Sunday, December 28, 2008

Smoked Standing Rib Roast

Smoked Rib Roast

So that we aren't giving all of the holiday love to Christmas Eve and its array of fishes, here is a picture of our decidedly non-fishy Christmas Dinner.

Slow smoked with a bit of apple and oak (2 hrs at 210°F), the roast was pulled from the fire at 116°F, then quickly crisped-up in a hot, hot oven (5 minutes at 550°F). We kept the seasonings simple: kosher salt 48 hours prior, followed by freshly cracked black pepper just before roasting.

We had a storm come through in the middle of smoking, but the Weber handled the cold rain quite well - only a brief 30° drop when the downpour started, then back up to temp with only minor adjustments needed.

The meat came out rosy, juicy and delicious. The smokey crust paired beautifully with a mound of celeriac-potato mash and pan-roasted whole carrots.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feast of the Seven Fishes - Southeast Asian Style

Cured Salmon Four Ways

We continued our Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner tradition this year with a bit of a twist. We have been making a lot of Vietnamese and Thai food recently, and decided to use flavors from that part of the world as the inspiration for this year's feast.

Without further ado, here are the seven dishes:

Oysters with Vietnamese Ginger-Chili Mignonette Oysters with Vietnamese Ginger-Chili Sauce

The Barron Point oysters had a nice sweet and salty flavor and a ton of liquor. A small dash of the ginger-chili sauce added a nice kick.

Cured Salmon Four Ways Cured Salmon Four Ways

Probably the most successful dish of the evening. A thick piece of salmon was cured 48 hours using our standard cold-smoke dry cure (kosher salt, brown sugar, white sugar, white pepper, clove, allspice, mace and a touch of pink salt). We served four slices seasoned in four separate ways: fresh lemon - zest and juice; shallot, parsley and lime; fresh lime - zest and juice; ginger-chili and fish sauce. All four tasted very different from each other, and all four were great.

Thai Steamed Mussels Thai Steamed Mussels

A simple dish of steamed black mussels with coconut milk and green curry.

Vietnamese Salad with Smoked Trout and Bitter Greens Vietnamese Salad with Smoked Trout and Bitter Greens

Slices of "house-smoked" trout over a salad of watercress, Belgian endive, and quick-pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber and shallot. Both the trout and the salad were really good, although they weren't a perfect match for each other.

The next three dishes we served together family-style, along with steamed rice and sautéed mustard greens.

Ginger Fish
Ginger Fish

Not much to look at, but very tasty. The ginger flavor was very intense, and the fish (rock cod) had nice texture.

Squid in Caramel Sauce Squid in Caramel Sauce

We have done a number of caramel sauce dishes with other ingredients, and thought that the flavors would go well with squid. They absolutely did, although the squid let off a fair bit of liquid during cooking, resulting in a more loose sauce than we were looking for.

Napa Cabbage Soup with Shrimp Dumplings Napa Cabbage Soup with Shrimp Dumplings

A very pleasantly savory, but fairly mild tasting soup. It made a perfect accompaniment to the other, more strongly flavored dishes.

All in all, a very fun meal! We would happily make any of these dishes again - maybe with the odd tweak or two.

If you enjoyed these dishes, check out our seven fish dinner from last Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Feast of the Seven Fishes - The Comic Strip

Feast of the seven fishes

We've talked about cookbooks before on the blog, but this is the first one we haven't actually cooked out of yet. Then again, it isn't often that a cookbook gets a jacket endorsement from Stan Lee. That's because while Feast of Seven Fishes does have recipes, it is primarily a short graphic novel.

Written by script writer and producer Bob Tinnell and inked by alt comic artist Ed Piskor and long-time DC and Marvel artist Alex Saviuk, Feast is a nostalgia piece about an Italian family's Christmas in small factory-town Pennsylvania in the 80's.

Feast of the seven fishes

The centerpiece of the story is the feast itself - rooted in the Italian Catholic tradition of La Vigilia, a Christmas Eve celebration meal consisting of seven seafood dishes.

Originally run as an online comic, the strip is available in book form, and there are now plans for a movie. I can just imagine the pitch: "Think American Splendor meets A Christmas Story with a dose of Big Night thrown in the mix..."

