Stroganoff Deconstructed

My counterpart made beef stroganoff last night, and in the process of planning this dish, he decided to go the Deconstructionist route. This is a bit of a Modernist approach, but don't worry - we're not encasing the sauce in little alginate spheres or anything too weird. And we did stop to consider at what point this approach would cross the line from cool to pretentious and feel we have stayed well on the cool side of that line.

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18-Hour Rise Artisan Bread

Last month my counterpart started baking bread again with the intention of crafting a variety of basic bread recipes that we could share. This is the first in what will hopefully become a series on different types of breads you can make at home.

This is a variation of the Sullivan Street Bakery's No-Knead Bread. This bread has a long, slow rise and is steamed while it is baked in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven, creating a loaf with a thick, chewy crust and a dense, slightly doughy flesh. It has a nice wheat flavor and keeps well when wrapped in freezer paper and left on the counter.

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What to Do When the Fishmonger Won't Fillet Your Fish, and How to Prepare Fava beans

There is nothing better than fresh food, especially fresh fish. This weekend we took the drive down to the HMart in Ellicott City with a good friend to visit their seafood counter for some fresh tilapia. The fish was beautiful, as usual - plump and clear-eyed and silver. And the really nice thing about the fish counter at the HMart is that they will clean it up for you and even offer several levels of cleaning. We usually go for gutted, scaled, and filleted and end up with pristine fish. At this week's visit, we were informed that the trained professionals do not fillet tilapia. They did do a fine job of the rest of the cleaning, though, and packed our fish in ice for us for the long drive back to Harford County.

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A Primer on Fiddlehead Ferms

Since I first learned they are edible, I have long been fascinated with fiddlehead ferns. We find them at the Wegman's quite often, but usually in a dreadful state, and my counterpart has been reluctant to deal with them. Then, while he was visiting the Pittsburgh office of his employer, he posted a photo of his dinner one night that included fiddlehead ferns. I stepped up my campaign, and last night I got them.

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How to Debone a Whole Chicken

There are many culinary techniques that have been lost to the common household cook over time. One such technique is deboning a whole chicken. And by that I mean removing the skeleton of the chicken while it is still whole. The benefits of this are 1) you have now turned your chicken carcass into a roast, and 2) once you remove the bones, you can fill in those spaces with dressing.

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Birthday Dinner: Ballotine of Pheasant

Birthdays are special - any seven-year-old can tell you that. My birthday in particular is extra-special. And even though it is still a couple of days away, my extra-special birthday dinner was today.

A while back, a new cooking technique gained some attention - the Modernist technique. It gained attention for the $300 cookbook full of breath-taking photographs of culinary daring-do. A few years have gone by, and now there is a marketplace for the home gourmand who wants to try their hand at this.

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Duck Roulade

My counterpart has been binding meat for about a year now and is getting fairly good at it. For this Sunday's dinner, he decided to try a specific meat-binding technique - the Roulade.

A roulade is a French dish in which a flat piece of meat is rolled around a filling and then bound and roasted. We had just received a shipment of duck from D'Artagnan so we decided on one of their Moulard duck breasts for tonight's meal.

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2012: The Year in Review

This past year has been one of growth: for  me personally, for this blog, and for me and my counterpart culinarily speaking. The year started off with the acquisition of a new camera and a commitment from me to this blogging endeavor - to improve the quality of the content and to attempt to find a voice.

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New Year's Cassoulet, a Crowning Acheivement

Cassoulet is a slow-cooked dish of beans and fatty meats with a rich sauce originating in southern France. There are many variations on this dish, depending on the neighborhood and the year.  The traditional cassoulet contains white beans and a variety of meats that include pork, sausage, mutton, and duck or goose confit, cooked in a casserole dish with a hearty sauce.

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Perfect Pork Ribs

The best part of summer holidays - aside form the sunshine and hot weather - is the prominent role of the grill. In the days beforehand, you can find some really excellent deals on meat. For Memorial Day, we were back in Wisconsin and returned with some brats. For Father's Day, we scored some serious duck breast. As Independence Day approached, we picked up an amazing load of ribs.

A small sampling of  our recent rib purchase, pre-seasoned and ready to grill

Just in time for your Independence Day cook out, here is the best pork barbecue sauce ever, followed by some basic grill instructions.

For the Sauce, you will need




White Wine Vinegar

Apple Juice

1 Lemon, Juiced

2 Jalapenos, Coarsely Chopped

Golden Raisins

All you need for perfect sauce

You will also need a blender. My counterpart is partial to the immersion blender.

In your blender cup, add several handfuls of raisins and the 

jalapenos and blend until thick and coarse. 

Raisins and jalapeno make a sweet-spicy pork glaze

Proceed to add in small quantities the remaining ingredients, blending and tasting until you have a smooth sauce that is spicy and tangy and sweet.

