Mai Tai—Roa Ae!

Sunday Dinner – 3 June 2018

Our neighborhood grocer had pork loins on sale, so this week’s Sunday Dinner was a Trader Vic’s inspired faux Polynesian feast.

Char Siu Plated

I began preparations on Saturday with the marinade for the pork. The Char Siu recipe comes from an old Trader Vic’s cookbook, and consists of equal parts brown sugar, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and ketchup. That all went in to a ziplock bag with the pork loins.

The sides for this meal came from Rebecca Crum’s Ezra Pound Cake site. I put together the Hawaiian Macaroni Salad on Saturday evening before we left for Mass.

I still hadn’t decided on the vegetable side until Sunday morning. Finally went with an Asian-flavored slaw, based loosely on Rebecca’s recipe. It was a package of slaw shreds, some chopped roasted peanuts, and this dressing.

Asian Slaw Dressing

  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • sesame seeds
  • 1/2 Tablespoon powdered ginger
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce

Sunday morning at 9 AM maybe wasn’t the best time to perfect a Mai Tai recipe, but adversity builds character. After a couple of failed attempts (too strong, too sour) here’s the final concoction.

Mai Tai
Mai Tai

  • 1 oz Bacardi Gold
  • 1 oz Myer’s Dark Rum
  • 1 oz Orange Curaćao
  • 1 oz Crème de Almond
  • 1 oz Rose’s Lime Juice
  • 1/2 oz Grenadine
  • Juice of 1/2 Lime

Shook the heck out of that with crushed ice, decanted into a tumbler with cubes, and garnished with an orange wedge, a pineapple chunk and a cocktail cherry.


The appetizer recipe came from a site that, sadly, is no longer online. It’s a healthier, vegetarian version of Trader Vic’s Rumaki (chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon, smothered with brown sugar). The water chestnuts are still there for the crunch, the smoky bacon flavor comes from liquid smoke in the mushroom marinade, and pineapple chunks add some sweetness.

Veggie RumakiVeggie Rumaki

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 4 T white vinegar
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/4 t powdered ginger

Pour some of the marinade over 2 cans of water chestnuts.

Add a teaspoon of liquid smoke to the remainder, and pour it over a pound of white mushrooms cut into bite sized pieces.

Let these sit in the fridge for a couple hours, then skewer them with chunks of pineapple, and cook them on the grill or in a 450°F oven for about 15 minutes. We served these while the rest of the meal was cooking


I cooked the pork loins on the Weber Kettle, over direct heat with some Hickory wood. I made another rookie mistake this week, pulling the loins off when they “looked done” instead of checking the internal temperature. So they had to go back out for another five minutes over high heat. They probably cooked for 25 minutes total. The last step was to sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the top.

I also roasted some baby carrots and scallions on the Genesis gas grill while the pork was cooking.

Carrots and Scallions

The pork can be served with mustard and sweet sour sauce on a King’s Hawaiian roll as a slider.

Char Siu Slider

We had a nice bottle of Stephen Millier California Zin with the meal. I managed to sneak in a Shiner Bock or two during the afternoon as well. It’s the Cowboy Way.

For dessert, Mrs. Noe baked an Angel Food Cake, and cut it into pieces for dipping in a simple orange/chocolate fondue, along with pieces of apple, banana and strawberries. Had I not been an idiot and forgotten about the pineapple chunks we had left, we would have dipped them too.

Music for the afternoon was courtesy of Jason Croft’s Bachelor Pad Radio. I’ve been listening to his show on Friday nights for decades now, and it always delights.

Overall, it was a satisfying meal and a lot of fun. The only thing that needs work is the macaroni salad. It just didn’t have much zing. I added some soy sauce, ginger and Bacos to try to kick it up a bit, but it was still a little bland. Maybe need to add some more vinegar next time, or some cheese shreds or something. Tarragon, maybe.

Until next week, Aloha ʻOe!

Cowboy With Shiner

Memorial Day Cookout

28 May 2018

Memorial Day Dinner

We stuck to traditional Mid-Century American fare for our Memorial Day cookout this year, with hamburgers and grilled roastin’ ears.

I also made one of my favorite desserts from childhood, a “cherry salad” consisting of cherry pie filling, coconut flakes, little marshmallows and banana slices.

Cherry Salad

Souvlaki

Sunday Dinner – May 27th 2018

For this Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we had one of our favorite kabob dishes, Souvlaki (which literally means “little skewers” in Greek).

The recipe comes from The Spruce. I found it after we attended the Annunciation Church picnic a few years ago, and loved the flavors. We’ve had these maybe half a dozen times in the years since, and they’re always delicious. We served the pork in pitas with cabbage shreds and yogurt Tzatziki, using a recipe from the same site. The Greek-inspired flavors were echoed in a pasta salad recipe from the Hamilton Beach food blog.

For dessert, I tried my hand at classic Southern banana pudding. I’ve made custards a few times in the past (mostly for homemade ice cream), but this was my first attempt at pudding proper. Although I made a rookie mistake (misreading tablespoons versus teaspoons for the vanilla), it turned out fine. Claudia made fresh whipped cream to go on top, which certainly helped. We served it in vintage Currier & Ives bowls that had belonged to Claudia’s Grandma Wulff, bringing back fond memories of her Sunday Dinners long ago.

