Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's for dinner: Beef tenderloin roasted in salt crust

Have to make room in the freezer for all that sausage, so I pulled out a small (1lb) beef tenderloin roast I cut the last time we bought a whole tenderloin. I had leftover egg whites from making frozen custard and pastry cream, and we’d bought a big bag of table salt to use to try out salt crust roasting. So tonight seemed like a good time to try it.

I had seasoned the beef with green and pink peppercorns before I froze it. So I just mixed the egg whites with 2 pounds of salt, then made a1/2” deep base layer on a foil-covered sheet pan. Beef goes on top of that, insert a probe thermometer so I know for sure when it’s done (looking for 125 degrees). Spooning the salt over the top and sides was like working with wet sand, and went very smoothly. Put into the oven on 450 degree convection roast. Also put in a foil pouch of new potatoes with just salt, butter, and parsley and thawed out some gold and pink beets I’d roasted and put away last week. Dinner will be late (Dave worked today, and worked late) but good.

The Great Grind: Italian Sausage

This sausage project started because of Dave’s monthly card game with his buddies. He hosted it a few weeks ago and I made them Italian sausages with peppers and onions for dinner, and had mixed the peppers and onions into a homemade tomato sauce. Dave wanted more, he loved it. And we’ve been getting piles of bell peppers in our CSA basket, I can’t eat them, and we needed a way to not waste them. This week I made more than a gallon of homemade marinara with roasted peppers and onions, which has gone into freezer containers. It just seemed like it would be fun to make our own sausage for it, especially since I have a lot of fresh sage right now.

We then picked up a whole boneless pork butt, this one was a little smaller than I usually get, only ten pounds. Certainly enough for plenty of sausage, though! I started making sausages after I took a class at Culinary Communion a couple of years ago. Then I bought “Charcuterie” by Ruhlman and Polcyn, a great reference book for so many things preserved. I made their Italian sausage recipe the first time, probably two years ago. Since then I have tuned the seasonings and method, doing my usual literature surveys in my collection and online. And before anyone emails me about this, yes, I know that “true” Italian sausage doesn’t have paprika, parsley, and anise seed, at least to the purists. However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with improving flavor. I use a heavy-duty KitchenAid mixer for this, with grinder and sausage stuffer attachments. You can use a hand grinder, too. If you use ground pork from your butcher, be sure to beat the seasoned pork to develop the myocin as described in the first paragraph of the recipe – your results will be so much better, even if you are only making a breakfast sausage with salt, sage, and pepper.

Shelly’s Italian-style Sausage

  • Three pounds of pork butt, cut into ½” dice (do not trim fat off!)
  • ½ t anise seed
  • 1 ½ t black peppercorns
  • 4 t fennel seed
  • 4 t salt
  • 1 T minced fresh sage (or 1 t dried)
  • 2 t hot paprika
  • 2 t sweet paprika
  • 2 T puréed fresh garlic
  • 1 ½ T chopped parsley
  • 2 oz dry red wine
  • About 5 feet of hog or artificial casings, if you want sausage links, cut into 3- to 4-foot lengths

Grind anise and peppercorns together, then add the fennel seed and crush it but don’t grind it to a powder. I use a mortar and pestle for this but can be done in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, of course. Add all ingredients to the pork and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate overnight. Next day, run the pork through a grinder with the medium plate. Grind it into a bowl set in another bowl filled with ice. It is important to keep the fat cold, if it melts your sausage will have a curdled texture and the fat will all drain away when you cook it, leaving it dry and with a lot less flavor. Fry about an ounce and taste to check for seasonings. Adjust as needed. Then either in one big bowl with your hands or a wooden spoon, or in batches in a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the meat until you see it get sticky and it looks like threads are developing in it. This process develops a protein in the meat called myocin, and it’s what makes sausage more than just some seasoned ground meat. The myocin gives the sausage a smoother texture and helps it hold together instead of being crumbly. Do not skip this step if you want really good sausage! Put the sausage back into the refrigerator for an hour or so until it is cold again.

