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!

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.

Valentine’s Day 2018 – Penne Alla Vodka

Penne alla VodkaOur Valentine’s Day celebration came a day late this year, since Claudia was out of town for work on the 14th. I wanted to make something special to welcome her home.

I had prepared  Penne alla Vodka once before, and it had turned out badly, the typically clumsy boozy and hot mess that gave the dish a bad reputation. This time around, I used a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and was determined to get it right.

Improvising a bit, instead of canned whole tomatoes, I used diced, blending up half of them to help form the clingy sauce. Otherwise I followed the recipe down to the last detail, and it yielded the promised results, sweet, tangy, spicy and creamy.

Since the BTE link above is behind a paywall, you can check out the recipe at Urban Drivel.

At first I was thinking about a simple green salad for the side dish, but did a little research and decided on Italian Peas with Mushrooms. I let this cook just a bit too long, but otherwise it was savory and delicious.

Claudia is the baker in our household. She’s an ace with cookies and confections of all sorts, and I rarely bake (other than simple boules and Irish Soda Bread). But I did try these 4 ingredient Red Velvet Cookies last year for Valentine’s Day and they turned out well, so I made them again this year. They will probably make an annual appearance just for novelty’s sake.

We drank our “house red” (Bota Nighthawk Black), which was a fine accompaniment, although a dry Chianti might have been even better.

We’ll definitely keep these dishes in our repertoire.

New Food Project: Our Favorite Meals

For several years now, Claudia and I have treated Sunday Dinner as an opportunity to experiment with regional cuisines from around the world, update retro classics, or simply revisit favorite family recipes. It’s an occasion to gather around the table with her parents (and, lately, Aunt Pat as well), enjoy some unique dishes and maybe try out some new wines. Friendly games of cribbage often follow dessert.

Certain meals have become traditions for particular seasons or dates on the calendar (Jambalaya for the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Saurbraten in October, etc.).

So, we’ve decided to start doing a little better job of remembering these memorable meals. We’ll be blogging photos, notes and links to recipes here, at least from time to time. Eventually we hope it will serve as our own personal cookbook of favorites.

Here’s some quick catching up for 2018 so far.

January 7th: Johnny Marzetti

I used a recipe from the Wall Street Journal for this. The wine was a Lodi cuvee, Sharon Weeks Cattoo Red.

January 14th: Salsiccia con Peperoni and Pasta

I grilled some mild Italian sausages along with onions and red bell peppers on the Weber Genesis to go with some rotini pasta and a mixed greens salad. Wine was F. Stephen Millier Angels Reserve Zinfandel.

January 21st: Big Night Timpano!

This is a dish that had intrigued me for years before I had the nerve to actually make it. The recipe comes from Cucina & Famiglia (from the Tucci Family). After preparing this several times now, I finally have it down. Claudia made a nice salad and antipasto platter to go along, and we drank a bottle of perhaps my favorite Italian wine Nespolino Sangiovese Rubicone from 2014.

January 28th: Burns Night Supper

Our annual feast of crock pot faux Haggis, Cock-a-leekie soup, and Cranachan. The wine was an elegant and classy David Akiyoshi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. But the star of the show was some Oban single malt Scotch. :)

February 4th: Greek Fest!

When we were in Steubenville, Ohio for the annual Dean Martin Festival years ago, it coincided with the Holy Trinity Church Greek Festival. We had Spanakopita and Moussaka for the very first time. Claudia found recipes and has since perfected them. I’ll post links or recipes once I find them. We drank a nice, inexpensive Spanish Garnacha from Volteo with this meal.

February 11th: Mardi Gras

This is another meal that Claudia prepares each year, including Jambalaya and bread pudding with Bourbon sauce. Recipes to come. We drank our last bottle of Chateuneuf du Pape, a 2012 Le Prince de Courthezon.

More To Come

That’s it for now. More to come as the year unfolds.

Turkey Lohr

seven-oaks-cab-sauvWhen planning a wine pairing for Thanksgiving Dinner, I’ve always heard of the ABC rule: anything but Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, I’m breaking the rule.