One of the nice things about this meal is that everything could be prepared the day before. It only took about twenty minutes to grill the skewers, so the rest of the day was spent enjoying the company of our regular Sunday crew.

We opened a very nice Rosé of Pinot Noir from Evangelos Bagias before the meal, and served a hearty Scott Peterson Rumpus Chaos (a cuvée of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchset and Grenache) with the food.

Monday’s meal will be more traditional American fare including cheeseburgers, three bean salad – and one of my childhood favorites, a cherry salad that my mom used to make. Here’s wishing everyone happiness, health, peace and safety as we observe Memorial Day 2018.

Beef Bourguignon

Sunday Dinner – 20 May 2018

This week for Sunday Dinner we had one of our decadent favorites, Beef Bourguignon. Claudia made a beautiful salad, and I baked a couple of peasant boules to go with the stew. The wine was a 2016 Pinot Noir from Cooper’s Art by Timothy Olsen.

The Beef Bourguignon recipe is more or less Ina Garten’s, with a little liberty here and there. I use Herbs de Province in place of the thyme, and also tend to leave it in the oven longer.

The bread was the basic recipe from Artisan Bread in Five that we’ve been using for several years now.

If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at this dish, or baking bread, but were daunted, I’d recommend that you give these recipes a try. As long as you follow step-by-step, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

For dessert, Claudia made this lovely cherry cheesecake. Yes, I know how lucky I am.

Cherry Cheesecake

First Long Cook of the Year: Spare Ribs

Sunday Dinner – Mothers Day – 13 May 2018

Weber Kettle Smoke

For dinner on Mothers Day, along with the regular Sunday Dinner crew, we were pleased to welcome Claudia’s cousin Dan and his partner who were visiting from Florida. I prepared St. Louis Style spareribs, baked beans and coleslaw. Dan brought macaroni salad and Aunt Pat made an Angel Food Cake with macerated strawberries. Claudia also prepared some nice appetizers, including skewers of fruit, veggies and cheese. We also grilled some small peppers stuffed with cream cheese filling.

I got the grill going early, around 7:30 AM, and had the ribs on the rack by 8. I’d removed the silver skin and rubbed them the night before with my usual mix of Kosher salt, black pepper, Turbinado sugar, cumin, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. The grill was set up with ten unlit coals on each side of a water pan, five lit coals on top of each side, and some chunks of apple and hickory. Bottom vents started with two open and one closed, then I damped one as needed to keep the temp at 250°F. The sweet smoke smelled heavenly as we enjoyed our morning coffee.

I had knocked out both the coleslaw and crock pot baked beans on Saturday evening, but there still seemed little time for relaxation. Attending the ribs meant monitoring the temperature, adding coals as needed, and mopping the slabs every hour with a combination of apple juice, coffee and Schlitz from a spray bottle. We also had to attend some last minute gift wrapping for the moms, and Claudia and our daughter did some tidying and cleaning to prepare for company.

The cook was a classic 3/2/1 (three hours on a rack over smoke, two hours wrapped in foil, one final hour over smoke again to finish) and the ribs turned out great. The rest of the meal was fabulous as well, likewise the conversation.

In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we failed to take food photos, so you’ll have to use your imagination. :)

We had a bottle of Alma Andina Malbec first, which was just sort of alright. Then I opened a California Zin from F. Stephen Millier. It was scrumptious.

It’s hard to beat a long cook, particularly when you’re sharing the results with good company. I’m especially appreciative of time spent with Claudia’s family, and the opportunity to honor her (and her mom) again this Mothers Day. She has created an exceptionally happy and loving home. Very literally a dream come true.

First Run at Chicken-Fried Steak

I spent some time in Texas recently at a conference for work, and on our last night there we ate at Horseshoe Hill in Fort Worth. It’s owned by Chef Grady Spears, and specializes in chicken-fried steak. In Texas, chicken-fried steak is a religion, and Spears is the high priest.

Prior to that night I had only had CFS as a sandwich patty from food service at the hospital where I volunteered as a teenager. It had been deep fried from frozen, I suspect, and tasted about like you would imagine. I had always enjoyed hand-made versions of CFS’ little sibling, the breaded pork tenderloin, over the years, and figured Spears’ offering would be sort of the beef equivalent. I had no idea that it would be a revelation.

Chicken-Fried Steak at HHThe meal, from start to finish, was amazing. Several of us around the table enjoyed appetizers, including some incredible fried okra and Rocky Mountain Oysters (hard pass from me on those). There was also plenty of cold Shiner Bock consumed.

I ordered my entrée “The Cowboy Way,” served with mashed potatoes, black pepper gravy and a grilled green onion. The very first fork full set my taste buds spinning. For such simple ingredients, the taste was dumbfounding. With the crunchy, golden crust, rich and slightly toothsome beef, and that silky gravy with the peppery bite – it was easy to understand why Chef Spears’ version of this classic has become its undisputed standard.

