Sunday, June 30, 2013

South Carolina Style Pulled Pork

June 9, 2013

Pulled Pork on Homemade Buns
White Sweet Corn
Fruit Salad
Samuel Adams Double Agent IPL and Vella Merlot
Mixed Berry Galette

  Pulled Pork with Mustard Barbecue Sauce from Cook's Country
Beautiful Burger Buns from King Arthur Flour

Making pulled pork has been an annual summer tradition for a few years. Because a pork shoulder roast can weigh 5 pounds we have leftovers that last for months. Fortunately, it freezes well.

There are several styles of pulled pork as different regions of the country prefer different sauces. For each, a pork shoulder, or Boston Butt, is cooked low and slow, often with smoke, to break down the plentiful fat and connective tissue. The meat is shredded and sauced, often using a sweet and sour sauce of tomatoes, sugar, and vinegar. However, the version we had this Sunday was made with a mustard sauce, the way they like it in South Carolina.

I was able to buy a small roast, just 2.8 pounds compared to the 4-5 pounds that are normal for this cut of pork. This worked out well for the two of us, we had enough to have pulled pork sandwiches for dinner 4 or 5 times (several times on slider buns) but not so much that we needed to freeze it. I applied the dry rub on Saturday afternoon and put the roast in the refrigerator overnight. It smoked on the grill for a little over 2 hours and was finished after another 2 hours in the oven.

I used a King Arthur recipe to make buns. I was originally planning to make slider buns (24 portions of dough) but I ended up making kinda normal-sized buns (12 portions of dough). I liked the buns which had more structure than store-bought buns. They were tender but not as soft as most store-bought buns.  I didn't take photos and publish my own version of the recipe but I should have as the published recipe was not the easiest to follow.

To complete this summer meal we had white sweet corn, cooked in the microwave, and a fruit salad composed of watermelon, fresh local yellow peach, and an orange. For dessert I bought a Mixed Berry Galette at Whole Foods which disappointed. You shouldn't go shopping when hungry. I was trolling for free samples and had been thinking of fruit pies now that summer is here when I came across the good-lucking dessert. I wasn't worth the $16 cost.

We enjoyed the pulled pork and the interesting, and different, mustard sauce. The pork was tender and sweet. But after having these sandwiches several times we came to the conclusion that we prefer a tomato-based sauce. Perhaps because it's we are are used to, perhaps we just prefer ketchup to mustard, but the next time we make this we'll use a different sauce. Sorry, South Carolina, no offense intended.
Pork shoulder only 2.8 pounds, recipe is for 4-5 pounds. I didn't have enough dry mustard, about half what the recipe called for so I went with that. I made the full amount of dry rub and plenty left over. It went into the refrigerator around 4:30

I started smoking the pork later than I should have, around 3. It stayed on the grill for over two hours.  It was done after 2 hours in the oven.

I followed the King Arthur recipe as best I cold but it is not particularly well written. I was going to make slider buns (24 portions of dough) but ended up making just 12 (easier, less dough to shape, easier to portion the dough.)

Used this method to cook corn
Removing the husks was difficult because they were so hot, perhaps 4 minutes an ear is too much, but otherwise it makes the process of husking the corn easier.

I enjoyed the buns. They had more structure than store-bought buns, while tender they were not quite as soft.

The pork was good. The amount from a ~3 lb roast was about right for us. The sauce was interesting with its focus on mustard. The meat was tender and flavorful. I didn't use all of the sauce to dress the meat after teasing it apart with two forks.

Dessert was purchased at Whole Foods and I probably paid too much money for it, $16. But I was hungry when I went to the store and saw this dessert while trolling for free samples in the store. I had been thinking of fruit pies now that local foods are coming into season in San Jose.

Fruit salad: watermelon, fresh local yellow peach, organic orange

Another method for making slider buns

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pizza on the Barbie

June 2, 2013

Grilled Pizza
Garden Salad
Vella Merlot

Easy Grilled Pizza from Cook's Country

Grills were made to cook meat, at least that's what I thought for a long time. In recent years I've learned that grilled vegetables can be very good. I've not grilled much fruit, but I love grilled pineapple and with peach season here there may be more fruit on our grill soon. But I wouldn't have thought of cooking pizza on a grill until I read this recipe a few years ago. I was intrigued, saved the recipe to my collection, and finally got around to making it for Sunday Dinner.

