Cooking Archive

Hot Hot Hot

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Jeremy Clarkson may be best known to Americans as the host of Top Gear, which can be seen on BBC America.

Aside: I'm not a car guy by any means, yet I record and watch Top Gear almost religiously — it's simply terrific television. Some segments seem to me to be among the best pieces of filmmaking ever produced for television. I am particularly taken with this segment featuring Top Gear co-host James May taking the Bugatti Veyron out for a spin:

I really do think that's among the best pieces of TV filmmaking ever produced.

OK, back to the point here. Clarkson may be best known for Top Gear, but he made his bones, so to speak, as a journalist, and continues to write a column for the Times of London. If I had to compare him to anyone here in the US, it might be Dave Berry... but Clarkson is, to my way of thinking, a far better writer.

As an added bonus, he is that rarity: an European who actually delights in not being politically correct. That alone makes him worth a read.

In one of my favorite columns, Clarkson addresses the H-bomb of the kitchen, hot sauce, and in the process delivers several shots to one of his favorite targets, the nanny state.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where everything comes with a warning notice. Railings. Vacuum cleaners. Energy drinks. My quad bike has so many stickers warning me of decapitation, death and impalement that they become a nonsensical blur.

The result is simple. We know these labels are drawn up to protect the manufacturer legally, should you decide one day to insert a vacuum-cleaner pipe up your bottom, or to try to remove your eye with a teaspoon. So we ignore them. They are meaningless. One drop at a time! Use extreme caution! On a sauce. Pah. Plainly it was just American lawyer twaddle.

No, it wasn't twaddle.

Read on, and enjoy: Help, quick — I've unscrewed the top on a ticking bomb.


As a further aside, I'd like to note that my birthday is coming up in three months. If anyone would like to get me a Veyron to mark the occasion, I wouldn't complain. I believe one can be had for approximately $1.7 million. Three months ought to be enough time, no?


Addendum: Clarkson would probably disdain and reject the label of "European" — he is English. I'd concur.

Coffee, Coffee - Yum Yum Yum

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Go here: Mystic Monk Coffee. Find and click on the link for "Jingle Bell Java." (Look at the bottom right of the main page.

(Or click here. Either way.)

Order at minimum 20 pounds. It comes in 12 ounce packages, so you'll have to order at least 27 packages.

Don't argue with me — just do it. Do it now.

Even if you aren't a coffee drinker, you'll have enough to roll around in and/or smear all over your body.

You won't regret it.

Quote of the Day

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Amen and amen:

Pork is God's way of saying he also loves Gentiles.

Tools of Renewal's Steve Graham, via his Twitter feed.

Notes from a Late Night Dinner

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I'm not saying it pertains to me. Oh, no, no.

But, seriously — Tabasco™ brand Habanero Sauce really, really ought to have a "Do not drink product directly from the bottle" warning label.

I'm not joking.

(Yes, I am.)


I've been on a chili kick lately. I've done the math (sort of, in my head, just now) and I figure I've made about 15-20 pounds of chili over the course of the last three months. I've had chili for dinner, on average, about 2½ times a week.

Yes, I love chili.

This week, I've tried something a bit different. While trolling the aisles at the local BJ's club store, I saw they had ground buffalo. I've wanted to try buffalo for quite a while.

Buffalo, not "bison." Insisting on calling it "bison" irritates me just about as much as insisting on calling corn "maize." It strikes me as being entirely too trendeigh.

At any rate, I picked up a couple of pounds of ground buffalo. It's definitely on the pricey side compared to ground beef, but it is allegedly better for you than beef; it's certainly leaner, as its advocates claim; as I browned it prior to adding it to the slow cooker, there was a good deal less fat rendered out. Into the slow cooker it went, along with the rest of the chili makings.

The verdict? If you're making chili, save your money and use beef. Prior to adding the browned buffalo to the chili pot, I did give it a taste; the flavor difference between buffalo and beef was almost negligible, and was definitely overwhelmed by the chili seasonings I used. I suppose I expected something bolder, perhaps a bit gamier.

In a dish without so much heavy seasoning, though, I think buffalo would be pretty good. I have a pound in the fridge I'll be making into hamburgers. I expect them to be tasty.

Five awesome words

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Homemade breakfast burritos for dinner.

... an ingrate.

Many many thanks to loyal reader MJ, who, having read about my dilemma last week, sprung into action and shipped me six packs of Starbucks ground coffee. It was a complete and much welcome surprise.

I figure that'll get me through the end of the year.

I have the Best. Readers. Ever.


I didn't mention it yesterday, but when I took that bit of a fall in the wee hours of Saturday morning, in the process I kicked a door jamb and broke my little toe. That took some real brains.

Russ, just Russ... soooooper genius.

At least my hands and arms remain undamaged and fully functional. Getting around the house is just a bit more difficult, but fortunately I am already accustomed to moving like a 90-year-old. The toe doesn't actually hurt a whole lot, but it has turned quite a lovely variety of colors.