I am a large man with a huge appetite, and I found it impossible to finish the gargantuan portion in one sitting. Luckily the Marriott where we were lodged provided a small refrigerator in the room, and my breakfast plan for the next morning. :)

Friends at Horseshoe Hill

Some of the group opted for dessert. I couldn’t eat another bite, but was tempted by another Southern classic, banana pudding.

Off and on during the evening, a handsome man with a warm smile wearing a ballcap, a neatly-trimmed beard and an untucked shirt would pop into the room, quickly attend something, and then disappear. My boss, Stena, referred to him as “random guy.” As we were leaving, he came in again, fussed with something briefly, laughed and nodded at Stena’s greeting, and then followed us out to take a group photo. We realized only later that he was Chef Spears, which is sort of like not realizing until later that Nolan Ryan was taking your picture outside Arlington Stadium. He was friendly, unassuming and gracious.

In the week since my return from the trip, the memory of that meal has become an obsession. I was able to find Chef Spears’ recipe on the Texas Monthly site, and decided to do my best to replicate it at home. The prospects were a bit daunting, since I very rarely fry anything. Sauté, yes, but not fry. So I looked at this as an opportunity to add another skill to my culinary bag of tricks.

For a first attempt, it didn’t turn out badly. The gravy was perfect. Claudia loved the grilled onions, remarking that they reminded her of onion rings. The flavor of the steaks was incredible. I think that the cuts (top sirloin pan steaks) could have used just a bit more of the mallet. It’s not that they were tough, but some bites were on the chewy side of toothsome.

The breading is where I could really use some work. My guess is that I didn’t get the temperature of the oil quite right. The first steak I cooked was fairly blackened, so I pulled back the heat and must have overcompensated. The ones we ate had a little too much saturation for my taste.

If I were independently wealthy, I would be on the phone trying to contact the chef right now, begging him to let me come work in his establishment and watch what they do for a few weeks. As it is, I’ll have to be content to experiment with more breaded-and-fried things until I figure out how to do it right.

Cinco de Mayo

Sunday Dinner – 6 May 2018

Sunday Dinner this week was filled with some delicious flavors of Mexico.

  • Homemade Guacamole
  • Shrimp Ceviche
  • Green Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
  • Pineapple Black Bean Enchiladas
  • Chili Bean Stuffed Peppers
  • Tres Leches Cake
  • Margaritas
  • Micheladas
  • Rumchata

Recipes to come. :)

Italian Chicken

Sunday Dinner – 29 April 2018

From Claudia’s Facebook Post:

Super busy day…Cancer Survivor lunch and KVTA play and holding down the fort while Mr. Noe is away on business. But don’t worry, we didn’t skip our Sunday dinner! Just had to be more creative with the timing! Italian chicken sandwiches, Italian potato salad and lettuce salad with a California red blend. And my mom supplied chocolate cupcakes (from scratch) with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. Oh, and I made my own Pink Squirrel, although it wasn’t as good as my husband’s!

Description and recipes to come.

Oktoberfest in April

Sunday Dinner – 22 April 2018

German Food Fest Plated
This week for Sunday Dinner we had our own private Oktoberfest. Though it isn’t the right time of year, it was certainly a delicious meal.

Sauerbraten with ginger snap gravy and roasted veggies was the main course. We also enjoyed hot German potato salad, homemade spaetzle, a lettuce salad with apple and blue cheese dressing and an amazing cherry streuselkuchen for dessert.

The sauerbraten got started marinating on Wednesday evening, in a container of vinegar, spices and Coke. Here is the full list of ingredients.

  • 2 2.5 LB Boneless Chuck Roasts
  • 1 1/2 c Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 can Coca Cola
  • 3/4 c Water
  • 3 Onions, sliced
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 10 whole cloves garlic
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 2 T Sugar
  • 1 1/2 t Salt

I turned the container over every day in the fridge. Four days is just about right prior to cooking.

Sunday Morning, 6 AM

We were up early on Sunday, since we were competing for oven space and Claudia wanted to get her crumb cake done before the Sauerbraten went in. She used the recipe from The Oma Way website, opting for cherries instead of apples.

I started on potato salad, washing, slicing and boiling 3 pounds of red potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Once the potatoes were done and drained, I fried 6 slices of bacon in the pot, then pulled out the bacon and sautéed 3/4 cup of chopped onion in the grease. Next 2 T of flour, 2 T of sugar, 2 t salt, 1/4 t celery seed and a grind or two of black pepper joined the onions in the pot. That got good and bubbly, then I added 1 cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup of water. That boiled for a minute, then it came off the heat and the potatoes and crumbled bacon were added. A gentle mix, a bite or two, and I added a little more sugar, vinegar and celery seed to taste.

Way back in the late 1970s, it was my habit to visit Altamont, Illinois each year for their Schützenfest. It was there that I first sampled the delicious, hot, gooey, pungent, sweet revelation that is German Potato Salad. Ever since, it has been like the Quest for the Grail to either find or prepare some that is even half as tasty. This batch finally hit the mark.

German Potato Salad

Mrs. Noe had headed out to Sunday Morning Yoga, so I blasted the Polka Jamboree from WDEZ radio while preparing the Sauerbraten. The meat is removed from the marinade, patted dry, floured, seasoned with S&P and browned in a Dutch Oven (one roast at a time). Then 1 cup of strained marinade is used to deglaze before adding 6 chopped carrots, 6 chopped celery ribs, and the spices, onions and garlic from the marinade. The roasts go on top, and the whole thing goes into a 350°F oven, covered, for 4 hours.