In the meantime, if you are making links prepare the casings according to the instructions on the package. If there are no instructions, soak natural casings in cold water for about an hour until they are soft, then run water through the casings. Set up your sausage grinder with a stuffing tube, great the outside of the tube, and feed a couple of the lengths of casing onto it. Pull the casing until you have about 2 inches hanging off of the end of the stuffing tube. Do not tie this off. Cut yourself twice as many 4” pieces of kitchen twine as you have pieces of casing. Put a big sheet pan under the stuffing tube and rub about a tablespoon of water across this. The water makes the sausage slide easily on the pan while it rests as it comes off the stuffer. Start feeding the pork into your stuffer, and stop as soon as the meat begins to appear in the casing. With your fingers, smooth the casing over the meat and push out any air from the end of the casing. Then tie off the end of the casing next to the meat. Continue to feed pork into the stuffer, making sure the casing is evenly filled but not stretched as tight as it will go – you’ll need a little bit of give to twist the links. The sausage will be about 1 ¼” in diameter as it comes off the stuffing tube. When you can see that you have about two inches of casing left on the tube, stop feeding and gently ease the end of the sausage off the tube. While the sausage sits on the sheet pan, smooth out any uneven spots, and then squeeze all the air out of the open end of the casing and then tie it off with one of your pieces of kitchen twine. Continue with the rest of the pork and the casings.

To twist the sausage into links, begin from the left end of the sausage. Move your left hand in six inches (or as long as you want your links) in from one end, and place your right hand the same distance farther in on the sausage. Squeeze with your thumb and forefinger on both hands to divide the sausage, then grasp the link that is between your hands and twist it toward you two times. Move your left hand six inches in from the rightmost twist, and your right hand six inches to the right of your left hand. Once again squeeze your thumbs and forefingers together to divide the sausage, but this time twist the link away from you two time. Repeat this process, twisting toward you the next time and away from you the time after that.

Of course, you can just form the sausage into logs, wrap them in plastic and chill, then freeze them and slice off what you need in patties, or make patties and freeze them on a sheet pan then put into freezer bags.

Store the sausage in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. The sausage will keep about three days refrigerated or a month or two frozen. When you cook them, cook to an internal temperature of about 160-165 degrees. I put them in a skillet with six ounces of water, and cover to steam them gently for about 15 minutes, then uncover and brown them or put them on a grill.

(recipe copyright 2008, Vivian R. Johnsen)

Rum balls, in advance of the holiday season

These things last forever. Seriously, I've kept them on a shelf in a sealed container for two years and they were still great. And they don't taste like raisins, good thing since I'm not wild about raisins. The original version of this came from my ex-mother-in-law, Doris. I've tweaked it since then, but still want to give her credit as I think this recipe has been passed down for several generations.
  • 2 C raisins
  • 2 C walnuts or pecans
  • 1 lb vanilla wafers
  • 2 C powdered sugar
  • 2 T cocoa
  • 3/4 C rum or bourbon, or other flavorful liquor
  • 1/3 C light corn syrup
  • More powdered sugar, for coating

Grind together raisins, nuts and cookies. Mix in remaining ingredients. Roll into 1" balls and roll in additional powdered sugar. Makes dozens.

Notes: I put half the raisins, half the nuts, and half the cookies into my food processor and grind them together then repeat with the rest. Pour everything into a big big bowl, it will make it a lot easier to get your hands or a big wooden spoon in to mix everything together. Sometimes (okay, most times) I use more liquor than called for. I also double the cocoa sometimes, which would make a lot of sense if you are using a flavored liquor like Sabra where you want to bring out the chocolate flavor. Also if you are using Sabra, you could use a couple of tablespoons of finely grated orange rind.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Today's cooking projects: corned beef hash and pepper and onion marinara

Once again, I am consumed by a request from my better half. Wants Italian sausages and a marinara with peppers and onions. Today I am taking care of the sauce. Giant can of diced tomatoes in juice. Two cans of organic tomato paste. Two giant yellow onions, ½” sliced Lyonnaise-style (pole to pole). One quart of frozen roasted assorted peppers, ½” slices. Five cups of diced fresh bell peppers. (Why five cups? Because that’s what I need to use up!) Assorted dried Italian herbs, fresh rosemary and fresh sage. Three tablespoons of chopped garlic. Chop lots more garlic because I’m making ten pounds of sausage tomorrow, but that’s another story. I have a silicone trivet that I use to roll the garlic cloves in, takes the skin right off. Then I use a coarse Microplane to process the garlic, five minutes or so and I have a big pile of chopped garlic. Lots of fresh ground black pepper. Crushed red pepper. Saute onions in olive oil, add peppers and garlic, stir to coat, toss in everything else. Simmer all afternoon. It’s tasting good – even to me, and I have a serious dislike of, as well as an allergy to, bell peppers.

