Category Archives: Education

Ah, there’s the rub…for pulled pork, that is.

A couple of my wonderful readers have recently asked me for my “recipe” for pork rub. You will find the recipe below and I want you all to know, that if ever you want a recipe from me, just write me and I will be happy to help out.

Actually, I have been meaning to have a discussion with you on the subject of recipes, so I am going to take this opportunity now.

You may have noticed that I do not generally post recipes. This is definitely NOT because I keep these things secret or because I am stingy in this way. I am more than happy to tell anyone how I prepared any particular dish, sauce, etc. and to give enough details to enable a person to duplicate my effort. The real truth about why I don’t post formal recipes is because I don’t very often use them! My cooking is an ongoing experiment and I always think it is a delightful miracle when I can duplicate a dish perfectly a multiple of times. My mom taught me how to cook early on and it was always about being there, at her side, watching. “A little bit of this and a handful of that” she would tell me. Taste and adjust, taste some more. This explains why I am not much of a baker – precision is my nemesis.

When I research how to cook something, I look at multiple sources. The internet is invaluable and I also have a sizeable cookbook collection (I can always use more). I try to find two or three recipes for something I am thinking of preparing. From these, I get ideas and guidance. I look at a recipe as a set of suggestions for seasonings, proportions, etc. Of course, I also get assistance about methodology – what is the right temperature to cook something at, should I braise or roast it, and so on. But, it is rare for me to really follow a recipe closely, unless I am baking. But, I don’t bake much! 

I do like to think of myself as a big time locavore. By limiting my cooking to mostly what is local and seasonal, often times something has to give with the ingredients, right? Ok, I admit, that is a bit of a cop-out. With many recipes, you can at least figure out what to substitute for what is not available. Certainly in this case a recipe can provide good guidance.

Ok, ok, no more chatter. Here is the pulled pork Rub:

  • 1 part ordinary chile powder
  • .5 part each of Ground cumin, good fresh smoked paprika
  • .25 parts each ground coriander, granulated onion powder
  • .12 parts each granulated garlic, white pepper, a combo of dried herbs including parsley, rubbed sage, cilantro, basil and oregano
  • Kosher salt, cayenne to taste – a little of each though be careful with the heat.
  • A teaspoon or two of dehydrated/granulated lemon zest – entirely optional

Mix or shake up these ingredients and give the mix a smell. Adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the spice mixture generously on and rub into any kind of pork  for barbeque, crock pot or of course, sous vide cooking.

A couple of final notes: the smoked paprika I bought lately has a whole lot of heat so I left out the cayenne in my recent batch. But I have used some weaker stuff in the past so I pick it up with the cayenne. The rub mixture will keep for a year – I make it in batches of about 4-6 oz.

Someday I will realize my dream of having a bona fide recipe section on this blog. Until then, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you want any other recipes.

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Filed under Baking, Cooking, Education, Pork, Recipes, Seasoning

Fantastic Farmer Facilitates Food for Fanatics

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend an event put on by our local chapter of Slow Food USA. In its 5th year, the event was called Lambstravaganza. It took place way out in Missouri farm territory, about 2 hours west of our BIG city of St. Louis, at the farm of Dave and Barb Hillebrand. Surprise: the Hillebrands raise lambs. The little one in the photo above had been born just that morning – mom and baby were clearly doing fine by the time we arrived around 3 pm. The Hillebrands also raise chickens (for eggs), a few goats and a few cows (both for their own consumption).

The business, called Prairie Grass Farms, comprises about 540 acres when you combine a number of different locations the Hillebrands are using. They have roughly 700 sheep. The family has been in the farming business for generations. Up until 9 years ago or so, they raised “row crops.” This term is the farmers’ euphemism for corn and soybeans – commodity crops which the government subsidizes. Raising row crops requires lots of inputs (aka chemicals), crops are not rotated and only the chemical companies really believe this is ok for the earth. The Hillebrands know better.

Now they only have animals and grass. It is all very symbiotic, sustainable, good for our earth. Their sheep are kept in relatively tight groups for grazing – protected by movable fencing and some wonderful and devoted working dogs. The dogs keep away the predators: mostly coyotes and fox. The sheep munch up an area of “salad”, trample what’s left as they go and leave their waste to fertilize and regenerate what they have eaten. Other than the sun, the rain and what the sheep leave behind, there are no inputs on the land. The creatures in the soil go to work on the waste and the left over roughage. It all gets mixed in with the soil naturally.

