July 30, 2003

Certainly not food

Octodog -- I just don't really know what to say. Except that maybe I can't really believe that I just linked to it.

Posted by dowdy at 11:03 AM

July 28, 2003

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Pork and Shrooms

Stuffed pork tenderloin is a great dish to have in your back pocket. It's pretty quick, most of the work can be done ahead, it's impressive looking, and it's cheap. It also lends itself to all kinds of interesting creativity with a fairly low risk of failure.

James Beard claims that one pork tenderloin will feed one person. But we all know what James Beard looked like. I figure one tenderloin per two persons with a bit left over. I picked up a 4-pack of them recently at a warehouse store for $20. That's $2.50 per person for the meat, which is a pretty good deal.

Pork tenderloins are about 12 inches long and 2-3 inches in diameter. They are tapered at one end (often to a very thin "point" that's fairly useless). If you buy at high-end butcher stores you'll sometimes see trimmed tenderloins that are about half this length and cost much more. I think it's better to buy untrimmed, which also allows you to cut the ends off after cooking for a nicer presentation.

Pork tenderloins have a "silverskin" of membrane. Using a sharp knife, trim off some of this. I usually don't get too carried away here, but do try to "break up" the silverskin into thinner bits. If you leave it entirely intact it will tend to
shrink during cooking and sort of pinch the meat.

If the thin end is very pointy, cut that off. If the thick end has an extra "lobe" of paler meat (leftover from when separated from the loin) you can trim that down or off as well. if there are huge ugly globs of fat, those can get trimmed, but normal surface fat can be left alone -- it will render off during cooking.

You want to make a hole down the length of the meat to allow stuffing. There are a bunch of ways to go about this, I'll describe the method I use, which I think is pretty easy and more importantly -- safe. I'll assume you are right handed, but if you aren't, just reverse everything.

Place the meat on a cutting board with the thicker end on the right and the thinner on the left. Take a thin boning knife and place it parallel to the meat in your right hand, with the sharp edge pointing away from you. Place your left hand flat on top of the meat and press down a bit. Insert the knife into the middle of the thick end.

Slowly and carefully work the knife through the meat. Use your left hand to both stabilize the meat and to judge where the knife is. Keep the knife in the center of the meat. Keep your left hand flat on the top! You don't want to poke it out either side, or even worse out of the top (and into your hand!). This sounds harder than it is, but pork tenderloin is pretty soft meat, so it really doesn't take much pressure to do this. Ideally, you want the point of the knife to end up poking out the small end of the meat. It's OK if the knife is too short for this, just stop when you've got the knife inserted as far as you are able. You're just trying to poke a hole at this point. No need to try to widen it out into anything big enough for actual stuffing.

Carefully remove the knife. You've now got a basic cut through the meat and need to widen it to allow for stuffing. I first insert my sharpening steel into the same hole I made with the knife. You can "bunch up" the meat to allow the steel to poke out the other side. You can use a dowel or other (clean) pencil thickness rod you may have around.

Remove the steel. Next, poke in your index finger and carefully widen out the hole some more. Do this from each end of the meat. Don't worry if you make a hole in the side of the meat. Next time just be more careful. Whew! All done!

The stuffing can be anything you like. A few guidelines:
1) Have some fat in it. Tenderloins are pretty lean and the fat in the stuffing helps to keep them moist.

2) If using vegetables that need a fair amount of cooking (ie, onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers), sautee them first. Allow to cool before stuffing

3) If using only vegetables and they are high in water content (ie, mushrooms, squash, zuchini), you may also want to sautee them to drive off some of the liquid. If they don't make up a large proportion if the stuffing, you can leave them uncooked.

4) Cut whatever you are using up into small enough pieces that you'll be able to stuff it easily.

5) Binders and starches such as corn bread, bread crumbs, rice (cooked), or couscous also work well. If you are including something very very high it fat (such as charizo or bacon) either cook off some of the fat first, or include some sort of binder. Maybe both.

6) I'm going to guess you need between half a cup and a cup of stuffing per tenderloin.

For this dinner I used (for two pork tenderloins):
- 1/2 C grated zuchini
- 1/4 C grated parmasagn cheese
- two italian sausages, taken out of the casings
- trim from the tenderloins, whacked up into very tiny bits
Mix together, uncooked, until well bound. Set aside.

