Smoked Herring Salad

Smoked Herring Salad

Why do so many people fear canned fish? I don’t mean tuna, it doesn’t even count. Was there some massive food poisoning event in the United States back in 1908 or something and the canned fish market never recovered or do we just have a lot of closet canned fish eaters in this country.

Canned fish is brilliant, don’t laugh, I am being totally serious. It is really tasty, it harmlessly sits in your pantry ready to be used and is as tasty as the day it was packed.

Maybe people don’t know how to use it or maybe when they were little their parents always told them they wouldn’t like it and so they never have. My guess is most people who say they don’t like it have never tried it or it has been served to them right out of the can bathed in some sort of funky sauce.

No, what I am talking about is fish packed in oil, be it, mackerel, herring or sardines, smoked and not smoked. The omega-3 dense bait fish, well not mackerel it is higher up the chain then the other two, but fish oil rich nonetheless.

It’s as if you have to go to Eastern Europe, Nordic countries or Russia for your recipes and I am good with that. These countries now what to do when it comes to canned fish. I trust them.

This recipe is of Dutch descent. Being the herring eaters they are you can count on them for good recipes.

Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Dusseldorf mustard or Dijon

1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 tin smoked herring or mackerel

2/3 cup celery, chopped

1 cup yukon gold potatoes, boiled and cubed

6 cornichons, chopped

2 to 3 beets, roasted, peeled and cubed

2 hard boiled eggs, shelled

a handful of peas, fresh or frozen

2 teaspoons chives, chopped

2 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Combine the mayonnaise, mustards and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.

2. Add the celery, potato, cornichons, peas and herring. Smash the eggs into chunks and add them to the bowl. Stir to combine. The herring will break up into small pieces with some hunks much like if you were making tuna salad. If you want big hunks of herring then garnish the salad with it.

3. Divide among 4 plates and garnish with the beets and shallot rings. Garnishing with the beets keeps the salad from turning pink.

4. Serve

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Pot Roasted Collards and Purple Hull Pea Fritters with Spicy Buttermilk Gravy

Pot Roasted Collard Greens and Purple Hull Pea Fritters

The one thing that stays the same around my kitchen, has been a continuous thread,  is collard greens.

Collard recipes have been prepared in many incarnations but eventually I rendered them all down the most basic of recipes.  I like collards in every fashion imaginable,  and while I can spoon potlikker right out of the pot and onto a slab of buttered cornbread, making me perfectly happy,  I have grown to like my greens best when they are pot roasted.  I used to render bacon, butter or pancetta into the pot first, the fatty crispy strips of cured pork to be fought over at dinner.   Then there came a time when I needed to make the greens vegan. I started using peanut oil and ever since it has become a fast favorite which is strange since we are big pork eaters.

What happens to greens when they are pot roasted is the natural sugars break out and much like caramelizing onions you start to build flavors that just don’t exist when collards have been boiled.  I liken the building of flavors to a fine cigar, great coffee or a complex wine.

As the thick and leathery fall collards,  greens which have taken a frost or two, cook down a toothsome quality develops that is very satisfying to eat.  You also get these rogue bits that didn’t get as much oil as they should and they become crispy and blistered which contributes a nice contrast.  A sure sign that you have roasted your greens right is the smear of brown juice that paints the bottom of the pot when you stir.

We eat greens cooked like this as part of three dinners each week, at least,  and in general Amy and I will fight over the leftovers at breakfast time.

Seves 4

For the fritters:

16 oz. field peas, cooked, either black eyed or you favorite type I used purple hull, two 14 oz. cans, drained  works too

1 cup carrots, grated

1/4 cup rice flour, or all purpose flour

2 teaspoons shallots, minced

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

For the collards:

8 to 10 cups collards, cut into 1 inch stirps, rinsed multiple times to get rid of sand and dirt

peanut oil

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

For the buttermilk gravy:

1 1/2 cups live culture buttermilk

1 teaspoon creole seasoning

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoon shallot, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon garlic, peeled and minced

1.Heat the oven to 325˚ F. Combine all the gravy ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine.  Set aside to let the flavors build.

2. Place a 6 quart enameled Dutch oven with a lid over medium high heat.  Add some peanut oil to the pot being generous with the peanut oil and making sure you coat the bottom of the pan plus a touch more.  Add half the greens and season them with a two finger sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Turn the green giving them a hot oil bath.  You want the leaves to be coated, not greasy though.  Add the rest of the greens.  Season them with salt and pepper too.  Turn them into the first batch of greens being sure they get an oil coat as well.  Put the lid on the pot, slide it into the oven and roast the collards for 1 hour and 15 minutes making sure to stir the pot at the half way point.

3. Place the cooked peas into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to grind the peas.  When it becomes mealy add the rest of the fritter ingredients and pulse until smooth, moist and will hold together.  The key here is to adjust the moisture content.  If it is too wet add rice flour a tablespoon at a time letting the mix rest a bit so the flour can hydrate and thicken the fritter mix.  If it is too dry add water by the tablespoon and do the same.  My way to test patties of all types is to make a patty and then throw it against the side of the mixing bowl.  If it flattens and holds its shape I am happy.

4. Once your consistency is right make 8 equal sized patties.  Place a nonstick pan over medium heat, add oil and fry the fritters until they are brown on both sides. Remove them from the pan to a brown bag lined tray.   Drain the excess grease.  Serve while hot.

Dexas Turbo Fan Salad Spinner-Dryers

Dexas Greens Spinner

I had an email arrive in my box a couple of weeks back from a company by the name of Dexas.  I have never done a sponsored post but in this case I decided to.  I don’t know why, maybe it is just time but instead of me reviewing a product I thought I would just post the email I sent back to Dexas with my likes and concerns for the product.

But time passes and Jeff who sent me the original email,  who is very nice and good people usually don’t stay at bad companies, sends me another email  just checking in or code for, nudge nudge is the post getting close to being done.  Me being me, his second letter sits in my inbox for some time.  I finally get around to actually photographing the spinner  but by now I have used it a lot more.  After I did my initial testing I had some clear ideas, even sent Jeff a letter with my concerns but now I have become comfortable with the spinner and I have changed my mind on several issues.  First here is my letter to Jeff (take note, I removed a portion of the letter about a cutting board, not because it was bad or a bad product but because they didn’t ask me to test it but sent it along for my thoughts.  It is a great product too.)

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the follow-up.  I did receive the spinner and the cutting board.  It came at the perfect time since all my fall greens from the garden are just getting really good.

I have put the salad spinner to the test and really like a lot of things about it, the gearing in the top and the fan are fantastic, really fantastic,  and the offset and size of the handle is perfect.  It is much like a honey extractor I have and feels just as solid.  It does a great job of cleaning and drying greens of all types.

The spinner really is a nice product but I would be remiss in my testing if I didn’t mention a couple of things.  I really like the way the water runs out the open bottom but one of the things I really like about other salad spinners is the ability to store greens in the fridge right in the spinner.  This may seem trivial but for some reason I have found spinners as a storage unit really helps to extend the shelf life of salad and greens.  Are there any plans to make the spinner available with an optional, I’ll say, drip bowl?  I also mention this because I sometimes have a sink full of dishes when I get to the point in my prep that I want to clean greens I have to clean the sink out.  Don’t get me wrong you have a great product and these are just a few of my thoughts.

