Monday, July 16, 2018


I wanted to make a locally sourced dish for a "slow food" event here in Dallas. Of course I turned to the clever folks at Serious Eats for some pointers. I was less interested in a recipe from them, much more interested in techniques to create something like I have had in Spain. There were several obvious things and a couple of genius ahas. With a twist of my own at the end.

I didn't want this to be liquid salsa, nor did I want cold canned tomato soup. I wanted something special. That meant the ripest tomatoes that I could find (thank you Coppell Farmers' Market and the Fisher Family Farm), and locally grown peppers and onions.

First the Serious Eats genius:

  • Cut up the vegetables and salt them all together. This extracts a lot of juice.
  • Pour that juice over the bread and leave to stand
  • Freeze the remaining vegetable parts. The recipe said 30 minutes, but I needed a full hour. But I was making a larger quantity.
  • Thaw the vegetables and add them to the bread/juice. Keep some juice back
And the personal addition? The reserved juice after thawing is frozen into tomato-y ice cubes to be served with the soup to keep it cold, but not to dilute the flavors..

For serving - because this was a potluck event, I used a wine decanter. And had some olive oil, croutons, sea salt, sherry vinegar to act as final flavorings. It turned out to be a useful way to serve it because it could then be poured into glasses,

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Pate a Choux

I can't believe that I didn't have a choux paste recipe lying around somewhere. This is a bit of a departure for me because I measure by volume rather than weight when making this.
A mistake that I have made in the past is not beating the flour mixture enough before adding the eggs. You do need some gluten development to help with the structure. I typically use bread flour to guard against this too. They are so airy that it doesn't hurt.


1 Cup water
1 Stick butter (4 oz)
1/4t Salt
1/2t sugar
1 Cup bread flour
4 large eggs - room temperature


Place the water and butter into a saucepan and bring to the boil.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. When the water is boiling, shouut the flour mixture into the water. Stir hard until the flour is well mixed. Then beat using a wooden spoon until a mass has formed and there is some slight covering in the pan.
Turn out into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat for a minute or so, and then add the eggs one at a time. Wait until each egg is well incorporated and the mixture is somewhat glossy before adding the next egg.
When the last egg has been incorporated, use the paste immediately - or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

To bake Choux pastry items, the oven needs to be set to 400F. For small puffs allow about 20 minutes. For eclairs around 25. For a large Gougere at least 35 minutes.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Interpreting a recipe

My sister has been waxing lyrical about the cinnamon buns from the Da Bara bakery in Cornwall (SW England). She dug around and found a recipe for them and gave it to me to try. She tried it herself too, Somewhat mixed results.

Here is the recipe copied from her note to me.

Makes 8

For the Buns

300 ml Whole Milk
50 gm Butter 
225 gm Plain Flour
200 gm Bread Flour
7 gm Fast Acting Yeast
60 gm Caster Sugar
1/2 t table salt
1 Egg, Beaten

For the Filling

75 gm Softened Butter
50 gm Light Brown Sugar
2 t Cinnamon
1/2 t salt 

2t Cinnamon
100 gm Caster Sugar

The first thing to notice is that the dough is going to be very sticky. Just the milk alone gives a ~72% hydration. Then add in the egg and the butter and we are up at almost 80%. That is going to be very hard to work by hand.


Bring the milk to room temperature before mixing with the rest of the bun ingredients to form a strong, stretchy dough. Place in a bowl , cover with cling film and leave to prove for an hour

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured board and roll out to a rectangle of 35x25 cm

Beat the filling ingredients together and spread over the dough.

Preheat the oven to 190C (375 F) and line a muffin tin with baking parchment. Roll the dough tightly into a 35 cm cylinder and cut into 8 pieces. Place the buns into the lined tin and leave to rise for 45 minutes.

Bake the buns in the oven for 20-25 minutes until dark golden. Remove to a cooling rack.

Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Toss each bun into the cinnamon/sugar mixture until coated.

There are so many issues here:
  1. How will mixing develop enough gluten for the buns to gold together. Rich, we doughs typically need quite a long kneading time
  2. An hour may not be enough rising time
  3. Which oven shelf?
  4. Lining a muffin tin? Not sure what this means at all. Could be individual muffins (a pain to line) or a larger baking pan lined with parchment
  5. How might one do these for breakfast?
  6. Are the buns tossed in the cinnamon/sugar while still hot?
So, I revised the method - keeping the ingredients the same.

Revised Method

Bring the milk and egg to room temperature (assuming the eggs have been in the fridge). Add the egg, sugar and yeast to the milk. Whisk gently until the egg is incorporated. Leave to stand for a few minutes while the yeast starts to become active. Note the fast acting yeasts can be added directly to the flour, but I prefer to hydrate them.

  1. Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and, use the paddle. Stirring slowly, add the milk/egg/sugar/yeast mixture until just incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 15 minutes.
  2. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them one at a time while the dough hook is kneading the dough. A further 10 or so minutes.
  3. Cover the dough with cling wrap and leave in a room temperature place, undisturbed for 1 couple of hours. Then transfer the dough to the fridge. Note it is much easier to roll out cold dough.
  4. Line a baking tin with parchment paper
  5. Tip the dough onto a floured board and roll out as specified above. 25x35 cm (10x14 inches). Cover with the cinnamon/sugar mixture and roll it up tightly.
  6. Cut the roll across wise into 8 pieces.
  7. Place the pieces into the pan so they are not touching
  8. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight,
  9. When ready to bake, turn the oven on to 375F.
  10. Remove the buns from the fridge and allow to sit uncovered on the counter while the oven hears up (at least 25 minutes)
  11. Bake the nuns on the middle rack until the internal temperature reaches 202F
  12. Remove, toss in the cinnamon/sugar mixture and allow to cool.  
They came out well for a first effort. Maybe a bit lighter/airier than the real thing. But definitely good enough to build on from

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cauliflower and asparagus soup

Cauliflower gets everywhere it seems. This soup wasn't an "oh let's get a cauliflower and use it to make a soup". More like an "Oh dear we have a cauliflower lying around, now what?" We also had 1/2 an onion, about 24 oz asparagus and some other bits and pieces. They all needed to be used up, so off we went. It is pretty simple, and received another, "We can serve this to people" accolade from Madame. It could be made vegan by using water or vegetable stock. We had some home made chicken stock also lying around, so used that.


2T vegetable oil (any vegetable oil will do)
1/2 yellow onion sliced. No need to be precise, the blender is your friend
1 medium cauliflower, florets only.
24 oz asparagus. Cut into 1" lengths. Stalks and heads separated
2 cups stock or water
Hot sauce to taste
Pickled grapes to garnish (idea stolen from Chad Houser at Cafe Momentum)
1t per portion full fat Greek yogurt to garnish
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Coarse sea salt to finish - provides a nice crunch 


In a sauce pot heat 2 T oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat the onions until soft. No browning please. Then add the cauliflower florets, and saute until there is a little color. Add the stock, salt, pepper and hot sauce - it will not cover the florets. Bring to a simmer, cover and turn down the heat. Cook for 12 minutes - until soft. Add the asparagus stalks, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add the asparagus tips, cover and cook for one further minute.
Blend the soup in batches until perfectly smooth. Strain through a mesh strainer and serve garnishing each bowl with some pickled grapes and Greek yogurt. Sprinkle a little coarse salt over each bowl and serve piping hot.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A tale of too much pork

If there were such a thing as too much pork, this would be it. We had done a pork shoulder on the egg for a work party. And it was pronounced delicious. The trouble is, Costco's pork shoulders come in packets of 2. Each weighing about 5lbs. So one was smoked, shredded, sauced and eaten. The other was sitting in the fridge looking at me, desperately in need of some love and attention. So what to do?

Pork tacos, of course. But sadly when getting that ready, we ended up with too much meat for the dutch oven, so had to step down to yet another dish. Fortunately there was all sorts pf stuff in the fridge - and we have a great Mexican supermarket (Fiesta) nearby.