The issue is that turkey is not thought to contain enough fat or flavor to balance against the tannins of the Cab Sauv. By smoking the turkey on the Weber kettle grill, we ought to have the flavor part of the equation covered. I also plan to make gravy from the drippings, which should add some richness at table.

The wine will be a 2010 Seven Oaks from J. Lohr, splash decanted to soften the tannins a bit, a trick I learned to tame Malbec that grips so hard it pulls your tonsils out.

We’ll report back later in the week.

Turkey on the Rotisserie

turkey-on-rotisserie

In preparation for this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner, I roasted a whole turkey on the rotisserie over the weekend. In some ways, this is one of the most challenging things to cook, since it’s difficult to get the dark meat done enough without overcooking the breast.

Overall, it turned out just “alright.” Having done a marvelous job with a turkey breast awhile back, and a series of awesome whole chickens, I expected this to be over-the-top delicious. It certainly wasn’t bad, especially for a first attempt, but there are several things I would do differently next time.

1) Use a fresh turkey. The frozen turkey I cooked was “pre-basted.” This sounds like it would be a good thing, but it’s actually not. The addition of a brine solution prior to freezing actually changes the texture and taste of the bird in a way that is inferior to proper dry brining. For Thanksgiving, I’ll look for a locally raised fresh turkey.

2) Take more care with the seasoning and brining. Because the turkey was pre-basted, I didn’t want to overdo my own seasoning, particularly the salt. I limited my efforts to a little kosher salt, black pepper and herbs de provence rubbed on the skin a couple hours prior to roasting. I also didn’t stuff the cavity, thinking that this was a “dry run” anyway, and the additional aromatics wouldn’t add much. Next time, I’ll take care to properly dry brine a fresh turkey the day before, and to add plenty of citrus, onions, garlic, etc. to the cavity before cooking. My wife usually works some olive oil under the skin just prior to putting the bird in the oven as well. Although the rotisserie helps to keep food moist through self-basting, we may try her trick as well.

3) Choose your smoke wisely. I’ve been on a Cherry wood kick lately, loving the subtly sweet flavor it added to pork ribs and beef roast. In the case of turkey, I think a bolder smoke flavor would have been nice. I’ll likely use Apple, Hickory, or a mixture of the two next time.

4) I need an ice pack. One of the tricks Mike Vrobel suggests when roasting turkey on the rotisserie is to put an ice pack on the breast while it comes to room temperature before going on the grill. This has the effect of increasing the cooking time for the white meat, and allowing the legs and thighs to get up to well done without overcooking the breast. It’s listed as an “optional” step in his instructions, but I’ll definitely use it next time. The breast turned out alright, but the dark meat could have cooked just a bit longer to achieve “fall off the bone” tenderness.

A friend of mine sensed my disappointment in describing the meal as “alright” and commented that every meal doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. I suppose that’s right, although as much time and effort as goes into this particular dish, I’ll want to get it perfect next time. I think the adjustments mentioned above will make it worthy of our Thanksgiving table.

Let’s Talk Turkey

For Christmas of 2012, my wife gave me a rotisserie attachment for my Weber Kettle Grill. I’d wanted one for a long time, though the $150 price tag seemed a little too extravagant. The notion of roasting food on a spit, like the honeymoon scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, has always seemed romantic to me, and once the rotisserie arrived I could hardly wait to fire up the coals and roast something amazing with it. There was one problem. I had absolutely no idea how to cook with it.

I mean, of course I knew that the spit goes through what you’re cooking and you turn the motor on and it spins – but I didn’t know anything else about the process or preparing food for the rotisserie, how to set up the grill, how long to cook things, etc.

Luckily, in addition to a book on rotisserie cooking that was also under our tree for me, I did a little online search and found Mike Vrobel’s book Rotisserie Grilling and his site, Dad Cooks Dinner. I’ve come to think of Mike as the authoritative source on the subject, and his are among the first resources I turn to when I am researching something I haven’t cooked before. His dry-brined rotisserie chicken was the very first thing I cooked on my kettle rotisserie, and it’s still one of my favorite dishes.

One of the next things I tried was a turkey breast, and it was so delicious that my wife decided I should be responsible for our Thanksgiving turkey this year. Since a whole turkey involves a lot of special setup and variables, we figured it would require a test run, so that’s what I’m doing this coming Sunday.

