Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mr. Pibil

I'm going to go ahead and say that the Cochinita Pibil recipe in the May 2015 issue of "Saveur" makes some of the best tacos I've had in my own home. The recipe calls for cooking the pork wrapped in banana leaves. We had none and the pork turned out fantastic.  I cooked it on the stovetop in a Dutch oven with a layer of foil beneath the lid. 

It snowed an inch in 15 minutes as it grew dark. Bubb hauled over a pan of super cheese enchiladas. We drank mezcal and Rose', had a swell time and managed " to drive the cold winter away" for another long night.  

Party on, folks.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Achiote

In preparation for this evening's Christmas feast with the neighbor, I made some achiote paste last night.  Grinding annatto seeds, cumin, allspice and peppercorns, sifting the resulting powder and re-grinding the fines yields a fragrant orange dust.  When mixed with a little water, you end up with a cakey paste that resembles a Martian mud pie.  This will get mixed with smashed garlic, citrus juice, vinegar and salt, poured over pork shoulder and cooked slow and low in a Dutch oven.  Traditionally the pork would be wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over hot stones in a pit.  Lacking both banana leaves and a backyard roasting pit, we'll not know how Cochinita Pibil tacos are supposed to taste.  For that we'll have to build an oven once the ground thaws- or travel to the Yucatan to see how it's really done.  Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Easy Cake

Cakes elude me, but sometimes nothing else will do.  That's why I reach for the iron skillet when I have a craving and make an easy upside down cake.  It's hard to mess them up and I love how pretty much any ripe fruit is fair game for topping.  I used pears here.  It can be a good way to salvage fruit that is getting close to being over-ripe.  They may not look professional, unless you get fussy.  (Or unless you really know what you're doing). But they always taste damn good.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Picnic roast

The good folks in north Idaho kindly raised us another pig.  The fire season was such that there was some concern these critters would wind up as bacon well before they made it to the butcher.  Luckily, this was not their fate.  

We're making pulled pork for the holiday out of this 6 pound picnic shoulder.  We rubbed it with cumin, coriander, black pepper, mustard powder, chile powder, salt and brown sugar and let it rest half a day before roasting it for 4 hours in a 300 degree oven.  It'll be decent with a bit of sauce and slaw.

Field greens

We went out to the farm today and gleaned some of the stunted, frosted-over greens from the field: tatsoi, arugula, dill, mizuna.  They made for a spicy, chewy salad that went perfect with a gooey grilled cheese.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In the stock pot

I love making stock- to have the pot bubbling away on a quiet weekend day.  It fills the house with fragrance and much needed moisture.  Some pork bones from the freezer, veggies, aromatics, whatever happens to be around.  The finished product usually goes in the freezer to be used weeks later.  Invariably I forget to thaw it out ahead of time and end up having to wait while it bobs in a hot water bath.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fratesi Bros.

Tired of gas stations that only serve corn dogs and jojos?  

Soft shelled crab sammy with remoulade?  That's my kind of filling station. Fratesi Brothers sits along hwy 82 in the Mississippi Delta about midway between Greenville and Indianola.  It's a busy place on a Saturday.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kegging Cream

We kegged 10 gallons of cream ale today.  The weather was excellent.  One more week and it should be ready to drink.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Log o' meat

Pork hock, shoulder, chicken livers and herbs put to good use in this country pate'.  We ground everything but the braised hock which provided a nice textural chew in the loaf.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

February 2014, Greenwood, MS to Texarkana

In the winter of 2014 we flew into Dallas, rented a car and drove to Charleston, SC and back.  We spent most of our time in and around the Georgia and South Carolina sea islands where the food is fantastic, the cemeteries are ancient and the lowcountry salt marshes are gold in the winter and full of birds.  

On the way back to Dallas, we took Highway 82 through the Mississippi Delta and spent the night in one-time cotton capital Greenwood, MS.  Located on the banks of the Yazoo and the Tallahatchie, Greenwood was a major hub of cotton transport before and after the Civil War. Greenwood is looking rough these days, but the crumbling brick buildings downtown allude to past prosperity.  

Greenwood is home to Lusco's, the Italian grocery-turned-restaurant famous for its broiled pompano, homemade hooch and private booths for tipplers during prohibition.  Lusco's was booked so we beat it across the old square to the Crystal Grill, a place similarly renowned for its seafood.  

A guy from Greenwood I talked with randomly on the phone at work told me he preferred the food at the Crystal.  I had the crab and shrimp Newburg which was cold and gummy and needed another 15 minutes in the oven. The rolls were good.  