Start at the fat end. Poke some of the stuffing into the hole and use your thumb or finger to push it down the length of the meat. Do it a bit at a time. From time to time, squeeze the meat (like a toothpaste tube) to get the stuffing to move more down the meat. Stuff from the thinner end as well. Don't feel the need to overstuff.

At this point, you can season the outside of the meat any way you would like and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. On the stovetop heat an ovenproof skillet, adding the fat of your choice. Use the smallest skillet that will comfortably fit the number of tenderloins you are attempting to cook. Sear all sides of each tenderloin (3-4 minutes per side) and then place the skillet directly into the oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until done to your liking.

Build a hot fire on one side of the grill. Grill the meat over direct heat for 3-4 minutes per side. Then move the meat to the side, cover the grill and allow to cook for around 20-30 minutes, or until done to your liking.

I cook pork to 140-145, which will leave it a bit pink. If you like it well done, pull it from the oven at 150-55. During resting, the temperature will rise up into the "safe zone" (or as I refer to it, the dry and overcooked zone). Actually, this method is pretty forgiving, because the interior of the meat is "basted" by the stuffing.

Rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes. Slice about 1/4-1/2 inch thick on a bias (which makes the center look even cooler).

It was sort of interesting that this pork got a smoke ring on it, even after only 30 minutes on the grill. I'm suspecting it's due to the use of lump charcoal, but I've never noticed this before. Sort of interesting -- to me at least.

Served it with a basic red sauce that I had slow cooked earlier in the day, some grilled mushrooms and asparagas. Topped the asparagas with some more of the hotel butter I had left over from the day before.

This was a great dinner for a 90 degree day here in California. Except for the sauce, the entire thing was cooked outside -- leaving the house in much better shape.

Posted by dowdy at 09:14 PM

July 27, 2003


I'm lucky enough to have a large "pantry" area located in my utility room. The previous owners had installed some really stupid shelves/cabinets in there, but I recently ripped them out and installed industrial post-wire shelving.

This is the stuff you see in restaurants, computer stores, warehouses, and so on. It comes in all kinds of sizes and "patterns" (half shelves, corner pieces, etc). It's not exactly cheap, but it's incredibly strong. For what it does, it's inexpensive. It's never going to sag, you can re-arrange how you put it together, and (most importantly) it holds an amazing amount of pantry stuff. I don't really use that much from cans, but bottles of oil, spices, rice, flour, beans, and huge onions and potato bags do eat up the space.

I looked all over the web at sites targetted for the industry and checked prices. All of them were high. The lowest prices that I could find were still only pennies less than I could pick up at a local Storables (or as we refer to it "Adorables" due to all of the cute bins and crap you can also buy there). They only sell packages of the stuff on their web site, but at their stores you can pick up all manner of post/wire shelving.

Yesterday I drove The Elephant on over to the store to pick up more post/wire for the garage. This was my first chance to actually fold down the seats in the 2nd car to see how much crap I could haul in it. The answer is: a whole lot of crap. I didn't really even push it.

So this morning, I'm going to be assembling it all. Before the heat hits. Supposed to be 100 today. I swear, I'm paying good money for California weather, and this was not in the contract. Who do I sue?

Posted by dowdy at 06:29 AM

July 26, 2003

So Many Chicken Wings


This is probably the last of the oil before I need to dump it. So, wings it is. Above you see my definition of the perfect plate of wings. All "drumettes".

Back at the CIA one item of discusssion was what kind of wings folks prefer -- the drumettes, or the 2nd joint. As with all things at the CIA, when you get a bunch of "food-geeks" together with some beer, there's no end to the arguments. But after all, since you have to test out the theory by eating the examples, there really are no losers.

The "leftover" 2nd joints either get used for chicken wings when I'm not feeling so picky, when other folks are over who prefer them (or don't care), or for use in making stock. Chicken wings are great in stock because they contain gobs of gelatin, which is what makes stock have a good "mouth-feel."