Anyway, I like the quality and durability of your products and I will look for them in stores around our area.  I still plan to write a post for my blog and will do so soon.  Thanks so much.

Tom

So what did I change my mind about.  Well, after using it and getting used to storing the greens in a plastic bag instead of the spinner I realized how much fridge space spinners of all kinds actually use.  Now the fridge is far less crowded, a definite plus.

In all seriousness this thing is built like a tank and works great!.

In the market for a good quality spinner?   Get yourself one here Sur la Table   or here Dexas.com

Grilled Sirloin, Cold Weather Greens and Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing

Sirloin Steak with Cold Weather Greens

I consider  steak and salad greens to be my go to, quick Friday or Saturday night meal. If we don’t get home till late it is still something substantial, not overly filling, but very satisfying.

While I like all kinds of salad greens these are quite possibly my favorite. They are peppery and a little bitter but they are toned down by the buttermilk parmesan dressing, steak juices and the steak itself.

Rarely do we serve any other sides with this dinner and have been known to polish off an entire one and a half pound sirloin with a huge platter of greens.

Serves 2

1 1/2 lb. top sirloin steak

1 head of radicchio

2 Belgian endives

1 bunch of watercress or upland cress

For the dressing:

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup 2% non-homogenized buttermilk

1/2 to 3/4 cup good quality parmesan, microplaned

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoon or more of fresh ground black pepper

kosher salt

1. Season the steak with salt. Set it on a baking rack and set it on a sheet tray with sides. Place it in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 8.

2. In a large mixing bowl add all the salad dressing ingredients and mix to combine. Taste and add salt, more cheese or pepper as necessary. Set aside to let the flavors meld. The dressing should be made about the time you season the steak and can be made up to a day in advance.

3. Heat you grill to high for direct heat grilling. Rinse the greens and spin them dry in a salad spinner then place them in a large bowl.

4. Season the steak with pepper. Grill the steak to one temperature below your desired doneness and then remove the steak and let it rest on a tray for 15 minutes.

5. Re-warm the steak on the grill. Toss the greens with the dressing, coating the greens well, and place them on a platter. Pour all the accumulated juices from the steak pan onto the salad. Remove the steak from the grill and slice it thinly and place it right on top of the greens. Serve immediately.

Barded Pork Rib Roast with Fall Vegetables

A pork rib roast with fall vegetables ready to go into the oven.

One perfectly good reason to buy whole slab or make your own bacon is you get the smokey rind. The pork rind is perfect for keeping a roast juicy and adds tons of great flavor, and besides, when the smokey hammy fat oozes down on the vegetables, oh my…

Wrapping a roast in fat is called barding. It is so simple and so delicious. It is a technique of days gone buy in America but I often see it done in ethnic markets and in different countries around Europe. If you live in Indianapolis Klemm’s carries the smoked rinds but you might want to call first to make sure they haven’t sold out.

If Brussel sprouts offend you, which I just don’t get, feel absolutely free to substitute other long cooking green vegetable. Parsnips, potatoes, celery root, and the list goes on, would be good too.

Serves 4

1 four rib, bone-in center cut pork loin roast

1 piece of smoked pork rind, often found at German butcher shops

4 to 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

1 lb. Brussel sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

8 to 10 pearl onions, peeled, or small onions cut into wedges

8 to 12 garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled.

a handful of thyme sprigs

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

grape seed oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

1. Season the roast with salt and pepper. Place the bacon rind onto the meat side of the the roast and tie it into place with kitchen twine.

2. Heat a 12 inch skillet over high heat and add the grape seed oil. Add the Brussel sprouts and carrots without crowding them. You may need to do this in batches. Season them with salt and pepper. Brown them well then place them into a large casserole.

3. Brown the onions in the same pan and any remaining sprouts or carrots.

4. Place the remaining seared veggies and garlic into the same casserole and set the roast on top. Strew the thyme branches across the top of both the vegetables and the roast.

5. Place the casserole into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. Stir the veggies around turning them to coat them in the drippings.

6. Set the timer for another 30 minutes and stir the veggies again.

7. Go another 30 minutes but this time check to see how the roast is coming along by either the squeeze test or with an instant read thermometer. It should read 150-155 degrees.

8. If it is not done stir the vegetables and check it again after 15 minutes.

9. Once the roast is done cut it into 4 chops and serve along side the veggies.

Rösti with Gravlax and Caperberries

This makes for a great brunch or a good starter for an elegant dinner. The key to success here is to get the inside done without burning the crust. Patience in other words.

SERVES 4

1 1/4 pound russet potatoes, scubbed and roughly peeled

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grape seed oil

4 pieces gravlax style smoked salmon

4 caper berries

1/3 cup cultured sour cream

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1 tablespoon fresh chives minced

1. Place a clean towel under a mandoline and grate the potatoes using the julienned blade and let them fall right onto the towel. Bunch up the corner of the towel and rinse the potatoes under cold running water. Twist the towel forming a tight ball and keep twisting until all the moisture is removed.

2. Place the potatoes into a bowl and combine with the melted butter. Season with salt and white pepper.

3. Heat a 10 inch nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Add the grape seed oil and then place the potatoes evenly across the bottom of the pan.

4. It took me 8 minutes on medium flame then bumping it up to medium high for 6 minutes to get the right crust. Use that as a guide it is not an absolute.

5. When the rosti is ready to flip use an over size lid or pizza pan and cover the saute pan. Do this by the sink. Flip, without hesitation, while holding the pizza pan tightly to the pan, and them slide the cake carefully back into the pan. Cook the other side of the rosti until crispy.

6. Combine the sour cream with the horseradish and season it with salt and pepper. Roll the salmon slices attractively. Rinse the caper berries. Chop the chives.

7. Arrange the different elements attractively on the cake, cut, and serve.

Three Onion Chowder

Three Onion Chowder with Parsleyed Oyster Crackers

I really like chowders and really like French onion soup. I don’t like pasty chowders so I didn’t thicken it except for the starch released from the potatoes. One tip I learned from Jasper White’s 50 Chowders is to let the chowder rest covered for thirty minutes. It is really does make a difference by allowing the flavors to come together.

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the Soup:

3 ounces pancetta, 1/4 inch dice

2 cups yellow onion, peeled and julienned

2 leeks, rinsed, white parts only, sliced into half moons

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup celery, 1/4 inch dice

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups half and half

3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 dice

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Parsleyed Oyster Crackers:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup oyster crackers

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

Fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper

1. In a 3 quart Dutch oven or sauce pan add the butter and pancetta and place it over medium heat to render the pancetta. Once some of the fat has been released add the onions, shallot and celery. Saute until they are just becoming golden. You don’t want them to brown too much or the soup will be brown. Add the leeks, garlic and thyme. Cook until the leeks are just becoming soft. Add the bay leaf and chicken stock. Bring it to a boil and add the half and half and the potatoes. Bring the soup back to a boil and then immediately turn off the heat and cover the pot. Allow it to rest for at least thirty minutes.

2. Heat a small saute pan over medium high heat. Add the butter and once it has stopped bubbling but is not brown, add the oyster crackers and toss the crackers to coat with the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and toss the crackers gently in order to coat all the crackers with the parsley. Pour out onto a baking sheet and let cool.