Ingredients (Paste)

6 ancho chiles stalks removed and seeded
8 chile d'arbol - stalks removed and seeded
Juice of 4 limes
3T sugar

Method (Paste)

Cover the dried chiles with boiling water, weigh them down under a plate and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes. Put all ingredients into a blender with some of the reserved liquid and blend until you have a smooth paste. It will need between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid.

Ingredients (Pork Taco Meat)

3T Vegetable oil
2 Large Onions sliced
6 garlic cloves crushed
2T ground cumin
3T ground coriander
1T ground allspice
2T Mexican Oregano (dried)
3 Bay leaves
12 oz bottle of dark beer
4/5ths of the above paste
4 lbs pork shoulder - cut into 4 1lb pieces

Method (Pork Taco Meat)

Salt the pork and rub with the paste. Leave to stand for 30 minutes. Heat the oil in a large Dutch Oven until shimmering and add the onions, garlic and the spices. Soften the onions and garlic - about 5-10 minutes or until the spices are nice and fragrant. Add the beer, bring to a boil and put the pork into the pot. Cover tightly. Put into the oven for 2 1/2 hours (maybe a bit more or a bit less) until the pork is tender.
Strain the liquid and separate the fat. Shred the pork and add the strained liquid back into it. Serve immediately or allow to cool and serve over the following few days.

Ingredients (Pork Stew)

2T vegetable oil
6 Shallots - crushed
3 Garlic cloves - crushed
3 Celery ribs
1 Apple - diced
1/5th of the paste
1 lb pork shoulder - cut into 3/4 inch cubes
8 oz beer (anything but light/low calorie. We used Fireman's 4)
1/4 cup bitter orange marmalade

Method (Pork Stew)

Salt the pork and rub with the paste. Leave to stand for about 30 minutes. In a 4 quart saucepot heat the oil until sizzling. Turn heat to low and add the celery, shallot, apple and garlic. Allow the shallot and celery to soften.
Transfer the celery/shallot/garlic/apple to its own bowl. Add a little more oil and start to brown the coated pork. Do this in batches to avoid simply steaming it.
Add the seared pork to the vegetables. Deglaze the pan with the beer and add the range marmalade. Add the pork and vegetables back into the pan. Stir, put the lid onto the pan and simmer gently on the stove until the pork is tender (about 90 minutes).
When it is cooked, serve over plain white rice, garnished with Mexican Oregano.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Pate a Choux trick

For most of us at home, using a pastry bag, nozzles, etc. is a royal pain.With that in mind, I was making some mini gougeres for a party over the weekend. Sure enough I had a bunch of gooey, cheesy choux pastry and no desire to use a bag. I could have used a pair of spoons, but that's a we bit messy too.

Instead I wrapped the choux pastry in cling wrap and chilled it. When ready to use it, I cut it into strips, and then each strip into cubes. The secret here was to use a meat slicing knife and a glass of hot water. The slicing knife has a granton edge so it is doesn't drag quite as much as my chef's knife. The hot water was to cote the knife so it didn't stick to the pastry.

I was left with 24 choux pastry cubes. I laid them on a baking sheet, allowed them to come to room temperature and then put them in a 425F oven - whose temperature I immediately dropped to 400F.

They came out just as well as they would have done had I extruded them through a pastry bag - less waste and cleanup too.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


Bravetart, the dessert cookbook from Stella Parks has some very approachable recipes for the home cook. She explains things clearly an simply. No weird ingredients and excellent results. I have made her coconut cream pie and the no knead English muffins. Both turned out very well (although I didn't regulate the flat top temperature well enough for the muffins).

In making the coconut cream pie, I ended up with left over pastry (I was only making 1 pie), toasted sugar and left over marshmallow meringue. So what to do?

Her "No stress all butter pie-crust" is as advertised a really easy pastry. It bakes up nice and flaky - almost biscuit (English short biscuits) like. That inspired me to try the following:

Ingredients - Biscuits

1/2 Bravetart Pie dough recipe, rolled into an 5x7 incch rectangle.
3 oz thin crystallized ginger pieces
Granulated sugar (or better still toasted sugar) to top


Preheat the oven to 375F. Shingle the crystallized ginger onto the rolled out pastry rectangle. Arrange the shingle parallel with the short side, and only cover 1/2 of the dough.

Fold the uncovered dough over the ginger covered half, and press the edges to seal. Using a pizza wheel cut the packet into strips. Lay the strips onto a silicone or parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake in the 375 oven for 30 - 40 minutes, until the bars are browned and cooked through.  

Marshmallow Meringue Macaroons

The coconut cream pie recipe calls for 8 egg yolks. That means we have 8 egg whites. Making  the marshmallow meringue is essentially a Swiss meringue technique, but  with the egg/sugar mixture heated to 175F before whisking.

Preheat the oven to 375F. If you have just made the pie or the biscuits, the oven will be at 375.

Once the meringue is made, and spread onto the pie, combine the left over meringue with about 6 oz sweetened shredded coconut. Form into small mounds on a baking sheet.  

Place the baking sheet onto a rack in the middle of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the oven heat off, but leave the fan running.  After a further 10 minutes, turn the macaroons over to dry out their flat edges and leave in the cooling oven for a further 30 minutes.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cast Iron isn't a good conductor

For all of the great benefits of cast iron for skillets, flat tops, etc. One thing that I overlook is that it doesn't actually conduct heat very well. It has great thermal capacity, but it needs careful treatment if you want even cooking temperatures.

This thought came about when I was making the excellent English Muffin's from Stella Parks' book "Bravetart".  The muffins had all the flavor, but weren't as puffy as I wanted. So I pinged Ms. Parks on twitter. She opined that the griddle was too hot, so the outsides set up before the middle could rise properly. Her recipe was quite specific - heat to 350F. If I had an electric griddle with a temperature control and a thermostat, it would have been easy. But I don't. So I had to guess using my cast iron flat top.

After that less than satisfactory outcome, it was clearly time for a gadget - in this case a surface temperature thermometer. I didn't want to go the full Alton Brown, but I did want to do a little experimentation. Off to AceMart (my local commercial kitchen supply store) where I found this jewel for $39.

Quite a revelation. I turned the burners to medium and started heating the flat top. First mistake! I had them too high. After 5 minutes the surface over the burners was about 375 and the middle was 280.

Turned burners down to their lowest setting. Waited another 10 minutes. Now the ends where the burners are was 410 and the middle was 375. Everithing far too hot for what I needed/wanted.

Moral of the story:

  • Believe the experts when they say heat your cast iron slowly
  • It gets up to temperature unevenly
  • It's really hard to tell when it is at the temperature you want (unless you practice a lot)
  • It's still the best surface for  stove top frying

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Valentine's Day - 2018

When I am home for Valentine's Day, I always try to make something a little extra special for dinner. This year was no exception, but because it is midweek and we are both working I didn't have all day to slave over the stove.
This dish was grilled romaine with roasted beets, diced red pepper, warm Israeli couscous all with a bitter orange dressing. Oh and we had some sous vide chicken thighs left over from a different dish, so added that too.
To make it vegetarian or vegan use oil instead of bacon and omit the chicken.
It did get the "We Can Serve This To People" appellation, so I guess madame liked it!

Ingredients - CousCous 

3 strips bacon cut into small pieces (for vegetarians, use olive oil instead of bacon)
1 small shallot diced finely
1/4 cup Israeli couscous
1/2t smoked paprika
1/2t sumac
1 medium carrot diced into 1/4" cubes. Size matters here for the speed of cooking
1/2 cup boiling water

Ingredients - The Dressing

4T bitter orange orange marmalade - jelly only, no peel strips
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup high quality olive oil (a finishing oil)
salt to taste - remember that in this dish there is bacon that is itself salty

Ingredients - The Rest

1/2 red pepper diced into 1/4" pieces
2 medium roasted beets diced into 1/4" pieces
1 cooked chicken thigh diced (optional - we happened to have one left over)
1 romaine lettuce heart halved lengthwise
Coarse salt

Method - CousCous

Do the couscous first as it takes the longest. 
Gently render the bacon in a large saucier. When the bacon is rendered, add the shallot, couscous and spices. Cook over medium heat, stirring or shaking frequently for about a minute - until the couscous is lightly toasted. Add the carrots and boiling water. Cover and simmer until the water is absorbed. This is about 10 minutes. When the couscous is cooked,  turn off the heat and allow to stand until ready to serve (at room temperature)

Method - Dressing

In a large bowl whisk together the ingredients, ad let stand. Whisk again immediately before use.

