Home Made Gravy: easy enough for anyone to make

September 22nd, 2011 by Daniel No comments »

mushroom gravy

What can beat home made gravy? Nothing!  Whether it be a simple pork sausage gravy to cover flaky biscuits just out of the oven or a morel mushroom gravy to top a fresh grilled New York steak the taste and cost benefits of whipping up this humble sauce at home far outweigh the store bought packages which are filled with who knows what kind of additives and chemicals.

The ingredients required to make gravy are really pretty mundane and are bound to be around any well stocked kitchen.  Flour, butter, bacon or sausage, if it is the pork inspired version of home made gravy, beef and chicken stock, and a little corn starch to tighten it up when all is said and done.  The process is rather simple and doesn’t vary too much depending on what variety you are whipping up.

For example, if it is breakfast time, then the home made gravy that generally ought to be used is the pork sausage variety.  Render some pork sausage, remove the sausage and add flour to the pork fat to make a roux.  Cook that roux until it is a nice golden color and has a little nutty taste, and then add the cold milk slowly…steadily whisking the milk and the roux together. Reduce this down a bit until the flavor is where you want it and then add the corn starch slurry to thicken it more.

Home made gravy doesn’t need to be packed with meat to be a lovely addition to the dinner table.  Make the roux with butter and flour and add a cold vegetable stock that you have made from vegetable trimmings and scraps and whisk this together and finish with a little cream if you like.   In fact you can make the home made gravy vegan if you use olive oil instead of butter and keep the cream away from the process.

I have to admit that I have a bias for meat laden, home made gravy.  This doesn’t mean that I am not interested in vegetable gravies or am unable to whip one up if need be, but only means that my history is that of pork sausage gravy, and brown sauces augmented with veal stock.  Come visit duckspoon and check out our selection of gravies and brown sauces and see how easy it is to make a quality home made gravy for yourself and your family.



Pate de Campagne: a front line look at French butchery

September 16th, 2011 by Daniel 1 comment »

The butcher didn’t speak english and I don’t speak french so the beginning of my first pate making experience did not look particularly auspicious.  He had agreed to coach me on the fine points of french butchery as a favor to one of his very good clients: my long time friend whom I was visiting after not seeing him for seventeen years.  I had mentioned that I was interested in french butchery and he had arranged this experience for me.

Nikki, the butcher, placed a hotel pan in front of me filled with pork neck, slivers of pork belly and livers.  The initial feelings of discomfort on both our sides evaporated after I dug my hands into the meat pile and started grinding it up  in the first step of making pate. I ground up two kilos of liver and two kilos of neck and two kilos of belly.  I also added garlic, onions sauteed until they were blond, shallots, parsley and chives.

Nikki then added salt, curing salt, pepper and mustard seed and then poured a little cold water and 6 eggs into the mixer: one per kilo, he said.  After the ingredients were ground up, I scraped the ingredients into the mixer.  After a few minutes in the mixer the ingredients had begun to look like pate.  With a baking spatula I scraped the bowl of the mixer, making sure that no remains were left clinging to the sides of the bowl.

I next placed pig belly skin (fat back) in the bottom of the terrine casserole dish and heaped the pate in up to the rim of the dish.  Nikki brought the caul fat out, asked me if I knew it (with gestures and broken english), and when I nodded, proceeded to lay it out over the terrine of pate.  Caul fat is the intestine of a cow, similar to thick spider webs in appearance.  I patted the air bubbles out and then we put the terrines in hotel pans and then put them in the oven at 200 degrees for 2 hours.

After the time had elapsed we pulled the pate terrines from the oven, and then, leaving them in the hotel pans, added water to the hotel pans so that the terrines were in an inch of water.  We then placed the hotel pans back in the oven at 145 degrees and slowly cooked them until they had reached 70 degrees celsius in the middle.  We made quite a few other different kinds of pate, but this one stands out in my head as my very first experience with french butchery.

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Local Eggs

September 10th, 2011 by Daniel 1 comment »


The search for local eggs has intensified in the public eye with the outbreak of salmonella poisonings in recent history.  One would think, in an ostesibley free market system, that the best eggs would not only be cheapest,  BUT HEALTHY FOR US AS WELL.  The cost of illness, hospitalization and death were not configured in the chicken egg talleys when it came to corporate profit accumulation.

The eggs sold by some of the large corporate farms killed people.  It became profitable to serve poor food because of marketing and social apathy.  One would guess from our addiction to mass production that finding correctly priced local eggs would be difficult, but it is not.  Websites abound in providing folks the knowledge to find grass fed beef, organic vegetables, etc…It is just the dominant paradigm which quietly urges people into the easiest, most convenient decisions.  Apathy.

Those decisions invariably result in some loss of productive life and the consequent profit for the corporation holding the reigns.  Start a garden, buy local eggs…heck raise chickens (please don’t attempt to raise animals unless you are comitted to the utmost integrity of their existence, and very importantly, their demise).  Capital has an insidious means of influence.  If one can escape the pathways that have been mapped out for us, then one has a chance to be free.