3. To finish the soup reheat it but don’t let it boil. Taste a potato to check and see if it is done and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If the potatoes are not done then cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the parsley and chives and then ladle into cups or bowls. Top with a few oyster crackers and serve.

Dover Sole with Herb Oil and Zucchini

The delicate flavor of white fleshed fish, for me, is best when cooked simply.  In fact the most important thing is seasoning the fish properly and making sure not to overcook it, which is a good reason to salt it an hour before you want to eat and why it makes sense to finish cooking or re-warming the fish in the oven.

This dish is a great recipe for entertaining because you can brown the fish without cooking it completely and then when you are ready, you can finish it up in minutes in the oven.  I also find it is a great dish for date night at home or a special occasion dinner for two, such as an anniversary.

Finally, the fish you use is up to you.  I love Dover sole but it is hard to find, you are going to have to skin it, and then bone it too.  Flounder is an excellent alternative as is halibut.

Serves 2

1 large whole Dover Sole, skinned, or other flat fish

5 fresh basil leaves

1 sprig of thyme or savory

extra virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking the fish

3 baby multi colored carrots

1 or 2 zucchini depending on their size

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.

2. Place the herbs into a mortar. Using the pestle grind and bruise the herbs into a coarse paste. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix to combine. Set the oil aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet(non-stick if you are more comfortable with it) large enough to hold the fish easily and comfortably. When the oil is very hot but not smoking add the fish. Brown the fish on both sides it doesn’t matter if it is cooked through or not, then remove it to an oven proof tray.

4. Clean out the skillet and place it back onto the stove. Slide the fish, and two oven proof plates, into the oven to finish cooking or warming it. Add a glug or two of oil to the saute pan, add the crushed clove of garlic then add and sear the zucchini. Season it with salt and pepper then turn it and do the same to the other side.

5. Plate the fish, put the zucchini on the plate attractively and using a mandolin or by slicing the carrots thin, garnish with the carrots. Drizzle some herb oil over the fish filets.

6. Serve.

Coq au Vin

I think this is one of the best dishes in the Classic French Cuisine repertoire.  This dish is amazing with any kind of chicken but if you can lay your hands on a young heritage breed rooster of about 28 weeks of age do so.  Depending on the breed the meat can be very dark and very rich.  I like this kind of chicken over the run of the mill Cornish Rock meat bird.  It has character, has a different flavor depending on the kind of bird and for me is a welcome change.

Serves 4

clarified butter

1 rooster or fryer 3 1/2 pounds, cut into quarters, wings and back removed and reserved

1 bottle burgundy or pinot noir

2 onions, trimmed, peeled and quarted

2 carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch hunks

2 celery stalks, trimmed, washed and cut into 1 inch hunks

1 leek, white and light green part only, trimmed, rinsed and halved lenghtwise

6 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs curly leaf parsley

5 cups rich goose, duck or chicken stock

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

a parchment round

For the garnish:

8 carrots, peeled and trimmed

8 boiling or pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

a handful of mushrooms, royal trumpet, crimini or white

8 oz. piece of unsmoked slab bacon or pancetta

A parchment round, it should fit inside the pot snuggly

your favorite mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Place a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold the chicken so you can easily brown it on all sides over medium high heat and add enough clarified butter to coat the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the chicken quarters and brown them nicely on all sides. Take your time, adjust the heat lower if necessary but brown it deeply without burning it. This will pay off in flavor later. Once the chicken is brown remove it to a plate.

4. Add the wings, back onions, celery, carrots and leek. Brown them lightly.

5. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Add the thyme and parsley and let the wine bubble away the alcohol and begin to reduce. Season the pot with a heavy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Not to much though you are going to reduce the sauce and as it reduces it will get saltier.

6. Tuck the chicken quarter back into the pot. Add the stock and tomato paste. Bring the whole thing to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.

7. Place the parchment round onto the surface of the stew then put the lid on and tuck the whole thing into the preheated oven.

8. Set a time for 1 1/2 hours making sure after 45 minutes to check and turn the chicken.  Now is the time to make your mashed potatoes but be prepared to keep them warm. I find an ad hoc double broiler works well for this.

9. After 45 minutes to an hour has passed place a large saute pan over high heat. Add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan and then add a little more. The mushrooms will soak the fat up like a sponge and you want them to do so. Once the pan is near smoking hot add the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper and brown them.

10. Remove the mushrooms to a plate and then add the carrots and pearl onions. Swirl them around in the pan. Add the slab bacon and enough water to just cover the carrots but not the bacon. You want the bacon to braise on the bottom but get crisp on the top so don’t cover it completely. Season the with salt and pepper.

11. Bring the water to a boil and then slide it into the oven along side the chicken.

12. Once the chicken is tender but firm, not falling off the bone, remove the pot from the oven, then remove the chicken to the plate you used before and  strain the stock into a bowl. Discard the solids and defat the stock. Wipe out the pot if you need to and then add the stock back to the pan.

13. Using pot holders, remember the pot just came out of the oven,  place the pot with the stock over high heat and reduce the sauce to your desired thickness. Taste and season appropriately. If it reduces to much just add a little water back to the pan.

14. Add the chicken back to the pot and turn it to coat it with the sauce and to rewarm it along with the mushrooms.

15. Check the carrots and pearl onions to see if they are done. If so remove them from the oven. Slice the bacon into four pieces.

16. Plate it up and serve.

The Chicken Massacre at Crooked Creek

Last night’s rain, soaked up by the hot earth, is rising again this morning as steam. As the truck rattles down the long gravel drive and we get close to the orchard, the apple trees emerge from the light fog, the treetops magically floating in a cloud.

Then, through the mist, I begin to see the faint outlines of chicken carcasses strewn about haphazardly–some on their sides, missing wings, their pure white feathers stained red; others with their heads folded under their chests; and some with their chests still heaving, breathing their last. It could be a black-and-white photograph of a Civil War battlefield. Except they’re chickens. My chickens.

My throat drops into my stomach. I stop the truck and put it in park.  I fling the door open and jump out, telling Lynnie, my youngest, to stay put. I walk briskly out to the killing field. I pick up a couple of the dying birds and do the humane thing, wringing their necks and dropping them in a pile.

At first I think it’s a coyote massacre, but I quickly notice that most of the birds have two fang punctures in their skulls, while a few are gutted, their stomachs ripped wide open. I’ve heard that raccoons will bite the heads of chickens and lick away the blood and fluids, which makes the feathers come loose and leaves the chicken bald. When a chicken runs dry, the raccoons leave the carcass and move on. It isn’t hearsay anymore–I’m witnessing this oddity and carnage first-hand.

The sky is still gray and it’s drizzling again. The splashes of blood are diluting and spreading in the rain. As the truck idles in the driveway, I look around the scene again, then the smell of wet dead chicken on my hands and exhaust fumes makes me gag.

I walk back to the truck. I get in, my shirt wet against the seat, and look down at my lap, confused. I left the chickens in their pen this morning because we left early to run a couple of errands. I figured I would let them out when we got back. It seems the raccoon or raccoons ripped the welded wire right off the side of the pen and killed each chicken one at a time. It’s as if they’d been waiting at the woods’ edge, watching me leave, seeing those chickens penned up so they couldn’t run–just like the raccoons wanted. It’s as if they’ve been waiting and watching for months, hoping I would make this mistake.