Dinner tonight will be corned beef hash. The other day I pulled the last chunk of homemade corned beef out of the freezer. I was contemplating the cooking method when I realized that the FoodSaver vacuum bag it was in would be a wonderful cooking container for a long slow trip through the oven. So I threw it in the oven at 200 degrees overnight. No muss, no fuss. Then I refrigerated it in its juices. Today I will dice up the corned beef and some red potatoes, steam the potatoes to parcook them, and then fry up the whole mess with some onions. A little horseradish on the side, some boiled turnip greens or maybe arugula, and a real comfort-food dinner for us. Guess we’ll have beer or iced tea to drink, can’t imagine the wine I’d pair with this one. I’ll keep back some of the corned beef and slice enough for a couple of Reuben sandwiches, and freeze it for another day. I will have to set aside some time to cure some more corned beef sometime. It’s been really good.

Now, I just have to figure out where to keep more than a gallon of marinara…

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Coconut cream pie outcome

Well, the crust with the coconut was certainly a challenge, and the filling is a little time-intensive, but the result is quite nice, as you can see. The toasted coconut flakes and white chocolate shavings make a very nice finish.

So, here’s the overall recipe with my tweaks and lessons learned. The garnish is straight from the triple coconut cream pie that Tom Douglas’ restaurants serve around the Seattle downtown area.

Crust: 9” baked deep dish pie crust, optionally add 2 T of sweetened flake coconut to the pastry dough 1 oz white chocolate, melted with 1 t heavy cream (also optional)

Spoon melted white chocolate into cooled pie crust, brushing it up the sides of the crust. Set aside to harden.

Coconut custard: ¼ C sugar 3 T cornstarch ¼ t salt 2 C whole milk 2 T butter 2 egg yolks 1 t vanilla ¾ C sweetened flaked coconut

Whisk sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan or in the top of a double boiler. Whisk in milk, add butter, and heat over medium heat, stirring or whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. Whisk egg yolks until blended. Ladle about a cup of the thickened mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan, mixing thoroughly. Cook stirring constantly, until thickened again. Set aside to cool, stir in vanilla and coconut, then refrigerate.

Fill crust with custard. Top pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream and garnish with toasted unsweetened coconut flakes and white chocolate curls.

Recipe copyright 2008, Vivian R. Johnsen

More dessert fun: Frozen custard

Yes, I am very good to my husband. He mentions he'd like ice cream, I make some. In between tasks with the coconut cream pie, I decided to try making some frozen custard. Now, I can only imagine what the "real thing" tastes like, as that seems to be an East Coast product that I've not encountered. But hey, I can make a custard. In fact, I can make one up:

3 cups whole milk 3/4 cup of sugar, divided 1/2 vanilla bean, split 1/4 t salt Four egg yolks 1 T cornstarch

Mix the milk with 1/2 cup sugar, the salt, and the vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Slowly bring to just below a simmer, stirring occasionally. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and the cornstarch. When the milk is hot, whisk about a cup of it gradually into the egg yolks (this is called tempering and will keep your egg yolks from scrambling). Pour the egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Do not boil it. I recommend you use a silicone spatula to stir will so you can thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan. If you do get the custard too hot, it may curdle. But since you are going to freeze it, this really isn't a dreadful problem.

Strain the thickened custard into a container and cool, then refrigerate it at least eight hours or overnight. If you skip this step your final product won't be as creamy. Freeze the custard according to the instructions with your ice cream maker. When the ice cream maker is done, pack the soft custard into a container and put it into the freezer to finish hardening. When you're ready to serve it, put it into the fridge for about 15 minutes so it can soften just a bit.