The next day was misty and after a fruitless attempt to find some breakfast in downtown Greenwood we drove out Money Rd. to Little Trinity Baptist Church where a sprawling pecan tree most likely shelters the bones of Robert Johnson among its roots.  We drove over to Sunflower County in search of the grave of Charley Patton outside the tiny village of Holly Ridge.  It had rained through the evening and turned the fields to an impossibly sticky beige gumbo.  A "ridge" in the Mississippi Delta country is a strip of silt that is raised slightly above the flood plain and which was prime real estate for cotton planters as the land was cleared after the Civil War.  There is nothing particularly ridgey about the flat plain surrounding Holly Ridge.  

We saw the sparse cemetery on our second pass through town.  The bare, open field sits next to an old gin.   There was standing water everywhere and mounds of exposed mud.  It looked a little like someone had gotten a tractor stuck among the graves.  A few guys sat in front of a generic house across the street, conjunto blaring.  Thousands of snow geese were grazing in tilled fields on the other side of a hedgerow.  As we approached Patton's grave they lifted and began to circle.  We drank from a little bottle of Beam and toasted Charley.  And a crop plane dropped low and skimmed a nearby field.

We stopped at the Fratesi Brothers station and grocery to fuel up.  It was lunchtime on Saturday and the counter was swarmed with leisurely weekenders.  We got sloppy ham po boys with shredded iceberg and enough mayo to paint a Goodyear blimp.  A lot of the delta gas stations have great food.

We drove through bayous and over the river to Lake Village, Arkansas where we scoped out Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales and Pies, a small building in the otherwise deserted downtown section.  There were two couples inside waiting for Rhoda Adams to arrive with her mini-van loaded with fresh pies.  They had just run a marathon and had a keen and ravenous look.  While we also waited for Rhoda to show, we ordered a half dozen hot tamales which were fished out of a steaming 10 gallon pot by the fellow working the counter.  We were still digesting our po boys so we got them to go.  

When Rhoda showed up, we all ambled out and she cheerfully slid open the side door.  There were gasps as a dozen still warm pies were revealed.  The couples snatched up something like 4 whole pies, coconut cream, sweet potato, pecan.  They seemed to know what they were doing.  We didn't have time to eat a whole pie and chose a mini pecan and a tiny sweet potato.  Rhoda looked at us skeptically and said "now come on.  You need more than that.  These just came out of the oven 45 minutes ago."  We explained that we had to get on a plane the next day and simply could not eat a whole pie between the two of us in 15 hours.  Stupid move, on our part.  The pies were beautiful, glistening, inviting.  We grabbed one more of each.  That turned out to be great idea.  

We said our thanks and as we were about to leave, Rhoda looked at us and said "Come on, bring it in," opening her arms wide.  We both moved in for a three way hug.  "God bless you'" she said.  

We immediately devoured a spicy sweet potato pie and were floored.  I've never loved pecan pie but Rhoda's was of a different order somehow capturing more of the rich, buttery essence of the nut.  They were packed with pecan crunch, with none of the corn syrup gel that often plagues the genre.  We ate a couple tamales later for a snack in a gas station parking lot and these were likewise fabulous.

We finished out the evening at an old cafeteria in Texarkana, sides of veggie and rolls.  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Low alcohol summer cocktail

With temps in the low 100s this weekend and fire season barreling down upon us, a light, refreshing drink is in order to celebrate the season.  We hit upon a winner yesterday in the cocktail kitchen.  It uses some of the summer's fresh produce, mezcal and Aperol, the wonderful Italian bitter orange aperitif.  Mezcal and Aperol get along quite well together in a glass.

Muddle 2 slices of cucumber, a quarter lemon or lime, a few leaves of basil and two or more pitted cherries in the bottom of a tall glass.  Add 1 ounce mezcal (I used a mid-shelf espadin, no reason to use that $80 bottle as the complexity of the maguey will just be lost in this drink), and 2 ounces of Aperol.  Stir to combine.  Fill the glass with ice and top off with sparking water of your choice.  Give it a stir and go stand in the sprinkler.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Goat tacos for the Preakness Stakes

For the New Year in 2014, we slaughtered two goats on the in-laws' homestead in Idaho.  We blindfolded them and fed them handfuls of corn and shot them in the back of the skull.  When they collapsed, we cut their throats and held them until they stopped moving.  It was harrowing, an experience I recommend for any meat-eater.  One minute you have trusting, bleating creatures and the next you are upon them, cutting off their breath while they shiver and die.  Nothing to glorify there.  Just a base act of brutality, death for the sake of life.  It caused me to lose my appetite and to look askance at the food-scene's beast-eating indulgence, chefs posing with dead pigs, tattoos of butchered yearlings- I'm as guilty of it as the next meat-lover.  The whole defiant glorification of dead muscle and guts currently en vogue.  I believe in well-raised animal protein as a source of sustenance and embrace the hard fact of killing as a bitter foundation for life.  But I don't take it lightly.  

