that’s where all the really good stuff is – and if you’re going to do that, there’s nothing easier or more effective that a simple salt cure.

Egg yolks are a nutritional powerhouse. All the fat and roughly half the protein an egg possesses is in there, along with a very long list of other things – carbohydrates, amino acids, vital trace nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and yeah, a healthy shot of cholesterol, but that’s had a bad rap for far too long. Donald K. Layman, Professor Emeritus of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Illinois has gone so far as to say that, “cutting dietary cholesterol is almost irrelevant when it comes to promoting healthy blood cholesterol levels and heart health.” While that’s not an endorsement to go off and start an all Twinkie diet, it does get eggs and a bunch of other formerly vilified foods off the hook.

Century Egg - Seriously acquired taste
Century Egg – Seriously acquired taste

There are a raft of preserved egg and yolk examples out there. The Chinese alone have been doing this for hundreds of years, exemplified by the so called Century Egg, which appeared in Hunan province during the Ming Dynasty. This, like rotten shark, is an acquired taste to say the least – They make durian seem tame – and yes, I’ve tried one, and I won’t do it again. To be fair, it’s the smell more than the taste that’s severely off-putting – think of a multi-feline cat box unchanged for weeks, and you get close.

Smoked eggs are sublime
Smoked eggs are sublime

Smoked eggs are as they sound, done either with cold or hot smoke. They too are sublime – The smoke, and as such choice of wood used, adds a lovely depth and complexity to the egg – It exemplifies egg versatility to a surprising degree.

Salt cured whole eggs
Salt cured whole eggs

Then there’s the brined or salt cured whole egg, which is an entirely different experience – good ones are lovely, like a really good egg with over the top concentrated richness and umami. The star of course, is the yolk.

This whole exercise begs the question – why would I want to do it? Well, you either love egg yolk or you don’t – If you don’t, go out and play – if you do, read on. Egg yolk has a savory, smooth taste absolutely brimming with umami, and they’re pretty, to boot. If we can create a version of that which intensifies the umami, and makes them instantly usable whenever the whim hits, it’s worth doing.

There’s also the transformational consideration – Great food is all about taking something common and doing uncommon things with them – When the whole process is stunningly simple, it’s that much sexier in the end run – And salt cured egg yolks are very sexy indeed. What you end up with is something that you can and will grate, with a gloriously bright yellow color. Preserved yolk tastes like buttery cheese – rich but not cloying – with a high level of umami added to whatever floats your boat – And it will, believe me – On pasta, pizza, salads, veggies, you name it, a little grating of this is stunningly good.

On to the process. It is a very simple thing, albeit there are a couple of versions, and we’ll cover both herein. As with all things simple in cooking, the first and most critical consideration is ingredient quality. If ever there’s a time to buy the freshest, most local eggs you can, this would be it. Since we’re merely concentrating that which already exists, mediocre will certainly breed mediocre. What you want is a stellar egg, one with a lovely orangish-yellow yolk, as fresh as you can get. Ditto for salt – you don’t need fancy, but you do want pure – high quality, coarse kosher or sea salt, with absolutely nothing else in it, is the key. Once you’ve got these together, do the deed the same day – It doesn’t take long, and that way you’re assured of taking full advantage of fresh stuff.

Set yolks in the salt cure
Set yolks in the salt cure

As for specific methodology, as mentioned, there are two primary schools – One uses just salt for the cure with passive secondary drying, while the other employs a salt and sugar cure coupled with mechanical drying in an oven or dehydrator. Both work fine, so it comes down to your predilection, and how fast you want to get done. Again, it’s so simple, it’s highly worth trying a batch of each and making your own comparison. From there, you can tweak whatever you like best to make it yours. Here’s the drill.

In both methods, the first step is the cure. You need a bunch of salt for this, depending on how many yolks you plan to do. Again, it’s super easy to do, so start with maybe four yolks, try out the results, then try the other method, pick your fave. To process a dozen yolks, you’ll need a pound of coarse kosher or sea salt. If you use the sugar/salt cure, it’s a 50%-50% blend of each – Use regular old cane sugar for that – Nothing fine or fancy needed. That’s the only difference in the cures.

Once you’ve chosen your cure, get an appropriately sized container big enough to hold how ever many yolks you want to process, as well as a bunch of cure. I like food storage containers with a snap fit lid for this – It’s gonna go in the fridge for a week, so it’s nice to have something that’ll stand up to daily use and exploration. Word to the wise, if you’ve got a bunch of folks in your house, tell them what you’re doing and point out the container – that can go a long way toward not having your stuff tossed or played with.

Pour an even layer of cure about 1/2″ thick into the container, then form a series of evenly spaced divots to receive how ever many yolks you’re gonna cure.

Have a second airtight container ready for your egg whites. Carefully separate yolks from whites, (You can and should freeze the whites for a future endeavor.) Slide a yolk into each little depression in the cure.

Now carefully cover the yolks with a nice, even layer of cure – Here again, you want about 1/2″ or so of cure over the tops of the yolks.

Seal up the container and slide it into the fridge, and leave it alone for a week.

Once your week is up, pull the yolks. Fill a small bowl with warm water, and have a clean piece of cheese cloth handy.

Cured
Cured

Take each yolk out of the cure, and brush excess cure off. Dip the cheese cloth into the water and use that to gently clean as much cure off of the yolks as you can – At this stage, they’re still a little tacky, which is just fine – Don’t freak out if the cleaning process is taking a bit of yolk with it, but again, be gentle.

Now comes the division between finishing steps.

If you’re going the passive route, then all you need is some more clean cheese cloth. Wrap each yolk in a hunk of that and tie it off with kitchen twine.

After that, hang it from a shelf in your fridge so that each yolk has good air flow all around it. Leave them there for at least a week, and two is better. When that’s done, you’re done, and you can go to town with them.

If you prefer the faster mechanical method, then you’ll set your oven or an adjustable dehydrator to 200° F. Put the yolks on a silicone pad or parchment if you’re using the oven, onto a rack if you’re going dehydrator. Let the yolks dry for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temp before refrigerating.

Grated salt cured egg yolk
Grated salt cured egg yolk

Either way you choose, the yolks, refrigerated in a non-reactive, airtight container will last at least a month, (but they won’t, ’cause you’ll scarf ’em down.)

Salt cured egg yolk on house made pizza - Si!
Salt cured egg yolk on house made pizza – Si!

Now, back there a ways I mentioned that you can tweak things, and you can – herbs and spices in the cure are par for the course, so have some fun, use your imagination, and let me know what you come up with, yeah?