Method - The Rest (And Final Assembly)

Grill the romaine on a medium/hot griddle - or over a gas/charcoal grill if you prefer. When it is slightly charred, transfer to an individual plate. Place the room temperature couscous on one corener of the plate. Some of the chicken on another corner. Dress the romaine with a teaspoon of dressing. Pile the diced red pepper and beets onto the romaine. Add 2 more teaspoons of dressing. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a nice, crisp white wine.  In our case a South African Sauvignon Blanc.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Cauliflower Soup

This soup is adapted from a recipe on Americas Test Kitchen. We made/served it for a major dinner party. This is a scaled back version, so the water may be slightly out of proportion. It can be adjusted at the end as necessary.
The beauty of this soup is that it has all the richness of a cream based soup - but with no cream. There is some butter in the recipe, but I suspect that it could be made vegan with the use of a neutral oil. I haven't tried that though.
You don't need to be very precise with the cutting, it all goes into the blender at the end, anyway.

Picture Courtesy of Jim Brewer


2T butter (substitute oil perhaps)
1 large leek, white and light green parts only. Sliced finely and thoroughly washed
1/2 yellow onion (NOT Vidalia or 1015) sliced thinly
1/2t kosher salt (there will be more salt later)
1 large head of cauliflower (divided use - 2/3 and 1/3)
4 cups water
Kosher salt to taste
Chipotle in adobo for garnish
Jalapeno corn bread/pepita croutons (or any other crunchy croutons)
Very coarse sea salt for crunch.
Finishing oil for drizzling


Soften the leeks/onions in the butter/oil over medium low heat. Add the first salt as they begin to soften. Do not allow them to brown.
While the leeks and onions are softening, divide the cauliflower, making sure that there are no green leafy bits. Slice the stalks thinly and put them with the 2/3 side. 
When the leeks and onions have softened, add the 2/3 cauliflower and the water. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes - until the cauliflower is cooked through.
Then add the remaining cauliflower to the pot and simmer for another 12 minutes (take the time from when the pot reaches simmering temp).
Transfer the contents of the pot to your blender and blend until very smooth. Note, of course that this is hot and will probably attempt to splash out of the blender, so make sure you have a towel around the blender and press the lid on tightly through the towel. If in doubt blend in batches for safety.
Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer - to remove any lumps that the blender missed.
Adjust the texture using boiling water. Adjust the seasoning, remembering that you will be adding coarse salt later.
Serve in warmed bowls with croutons and chipotle. Add a little  swirl of olive oil and the crunchy, coarse salt.
Take a bow!
We served this with a nice Chardonnay from Nickel and Nickel.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Strange Bread

I recently bought Stella Parks's wonderful dessert cook book, "BraveTart". Of course I had to try some things - so the recipe for a Japanese style bread was attempted.  It didn't turn out as intended, but it was wonderful, nonetheless.
There were several issues.

  • I had a timing problem - was due to meet some friends for lunch so didn't quite give it enough time
  • The recipe called for malted milk - but I didn't have any
  • The coconut oil/fat that I had was very strongly coconut flavored
But apart from that, it was a matter of improvisation.

I did have some dry non fat milk lying around, so I thought it might be cool to add that instead of the malted milk powder. But, of course, I wanted some toasty flavor. So i baked it in a 350 oven for 8 minutes to get it toasted. It worked a treat!

Also, because this was from an American cook book, most of the measurements are in lbs/oz not in metric measurements.

The technique hydrates some of the flour with hot liquid first - a way to get water into the recipe without making everything too sloppy. 

Ingredients (Paste)

1 1/2 oz AP flour
6 oz 2% milk

Ingredients (Bread)

15 oz AP flour
2 oz sugar
2 oz toasted milk powder
1 1/2 oz virgin coconut oil (solid)
2t active dry yeast
5 oz 2% milk
1 oz half and half
1 1/2 t kosher salt

Method (Paste)

Mix the flour and milk together in a saucepan. Heat gently stiffing occasionally until the mixture thickens. Keep it on the heat until the flour mixture comes away from the sides of the pan (while you are stirring with a silicone spatula).
Let the paste cool for about 20 minutes

Method (Dough)

Dissolve the sugar in the milk/half and half. Add the yeast and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Combine the flour, paste, salt, coconut oil, milk powder together in the stand mixer. Add the salt and the milk/yeast mixture, stir to combine and then knead for 15 minutes (in the mixer). It needs to be kneaded until the dough window -panes.
Cover the dough and leave to rise for about 45 minutes in a warm place. It should be a bit fuffy. 
Set the oven to 350 and preheat for 20 minutes.
Turn out the dough and shape into an 8" square. Fold the dough like you would fold a business envelope.  Pinch the edges together to make a seam. 
Place in a loaf pan, seam side down and leave to rise a second time until the top of the loaf is just above the edge of the pan.
Bake for 45 minutes at 350. Internal temp should reach around 202 degrees.
Turn the loaf out of the pan onto a wire rack. For at least an hour before cutting it.
Eat with mashed avocado - or just with butter and jam.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Spicy Pecan Brittle

This was to be part of the dessert for a formal dinner - if it lasted that long.  Fortunately it did. It turned out a most tasty, more-ish candy with a perfect texture. Definitely will be made again. It does have a little butter so it is not vegan.


2t kosher salt
2t ground cinnamon
2t smoked paprika
pinch of cumin (fine ground)
pinch of cayenne (more to taste depending on heat of cayenne pepper and desire to store
2t baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1cup corn syrup (I used 2/3rds plain, and 1/3rd from Rockwall.)
1/2 cup water
8T (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups pecans (raw, roughly chopped)
1T Vanilla essence


Warm a rimmed baking sheet in a 250 oven for about 30 minutes ahead of time.
Whisk together the salt, cinnamon, paprika and cayenne until well combined
In a sauce pan whisk together the sugar, water, corn syrup and vanilla and bring to the boil (medium low). and heat to 300 degrees as measured by a candy thermometer (after about 15 minutes)..
Stir and remove from heat. Add the water and stir again.Add the butter and allow to dissolve. 
Put the pan back on heat with the thermometer visible. 
Add the chopped pecans and stir thoroughly.
Pour the brittle onto the warmed baking sheet and allow to cool (about 6 hours).
Break into small pieces and garnish appropriately.

Rotkohl - Allow lots of time

This sweet/sour red cabbage dish was part of a formal dinner party that we had last Saturday. It made enough for about 16 people as a side. The proportions are not exact (sadly) because there was some improvisation needed. But here it is approximately. You can tell by the color if you have enough vinegar.  The dish needs to stay bright red looking. If it goes too dark or faintly purple, there isn't enough acid.


1 head red cabbage (about 4lbs, shredded)
1 1/2 yellow onions (about 1lb) sliced thinly
2 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and sliced
8 cloves inside a spice bag to make them easy to find in the finished dish
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar (Ideally you would use apple cider vinegar and a bit less, but we were out!)
10 T sherry vinegar (optional n- unnecessary if using apple cider vinegar)
1/4 cup of sugar (to taste)
3 t kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Combine all the ingredients in a large pot (these fit into a 7 quart dutch oven). Bring to a simmer gently. Cover and simmer for at least 90 minutes. By all means crack the lid and taste to make sure the balance is how you want it.
After 90 minutes, uncover and allow some of the liquid to evaporate (another 30 minutes). By this time the cabbage should have softened but should still be slightly firm.
Remove the spice bag and serve hot as a side dish with your main course.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sharpening Knives

I admit it, I am a klutz - with lousy eye sight and worse eye/hand coordination. So the perennial problem that a cook has, "How to sharpen knives and keep them sharp?"