Breaking down this lovely goat

Almost exclusively, I have turned the goat I killed into birria for tacos.  Today I steamed the last of it for 3.5 hours in a bottle of astringent peppercorn porter I made in 2013.  It's just so easy.  After experimenting with marinating in aromatic chile pastes, I decided I prefer simply salting the goat and letting it rest overnight.  Then I steam it over a bottle of beer in a Dutch oven at 275 degrees for 3.5-4 hours.  

Goat shoulder

Today, for the Preakness Stakes, I made some red onion pickles, a red salsa out of arbol chiles and a green sauce out of jalapeños, roasted poblanos, anaheims and tomatillos.  We rolled the rich, dark meat in corn tortillas with the sauces and washed the tacos down with bourbon, rye and cold Modelos.  

Thanks be to the goat!  Let it rain, and go American Pharaoh! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In the underbrush

Creeping.  Hands and knees on spongy moss, deep in the needle litter where the field meets the trees.  Next to a pile of old moose pellets they are sprouting.  Small.  Fresh.  New, but with battered tips from pushing up through the duff.

Not much relieves tension as reliably as a day alone in the underbrush.  Foraging.  Leaned against a trunk by a little stream.  Thoughts fueled by green tea of the season, lively and quick.

Morels are early this year and somewhat scarce.  We need rain badly.  Last year, I harvested this spot when the elderberries were blooming.  Now they are barely leafed-out.  

This monster falsie is an ideal exhibit of some of the differences between true and false morels.  The comparison is really very slight.  

I was lucky to find enough for a meal and then I climbed out of the moist bottom up a dry gulch through sticks and brush.  Hopping downed logs.  Sweating.  I gained a ridge top and looped around to meet my car.  I lost track of time, which is not something that happens often these days.

The spoils

I dry-fried them, added a little butter and a little wine.  A meager clove of garlic and a touch of chopped parsley.  Put them on little toasts and broiled them with a pinch of parmigiano.  They were perfect.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Derby Day

Oh so sweet
Bourbon-ginger cake
Made by Z
For the Pharaoh 
and for us.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Late night soju and seafood pancake

There is something heavy metal about Sik Gaek on Roosevelt Ave. in Queens.  There is an elbow to the eye socket quality.  The music is loud and the kitchen puts out an amazing pancake festooned with sweet shrimp and scallion and perhaps crab or lobster or briney mollusk.  The place is dark and there are polaroids of customers and sharpie testimonials all over the wood walls.  The famous dish is a seafood hot pot the size of an oil drum into which you dump gobs of living invertebrates that quiver and die and release their sweet sea juice into the boiling broth.  We opted for pancakes and some thick cut pork belly that was hefty and chewy instead.  We also abstained from the soju soaked watermelon which sends so many youngsters to the curb on Friday and Saturday nights to divest themselves of their hot pot freight.  We had already had our fill of drink.  I bought a shirt that smelled like a chip shop and wore it proudly days later without washing it.  It was like being wrapped in a 2 day old fried oyster robe.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Breakfast Machine

My brother lives in Queens and we visited in January.  One of the many delights of NYC, that hard city, was getting a wad of Russ and Daughters smoked fish to eat on black rye in the mornings before launching into museum oblivion.  

That's right. Bleary-eyed after a night blasted by the nearby thundering of the 7 train and the neighbor's small concert of all-night anime, what could be better than a cup of nespresso and a tender slab of nova lox or smoked sable on a dense plank of black bread?  Maybe a slice of mortadella (acquired elsewhere) just to make things sufficiently un-kosher. You can just get anything in New York City even while you are dying from the rent and the f-ing noise.  It's beautiful to down a bowl of the best noodles outside of Shaanxi and then go home and be unable to sleep because of the noise.  

Earplugs are no match for the 7, but, man, the food is phenomenal.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


I spent a lovely afternoon in Discovery Park last weekend in Seattle and was surprised to see these babies flourishing so early.  I think it's probably early even by north Washington standards.  I love the savory, almost meaty flavor of stir fried or simmered nettles.  There is a local patch we have been harvesting from for years. But it will be a month and a half before they are sprouting there and I was tempted to pick some last weekend.  I don't think they would have fared well on the drive back to MT.  Plus I had no gloves and gone are the days when we used to harvest them for hours with naked hands in the throes of an embarrassing idyll.  We thought we should allow the plants to envenomate us as a means of deepening our relationship with those nutritive leaves.  This would lead to numbness in parts of our hands that sometimes lasted up to 2 weeks.  