The recipe says this is a quick meal to make and while it took me longer than the recipe predicted (it almost always does) I had dinner on the table less than an hour after starting to prepare. While the dough is made with yeast it doesn't have to rise, doing all of its rising on the grill. I modified some of the techniques from the recipe. I used a large spatula to move the pizzas around, this worked better than tongs. I also did not crisp the finished pizza on high heat when it was done. This was hardly necessary and skipping this step allowed me to cook two pizzas at a time on my three-burner grill. While we enjoyed the simple topping of cheese and chunky tomatoes we wish there had been more of it, perhaps 50% more, or perhaps a diced tomato product with smaller pieces of tomato.

This recipe produced a thin crust, crispy on the top and bottom with some chew in the middle. This was a very nice, simple meal. With a crispy fresh garden salad (red leaf lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, green bell pepper, grape tomatoes) and some red wine it was a winning combination.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Goop 2: An Evolving Recipe for Pepper Steak

June 16, 2013

Goop over steamed rice


My mom cooked without recipes. Diane's mom cooks without recipes.  Diane cooks without recipes. I cook without recipes, except for the Sunday dinners and desserts that I write about here. Most people who cook every day meals probably do so without recipes. They may start with a recipe, perhaps using it only as a guideline, adjusting it to fit the season, pantry contents, and family tastes. If the recipe is popular it is made regularly, soon the cook needs no written directions at all, and the recipe evolves. It improves as failed variations are discarded in favor of those that work. My mom was a very good cook and my dad would say the spaghetti sauce, for example, was never the same twice. Before she died, my sisters went to great efforts to record ingredients and instructions so her recipes would not be completely lost when we lost her.

This is the story of a recipe and my first attempt to duplicate it and record instructions so others can enjoy it. The dish is called goop. It comes from Diane who got it from her mother, Delphine. Delphine says the recipe goes back about 50 years, when they were living in Los Angeles. A friend, Glenn Hess, was the Sunday School teacher for young married couples. She liked something that she was served at a restaurant, she analyzed it, and came up with what she called "goop". Delphine thinks of it as a pepper steak.

Diane has a recipe card–old, beaten up, stained, hard to read–which served as my starting point. That plus Diane's knowledge and experience with the recipe. Like many home recipes, it lacks precision and detail. This is "Goop 1". 
Laminated steak
   brown beef seasoned with garlic salt (powder + salt)
1 can mushroom pieces (save juice)
Add 4 onions
  1 green pepper
  4 stalks celery
  ½ teaspoon chili powder
  ¼ teaspoon allspice
  2 tablespoons sugar
  Worcestershire sauce
  Tabasco sauce
  1# can tomatoes
  Mushroom juice
Serve over rice
My favorite part of this dish is the sauce. It soaks into the rice and gives it a delightful, savory flavor. It's has a hint of heat but it's the allspice that provides its unique character. The tomatoes, pepper, and onions are cooked down so they are sweet and tender. One of Diane's favorite modifications is to use frozen bell peppers; they come in assorted colors which adds to the visual appeal of the dish, as well as being convenient to keep on hand.

We don't know what "laminated steak" is. I found a reference to a product by this name produced by  a since defunct Southern California company, but Delphine thinks it just means the meat is sliced very thin.

Working with Diane, I came up with the recipe ("Goop 2") which I have recorded so you can try it, too. To be frank, it is not as good as what Diane has made for me many times. The meat was not cut correctly and the sauce did not have the distinctive flavor that I am so fond of. It was far from being a total failure, though, and a good start to developing a good goop recipe. The balance of steak and vegetables was correct even though the original recipe doesn't say how much meat to use.

I will make it again, maybe sooner rather than later, while the memories are fresh. Here are some of the changes that we'll consider for Goop 3:
  • Cut the meat into smaller pieces. They should be thin strips instead of squares. This piece of beef should have been cut parallel to the counter so the two halves are ¼–½-inch thick, and then sliced across the grain into ¼-inch slices that are long and skinny. We should try very thin slices, too.
  • The amount of heat was good but the flavor of the hot sauce overwhelmed the allspice. Decrease the hot sauce to ⅛ teaspoon, or eliminate it entirely, and increase the allspice to 1 teaspoon (though that seems like a lot).
  • Brown the meat in two batches, the pan was too crowded and the meat stewed rather than browned.
  • Use fresh garlic in place of the garlic salt.
I hope that it won't take too many iterations before I have a recipe that you can use to duplicate what Diane serves to me. (If you try it now or have suggestions, I would love to hear from you! You can use the comments form at the bottom of this post.)  If you find you like it enough to prepare it often, its continuing evolution will then be up to you. It will continue to change and evolve and adapt to the tastes of your family. And it will be good.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Monkey Bread: Why we should have more breakfast for dinner