The one real unfortunate thing about chicken wings is that now that they've become popular, they are also expensive. An 8 pound frozen bag of wings now costs almost as much as a similar bag of frozen chicken breasts. I never buy frozen chicken breasts any more -- I think they taste just awful, and I'd rather use whole chicken that I cut up myself anyway. I'd also make some statement about not wanting to support factory farming, but buying frozen chicken wings is just as bad.

Posted by dowdy at 01:35 PM

July 25, 2003

Toasted Raviolli


With the oil leftover from yesterday's fries, I decided to make a Saint Louis specialty -- toasted raviolli. Since it was a weeknight, these happened to be purchased from a local producer, Lucca.

I made the basic marinara myself, however. And the parmesan was real. And the basil was from my garden.

Take frozen raviolli. Dip in flour. Dip in egg wash. Dip in bread crumbs (I used fresh, but dry work OK as well). Place on tray and return to freezer. When well frozen, fry in 350 degree oil until GBD (golden, brown, and delicious) -- around 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Carol liked 'em. I thought I put too much bell pepper in the marinara and maybe should have made it a bit less chunky. But it certainly looked cool on the plate!

Posted by dowdy at 07:18 PM

July 24, 2003

Yukon Not So Golds

Steak and Yukon Golds

Had a great day at work, so I decided to make myself some steak and fries. I've read recently a bunch of stuff about folks using Yukon Gold potatoes for making French Fries, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Yukon Golds are a medium-waxy potato, so they make great oven baked potatos and pretty good mashed. They also have a natural buttery flavor, so lots of people like them due to that. But, they also are too low in starch to make good fries. While they crisp up nice on the outside, they lack that nice fluffy interior that French Fries must have. So, back to Russetts for me.

The steak, on the other hand, was excellent. An Angus Rib Eye, grilled with a very heavy sea salt and a quick grind of pepper.

Served it with a hotel butter:
- whip up 1 pound of butter in a mixer then add:
- 1 fine minced shallot
- some minced chives
- some fine chopped fresh thyme
- juice of 1 lemon
Great stuff. Wrapped in plastic wrap in a log shape, it keeps in the fridge for several weeks, or can be frozen for ages. Excellent on all manner of broiled or grilled meats, baked chicken, etc. Basically an instant butter sauce any time you need it. Made it up fresh today, I'll be using it over the next few weeks.

Posted by dowdy at 05:46 PM

July 23, 2003

New Book -- Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen

Alton Brown has a new book coming out. Apparently, it focuses on general purpose kitchen items -- often from non-kitchen supply places. For example, using a flowerpot as a garlic roaster.

Alton surely is the Geek's Cook. I first got wind of this new book in last month's issue of Wired of all places.

Posted by dowdy at 01:52 PM

Hack the Cafe

It's been so hot here that recently lunch has consisted almost every day of salads at the Apple Cafe. I'm not real impressed with the Ceasar Salad glop that they use for dressing, so I've been making my own:
- two small packets of mayonaise
- 10 shots of worchestershire sauce from the condiment bar
- 8 or so lemon wedges from the iced tea line, squeezed
- pepper
Not too shabby, and fairly close to the Real Deal (tm). It's got all of the basic ingredients in it -- the egg's just not coddled.

Posted by dowdy at 09:39 AM

July 17, 2003

Leftovers plus Leftovers

Fried Rice

- Leftover rice from gumbo
- Leftover rib meat from BBQ (cubed)
- Extra egg
- green onion (bias cut)
- extra carrot (small cube)
- extra celery (small cube)
- extra ginger (minced)
- some mushrooms I picked up at the store

Posted by dowdy at 06:49 AM

July 16, 2003

Sausage Gumbo

Bowl of Gumbo

The leftover smoked sausage from the party was combined with some of the leftover green onions and leftover bell peppers. Duck and Chicken stock were used as the base, along with a classic brown roux.

Posted by dowdy at 06:13 AM

July 14, 2003

Summer Party

Well, here's how the party played out. It was lots of fun and the food turned out especially good this year. And, of course, Carol's tables looked fantastic. We also finished prep with an hour to go before the party, which I think is a New World's Record.