If frozen custard doesn't taste like this, it should.

(Recipe copyright 2008, V. R. Johnsen)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's for dessert: Coconut cream pie

A couple of weeks ago I was channel surfing on a Saturday and ran across Tom Douglas, a well-known local chef, making his signature triple-coconut cream pie. I’ve had this wonder more than once at his restaurants, and I think I could eat a whole pie at one sitting. Since then, Dave and I have been gathering the ingredients for a coconut cream pie. I don’t have Tom’s recipe, but the filling is a pastry cream with sweetened flaked coconut added. That’s not hard to do, and I used a recipe out of one of my favorite cookbooks, a first edition of the New York Times Cookbook, edited by Craig Claiborne. A lot of times when I do a literature search through my cookbook collection, I try to be sure to pull in a “vintage” cookbook for comparison. It helps me get perspective sometimes, especially when I run across something like the squirrel stew in the White House Cookbook from the late 1800’s. Once again I am using the vodka pastry recipe from Cook’s Illustrated with the addition of flaked coconut. The pie gets topped with whipped cream, toasted coconut flakes, and white chocolate shavings. I’m thinking about brushing a layer of melted white chocolate on the crust before putting in the filling – I think it will help the crust stay a little crisper and add a nice rich flavor.

You know, I’ve always said I'm not a baker, but I sure seem to be writing a lot about baking these days. At least I’ve gotten to the point where I have more successes than failures, and that feels pretty good. In the end, the way to get comfortable with any kind of cooking is to not worry when something doesn’t turn out – as long as you learn something in the process you can carry forward to the next project. That’s been hard for me to accept sometimes because of course I want everything perfect the first time. But accepting failure is key to becoming fearless in the kitchen.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's for dinner: filet au poivre, brisket chili with winter squash

We bought a whole tenderloin at Costco this week. If you consider the price of steak, it’s actually kind of economical to buy a whole roast and cut it up yourself. With this abundance, I’ve cut a roast off of it and am letting it marinate in a rub of herbes de provence, minced shallot, ground peppercorns, kosher salt, and olive oil. Once it’s had some time to think about its fate, I will tie it up into a compact roast and put it into a 425 degree oven for 25-35 minutes, then immediately into the freezer. This results in a great texture and amazing juiciness. We’ll slice that and serve with dandelion greens sautéed in bacon, garlic, and shallots and smashed potatoes. Probably start with some sliced heirloom tomatoes as some of them are beginning to look like it’s time to be eaten. I have great piles of fresh basil growing in my AeroGardens so we have no shortage of tomato seasoning.

We’re also making dinner for tomorrow. The cover recipe from the new Bon Appétit is “Texas Brisket Chili with Winter Squash.” Dave looked at the recipe and got a hankering for it, so we also bought some brisket at Costco. Already had all the other ingredients, in fact I’ve been looking for ways to use all the winter squash that’s been in our CSA basket. Calls for a red chile sauce from dried chiles, cumin, garlic, oregano, chili powder, tomatoes, and fresh green chiles. Now it’s in the oven for three hours until the cubed brisket is tender, then add the squash and cook for another hour. I’ll chill it out on the deck for a little while, then refrigerate for dinner tomorrow.

Another chore today was cleaning out the vegetable bins in the fridge. Now I have a pot of vegetable stock cooking on the stove, with carrots, celery, onion, fennel, celery, and other bits and pieces tossed in. No, I don’t know what I’ll make from the stock, but whatever it is, it will start with a tasty base. With the fennel in it, a minestrone might be a good idea.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If you like Cook's Illustrated or America's Test Kitchen...