While on the subject of heath matters: I spoke with one of the staff at my neurologist's office today about scheduling the MRI and plasmapheresis they want me to do. They want me to have the MRI first — why, I don't know — but because of the shunt in my head, the Duke neurosurgeon or one of his residents has to be on hand to magnetically re-key the shunt settings, so the scheduling depends on them.

To be honest, I don't know why I don't have some sort of MedicAlert bracelet or wallet card with the shunt settings listed, just in case. I should probably check into that.

I'll probably go with the wallet card. I haven't regularly worn "jewelry" of any kind since I took off my dogtags in 1992.

Crisis Averted

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Having acquired a supply of coffee (Folgers Columbian) and freebased the grounds, I should be good to go for the rest of the week.

As soon as I stop bouncing off the walls, that is.

Columbian Crisis: Day 2

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It's my second day without coffee. Real coffee, I mean — not the instant decaf I have on hand. Instant decaf is to real coffee as an AMC Gremlin is to a Deusenberg.

I don't know how I could have let this happen. I am sorely tempted to find out what Diet Coke tastes like after having been run through a Mr. Coffee.

Tomorrow is grocery day... but I may have to go to the store tonight if I expect to be functional tomorrow.

The horror...

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Kismet woke me up earlier than usual this morning. I have had maybe four hours of sleep.

I have no coffee in the house.

None. No instant coffee, even. Just decaf. This is a personal disaster beyond compare, beyond belief.

Sure, there's a Starbucks five or six miles from here... but a trip out of the house requires a lot of preparation on my part — which might be impossible without caffeine. I'm guessing they couldn't be bribed to deliver.

I wonder how Diet Coke tastes, hot?

Maybe I can suck on some used coffee grounds.

Best of both worlds

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Call it what you will

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An oldie-but-goody:

Bill Clinton goes into a local diner for lunch. As he reads the menu the waitress comes over and asks, "Are you ready to order?"

Bill pipes up, "Yes, I'd like a quickie."

"A quickie?!?" the waitress replies, shocked, and slaps him across the face before storming away.

Bill is puzzled, until the patron in the next booth turns to him and says, "Sir, it's pronounced quiche."

With that out of the way, I'd like to make an observation: contrary to the thesis and title of the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, real men can eat whatever the heck they want.

So today I did a bit of cooking.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used Sargento cheddar)
  • 1/2 pound breakfast sausage, browned, drained and crumbled
  • 1/2 pound bacon (pre-cooked weight), cooked and crumbled
  • 1/2 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 12 to 20 small or medium black olives

Set your oven to 350° with the rack in the center of the oven.

Spray a 9" round pie pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle half the shredded cheese into the pan; make sure that cheese covers the sides as well as the bottom of the pan.

Now, you can add the sausage, bacon, onion, shallot and olives to the pan as separate layers, or you can jumble them together in a mixing bowl and add them all at once. Spread the ingredients evenly, and do not compact them in the pan.

Beat together the eggs and half-and-half, add seasoning (I used a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper — not too much, since the bacon and sausage are already salty and spicy) and slowly pour the mix into the pie pan. It should fill in between the non-compacted ingredients and come close to covering the contents of the pan.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the concoction.

Bake uncovered (I put the pan on a cookie sheet, just in case of spillage, which didn't end up happening) for 40-45 minutes or until knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand five minutes before serving.

Serves six... if those six are women or children. Three or four is more likely if you're like me. Or serves one, three or four times. I made two of these today (yes, this is what I had in mind here), and they'll go into the fridge to be used as microwaveable quick meals — very handy on work nights when time is at a premium.

You can, of course, use whatever ingredients you like. Scallions and spinach are good. Mushrooms are OK, I guess, if you're into fungi. I'm not. Sliced up sun-dried tomatoes (if you can get the kind that aren't packed in oil) are awesome.

It's pretty much the same as quiche... but (per Alton Brown) I usually refer to it as "refrigerator pie." Note, however, the lack of a crust. If carb avoidance is your thing, this has a lot of potential.

So, would it qualify as manly grub? Given the sausage, bacon and cheese quotient, I think Steve might approve. (And if you haven't already bought Steve's book, Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man, go do so now.)

Update: now with photo goodness!

That's a blob of sour cream on top. It goes rather well.

On Monday I received a package from Amazon which contained pure gold... smothered in beef fat:

Written by Steve Graham of Hog on Ice (one of my all-time and ongoing favorite blogs) this hilarious paean to food that's bad for you but so very, very good deserves a place in any man's library.

Any man who's not a wuss, that is. If tofu is your favorite protein and if the price of arugula concerns you, you should probably put the book down and see your doctor about getting testosterone shots before reading, lest your head explode.

This is a hugely expanded, revised and refined version of Steve's same-titled self-published book from a few years ago. If you happen to have that older version, get this one; you won't regret it.

I had palpitations just reading it, before I even set foot in the kitchen.