It’s not like the chickens could have run, anyway. They were meat birds, one week away from being processed. They were plump–fat, even–and meat birds aren’t meant to run; they aren’t even meant to reproduce. But I had raised them perfectly–maybe the best flock of meat birds I’ve raised. Now 21 of 25 are laying dead in a field being rained on: a total loss; a tragic waste.

Back at the house, all I can think is how glad I am that I don’t depend on these birds for my food. Of course, I wanted them to be my food, but I can afford to buy chicken at the store because there are people who raise thousands, even millions of them, and they do it cheaply and, for a couple of extra bucks, even organically. My family and I won’t go hungry.

As tragedies will, though, this gets me thinking about how and why I raise these birds. Like wanting to have more eggs than I need, because I don’t find the ones with poop on the shell to be quaint, so I feed the ones with shit on them to the dogs and keep the clean eggs for myself. Isn’t that the idea, to have clean, fresh, great-tasting eggs? And Vivian and Lynnie like chasing the chickens around the yard and hatching the eggs in the spring, and it’s a great experience for them to take care of the hens. They love the looks on people’s faces when they ask, “What are your chickens’ names?” and the girls reply, “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner!” And I like that they know where their food comes from. They’ve seen a chicken butchered, watched me do the crappy job of plucking a bird, and they know that it’s a hell of a lot of work for one meal.

Raising organic birds takes time–lots of time–and money. I eat probably the most expensive eggs in the county, and, after the massacre, the most expensive chicken, too. My wife thought I was crazy to get chickens, until she tried the eggs and we breaded and deep-fried our first meat bird. But now I’m wondering if she wasn’t right. Not just because it’s an expensive venture in a bad economy, but because we’ve had some other bad luck lately. It didn’t start out that way–the honeymoon years seemed perfect–but now, four years into it, things are going wrong.

Like the time I was at the kitchen sink and looked out the window just as the big Black Langshan rooster jumped three feet into the air, put its talons out, and grabbed at Viv’s back. Viv fell down, and I dropped the dish towel and sprinted to the back door. Then I heard her scream. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard her scream, but this time she wasn’t crying wolf. She cried out in such a complete panic that I had no doubt she needed help, desperately.

I’m not a violent person, but that changed in an instant. In a fit of blind rage and adrenaline, I tackled the big rooster, grabbed it by the feet, put my foot on its head, and jerked upward. I broke its neck with such force that I pulled the head clear off, but it was still flopping and spewing dust and blood everywhere. I kicked it away like it was a poisonous snake and immediately checked on Vivian, who was huddled in a corner by the chicken shack, covered in dust and shit.

I was shaking. She was crying.

I was livid. She was scared.

But she was more scared than hurt, and she was going to be okay. The rooster had pecked her once in the face about an inch below her left eye, so she was bleeding a little, but her back, because she had on a jacket, was unharmed.

I couldn’t put all the blame on the rooster. The girls aren’t supposed to go into the pen alone. We’ve had talks about it. I’ve told them that, because they are at eye level with each other, a big rooster like Rusty will come after them because he thinks they’re going to get his hens. He’s being protective of his flock and, because they’re his size, he will attack.

Now, in my kitchen on this wet, bloody morning, I remember pushing the tear-soaked hair away from Vivian’s eyes and tucking it behind her ears, and then, through her tears, between heaving breaths, she giggled a little and asked, “Can we eat him, Dad? Can we eat the rooster?”

I know I’m going to keep raising chickens.
For the Coq au Vin recipe click here

The Truth About Hunter S. Thompson

A sweating glass set down on a wooden bed stand makes an unmistakable sound. The ice doesn’t clink, it clicks, like fingernails on piano keys. In a small matter of time though the sound of the ice cubes change just as in another moment the wet glass leaves an indelible water mark. Of course, if someone’s setting a glass on your bed stand first thing in the morning, one of two things has happened: You’re either hung over, or you’re going to be.

There are moments in life that are greater than the individual. Recognizing these moments and rolling with them is what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. If I had known this in my youth, I might have steered clear of that gas station, but sometimes, when there is little or no choice, you have to figure it’s fate.

I had finished up my last 1 to 10 p.m. shift at the American-Statesman, gone home to the roach-infested Holiday Inn-style apartment, and packed. It was 2 a.m. before I got loaded up and hit the road for Atlanta.

It was an ungodly hour somewhere between Austin and New Orleans when I started to get nervous about ever finding an open gas station. I was ready to pull into a station lot and just sleep until they opened. At each exit, I looked over the tops of the swamp mangroves hoping to see the beacon of mercury vapor lights that might indicate an open station. The fuel light on my metallic red Honda Accord had been on for more miles than I had ever pushed it before I finally got off the highway. There was no station at the exit, but I was desperate and figured there might be gas in town. I was surprised when I found an open station halfway between the highway and the town limits.

As my headlights picked up the two good-ol’-boys rushing out of the station door dressed in camo and hunter orange, it became immediately apparent that this had, at best, a 50/50 chance of going well. Sometimes, when it’s too dark and too secluded, you just know.

Now, it’s not like I was ignorant. I grew up in Indiana, and, the way I’ve always seen it, the only difference between a redneck ridge-runner and a Cajun is the accent. They’re cultural relatives, after all. But you can find bad apples anywhere.

I grabbed the pump handle, and a greasy, meaty claw grabbed it from my hand. “Full service,” he said in a rubbery swamp drawl. “Just stand back and everything be fine, satisfaction guaranteed.” When the skinny one (because in stories like these there’s always a skinny one and a fat one) jumped in the front seat to pop the hood and the gas tank–and then started rifling around in the console and the glove compartment, I knew this was going be an expensive tank of gas.

As they kept up a casually aggressive small talk, I sized up my few options. It’s not like I was going to take these two on. They were ready to fight, with Buck knives on their belts and who-knew-what in their boots. But, if I kept my mouth shut and was polite, maybe my odds would go up: In a minute the car would at least be full of gas….

At that moment, lurching out of the bathroom on the side of the building, I saw him. White Jack Purcells, white socks, white Fila tennis shorts, white shirt, tear-drop sunglasses, and that fucking Panama hat. In each hand a trademark: one, a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum with a six-inch barrel and enough power to knock down a full-size buck at a considerable distance; the other, a Dunhill Full Flavor cigarette stuffed into a plastic Joyu 450 cigarette filter.

If I had been an older man, my heart would have exploded out of my chest; instead it just revved like a 426 hemi with a snapped drive shaft–my engine was racing; my body was frozen. I was the deer in the headlights.

Hunter S. Thompson had just burst out of a gas-station bathroom in bum-fuck-Eygpt, had a gun pointed at a hillbilly’s head, and was telling them both to eat shit. He backed them off and grabbed me by the collar and shook. “Move, God damn it!” he roared, and he shoved me into the driver’s seat, backed around the hood, and jumped in on the passenger’s side. I was hunched forward with both hands on the wheel and a look on my face like I had just run over my favorite dog. He opened his mouth to shout at me, and the baseball-bat slammed into the trunk. It shook me out of my shock, and finally I peeled out, but not before we lost the back driver’s-side window to a brick.

