Monthly Archives: January 2011

>Sarah’s Pork Roast


Last Friday, I was heading home after a long week in court for a jury trial. I was feeling pretty exhausted, and I wasn’t looking forward to eating another take-out dinner, which is what we primarily subsist on when I am at trial. The worst part about it was that I knew that I had a pork shoulder sitting in the fridge. I really wanted some pork slathered in barbecue sauce. But I knew that making it would take several hours. And I was starving.

In my mind’s eye, as I was sitting on the bus home, I opened the fridge and stared at that raw pork shoulder, longingly. Then, as I got off the bus, took the elevator to get to my floor, and walked down the hallway towards our apartment, I could smell the aroma of meat – wonderful, wonderful meat. I opened the door and was reminded in yet another way of why I love my wife. She made the pork.

Sarah’s Pulled Pork Roast:

  1. rough chop veggies: she cut up into big chunks some onions, carrots, and celery. and she put them on the bottom of the crock pot. 
  2. pork: put that on top of the veggies.
  3. seasonings: I think she put a bay leaf, some pepper, and garlic powder. I’m not sure what else. 
  4. water: she put in enough to cover it all. 
  5. time: she got the pork cooking in the crock pot on low for about 5 hours.
  6. potatoes: about an hour before I got home, she cut some potatoes into large chunks and dropped those in the crock pot. she wanted to give the potatoes about two hours to cook, but i got home earlier than she expected. 
She was able to pull the pork apart super easy. And, unlike when I do it, she put the pulled pork into a pretty vessel (our souffle dish), which made for pretty presentation. The pork was just as I had imagined it would be, back when I was thinking about it on the bus. It was exactly what I needed to start recovering from the last week of work. Plus, this gave me a chance to try two new sauces. 
The barbecue sauce I wanted to try was a Memphis style barbecue sauce. I don’t remember where I got this, but I am sure that I bought it in Iowa. It could have been at the Dubuque Wal-Mart or the Hy-Vee. Either way, I thought it would be good with the pork, and it was. The sauce by itself had that nice combination of tomato-y-ness and vinegar tanginess. Then, when paired with the pork, the sauce became something more. The tomato flavor became more savory, and the tanginess had more pucker to it. It was a really nice surprise.
The sauce was really thin, almost watery. The pork did a good job of soaking it up. But it’s thin consistency makes me think that it will do really well as a sauce to mop on some ribs as they cook, which is what I plan to do next with this sauce.
With the barbecue sauce was this hot sauce. I bought this at a hunting goods store in Wisconsin. I don’t know why, but hot sauce makers all seem to enjoy the fact that eating too much hot sauce can be painful both on the way in and on the way out.

This hot sauce is called Butt Burner. However, from what I have found, hot sauces with anal references are generally not that hot. For example, this one calls itself a jalapeno pepper sauce, and jalapeno sauces are generally not as hot as the habanero sauces I typically enjoy.

Overall, the Butt Burner was ok. It had a lot of spiciness of the peppercorn/mustard variety. But it wasn’t hot pepper hot. There was a crispness to it that was almost citrus-y, and it played nice with the memphis style barbecue sauce’s relative darkness. When I turn the leftover pork into tacos, I think this hot sauce will actually work quite well.

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Jury Duty

This week, I started a jury trial. For various reasons, the work has been even more time consuming than a jury trial would otherwise be. I haven’t cooked in about a week, which is unfortunate, as cooking, or more precisely, chopping things, has become a way for me to de-stress. Since there isn’t much time for cooking, I’ve reverted back to my normal trial time ritual of seeing if I can finish a bottle of whiskey before the trial ends. One would think that, as sleep-depriving as trial work can be, how is there enough time for whiskey? The answer is that, because trials tend to make you have to drink coffee far into the evening, having a nip at the end of the day helps you get to sleep.

A friend just started a food blog, and reading her first post has made me particularly hungry for well-prepared food. But, as I write this post from the bus, I know that, because I have a couple hours of work still ahead of me and an early Saturday morning meeting tomorrow, Sarah and I will likely have to suffer through something that comes in a styrofoam delivery container.

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>home fries


The last time I made breakfast, I tried to make hashbrowns. Hashbrowns are one of my favorite things to eat. Last Thanksgiving, I went Black Friday shopping with Sarah and her sisters. At some point in the morning, I went to McDonald’s to pick up some breakfast for everyone. I bought like five breakfast meals, but the girls only wanted to eat the sandwiches. That left me with five hash browns to eat. I felt like the chubby kid in Billy Madison who was eating everyone’s lunches.