This might have given me time to nap, but instead I roasted coffee for the week, and piddled away time with the Internet and reading. :)

When Claudia got home, it turns out that she actually sort of enjoyed the Polka Music, because it reminded her of the dances they used to have a her home parish (St. Mary’s in Kankakee) when she was growing up.

Sunday Afternoon

Once it was time for the sauerbraten to come out, I removed the roasts and veggies from the pot, and added 5 T of ginger snaps and 5 T of flour that had done a few dozen revolutions in the blender’s food processor attachment, thanks to Mrs. Noe. Over low heat, that made a nice roux with the drippings, and the rest of the marinade was added to create the gravy.

I had never made spaetzle, and, in fact, we had a store bought bag ready in case things went South. But it turns out it was sort of fool proof. You beat three eggs, add a cup of milk, and then slowly combine with the dry ingredients (3 c flour, 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t nutmeg). This goes into the hopper of a spaetzle maker, sitting atop a pot of boiling liquid (in this case water and beef broth). You move the hopper back and forth, and let gravity do its work. After about two or three minutes, the little noodles float to the top and you nab them with a spider and reserve them to a bowl, then move on to the next hopper full.

If I were to adjust this at all for next time, I’d maybe add a little salt to the cooking liquid too.

Just before serving the meal, Claudia made an incredibly delicious iceberg lettuce salad with apples and blue cheese, again from the Oma site. I added just a little of the stock/water liquid to the gravy (over heat) to loosen it up, and we were ready for our Oktoberfest.

The wine was a Riesling that Claudia’s sister, Chris, had brought back for us from Colonial Williamsburg. It was the perfect light, crisp accompaniment to this meal. I also had a Brandy Old Fashioned for starters, and at some point Aunt Pat and I may have shared a can of Feldschlösschen Maibock (from Aldi’s yet) that was surprisingly super awesome.

When we were sitting around the table after this meal, Claudia commented that it was like Thanksgiving, she really wanted a nap. I think several of us felt that way.

But we saved room for some of that splendid cherry streuselkuchen that she had made.

Cherry Streuselkuchen

Ein Prosit!

My mother’s family identified as German American to some extent. Her maiden name was “Hirstein.” I took four years of German in high school (and one in college) and asked my grandfather once if he spoke the language. He taught me a little tame profanity.

It’s been many years since I have celebrated my German heritage, limited as it is. This meal was the perfect way to get back in touch with it. I think that’s what the best meals do. They help us to remember.

Eins, Zwei, G’suffa!

Cassoulet

Sunday Dinner – 15 April 2018

Cassoulet

This is a dish that I’ve been wanting to attempt for some time, but the prospect of finding duck and preparing the confit was daunting. Fortunately, I ran across this article from the Serious Eats Food Lab explaining that cassoulet shouldn’t be prescriptivist, but is actually a “medieval peasant dish designed to make do with whatever was around.” Writer and Chef J. Kenji López-Alt explains that with so much flavor packed into the cooking liquid you can use chicken and won’t miss the duck. Moreover, in head-to-head tests fresh poultry was actually juicier in cassoulet than the preserved duck, since it was cooked only once.

I did take some other liberties with the recipe, substituting thick cut bacon for the salt pork, and leaving the vegetables in. I also left out the cloves and added a few other spices, and some diced tomatoes.

I started at about 9 AM, frying up a pound of hickory smoked bacon in the Dutch Oven. Once it was removed, I seasoned four chicken leg quarters with pepper, and cooked them in the bacon fat, two at a time, skin side down first for 6 minutes, then the other side for 3 minutes or so. Next I browned some mild Italian sausages.

I drained all but a few tablespoons of fat from the pot, and sautéed chopped onion, carrot and celery, adding a few cloves of minced garlic after a few minutes. Just a little red wine went in to deglaze, then came a pound of small white beans that had been soaking overnight in salt water, some bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and paprika, a can of diced tomatoes, and a quart of chicken stock with three packs of Knox unflavored gelatin dissolved in it. This simmered, covered on the range top for 45 minutes.

The bacon and sausages went in next, and the chicken nestled on top before the pot was placed in a 300°F oven, uncovered. After a couple hours, I kicked the temp up to 350, and checked every half hour, disturbing the crust with a spoon. The chicken was plenty done after four hours, so I pulled it off to a plate and let everything else cook for one more hour before serving.

I don’t think I’ve ever tasted more tender, juicy or flavorful chicken, and this grownup version of “beanie weenies” is the heart and soul of comfort food – perfect for a dreary, chilly Sunday. We served the meal with Wulff Salad, a couple baguettes, and a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux.

For dessert, Claudia made chocolate mousse with fresh whipped cream. Absolutely incredible.

Chocolate Mousse

When I think of “French Cooking” in the abstract, it seems so high tone and refined and snooty. But it turns out that my favorite French dishes (coq au vin, beef bourguignon, cassoulet) are all hearty peasant food. This meal did take some planning and quite a bit of work to prepare (more than two hours before it was assembled and in the oven), but it was certainly worth the trouble.