Local Eggs.  Start with a circumference of 15 miles.  Eventually you might be able to get within a mile, or even pehaps your back yard…Local produce…local meat…the possibilities abound.  Just  the first step, say to merely buy local eggs or to shop at the farmers market, is a move away from the system.  Away from money in the pockets of people who don’t know us, and don’t really care about our health or welfare.   We are merely numbers in an inhuman mathmatical equation.

If I had a Volkswagon bus right now, I would paint “Local eggs!” on it and drive around town sparking conversation.  Wouldn’t it be fun (and cost effective, my sceptical friends) to be able to barter eggs from the around the neighborhood;  trade eggs for honey maybe, salads and vegetables during the spring and summertime; squash and apples in autumn.  We can start with local eggs and see where that takes us…

Come learn to flip an egg with us at duckspoon.com!


How to make enchiladas

September 3rd, 2011 by Daniel No comments »


How to make enchiladas is, in my mind, a fundamental lesson for our children to learn how to respect other cultures, and Latino cultures in particular.  Food can help us understand people and learning a people’s cuisine can shed insights on how they think and why they perform certain actions.  Understanding food by the actual cooking of it far surpasses what we can learn by going to eat in a restaurant that serves that food.

The use of corn tortillas, for example, in learning how to make enchiladas shows us that the Mexican culture has an abundance of corn and they can feed the populace cheaply using corn tortillas.  Chickens can be raised in the back yard and tomatoes and chilies can be grown in abundance in the garden as well.  All these geographic nuances can be deciphered by breaking down the varied components of the dish.

First we learn the ingredients, and then we can learn the entire process of how to make enchiladas.  The corn must be milled and then fried into tortillas; the tomatoes must be roasted and made into a sauce; the chiles need to be dried, pounded into powder, and mixed with herbs.  Of course most people in Mexico buy the tortillas from someone who uses those efforts to earn a living, but the knowledge of making corn tortillas is easily learned, and once learned, understood.  Although the final dinner can be put together quickly, the preparation takes time and has a history of its own.

“How to make enchiladas”  isn’t merely a procedural task.  The creation of this truly hispanic meal is ingrained with the culture, history, and character of the people that it sprang from.  Whereas a taco can be thrown together somewhat quickly (if the tortillas are made, the chickens slaughtered, etc…), how to make enchiladas really revolves around the slow formation of the enchilada sauce.  The enchilada sauce itself is a tradition that varies throughout the many regions of Mexico.

I am very happy that when my niece, Ronnie, asks me how to make enchiladas I can reply not only by taking her to a computer and showing her a video detailing the steps out, but I can also fill her in on some of the historic, cultural and geographic facts that helped shape the food we eat.  I sincerely hope that by teaching my niece how to make enchiladas I will be opening her eyes to the vast information that can be learned from world cuisine.


Cheap food

September 1st, 2011 by Daniel No comments »

cheap food

Let us first define cheap food as food that is inexpensive, but not of low quality.  We can even add that this category of food needs to be wholesome in some way as far as taste and nutritional content.  There exists via the internet the ability to view literally thousands of recipes from countries all around the globe.  So often inexpensive food translates into food that is inferior in both taste and content.

Up until recently people shared recipes with other folks that they interacted with and knew personally.  The internet has changed this.  When I surf the internet searching for cheap food recipes, I can gauge the inexpensive nature of the recipe by mentally adding up the cost of the ingredients, but I can’t really evaluate the quality of taste.  So to eliminate the tedium of cooking every meal you come across you must find food a cook you like.

I have tasted foods around the world and find that the vast amount of cheap food is prepared rather poorly.  The novelty of a kid eating land crab stew on an island in Honduras does not disguise the everyday low quality of food that characterizes the staple diet of the poor.  If you were to ask a schoolroom full of Nicaraguan kids whether they knew someone in their immediate or extended family that had diabetes most would nod their head.

Cheap food done right is really an art that has been passed down for a few hundred years.  Braised pig’s feet may now be a popular delicacy on the menus of the upscale eateries in town, but it originated from a time when survival depended on utilizing all parts of the beast, and even the wealthy lived under this edict of nature.  Cheap food meant the pickling and drying of foods.   This now seems trivial to many of us westerners.

Cheap food in today’s world means industrialized fast food, even to the poor.  In Portland, Oregon the poor are able to use food stamps at the farmer’s markets where the farmers come to sell directly to the public.  On duckspoon.com I have started the process of collecting video recipes that are inexpensive, but that do taste good and fill the belly.  Cheap food can be done right; it can be easy on the wallet but still stock full of nutrients to keep us healthy.

Come check out duckspoon.com and check out the Economy Recipes!

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Pork shoulder roast

August 30th, 2011 by Daniel 1 comment »

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.


Reuben Sandwich

August 26th, 2011 by Daniel No comments »


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 by Daniel No comments »


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


The Whole Hog

August 5th, 2011 by Daniel No comments »


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


The Oregon Berry Festival

August 4th, 2011 by Daniel No comments »

berry festival

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…)