I had a bit of a dilemma. After screaming through the first 100 pages in a day and a half — it's hard to put down — I was inspired to spend some time in the kitchen. So yesterday I cooked up four pounds of breakfast sausage to use in recipes. When it was all cooked, even after the cup-and-a-half of delicious, wonderful, marvelous sausage grease was rendered out, I still had about half a pound more sausage than could fit into the storage container for refrigeration.

Which raised the question, should I have kept the grease mixed with the remaining sausage, or should I just have had a mug of it on the side as a chaser?

As a followup, I later cooked up three pounds of bacon, also to use in other recipes. Mmmm... bacon grease. I'm sure I'll find a use for it all.

It's a very good thing that the nurse I'm dating has Emergency Room experience.

Buy the book. You'll laugh at the terrific writing, and you might learn a thing or two about real food.

That time of the year

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Spring has sprung... the trees are leafy again... and apart from rain nearly every day for the last week and a half, the weather has turned nice.

One problem: I have a serious pork deficiency.

I sense the need for a barbecue sesson. My stomach demands it, my smoker demands it. As will my neighbors, when they get a whiff. And now that I'm more mobile, I think it's doable.

The 2008 Barbecue Season is going to be great.

Eats

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See the bottom photo here?

Double it. That's what I pulled out of the smoker today.

And, daaaaayum, it is good... even if I do say so myself. I have absolutely mastered pork.

Now I have to work on my brisket skills.

Celebrating

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This being a holiday weekend, as well as the weekend that most closely approximates my birthday, and following on the (relatively) good medical news I had last week, there seems to be only one appropriate way to spend the day tomorrow: cooking barbecue.

Of course.

The meat — two large Boston butts — has been in brine all day, getting all yummied-up.

I'll be lighting the fire shortly after I get off work, sometime around 1am, I think. (Yes, I'm back at work after my brief hospital stay — more on that later.)

This time, I wised up and loaded the coals into the smoker before it got dark.

The tetanus-inducing coffee can you see in the center has a purpose; by letting the coals burn from the center out, the fire will stay low and last a long long time without replenishment. All I'll have to do is get the initial batch of coals lit in my chimney starter, then pour them in, and remove the coffee can.

I also pre-mixed smoking wood with the coals.

While the temperature in the smoker comes up to the desired range (I'm shooting for 225°) I'll prepare the butts with a good dry rub. My rub isn't secret... mainly because it's not an exacting recipe. It's really pretty generic, but it gives me results I like, and that's all that matters.

Once the cooker temperature stabilizes, I'll put the pork in the smoker, go to bed, and let the magic happen.


Update, 2:30am: It's on.

World Cuisine

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Go to any restaurant called Luigi's and you can get a plate of pasta.

Go to Chez Pierre and it's an even bet that escargot will be on the menu.

Go to Hernando's and it's a given that you can get something in the tortilla family.

But, I swear, you just try ordering a haggis at McDonalds, and they look at you like you have two heads.

A Nutritionist Might Know

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Mom has been on my case lately to make sure I get plenty of vegetables in my daily diet.

Do Fritos corn chips count?

Yum

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It was slow at the office, so I'm home from work a bit early tonight.

Tonight's dinner menu: microwave burritos, enhanced with cheese and black olives, with salsa fresca (none too fresca) and sour cream.

Hey, not every night can be pan-seared ribeye with snap peas and a fresh green salad night.

But I wish it could be.

Barbecue season is finally arriving at my house. Other people have already been indulging themselves already, but I've been rather busy thus far in 2006.

Last night when I got home from work, the pork butts went into their brine, the brisket was rubbed, and the duck checked to make sure it had fully thawed. That should be enough meat to choke a velociraptor... but I'm not sure it'll be enough for my brother and his family, who arrive tomorrow afternoon/evening.

A few hours after I get home tonight, I'll light the coals, load the pork and brisket into the smoker, and go to bed for a few hours. Later on Monday, the duck will be poached for a while to render out as much of the fat as can be eliminated, then finished in the smoker.

You can find anything on the web, and my A-1 prize find this year so far is The Virtual Weber Bullet, essentially a fan club for folks like me who love their Weber smokers (just, not that way.) I plan to make good use of the tips and tricks I've found there — I've already replaced my water pan with something a bit bigger, and tonight I'll be using methods found there for extending the unattended burn time of the charcoal.

Reports to follow.

Too Much is Never Enough

I may have to rethink my dislike of NPR, if they regularly come up with gems like this:

I believe in the art of generations of pit men working in relative obscurity to keep alive the craft of slow smoking as it's been practiced for as long as there's been fire. A barbecue cook must have an intimate understanding of his work: the physics of fire and convection, the hard science of meat and heat and smoke -- and then forget it all to achieve a sort of gut-level, Zen instinct for the process.
Oh, yeah.