When the guests arrived, the serving table was pretty much covered with Salads and Starters. I like salads for summer parties. They're all about prep and little to no actual cooking -- which helps to keep down the temperature in the kitchen.
Bunch of Salads

Spinach, Blue Cheese, Apple Salad
Used Maytag Blue cheese and a very basic vinegar/mustard dressing. It was excellent and elegant.
Derrick Cutting Apples

Chinese, Peanut "Slaw"
Two kinds of cabbage, lettuce, carrots and a dressing of peanut butter, hoisin, soy sauce and lime.

Greek Salad
Your basic tomatoes, olives, feta type salad. Used lemon/olive oil and sumac powder in the dressing.

Taco Bean Salad
Pinto beans, lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese with crumbled up tortilla chips. A dressing of salsa, lime, and oil.

Shrimp cocktail
The shrimp were boiled in a cajun spice mixture. The cocktail sauce was made from scratch, including the ketchup. Good grief, what was I thinking? But it got a whole bunch of compliments -- which I deflected to William who made it.

Cheese and Fruit Platter

Then, we started bringing out the main dishes as they finished cooking. Mostly it was slicing and plating.

Carol's Non-Traditional Spare Ribs
Spare ribs coated in rosemary rather than normal BBQ spices. I also made two racks of beef ribs with the same flavoring. The sauce was a thickened pork stock with more rosemary and mustard added.
Plate of Ribs

Hot 5 Ways to Sunday Babybacks
I made way too many of these (and knew it as I was making them). But, they reheated well on the following day during party cleanup mode.

Carol's Chicken
Spatchcocked and coated in garlic and rosemary rub. In case you can't tell, Carol loves Rosemary with a Loving Love. Cooked in the smoker for about two hours.

BBQ Sausage
We made these from scratch. A light italian type seasoning. 50/50 pork butt and beef tri-tip. Smoked for about three hours in the upper portion of the smoker.

BBQ Beans
7 hours in the smoker with meat dripping in to them.

Onion Rings with Remoulade
A smash hit. William and Derrick were slaving over a hot oil pan for about an hour making these on demand.

Vegetable Tamales with Tomatilo Sauce
A mixture of diced vegetables inside, steamed for about an hour. We put these out early and had to keep re-stacking the plate with more. I guess everyone had at least one.

Rediculous Mushrooms
5 pounds of mushrooms cooked down in red wine, sage, italian seasonings and butter until they are dark and inky looking. There were two left.

Profiteroles with 3 sauces
Derrick, Carol, and I filled over 160 mini-cream puffs with vanilla ice cream. Served with vanilla sauce, carmel sauce, and chocolate sauce.

BBQ Pineapple
Coated in coconut milk (which I don't think they really needed) and dipped in cinnamon/sugar and then grilled. Very juicey!

Posted by dowdy at 07:53 AM

July 10, 2003

Meet the Meat

I've been remiss in doing entries. But I have a good excuse -- I've been getting ready for the big Tom and Carol summer bash.

One thing that I get asked pretty often is how to estimate food for parties. Specifically people seemed concerned about how much meat to purchase (which is a bit misguided -- vegetables can cost just as much or even more than meat purchases).

My rule of thumb is between half a pound and one pound of meat per person (for a real, eating, kind of party). I usually start assuming 3/4 of a pound per person (this includes any non-vegetable items, meat, chicken, shrimp, fish, etc). I adjust it a bit as follows:

- This is uncooked, on the bone weight (ie, chickens). I adjust up if the meat is all high in bone content (ie, ribs) and down if it contains none (ie, hamburger)

- My parties have about 10% of people who don't eat meat, or limit their consumption. Adjust up or down if you have less or more vegetarian guests.

- I usually serve a pretty large number of dishes. If you are only having one single large meat item, I'd probably adjust down. People tend to eat more when variety is there.

- I always have lots of side dishes, usually of a vegetarian bent. If for some reason your dinner is a "meat only" fest, adjust up.

- For my summer parties, it's BBQ. So most if not all of the cooked meat will keep just fine afterwards. If I'm making fancy dishes that don't re-heat and contain expensive ingredients (ie, quails) I adjust down to keep costs until control.

- People tend to eat more when it's cold and less when it's warm. That having been said, BBQs seem to bring out the pig in everybody.

Posted by dowdy at 10:58 AM