At the end of the book is a section of recipes (provided by Tinnell's wife, Shannon) which represent the current state of their family's Seven Fishes tradition.

Although neither of us is Italian, La Vigilia has been an adopted tradition of ours for the past several years. Here are some pictures from last year's seven fish feast:

Feast of the seven fishes

We're definitely planning on doing it again this year. I guess we'd better start thinking about the menu, since time is running out. Thanks to the Feast of the Seven Fishes book, we have a new source of recipe inspiration.

Update: here is the post on this year's feast: Feast of the Seven Fishes - Southeast Asian Style.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2nd Annual Somerton Tamale Festival

Welcom to Somerton

This past Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves in downtown Somerton, Arizona - a few miles outside of Yuma. So, why were we in Somerton? For the their 2nd Annual Tamale Festival, of course.

We got the heads-up about the festival from Ed over at mmm-yoso. As a happy coincidence, we were already planning on driving back from visiting Sherry's folks in the Tucson area on the day of the event, and our route goes right through Yuma.

When we got there in the early afternoon, the festival was in full swing.

Crowd at the Somerton Tamale Festival

They closed off the main drag through town and both sides of the street were lined with dozens of vendors selling tamales at $1.50 a pop. We found a stand that was doing a good business (multiple people ahead of us were buying their tamales a dozen at a time) and ordered a beef tamal.

Getting a beef tamal

It came hot out of the steamer, and was just begging to be opened:

A tamal waiting to be unwrapped

Inside, the brilliant yellow-orange masa was filled with shreds of tender beef in a red sauce, along with some strips of green chile. The masa had great texture and flavor.

Beef Tamal

Next up, ordering a pork tamal.

Ordering a tamal

The pork was finely minced, and had nice rich taste. As a bonus, there were a few slices of potato inside as well.

Pork Tamal

The next tamal we tried was our favorite of the day - a corn and green chile tamal. The masa had an amazing fresh corn taste (I assume they must puree fresh corn and add it to the mix), and the green chiles had a great spicy kick to them. Fantastic tamal.

Corn and green chile tamal

Our only disappointment of the day was our final tamal - cheese and green chile. Ironically, this one came from the vendor voted "most authentic" at last year's fest. In addition to being pretty skimpy in size, the masa did not have very good texture or flavor. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Cheese and green chile tamal

As we were leaving, we noticed one of the vendors preparing a fresh batch of tamales. Probably getting ready for the dinner rush (the festival ran until 10pm).

Making more tamales for the evening crowd

Overall, we really enjoyed the festival. It made a perfect lunch stop on our trip home.

Update: Ed from mmm-yoso just posted part one of his pictures from this year's festival. Check it out here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Green Chile Pork

Green Chile Pork

We love pork and we love green chiles, so using them together is a no-brainer. This dish has been a go-to recipe of ours for years. The inspiration for it came from a surprisingly good road-trip meal at a motel restaurant in Flagstaff. We really enjoyed how the flavors of the pork and the green chiles blended together.

We usually serve it with rice, cumin-scented black beans (you can find the recipe for them here), salsa fresca with plenty of fresh tomato, and tortillas (or sopapillas if we are willing to do the extra work).

Green Chile Pork

3/4 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces (country-style pork ribs also work)
1-2 tablespoons Southwestern Spice Rub (see recipe below)
Canola oil
1 onion, diced
2 (7 ounce) cans roasted green chiles, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
3 canned tomatoes, diced
Kosher salt

Sprinkle the meat generously with spice rub and brown in hot oil. Remove and set aside.

Saute the onion and garlic in oil. When softened, add the green chiles and cook another 5 minutes.

Return the browned meat to the pan and add chicken broth and tomatoes. Simmer until the pork is tender, about 1 hour. Season with salt to taste.

Southwestern Spice Rub

3 tablespoons hungarian sweet paprika
3 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano

Makes about 3/4 cup. For less, use teaspoons instead of tablespoons. Store in a tightly sealed jar.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Smoked Turkey, Pickled Turkey, "Personal Turkey"

Smoked Turkey Breast

After making Stuffed Turkey Leg for "Pre-Thanksgiving" , we had leftover turkey bits to deal with. We smoked half of the turkey breast along with the wings. The smoked breast came out very nicely, and we're saving the smoked wings for making stock.