June 1, 2013

Monkey Bread from Cook's Country

I usually have a bowl of cereal with milk and a glass of juice for breakfast. Later in the morning I'll have some fresh fruit; I call it second breakfast. Sometimes instead of cereal I'll have toasted English muffins (with butter, peanut butter, and jam) or toasted raisin bread (with butter and peanut butter). Variety is good. On occasion, when we have an early-morning event to attend, Diane and I will have breakfast at Starbucks. For me that means some tea and one of their pastries; they're not wonderful pastries but they're OK. On Christmas morning we always have cinnamon rolls, though not made from scratch.

I enjoy having fresh, scratch-made baked goods for breakfast–muffins, buns, rolls, doughnuts–but getting up early to make something just isn't practical, especially if it's a yeast bread. And I don't need the calories, at least not on a regular basis, but what harm can there be in the occasional doughnut?

But I can bake something that is normally associated with breakfast later in the day and see how well it keeps. I've been wanting to try this recipe for Monkey Bread and so I spent a Saturday afternoon doing just that. The origin of the curious name of this delicacy is unknown, but it's a sweet, sticky pull-apart loaf with a soft, rich dough. Being a yeast bread it takes some time to prepare as the dough needs to rise twice. In addition, making 64 balls of dough each of which is dipped in butter and then a cinnamon sugar mixture is time consuming, taking about half an hour. I found that the amount of melted butter and cinnamon/sugar specified in the recipe didn't cover all 64 balls of dough, but it was easy to prepare some more.

The payoff after waiting for dough to rise and the time it took to forming the loaf came when the bread was served. It was ready just in time for us to have it for dessert after dinner and it was very good. We ate it while it was still warm from the oven. It was crispy from the caramel, sweet and loaded with a lot of cinnamon flavor. The crumb was rich, buttery, soft, and sweet but with enough texture to provide just the right amount of chew. It was much better than anything that you could buy from a store or a coffee shop.

I thought about freezing some of the bread but it was disappearing so fast that I decided that wouldn't be necessary. It was never as good as when it was fresh but it was very convenient to snack on. Passing through the kitchen, it was hard to resist the temptation to pull off one little piece of bread to eat. And then a second. And a third.

The challenge still remains: how can a delicious fresh pastry or bread be prepared for breakfast? Since the solution is not getting up very early in the morning to bake, it must be changing the time that breakfast is served. Having breakfast for dinner is a long standing tradition of ours. I shall take advantage of this and include baked goods on my next breakfast for dinner menu. The leftovers? I can have those for breakfast all week long.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Meat and Potatoes

May 26, 2013

Roast Beef
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Dinner Rolls
Ranch 32 Cabernet Sauvignon
Brownie Sundae

Grandma's Roast Beef and Gravy from Cook's Country
ATK Classic Brownies from Cook's Illustrated

I grew up in a meat and potatoes family. This culinary phrase, which apparently only came into usage after World War II, has come to have meanings that go well beyond the kitchen. Among these usages, it indicates a preference for simple foods, comfort food if you will. These two items were featured in most suppers we ate when I was growing up.  I don't remember having pasta as a side dish. We never ate rice, I don't think I ate rice until after I had grown and moved away from home. These days we eat a more varied diet due to an evolution of our personal tastes,  to the availability of a wider variety of foods, and to a more diverse society with more varied culinary influences. But meals like this with meat and potatoes, meals that harken to our earliest food memories, will always be comforting and welcome.

The butcher custom-cut a 4-pound top round roast for me; handing it to me he called it a "man steak". I forgot to ask for a ¼" fat cap as specified in the recipe and the meat came well trimmed. I tied and salted it, wrapped it, and put in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. After browning the meat there was little fat in the pan and perhaps I should have added some oil before browning the vegetables and flour. The recipe predicted it would take 2½–3½ hours to cook the roast, but mine was done in less than 2 hours. I checked the temperature of the oven and found it was 250° rather than the 225° that it was set for. It may be time to calibrate the oven again. It may also be that calibrating the oven to be correct when set to 350° does not mean it is correct when set it to a higher or lower temperature so it is important to use an oven thermometer. Despite the shorter, hotter cooking time, the beef was delicious, done perfectly to medium rare with only a thin ring of darker meat around the edges.  It was nicely seasoned though a little tough but; I think that is to be expected when using such a lean cut of beef. Cooking it for a longer time at a lower temperature might also lead to a more tender result.