I have tried a variety of methods:
Pay someone to do it ($5.00 per blade gets expensive)
Use an electric (e.g. Chef's Choice) sharpener
Use a hand / pull through sharpener
Use a whetstone
Something else?

For various reasons, none of the methods were particularly satisfactory. The best was to have a pro (e.g. Rolling Stone in the DFW area) do it, but at $5.00 per blade the prices was getting crazy - 8 knives, 2 x year. You do the math!
Most electric sharpeners are too "greedy" for my liking - i.e. they take too much metal off the blade. The hand/pull through sharpener didn't deliver great results.
I can't manage a consistent angle on the whetstone, so I went hunting for something easy to use and that did a great job..
On the Serious Eats web page, there was an advertisement for a home belt sharpener. Belt sharpeners are what most of the pros use, so I figured there was a sporting chance that I could make one of these work. The sharpener in question is the E5 from Work Sharp .
So, on a whim I bought one.
It's very effective (at least for my western angle blades). I didn't buy the Asian guides (yet...). Also only have one grade of grit for the sanding belts. But I dare say I will experiment with different grits as well.
The knives came out incredibly sharp. The tool was foolproof (well Chris Proof which requires an even higher degree of ease). I have a carbon steel Sabatier knife which is dark gray in color. So it is easy to see how much metal the sharpener has taken off. Very little! So it meets my don't be greedy criterion.
A nice (but rather short) ceramic honing rod came with it. I alternate between that and my conventional steel. The ceramic rod does a nice job, however.
All in all I am very happy with the sharpener. Finally found one that suits me.

Full disclosure: After I had bought it and used it, I was contacted by the company for a review. For the review, the company did give me an Amazon gift card. That card will be used for more belts

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Eggplant with orange juice and oil

A group of us were staying in an AirBnB in Buenos Aires. We were working together on a very cool project and staying in a very nice house. 5 bedrooms, plenty of bathrooms, pool, outdoor parilla (grill) and a well stocked kitchen. The challenge was always, "What shall we do about dinner?" Of course being in Argentina that was often answered by, "Let's go to..." (one of several nearby great restaurants serving hunks o' beast). This evening, though we decided to eat in.
My contribution was this dish - there is a plentiful supply of oranges here, so why not see what happens?
Note: The egg plant are not the usual globe (Italian) eggplants. These are thinner skinned and light purple in color.


Juice of 3 oranges
1/4 cup neutral oil
3 cloves garlic
1 t soy sauce
1/2t hot sauce
3 Chinese egg plant peeled and cut into 3/4" thick medallions
Salt to taste


Combine the wet ingredients. Soak the egg plant slices in the wet mixture.  Pat them dry and grill over the coals until nicely marked and soft.
Place the slices on a warm platter and drizzle the marinade over the still warm egg plant. Toss lightly to incorporate the dressing.
Sprinkle coarse salt on top and serve hot or at room temperature. It's good either way.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A "Chopped" candidate

This evening's dinner felt like something out of the TV program "Chopped". A bunch of ingredients and a timer - make dinner. The ingredients this time were 1 butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, pepitas and goat cheese. There was some fresh oregano lying around too, and the usual pantry staples. Turned out absolutely delicious!

We used this recipe as one of the dishes in the knife sharpening party. Mostly because the butternut squash needs sharp blades.

It is better to toast the pepitas than to buy the ready toasted variety. Sometimes the pre-toasted pepitas can taste a little rancid.


1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4" cubes
2T vegetable oil
5 sprigs of fresh oregano
12 cherry tomatoes
2 oz pepitas, toasted
2 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled (can substitute cambozola or even brie) 
Salt/pepper to taste


Toast the pepitas in a hot skillet until they brown. This takes about 5-7 minutes. You could also do them in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes. Salt them liberally while still hot.

Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Toss the butternut squash pieces in the oil, then salt and pepper them liberally, adding the oregano. Spread the squash pieces over a rimmed baking sheet. Place them in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes add the tomatoes. Let cook for 10 minutes. Then add the pepitas. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the crumbled goat cheese (or other soft cheese if using) and place the pan back in the oven for the cheese to melt.

Serve piping hot with a nice red wine - in our case a Chianti.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Chicken Refrigerator Soup

A refrigerator soup is one where you have a whole bunch of stuff lying round, and need to use it up - in a potentially unusual way. This one was no exception. Wee were leaving for the weekend and needed to make dinner the night before. How we had the ingredients is a bit of a mystery. What happened to them was awesome.
I had bought too many chicken thighs a few days before. The packaging had me with 2 bone in, skin on chicken thighs left over. Also there was 3/4 of a red onion. That meant to me "make stock". So into  the stockpot went thee thighs, onion and water. Simmer for an hour (so the meat was still viable and the stock was OK (weird color because of the red onion, but tasty. Shredded the chicken (removed the skin, of course) and we now had the basis of a soup.
We had an acorn squash lying around and some celery, carrots, yellow onions, and red potatoes on the day that soup making was required. So how hard could it be? The bonus surprise was that the acorn squash cooked right down and thickened the soup all by itself. So no need to puree anything.
Start to finish 35 minutes.


1T neutral oil
1 small red onion diced
4 small carrots cut into 3/4" lengths
3 ribs celery sliced into 3/4" lengths
3 cups chicken stock (defatted)
Hot sauce to taste (we used our home made habanero vodka - aka secret ingredient)
4 medium red potatoes - quarered
1 acorn squash peeled, seeded and diced
Shredded meat from 2 cooked chicken thighs
2T crunchy peanut butter (preferably unsweetened)
Salt/Pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a saucepot or dutch oven until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, celery, turn the heat down and sweat for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and hot sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the potatoes and squash. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes - until the potatoes are just cooked. As you stir the soup here, the squash will disintegrate, thickening the soup.
Add the chicken and peanut butter, stirring thoroughly until the peanut butter is fully incorporated. 
Serve piping hot with crunchy salt.   

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


A friend of ours had bariatric surgery recently. So he eats far less now than he used to. It's important that what he does eat is really tasty, healthy and nutritious. He doesn't want a lot of potatoes - he simply doesn't have the capacity for them any more. And no carbonation in anything - so no beer (or soda).
So the upshot was to make a one dish meal with chicken... But of course it needed to be amped up, so here goes. The ngredient list looks pretty intimidating, but I would imagine you would have most of the ingredients in the pantry. And yes we did "serve this to people" and Madame said we could!
And, full disclosure, I adapted this from a Serious Eats recipe - Thanks again Kenji


1T olive oil
9 chicken thighs (that's because 9 fit into my largest skillet!), bone in and skin on, seasoned with salt and pepper
8 oz bacon chopped into small pieces crosswise
1 large red onion (that's because we had a red onion - white or yellow would be fine too) diced
1 fennel bulb - diced in the same sized pieces as the oinion
1 head green cabbage shredded like you might for coleslaw
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2T coarse grained mustard
2t habanero vodka (aka secret ingredient)
3 cups chicken stock
2T white sugar
3 bay leaves
12 thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350 and position a rack in the middle. I used the convection bake setting, so it doesn't matter quite so much where the rack is. I had these potatoes (for Madame and me) salt baking on the middle shelf.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a 12" saute pan. Make sure it is shimmering and that there are little whiffs of smoke. Place the thighs SKIN SIDE DOWN into the hot pan. Do not cover with a lid, but do use a splatter guard if you have one. Leave over medium heat undisturbed for 8-10 minutes. The skin should brown and start to crisp up.
Once the chicken has browned, flip it over and cook on the other side for 3-5 minutes - just to get some color.
Transfer the chicken to a warm plate and add the bacon to the pan. The bacon will need to cook for 3-5 minutes. It crisps and darkens a bit.
Pour off most of the fat in the pan and then add the onion and fennel and cook until soft and very slightly brown. Again about 3-5 minutes.
Add the cabbage (it will look like the pot is overflowing, but it does wilt down sum. Keeping the pan on medium heat cook the cabbage until some of it gets a slight char. You will need to keep tossing it in the pan because there is so much of it. 
Add the vinegar, mustard, secret ingredient and deglaze the pan.
Add the chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves, and sugar and bring to a simmer.
Nestle the chicken skin side up in the simmering stock. It is vital that the skin of the chicken be above the liquid. 
Put the pan into the preheated oven and "bake" for 35-45 minutes. My instant read thermometer registered a scary 200. But the chicken was fine. Skin nice and crispy. Certainly any pathogens had been obliterated. 
To serve, place the chicken onto a serving platter or bowl. Cover with the cabbage and remaining liquid. Garnish with fennel fronds, and serve.