There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue by Jason Sheehan, on "All Things Considered"

Water of Life

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Matt, writer at the Lone Star Times, could not be more wrong when he calls this discovery "God's Liquor Cabinet":

Astronomers say they have spotted a cloud of alcohol in deep space that measures 463 billion kilometres (288 billion miles) across, a finding that could shed light on how giant stars are formed from primordial gas.

The vast bridge-shaped cloud of methyl alcohol has been spotted in a region of our galaxy, the Milky Way, that is called W3(OH), where stars are being formed by the gravitational collapse of concentrations of gas and dust, the discoverers said in a press release.

Methanol, an organic (carbon-based) molecule, is a cousin of ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages. Methanol is not suitable for human consumption.

Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that God's liquor cabinet is stocked solely with single malt Scotch whiskies... which, I might mention, are completely suitable for human consumption. They define suitability... but only for those people who can appreciate the very finest usque beatha — the water of life.

As I understand it, The Macallan is the distillation of choice Up Yonder.

The Scots have it right: water of life, indeed.


This has been a Tartan Day post. Be sure to visit all the fine blogs contributing to Tartan Day, and especially be sure to drop by Absinthe & Cookies to thank Ith for another terrific Gathering of the Blogs.

Question of the Day

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Do gnocchi provide any culinary benefit other than being a substrate for whatever sauce you use?

I thought not.

You Knew It Was Coming

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Hey, it's the Fourth of July. You ought to have expected this.

20050704-smoker.jpg

Seven pounds of Boston Butt (suitably brined and rubbed) in there.

It's times like this when I really feel sorry for my observant Jewish friends with their proscription against pork. I'd say it was unfair, but for the fact that when G-d speaks, you pretty much have to listen. But y'know, you can smoke beef and poultry, and I recommend it. It's not barbecue, but it is pretty darn good.

About a year ago, I coined the expression "smoking like Mount St. Helens on vacation in Jamaica."

Was I wrong? I think not.

Leftovers

Chap chae, kept overnight in the fridge and rewarmed in the microwave, is amazingly good.

Especially with a little kimchi on the side.

Eat your heart out, Steve.

Menu Plan

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잡채!

One of the things I took from my years in the Army was an abiding love of Korean cuisine.

It actually began while I was at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA — as part of the curriculum in the Korean language course, we were occasionally taken on a field trip to one of the local Korean restaurants and encouraged to experiment with all the different dishes. In no time at all, I was hooked.

My subsequent assignment to Korea was culinary bliss. I had something of the local cuisine every other day on average.

Since my return to the States in '90, I've been mostly deprived of my favorite foreign food. In my hometown, Santa Barbara — the city with the most restaurants per capita in the world, it is often claimed — there is every kind of restaurant you can imagine, except for Korean.

In the Bay Area there are plenty of Korean restaurants to be found, but life in San Jose at the height of the tech boom being what it was, I rarely had the time or inclination to do anything after work but go home.

North Carolina? Surprisingly, there's a pretty good Korean restaurant less than 10 miles from my home... but there are few things that seem to me to be quite so pathetic as a man going to a restaurant for dinner alone.

So, having mastered barbecue, I've determined to learn how to cook Korean food.

Tonight was my first foray into that realm. For my first effort, I decided on 잡채 (chap chae) — a noodle/vegetable dish (sometimes with meat) that was one of my favorites.

If I do say so myself, it was a success... even if it looked like a mess.

chapchae.jpg

아주 촣아요 — very good!

[I hope I remembered the spelling correctly.]

Addendum: afterwards, the kitchen looked like a tornado had passed through.

Smoker Day

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I was going to cook barbecue yesterday, New Year's Day, I swear I was. But due to circumstances beyond my control, the smoker didn't get lit.

Well, OK, the circumstances were entirely within my control — I overslept, and thus didn't get the smoker lit in the morning. A morning lighting is required to allow enough time for the smoker to do it's job properly if you want to actually eat before, say, 9pm.

But I really needed the sleep.

Last night I made sure to set my alarm clock. As a result, my own little Vesuvius has already been belching smoke for a couple of hours today, and there's a nice slab of brined and spice-rubbed pig inside, giving its all for my gustatorial delight.

Maybe I should spend my free time today learning to make good hushpuppies.

Update, 7:30pm: Yuuummmm.

"Now What?" They Asked

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Has it already been a week since Election Day? It hardly feels like it. It's finally over.

Now what am I supposed to do?

OK, OK, I was not an "election blogger," as such, despite my involvement with Blogs For Bush. I mainly did (and still do) the behind-the-scenes techy geeky stuff; I wrote very little over there. So it's not like I have to change gears and come up with a new schtick here.

Similarly, I've not been a "warblogger," per se. Yes, I'm a Milblogger and yes, I support the war; I'll even write something about it occasionally. I was indeed inspired (to some degree) to start blogging by the then-impending conflict in Iraq. But it's not my biggest reason for being here.

At least, I think not. I'll save the introspection for another time. Live-blogging my thought processes is bound to make me look like an idiot.