Since the pan was still dry after roasting the beef, I added several tablespoons of vegetable oil when browning the vegetables to make the gravy. The original recipe specified beef consommé but as I couldn't find any in two different supermarkets I used canned beef stock. The gravy still turned out to be very good. It wasn't at all greasy and had a nice, thick consistency. It lacked somewhat in beef flavor probably due to the absence of the fat cap on the roast, the only source of beef flavor was the stock and the brown bits left in the pan from browning the meat.

I don't usually comment on wine but the Ranch 32 Cabernet Sauvignon was remarkably good. It was not as full bodied as Cabs can be, but had good varietal flavor, good fruit, and modest tannin which made it easier and more pleasant to drink.

While we don't frequently have meat and potatoes and gravy meal like this, it is nice to include it in the mix. Not only is it familiar and comfortable food, it's just good to eat.

What a treasure trove of leftovers we had with this beautiful roast beef. We had cold roast beef sandwiches, hot roast beef sandwiches, steak salad, beef added to spring vegetable pasta, steaks (cut the ½" slices and heat on the grill), and french dip sandwiches.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Flavorful Pasta and Re-invigorated Sourdough Starter

May 19, 2013

Spring Vegetable Pasta
Sourdough Almost No-knead Bread
2011 Sterling Central Coast Chardonnay
Strawberries and Biscuits

Spring Vegetable Pasta from Cook's Illustrated

I like variety in many things, including my cooking. From week to week I rotate through various proteins as my main course. If I haven't had beef in a while then I'll look for a beef recipe. In this regard I think of pasta as an equal to beef, pork, and chicken as a main course. Growing up, we always had pasta served with a tomato-based sauce. Even then I didn't eat it. My sister Deanna and I would always have something else when the rest of the family ate spaghetti. Now that I enjoy and appreciate pasta dishes, there are many that are new to me that I look forward to trying.

This meal featured a version of pasta primavera, or pasta with spring vegetables. It's similar to a dish I prepared last summer, but it uses a different pasta, prepared in a different way, and mixed with different vegetables. It's the same, only different. The pasta is toasted before being cooked in wine and a vegetable broth. This combination gives the bell-shaped campanelle a real nice, complex flavor. The vegetables were crisp and fresh but being all green the dish lacked somewhat in visual appeal. I think more vegetables for the amount of pasta would have been good.

It had been over six months since I last used my sourdough starter. For all that time it sat in the back of the refrigerator, neglected. It wasn't pretty, a thick layer of alcohol had collected on top  a product of the fermentation process that occurs naturally in the starter) and it had developed a grey tinge. Fortunately, starter is not only hearty but it is sufficiently acidic that the growth of bacteria and mold is inhibited. Thus even though it looked bad, it smelled OK and I was confident it was safe.  I took it out of the refrigerator, stirred it, fed it with equal parts flour and water, and let it stand at room temperature all day. The starter came to life, expanding and bubbling as the yeast went to work on the flour. I fed it again in the evening and the following morning it was even more active, all foamy on top and with no traces of the grey color.

For dinner I made a loaf of sourdough bread. As I have done before, I used the recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread but I replaced the ¼ teaspoon of yeast with ¼ cup of starter. After the dough sat overnight I was concerned that it hadn't risen enough. Even after proofing, the loaf of bread looked  too short and fat. However, it baked up really nicely with good oven spring leading to the usual excellent crispy crust and a chewy open crumb. The bread had a more pronounced sourdough flavor than I recall from previous attempts to make sourdough suggesting that over the 1+ years that I've had it the flavor has continued to build and improve.

For dessert we had strawberry shortcake as my mom used to make it. She made drop biscuits using the recipe on the BisQuick box. Craving a dessert from my childhood, I bought a box of BisQuick and mixed up some biscuits. I enjoy the crisp crust of the warm, fresh biscuits and the way they soak up the strawberry juice. To prepare the berries, the calyx (i.e. the stem) is removed with a grapefruit spoon (a recent tip I read about, it works great). Half of the berries were quartered and the other half mashed. Some sugar was added and they were left to sit for a few hours at room temperature to release more juice and to absorb the sugar. These early-season berries aren't the sweetest.

We got a lot of meals out of this pasta dish. It keeps very well and can just be warmed up in the microwave oven and served. The pasta keeps its texture and if anything the flavors improve.