It seems the plant is coming into its own as a popular food source.  In a recent food magazine I saw that someone has started a web-order nettle operation.  Aside from parts of the desert Southwest, it is hard to think of areas of the U.S. where you can't find some species of wild nettles growing.  I was impressed by the abundance in Seattle.  It's a bit more challenging to find a good patch in arid MT.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Paseo, it's a mess

What the hell is that?  It's a sandwich.  Really, it is.  One of the sloppiest ever.  Grilled and roasted skin-on chicken thighs, inch wide ribbons of roasted onions, cilantro, aoli, jalapeños and a giant leaf of romaine on a chewy toasted baguette.  The bread cannot contain the heap of food.  From Paseo on Freemont Ave. in Seattle.  There was an hour wait in line outside in the sun.  I ate this while sitting on a stump in a park today, trying in vain to protect my clothes from stains.  The magnolias, forsythias and plums in ridiculous splendor.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Meat salad

There is a great recipe for peppercorn encrusted short ribs in last month's issue of Saveur.  It is a multi-day affair that involves brining the shorties, packing them in peppercorn paste, chilling them, slow roasting them, searing them and then crisping them in a hot oven.  The meat gets served with thin-sliced radish, lemon, olives, greenery (I used radish tops, kale shreds, celery leaves and a bit of dill), and an anchovy vinaigrette made from colatura, Italian barrel-aged anchovy juice (I used straight up anchovy paste).  It is a lovely combo and the ribs taste like essence of pastrami.  I thought the peppercorn crust might completely fall off during the roasting/searing/crisping rigmarole.  You do lose a lot of the pepper, and that's ok, because a lot stays intact and it makes for a pungent meal.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The high art of excess

We'd walked well beyond Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon by the time we realized we were lost.  I was panicked.  We could not show up late and lose our place at table.

We'd walked right past the restaurant, apparently.  And I proceeded to walk past it again, in the grips of mounting anxiety that we were somehow in the wrong part of Montreal altogether.  I'd written down the wrong address or we had exited the subway tunnel miles from our destination.  That constant fine snow was falling and adding imperceptibly to the blue mash of slush on the sidewalks.  They don't shovel their sidewalks in Montreal, and I loved this about the city.  In Missoula, you get treated like a puppy-killer for not shoveling in front of your place after even the most insubstantial snowfall.  At 5 AM you can hear the dutiful scraping of shovels down the block.  God forbid you can't make it out until 10.  And the result of this game of "I'm a better neighbor than you"?  The fluffy snow gets honed down by the shovel blade to a few millimeters of hard packed ice.  A louge for neighbors to break their asses upon.

In Montreal, they just let it pile up.  Fuck it, it's never going to stop snowing.  What's the point?  It's snow.  People can handle it.  It builds up, hundreds of feet trudge over it and mash it to a grey-blue paste.  Sure, it's lots of work and you need boots, but at least you have traction.  

It was Bee, of course, who spotted the place on our third pass.  Martin Picard's fat-soaked shrine of excess, glowing like a hearth in the miserable night.

I'm not sure where else you can get a whole pig's head roasted in duck fat with a lobster exploding out of its mouth.  Though all the plates served up at PDC tend to be over-the-top, not all are as extreme as the "pig's head for two."  A dish so outside the sphere of common sense and, dare I say, decency, begs the question:  "is this really necessary?"  I think Bee, who was not as excited as I to spend an evening at PDC, was a bit more concerned with this question at the outset.  Our experience there was so comforting and joyful that the place made believers out of us both by the end of the evening.

Of course it's not necessary, like so much in human life that comforts us in our weakness or helps us transcend the bare facticity of a "short life of trouble."  While a bowl of gruel satisfies hunger, a grilled cheese filled with black truffles and goat cheese then soaked in maple syrup and butter transforms your mouth into a vaulted expanse strewn with auroras of sweet creaminess and damp wafts of earth.  

I definitely can't afford to sup like that often (even though PDC prices are quite reasonable), but every now and then it stretches one's sense of the possibilities in the kitchen and can make one a more thoughtful and inventive cook.  While a quiet room with a cushion and blank walls may do the trick when one is in need of a place for focus and devotion, an hour in Notre-Dame puts the strivings of the human heart in a whole new perspective.  