Thompson threw his black gym bag into the back seat with my photo stuff, grinned, and stuck out his hand. In his staccato voice, he said, “Hunter Thompson.” Before we even got to the highway, he had convinced me that I needed to take him to where he needed to go.

Belize. A secluded banana plantation owned by a bunch of Rastafarians somewhere near the Guatemalan/Mexican border. They had developed an iguana problem and were licensing people to come and hunt them. It was remote, secluded, and the Rastas didn’t license just anyone.

I didn’t think I owed him my life, because I was pretty sure the Cajuns at the station just wanted my stuff and didn’t want to hurt me. So my decision was based solely on one fact: It was Hunter S. Thompson. I buckled my seatbelt and settled in as chauffeur. Thompson was an avid amateur photographer, so we easily dropped into a conversation about f-stops and shutter speeds, Cartier-Bresson and Capa.

At the Texas/Mexico border he had me park my car at Nuevo Laredo. Said we would take a bus across and pick up a car that would be waiting for us in Sabinas Hidalgo. There, we would drive along the mountains and find our way to the plantation.

There are few people who are apparent in their persona and Hunter S. Thompson was one. If his look wasn’t loud enough, the cherry-red 1976 Eldorado convertible waiting for us was like the second coming. His theory, he explained, was: create enough noise and people will look the other way.

I would never get to test this theory with Thompson. We began to relax, and as he relaxed the pharmaceuticals came out to amp things up again. It was at this point that I took my first mescaline, and, trust me, the world has always looked a little different.

I honestly can’t recount any other part of this sordid tale. From there on in, it was overloaded with drugs and tequila, with no end in sight until it somehow suddenly stopped. Not until I woke up, for the first time ever, to the sound of clicking ice, was there a coherent moment to reflect.

“It’s the cure, not the culprit,” he said, as I eyed the tall tumbler on the bed stand. I looked down and, to my surprise, there was a bandage on my leg and the sheets were stained with blood.

I ran my hand down to feel a chunk of my calf gone. I looked at Hunter with shock and dismay.

“Iguana bite. Biggest damn iguana ever, and you slayed the vicious beast with one shot just after it got a piece of you.”

“Iguana tacos?” I queried.

“Best ever, just like you said,” he replied.

I took a drink. Hunter S. Thompson never lied.

Makes one

2 tablespoons fresh coconut water

3 ounces fresh pineapple juice

seltzer water

crushed ice

1. Fill a 10 oz. tumbler three quarters full with ice.  Add the coconut water, pineapple juice, and top with seltzer.  Stir and garnish with lime, mango, and a cherry.

Texas Caviar

The first time I had Texas caviar I was in Santa Fe.  There I think they called it Cowgirl Caviar but that might have been the name of the restaurant.  I remember lots of pictures of cowgirls.  Maybe the name of the restaurant was called Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  That seems more right to me.

Anyway.  Texas Caviar was made famous by Helen Corbitt the food director in the 1950’s for Neiman Marcus in Dallas.  Many recipes call for Italian dressing.  No.  Do not do it.  I am sorry but bottled dressings suck.  Period.  This is supposed to be fresh and vibrant and everything added is meant to highlight the creamy texture of the legumes, not hide it.

Serves 6 to 8

2 ea. 15 oz cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons red onion, minced

2 tablespoons celery, minced

1/3 cup cilantro, minced

1 tablespoon green onions, minced

1 garlic clove, minced finely

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 cup neutral flavored oil, i.e., canola, grape seed

1 to 2 dried cayennes or chile tepins cut into thin strips with scissors

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

corn chips

1. Combine all the ingredients into a bowl and mix to combine. Season with salt and lots of black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. This gets better as it sits, 24 hours is optimal, but will also gain more Scoville heat units so keep that in mind when you decide the amount of red pepper you want to use.

Bona Fide Black Skillet Cornbread

The only thing that might make this cornbread more Southern is using white cornmeal instead of yellow. Most certainly the cornbread debate has set off more feuds than history has recorded. Should it contain sugar or not is usually the big question but why should you have to make a choice. That is not to say this is one of those recipes that is going to combine the best of both worlds because it is not. You shouldn’t mix cornbreads just like you shouldn’t mix liquor. Flat out, it is always a bad idea. You should have two great cornbread recipes, one Northern sweet version and one Southern.

With that in mind you can pretty much bet when the words black skillet come before the word cornbread it is going to be Southern. The title here holds true to that theory. Actually most recipes, such as this one, vary only slightly in ingredients but usually find a fork in the road when they reach the part of the recipe that reads  “technique”.

I use stoneground corn flour because, one, it tastes great and two I like the quality of the crumb in the final product. Some people use cornmeal and let sit overnight in what is called a soaker, meaning the liquid and the meal are mixed and allowed to rest overnight and then you add the soda and baking powder before baking. Kind of defeats the purpose of quick bread which is what cornbread really is. With that in mind, what seems to work well is to let the corn flour soak for twenty minutes while the pan is in the oven heating.

Heating the pan is paramount to getting the full cornbread experience.  Without heating it you will never get the crisp crust that tastes like a cross between deep fried catfish tails and bacon.  What you have never eaten the crispy tails off of deep fat fried catfish?  Why lucky you, you still have some living to do.

To be completely stubborn if you can’t bring yourself to use either  bacon grease or butter you should probably make some other bread because, really, you will be missing the point.  If you sub out the bacon grease for real butter cut down the pan warming time to twelve minutes or the butter will burn.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

4 tablespoons bacon grease

2 cups stone ground yellow corn flour

1 teaspoon sea salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg

2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the bacon grease in a 10 inch cast iron pan.

2. Mix the corn flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat egg and add it to the buttermilk and then add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix quickly to combine the batter.

4. Place the cast iron pan into the oven and set a time for twenty minutes.

5. Using a dry towel or oven mit remove the pan from the oven and set it on a heat proof surface. Mix the batter with one or two quick spins and gently scrap it into the pan. You may need to use the whisk to pat it down and around so it reaches the edges of the pan. Grind some fresh ground pepper over the top.

6. Place the bread into the oven for 20 minutes or until it just starts to brown. Remove from the oven and cover it with a towel for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with lots of butter.

Pork Ribs in Adobo

Pork Ribs in Adobo

In looking for a new rib recipe for the grill,  Pork in Adobo kept coming across the radar. Knowing that Filipino food is considered, by some, to be the soul food of the Pacific it became interesting.

Looking at the ingredients it was apparent, or seemed so, that this was a dish influenced by an outside culture. Just as Spam is a huge part of Hawaiian culture this looked to have some of the earmark influences of the American military. Upon a little research though you will learn that this method, adobo or to stew in vinegar, is indigenous to the Philippines.

Many of the recipes for this dish all look very similar. It is one of those dishes that doesn’t sway much from the original except for little tweaks by the individual cooks who want to alter the flavor to their liking, just as was done here.

While the ribs take time to complete the time is mostly spent unattended. It really is a simple dish that comes together easily.  You can make you next cook-out amazingly simple as can be if you do this in advance.

Thai sticky rice and wok seared bok choy with oyster sauce are great with these ribs. If you want to be adventurous try replacing the ribs in this dish with fresh pork belly.

