Sunday Brunch

8 July 2018

This week we enjoyed a lovely Sunday Brunch. Claudia made a ham and asparagus strata and bacon wrapped tots. Mom baked sourdough raisin sweet rolls and Aunt Pat brought a nice fresh berry salad.

Also, Mimosas!

Fourth of July Cookout

We had an old fashioned cookout for Independence Day this year.

Turkish Kebabı

Sunday Dinner – 1 July 2018

Turkish Sunday Dinner

This week we tried our hands at Turkish cuisine.

A co-worker of mine is from Adana, and when I asked her what her favorite dish is, she said “the real kebap like we have back home.”

I did some research and found this video. When I related the recipe to her, she said that it is actually for Beyti Kebap which is popular a bit further east. Adana Kebap, as she describes it, is just the bell pepper, S&P and olive oil with the minced meat. Here’s another vid (sound is in Turkish, but you can see the preparation).

I stuck with the recipe from the first video, as follows.

Food Processor:
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 Red Onions
3 Cloves Garlic
1 Handful Parsley
1 T Sumac
1 T Salt
1 t Paprika
2 T Olive Oil

Mix together with 2 LBS Ground Lamb, place on skewers and cook.

I was able to obtain the sumac online, along with a set of wide skewers from Stephen Raichlen’s collection. Unfortunately, the lamb was difficult to find in our town, so I opted for 85-15 ground beef, which turned out to be a mistake. There simply wasn’t enough fat in the mixture to get it to stick to the skewers. After much cursing and sulking, I formed it into sort of elongated patties and cooked it directly on the grill grates. If I were to ever prepare this again, I would either use lamb, higher-fat beef, perhaps a mixture of beef and pork, or I’d find some other way to remove moisture and increase fat in the mix.

We served the meat with tomatoes and mini peppers (that had been charred on the grill with olive oil and S&P), pita bread (to substitute for lavash), a green salad, yoğurt sosu (a Turkish yogurt sauce) and soğan salatası (a marinated onion salad consisting of 2 julienned white onions,  3 T Sumac, the juice of two lemons, salt, olive oil and fresh parsley). Claudia also made a Turkish rice pudding for dessert.

The wine was a 2016 Paso Robles Malbec from Sharon Weeks, which paired really well.

Cattoo Malbec

Everything was tasty, and it was especially interesting to learn the taste of sumac, which was brand new for all of us. By the time we ate, though, I was so tired and disappointed and disgusted with the skewer issues that it was hard for me to really enjoy the meal. I would like to try another run at it using lamb, but probably not any time soon.

Eggplant Parm for Sunday Dinner

June 24th, 2018

plated-eggplant-parmigiana

We revisited one of our favorite dishes, Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana, this week. This is a family favorite that we enjoy several times a year. In fact, it’s our daughter’s favorite meal – the one she requests for her birthday.

We had lemons that needed to be used, so Claudia began early in the day baking a lemon cake from scratch, and making lemon curd. She’d gotten blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to go on top, and her mom did a beautiful job arranging them.

Aunt Pat was here early and took on the tedious task of prepping brussels sprouts. She separated each leaf for roasting on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. A little grated Parm on top, and they made a crunchy addition to the antipasti. Claudia also prepared a cheese and charcuterie platter, some olives and marinated artichokes.

It took a little while to get the plancha cleaned up for the Weber Genesis, but once it was clean and hot, the eggplant slices only took about twenty minutes for each batch to cook.

eggplant-on-the-grill

Then the pans of the finished dish went back out for another twenty minutes until they were nice and bubbly. In the meantime, Claudia fixed another fresh, vibrant salad with her famous Wulff Family Dressing.

Claudia also boiled the pasta, something I would have forgotten altogether. The final element was garlic bread, again, baked on the plancha. We served a big bottle of Bolla Valpolicella with the meal. It’s one of our favorite table wines, especially with Italian fare, and we don’t really drink it often enough.

This is one of the heartiest dishes I’ve ever tasted. Leave out the coppa and prosciutto from the antipasto platter, and this meal would have been entirely meatless as well. This would be on my short list for last meal at the end of the road.

Casking at Home

Cask

In July of 2012, I was visiting San Francisco for work. I had long wanted to meet a podcasting pal of mine, Tim Morrison (a.k.a. “Mr. Martini”) from Behind the Bar Show, and he was living there at the time. So we got together on a Wednesday evening at Heaven’s Dog (which, sadly, is now closed) for a couple of cocktails, and then walked back up to the Tenderloin (I was staying at hotel just north of Market) for one more. Tim took me into a joint with walls that were filled with small casks from floor to ceiling. He explained that because of the differences in surface area, a few months in a small barrel imparts the same aging characteristics to spirits as years in a large one.

