Thursday, January 29, 2009

Smoked Duck

Smoked Duck

This is a tale of two ducks.

We've made smoked duck twice, now, and both times it has been fantastic. It has most definitely earned a slot on our difficult-to-gain-entry-to repeat meal rotation.

The way a duck takes on color during cooking is amazing. Here is a bird going onto the smoker - pristine and white, it awaits the transformation that is about to come:

Smoked Duck

And the same bird coming off around four hours later:

Smoked Duck

The slices of moist, flavorful meat make for an almost dizzying array of delicious morsels on a platter.

Smoked Duck

But what of our tale of two ducks? The first, pictured above, was cooked somewhat less. It resulted in a more rare, dark-colored meat - more like what you would get with a nicely-cooked rare duck breast.

The second was cooked a bit longer. The meat was lighter in color, but surprisingly no less juicy - low and slow has its benefits! The main difference was an improvement in the taste and texture of the fat - while the fat was tasty in the less-cooked duck, it really shined in the more slowly and completely cooked bird.

Smoked Duck

Regardless of the cooking details (which we will certainly continue to play with), smoked duck is a dish that is here to stay.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shota no Sushi

Shota no Sushi

We recently discovered a gem of a television show called Shota no Sushi. You won't find it on the your local mid-season lineup, though, as it hails from the country of Japan and the year of 1996. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of Shota, a young apprentice, as he learns the art and navigates the politics of a small, but well-respected sushi restaurant.

The over-the-top Japanese drama is heavy-handed, but campishly enjoyable, and we found ourselves quickly taken in.

Shota no Sushi

Drama aside, there is a lot of information to be had here if you are at all interested in the intricacies of making sushi. Each episode focuses on a different element (forming technique, making the perfect rice, etc.)

Shota no Sushi

Only 17 episodes were produced, and sadly we are almost through them all. We'll definitely miss it when it is over.

If you would like to watch it yourself (and you should), you can find it online with fan-generated subtitles here on

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Smoked Beef Sausages - Lockhart, Texas Style

Lockhart Smoked Beef Sausages

Lockhart, Texas is a small town outside of Austin. There isn't much there - except for pretty much the best beef barbecue joints anywhere. We visited Lockhart on our road trip this past summer, and fell head-over-heels for the barbecue at Kreuz Market. In addition to some life-altering brisket, they did some amazing smoked beef sausages.

Months later, memories of those sausages still lingered in our minds. We decided we needed to try to make some.

Lockhart Smoked Beef Sausages

Because beef on its own is generally too lean to produce a nice, juicy sausage, some pork is added to the mix. We did a ratio of about 85% beef (chuck) to 15% pork (the fattiest bits of a shoulder).

Lockhart Smoked Beef Sausages

After grinding, the meat was seasoned simply: salt, black pepper and a bit of cayenne.

Here are the stuffed links after they had dried for a bit and were ready to go on the smoker:

Lockhart Smoked Beef Sausages

We smoked them over oak for an hour at 235° to an internal temperature around 160°.

Lockhart Smoked Beef Sausages

Hot out of the smoker (which is how they serve them in Lockhart), they were just perfect - smokey, juicy and full of beef flavor.

Lockhart Smoked Beef Sausages

When we re-cooked leftover sausages they were a little dry - probably having to do with the fat melting, then congealing and then melting again. For sausages that are not going to be eaten immediately, it might make sense to keep the temperature lower to avoid rendering the fat during the first cook on the smoker.

On the other hand, it's such a quick cook that you could always just smoke them fresh every time, guaranteeing a hot, juicy link - yum!

For more details on making your own sausages, check out our "how-to" and basic Italian sausage recipe here: Making Sausage. For more smoked sausage goodness, have a look at our Smoked Andouille.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pig Q&A with Dave from Da-Le Ranch


We've been looking into local sources of pork to meet our ever-expanding curing and smoking demands. Recently we had a very informative email exchange with Dave Heafner of Da-Le Ranch in Lake Elsinore. We thought that others might be interested in this information as well, so here is the conversation we had:

----- Menu in Progress: I understand that you custom raise raise pigs for individuals. We are interested in humanely raised, tasty pigs for cooking and curing (and, of course, eating). Can you give me some additional information about your ranching methods, procedures and subsequent costs?