For whatever reason, hash browns have eluded me. This has been the case, even though I have been trying to make them for the last two decades. Granted, two decades ago, I was 11. My idea of cooking was to get eggs, ham, and frozen tater tots, and throw it in the biggest frying pan I could find. It would invariably end up as a big, breakfasty mush. It never turned out how I hoped, but I would cover it in ketchup and watch the timed VCR recording of the previous night’s saturday night live.

I still can’t make hash browns. But I have gotten really good at home fries.

The secret to the home fries is to boil them first. I learned this from watching an episode of In Search of Perfection. I cube the potatoes, put them in a small pot with cold water. I put the lid on, turn the heat on high, and wait for the potatoes to boil. Once they do, I preheat the oven to 400 and I let the potatoes cook in a roiling boil for a couple minutes. After boiling the potatoes, I drain them, put them on to a sheet tray, and sprinkle with garlic powder, pepper, and sometimes paprika or cumin. I then drizzle a little oil on top to  make sure the seasonings stick to the potatoes and so that the potatoes don’t stick to the sheet tray.

While the potatoes were baking. I made the rest of our breakfast, which consisted of the usual eggs and turkey bacon. On this particular morning though, we also had the pleasure of some coffee that my dad bought when he was in Bolivia. He gave it to me the last time we were back home. I don’t know why he had it. Presumably, someone told him that Bolivian coffee is really good. But he bought whole beans. And my parents don’t have a coffee grinder. In fact, they don’t even have a coffee maker. They drink instant. They’ve been like that for as long as I can remember.

The Bolivian coffee was really good. Somehow, I thought it would be really unique in a non-tasty way, like the time I accidentally bought coffee with chicory.

After 20 minutes baking in the oven, the potatoes were done. And they came out awesome. If you let them go to 25 minutes, the potatoes get even crisper. They get remarkably and surprisingly crispy on the outside, as if they had been deep fried. But because they boil first, they are like creamy mashed potatoes on the inside. It’s a wonderful combination.

They are no hash browns, but they are a reasonable second best.

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>Pizza Sausage


Last time we were back in Iowa, I really wanted to make a variety of pizzas that day so that everyone could have their favorite. One of my nephew’s favorite toppings is sausage, and I just didn’t know how to make that. Fortunately, he also really likes cheese, so the absence of sausage pizza went unnoticed. But it made me start thinking about pizza sausage incessantly. Some people get songs stuck in their head. I get food.

I looked around for a couple of recipes. I wanted to try and follow this sausage recipe  to the letter. I mean, the picture makes it look super yum. Problem was, I don’t have fennel, which I think is the main seasoning from the recipe. I also skipped on the salt and the red pepper flakes. And then I decided to put in a whole bunch of italian seasoning herbs. So much for following the recipe.

Pizza Sausage:

  1. 1 lb ground pork. The other recipe wanted me to go and get like some sort of ratio of meat to fat pork. This is way too annoying to try and find. I just got a package of it in the meat case. 
  2. 1 t garlic powder
  3. 1 t italian seasonings. We got this set of magnetic spice containers as a wedding gift. They work awesome on our 1970s metal cabinet kitchen. But the spices inside are just crap. I used the “italian seasonings” herb mix. I am pretty sure it was scraped off the bottom of a gardener’s boot. I don’t know why I used this. I suppose I am trying to use them up. 
The recipe told me to mix all the pork and seasonings and then form it into a large patty. I did this, even though I did think it was weird. When it was par-cooked, I took it off the heat and broke it up into cherry tomato size pieces. This was an enjoyable activity.

 I then made my pizza dough as usual. What I did do differently was to use San Marzano tomatoes. I once saw something on Food Network where they extolled the virtues of the San Marzano. None of the grocery stores that I usually go to carry San Marzanos, which I found frustrating. I did find a can at Whole Foods, however.

I opened the can and put it directly on to the pizza dough. Didn’t cook the tomatoes or anything. Then I topped and cooked the pizza the normal way.

The pizzas were a mixed bag. The pizza sausage was good/pretty good. Meaty and juicy and with mico-edges of crispiness. But it lacked the same something that my meatballs were missing. Maybe I will try the fennel. Or salt.

The pound of pork I used in this recipe made enough sausage for about three of my pizzas.

Although the sausage weren’t exactly a home run, these pizzas were quite memorable because of the sauce. The San Marzano tomatoes were wonderfully sweet. Not sweet like how Chicago-style pizza crusts are sweet or like how generic store brand pizza sauce is sweet. The San Marzanos are sweet like how carrots can be sweet or lettuce can be sweet. It made everything just pop with freshness and clean-ness, which is odd because it came from a can.

With the onions I had on my sausage pizza, it was marvelous. For Sarah, I made a mushroom and feta pizza. And the San Marzanos played particularly well the mushrooms too.