...then you might get a kick out of this. Tonight we went and met Chris Kimball, the host of America’s Test Kitchen show on PBS and the founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines. Dave and I have been fans and subscribers to Cook’s Illustrated for many years. It was fun to hear him talk about some of the experiences he’s had, including his encounters with Julia Child. He has his “patter” and his funny stories down pat, but it didn’t feel like he was rehashing something he’d been saying dozens of times. Perhaps the funniest stories were of tricks his staff has played on him when they are taping ATK. Like the time he was supposed to be taste-testing butter on bread, and they smeared hot chile paste under the butter. Then when he reached for a glass of water and drank about a third of it, he realized he was drinking gin. I even got him to autograph one of my cookbooks. (I have a nice collection of autographed cookbooks. Even two autographed by Julia Child.)
Anyway, if he ever comes to your neighborhood and you have a chance to go hear him, I recommend it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Inventing a new cookie!

Yes, it’s true, there is nothing really new under the sun. But there are many variations, and I think Dave and I have collaborated on something with real potential.

As you’ve read before, we’ve been doing a lot of things with a crostada dough that we really like. It has cornmeal in it for a nice texture and a bit of citrus zest. Dave came up with the idea of using it as a ravioli dough to make sweet ravioli. I was intrigued. We had (again) lots of apples from the CSA basket, varieties well-suited to cooking. He made up a batch of the dough and put it in the fridge, and we debated the filling. I thought the best way to deal with the apples was to cut them into small dice, that way they would fill the ravioli a little better, fewer air pockets. We pre-cooked the apples after letting them sit in sugar a little while so we had some apple juice in which to simmer them. Then we added some herbs – for reasons I’ll explain below I will not tell you what we used.

The dough got rolled out to the dimensions of our ravioli plaque. If you’re not familiar with this tool, it’s a sheet of metal on little feet, divided into 12 ravioli shapes. The center of each shape is cut out, so you can lay a piece of dough across it and use a plastic plate with 12 round bumps just the size of the cutouts to press down and get a “top” layer with indentations for holding a filling. We filled each indentation with about a tablespoon of our apple filling, the laid another piece of dough across the top after brushing it with an egg wash. Then you just roll a rolling pin across the top to press the two layers together and separate the ravioli.

We brushed each piece with egg wash and sprinkled them with raw sugar, and baked them. All we can say is – YUM.

Why am I not publishing the recipe? Because for the first time we have something that maybe I’ll enter in a recipe contest. So stay tuned for info about that, when/if it happens.

If you want to see pictures, you can go to my blog where they are published. I thought that might be a more polite way to use photos, particularly for those of you with dial-up connections.

What not to eat for dinner

Every once in a while, when they send me a coupon for free delivery, I order groceries from Safeway online and have them brought to my front door. It is a significant convenience, as living here in a condo our parking is underground and it is quite a schlep to bring stuff up. In fact, we have a couple of folding, rolling baskets that we keep around for the chore.

On this latest order Safeway was also offering me a free meal – some new frozen dinner that you merely needed to cook for ten minutes and serve. I haven’t tried frozen meals in quite a long time, so I wondered if there had been any improvements in quality, through new production or storage technology. So I ordered the “chicken and Portobello mushrooms fettucine with alfredo sauce.” Gave that a try last night. I will save you the trouble!

I prepared it according to instructions – dump everything into a skillet and cook covered on medium for five minutes, stir and separate the pasta, and cook for another five minutes until the sauce boils for one minute. The time wasn’t enough, more like 20 minutes, but that was no big deal. The pasta even had a nice texture, so looks like progress on that front. But I thought the sauce was under-seasoned so added salt and some shredded fresh basil and dished it up.

Now for the good, the bad, and the ugly: the pasta had a good texture, it was cut thick enough to stand up to the freezing. The chicken was nondescript. The sauce was still anemic, so we grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano over it. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig! That was the bad. The ugly? Well, the portobello mushroom pieces were gritty. There were tomato pieces, too, and the freezing had caused the meat of the tomato to disintegrate, and what was left were some really tough pieces of tomato skin.