Turkey breast and wings on the smoker

The other half of the breast we brined longer (3 days) and stronger. After being coated with black peppercorn, juniper berries and coriander seeds, it too was smoked and we had ourselves some turkey pastrami.

Turkey pastrami just out of the smoker

Here it is sliced up:

Sliced Turkey Pastrami

Along with some Gruyere cheese, it made for a great panini lunch the other day.

So, what about Thanksgiving itself? We had personal "turkeys":

Personal Turkey

Roasted Cornish game hens with balsamic vinegar and fresh sage. Alongside, we had a three-grain pilaf with almonds and shitake mushrooms (from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook) and romaine stuffed with root vegetables braised in red wine (from the Café Boulud Cookbook).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rolled Turkey Leg Stuffed Thanksgiving-Style

Stuffed Turkey Leg

Even though we love doing a whole roast turkey, that can be a bit impractical given that Thanksgiving dinner is often just the two of us. So we are always looking for alternatives. A few years ago we came up with the idea of stuffing a turkey leg instead of the whole bird. It is a great way to get all those Thanksgiving flavors in a manageable, easy to cook package.

It all starts with a whole turkey leg with thigh attached. You should be able to buy individual legs from your butcher if you ask, or you can do what we did and cut one off a whole bird and use the rest for another purpose.

Stuffed Turkey Leg

Boning the leg is pretty straight forward as long as you take your time. The thighbone is easily removed by running your knife along its edges until you can slice underneath. Then, keep moving toward the leg, cutting around the large knee joint and splitting the skin and meat down toward and around the ankle. Be sure to pull out the hard tendon pieces along with the bone in the leg section.

Stuffed Turkey Leg

Once the bones are out, make a few strategic cuts to even out the thickness, and place a few stray pieces of meat into the hole where that big knee joint was (you'll see).

Make up a small batch of your favorite stuffing recipe - every Thanksgiving cook has one, and yours is likely different than ours - and spread it over the flattened leg meat.

You can stop here, but we like to gild the lily a bit by adding a few sausage links in the middle (this time we used homemade Italian sausages).

Stuffed Turkey Leg

Then it is time to roll it up and truss it. Cut several lengths of kitchen twine and slide them under the flattened meat. Starting at the wide end, carefully pull up the meat and fold it around the sausage and stuffing, then tie it closed with the twine. Keep moving toward the skinny end and repeat using 4 or 5 pieces of string. You may find that you can't fully enclose the stuffing at the ankle, but that's ok, it'll be fine when you flip it over.

Stuffed Turkey Leg

The final product:

Stuffed Turkey Leg

After a brief 50-55 minutes in a 425°F oven, it comes out as a golden package completely encased in crispy skin.

Stuffed Turkey Leg

Slicing it into rounds makes serving it really simple and fun.

Stuffed Turkey Leg

The thigh meat ends up nice and juicy, but that doesn't mean a bit of gravy isn't still absolutely called for. You can start with a simple chicken stock gravy, but be sure to use the crunchy bits and drippings from the cooking pan to enhance and deepen the flavor.

In addition to the required mashed potatoes, we also did a side dish of sautéed spinach with bits of bacon.

Stuffed Turkey Leg

And what of the turkey breast, you might ask? As I am writing this, half of it is on the smoker (along with the wings), and the other half is curing for a batch of turkey pastrami.

But that's another post altogether...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Roasted Yams with Moroccan-Spiced Compound Butter

Yams with Moroccan Compound Butter

Around this time a year ago, we were on a North African kick and were using ingredients characteristic of the region in all sorts of dishes, including our Thanksgiving meal. One dish that worked particularly well was roasted yams with a compound butter infused with Moroccan flavors.

Yams with butter melted over them are already pretty darned good, but spiking the butter with extra flavors really elevates them to a new level.

Yams with Moroccan Compound Butter

Compound butters are so simple to make, I don't know why we don't do it more often. You basically take room temperature butter and smush a selection of herbs and spices into it. Then chill, and you're done, ready to serve.