As we sipped some dark rum that had been aged in a cask made from bourbon barrel staves, Tim explained that he casks Manhattans for his annual holiday gatherings. I was intrigued.

Mrs. Noe took note when I mentioned the conversation back home, and bought me a two liter uncharred oak cask for Fathers’ Day of 2015. By October, I decanted the first delicious batch of barrel aged Manhattans.

The staves eventually started to pull apart on that first cask, so I emptied it for the last time earlier this year. I’d intended to just keep it for decoration, and began to research bottle aging oak strips, but while at Amazon added a cask from Golden Oak Barrel to my wishlist on a whim. Lo and behold, it was one of my Fathers’ Day gifts this year.

After rinsing the new cask, adding the spigot and curing it with water, I added nearly two fifths of Old Overholt Rye, 400 ml of Sweet Vermouth, and 200 ml of Orange Curaçao. This final ingredient helps to transform the Manhattan into a very tasty variant called the Fourth Regiment. I wait until tapping to add Angostura Bitters, Orange Bitters and Celery Bitters to the cocktail.

Since the new cask has a medium char, I’m anxious to find out how this batch will taste. According to the Golden Oak website, this barrel ought to last decades instead of years. Fingers crossed on that count.

If you’re interested in learning more about home casking, the folks at Golden Oak have put together a wonderful guide, complete with some recipes, that you can download here. They also have an informative series of videos on their YouTube Channel. Cheers!

Fathers’ Day 2018

Another Attempt at Chicken-Fried Steak

We had the pleasure of another Fathers’ Day with Grampy, and took the occasion to make another attempt at Chicken-Fried Steak.

As mentioned earlier, I became obsessed with this dish after a visit to Horseshoe Hill Cafe in Ft. Worth. This is the fourth time I’ve cooked it in the past couple months, and it was the best batch yet. I used bottom round steaks this time, which had the flavor and slight chewiness that you want. In addition to the beef, I breaded a batch of chicken breasts which turned out really good too. I managed to keep the peanut oil at 350°F in the cast iron Dutch Oven throughout the cook, and finally got a process in place to move from breading to frying to draining to holding in the oven as efficiently as possible. As always, the black pepper gravy was excellent.

Mrs. Noe made the mashed potatoes and steamed some broccoli with lemon butter, and she and Aunt Pat also pulled together a lovely green salad. I grilled some green onions with nice fat bulbs that I’d found at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market on Saturday. We also served some spicy pickled okra. Aunt Pat brought a delicious cherry pie and some soft serve from DQ for dessert.

One of the other little pleasures of the day was serving this meal on the plates that were used for Sunday Dinners at Claudia’s grandma’s. They’re a blue Currier & Ives pattern and, coincidentally, the same as the ones my mother had when I was growing up. So they hit the perfect nostalgic notes for both of us.

The ladies drank a nice California Rosé from F. Stephen Millier. I stuck with Shiners. My toast to Grampy for Fathers’ Day was “Here’s to us, and them like us. Damned few of us left.”

You can find the recipe for Grady Spears’ CFS at Texas Monthly. It calls for “round steak” but there are a lot of cuts that qualify. My best luck was with these bottom rounds, but some of that may have been more experience with prep and cooking. You could also use sirloin, eye of round or top round. Some will need more time with the mallet than others.

Flavors of Palestine

Sunday Dinner – 10 June 2018

Palestinian Food

This week’s Sunday Dinner was a classic from the Middle East, Maqloubeh.

The passing of Anthony Bourdain prompted feelings of sorrow, followed by a binge of Parts Unknown. One of the first episodes I revisited was his trip to Jerusalem, which also included a segment in Gaza with his Palestinian host, Laila El-Haddad. He was treated to Maqloubeh, a dish of rice, spices and other delicious goodies.

“Maqloubeh” is the Arabic word for “upturned” or “upside-down.” Although family recipes vary greatly, the main ingredients seem to be long-grain rice, eggplant, cauliflower, onions, garlic and lamb (or sometimes chicken). I reviewed seven or eight recipes online, and tried to get to the essence of the dish.