Serves 6

2 pork spare rib racks

1 1/2 cups unfiltered apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon kosher salt

5 bay leaves

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

20 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1. Place all the ingredients in a non reactive pan, large ziploc or, as I did, in a food saver vacuum bag. If you use a large pan you will need to turn the ribs every now and again making sure the ribs get a good even soak. If you get most of the air out of the ziploc you won’t need to flip the ribs but you get the idea, they need to be marinated evenly.  Place the ribs in the fridge, covered if you use the pan, and let them marinate over night.

2. The next day remove the ribs from the fridge and if you are using a pan to marinate you are ready to go. Heat he oven to 225˚F.  If you used the plastic bags remove the ribs, saving the marinade and put the ribs in a large casserole and pour the marinade over them. Cook the ribs, covered,  for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. They should be tender but not falling off the bone. Remove them from the oven and let them cool. You can refrigerate them, covered, until needed. The recipe can be done up to a day in advance at this point.

3. Heat you grill for direct heat grilling. If you are ready to serve the ribs remove them from the marinade. Strain the marinade into a small sauce pan.  Place the pan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and let the marinade reduce by half.

4. Brush off any peppercorns stuck to the ribs and any bay leaves as well. Brush the ribs with some of the marinade and continue to brush with the marinade throughout the grilling. Be sure to save a good amount of the marinade to use as a dipping sauce too. Grill the ribs until seared, crispy, lightly charred and hot, remember they are already cooked so grilling won’t take long.  Cut the ribs into rib-lets and serve.

A Hint of Allspice

When I was younger, looking for a cure to the darker moods of the seasonal doldrums, I used to lie with my back on the floor, my butt up against the lounge, and my legs in an L-shape up on the cushion. Using the chair in reverse, basically, I could lay there a long time, staring into nothingness. Well not always nothing–sometimes a spider would crawl across the ceiling and capture my attention.

I didn’t think about time, either, and whether it had any worth. You waste it on stupid things like estimating how many holes are in each ceiling panel and postulating whether every individual panel has the same amount. Sure, I could have gone about it scientifically and actually taken down two panels, counted, and multiplied–but that would have taken away the reason for wasting time by staring at the ceiling.

I’m not gonna lie and pretend things are different just because I’m older, because they aren’t. Now I just find different ways to waste time. Now, I cook. I cook like a grandma with a family reunion just a few short days away.

Even if I’m cooking, I’m not just cooking. Tonight I was somewhere in the Caribbean smelling curry. Goat curry, chicken curry, fish curry–it doesn’t matter, because it’s the spices taking me away, the curry powder with the hint of allspice. Then I realize it’s really the smell of the corner bodega that fed me more nights than not when I lived in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, off of St. Johns Place.

Suddenly I’m walking that street, stepping on crack vials that pop like popcorn under my Chuck T’s, to get to Grand Army Plaza or Flatbush Ave. or the subway station. The clothes the women wear are the color of azure oceans and golden sunsets–islands they know first-hand–not the dour black turtle necks and sullen black chinos of Manhattan, but much more beautiful and vibrant. The neighborhood might have been down but it wasn’t out. The ladies hanging out on the porch stoops and around the wrought-iron gates are laughing at stories of people and islands their kids will never really know.

Me, my hands are full with an aluminum container heavy with curry chicken, rice and peas, and fried plantains. I walk across the street taking in the jazz notes of the impromptu lives that pass in front of my eyes and into my ears. I sit down on my stoop to eat, wide eyed and smiling. I unwrap the plastic wrap to get at the roti, steamed and kept warm by the food underneath. I peel back the foil and lift the top. It is so full of food it is smashed together and flat like a cake, but the smell is the smell of my neighborhood.

I will know this neighborhood. The slap of the sapphire-blue screen door at the bodega. How the first time I order food at the back counter it is a warm ham sandwich with cheese; how over the months I’ll work my way up to a Cubano and a bag of plantain chips; and by the time I move away I’m eating goat neck curry and sucking the bones like I was raised on the stuff.

I turned down the heat on the stove to simmer. Sometimes it is about hunger and quantity, but tonight it’s about the taste, about how the vibrant spice of curry lightens my dark mood at the very moment when I want to run away and never come back.

Get your Bodega Chicken Curry Recipe here

Bodega Chicken Curry

I like to use a wok for these kinds of dishes. Besides everyone should own a good wok. By good I am not talking about those little non-stick thingies hanging from the wall at the five and dime. Those aren’t even big enough to make a half order of fried rice for a toddler.

What I am talking about is wandering down to your local restaurant supply store and heading for their wok section. They have blue carbon steel woks that are cheap, will last forever, are non-stick by nature and come in all sizes. I have seen one big enough that I could take a hot bath in it if I wanted but all we are looking for is a 16 to 18 inch wok. That is the measurement from one side of the rim to the other. It will seem huge but when you go to make fried rice for a family of four it all the sudden won’t seem big enough.

I use a wok for deep frying, making stews like this, fried rice and countless other dishes. It is the shape of the wok that makes it work so well.

In the end you can use a heavy bottomed pot, cast iron pot or enameled Dutch oven to make this. I just happen to like a wok.

I serve this with rice and peas and pot roasted collard greens. Roti is a must.

Serves 4

Island style curry powder:

1 tablespoon each, whole cumin, coriander, black pepper, anise seed, and brown mustard seeds

2 teaspoons whole allspice berries

1 tablespoon ground tumeric

1. Toast all the seeds and berries until fragrant in a skillet placed over medium heat. Remove them from the pan and let the spices cool.

Once cooled place everything including the turmeric into a spice grinder and grind to a fine grind.

For the curry:

peanut or canola oil

8 chicken drumsticks or thighs, skin on or off your call

2 yellow onions, about 3 1/2 cups, julienned

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1/4 cup fresh garlic, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly

4 to 6 tablespoons curry powder

8 to 10 fingerling potatoes, peeled and chunked

6 to 8 sprigs of thyme

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

if you want to add heat add habanero, jalapeno or whatever diced hot pepper you want.

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Place a wok or heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add enough oil to coat the pan. Add the drumsticks or thighs and brown them on all sides. Then remove them from the pan to a plate.

2. Add the onions and more oil it needed and cook until the onions begin to soften. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder (if you want heat add peppers now). Cook until fragrant.

3. Add the stock and water. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the potatoes and thyme. Season with salt and pepper

4. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover, stir now and again and simmer until tender. About 30 to 45 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

5. Serve.

Spinach and Feta Pie

Spinach and Feta Pie

Most people, it seems, remember the first time they ate spinach pie. Chances are you were at an ethnic restaurant, maybe on your first food adventure to a Greek establishment, feeling continental and worldly. Maybe you where in college and eating at the local hippie restaurant where they also introduced you to North African Peanut Stew with Tofu, bags of tamari pepitas and herbal tea.

The joint smelled of clove cigarettes, Turkish coffee and sweat. Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell tunes rained down from the speakers above and mingled with the smell of patchouli making you think it was the birth of cool. There are newspapers hanging on bamboo racks, a clothesline drying out today’s laundry, for anyone to pick up and read. People played checkers and chess and snacked on millet muffins.

It was a health food restaurant without a non-smoking section.  In the kitchen Moosewood cookbooks lined the shelf above the stove.  The food was vegetarian except on Sunday morning when all of campus lined up for a killer breakfast that included sausage and bacon. Sunday being the only day the restaurant actually made money.