Nature takes care of the regeneration of the herd, too. Dave and Barb have a small number of rams who are able to service the girls. The rams are given full access to the ewes for 60 days a year. One ram can handle about 50 ewes (nice work). The timing of the rams’ access to the ewes is meant to enable, for the most part, the lambs to be born all around the same time of year. They are born naturally, in the field. Dave says he is trying to manage it so that when the ladies are with child and need it most, there is plenty of nutritious fresh grass around to so that they will thrive. Otherwise, during the harshest of winter months, the grass may be sparse, the rain or snow may be heavy and the ladies will be hungry. As needed, Dave brings in some hay and supplemental grain to help the ladies out. But, if most of the lambing can take place in the late spring or early summer, the diet of the pregnant mother can be of the best spring grasses. Also, the lambs will be able to grow and fatten up just on mother’s milk and the grasses. 

If a ewe does not produce, she is “retired.” (Hillebrands’ reputation for their lamb bratwurst is legend.) This is genetic management at the farm level. At first, it sounded harsh to me but then when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. The sheep have a job to do and in exchange for their job they are managed responsibly and with respect for them and the land. If a particular animal cannot do its job then room is made for one who can.

At Prairie Grass Farms, nothing is wasted, except the wool. And that really is not wasted either. The wool is useless to Dave and Barb. It is not fine enough to sell for anything worth the effort of getting it – they have too many other things to take up their time. So, they give it away for the shearing. The person who does the shearing takes the wool and makes use of it. A good deal for all.

Prairie Grass Farms sells its lamb and eggs at our local farmers’ markets and to many restaurants throughout the area. A number of their best restaurant clients showed up and gave their time and resources to cook for those of us who attended Lambstravaganza. It was a feast of extravagant proportions, as the name suggests, with a host of fine chefs showcasing their creativity in a kitchenless environment. We ate in a barn, open on two sides, with an old tarp covered truck behind us, looking like the perfect set piece. It was a beautiful, blustery day. I ate fabulous food, met friendly and interesting people and (my favorite thing) I learned a whole lot.

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Filed under Cooking, Education, Farmers Market, Food Trends, Lamb, Social Commentary, Sustainable Farming

After an absence, Fanatic shows up for the party.

Hello again. Sorry I was absent for so long (its been more than two weeks). The first week was a planned absence although I had planned to have something in reserve to put up during that time. Well, no excuses, it just didn’t work out.

After that, it just got crazy here – a house full of in-laws for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. Foodwise, it was a wonderful event featuring an incredible birthday cake made by my friend Pat Pettine at Sugaree Bakery (could you guess that she is a Dead Head?):

Pay no attention to the boo-boo at the corner – it was not the baker’s fault. The cake was this sumptuous white cake filled with raspberry mousse – my MIL’s favorite. The icing was a fabulous butter cream made with real butter – no scrimping at Pat’s place!

The party also featured hors d’ouvres by none other than yours truly. I was asked to make three things that folks could easily eat standing up. The fish didn’t look perfect:

but it tasted wonderful. It was made of two whole sides from a beautiful wild caught salmon. The poaching liquid was a typical court bouillon made with white wine vinegar, onion, carrot, thyme and bay. It has a very delicate flavor that does not in any way overwhelm the flavor of the salmon.  I steamed the head and tail separately just for show. I had a  fun time playing with fish gelee (aspic made with fish stock, used to glaze everything including the head and tail for the display). People gobbled it up, too. OK, so I am not the best at these feats of garde manger. But I loved putting that big fish out there for all to admire (????). Needless to say, everyone had comments (from “eeew” to “wow, you did that yourself?” to “how interesting”). The traditional dill sauce was served on the side along with little crostini.

The other dish was a savory profiterole stuffed with a mousse made of gorgonzola, goat and cream cheese.

Believe me, these were sensational. Nary a one was left by the time dinner (not my doing, and nicely catered) was served. I made a very simple pate a choux (something I learned at the CIA pastry class), without any sugar or salt to season it. In other words it was totally neutral. I piped them out at a very small size (about the portion of a large Hersey’s kiss) so that when they were baked they were perfect bite-sized puffs.  I can’t wait until I have an excuse to do these again. Next time, I might season the choux paste with truffles or something else to complement the cheese mousse inside.

The third hors d’oeuvre was good old Jewish style chopped liver. I pulverized the heck out of it, though, and served it up like a pate. This is a real crowd pleaser. I make it with real schmaltz (chicken fat) and, of course, organic chicken liver made from pasture raised happy chickens. Yum, yum.

I’ll see you real soon with some fabulous sous vide pork belly!