Our favorite local butchers, Southside Meats, do carry duck, so I’ll be tempted to try it next time. Although at 99 cents a pound, the chicken will be pretty hard to beat. :)

Aloo Gobi

Weeknight Meals – 12 April 2018

Aloo Gobi

We had a head of cauliflower that needed to be used, and lots of potatoes, so Claudia decided to make a curry that we used to enjoy at the Hindu Cultural Center in Park Forest. When we were first dating and I would come to visit her on weekends, we would drive there some times on Sunday mornings for yoga, inspirational talks and home cooked Indian food.

Luckily, we had all of the spices necessary for the dish, including garam masala, curry powder, turmeric, mustard seed and cumin. We also had some garlic naan on hand, which was the perfect accompaniment. She put the meal together in about half an hour, and it was absolutely delicious. The house smelled like heaven.

My sons and their friend, Christy, were traveling through town that evening and dropped by. They are vegetarians, so it was nice to be able to offer them this super tasty vegan meal as well.

Steakhouse and Supper Club Fare

Sunday Dinner – 8 April 2018

Supper Club Relishes

This Sunday was Claudia’s parents’ wedding anniversary, so we decided to celebrate by grilling steaks.

The rest of the family went to a children’s production of our local theater group. I wasn’t interested in this particular show, so I stayed home and prepared dinner.

Wisconsin Supper Club CookbookThe main course menu was t-bones, baked potatoes, asparagus and salad, but I also decided to do a traditional “supper club relish tray.” The Easter Bunny brought me a copy of Mary Bergin’s Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook, and there were several recipes I could barely wait to try.

The big hit was marinated olives from the Chippewa Inn. I drained a jar of pimiento stuffed olives, and added minced garlic, some olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, a little sugar, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes and dry vermouth.

I also fixed the cocktail mushrooms recipe from No No’s Supper Club. After blanching a pound of white button mushrooms for a couple minutes, I simmered some vinegar, sugar, garlic salt, Worcestershire and Tabasco and poured it on. These turned out just a little sweet for our taste, but Aunt Pat loved them and took the leftovers home.

The rest of the relishes were sweet cornichons, radishes (served with Lawry’s salt), pickled cherry peppers, and cold pack port wine cheese with crackers.

Sunday Dinner 040818

Our Jewel had t-bone steaks on sale, and they were each more than 3/4ths of a pound and decent thickness. The Weber Genesis was blazing hot – all four burners got it upwards of 600 °F before I killed the sear station burner – so the steaks cooked quickly. After the first two minutes I rotated them 90 degrees for quadrillage, and then flipped them after another two, turning the burners down to medium. Two more minutes and they came off to rest a bit before serving.

I’d also done baking potatoes, using our typical method of coating with olive oil spray, kosher salt and pepper before wrapping in foil to bake. We served them with whipped cottage cheese (another recipe from the Bergin book, courtesy of the White Stag Inn). It’s simply cottage cheese, chives and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt whipped up in a blender. This was another hit around the table, with several folks saying they preferred it to sour cream.

I also grilled some asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper for about 15 minutes, and served it with doctored Knorr’s Hollandaise. Yes, I am still too timid to make the sauce from scratch. Shudder if you must. Claudia made another nice Wulff Salad to round out the meal. The wine was a 2011 Alambrado Malbec from Argentina.

Claudia’s niece, Emily, joined us this week as well, along with our usual crew, the folks and Aunt Pat. After dinner, the two older ladies had Brandy Alexanders and the two younger ones had Pink Squirrels, which are getting to be a fixture here on Sundays. Dessert was a peach pie and DQ soft serve that Pat brought.

This turned out to be a meal where I really needed (and got) a nap afterwards.

I’m still making my way through the supper club book, and look forward to trying some of the mains and sides. We’ll definitely keep this meal’s recipes in our repertoire.

Easter Brunch and Dinner 2018

Easter Brunch

We had Claudia’s folks and her sister’s family over for Easter this year. We started with Mimosas and Bloody Marys, and enjoyed a marvelous brunch including egg casserole, Kiełbasa, fresh fruits, baked goods and more.

Later in the day, we served ham, green beans, pasta and Wulff Salad.

Easter Ham

The salad, by the way, is named for Claudia’s mom’s family. She learned to prepare this simple vinaigrette growing up. It’s unique in that the ingredients are added directly to the greens, one-by-one, rather than combining in a cruet first. It includes oil (she generally uses EVOO these days, but it could be any vegetable oil), vinegar (usually balsamic or red wine), salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. Nothing is measured, so far as I can tell.

I cook the ham on the grill each year, using Jamie Purviance’s Mustard-Molasses Glaze recipe from Weber’s Real Grilling. The first time I made this glaze, Claudia commented that it smelled like her grandma’s kitchen, which is about the highest compliment one can receive. Here’s the recipe.

  • ½ cup stone-ground mustard
  • ¼ cup unsulphured dark molasses
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Combine these in a saucepan and simmer a bit.

