Archive for August, 2011

Pork shoulder roast

August 30th, 2011

pork shoulder

I cannot stop talking about the pork shoulder roast!  I don’t know if we are blessed here in Portland, Oregon with unusually inexpensive pork cuts (I hazard to guess that we are not and that pork is generally somewhat inexpensive), but I frequently pick up a bone in shoulder for $.99 a lb. and if I get a four pounder, then that good sized chunk of meat feeds a dinner party of six or else it feeds me for a week.  This dinner is easily listed in  the economy meals section of any cooking publication.

Every year I go camping with a bunch of beautiful people and we plan a huge family dinner together out in the woods.  I volunteered to brine and barbecue the pork shoulder roast as the best and most inexpensive way to feed my group of thirty people.  Eyes lit up and smiles crooked and people started cheering when I mentioned that I could quit easily do barbecued pork tacos for the group.  My vegetarian friends sat and silently yearned for my famous pork tacos.

So first thing I did was to keep an eye out for when the sale comes around and buy four big portions of the bone in pork shoulder roast.  Each shoulder is somewhere around four pounds. Into the freezer they go until needed.  Sure it takes a couple of days to thaw out, but with proper planning that is merely a fore thought.  So the process starts many days before the camping trip actually begins.

The four hunks of pork shoulder roast were tossed into a basic brine, with some added chili flakes for twenty four hours.  After I took the from the brine I patted them dry and put a little spicy, Mexican dry rub on them and tossed them on the barbecue with the coals shunted to the side to create indirect heat.  After about an hour and a half I began to hover around the barbecue, occasionally prodding and probing the pork shoulder roast with me my meat thermometer.

I allowed the pork shoulder roast to reach 155 degrees, pulled it and allowed it to rest and cool. I then picked it apart and bagged the meat to go into the refrigerator until we departed for camp the next day.  When the time came for dinner we brought out all the salsas, started frying corn tortillas, heated up the vegetarian black beans.  I decanted the pork shoulder roast into a cast iron skillet, heated it up, and enjoyed a very lovely, delicious and inexpensive dinner out in the forest.

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Reuben Sandwich

August 26th, 2011

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The Reuben sandwich is safely ensconced in the  American culinary hall of fame.  While this humble sandwich has roots in far Lithuania, it is indelibly assembled with that uniquely American  savoir faire that comes into play late nights around a poker game. This American icon can still be found in smoky poker games, but it also graces many a white table-clothed restaurant with an appearance on  lunch menus across the continent.

Whether the brain child of a Lithuanian grocer, or the meticulous construction of a German delicatessen owner, the Reuben sandwich is now easily explained in a few short sentences. Toasted rye is blanketed with Swiss cheese, smeared with Russian dressing, and draped in sauerkraut.  Corned beef is then mounted atop the kraut and another hunk of toasted rye is place on top to sandwich this beast.  It ain’t for the meek nor the meticulous to eat.

Regardless of the origins of the Reuben sandwich, the structure is there for any person to prepare.  For a restaurant, it can mean something to be known for one of these historic sandwiches.   This addition to the menu adds a little weight, a little bit of culture to the culinary offerings.  There are people who call themselves “eggs benedict people” or “chicken fried steak people,” but there are definitely folks who pride themselves not only on their ability to rate a Reuben sandwich, but also on their ongoing history with the Reuben.  These people will tell everyone they know about the restaurant with the best Reuben in town.

The basic Reuben sandwich can be easily prepared by just about anyone in their own kitchen.  I’m not talking about corning your own beef, or baking the rye yourself, although both of those components can be learned and will add more depth to the sandwich experience.  You can buy corned beef at the deli, or you can purchase it at the grocery store and cook it off yourself, but either way works when making the Reuben sandwich.  The heartier the Rye bread the better the sandwich.

Home made sauerkraut greatly increases the tastieness of the sandwhcih, but good sauerkraut can be purchased at just about any grocery store.  Although many people heap the kraut directly onto the sandwhich, I recommend giving it a good rinse first in order to soften some of the brininess.  Too much brine will dominate the sandwich and overrule any of the other ingredients from joining in.

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Budget Cooking Videos

August 23rd, 2011

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Pop and I were trading budget cooking videos ideas back and forth across the campfire.  Dad was all riled up talking about revolutionizing the way people ate, the way we approached food, even the way we grow it.  Well, not really revolutionizing at all…more like seizing control of the discourse from the hands of corporate control.  He was raised by parents who had been young during the Great Depression, and he had never enjoyed the simple food his mother prepared.  He didn’t know that food was one of the joys of the earth until he joined the army and was shipped to Germany.