Since I consider myself dependant neither on the war nor on the election for my daily bloggery, I can continue with my little band of blog-friends and readers... I think. Writing about barbecue, for instance, will never get old for me, but reading about it...? Y'all would have to be pretty dedicated. Or committed.

I will, however, remain involved with B4B as it evolves.

The Commissar has a few thoughts on the post-election self-cleansing of the blogosphere — definitely worth reading.

Post-electoral Shindig

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Voting is done here in the east, so now all I have to do is tend the under-the-covers stuff at Blogs For Bush (where, amazingly enough, I happen to be the webmaster.) (And where, amazingly, the server has not completely melted, despite record traffic volume.)

Whether it's a win, lose, or draw for Bush, I'm going to begin celebrating the freedom we all enjoy to choose our leaders.

isleofjura.jpg

That's a 10-year-old Isle of Jura single malt Scotch whisky, about which I have previously written. Short version: gooooooood stuff. I wish I could find their 21-year-old. Maybe next time.

If I remember, I'll take another picture of the bottle later — just to see how much I've drained.

Update: I like the way this man thinks.

Update 2: No, I have no idea what time the polls in Scotland closed, nor how they voted.

And Claymore Whisky, too.

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Via one of the mailing lists I'm on, What Next? Uzi Bourbon?

The creator of one of the world's most famous guns, the AK-47 assault rifle, launched another weapon in Britain Monday -- Kalashnikov vodka.

Yep, it's a real booze. Here's their website.

A couple comments from my shooting friends:

I wonder if Feinstein, Schumer and Kennedy will try to ban this too??
I think Kennedy may try to get these bottles off the streets by drinking them all...

And the winners:

You can have it, you just can't buy it in high-capacity containers.
... and you're only allowed one shot at a time...

We're such a fun group of guys.

[And yes, there really is a Claymore Whisky. Blended... ugh.]

Update/addendum: The mailing list to which I belong, in a contextually amusing conflation of guns and booze, is called "shooters." Hard to go wrong with that.

This little piggy...

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... will be going straight down my gullet.

I lit the coals at about 9:30 this morning, gave the piggy (which brined overnight, of course) its rubdown and had it in the cooker by 10:30. Got home from church just after noon, and the temperature was still right on the money. All I had to do was add more wood chunks for smoke. Sitting there on the deck, smoking like Mount Saint Helens on vacation in Jamaica, it looks marvelous:

smoking

Cooking barbecue the natural way, with charcoal — the way it was meant to be cooked — isn't as hard as some people (e.g., those who swear by electric smokers) would have you believe.

It only takes a couple years of practice and anyone could do it, I suspect. But don't try it and then get all big-headed about it — my barbecue kung fu will always be better than yours.

Seriously. I will not tolerate dissent. Especially not from my brother.

Today's details:

  • The piggy: 1 (one) 6-pound Boston Butt roast. No, I don't know why a shoulder cut is called a "butt."
  • The brine: sugar, salt, bourbon, blackberry brandy, Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, and one or two extras which shall remain nameless.
  • The rub: kosher salt, sugar, onion powder, various chili pepper powders, garlic powder, black pepper, and one or two other spices which shall remain nameless.
  • The water pan: water, bourbon, and blackberry brandy.
  • The heat source: natural wood chunk charcoal, of course. No briquets for this guy. Electricity? Feh... that's for amateurs.
  • The smoke source: damp chunks of hickory.
  • The work involved? At this point, all I have to do is periodically check that smoke is actually being generated, and once an hour check the temperature (and add charcol chunks, if necessary). Easy as pie.

It's not work, it's Art... and this is what you get:

work in progress

Eat your heart out, Steve.

Eat, Drink and be Merry

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Some (or most, maybe) of you know that Steve H. of Hog on Ice (formerly Little Tiny Lies) has written a cookbook.

To health nuts and food nazis everywhere, it's the Satanic Bible of cookbooks.

OK, maybe that's a bit harsh.

OK, that's definitely too harsh. But accurate. And it got your attention, didn't it?

The book, of course, is Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man: The World's Unhealthiest Cookbook.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wet your pants – this is one excellent read. Steve has been, from the very beginning of my blog awareness, one of the consistenly great daily reads on the 'net. I don't link to him nearly enough.

The book really will make you laugh, too - a lot, and out loud. The recipes are amazing, but the real point of the book is the humor, of which there is plenty. Not that the recipes are to be ignored. No, never that.

The book actually is evil, to a degree. Not once in my life had I ever bought lard – until today, that is. [When one has spent most of one's life overweight to one extent or another, one tends to avoid anything with the word "lard" printed on it in big red block letters.]


Buy the dang book!

Just buy it. Seriously. You'll regret it if you don't... especially if I come knocking on your door demanding proof that you have followed my instructions.