Score a 10 pound, bone-in (butt end) cooked ham with cross hatches, and place it cut side down in a foil pan. I add a can of 7-Up or ginger ale to the pan, and grill over indirect medium heat for two or three hours, brushing with the glaze after an hour or so, and again toward the end of the cook. This year I cooked it on the Weber Genesis gas grill, adding a few chunks of apple wood to the smoker box.

Claudia had baked an assortment of sugar cookies and almond/oat cookies. And of course, there were hard boiled eggs galore.

I had been sick the prior week and had barely been eating, so I overdid with all of the delicious goodies in the morning, and didn’t really get to enjoy dinner. But the ham was wonderful for days on end. Claudia made grilled ham and Swiss sandwiches Monday evening, and we used the bone to flavor some incredible split pea soup later in the week.

The Spinning Bird

Sunday Dinner – 25 March 2018

Rotisserie Chicken with PotatoesThis week for Sunday Dinner we prepared one of our favorites, Rotisserie Chicken with Drip Pan Potatoes. Aunt Pat was having problems with her knee, and I seem to have come down with the flu, so it wasn’t the most festive meal, but Grammy and Grampy did join us, and everyone seemed to enjoy the food.

I have been cooking on a Weber Kettle for decades, but it’s really only the past few years that I’ve had any clue what I was doing. My education came in the form of a rotisserie attachment that Claudia gave me one year for Christmas. Since I had no idea how to use it, I had to do quite a bit of research. Luck brought me to a guy named Mike Vrobel, and his excellent book Rotisserie Grilling. By learning to cook with the rotisserie, I became a better outdoor cook all around. For instance, I had never used a thermometer to test for doneness before. No wonder I had inconsistent results for thirty years.

Dry brined chicken was one of the first things I learned to prepare on the rotisserie, and, though simple, it remains one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever tasted. Prep involves seasoning the bird, inside and out, with kosher salt, ground black pepper, garlic and onion powder and Herbs de Provence. Then we leave it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for a few hours (or overnight).

The grill is set up with a full chimney of charcoal, distributed in a horseshoe pattern around a foil drip pan. This time around we used a couple chunks of apple wood for smoke. The bird is trussed and skewered, and placed on the rotisserie with the legs pointing toward the closed end of the coals, breast toward the open end. This helps to cook the thighs well while not overcooking the white meat.

Claudia prepared about three pounds of potatoes, cutting them into 8ths, coating with olive oil, salt and pepper, and par cooking in the microwave for five minutes. After the chicken had spun for about half an hour, the potatoes went into the drip pan, soaking up all the nice schmaltz dripping from the bird.

This was a fairly large roaster (about 6 1/2 pounds) so I figured it would need to cook about an hour and a half. I began checking the temperature in the breast after the first hour. By the time the coals were mostly gone, it had still only reached 145 °F, so I placed it on top of the potato pan and moved everything to the Genesis gas grill to finish cooking over indirect medium heat. Once it hit 165, we brought it in and let it rest under a tent of foil.

We served this meal with steamed broccoli and lemon, and Wulff Salad. The wine was a Scott Peterson Rox Chardonnay.

Roast chicken is a Sunday Dinner classic, and you’ll never taste any better than what comes off the rotisserie. I’ve often said that if I had ever opened a restaurant, I’d want to have called it “The Spinning Bird.”

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

Sunday Brunch and Dinner – 18 March 2018

Green Flowers

Aunt Pat’s Lovely Bouquet

We had the folks and Aunt Pat over early this Sunday so we could work in a late breakfast as well as dinner. Claudia was up before 7 AM putting together her white chocolate and raspberry scones, which involved a very labor intensive process of grating frozen butter into the dry ingredients mixture. We tried using a food processor for this bit, but that didn’t work out, so she went back to the box grater, painstakingly dispensing two pounds of Irish butter. Once the dough was resting in the fridge, she headed out to Yoga while I started preparing a huge pot of veggies and corned beef.

We had Pandora’s St. Patrick’s Day station streaming as the family arrived, and Claudia baked the scones. I had some sausages and Potatoes O’Brien ready, and a fresh pot of coffee on. Claudia, Pat and Mom added a wee nip o’ Tullamore Dew to their mugs. Aunt Pat brought a lovely, festive bouquet.

Claudia had also made Shamrock Bark on Saturday evening as an additional treat.

After breakfast, the folks and Pat settled in for some games of cribbage while dinner continued to simmer. In past years, we had always cooked the corned beef in a crock pot, but this year I decided to try a recipe we’d seen in Sunset Magazine for Patrick’s Corned Beef and Cabbage. I honestly don’t know how we survived before we got a 12 quart stock pot, and toward the end of the cook, it was almost too small.

We used two point cut briskets, over seven pounds together, along with five medium onions, 2 pounds of carrots, 2 1/2 pounds of red potatoes and two full heads of cabbage. The addition of malt vinegar, Guinness and lots of whole spices to the pot added something special, but what was most notable about the recipe was that the cabbage was cooked perfectly. Instead of the limp, slimy mess that usually comes out of the crock, this still had a little firmness to it, since it was added late in the cooking.

I also tried a new soda bread recipe from BTE this year. The other recipe I’ve always used includes caraway seeds and raisins, and is a little sweeter, almost like a thick scone. This one turned out to be a much better compliment to the meal, with a dense, fluffy crumb and nice crunchy crust.