The moral? It really only takes a few minutes more to cook some pasta while you sauté a chicken breast and mushroom pieces and finish it with a little cream, cheese, and chopped tomato. In 30 minutes you can have a very good meal, instead of a high-sodium, high-fat shadow of a good meal.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What's for dinner: Another spin on chili, fruit ravioli

I usually make chili by rubbing a chuck roast with spices and let it sit overnight, then searing and braising it. Shred it up, and add the other ingredients and simmer. This time Dave asked me to try it with the meat cut in small cubes, so of course I am doing that. I figured I need a different cut of beef for this, one that holds together when it’s well-cooked. So I bought some beef bottom-round and cut it into about 1/3” dice. Tossed that with the spice mix last night and let it sit. Also took a half-dozen dried red chiles and put them in water, and soaked 2 cups of pinto beans. Today the beans go on in plan water with fresh epazote, oregano, and dried bay leaf, they get salt and garlic when they are almost done. The meat gets browned in an enameled casserole, then the onions go in until they are translucent, and all the red chile pulp and the soaking juice go in with some cumin and salt. For now both pots are simmering away. My brother Bryan is coming for dinner tonight so I’ll get a little fancier and we will have some cornbread with it; maybe I’ll whip up a little honey butter. I also have some Mexican sour cream, crema agria, and that will be good with it. No tomatoes in the chili today. But it does have the usual cinnamon and cocoa that I like in the spice rub. For dessert, Dave is going to play with the crostada dough and make raviolis stuffed with an apple compote. The concept is his idea, the filling is mine. I think they will turn out like nice little fruit-filled pastry cookies, and be great with a little bit of vanilla bean ice cream. The cornmeal in the crostada dough will be a nice echo of the cornbread served with the chili.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fun at Elliott's and Steelhead Diner

I like cooking so much that sometimes I forget that it's fun to go out. Today it was a double-shot of fun. First we (me, Dave, and an out of town business guest of his) went down the street to the bar at Elliott's Oyster House. They were having their annual celebration of the fall oysters. Steeply discounted drinks (94-cent beer!), and lots of good free food: oysters on the half shell, oysters Rockefeller, two other baked oysters, smoked salmon with garnishes, prawn shooters, fried razor clams, ancho-grilled shrimp. Quite the spread. But we weren't done! On up to Steelhead Diner for dinner. Our guest enjoyed the gumbo as much as we do, ditto with the kasu black cod. I had yet another rendition of their clam chowder, this one creamy, with razor clams (yum!), fresh corn, and a drizzle of white truffle oil. It was a fun dinner, and gave me some new ideas for cooking. It was also nice to say hello to Chef Kevin, who gave me a giant "Bramble" apple to bring home and try -- it is about the size of a grapefruit. He says it's good with cabrales blue cheese, so maybe we'll just eat that as a salad tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's for dinner: Paella

Today I spent a few hours volunteering on a campaign for a tax levy to support the Pike Place Market. Most of you have never been there, I know, but it is the oldest continuously running farmers’ market in the US, and I live practically next door to it. I bundled up 18,000 pieces of literature today! Anyway, I walked home a different way, taking me past “The Spanish Table.” Spanish Table is a great store, carries Spanish and middle-eastern ingredients, wines, kitchenware, cheeses, sausages. I couldn’t resist poking my head in. While there I realized that if I picked up some dry Spanish chorizo and some special Spanish piquillo peppers, I’d have everything to make paella. So I discarded the notion of roasting fish on a bed of fennel fronds, making paella is fun and Dave loves it.

One of the things that’s cool about making paella is that once you’ve got all the ingredients prepped and lined up on the counter, it goes together quite quickly. I’m using a saffron-shellfish stock for the broth, and chorizo and calamari as the proteins. It also takes really big white beans, only need a couple of dozen of them so am cooking them this afternoon. I’ll also need to add some vegetable interest, and am assuming that the CSA bag that comes home with Dave today will have something useful in it. If not, I’ll peel and dice some carrots. I will literally have 8-10 little prep dishes of ingredients lined up by the stove.

The lineup will be: oil, onions, garlic, tomato, chorizo, rice, herbs, broth, beans, calamari (diced), piquillo peppers, chopped parsley. Not an incredibly fancy paella, but one more likely to be served to family in Valencia, though they might add snails because they are quite common (I can do without them!).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What's for dinner: ribs, chard, potato salad, chocolate cake experiment

The ribs that I mentioned in my last post look and taste like they may be the best ones I’ve ever done. The mustard baste is a nice counterpoint to the brown sugar, smoked paprika, coriander, and cumin in the rub. They are still in the warming oven, waiting for Dave to get home, but I of course have had a little taste – quality control, you know. I put them in the oven before 7 this morning at 250 degrees, and they were already tender at 11.