Burn, Baby, Burn

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Since the flamethrower incident last week, I've worn a bandage on my hand, putting on a fresh batch of antibiotic & gauze each day. I could tell it was healing nicely, so yesterday I left the bandage off. The scars of the scorching were still there (they aren't really too awful), and the skin was still a bit tender, but the blistering appeared to have gone away. That antibiotic ointment had really done the trick.

I went out to give the lawn a much-overdue mowing. It was a beautiful sunny day, temperature around 85°. Took maybe 45 minutes or so.

Apparently, however, it's not a good idea to expose recently-scorched skin to the sun. Big ugly blisters had sprung back up, so it's back to the bandage for me.

Sigh.

Well, at least I can still cook a fresh batch of barbecue. It's a bigger piece of pig than I usually cook, in the brine since last night. I'll start the fire shortly and let it smoke for a couple hours longer than usual.

Steve is cooking today, too. I have got to meet the man sometime; even though he uses an electric smoker, I imagine we could trade ideas on good barbecue.

Time to go get the fire lit....

Playing With Fire

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Yesterday I fired up my smoker. The pork shoulder was brined and seasoned/rubbed, the weather was perfect, and I had a real hankerin' for barbecue.

About an hour into the cooking, I noticed that smoke was not issuing forth as it ought to have done. A glance at the thermometer showed the temperature was falling. So naturally, I grabbed a handful of hardwood charcoal chunks and opened the hatch.

Ever see the movie "Backdraft"?

The charcoal and wood-chunk fire had apparently been starved of oxygen (I later realized that I had not opened the vents. Dumb mistake.) Meanwhile, flammable fumes had apparently built up in the smoker... helped, I would imagine, by alcohol from the bourbon added (for flavor, of course) to the water pan inside.

I opened the hatch... letting in the aforementioned oxygen.

For just a fraction of a second, flame shot out of the opening. Even as brief as it was, it resembled the exhaust of an F-14's jet engine on afterburner. Fire like that could have done some damage if it had been directed at something flammable.

Fortunately, my hand was in the right place to keep the flame from escaping into the wild.

Result: almost no hair left on my arm. Oh, and there's also the little matter of first and second degree burns on my hand and wrist.

Everything I know, I learned in the Army[1]. My old drill sergeant would have been proud of me as I applied my first-aid training. Either that, or he'd have been berating me as an idiot, I'm not sure which... but I probably deserved both.

So now I'm keeping my hand smeared in antibiotics and bandaged up. What a nuisance. This post took nearly an hour to type.

But the barbecue was amazing.

[1] Yes, everything.

Wee Dram

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I almost forgot to mention the Tartan Day grand finalé....

No Tartan Day would be complete without a drop of the single malt scotch whisky.

Tonight's feature:

  • Isle of Jura. Tonight is my first taste-test with this particular distillation.
The verdict:
  • Of course it's good. It's a single malt.
This whisky is different from most of what I've sampled in the past. The aroma... I suppose I would say it's got a bit of nuttiness to it -- it reminds me of Frangelico more than anything else.

The taste isn't harsh at all - very mild, in fact, compared to other single malts. Single malts are not noted for being smoother than other whiskies -- but this was easily the smoothest single malt I've tried. No "burn" at all.

I lack the technical training to adequately describe the flavor (sorry, I'm not a "scotch snob" -- not yet, anyway) but to my amateur palate, it had a hint of vanilla, some fruitiness, and a certain oak taste. Not very smoky or peaty, certainly not compared to something like Laphroaig.

There's very little bite to it, and only a slight not-at-all-unpleasant aftertaste.

Yes. I'll be acquiring more of this in the future.

Speaking of special occasions...

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There is justice in the world. LOTR:ROTK swept the Oscars... I think that calls for a celebratory tot.

I'll have to break out the good stuff. Good thing I stocked up on the single-malts last year - I have options.

UPDATE, 12:40am: Oh, my.

Among the acquisitions I've made is a nice 12 year old, The Macallan. This one is special, though, because it came with a 50ml (about 1.6 ounce) miniature of the cask strength (i.e., undiluted) elixir. Normal scotch is usually around 80-90 proof. Out of the cask, this was 115 proof.

And, because it was undiluted, the flavor was splendid. Utterly delicious. I'll open the full-sized bottle some other day.

Emerson, Boozer

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It's been many years since my typical alcohol consumption has been more than a beer or two every month or two. I've often gone months without cracking open a cold one. I just don't feel a need to indulge. Yes, I used to do the typical "go out once or twice a week with the guys" thing, but I got most of it out of my system before I hit my thirties.

Just because I don't drink much doesn't mean I've lost my ability to enjoy a good drink. Nothing could be further from the truth. Special occasions often call for a gin & tonic, for instance.

Other occasions (or no occasion at all) call for the angels' own beverage of choice, uisge beatha, the water of life: single malt scotch whisky. And now, thanks to The Thirsty Traveller, I've found my own little corner of Nirvana: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (and, of course, its U.S. chapter.)