Claudia also served three varieties of Irish cheeses with the meal. The wine was a very nice Matt Iaconis Cabernet Sauvignon from 2015. Some Guinness Stout, Smithwick’s Red Ale and Tullamore Dew were also consumed, and after dinner one round of Grasshoppers with mint chocolate ice cream for dessert. :)

Sláinte Mhaith!

Asian Inspiration

Sunday Dinner – 11 March 2018

From Mrs. Noe’s Facebook:

Lest anyone think we starved today, this Sunday’s culinary adventure was Asian food!

Asian inspired salad, egg rolls, rangoons & potstickers, beef with broccoli, vegetable lo mein and Hong Kong style egg custard.

Salad was butter lettuce, julienned carrots, mandarins and snow peas with a homemade ginger garlic dressing and topped with chow mein noodles.

Appetizers were all from the store, so I can’t take any credit there.

Crockpot beef with broccoli and brown rice.

Vegetable lo mein with peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, water chestnuts and garlic.

Egg custard was supposed to be tarts. Note to self: you can’t substitute phyllo tart shells…really needs to be pie crust. Live and learn, at least I salvaged it.

And of course, no Chinese meal is complete without fortune cookies!

Recipes to come. The Lo Mein was especially delicious. We made Grasshoppers for Grampy and Aunt Pat, while Claudia and her niece, Emily, enjoyed Pink Squirrels.

Old School Supper Club Drinks

As long as I’ve known my father-in-law, he has occasionally asked “got anything for an after dinner drink?” I thought he meant Cognac, or something.

It turns out that there is an American Supper Club tradition of drinks made with sweet spirits and heavy cream, that people used to call “after dinner drinks.” They are sometimes made with ice cream as well. I learned about these, and the “before dinner” abomination known as the “Brandy Old Fashioned, Sweet” on a documentary called Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.

This sent me down a rabbit hole. This week I’ve been researching, buying odd ingredients, and mixing up something new every night.

So far, I still prefer my Old Fashioned with Rye, and neither Mrs. Noe nor I were fond of the Brandy Alexander. But she liked the Grasshopper, fondly calling to mind the Crème de Menthe and ice cream creations from her parents’ kitchen. And both of us liked the Pink Squirrel. Who’d have ever thunk it?

Here’s the final concoction we tried, the Golden Cadillac. Both of us liked it better than the Brandy Alexander, but not as well as the other two drinks.

Recipes

For the Old Fashioned, just substitute Korbel brandy for the whiskey in your favorite Old Fashioned recipe, and top with 7 Up instead of soda water.

Here are the recipes for the creamy drinks. Use equal parts of the three ingredients for each of these, shake with ice and serve strained and up.

If making with ice cream instead of heavy cream, use 2 parts of ice cream to 1 part each of the two other ingredients and blend.

Grasshopper

Green Crème de Menthe
White Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream

Brandy Alexander

Korbel Brandy
Dark Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream
Garnish: Grated Nutmeg

Pink Squirrel

Crème de Noyaux
White Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream
Garnish: Maraschino Cherry

If you have trouble finding the Crème de Noyaux, substitute Amaretto and put in a little cherry juice.

Golden Cadillac

Galliano
White Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream
Garnish: Chocolate shavings

Cheers!

Posole

Sunday Dinner – 4 March 2018

PosoleSeveral years ago, my friend Christopher was kind enough to send me his recipe for posole, a hearty stew of hominy and pork loin that originally comes to us from the Aztecs. I experimented with it some and finally arrived at a version that maximizes authentic flavor while paring down prep time and kitchen cleanup somewhat. There’s no doubt that Chris’ original, which creates the red sauce base from stock and powdered chilies, gives you a better opportunity to control the heat and flavor. I think it would also be interesting to slake my own maiz blanco at some point. But this version does quite nicely. In fact, when we sampled the authentic posole at our parish Día de la Independencia festival a couple years ago, Claudia commented that it tasted nearly identical to mine.

We started this Sunday morning with  2 pounds of boneless pork loin that she was kind enough to cut into cubes. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and browned it awhile in a skillet.Then it went into the bottom of the crock pot and got covered with a large can of enchilada sauce. Next I added a couple of small chopped onions, four or five cloves of minced garlic, two teaspoons of oregano, three large drained cans of hominy, and one small can of chopped green chilis.

Some folks also like to add cayenne, but I’m cooking for some older folks whose constitutions prefer we leave it out. It turned out plenty spicy anyway. I used some chicken stock to deglaze the sauté pan and added it to the crock to make sure everything was swimming in liquid. I also seasoned with just a little salt and cracked black pepper.

After cooking on high for three or four hours, we checked for doneness and to adjust spices. The stew meat was tender, but the broth was pretty spicy, so we added another can of hominy, including its liquid. Part of the thing about this dish is the interaction of the starch from the corn and the fat from the pork creating a silky gravy consistency, so the canning liquid doesn’t hurt. I also added another teaspoon of oregano. We let it finish cooking for a total of 6 hours on high in the crock.

