Thursday, February 16, 2006

too many cooks: a photo essay in two parts

click here for way bigger, way gooder image

E and I made some new friends! One half of a couple from Rochester, NY randomly surfed into the blog while looking for Dutch oven stuff and found me. After a few emails we decided we should get together for a Dutch oven gathering à quatre. I'm really glad that they did, not just because it was very fun cooking for an army and feeding only a platoon, but because they brought their excellent camera. All of the photos in this post were taken with it (but not as taken as I am with it). Some of the photos here serve merely as thumbnails; do yourself a favor and click the linked ones to se much larger and more detailed versions.

no larger version available We decided to get together last Saturday night and cook up a storm. To this end we all did our requisite shopping. The jalapeños above came automatically in our organic vegetable box, as did the purple onions below, but the mushrooms and habaneros (also below) were store-bought. For the rabbit boudin sausage above I hit up the fatted calf, and for the barely visible cuts of lamb on the lower grill of the smoker I needed to go to Rick's Quality Meats. It was my first time there but I'm sold.
I began the smoking process well in advance of our guests' anticipated arrival, out of respect for how long it typically takes. This time I used much more hickory than mesquite. The next time I'm in the mountains I'll pick up some apple chips and try them out. At any rate, I kept feeding the smoker to get it up to its ideal heat, so when the fellow participants arrived with a two-pound pork roast I was ready for it. Into the smoker it went as well, displacing the peppers, lamb and rabbit boudin. At this time I also added some calabrese sausage (not pictured here, but in the completed meat platter below).

no larger version available

Before I go further, I have to let you know what the menu was for the evening. In short it consisted of:
  • Rabbit and lamb stew with dumplings
  • Pork roast
  • Smoked vegetables
  • Yorkshire pudding (large and small)
  • Scones

The Scones were C's (our female friend) concoction. She had been wanting to try them in a Dutch for a while. What with E's baking expertise I figured we could make the transition to a Ductch without any wrinkles. The dumpling stew, of course, is old hat but it's great for a demonstration which is what they wanted. The Yorkshire pudding I've been making all my life but in a Dutch oven I've always used a tiny muffin tray. Not so this time, we used half a recipe to make one giant one the way it's done in England. The meats and vegetables on the smoker are just an excuse to use the smoker. It makes everything better!

Hell YES there is a larger version availableAbove are the rabbit boudins, jalapeños, and calabreses fresh out of the smoker. Below are the lamb, habaneros, onion, and gigantic fennel that I bought at the market that day:

no larger version available The fennel is propped up by a 750ml bottle of home brew that our gracious guests brought. We polished off more than a little of that that night. They had three or four different flavors, each gooder than the last.
At this point E was working inside chopping vegetables for the stew and I was outside racing to get enough coals ready for all the ovens we were going to be using, which ended up totaling four.

much larger version available one click awayThis is a fantastic photo of the 'sidecar' I improvised. It's made of an oven tray we never use, bricks, and an old wooden aquarium stand that I built years ago but has fallen into disrepair. We ended up using every cooking surface available outside, including the smoker, gas grill, hibachi and this helpful guy in the picture above.

That's it for this half of the post. Tune in soon for the rest. Aside from this one, I have several more culinary adventures to share.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

we STILL pinch you with our feet

So it's no secret: I love seafood. When I think of seafood I probably have a different conception of it than most amero-cans do. The particular foodways of this country mandate that fish must be breaded, fried, drenched in sauce, disguised, improperly described or named, exoticized and overpriced. The foodways of my most oft-visited country, Japan, are such that fish is as common as mcnuggets are here if not more so. Every time I come back from Asia I hunger for fish. Halibut, crab, salmon, eel, whatever. You may think I'm just talking about sushi. I'm not. If you've been there, you feel me. If not, try picking up the book Tsukiji: Fish Market at the Center of the World by Ted Bestor. It's a great comparison of Amero-Japonic foodways and a great introduction to the fish market itself. Most Americans grew up conceiving of fish as something frozen and covered with bread crumbs that you eat with ketchup; or in the case of our Minnesotan citizens, fried pike. >shudder<. With an introduction like that you would have to grow up thinking fish was disgusting.

If you know me you also know that I'm not a stranger to helping myself to these delicacies directly from their homes; be it angling for mountain lake trout or digging for clams on a sand spit, if there's a fresh seafood meal in it I'm there. Once camping at Patrick's Point I clambered down onto the rocks, thumbing my nose to the surf that could have killed me at any time and pried off about a dozen mussels from the rocks. We steamed them up at our campsite, added some butter, garlic, and white wine and E and I had ourselves the best damned mussels of our lives. This is a good thing about her. I had a woman in my life before that I loved (and love) but I knew it would never work out when she told me she was allergic to fish. She's still in my life but forever relegated to friend-without-privileges status. Love me, love my fish.

It's with great ardor that I take to the seas every year around this time for crab season. I own several commercial-style and hoop-style crab pots and have been pulling up near-free delicacies from Davey Jones' locker for most of my life. When the fishing sucks I'll go out on a commercial boat, as mentioned in the post below. For less than forty bucks you can come home with about 80 bucks worth of crab (and a sunburn). I plan to do this next week.

Crabbing in California nets you dungeness (so named for a famous crabbing town in Washington state). Their bodies are about as wide as your hand is long (legally they have to be 5 3/4" across) and banana-length legs. A two pound dungie (pictured above, cooked) will yield one pound at most of flaky, tasty meat. This is the best we can hope to extract from the sea around these parts; the next best crab is the red or rock crab and it is a distant, distant second.

Not so the king crab. These huge bastards (up to 2m in length and 16kg in weight) truly are the kings of the crab world, both in size and taste. I have seen photos from Japan (in the Guinness book) of crabs with 11ft spans but these are truly leviathans and not to be considered normal. Lately I have been craving the meat of these crabs like mad. Our local dim sum shops have started carrying them in their tanks and they drive me crazy every time I see them. I want to snap off a leg and run screaming from the restaurant, not stopping till I get home, throw it into a pot and boil it, consume its flesh, then render its exoskeleton into stock. You can see I've thought this out. Penned every detail into my consciousness. I'm ready to pounce.

Why the hell don't I just go and buy one, you ask? We can't even get our local guys to quote us a price. No kidding. Yuet Foo, our favorite Chinese seafood restaurant, says they get a few in each year on special order but won't quote a price. They say they can't get one for less than 13 pounds. I say the more the merrier! What's a guy to do? When I go crabbing next week and pull up my pots full of comparatively tiny cangrejos I'll probably weep.

So, any info on suppliers in this area would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

put this in your smoker it

Hey everyone;

I just got a Brinkmann smoker a few weeks ago and have been trying it out. The first thing I cooked in it was rack of lamb. It was enough to sell me on the smokey flavor immediately. I cooked it really slow and a lot of the flavor seeped in. I have tried larger cuts of meat but if you don't want to be all day/evening/night about it, you need to use more heat. So far I've done a pork loin and boneless leg of lamb. A coupla days ago I slow smoked a rack of baby back ribs and some pork belly. Pork belly is what we usually call bacon, but with the skin on and not sliced. I removed the skin (in hindsight, should have made chicharrones with it) and sliced the belly into bacon-sized strips. It was excellent.

In the vegetarian department I have smoked whole onions and jalapeños. The next thing I'm going to try is habaneros. The 'peños were so hot after being smoked as to be almost inedible, even to E's mom who is a world class pepper connoisseuse. Can't wait to see what she thinks of these 'neros.