A bit of work for a Tuesday - total elapsed time about 75 minutes. But a good chunk of the time was spent with the dish in the oven.

Now I have some left overs for lunches. Except, of course, I forgot to take any to work today.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Baked Vacherin Mont d'Or

Vacherin Mont d'Or is a French washed rind cheese from the Franche-Comte region of France. It is traditionally made from raw (unpasteurized) milk. It is typically made in the autumn/winter months when there is not enough milk to make Comte. It goes on sale in September each year.

The cheese itself is made in rounds of 400gm (14 oz) which are in spruce boxes. Often hard to get in the USA - you have to have an outstanding cheese monger (like the amazing Scardello in Dallas)

A way of serving it is to bake it with some of the local wine (Macvin) and a few slices of garlic. Macvin is a bizarre almost wine. It is a mixture of barely fermented grape juice and marc (a liqueur made from the left over skins, seeds and stalks resulting from pressing the grape juice).

The Macvin that we used is a Chateau D'Arlay - typically sold in 1/2 bottles. We also made a variant of a Vacherin Mont D'Or using a Jasper Hills Farms Winnimere cooked the same way. 


1 400g Vacherin Mont D'Or 
2 garlic cloves, sliced very thinly
3 T Macvin


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Remove the lid from the cheese, leaving the cheese itself in the box. Lay the box on a sheet of aluminium foil. Fold the foil tightly up the sides of the cheese box. This makes sure that the box does not come unglued.
Create slits in the cheese in various places with the point of a paring knife. Go as deep as the cheese, but take care you don't go through the bottom of the box. You want about 16 slits overall evenly spaced. I do them in concentric circles, with the outer circle starting about 1/2" from the outer edge. 
Insert a garlic sliver into each slit, pushing down until the top edge of the garlic sliver is below the top of the cheese.
Once you have filled each slit, pour the wine over the top surface of the cheese, allowing it to top off the slits.
Place the cheese on a baking sheet and put into the pre-heated oven on the middle shelf. 
Bake for around 20 minutes (check at 16) until the top is bubbly and the inside gooey.

To Serve

There are a couple of ways to serve this. My favourite is to serve with some charcuterie and awesome baguettes. But it is also served as a main course with a salad and boiled potatoes. The gooeyness of the cheese coats the potatoes making a sublime pairing. To drink, serve the remaining Macvin (remember it comes in 1/2 bottles so you will need more than one) .

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Asian Slaw

We were asked to bring a dish to a party last evening. We knew that there would be bbq at the party, so figured that some kind of a slaw would be a good dish to bring. Enter an Asian version inspired by my go to team at Serious Eats.

Note this takes well over an hour to make, but it is pretty low involvement

Ingredients - Dressing

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2T Soy sauce
1t toasted sesame oil (or chili sesame oil if you have it. If so reduce the amount of the following)
Some form of hot sauce - preferably one without vinegar. we used "Srirarcha" and habanero vodka.
2 cloves garlic (squished into a paste with a little salt)
2T freshly grated ginger
3T smooth, plain peanut butter (unsweetened)

Method - Dressing

If you measure the oil first and then use the same measuring cup for the honey, the honey flows out more easily. 
Whisk the oil, honey, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and spicy ingredients together. Stir in the garlic and ginger. Finally combine the peanut butter and stir/whisk until incorporated. Leave to stand for up to an hour to incorporate the flavors. Note that there is little salt in the dressing. The soy sauce provides some salt. The cabbage is salted in the next step. There is enough residual salt so it is not necessary to salt the dressing. The small amount of salt added to the garlic is to help with the making of the paste. So when you taste the dressing by itself,  it may seem under seasoned.

Ingredients - Slaw

1 head of green cabbage (about 2lbs) shredded
2T kosher salt
3 large, older carrots peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
3 scallions white and light green parts sliced on the bias
1 red pepper cut into small dice
2 or 3 hot chiles (we used cayenne peppers) chopped very finely) (if desired)
8 oz packet of edamame cooked and chilled
4 oz roasted salted peanuts chopped roughly

Method - Slaw

Lay the cabbage in a strainer or colander and sprinkle with the kosher salt. This will draw out some of the water and keep the cabbage crisp. Leave this for about an hour to drain. Roll the drained cabbage in a kitchen towel and squeeze the water out. This may end up with 1/2 to 1 cup of water.
Combine the slaw ingredients (except the peanuts) in a large bowl. Add the dressing in 3 additions, mixing the slaw after each addition. This ensures that the coating will be even - no pockets of undressed cabbage.
Add the peanuts and mix the slaw for the last time.
Chill and serve within a couple of hours after mixing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pie Dough

Like all dishes this one starts with a story - and a little known secret. First the secret. Cartons of 18 eggs (in the US) are usually fresher than 12s - at least in my local supermarket. Yesterday was no exception. A whole week fresher.
So, with convenient storage for 12, a carton of 18 looked to be inconvenient. Then it hit me. Quiche would take care of the rest. But I needed a pie crust. Not to worry, Milk Street came through. Erika Bruce took ideas from a variety of places to come up with the genius recipe below.


2t Corn Starch
3T cold water
1 Cup + 2T  All purpose flour
pinch salt
10 oz butter, cut into 1/2" cubes and chilled (If using unsalted, up the amount of salt to 4 pinches)
2T Full Fat sour cream


Whisk together the corn starch and water. Microwave on high for 30-45 seconds. Until a clear gel is formed. Chill the cornstarch/water gel.
Measure the flour into the food processor. Add the salt and run the food processor to incorporate and aerate. Add the cornstarch gel. Pulse 5 or 6 times (1 second pulses) to incorporate.
Add the butter and sour cream. Run the food processor continuously until the dough mass forms a mass,
Remove the dough mass from the bowl, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
To use the dough, roll it out as normal. Not the dough is smooth, but not elastic.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Roasted Vegetable Salad

Eggplant, Fairy Tale Hybrid, , large

We had visited a local farmers' market last weekend. One of the farmers had these really cute fairy tale eggplants. These are small, variegated eggplants - about 2 -3 inches in length. Very tender and delicious, with none of the bitterness associated with the more conventional Italian eggplants. They are best cooked roasted in a hot oven with some good oil and shallots. We also roasted cherry tomatoes and shishito peppers from the garden. At the same farmers' market, there was a stall selling interesting salad greens. So we bought some Mizuna for the salad. A lemon juice/rice wine vinegar based vinaigrette, grilled bread (home made that day, of course) and there was dinner. Yup it did get the "we can serve this to people" accolade, so I was pretty happy with the result.


2 1/2 lbs fairy tale eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved pole to pole
1 large shallot, finely minced (divided use)
1 1/2 cups olive oil (divided use)
30 shishito peppers
1t dry mustard (e.g. Coleman's)
1/2t freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
1 head mizuna
2 slices country bread, brushed with olive oil and grilled
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar


Pre-heat the oven to 350 (fan assisted) or 375(conventional). Add 1/2 the chopped shallots to 1/4 cup of olive oil. Swirl to coat. Add the eggplants and shishitos. Place the tomatoes, eggplant (cut side up) and shishitos on a wire rack over a sheet pan. Make sure that all of the oil/shallot mixture is spread over the eggplants. Roast in the oven for 15-20  minutes until the eggplants are softened and slightly brown. The shishitos will cook slightly before the eggplants, so watch them carefully. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Meanwhile make a vinaigrette, combining the mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, remaining shallots, and remaining oil.