Now, North Carolina has a lot of rules and laws about alcohol carried over from Prohibition days. Here, for instance, the only place to buy anything stronger than wine is at a state-operated store. Oddly, while you can buy Everclear at the "ABC Store," you can't get potent varieties of beer anywhere in the state. If you want to special-order a particular libation they don't normally carry, you have to order an entire case. I presume there are other states with similar laws and operations.

One of the services of the Society is a sort of "bottle of the month club." The world's finest scotch whiskies, at full cask strength (the stuff you buy in the stores is diluted before bottling), picked by experts and delivered to the Society member. I can't wait to join.

Sadly, one of the rules here in NC is that mail-order liquor must be shipped to one of the state stores for pickup, rather than directly to the buyer's address. On second thought, maybe that's a good thing. I couldn't drink a whole bottle every month.

But right now I think I hear a glass of Glen Garioch calling my name.

Tradition

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Long ago, Acidman had a bad experience with gin. Now, he's on speaking terms with it, at least. Good.

In 1988, I had just been posted to Korea, and our "op-tempo" was pretty high. From April until September of that year, our routine was to spend 3 or 4 weeks in the field, up near the DMZ, then three or four days in garrison, refitting, before heading right back up to the DMZ for another mission.

We had a little ritual each time we deployed to the field, involving gin. We'd dress up in some decent civilian attire (which was almost invariably jeans and a button-down shirt) and head to the NCO Club on our post, Camp Hovey. There, we would consume pitchers of Gin & Tonics.

Not having been much of a gin man myself (I prefer a single-malt Scotch now, particularly Glenmorangie and The Glenlivet, and back then I was an unsophisticated Bud man, thankyouverymuch), I was rather put off by the taste, but for the sake of comradeship, a man will do a great many things he might not otherwise do.

Nowadays, every now and again, I pour some gin, add a little tonic water, and drop in a quarter of a lime. And I think of the great men with whom it was my privilege to serve.

Why G&Ts? I don't know. Someone started the ritual long before I got to Korea; I hope that the tradition has continued in 1st Platoon, A Company, 102nd MI Battalion. Confido!

Veterans Day is almost upon us again.

I'd better go buy some limes.

Smokin': Epilogue

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I began the day yesterday with a bit over 10 pounds of brined, uncooked pork.

After cooking, there were about 8 pounds of barbecue for the party last night. I didn't think we'd need it all, and I was right.

15 people ate about 6 pounds of barbecue - almost half a pound each. I'd call that a success.

Smokin', Part V

Oh, my. Oh, my. Oooh, my....

That's some good barbecue.

Smokin', Part IV

Oh boy, the barbecue smells good.

Temperature is right on the money... 235°... perfect.

I can barely stand the wait. Only an hour to go....

Smokin', Part III

So far, so good. 240°. I'd like that to come down a little.

I've fed the smoker about 10 pounds of charcoal so far - that seems like a lot, but then I realize, it's been going for 7 or 8 hours. Not bad.

I could use a nap. This "getting up before 7am" stuff is for the birds - and tonight's party will undoubtedly go until 1 or 2 in the morning (not that that's a bad thing :-)

Smokin', Part II

231°, and all's well.

The sad thing about having to tend the smoker....

What am I saying? Spending a day tending a smoker is as good as it gets!

Smokin', Part I

Tonight is the party a bunch of us are having for the Independence Day weekend. Ya, ya, yesterday was the Fourth, but the party is tonight.

As previously discussed, I'm providing the barbecue.

Yesterday, I brined the newly-acquired pork.

Note: barbecue is pork. Not beef, not chicken - pork. Furthermore, "barbecue" is not a verb, it is a noun. You "cook barbecue" and "eat barbecue," you do not "barbecue some hamburgers" or steaks or hotdogs. You grill those particular foods. (They're good, oh yes, but they are not barbecue.) A backyard event where cooking is done is a "cookout" or a "pig-pickin'", not a barbecue.

Furthermore, barbecue implies low and slow - low temperatures - I try for between 225° and 250° - for a long time - all day, in this case. Yes, you can grill pork - a grilled pork loin chop is excellent - but it's not barbecue.

Sorry, got off track there.... So anyway, I brined the pork in salt- and molasses-laden icy water. A 12-hour bath, guaranteed to pump up the flavor of the pork. Went to bed.

Got up at 6:45 this morning. Egads, what a surprise - I can't think of the last time I was up this early on a Saturday. I even managed to wake up before the alarm clock annoyed me out of my sleep. Made a pot of coffee.

Lit the real-wood-chunk charcoal at about 7:30. There's something almost transcendental about building a fire in the cool of the morning with a good hot cup of coffee in hand.

While the coals were settling into their home in the bottom of the smoker, I applied a rub to the pork. No, I won't tell you what's in the rub. Well, there's chili powder, but that's all I'm saying.

By 8:30 the coals had settled down to a comparatively gentle and steady glow, I added mesquite chunks for the smoke to start the day with - I'll be finishing later with hickory - and inserted the pork.