The next time I go to Whole Foods, I am going to buy a case of this stuff.

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>pot roast


Because I only used part of the chuck for last night’s dinner, I had two pounds of chuck that I needed something to do with. I decided to make pot roast in a crock pot. Things were getting pretty busy with work, so it was nice to make a meal that pretty much just takes care of itself. Plus, I had a shelf full of barbecue sauces that I had bought while in Iowa. Pot roast makes for a good palette to compare.

Pot Roast crock pot recipe:

  1. veggies: I peeled and cut about five carrots into slightly-larger-than-bite-sized pieces. this was kind of a lot of carrots. but i was trying to get rid of the rest of the bunch i had in the fridge. I also cut an onion into large chunks. I was going to put in a couple of celery stalks too, but when I pulled them out of the fridge, they were limp and soggy. so I skipped that. I also sliced up about 4 cloves of garlic and put that in too. All of this, I put into the bottom of my crock pot.
  2. beef: I happened to use chuck this time and put it on top of the veggies. I had two pounds of it left over from when I made a beef and mushroom ragu. You can use pretty much any cut of beef. But you really want to use a cheaper cut of meat in a slow cooker recipe. Cheaper cuts of meat have things in them that don’t cook out quickly. That’s what makes them cheaper. But, if you are going the invest the time to slow cook, the return on your investment is a yumminess that comes from the melted cheapy parts. And that’s something you can’t get from expensive cuts. 
  3. water: I put the crock in the fridge before I left for work and then called Sarah at about 1pm to add some water to the crock and start it going. I had an afternoon full of meetings, and I knew I wouldn’t be home until about 8pm. 
  4. potatoes: I had also told Sarah to add in some potatoes at about 2 hours before mealtime. I tried to also get her to add a package of pearl onions from the freezer. But I was calling her on my way to meet a client. And I was walking underneath the el on lake at the time, so she couldn’t hear me because of a passing train.
This recipe is essentially exactly the same as my crock pot recipe for pork shoulder. I don’t even think I added any seasonings this time. I mean, the vegetables are the seasoning. I like for the meat to be simple. That way, I can repurpose the leftovers easily. Also, I wanted to try some sauces. 
As a control, we had Cookies. Cookies is my favorite barbecue sauce for beef. It’s what we always have. With this pot roast, the Cookies was good. Superb, really. It makes you make food sounds when you eat it. Yum yum yum mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm.
The experimental sauce for the day was Countryside. This is a sauce that I picked up in Iowa. I don’t remember exactly where it was that I got this. Either it was Hy-Vee, of Kurt Warner fame, or Fareway
Fareway is an anachronism, and shopping there is like flipping through the pages of an outdated marketing textbook. Mostly though, it reminds me of a Kitchen Of Tomorrow exhibit from the 50s. Everything is clean and super white, almost monochromaticly so, despite the best efforts of modern day products that are vying for your attention.
At Fareway, the stockers and managers and cashiers all seem to know all the customers. And they banter back and forth about things that are just completely foreign to me, like deer hunting or college football. Fareway is “in town,” which means that you generally don’t just stop in for an item or two.  One time, I went there with Sarah’s 10 year old niece (Sarah and I had boarded Buddy at the local vet for a couple days. I was picking the dog up, and my niece wanted to tag along). We bought a couple of things that Sarah wanted me to pick up while I was in town: milk, eggs, and some other things. And I think that is when I bought this barbecue sauce. I think I also bought some candy and juice boxes to spoil the nieces and nephews with. 
The Countryside barbecue was sweet. Cheap Chinese food sweet. Almost like sweet and sour sauce. With the beef, it was not so good. So we stuck to the Cookies. 
Although, I suspect that this will be quite awesome with pork. 


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>beef and mushroom ragu


Every time I see a recipe with pappardelle, I instantly want to try it. This pappardelle with beef and mushroom ragu recipe from Real Simple was no exception. The problem was, and the problem with pappardelle recipes always is, I could not find pappardelle in the store. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have seen pappardelle sold at the grocery store. Ever. Fortunately, the recipe says you can substitute with fettucini, so I got the fattest fettucini I could find.