Spread the mizuna in a serving bowl and pile on the roasted vegetables. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the warmed vegetables  (you will use maybe 1/4 of the made up vinaigrette - save the rest for other salads). Hand the grilled bread separately.  Serve with a crisp white wine (in my case the "On the White Keys" from Arietta. Madame had a South African Sauvignon Blanc from Spier. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Salads for the arayes

In this post, I described the amazing Lebanese sandwiches - arayes. To go with them we made a couple of salads. Water melons, tomatoes and local feta seemed to be the way to go. Home made yogurt, home grown mint made a good tzatziki. All in all pretty tasty. The dishes were:

Watermelon, watercress, feta and pistachio salad
Cucumber, tomato and onion salad

The tzatziki quantities are approximate. Also, the tzatziki needs at least 2 hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to combine.

Ingredients - Watermelon salad

3 cups cubed watermelon (cubed like this)
1 bunch watercress
5 oz feta chopped into 1/4" cubes
1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
6T Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the best finishing oil you have)
Coarse salt to taste


Combine everything except the salt. Add the coarse salt just before serving, so that the juices don't run out of the melon.

Ingredients - Cucumber, onion, tomato salad

A few lettuce leaves 
3 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded, 14" pieces
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 slice of white onion, 14" thick chopped finely
juice of 1/2 lemon
4T Extra Virgin Olive Oil (again the best that you have)
Coarse sea salt added just before serving.


Line a salad bowl with the lettuce leaves. Combine tomatoes, cucumber, onion in a bowl, add the lemon juice. Just before serving, toss in some coarse salt and stir. Add to the serving bowl that has the lettuce leaves liner.

Ingredients - Tzatziki

3 cloves garlic - mashed to a paste
1 1/2 cups strained (Greek) yogurt
Handful of mint leaves chopped finely
3T white wine vinegar
1t tahini
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the best you have)
salt to taste


Mix the garlic into the yogurt. Add the mint leaves, vinegar, tahini and oil. Stir throughly and check the seasoning. You may need to add a little salt. Chill for at least 2 hours.

arayes - aka lamb-a-dillas

We saw a recipe for arayes in Cooks Illustrated this week. The idea looked so good that we just had to try it. When I described it to a dinner companion (a Texas Boy) on Friday evening, he said that just like quesadillas only with lamb. Hence the name.
The result is a really crispy, slightly smoky sandwich which can be eaten out of hand.  But it also makes a substantial meal. Because the recipe makes quite a few of these, we needed some victims (aka volunteers) to try them out. They came, they ate (and, I think, they liked). If not there was always the MacDonald's on the way home. Even though they are Kiwis, they are far too polite to tell me if they had to stop on the way.
We served them with a couple of salads and some tzatziki. They turned out ( the arayes, not the guests) as well as expected. And there are left overs!
The salads will be described in another post. Suffice it to say that the Coppell Farmers' Market was a source. And especially the la-ti-da farms feta.


1 large white onion cut into pieces
1 cup oregano (leaves and stalks)
1/2 cup lemon thyme (leaves and stalks)
zest and juice of one lemon
1T whole cumin seeds
1T whole coriander seeds
2t black pepper corns,
2t coarse sea salt
1t red pepper flakes
1/2" cinnamon stick
1/4 cup good (but not best) olive oil
1 T smokey paprika
2 lbs lamb leg, cut into 3/4" cubes. Chilled in the freezer for 30+ minutes.
6 x 6" pitas


Pulse the onion, oregano and lemon time in the food processor until the onion is quite small. 8 or so pulses. You may need to scrape it down. Turn out into a bowl.
Grind the spices finely in the spice grinder, adding the coarse salt as that helps to grind them. Add the ground mixture, paprika, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil to the onion/herb mixture.
Mince (grind for my American friends) the lamb twice using the coarse die. You need to do it twice because the lamb fat is unevenly distributed. The second grinding distributes it better.  I added a couple of table spoonfuls of the onion mixture to the grinder at the end to encourage all of the meat to come through.
Mix the lamb with the onion mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Use hands (mine are now really soft) or a silicone spatula.
Chill the lamb mixture for a while (at least an hour)
2 hours before cooking, slice the pitas in half (I use a serrated knife for this) horizontally. So for each pita you have two 6" disks of pita.
Mound the lamb mixture in the center of a pizza half, spread almost to the edge and top with the other half of the same pita.

Squeeze flat and wrap in cling wrap, refrigerate for a couple of hours. 
When ready to cook, fire up the grill (I used the Primo) with so that the coals have a nice ash coating. Grill the sandwiches directly over the coals until the pitas a crispy. Turn the pitas over and grill on the second side.  Time on the grill is about 7 minutes per side 

Remove from, slice into quarters and serve immediately.

Friday, August 4, 2017

We can serve this to chefdave

While on vacation with Dave Gilbert and friends this summer, he made a vegetable curry using Thai red curry paste. It was outstanding. Even better it was easy enough to add some kind of protein or filler to it and have a substantial meal. It was easy to do, so I thought a reprise would be in order.

Little did I know that there was an accolade from Madame that is even higher than "We can serve this to people". This dish garnered a "We can serve this to Chef Dave". So I figured it should be added here so I remember what we did.

Ingredients - Curry Base

1 can coconut cream (No, not sweetened coconut cream a la Coco Lopez)
2 small cans of Thai red curry paste
1 white onion, cut into spoon sized pieces pole to pole
2 cilantro bunches (stalks and leaves separate)
2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced very thinly
4 kaffir lime leaves sliced in to thin strips
1 can coconut milk
3T Fish sauce
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3" cubes
2 lbs carrots cut into 1/3" cubes
2 large egg plants , peeled and diced into 1/3" cubes. Also dice the peeled trimmings into a very fine dice, they will thicken the dish.

Method - Curry Base

Skim the thickest cream from the can of coconut cream into a large Dutch oven. Heat over low heat until it breaks down and becomes oily. Immediately add the curry paste from the cans and stir while frying the paste. Add the onion, cilantro stalks, ginger, and kaffir lime leaves and sweat for about 10 minutes - until the onion has softened. add the remainder of the coconut cream can and all the coconut milk + the fish sauce. Stir until combined. Add the potatoes and the carrots and enough water just to cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes - until the potatoes are nearly cooked.
Meanwhile prepare the egg plant. After 10 minutes add the egg plant to the pot, stir to mix and simmer with the lid on for a few minutes (until the eggplant is cooked and the potatoes are soft, but not mushy). Some of the egg plant will disappear and thicken the liquid, while some will maintain integrity.


Once the base is made,m it can be used to cook a variety of proteins. In the Bahamas, we used some of the fish that the guys caught in the afternoon. Also possible to use chicken, or if you want the full vegetarian experience, some soaked chick peas (garbanzo beans).
It is a matter of slicing the fish or chicken (about 4 oz per person) very thinly and immersing in the hot curry. The fish/chicken are cooked, by simmering in a matter of minutes.  If using chickpeas, the same approach is adopted, but no slicing. They take a little longer, especially if they are a bit firm to start with. No quantity is given here, but for 2 people, one small (14oz) can would work for 2 people.

Serve with a squeeze of lime juice and finely minced cilantro leaves.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The 40th Birthday Pig

A group of friends were in Spanish Wells (Bahamas) to celebrate one of the party's 40th birthday. The birthday dinner was to be a hog, cooked in a china box. The hog and the box were shipped up a couple of days before on a ferry from Nassau. Even though there were several chefs and a couple of of wannabees (myself included in the wannabees), I was the only person with any kind of experience of a china box. I have a friend in Dallas who has one, so asked him for advice once all the piece parts had arrived. He injects his with a flavorful liquid - we didn't have that luxury. We decided to brine ourfs - after all we had a giant brine source right outside the back door. The house was on the beach.