In Germany he became enraptured with the culinary world, with all of its lore and tradition.  Intoxicated by Berlin in the 60’s he married a husky voiced starlet from the top of the  top 20, bought a new Volkswagen and shipped the whole gang off to America.  His brush with food, with the cinema, with the ancient culinary traditions became the seed for this project wirtschaftlichkochenvideos (budget cooking videos): food  from farm to table, fabricated with the utmost care by someone whose family had performed this task for generations.

My grandfather was so parsimonious that my grandmother had $3 a week to feed a family of five.  It wasn’t until later in my father’s life, after the foix gras experiments, that he recognized the need for budget cooking videos.  An encyclopedia for folks who want to feed themselves well with very little money spent.  His idea of a budget is to have the staples on hand: rice, beans, sugar, flour, salt, butter, oil, vinegars, etc…The money spent only  for the whole chicken, for the vegetables, for the greens.

“The focus on budget cooking videos,” he would lecture us,” is the sure way to gain a following.”

Not necessarily a following, but a wave of people learning to wrest control of their diet from the grips of Corporate Food. The rising tide of obesity and the resultant cost to our food system meant that inarguably the pendulum would swing back in the other direction and food would again be prepared with integrity.  Hence projects springing up offering budget cooking videos for free.

“20 meals for 20 bucks!” my dad’s suggestion for the first series of budget cooking videos.

“Start with the chicken.  Take the breasts off, butterfly them, wrap them around asparagus and provolone, serve with rice.  Heck! Green beans and Swiss!  Roast the breastless bird and pick the meat clean for fajitas on corn tortillas.  Stew the carcass and make chicken stock to create chicken soup.”

“68 cents a pound? 2.76 for a four pound bird, 3$ more for vegetables and you have four meals,” so his energetic rant would go, “We will show folks the way to do this!”  Come check out our budget cooking videos at duckspoon.com

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The Whole Hog

August 5th, 2011

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My first day at the Country Cat, watching Adam Sappington butcher a whole hog, was probably one of my most memorable experiences at the restaurant.  I came in a couple hours early because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t yet know how this restaurant operated.  I was searching, even before the restaurant  had opened, for this job.  Freshly returned to Portland after ten years of loitering around the Americas I needed to recoup before I was ready for commitment.  So I lived rent free in the basement of some wonderful friends, worked at a burger joint, and rode the bus to work.  Until this opportunity surfaced.

I remembered when Wilwood opened in ’94.  I had just graduated college and was hired at the Black Rabbit at McMenamin’s Edgefield 2 months after opening.  I was 22 years old…the rest of the wait staff were well into their 30’s and very  professional. The idea to  butcher a whole hog was not yet in the culinary jargon back then…chefs were still sprinkling parsely around the rim of the plates!  These veterans had been in the restaurant business for a long time, but the idea to go back to the farm traditions was just beginning.

The knowledge that filled that resturant astounded me and soaked into my young mind.  In 1994 the Farm to Table phenomenon was new, and the thought to butcher a whole hog for a restaurant seemed a waste of resources.  This was before Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential shocked the world and restaurants were merely places to eat, not places to revere, or eventually work.

“Butcher a whole hog,” my boss says,” or turn your back on what food is about.  You have to go back to the basics and understand where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate.  Before you butcher the whole hog, you  have to understand how the animal is raised,  slaughtered,  and how it gets to your kitchen.  Good food ain’t easy.”  That last sentence sums up what humans have been diligently studying for many thousands of years: how to alter the chemical make up of food to maximize nutrition and taste.

I don’t know everything about the restaurant business, but I do know the benefits of being able to butcher a whole hog and  how to use the whole animal.  I know, from personal experience on my grandfather’s farm, that a farmer who loves his animals and treats them with respect will produce the best quality  product.  So come watch us butcher a whole hog at duckspoon.com

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The Oregon Berry Festival

August 4th, 2011

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So I was invited to perform a cooking demo at the Oregon Berry Festival and I thought to myself, “Why not? It sounds like fun.”  So I asked my 9 year old little buddy if he wanted to cook with me and he said yes.

“We have to do something with berries, though,” I said,” do you have any ideas?”

“Blue berry pancakes,” said he with a resolute face…and that is how Torin Combs and I cooked blue berry pancakes at the oregon Berry Festival  (well, actually he did all the cooking…)

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