Here’s how I put this recipe together:
  1. beef: the original recipe called for 1 pound of chuck. When I went to the store, I couldn’t find just one pound of chuck. I could find three pounds of chuck. Or I could find one pound of other meat that was more expensive than chuck. I decided I would buy the three pounds of the cheaper meat. When I got home, I cut about a third of it off and cubed that to get my pound of flesh. (The rest would go into a 2 lb roast the next day.) I put that into my dutch oven and sauteed the meat. Once it was browned, I removed it to a separate plate.
  2. veggies: I followed the rest of the recipe pretty closely here. I chopped 1 large onion, 4 cloves of garlic, and 2 carrots. I sauteed those until the onions started getting clear.
  3. tomato paste: I put in the 1T of tomato paste that the original recipe called for. And I stirred and sauteed the paste until it made the vegetables all pasty and red-brown. I watched an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef  where she emphasized how important it was to cook the veggies and tomato paste. If you don’t, Italians will criticize the sauce for tasting raw, apparently. 
  4. canned tomatoes: I put a 15 oz can of canned tomatoes and the juice into the dutch oven, just like the recipe said. I also put the beef back into the pot. 
  5. water: At that point, the recipe called for 2 cups of chicken broth. I forgot to buy chicken broth at the store. I thought about substituting with white wine or red wine. But then I remembered that this was going to go on pasta. And the last time I put red wine into a pasta sauce, it made the noodles purple in an unappetizing way. Besides, the idea of chicken broth was confusing. I mean, this was a beef ragu.
  6. time: at that point, I needed to set the sauce to a simmer and cover for 60 to 75 minutes. 
  7. mushrooms: the last step was to add quartered mushrooms to the pot and simmer for another ten minutes or so.
When it was all done, I plated the sauce on top of the fettucini. And it tasted pretty good. I don’t know why, but when I make a recipe from a book or from tv and it tastes good, I am always surprised. 
I garnished the dish with a very heavy hand of parmesan cheese. (i took my photos pre-garnish). the recipe called for me to add like a quarter cup of it at some point. But I don’t like to use parmesan cheese for anything except as a garnish. If you add it too early, it just melts away. and you can’t tell that it’s there, which seems like a waste of perfectly good cheese. And, like when you put cream cheese on a really hot bagel and it melts away and leaves you with a soggy, bland bagel, that would be disappointing. 
The sauce was a little thin. The recipe said I could have let it cook uncovered for a while to thicken up. But I think that it just needs more than 1 T of tomato paste. 

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>Buffalo Dip

>To go with the brisket I made for my Bears Game Day spread, I made Buffalo Dip. This is a recipe that Sarah got from a friend. From the moment I tried it, I knew I had to have the recipe. At the time, I was going through a year-and-a-half-long, insatiable craving for wing sauce. And this just hit the spot.

Buffalo Dip:

  1. chicken: Cube 1 chicken breast and saute in a fry pan. The original recipe calls for 10 oz of canned white chunk chicken drained. But there is very little that I find appetizing in the phrase, “canned white chunk chicken drained.”
  2. 1 package (8oz) cream cheese: spread this into the bottom of a small casserole dish. put the cooked chicken on top.
  3. 0.5 C buffalo sauce: I make my own for this. frank’s red hot and melted butter is the base for this. it’s the bechamel of the buffalo sauce world. I added soy sauce and honey mustard to mine as well. Pour it on top of the cream cheese and chicken.
  4. 0.5 C ranch dressing: pour it on top of the cream cheese, chicken, and buffalo sauce. 
  5. 2 C (8oz) shredded colby-jack cheese: sprinkle on top. it’s a lot of cheese. but that’s a good thing here.
  6. bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melted.
This recipe comes out perfect every time. Usually, we serve this with some thick corn chips. There is a local brand that we buy up here. It’s in a yellow bag. The same company makes a chip in a green bag (extra salty) and a red bag (spicy) too. The yellow bag is plain. And it is perfect with the Buffalo Dip. 
The best bite of the Buffalo Dip is the first bite. Digging in with that first chip is like walking on top of snow that has a thin layer of freezing rain on it. A little bit of resistance, then a crackly sound as you break through the thin, micro-layer of ice, and then a push into the snow. Or, you can think of eating the Buffalo Dip as like when you gently crack the top of a creme brule. Except this is so much fattier, and doused in ranch. 
I don’t know why, but the cheese never seems to keep that savory crustiness after that first bite.
When Sarah and I sit down to a dish of the Buffalo Dip, we can never get through more than half of it, which leaves us a nice amount of leftovers to snack on throughout the rest of the day.

This was the first time I had used a honey mustard in my buffalo sauce. I had bought it last summer when Sarah’s family had come to visit. I wanted to get rid of it, so I put a ton in. When I tasted the sauce, I was a little bit concerned. The honey mustard that I had bought was not a good one. Really, it tasted like yellow mustard with sugar in it. And now, my buffalo sauce tasted like that. Fortunately, by the time it all got cooked, the extra sugariness disappeared. In its place, it seemed to make the sauce spicier. I seem to remember hearing somewhere that sugar makes your tongue more sensitive to spice. But I could be wrong on that one. 

By the way, this Buffalo Dip makes you want to take a nap.

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