Blend well

Prepare the Grill

My counterpart is also partial to the charcoal grill, and the small ones work out well for us.

First, line the grill and the lid with heavy duty aluminum foil. This will help conduct the heat and will make clean up much easier.

Line the grill with foil and crease it

Also line the lid

Using more foil, create a small shallow pan for water. This will create a water bath that will help control heat levels and prevent the meat form drying out. You can also purchase these in the store in packages of 3 for about $2.50, but it is also pretty easy to make your own.

Fold in the edges of your foil to create a rim

Fold up the edges again making a wider fold. These are your sides.

Pinch the corners together

Here is your water bin

Place it inside the grill on the lower grate and add water.

It really holds water

To protect the flavor of the meat, start the charcoal in a separate fire-safe container, like a charcoal chimney pictured below. 

To prevent the lighter fluid from tainting your meat, start the charcoal outside the grill

Let the lighter fluid burn off and the fire die down and then add the smoldering coals to the grill.

Hot coals but no flame

To get a nice smoke, ad some wood chips. If you have trees in your yard, select some green branches as they will create a highly desirable smoke that will add to the flavor of the meat without burning too hot and charring the exterior. Wood smoke contains some trace minerals, like chromium and iron, which are transferred to the meat while it smokes. Smoking the wood also releases the naturally-occurring sugars, called cellulose, which mingle with the rendering fat and help form the meat glaze.

Remove leaves

Add the top grate and cover until some smoke has built up inside the grill.

Mmmmmmm smoke

Grilling the Meat

Place your meat in the cool end of the grill, away from the direct heat of the charcoal and over the water bath. 

Have a spray bottle of apple juice on hand. This will keep the meat moist and will also help a nice grill glaze form on the meat. Place the cover on the grill and relax.

The best grill results come from slowly cooking the meat over low heat. Periodically, you will want to check on things to add more wood chips, moisten the meat with apple juice, and to make sure that there are no flames.

While cats are very good at detecting when meat is ready to eat,

we still recommend the meat thermometer

As the meat is smoking, you will also want to introduce the sauce. My counterpart gets good results from using a squeeze bottle he picked up at the green Bay 


 Supply store, but you can also use an old ketchup or mustard bottle that has been well cleaned.

Smoke the meat until it is heated through. The most reliable method of determining this is still the meat thermometer.

If you are grilling vegetables, use a separate grill. The grills we used can be found at Wal-Mart and run about $10.

Cut the ribs apart and serve with more sauce.

Mary Cooks: The Easiest Fish Ever

There's been surprisingly little cooking going on at my house. It all started last Sunday. My counterpart and I were feeling industrious after taking down the shed the previous weekend and set about clearing the yard. We sprung for a professional one-handed chain saw (which I have dubbed Bruce) to help remove creeper and dead tree limbs that would otherwise be out of reach with a heavier, two-handed saw. Things overhead. One such dead limb came crashing down, bounced off the ground, and hit my beloved right in the kisser.  I did what any good wife would do. I put a bag of frozen peas on his face and drove him to the ER.  Luckily, there was no concussion, no infection, no lost teeth. Just teeth that were very very loose. Seven stitches, two Percacets, and a tetanus shot later, he was ready to go home. But not ready to eat anything

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A Note About Cranberries

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and many of us will spend the next five days buying and prepping food. Before I get caught up in my own family gathering, here's a quick note about cranberries. Some people love them, some people hate them. I was in the latter camp until I had some that did not come out of a can. And, really, they are so easy, there is no reason not to make your cranberry sauce with the real thing.

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You Say Aioli, I Say Mayonnaise

Gareth takes a certain amount of pride in his cooking, as he should. He produces a consistent quality of food like I have never eaten before. My first year living with him, I gained 20 pounds and have been fighting to keep the weight in check for the duration of our relationship.

His recent delving in Spanish cuisine has resulted in much experimentation with emulsified sauces, most of which I refer to as mayonnaise. He has a tendency to cringe at the word, as if it could only refer to Hellman's Best, and then informs me that the sauce I am eating with such enthusiasm is actually an aioli. Which inevitably leads us to a discussion about the fine line between the two.

Both contain a base of egg yolk, oil and acidity - usually vinegar, citrus juice, or both. (Gareth has gotten exceptional results with orange juice.) As he has explained it to me, an aioli contains some vegetable matter - most often garlic. But it actually goes a little further than that. A real aioli starts with a mortar and pestle. The fresh garlic is "muddled" - a technique in which the pestle is used to gently mash the garlic, releasing all its aromatic qualities. Then, oil is added and further muddled. The mixture is added to egg yolk and citrus juice and blended until emulsified.

Either sauce works well as a dressing for fish and vegetables fresh off the grill. We are still discussing what to call that. I say salad, he says..... well he's not sure what it is.