As of right now, the temperature in the smoker is holding steady at 237°. Perfect.

I have to check it periodically - can't let the coals die. It's going to be a long day, but so well worth it.

Comeuppance

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I think I've had my punishment for threatening olfactory crimes towards grieving relatives at my deathbed some (many) years hence. [Not, mind you, that I am eager to be on my deathbed, but I figure if you have to go, go out with style (as opposed to class).]

Punishment, indeed. But allow me to fill in the backstory a bit.

Last week, we had (as we in North Carolina are wont to do) a thunderstorm or two roll through the area. The power went out for a while - I was working at home that day, and I still can't get out of my head the bloody annoying alarm sound of the battery backups for my computers & network.

Power was shortly restored - a matter of only five minutes or so - and after I reset all the non-backed up clocks in the house I got back to work and forgot all about it.

(Aside: when the power goes out, I have to reset the microwave oven, the regular oven, the internal clocks on the TVs, an alarm clock, and the clock on my stereo. How hard would it be for gizmo makers to include minimal battery backup? I wonder if APC makes batteries suitable for backing up a whole house?)

So anyway, power was back and I gave it no more thought. Until yesterday. But I'm getting ahead of myself again....

...

Are you all looking forward to the upcoming Independence Day holiday weekend as much as I am? There are only three "non-religious" holidays that I really care about. New Year's Day? Bah. Arbor Day? Feh. Labor Day? Humbug.

Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day. Sacrosanct.

This year (as last) my next-door neighbors are hosting the neighborhood festivities, and it's my job to provide the barbecue, for which purpose I had stowed a couple of whole pork loins in the freezer in the garage (along with the usual supplies of frozen vegetables, chicken, a duck, etc.)

So yesterday evening, while taking a break from lawn-mowing, I chatted with the "other-side" next-door neighbor about the upcoming party and about my upcoming porcine contribution. I've developed something of a reputation in the neighborhood for my barbecue -- I practice a lot, the reviews are universally favorable, and frankly I do like my own cooking....

We got to talking about the barbecue specifically -- how the whole neighborhood knows when Russ has fired up the smoker -- and my neighbor asked about the pork I had stashed for the event: how big was a whole loin, how long it would have to smoke before being fit for human consumption, that sort of thing. So we went to the freezer in the garage to haul one out and have a look. Opened up the freezer chest and...

Disaster.

As the lid/door opened, my eyes began to water, my gorge rose, and buzzards began dropping from s**t-wagons in a 5-mile radius.

There was no frost accumulated in the freezer.

The sides of the freezer were not warm, but almost hot to the touch. (It had been about 90° all day.)

The "power" light was off.

Un-utterable horror.

I quickly slammed the lid shut and, professional troubleshooter that I am, began to analyze the problem. Was the freezer plugged in? Yes. Maybe the outlet was faulty... quick test with a power tool said "no juice here." Dang? What was wrong? The circuit breakers were all good-to-go.... Could it be....

Damn. The whole garage is on a Ground Fault Interrupt circuit... and the circuit had cut off. The indicator winked mockingly at me from the other side of the garage.

Remember that power outage I mentioned?

I reset the GFI and sure enough, the freezer began humming merrily, blithely unaware of the diabolical wrongness contained within its metal walls.

Now it all came together. The power outage taking out the GFI circuit, followed by a week of warm and/or hot weather, combined with a metal box full of meat -- all adds up to a stench the like of which I have never before experienced (and I've lived in Korea, where stench takes on whole new nuances of meaning.) It was more than just an odor - it filled the garage, permeating my clothes and sticking to my skin. I had touched the inside of that freezer, I had felt the formerly-frozen contents thereof. I felt unclean.

What to do about it?

I couldn't just leave it like that. Then it struck me - Thursday (today) is trash day! My salvation was just around the corner. I resolved to load all the rot into the trash and let the town deal with it. After a couple hours of re-freezing (I was hoping that might knock down some of the smell -- it didn't, not perceptably), I ventured out and -- with held breath -- transferred the contents of the freezer to my trashcan, and wheeled the whole mess out to the curb. I had to hope that the local fauna would leave it alone. Then, into the house for a long soapy shower.

Those poor garbagemen - they must think I've finally disposed of Jimmy Hoffa. I expect I'll be receiving scrutiny for the next few missing-persons investigations in the county.

I'm out about $150 in frozen food, I still have to clean the freezer out completely (yes, there was some "leakage") and I still need to prep for the barbecue for the 4th of July.

So maybe there's a lesson here for me -- maybe I shouldn't threaten my aforementioned grieving relatives with olfactory torture.

Then again, maybe I've earned the right.

Vodkapundit is on the job

Stephen Green, he of VodkaPundit fame and (one hopes) fortune, is on the job tonight.

I'm inspired - I think I'll pour myself a glass of Knockando.

And thanks, Stephen, for the linkage.

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