Da-Le Ranch: We believe in humane treatment of animals, in so far as it is wife draws the line at letting them sleep in the house. :o)

Just yesterday, her favorite sow followed her around like a dog all day long, and refused to go back into the pen. "Mommie" had to chastise her to get her back in the pen. The day before, she led a rampage herd into the back yard, and had a play day in the garden and on the back porch. What a mess.

MiP: How are they housed, and what are they fed (generally)?

Da-Le: The pigs are penned, due to our rural location, and predators: bobcats, cougar (Mountain Lions), coyotes and wild dogs. The smaller pigs are allowed free ranging most of the day, but go up with mothers and into holding pens in the evening for safety. There are covers for them to get out of the rain or sun.

The little guys scurry around the farm rooting and digging everything up in their way. Fortunately, only one has discovered the worm farm, and she did so much damage she became a volunteer for a trip to the packing plant soon thereafter.

We feed blended grains and surplus/salvaged vegetables, grains and dog food. Occasionally we get a load of tortillas from a tort factory, and they love the treat. They are mostly flour and corn too. What we DON'T feed is important to know institutional waste feed (slop) from schools and prisons. We'll leave that to the big commercial pig farmers.

Finally, our main philosophical outlook is, "a happy pig is a tasty pig!"

MiP: What types of pigs do you raise?

Da-Le: We have crossed breeds with the following in the background: Duroc, Lancaster, Spots, Yorkshire, and Hampshire. Of course, we didn't originally start with purebreds, so we don't know if there are any others in the mix. We do know that they taste great. My wife was not a pork eater until I slaughtered the first one we raised. With a bit of coaching, she tried a piece of pork chop, and was instantly converted. Now, after lamb and rabbit, her first love of meat is the "other white meat" - pork.

MiP: What is the season / time period involved in raising a pig? When is it harvested?

Da-Le: Generally, it takes 3 months, three weeks and 3 days for a pregnant pig to deliver the babies. They are weaned and ready for sale between 4 and 8 weeks after that. So from inception to reception (if one is purchasing a weaner) about 5 to 6 months go by.

For full sized pigs for the freezer (ranging from 250 to 350 lbs.) it takes from six to ten months, depending on the time of year, feed and other considerations.

When we're custom raising a pig for a customer, it is ready, regardless of weight, at six months. It costs us too much money to feed one longer than that.

MiP: I know that some people purchase a quarter or half pig -- can you please give me approximate costs for these options versus purchasing a whole hog? (Understanding that different breeds will have different costs).

Da-Le: The different breeds currently have no affect on the price of the pigs. We are introducing a heritage line soon, and those will be two or three times the price of the others, due to many factors.

With our current stock, a quarter and half are available almost any time. Basically, when cutting and wrapping the pig, the packing plant splits each cut into either two or four parts (depending on how many people are purchasing the pig).

Our "hanging weight" price for a pig includes slaughter, cut and packing, and is as follows:

  • 1/4 pig is $6 per lb.
  • 1/2 pig is $5.50 per lb.
  • Whole hog is $5 per lb.
We may be forced to raise these prices [soon] however, due to spiraling costs on all our feed, help, and everything else needed to raise them. Leslie and I are evaluating this....

If you want a whole pig, the pricing is different. "On the hoof" means alive, and we sell butcher/freezer pigs for $1.50 per lb. "on the hoof." We have a scale available, and you pick the pig up, pay cash and take it to slaughter.

You can have the pig slaughtered on your own, or can contract us to do it for you. The price for us to do it is $150, regardless of the size of the pig. We discount this price when someone orders more than one at a time. This charge covers transportation of the pig to the slaughterhouse, kill, clean, de-hair, and transport to the packing plant. Packing and cutting is your responsibility, and the custom butcher will call you to get your specifications for the way you want the pig prepared for your freezer. Pick up of the finished pig is your responsibility when it is finished.

MiP: Can I keep the "extras" - i.e. head, feet, ears, liver, heart...?