I had chard from the farm, the kind with pink and yellow and orange stems. I wanted to sauté it in bacon fat, but didn’t have any on hand. But I came up with what I think is a clever solution. I have chunk bacon in the freezer, as I make my own and only slice it as we need it. I used my coarse Microplane to grate a couple of tablespoons of fluffy frozen bacon fat into the pan, then added onions and the chopped chard stems to that and cooked it until the onion was translucent. Then I put in the shredded chard leaves. Worked quite well; we’ll see what Dave thinks.

Cooking potatoes for potato salad was a puzzle I’ve been trying to solve for a while: boil the potatoes whole, then peel and chunk while hot and toss with vinegar, cube the potatoes and boil them and drain them, or what. Today I settled on red potatoes, skin on, cubed and steamed. Then I was able to drizzle cider vinegar over them while they were still in the steamer. I like the results. As I’ve said before, I am kind of a purist when it comes to potato salad: potatoes, eggs, onion, celery, mayo (only Best Foods/Hellman’s will do), and yellow or Dijon mustard. Today I added fresh lemon thyme as I had some of that from the farm.

Finally, I’ve had a craving for chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting for several days now. I was going to make “fake” fudge today, which is choc chips melted with sweetened condensed milk. The last time I made that I realized that it’s not really fudge, it’s a form of ganache. While I was toasting pecans to go into the fudge, I thought that maybe I should make a chocolate buttermilk sheet cake and use the fudge mixture as an icing. So that is what we are going to do this evening. I’ve been on my feet too long today so I’ll have Dave make the cake when he gets home. I’ll add the pecans and also toffee bits to the fudge. It won’t be a thick layer because the fudge recipe normally goes into a 6x9 pan, and this will be spread on a 9x13 cake. I’ll let you know how the chocolate cake experiment goes.

What's for dinner: boneless short ribs

I’ve always wanted to cook short ribs, they are such a good candidate for my favorite cooking technique, braising. The other day I picked up some boneless chuck short ribs at the local warehouse store, they looked beautiful and I just had to have them. Also picked up mushrooms and new red potatoes, with stew on my mind.

I kind of started with chef Tyler Florence’s recipe for “bistro-style short ribs” but, as usual, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. What I borrowed from him is the use of pureed mirepoix as a base for a braise. (He also uses this in making Bolognese sauce, and I’ve done that, too, with good results.) The boneless ribs (kind of an oxymoron, don’t you think?) did have a lot of outside fat, which I trimmed off, and inside marbling which was going to make the sauce very good.

I cut the meat into 2”x3” chunks and seared it hard on a griddle, to get more flavor into the braise. I then cooked the mirepoix puree - carrots, onions, celery, tomato, garlic – in my oval braisier until it smelled cooked and some of the moisture had cooked off. Added 2 cups of leftover pinot noir. (Yes, I know, how often in my house is wine “left over?” Not often, but that’s beside the point. We’ve found a bargain pinot that we like quite a bit, Pepperwood Grove, and at its price point I don’t mind using it for cooking as well as drinking.) The night before, I had taken 2 pounds of white mushrooms, quartered them, and cooked them in the oven, covered, until I had nice mushroom juice. I reduced the juice by half and added that and a cup of beef broth to the pan, and brought it to a boil. Stirred in the mushrooms and put all the meat into the pan, made sure the liquid covered it. Covered the pan and put it into a 325 degree oven for three hours. I skimmed off the fat that accumulated on top of the sauce, didn’t really need that in there. Served over smashed red potatoes, this was just great. Maybe a little heavy for an indian summer day, but we didn't care.

Tonight we’re having baby back ribs, nine or ten hours in the oven, I rubbed them Monday with a nice seasoning that includes Spanish smoked paprika, to give them a little bbq taste. I will mop them today with a baste that includes cider vinegar, mustard, honey, thyme, and savory among other things. It’s a Carolina-style baste, they do usually seem to use yellow mustard. More on that later, when we see how they turn out.