In its slant toward the heavy and extreme, the food at PDC is no anomaly on the Montreal food scene.  The preposterous winter weather is a backdrop against which it is easy to see how a cuisine of such baroque proportions might have developed.  It's not just a French or English response to the harsh conditions of the frontier.  Adam Leith Gollner's fantastic essay on the history of gluttony in Quebec (Lucky Peach #11) traces the tendency to overstuff back to the indigenous people of the region and their feasts celebrating the available bounty.  

In addition to our grilled cheese sandwich, we ate slices of nutty housemade prosciutto (as good as any Italian product I have tried).

There was also a creamy pot of fresh gnocchi with sausage and, of course, the famous PDC poutine topped with lobes of silky foie gras.

We had a couple glasses of the crisp house beer and topped everything off with coffee and small glasses of Amaro Montenegro.  The service was impeccable and kind.  One of the staff dribbled wine on a customer and immediately grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured shots which the two drank together, a particularly tactful apology if I've ever seen one.  The place was warm, gently lit.  The staff was drinking the whole time.  Not hiding it.  The kitchen was raucous, but no one was sloppy.  Good cheer prevailed.  Even the drunk American at the bar who was quite sloppy was embraced with tolerance and warmth.  It was one of the best times I have ever had in a restaurant, more of an event than a meal.  We were full, but not sick.  We left feeling comfortable, bolstered against the cold and the long night.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Schwartz's on the train

This log of smoked meat encased in three slices of rye was excellent train fare on the way down to NYC from Montreal.  The meat was fatty and encrusted with spices and delicious even though cold and congealed from its overnight in the fridge.  We regretted not devouring one sliced hot and fresh while postholing up Mt. Royal.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Charred summer vegetables with fried chicken thighs

Looking for some way to use the glut of food coming out of the late summer garden (including elephantine summer squash), I came upon this recipe in "Fried & True," Lee Brian Schrager's recent paean to America's deep fried bird. The recipe has four main components: a yogurt/Sriracha marinade for the chicken, a rice flour and cake flour dredge that produces a thick, crunchy fried crust, a honey/vinegar glaze, and fresh vegetables charred in a skillet. The recipe calls for okra, tomatoes and onions, but I used what was available: fresh corn cut from the cob, summer squash, onion and tomato.

You'll want some time to make this. It's more suited to a lazy Sunday afternoon in the kitchen than a fraught weeknight at the stove.

For the marinade:
2 cups whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup Sriracha
1 tsp kosher salt
8 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs pounded 1/4 inch thick

Lay the thighs flat on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap or paper towel. Pound with medium force until they are a uniform 1/4 inch thickness. Place thighs in a bowl or Pyrex storage container. Mix yogurt, Sriracha and salt and pour over pounded thighs. Mix with hands to make sure all surfaces of chicken are well-coated in marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 2-6 hours. 

For the dredge:
2 cups rice flour
2 cups cake flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Canola or peanut oil for frying (I used about a quart of canola in a 12 inch cast iron skillet. I found that this recipe makes enough dredge for a double batch of chicken, so I saved half for a later date.)

Mix dry ingredients well in a bowl or deep-rimmed baking dish. When chicken is finished marinating, remove and shake off some excess marinade.  The chicken will be pretty gloopy with the yogurt.  That's good.  You don't want to scrape it all off. Dredge chicken in the dry ingredients until it is well coated on all surfaces.

For the glaze:
1 cup sherry vinegar (I used good red wine vinegar)
1 cup honey
1 medium jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and minced

Bring all three to a boil in a medium saucepan, reduce heat and simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon- about 10 minutes. The glaze will thicken substantially as it cools.

Fry the chicken:
Heat oil to 325 degrees (use a candy thermometer).  (I set my burner midway between medium-high and high).  Use tongs to place thighs in oil, careful not to crowd chicken. I fried the thighs in two batches til crisp and browned, about ten minutes, flipping halfway through.   Allow chicken to rest on paper towels for a few minutes while you char the vegetables.

For the vegetables:
1 large summer squash cut into rings or wedges
1 large yellow onion sliced into thick rings
4 medium tomatoes of any sort
Corn cut from 4 cobs
2 Tbs good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a large iron skillet on high without oil, add vegetables and cook until lightly charred, stirring often- 4 to 5 minutes. Toss vegetables in oil, salt and pepper.

We sauteed some collards with chopped onion, oil and a bit of wine vinegar- just to have something green on the side.

Place a mound of charred veggies on a plate, set a fried thigh on top and drizzle with glaze to taste. Chow down. Leftover thighs make fabulous, next-day sandwiches on toasted bread or bun with mayo, preserves, pickles, more Sriracha.