Da-Le: The cost above includes your getting the head, feet, ears, liver, heart, and kidneys, if you specify. We can save the intestines and stomach too (for stuffing sausages), which we can get cleaned for you when the pig is slaughtered, for an extra fee (I think that's generally $20 - $30). -----

Dave can be contacted about his farm-raised pork through his website, or you can find him at the Little Italy Farmers Market on Saturdays. Following this email exchange I met Dave at the market and learned that he not only offers USDA inspected pork, but beef and lamb as well. So far we've eaten some very tasty pork and lamb chops, and the other day we picked up some nice looking pork jowls and have plans to turn them into Guanciale. More on that later!

Update: The folks at Sea Rocket Bistro just posted a set of videos of a visit they took to Da-Le Ranch.

The picture at the top of this post was adapted from Clipart ETC at the University of South Florida. The original source was an illustration from The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle and Katharine Pyle (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1915).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

141 Posts Later...

2008 was our most active year ever on Menu In Progress. Ok, that's mostly because it was the first full year of the blog, but still, it was quite a year.

Last January, we headed down to Mexico for a fantastic couple of months.

Mexico City

We spent about half of our time in Mexico City, a crazy sprawling metropolis that we have come to love. Pictured above are the canals at Xochimilco, the salsa tray that accompanies Tacos al Pastor at El Tizoncito, Ceviche de Pulpo at Salón Corona, and "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park" by Diego Rivera.

From Mexico City, we traveled to Oaxaca where we spent a few weeks.


Queso Fresco at the Etla market, the characteristic stall-front of a Oaxacan carneceria, toasting pumpkin seeds to make Pipían at Susana Trilling's Seasons Of My Heart cooking school, and one of the near-constant celebrations in the streets of the city of Oaxaca.

We also traveled to both coasts - west to Puerto Escondido, and east to Veracruz.

Puerto Escondido and Veracruz

Living la vida tranquila in Puerto Escondido, coral walls at 16th century fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, a breakfast of Huevos Cubanos, and drinking Café Lechero at the Gran Café de la Parroquia.

Our second big trip of last year was a road trip from the west coast out to the east coast and back.


We ate well in Louisiana. A bucket-full of crawfish at Don's Seafood Hut in Lafayette, the Oyster Po'Boy at Acme Oyster House, a fantastic demonstration at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and late-night eats at places like the Clover Grill.

Barbecue was a big theme on the trip.


We had the best brisket of our lives at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, Memphis ribs to die for at the Bar-B-Q Shop, and both Eastern (Allen & Son in Chapel Hill) and Western (Barbecue Center in Lexington) North Carolina barbecue.

Road Food

And we had plenty of other local specialties along the way, such as the aptly-named Hot Chicken at Prince's in Nashville, Chori-Migas at Habanero in Austin, our first breakfast at Waffle House (in Lexington, Kentucky), and the Green Chile Breakfast Burrito at Frontier in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We didn't neglect the beverage side of the equation, either.

Beer and Bourbon

We reveled in the local beer scene in Asheville, North Carolina, and made the pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, with stops at Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Maker's Mark.

Inspired by the awesome barbecue we had on the road trip, we bought a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker when we got back home.


So far, it has produced a cornucopia of tasty treats like Andouille Sausage, Homemade Bacon, and of course the requisite Smoked Ribs and Pulled Pork. We've only scratched the surface of what this little guy is capable of, and we're looking forward to more smokey goodness.

All in all, a very flavorful year indeed. Bring on the next course, please!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Egg Noodle Lasagna

Mike's Family Lasagna

After some pretty involved cooking over the holidays, we've been in the mood for some simple comfort food. As I am sure is the case for a lot of people, a great source of comfort food for us is dishes we grew up eating. This egg noodle lasagna was a staple in my house growing up, and we still make it regularly today.

When I first pulled out the recipe for this dish, Sherry gave me grief about it. "That's not lasagna, it's a casserole - it doesn't even have lasagna noodles! And Cheddar cheese?!". Lasagna or not, she now loves it as much as I do, "yellow cheese" and all.

Mike's Family Lasagna

When I left my home town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to go to school here in San Diego, my Mom wrote out recipe cards for my favorite dishes. Here is the recipe card for our "lasagna" - you can tell it has been well used. The only change we have made is to up the amount of green onions (you can see where Sherry scribbled out "3" and wrote "6" - now we generally use more than that). Oh, and the noodles we use are labeled "Wide Egg Noodles".

Mike's Family Lasagna

Mike's Family Lasagna

Thanks for the recipe, Mom!