We didn't have all of the required apparatus, so there were some interesting "make do" activities. The first question was how to get the thing flavorful since we were fresh out of injection tools. Then how to manage the china box, acquire charcoal, etc.

Because the meat is not directly over the coals, it is OK to use match light or lighter fluid. The nasty petroleum fumes don't get into the meat. Since I couldn't locate a chimney, we used match light. Of course having to make sure we didn't lose eyebrows, arm hairs, local vegetation while working with it. I don't think that the headline, "Man sets fire to Spanish Wells while using a china box" would have been ideal.


For the brine

4 large white onions roughly chopped, skin and all
6 large carrots unpeeled, roughly chopped
6" piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red pepper flakes
2 gallons tap water
2 gallons sea water
50 lbs ice
5 lbs salt (3 Morton's table salt tubs at 1lb 10 oz each)

For the hog

1 ~40 lb hog, dressed with liver, heart, lungs, kidneys removed and split. In a cooler with 20 lbs of ice to keep it cool while the brine is being made.
8 small cans of Thai red curry paste
1 cup oil (we had olive, but any neutral oil will do.
4 cups Carolina mustard mop sauce


The Brine

Note that there is no sugar in this brine since that will tend to burn in the china box.
Put the onions, carrots, red pepper flakes, ginger and tap water into a large sauce pot. Bring to a simmer and add the salt. Stir to dissolve. This will make a very concentrated brine. Add the sea water. stir and allow to cool.
In a cooler, add 30 lb of ice - to cover the hog. Then pour over the cooled brine. This will dissolve a considerable amount of the ice (especially as it was pretty warm outside). As the ice melts, it dilutes the brine, but if the cooler is effective enough it doesn't hurt. In fact with a long brining time like this, it does no harm to become a little more diluted.
Leave the hog in the brine for 15 - 18 hours. It becomes a battle of allowing it to come to air temperature and dry out a bit prior to cooking vs the flies. We ended up sealing the china box with the hog inside and then checking periodically to shoo away the flies. Also put some of the offal out for the flies to discover - an old trick I learned in Malaysia, growing up where refrigeration was less advanced than it is now.

The Hog

Combine the Thai red curry paste with the olive oil and mix thoroughly. With a few hours to go before cooking, remove the hog from the brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub the skin and the interior with any flavorants you want. We used the Thai curry on one half and the Carolina mop sauce on the other.

Place the hog in the box, and cover with foil to keep the flies off it. Do not put the lid on the box yet - not until it is hot. About 3 1/2 hours before time to eat, pile up 14 lbs of charcoal onto the lid of the China box (still not placed onto the box) and light the charcoal. We used match light so it became quite the conflagration.
Once the flames have died down, spread the coals with a metal spatula, so they become even. We didn't have a spatula, so I used a large saucepan lid.

After an hour add another 6 lbs of charcoal - remember this was match light. I treasure my eyebrows, so adding match light charcoal to an already very hot lid was an advanced maneuver. The trusty saucepan lid came into play.

After another 30 minutes remove the lid and turn the hog over. Rub the interior with your chosen rubs. By this time the skin was nearly done. But the inside was still pretty raw. Then after another hour, repeat the charcoal addition procedure. This time it didn't catch, so we needed to improvise a long taper (rolled up paper towel) to light it from a suitable distance. The small cigarette lighter would have been much to close for comfort.

After one more hour, we tuned the hog over one more time to dry off the skin some more and to crisp it up. 

We didn't have a thermometer at hand, so had to rely on the old, "How loose are the joints, and what does a piece of meat cut off the haunches taste like? method".

She was done, so with much ceremony she was transferred inside and this was the result.The assembled company found her much to their liking.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

This was one of those warm Texas evenings, a bottle of rosé , pita chips and the great outdoors kinds of recipes. We had a few red peppers, some pine nuts, olives, capers, anchovies and "secret ingredient" lying around. So of course a dip was the answer. Served with an Argentinian rosé (Pinot Noir).  Bagel chips as an accompaniment and we had very happy tummies.
It turns out that there are quite a lot of ingredients in this. But we happened to have them all to hand.


3 Red Peppers - roasted and cut into pieces
1/2 cup pine nuts - toasted
2T olive oil (not extra virgin - it becomes bitter with the use of the immersion blender)
1 salt packed anchovy
6 Niçoise olives, pitted
1T capers rinsed and drained
1t Habanero vodka (aka secret ingredient). May substitute any hot pepper sauce, but if vinegared, reduce vinegar in overall recipe
2T Sherry vinegar
Salt to taste


Place all the ingredients except the vinegar and salt into the immersion blender's beaker and pulse until almost smooth. Crunchy peanut butter texture is what you are aiming for.
Taste once the desired texture is attained. Add salt (if necessary) and sherry vinegar to taste.
Chill and serve with pita chips

Saturday, April 15, 2017

One Dish Asparagus

Asparagus and Mushrooms - A Light Dinner

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course
Time 15 minutes
Skill Easy

This dish came about because asparagus is so good this time of year - and we wanted a quick and easy one dish meal. Mushrooms and asparagus are a match made in heaven. Some shallots and a couple of eggs, oh my!

You can use plain white button mushrooms, creminis, shiitakes, or any other exotic mushrooms for this. Be careful of the woody stems of shiitake mushrooms though.

The clever bit of this recipe is that the liquid from the mushrooms steams the asparagus and the eggs. If using white mushrooms you probably won't have to add any water.

You can, of course add any herbs/spices that interest you. I think a little nutmeg would be nice. Could also see thyme (a natural complement to mushrooms) being a nice addition.


1 T neutral (I used olive) oil
1 Medium shallot diced very finely
12 oz Mushrooms (sliced) - 1/4" (5 mm) thick slices. Use the stems too, but see caution above
1/4 t cayenne pepper (optional)
2T Dry sherry or white vermouth
3 T water (if necessary)
1 lb Fresh asparagus 1 1/2" (3 cm) pieces cut on the bias
2 - 4 whole chicken eggs
Salt/pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a medium (8") skillet. I prefer not to use non-stick, but that is a preference. Add the shallots and sweat for a minute or 2 until they are translucent.
Add the mushrooms to the skillet and sprinkle a little salt over them to encourage them to release their liquid. cook briefly (3 or 4 mor minutes) until the mushrooms have wilted and given up some of their liquid.  Add the cayenne (if using) and stir to incorporate. Add the sherry or vermouth.
Place the asparagus stalks on top of the mushroom/shallot mixture and put a tight fitting lid onto the pan. Steam for 30 seconds. Add the asparagus tips and, again, place the lid on and steam for a further minute. Check the liquid and if the pan is looking dry, add up to 3T water.
Break the eggs and individually place the eggs on top of the asparagus. Keep the eggs well separated, The recipe will accept up to 4 eggs, but you may not want to do that many.
Place the lid back on the skillet and allow the contents to steam for 3 1/2 more minutes - until the egg whites are set and the yolks are the consistency you want. The asparagus will be just cooked
Remove the lid adjust the seasoning to your taste. Serve immediately, making sure that any juices in the bottom of the pan are scooped up and drizzled over the dish.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Brisket rub

We recently bought a new ceramic outdoor "grill". We have had a medium sized Big Green Egg for a while, and we also had a propane based gas grill next door to it. The propane just got to be too much of a pain, so we abandoned it and bought a Primo XL oval ceramic grill to put in its place. That means we can now do 2 whole beef briskets at a time - not that we need to very often. But at this time of the year it is necessary as we give briskets to the police, fire department, home owners' association security group, local TV stations and others. Also we do a big event on the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) where we always serve brisket and pork.