Just sitting in the pine high-backs with a good cup of your daily grind and a used but unopened copy of The Sheltering Sky, lying face up on the table, made you feel smart. Lots of broody wannabes wrapped in black with their berets mimicking Kerouac, but really, all of them a breed of Caulfield.  Each with tattered composition notebooks lying open to the first page waiting for that initial first stroke of the pen.

It was an ocean of intellectual doldrums, bitter hopes and angst filled dreams. Everyone who came here was looking for more than a good meal.  They had either lost the wind in their sails or were looking for an intellectual soul mate with which to share their troubled waters, if not their sheets.

And, yet, you came back. Somehow at this place in time, the angst ridden shirt feels comfortable, it fits and you fit or maybe the spinach pie, really, was just that good.

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal

For the strudel dough:

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour dough

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons safflower oil

5 to 7 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced

two 1 x 4 inch pieces of orange zist

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

10 oz. baby spinach, washed

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons currants

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Place the flour, safflower oil and water into the bowl of a mixer and using the paddle attachment mix the ingredients until they become well combined and elastic.

2. Turn the dough out and need it till it is satiny smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. You can make the dough up to a day in advance and store it, wrapped, in the fridge. Just be sure to let it come to room temperature before shaping the dough.

3. Place a large saute pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Add the orange zest strips and let them bubble away for a few minutes. Remove the strips.

4. Add the onions and cook them until they just start to turn golden at the edges. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, remember feta is salty. Add the garlic and chili flakes and stir until fragrant.

5. Add the spinach and turn it with tongs in the pan to coat it with oil and to wilt it. Once it is mostly wilted turn it out into a clean kitchen towel that is set in a colander. Pull the edges of the towel together then place your tongs around the towel, like a hair pin, and use the tongs to twist the towel into a ball around the spinach and squeeze out the moisture.

6. Place the pan back over the heat and add a more olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and brown them. Add the grated zest and the cooked spinach to the pan and mix to combine. Remove from the heat and cool. Once cool add the feta and currants. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

7. Preheat the oven to 375 ˚F.

8. A large 18 x 24 wood cutting board works great for this but the corner of a counter or table will do as well. Cover the cutting board with a large, non terry cloth, towel or apron. Dust it with flour.

9. Flatten the dough into an 8 inch disk and dust it with flour. Work it out with you hands into a larger disk. 12 to 14 inches round. Now, hook an edge of the dough onto a corner of the board. Using the backs of your hands, tucked under the dough, start stretching and pulling, gently, the underside of the side of the dough towards the empty corners of the board. If you get a whole just pinch the dough back together and continue. You can stretch the thicker edges from time to time with your hands. Keep stretching from the underside of the dough with the backs of you hands until the dough is transparant and eggshell thin and is 18 x 18 inches.

10. Sprinkle the dough with a little bit of olive oil and using a pastry brush gently and lightly coat the dough with the oil.

11. Lift the dough into a 12 inch non-stick saute pan leaving the edges of the dough to hang over the sides. Trim off the thick edges of the dough with scissors.

13. Place the filling ingredients into the center of the dough. Grab the edges of the dough and bring then to the center of the pan. Pinch the center and twist the dough. Pinch of the dough ball in the center.

14. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until brown and crusty. Remove from the oven and let the pie rest for 20 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Grilled Marrow Bones with Chimichurri Salad

I often follow my instincts, albeit,  it is my primal instincts in this case.  I follow them nonetheless.  I can never get enough when it comes to marrow bones.  I love the fatty mouth feel of the marrow and the way the hot fat renders in my mouth.  Now,  before you go getting all crazy on me realize marrow fat has no saturated fat in it.  That said, it doesn’t mean I go around eating the stuff breakfast, lunch and dinner.  But there are healthy benefits to eating good quality fats.  They  include calcium, vitamin D, K and E absorption.  What’s my point?  There is good fat and bad fat, marrow is good fat.  So get yourself a skinny spoon and dig-in.

Serves 4

8 marrow bones, about 6 inches long and cut lengthwise in half

Penzey’s Old English Rib Roast Rub

kosher salt

1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves

1 cup oregano leaves

1 cup cilantro leaves

2 shallots, peeled and cut into very thin rings

1 or 2 garlic heads, depending on size

red wine vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

fresh ground black pepper

8 slices crusty artisanal bread

1. This step helps to remove any blood in the marrow. Place the bones into a nonreactive container. Add enough water to cover. Remove the bones and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Whisk the water to dissolve the salt. Add the bones back to the water and refrigerate six hours to overnight.

2. Remove the bones from the water and place them, marrow side up, on a sheet tray. Rub each bone, again marrow side only, with 1/2 teaspoon of the Old English Rib Roast rub. Refrigerate the bones uncovered for 2 hours. This step dries the surface of the bones so they grill better and allows the seasoning to penetrate the marrow.

3. Heat your grill for direct high heat grilling. Place both heads of garlic off to the side and let them cook while the grill is heating. Keep and eye on the garlic so the skin doesn’t char to quickly or the inside will brown to much before the cloves are roasted and tender.

4. Combine the herbs in a small bowl and set aside.

5. Brush one side of the bread with olive oil. Grill the bread until it has grill marks and a some charring. Remove the bread from the grill and season it with salt and fresh ground pepper. Set aside.

6. Grill the bones, marrow side first, until they are grill marked and hot. Don’t cook them too long or the marrow will disappear into the fire.

7. Remove the bones to a platter or individual plates. Sprinkle the herbs, to taste,  with red wine vinegar then with olive oil. Divide the salad between the plates sprinkling it over the bones. Add the shallots, then peeled grilled garlic cloves, and finally some more fresh ground pepper. Serve with toast.

A Different Sort of Education

Honey Bees Polinating Silver Queen Sweet Corn

If the number of dumb ass things you have done in life stops with the number of fingers you have you can consider yourself lucky. Since dumb ass is a matter of objectivity you may need to throw in all your toes too, even so, you should still figure yourself rightly finishing on the high side of exceptional if the number doesn’t surpass twenty.

Thus far I feel I have been lucky.

So the day I went to pick up a hive of bees and planned to put them in the back of the 4Runner I had to scratch my noggin and ask myself if I was putting myself at risk of being downgraded on the DA scale.

You have to understand I spent the better part of a day searching out a hive body full of bees that might be for sale, notice I said might. First off finding beekeepers that use a phone or those that don’t think your the census man is full time affair.

Beekeepers are borderline off-grid-aphrenics. They are skeptics at the very least or they think the world is going to end and if the world isn’t ending they are just planning for hard times. It is just their nature, a lifestyle in fact, and it is all in the oral handbook of beekeeping just ask a beekeeper.

So you have to take a Woodward and Bernstein approach when looking for a hive and start with the officers of the local beekeepers association only to have them give you a list. As you work your way around the call list they gave you you quickly learn a few things. You can never get a definitive answer from a beekeeper, you feel as though everyone is using aliases, at some point you expect to see the name Deepthroat on the call list, and they all have a perfect mid-state Hoosier accent where neck is pronounced nick and next is nixt. This is when you realize the linguistics classes you took in college weren’t for naught, even though it is some twenty years later, but that they still have no real world use.