While we were cooking the main course, Claudia served some roasted red-pepper hummus that she’d made earlier, along with crudités and pita chips. I’ll try to goad her into adding the hummus recipe here at some point, but it is basically chick peas, fresh lemon juice, tahini, garlic, a roasted red pepper and some other seasonings. If you’ve only ever had store bought hummus, you are missing out. She also roasted some chick peas with spices in the oven on a cookie sheet. Those were super tasty and surprisingly crunchy.

We had a lot of help from Aunt Pat in the kitchen this week, as usual. The prep work on these dishes was pretty time consuming, so it was great to have another capable pair of hands at the cutting board all afternoon.

مقلوبة

Maqloubeh Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Pieces
  • 2 Eggplants, Cut Into Cubes
  • 2 Cauliflower, Quartered Then Pulled Into Florets
  • 2 Yellow Onions, Rough Chopped
  • Several Cloves of Garlic, Smashed
  • 2 Tomatoes, Sliced
  • 2 Cups Basmati Rice
  • Toasted Almonds
  • Yogurt with Mint and Seasoned Salt

Seasonings:

  • Coarse Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Cardamom
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic Powder

Although the ingredients are usually either fried or roasted, I decided to cook them on the Weber Genesis. After seasoning 4 leg quarters, they went on the indirect side of the grill for 40 minutes, then were moved directly over the burner for another ten minutes to finish. Internal temperature was between 175° and 185° F when I took them off. The boneless, skinless chicken breasts got the same treatment, except for a shorter length of time (and more time over direct heat) until they registered 165° F. We covered them with a tent of foil until time to serve.

The eggplant and cauliflower pieces received the same seasoning, and were grilled with a little olive oil on a veggie sheet for a bit, just to soften them up and get a little charred flavor into them.

We hit a 6 quart pan with olive oil spray, and Claudia placed a layer of tomato slices on the bottom. At this point, the traditional version of the dish would get a layer of meat, but we had so many vegetables that we decided at the last minute to keep the chicken out and serve it alongside. We added some of the grilled cauliflower and eggplant, and some onions and garlic that Claudia had sautéed. Then a cup of brown Basmati rice, the rest of the veggies, and one more cup of rice went into the pot, and finally 4 1/2 cups of stock with a little Turmeric mixed in. We covered it and boiled it for ten minutes and then simmered for another thirty.

I was nervous when it came time to invert the pot.

Mqloubeh

As you can see from the photo, it did collapse a bit on one side. Next time I’ll do my best to leave it sit awhile longer once inverted before removing the pot. I think I would also heat the stock before adding it to the pot next time, to give the boil a head start. Otherwise, there isn’t a single thing I would plan to change.

I toasted some almond slices in a dry skillet, and sprinkled them over the top. We served the Maqloubeh and chicken with some Greek Yogurt (I’d stirred in some dried mint at my friend Mazen’s suggestion, along with a little Lawry’s). It was a delicious combination. Claudia also made a traditional Arab salad to go with.

سلطة خيار الطماطم

Cucumber Tomato Salad

  • 3 cucumbers, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • grape tomatoes, cut into halves
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed dried mint
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1-2 lemons
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mazen suggested that we add thyme to the salad, but it slipped my mind, so we’ll have to try that next time. This was one of the most vibrant, fresh-tasting salads I’ve ever eaten. Just delightful.

We served a couple bottles of my favorite bargain wine, Yellow Tail Shiraz, with the meal. It was a perfect compliment.

بسبوسة

Basbousa

When we were planning the meal, Claudia asked “what’s for dessert?” This is something I always seem to neglect. After a little research we settled on Basbousa, which is a yellow cake made from Semolina flour. She used this recipe for the cake, and topped it with a cinnamon simple syrup and coconut shreds as described here. It turned out just lovely as well.

Basbousa

The music stream for the day was a traditional Arabic and Andalusian station from Pandora, which added a special dimension to our gathering.

We eat to live, we eat to remember, but we also eat to learn. One of the things that has always impressed me about Bourdain is the way he seemed to foster such deep connections with people wherever he traveled. He wasn’t just a journalist conducting an interview. He was a friend, sharing a meal and some conversation.

We see our own Sunday Dinners as opportunities to celebrate cultures, times and places that we likely might not consider or examine otherwise. It was particularly nice to approximate and experience the aromas and tastes of a Palestinian kitchen this week. We’d not delved much into the food of the Eastern Mediterranean. Now that we have, I’ll be anxious now to find other dishes typical of the region.

Long live Palestine.

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.