For this version I used freshly toasted cumin seeds, fresh garlic, turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, lemon zest, fresh cilantro and salt. The last time I added fresh ginger briefly sautéed in olive oil instead of the fresh garlic. I think I prefer it spiked with the ginger, but both are good. You can use either lemon zest or juice, but the zest is much easier to incorporate into the butter.

A critical element - important for both flavor and that crazy yellow color - is ground turmeric.

We like to form the compound butter into a log shape by wrapping it in plastic and then chilling it several hours in the refrigerator.

Yams with Moroccan Compound Butter

Later, sliced into disks it easily adds a burst of complex flavors and aroma to whatever you adorn with it - in this case, hot, tender, roasted jewel yams.

Yams with Moroccan Compound Butter

Moroccan-Spiced Compound Butter

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon minced garlic (or 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger plus 1 teaspoon olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon fluffy lemon zest (or 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry, hot pan until fragrant, about a minute (or if using ginger, toast the cumin seeds in hot olive oil 30 seconds, then add the ginger and saute until fragrant and softened, 1-2 minutes.) Pour into a small bowl and allow to cool. Once the seeds have cooled, mix everything thoroughly into the soft butter. Place onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log by encasing the butter in the plastic and twisting the ends. Refrigerate until firm. Remove plastic wrap and slice into disks for serving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smoked Meatloaf

Smoked Meatloaf

Pretty much anything good is even better smoked, and meatloaf is no exception.

Smoking is just the latest twist on our meatloaf recipe that has evolved over the years. An important breakthrough was watching Alton Brown's meatloaf episode on Good Eats. Instead of cooking the meatloaf in a loaf pan (which was the way we always did it when I was a kid), he molds it in a pan and then turns it out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. This results in a more nicely browned surface area and is much easier to clean up.

Rather than use a loaf pan for molding, we do a more free-form version (kind of like making a giant hamburger):

Smoked Meatloaf

For the smoking, we used hickory and apple wood and smoked at around 280°F for an hour and 45 minutes, followed by another 15 minutes near 300°F to reach an internal temperature of 155°F.

I am a ketchup fiend, and used to love it slathered all over my meatloaf. I have come to believe, however, that a nicely seasoned meatloaf stands on its own - especially when smoked.

Smoked Meatloaf

Here is the recipe for our standard, oven-cooked meatloaf. The smoked version only varies in the cooking technique.


14 ounces ground beef
4 ounces ground pork
3/4 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs, made from day-old rustic Italian bread
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons dried sage, divided
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
sprinkle of paprika or cayenne (optional)

Put the beef, pork, bread and onion in a large bowl. Mix together the egg and milk, pour over the bread and meats. Sprinkle about 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, 1 teaspoon of the sage, the black pepper and parsley over the mixture. Using your hands with open fingers, gently combine the ingredients.

Transfer the meat mixture to a sheet pan and shape the meatloaf into a round disk about 2-inches high. Evenly sprinkle the top of the disk with the extra 1/4 teaspoons of salt and sage, plus the thyme, mustard powder and optional pinches of paprika or cayenne.

Bake for 5 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake an additional 40-45 minutes or until the meatloaf has a nice crust and is not squishy when pressed lightly on top. Allow to rest at room temperature about 10 minutes before slicing into wedges for serving.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Uncommon Cuts - Bavette Steak

Bavette Steak

One huge advantage of purchasing meat from an independent, full-service butcher or local beef producer is the availability of less common cuts. We are lucky to have a couple of excellent sources in Siesel's Old Fashioned Meat & Deli and Brandt Beef.

Brandt sells their beef at our local farmers market, and lately our favorite offering of theirs is Bavette Steak. Also known as "flap", it is a small cut from the bottom part of the sirloin that has a character much like flank or skirt steak. Given a quick, hot sear and then sliced across the grain, it has an intense meaty flavor and a surprisingly delicate texture.

So, the next time you are in the mood for a steak, don't settle for that tired old chunk of filet from the supermarket - look around and I'm sure you'll be able to find more interesting options.