Meanwhile you hear this lady yelling, and I mean yelling, out the front door of the house for her husband because they still have a phone with a cord that attaches to a wall and you are listening to this yelling but also thinking about linguistics and somewhat thinking your day would be complete if she only let out a hog call. A big suewwwwwwee somehow would take it over the edge.

“I don’t know where he is” she said, then instantly “Oh here he is.” like an apparition appeared before her very eyes.

“This is Garland” he says.

I go through my hole explanation of what I am looking to do only to get to the end of why I need bees, that I have a small orchard, and a huge garden, to hear Garland say he doesn’t keep bees anymore.

And I say, “but I was just talking to Orville Hegemeyer and Orville said,” I get cut short.

“How is Orville, is he doing better? I knowed he was sick for a bit. You know I don’t keep bees on a professional basis anymore I got sick a few years back, had a case of bone shaves. Sold everything but people have been calling me to get swarms, well you know if you got one hive your soon to have ten. Now that my back is better I got a few hives. This spring I am gonna put together a few hive bodies if all goes well I should have three or four to sell.”

I gave him my number, said I would buy a hive, and would wait for his call.

That spring I watched the pink and white blossoms of the apple and pear trees open, brown and drop to the ground. The asparagus came and went as did the morels. Peas and spinach were done.

The phone rang, “I got that hive body ready ‘n full of bees if’n you still want ‘em.”

“Garland I thought you forgot about me!” I said.

“No sir, this weather put things behind almost two months. You still want it.” he said.

He gave me directions.

So that is how it came to pass that I am sitting in a gravel drive with my car window cracked listening to a man with a bee veil on telling me I might want to park on the other side of the house since he really angered a bunch of bees over on this side, another reason I guess to have a door on every side of the house. So I do.

Garland lived in a small white clapboarded ranch in the middle of a small town. It was like the town was built around his seven acres though. He had it all fenced off with that woven wire fence that was big in back yards in the seventies and the house butted up to a big woods but then it was like a regular subdivision for miles surrounding him. At his house though he had peas growing up the fence and green onions planted around the fence row too. He had stuff growing everywhere. Rows and rows. He had two sheds, one for squabs the other for chickens. And bee stuff piled everywhere and hives everywhere.

He was proud of his place and gave me the grand tour as if he had been stranded on a desert island an I was the first person to come along. I enjoyed the three hour tour until finally we wound up at the hive he was wanting to sell me. Eighty bucks.

Funny thing is when I left his place I left with four live squabs, a mess of white raspberry starts and a head full of useful information just because I showed up. I figured with the raspberry starts alone I was down to twenty bucks for the hive.

The hive. I had no bee suit. I didn’t own one. I did all this stuff in such a hurry I didn’t really plan things out. Garland told me I didn’t need one that we would screen the hive entrance and that the sides were stapled to the bottom board and top. He stapled it shut with screen but bees were still flooding out of a small hole at the corner of the entrance. Seems sealing bees in royally pisses them off. I pointed this exit hole out to Garland and he shot another staple into the screen and everything seemed fine. He said besides you will want to drive with the back window down and the two front passenger windows open to keep the airflow going out the back just in case. Then he laughed which didn’t really ease my mind.

I drove with the concentration of a winning Indy race car driver on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Got home safe and sound. Got the hive safely to its new home.

Now, how to get that screen off with 30,000 angry bees behind it and me without a bee suit.

Rustic French Honey Cake

This cake is only slightly sweet. It is a cake that answers the age old question, “is it ok to put a slab of butter on my cake?” with a definitive yes. I find it great in the afternoon with an espresso and if it is a Saturday I might even attempt an armagnac, cognac or a sweet walnut liquor. If you just can’t help yourself you could add another 1/8 cup of honey.

The cake is good wrapped in plastic wrap for a couple of days. It was eaten over the course of 3 days here and, for me, only got better.

Makes 9 pieces

1 cup rye flour, fine grind

1 cup unbleached cake flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2cup whole milk

1 cup prunes, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease an 8 X 8 inch square cake pan. A parchment square in the bottom might be a good idea if you think the cake will stick to your pan. Grease the parchment too.

2. Sift the flours into a mixing bowl. Any large pieces of bran left in the strainer can be discarded. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves.

3. Add the eggs, honey, milk, and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the prunes and stir to distribute them.

4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

5. Remove it from the oven and let it cool. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve.

Okra and Sweet Corn Purloo

It is the time of year, at least for me, where I have remnants–odds and ends–coming from the garden.  A few rebellious plants refusing to be defeated by a light frost are still putting forth small amounts of tender vegetables.  The real fall plants, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts haven’t yet committed to blooming.  In my garden basket I have Silver Queen sweet corn, okra, and a few green peppers.

I make purloo, a simple but very satisfying one-pot of vegetables, rice and some sort of meat (meant more as a seasoning then an entree.)

Purloo is a dish of economy.  It is a dish of diversity.  It is a dish that tells many a family history simply by ingredients the cook chooses to use. It is of Low Country origin.  Most likely a slave dish.  It is meant to serve many and it is meant to be comforting.  It is.

Serves 6

3/4 cup onion, small dice

1/3 cup green pepper, seeded and small dice

1/3 cup celery, small dice

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 cups okra, cut lengthwise or into stars

1 cup sweet corn, such as silver queen

2 cups smoked turkey thighs, skin removed, chopped (or ham)

1 cup short grain white rice

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

 

1. Heat the oven to 400˚ F. Place a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to the pot to barely coat the bottom.

2. Once the oil is hot add the onion, pepper, and celery. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not brown.

3. Add the thyme, basil, marjoram and garlic. Saute, being careful not to brown the garlic, until they become fragrant. Add the okra, corn and turkey. Season the purloo again with salt and fresh ground pepper. Taste and adjust any seasoning necessary.

4. If the pan seems dry add a little more oil. Then add the rice and stir it around to coat the grains with the oil. Add the broth.

5. Grab the pot by the handle and give it a sharp shake so everything evens out and is distributed evenly. Bring the broth to a boil.

6. Turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and slide the whole thing into the oven. Immediately turn the heat to 325˚ F.

7. Set a timer for 35 minutes. At the end of thirty five minutes remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid and using a tasting spoon check the rice to see if it is done.

8. If it is not done, cover the pot and return it to the oven for 10 more minutes.

9. If the rice is tender, serve.

Rhubarb, Ginger, and Oatmeal Upside-Down Cake

All of my favorite things in one. Fresh ginger goes great with the rhubarb and the oatmeal cake, well, is gooey and tasty. Let it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing. I top it with frothed cream but vanilla ice cream would be great too.

Makes 8 to 10 slices

For the rhubarb:

2 1/4 cups fresh rhubarb, rinsed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

For the oatmeal cake:

1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal

3/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a mixing bowl combine the oats with the boiling water. Add the 1/4 cup of butter. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Gently melt the butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Remove it from the heat. Spread the brown sugar evenly across the bottom. In a large bowl mix the ginger and rhubarb. Spread the rhubarb evenly across the brown sugar. Set aside.

3. In the empty rhubarb bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. To the cooled oatmeal add the egg, both sugars, and vanilla. Mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined.

5. Spread the cake batter evenly across the top of the rhubarb. Place into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven when done and let cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a cake plate. Let cool for 20 minutes before slicing.