I had a half brisket left over after the pre-Christmas deliveries so I took it to work. At work there is a group of young (and therefore always hungry) developers who like nothing better than BBQ (especially free BBQ). The 7 lbs of meat disappeared in about 15 minutes. And then there was the inevitable question (by some of the non-apartment dwellers who maybe planned to smoke their own meat) what is in the rub? In my kitchen there are no secrets. So here's what I do. You may find the units a bit odd, because they are expressed in "parts" not in any specific base. A part could be a teaspoon, a tablespoon, a cup, a gallon or whatever. But please note, all these are volume measures. I didn't weigh any of them. Also this rub is very suitable for beef, but I don't use it on pork - it is far too intense for pork.

Ingredients - All By Volume

20 parts kosher salt
6 parts jaggery (indian sugar_ or dark soft brown sugar
2 parts paprika (smoked is better)
2 parts black pepper (finely ground
1 part ground cumin
1/2 part garlic powder
1/2 part onion powder
1/4 part cayenne pepper

Note: The fractional parts could be a bit confusing. I could have multiplied it out and ended up with 80 parts of kosher salt. Somehow that would have looked a bit daunting.

And no the ingredients aren't terribly precise.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

GuacaTuna Redux

A while back (in 2009) I created a dish called Guacatuna. The idea was to replace the mayonnaise in tuna salad with mashed avocado. The texture was about the same, but the flavor was better. The mango added a little behind the scenes sweetness.

A couple of weeks I improvised on the idea and combined the avocado with a little mango - keying off this dish . Another success, I am pleased to say.


8oz Fresh Tuna
2 Avocados - flesh scooped out
1 mango - peeled and diced
2 pickling onions - minced (you could use 1/2 red onion, minced if you prefer)
1/2 habanero pepper
1/4 cup olive oil (you may not need all of it. It depends on the avocado)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely, Save some small leaves for garnish
a few cherry tomatoes halved
Pomegranate arils for garnish
salt/pepper to taste
coarse salt for crunch
Lettuce for serving, (Butter lettuce leaves or grilled romaine)


Salt and pepper the tuna, then grill it over charcoal until the interior is light pink. Allow it to cool, and then flake into bite sized pieces.
Meanwhile, place the avocado, mango, habanero into the blender and pulse a few times. It will clog up, so thin with a little high quality olive oil. You want it to be smooth and the texture of mayonnaise.
Combine the tomatoes, cilantro, minced onion and tuna with the avocado mixture. Season the mixture to taste.
Serve on a bed of butter lettuce (or as we did with some grilled romaine). Garnish with the pomegranate and cilantro. Sprinkle a little coarse sea salt over the salad and serve immediately.
The wine that evening was the Spier Chenin Bland - which at < $10 per bottle is terrific value for a midweek supper.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leeks, mushrooms, asparagus

I suppose this is one of those dishes where an exotic name (preferably in an obscure language) is appropriate. But I decided just to be prosaic. It's more one of those, "What do we have lying around?" kinds of dishes. It turned out well, and got the "We can serve this to people" accolade.
To get the asparagus to behave, I cooked the stem ends for a minute before adding the tips.


2T Unsalted butter
3 leeks, white and light green parts, rinsed, and chopped finely
6 oz mushrooms, sliced (We had some white and some cremini, so used both)
1 minced jalapeno pepper
12 oz fresh asparagus cut into 2" lengths
2 T Port (I would have preferred a medium dry sherry, but port was what I could find)
2T water
2 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved
salt/pepper to taste
Sea salt to sprinkle for extra crunch


Melt the butter over low heat in a large skillet. Add the leeks and sweat them (adding a little salt) for 4 or 5 minutes, taking care not to brown them. Move the leeks to the edge of the pan, and place the mushrooms in the center, turning up the heat a bit. Cook the mushrooms until they have driven off most of their moisture. Combine the leeks and mushrooms, add the port and the asparagus stalks. Put the lid on the pan and steam gently for a minute or so. Add the water and the asparagus tips, steam for a further 2 minutes with the lid on the pan.
Turn off the heat and immediately add the cherry tomatoes. Stir to combine and serve.

We had this as a main course, but it would make an excellent side dish, perhaps in a warm salad, or as a bruschetta on grilled baguette slices. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mango and Avocado salad

A dinner party dish. It's all about the prep! It can be varied a bit too, depending on which accents you want. This time we used pomegranates - they are just coming back into season, it seems. Thanks Dana, for the prep.


1 large ripe mango, peeled and cut into 1/3" chunks
1 shallot, finely diced
2 ripe avocados, peeled and cut into the same sized pieces as the mango
Juice of 2 limes (divided use)
1 Pomegranate (arils only)
High quality olive oil (amount varies depending on the ripeness of the fruit, but around 2T)
2 green lettuce leaves per person
1/2 cup roughly chopped roasted pistachios
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Ahead of time, prepare the mangoes, avocado, pomegranate and onion. Make sure you cover the avocado with the juice of one of the limes.
When ready to serve, combine the fruits and shallot into a bowl and add the juice of 1/2 the second lime. Add 1T of olive oil and taste - checking for consistency.  You may need more, so check carefully.
To plate, lay 2 lettuce leaves on the salad plate, spoon the salad mixture onto the leaves, sprinkle a little more olive oil over the dish, then top with the pistachios and add some coarse sea salt (for crunch). Grate a little pepper on each plate, and serve immediately. 

Lamb Shoulder Chops - Sous Vide and Grilled

It was dinner event time. We had a menu comprising an avocado/mango/pomegranate salad, lamb shoulder chops with salt baked potatoes, roasted tomatoes and roasted cauliflower. This was followed with lemon pots de creme.

This post is about the lamb chops. Shoulder chops are a bit awkward. The bones run in odd directions, but the flavor is fantastic. They can be a bit tough, so our old friends yogurt and sous-vide cooking come to the rescue.


2 cups plain yogurt
20 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
2t coriander seeds, lightly crushed
20 cardamom pods - seeds only, lightly crushed
5 inch piece of lemon grass - bruised
1t Szechuan pepper - bruised
3 cloves garlic, crushed
12 lamb shoulder chops (about 8lb)


Combine the yogurt and spices in a small jug. Put the lam chops in vacuum bags (I used 3 bags, each with 4 chops). Divide the yogurt mixture evenly among the bags, Extract the air from the bags, and leave until ready
Set up the water circulator and water bath to a temperature of 134F (57C) and immerse the bagged chops for 4+ hours. This temperature get the chops to medium rare+. Shoulder meat needs to be a little more cooked than the tender lollipop chops.
The chops are finished on the grill. 
Heat the grill (we used the Big Green Egg) to a high temperature. Open the vacuum bags, and while still warm, pat the meat dry. Place the meat on the grill to brown - and get some slightly smoky flavor. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Shore Dinner

This recipe is adapted from a brilliant idea that we saw on an America's Test Kitchen episode. Prep time is minimal (10 minutes if you are moving slowly). Cook time is short (20-25 minutes) and the results are outstanding. You do need a tall, skinny stock pot, however. It needs to be skinny so the steam can permeate easily all the way through. Ours is an 8qt - sometimes called a pasta pot. Yes there is no liquid added.


1lb Kilebasa sausage - cut into 1/2" thick rounds
2 lbs mussels
3 lbs little-neck clams
2 lbs small red potatoes cut into 1" pieces
6 ears corn, outer leaves trimmed and cut in halves
salt/pepper as needed


Place the kielbasa rounds in a single layer in the bottom of the cold pot. Wrap the mussels and clams in cheesecloth, and tie to make a bag. It makes then easier to remove when all is done. Put the cheesecloth bag on top of the kielbasa. Put the potatoes on top of the bag of mussels/clams. Put the corn halves on next. 

Cover the pot with its own lid. Place the pot on medium heat and cook for about 25 minutes. Check the doneness of the potatoes at about 22 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked the dish is ready. 
To serve, place the corn on a large platter, and then spread the potatoes, shellfish and sausage all around. Strain the liquid to remove any grit and serve separately.

We served it with a Spier Sauvignon Blanc, and home made, crusty bread.

This dish works because the hot air rising from the browning of the sausage hits the shellfish causing them to open slightly and drop their liquid. The liquid turns to steam cooking the potatoes and corn.