Vrobel’s step-by-step advice on the matter will obviously be the game plan for the day, beginning with his demonstration of how to truss and spit the bird. Since I’ve had good luck with chickens and with the turkey breast, I’m expecting the whole turkey to be wonderful, but there is one further thing I have to learn between now and Sunday – how to carve.

I know. One might expect that at 56 years of age a guy would know how to carve a turkey, but through the years we always seemed to travel to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, and over the last decade or so, my wife’s father was always with us to carve. Honestly, I’ve been a bit timid in the face of the pressure. So I never learned. In fact, even for more pedestrian fare, I tend to shove off the carving duties onto my wife. Lack of confidence is an awful thing.

Finally I am determined to do it despite my insecurities, and (thankfully) I ran across this video from the New York Times a few years ago, and happened to have logged the URL. They make it look simple.

Wish me luck!

My Plan For Ribs

Many, many years ago, I used to cook on a water smoker. It was a Brinkman Sportsman model, if memory serves. In addition to smoked salmon (caught on fishing trips to Lake Michigan), I liked to smoke a ham and a turkey on it for New Year’s Eve. The ham would go on the top rack, and its drippings would baste the turkey on the lower rack.

Since my wife is not a huge fan of smoked foods (nor of the smell of the smoking process) I haven’t replaced the smoker, which I abandoned in a move for various reasons more than a decade ago. Although either a Komado style ceramic smoker or a Weber Smokey Mountain is on my short list for future barbecue equipment purchases, since I decided to smoke some St. Louis Rib racks this weekend, I’ll have to cook them on my trusty Weber Kettle.

Here are the challenges.

1) I have no experience with the cut of meat. Other than the advice people give to cook them “low and slow” there are a lot of other parts of the process that seem shrouded in mystery, including “secret rub” recipes, methods with names like “minion” and “3/2/1” – and almost too many recipes and techniques out there to fathom. Should I slather the ribs with mustard before putting on the rub? Should I mop them, or not? Researching and sorting through the volumes of information on how to cook “championship” ribs has occupied most of my non-work waking hours for nearly two weeks.

2) By far, it looks like the biggest challenge will be that of controlling the heat on my Kettle to keep it in the 225 to 250 degree range, which most folks seem to agree is essential to cooking tender, mouth watering ribs. A water smoker would make this easier, but I’ll have to make do.

Here’s the plan.

1) I settled on a rub recipe based on dozens or so that I found in research. It includes paprika, black pepper, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, nutmeg, turbinado sugar and a little cayenne. I’ll salt the ribs and let them rest awhile before rubbing. I also may put some brown mustard on them to add flavor and help to adhere the rub.

2) I’ll spray the racks every hour or thereabouts with a combination of port wine and apple cider vinegar.

3) The grill setup will be a pile of charcoal on each side, with a drip pan full of water in the middle. I’ll start with four lit coals on each side, and let them ignite the others throughout the five or six hour cook time. This is the “minion” method mentioned above. I’ll also have to close the vents on the bottom of the kettle most of the way in order to slow the flow of oxygen to the fuel and keep the temperature low. Cherry wood chunks will provide the smoke, and I have a simple (analog) thermometer that I can place in a vent hole on the top of the kettle to monitor the temp. I figured that using the old style thermometer would help keep me from constantly fidgeting and tweaking over two-tenths of a degree here or there.

4) After three hours of cooking, I’ll get the ribs into some foil with a little dribble of the mop sauce and let them mostly finish cooking that way. I’ll take them back out and sauce them (with Sweet Baby Ray’s, of course) for the last 30 minutes or hour of cooking. Our friend, Ken, who turns out the tastiest rib tips I’ve ever eaten, says that I should put some chopped onions in the coals toward the end to help flavor the meat as well.

If it all goes well, Sunday dinner this week ought to be grand. We’ll have baked beans, slaw, and roastin’ ears as sides, and I suspect that I’ll be consuming a bit of a certain beverage brewed with hops.

I’ll likely be posting pictures of the process over on Instagram and Flickr, and will definitely have a full update here after we see how they turn out.

Wish me luck!