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Filed under Cake, Cooking, Culinary School, Education, Fish, Pastry Making

Fanatic freed from phobias at famous food facility (i.e. The Culinary Institute of America)

Night view of the front of Roth Hall (June 2008)

I am a cook – NOT a baker or pâtissier. So why then, you may ask, did I go to the venerable    Culinary Institute of America for a 4 day intensive course on baking and why am I going to be returning at the end of April for a 5 day boot camp training in pastry making

Four or five years ago, in one of those awful airplane magazines which normally have a bunch of dumb articles on famous people I don’t care about, I read an article on culinary study vacations that ordinary people can take. One of the destinations described was the Culinary Institute of America where, the article told me, I could take a boot camp program for serious cooks – amateur or not. I tucked that little nugget of info in the back of my brain and decided that some day I would try to do this. After a couple of years of dreaming, I finally decided that life wasn’t waiting for me and, in June of 2008, I took my first trip to the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. There I spent a week taking their 5 day Advanced Culinary Boot Camp. The experience changed my life.

If you have read the about me page on this blog, you might recall that I have been cooking all my life so it is not like I didn’t feel at home in a kitchen. But, wow, did I learn some things. I am not talking about things like how to make a particular sauce, a specific gratin or special preparation for a precise kind of fish. Sure we did these kinds of things but, truly, I can’t remember a single dish I made during those 5 days (I have them all neatly annotated in a binder for future reference – if I ever think to need them). I am talking about learning about how to execute particular techniques correctly and otherwise how to be in a kitchen with confidence. At the CIA I learned a great deal about how to handle food (protein, most notably): what to look for, how to feel, see and smell the food and how to go about turning it into something delicious and desirable. I learned how to slice up a primal cut of meat, filet a fish, turn a whole chicken into a big boneless mass of fun-to-stuff protein. I learned how to make a forcemeat, stuff and tie a roast and make a whole loin into a pile of steaks.   

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Above all, I learned to have no fear. Once back home in my own kitchen, I found I was comfortable firing the pan when I want to deglaze it, flipping the sauteuse when I need to move the contents around and using just as many pots, dishes and tools as I need or want to use. Alas, as it turned out, at the CIA I had learned how to let go of my cooking inhibitions! 

So it occurred to me that perhaps if I went to an intensive class on baking and pastry, I might pick up some similar skills in the bake shop. In fact, I rarely bake or make pastry at all, except around winter holiday time. I had never really though about why I  am not much of a baker or a pastry maker (other than to avoid letting the fat person within get out). It is certainly not because I don’t enjoy these pursuits. However, I’m not much one for eating sweets. I much prefer to get my big calories fried, thank you. Also, my mom didn’t bake much. I only remember one sweet that she made without a recipe. Dessert in our household was an amazingly rare event reserved for holidays and usually brought by others.

But I do adore bread and things made with yeast. (A taste I acquired after moving to the Bay Area where bread is a religion.) When fresh fruit is in season, I like to make a pie or a cobbler. For dinner guests, I feel obliged to offer some kind of dessert and for myself, I enjoy a little morsel of something sweet now and again, here and there. But really, unlike my desire to cook, I rarely have a yen to go to the kitchen to bake as a matter of recreation.   

The bread thing on the other hand, that is different. I just love the stuff. I love it fresh and yeasty and crusty and, sometimes, oh my, I love it with stuff in or on it. (How about cinnamon, spices, olives, cherries, chocolate chunks, raisins, dried fruit, etc., etc. (Mmmm, I am making myself hungry.) But alas, I have always suffered from a fear of yeast. It always seemed so fussy, so needing of exactitude. When I cook, it is all about a little of this and a little of that. But bread? Bread requires precision, doesn’t it?    

Two out of four days of my recent CIA adventure were spent on the subject of bread. It turns out, that it is not all that persnickity. Sure it has to be scaled out and mixed together in the right order. And yes, you have to be careful not to over do your mixing and your kneading, lest you make it tough. Nevertheless, with the help of modern machinery (my handy-dandy stand mixer) it is really pretty easy to pull off a success. And, best of all, I can add all that good fun stuff to it! No more fear of yeast have I!

As an added bonus, I learned how to make incredible cookies which, at my whim, I can alter and adjust to suit my creative needs. I learned the right way to do a number of things I otherwise thought I knew how to do and I learned a number of “tricks” for giving my baked goods and bread a beautiful and professional finished look.   So I will be off again to the CIA on April 25 to begin a full week of pastry making. I know now that croissants and other Viennoiserie are destined to become part of my kitchen repertoire and I will leave the CIA reasonably proficient in buttercreme and ganache. I will always be much more of a cook than a baker or a pâtissier but I am fairly certain that when I am done, all cake phobias will be banished from my consciousness.       

If you want to read a fun book about the CIA, I would suggest you get Michael Ruhlman’s  The Making of a Chef. I read this book after I first returned from The Culinary and it was all soooooo real to me. It is a good quick read full of many laughs and much joy. Michael talks a little about how The Culinary transformed his life at Wasabimon this week.

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Filed under Baking, Bread, Cake, Cooking, Culinary School, Education, Pastry Making, Pie