We had shredded cabbage, cilantro, (queso fresco for Claudia) and fresh limes to squeeze on top. We also served tomato wedges, green onions, avocado slices, and tortillas on the side.

There’s really not a single thing I’d change about this recipe. It’s rich, tasty comfort food that ought to find its way into everyone’s home.

We served Sayanca Malbec with this meal, which was decent and paired nicely, especially considering that it’s dirt cheap from Aldi’s. Micheladas would also have been a good choice. :)

Mrs. Noe mixed up a batch of her awesome Mexican Brownies for dessert, using coffee as the liquid, espresso chocolate chips, plus a little bit of cinnamon and cayenne for the kick.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the posole.

2 LBS Boneless Pork Loin, Cubed – or Chop Suey Meat
1 Large Onion
4 Cloves Garlic
4 (29 oz) Cans Maize Blanco
1 (28 oz) Can Enchilada Sauce
1 Small Can Chopped Green Chilis
2 t Dried Oregano
S & P To Taste

Brown the meat, add everything to a large crockpot and cook on high for 6 hours.

Serve with tortillas, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, sliced radishes, avocado, chopped onions, etc.

Paella

Sunday Dinner – 25 February 2018

paellaSanta brought me a paella pan for Christmas this year, and we’d been waiting for decent weather to give it a try. Although it’s still fairly cold here (in the mid 40s) the forecast for Sunday was clear so we figured it was as good a time as any. I seasoned the pan well on Saturday in anticipation.

I worked from another BTE recipe.

The broth started with a sauté of five cloves of pressed garlic in a little olive oil. After a minute or so, I added 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and a teaspoon and a half of paprika. Once that started to thicken and darken, in went a bottle of clam juice, 2/3 cup of sherry and 4 cups of chicken broth to boil for a bit.

Claudia had picked up some boneless and skinless chicken thighs from Aldi. They got seasoned with garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper, and then grilled for about 7 minutes, and reserved.

Next, I got the pan good and hot on the Weber Genesis (all three main burners on high) and sautéed a chopped onion in a little olive oil. Then came a jar of roasted red peppers. After five or ten minutes, it was time to add the rice. There was no Bomba or Arborrio to be found here, so I used a medium grain rice from the Hispanic foods aisle at Jewel, pouring three cups over the onions and peppers, then mixing things together well, coating the rice with oil, and spreading it out evenly over the pan. The chicken pieces went around the perimeter, and the juices from the plate, plus the broth, went on top. Dollops of chorizo went on as well, and this cooked, with the grill cover down and the burners on medium, for maybe 15 minutes.

We used shrimp that had already been cooked, so they were added late in the process, along with a bag of frozen peas. I’d coated the shrimp with olive oil and seasoned with paprika, garlic, pepper and salt. From this point on, it was really just a matter of rotating the pan a quarter turn every five minutes or so to make sure things cooked evenly. Toward the end, I scraped a spoonful or two from the edge to check for seasoning and doneness.

We covered the pan with foil to rest a bit at table while enjoying a nice tossed salad, some toasted baguette slices, thin slices of Manchego cheese, olives and some small grilled red and yellow peppers that had been tossed with sherry and olive oil.

Claudia’s parents and Aunt Pat joined us again this week. Pat had eaten paella once while traveling with her daughter in Spain, and hadn’t been impressed, but she loved this batch. I honestly think that it was beginner’s luck that it turned out at all. My guess is that the main trick is to not stir the rice once you’ve added the cooking liquid. All of the ingredients were done properly, and there was a good socarrat on the bottom of the pan, which, similar to Persian tadig, is a hallmark of the dish.

We enjoyed the last bottle of Cariñena Garnacha that was in the cellar, with Pandora’s Flamenco channel streaming all afternoon to help the mood.

Claudia tried her hand at flan for the very first time as well, and it was exceptional. She used this recipe from The Spruce adding chocolate dipped espresso beans for garnish.

This meal is definitely a keeper. The only things I might change would be to use more onion, maybe add some whole garlic cloves, and perhaps add some clams (and more chorizo) to the paella. I didn’t keep precise notes on timing, so I hope we’ll be able to replicate the dish this summer. It would easily serve a dozen or more, so a party may be in order.

Honey Garlic Chicken

Sunday Dinner – 18 February 2018

Honey Garlic ChickenThis week we were attending a performance of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by our local theater group, so crock pot cookery was indicated. Claudia made Honey Garlic Chicken with potatoes, a side of steamed broccoli, a green salad and a nice apple crisp for dessert. We’ll eventually link to the full recipe, but for now I’ll just say that this was a meal worthy of Jim Harrison, in that it had 12 cloves of garlic in it.

We love cooking in the crock, and not just for the convenience. Although it may seem like a modern contrivance, cooking a variety of ingredients together at a low simmer for hours is a time honored technique that predates Rival by thousands of years. Whether fireside, on the hearth, on the range or in the oven, some of humankind’s very favorite meals are slow cooked in a closed pot.

The gravy for this dish, which used the strained drippings from the pot as the base, was absolutely delicious.

We drank a very nice Lodi Verdelho from Ana Diogo-Draper with this meal. The label says “fruit driven, well balanced, concentrated and bold.” All true. It stood up well to the deeply flavorful funkiness of the main dish.