I’m Baaa-aaack…and changes are following!

It has been a very long time, primarily due to a lack of fresh content.  My original scope was too narrow.  As a result my commentary will now go beyond food and drink and include just about anything I care to comment on such as music, books, travel, and current events.  I will start out by avoiding the most contentious issues, though, which means politics and religion.  Not sure how committed I am to avoiding political discourse as I have very strong, deeply held beliefs and opinions.  As for religion, I view that as a very personal subject which is why emotions tend to run towards the irrational when attempting any discussion why even touches on religion – so I don’t see much chance of my saying more than that on this blog. 

Also, I really want to encourage an exchange of ideas so please feel free to comment on my musings…and pass them on to friends.  Differing opinions are more than welcome but “flame wars” will not be tolerated.  Ad hominem attacks and personal insults are generally indicators of ignorance, invalid arguments or both.

Until next week…

Brew Horizons: How I Discovered My Love of Beer

I openly and freely admit that I am a beer snob of the first order, to the point that I have not partaken of a Budweiser, Coors or Miller beer in more than 20 years.  Here’s the story of how I came to discover the complexities and varieties of beer – and why I’ve begun to take on the hobby of home brewing.

The Ship in South Norwood, London. Where I first discovered my love of beer.

Early on, as a young adult living in New York City, I did partake of Guinness Stout, initially because of my Irish heritage but came to appreciate its bold flavor and aroma.  Outside of Guinness, however, my idea of “exotic” in the early 80’s was to drink a Molson Golden or Moosehead (Canadian lager), Foster’s Lager, Löwenbrau (Helles lager), Beck’s (German pilsner) and Heineken (pale lager).  Back then, even Coor’s was virtually considered an import and all I knew.  That all changed on my first visit to England as an adult in 1988 and my first taste of an English Bitter (i.e. English pale ale) – WOW, it was packed with flavors and aromas I had never encountered before!

Abbot Ale from Green King Brewers in Bury St. Edmunds, Surrey UK was my very first taste of an English Bitter (a.k.a. Pale Ale). I’ve never been the same!

Now, the first thing that comes to mind when most American’s think of English pubs and English beer is that it’s warm.  That, however, is relative to context. The typical temperature of an English Bitter is 55°F – commonly referred to as “cellar temperature”.  Budweiser requires it’s retailers to store their product at 36°F to 38°F so yes, English beer is warm when compared to the typical American pale lager such as Bud, Miller or Coors.  The problem with serving beer at such a cold temperature is that it dulls the taste buds thereby masking the flavors in the beer (also the reason why salt is added to ice cream, to excite the taste buds).  As an experiment, take a bottle or can of Bud out of the fridge and allow it to warm up on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes, unopened, and then drink it – it’s foul!!!  Due to the “warmer” temperature of your typical English Bitter the flavors and aromas come alive: malty, floral, raisin, biscuit-y are some of the many flavors and aromas that may greet your palate depending on the style.

The Royal Standard pub in Croyden. My favorite London pub for more than 20 years now.

Fuller’s London Pride, the best beer in the Greater London area.

In addition to the local beers in England, English pubs also introduced me to a variety of styles of beer from not only Europe (primarily Dutch, Belgian, German and Czech) but from such disparate locations as India (King Fisher), Singapore (Tiger), China (Tsing Tao), Australia (Castlemaine) and the Caribbean (Red Stripe from Jamaica & Banks from Barbados).  Even the Heineken that is served in Europe tastes radically different – and for the better.  I stopped drinking beer from Budweiser, Miller & Coors in 1988 and haven’t looked back.

The Heineken served in Europe is very different, and vastly superior to what is available in the US.

In the United States, the beer landscape has been radically altered in the past 30 years.  According the Brewer’s Association, by 1980 there were only 44 brewing companies extant in the United States.  As of 2012, there are more than 2,100 brewing companies!  I can now drink domestically produced beers that are on par with anything I have enjoyed in my subsequent travels and excursions. It’s no coincidence that I blog about food and beer.  They are closely related (brewing is simply a form of cooking) and offer a not only wonderful taste experiences, but the opportunity to experience the world at large – geography and culture play an important role in both food and beer.  Do yourself a favor and do your best to enjoy it all!

My Recommended Essential Spices & Herbs

  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Cayenne (ground)
  • Cilantro
  • Bay Leaves
  • All Spice
  • Paprika
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Sage
  • Mustard Seed (yellow)
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Mint
  • Vanilla Beans
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Marjoram
  • Curry Powder
  • Celery Salt
  • Celery Seeds
  • Garam Masala
  • Mustard Seeds (Black)
  • Cardamon

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The first 15 or so spices and herbs listed are used very regularly and are fairly common globally.  The final 3 seasonings are indispensible for authentic Indian cooking which is something I am trying to include on a weekly basis.  While a few of these will be rather obvious, I have written this list to provide a variety flavors and cultural experiences.  This list is certainly NOT exhaustive, nor is it comprehensive.  This is strictly one person’s preferences.

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I definitely recommend grinding your own spices with very few exceptions.  Even better, herbs are generally easy to grow, even for a black thumb such as myself so why not grow your own herb garden?  The freshness and fullness of flavors from fresh ingredients will startle you.  I use an electric coffee grinder that is dedicated to herb & spice grinding as well as a mortar and pestle.  On occasion I even use a food processor.  Also, the above ingredients can be combined to create various spice blends such as the ubiquitous Italian Seasoning (oregano, thyme, basil and parsley) or Cajun Seasoning (I use Emeril Lagase’s “Essence” recipe which is widely available via the internet.  When storing your herbs & spices, be sure to keep them is a dark, cool, dry space to preserve their shelf life – light and heat will promote the breakdown of the essential oils and moisture will promote mold).

 

A quick thought on kosher salt:  do a taste test of common table salt, Sea Salt and Kosher Salt – that is the best way to understand the difference.  My biggest challenge with “Sea Salt” is that it has a much higher foreign mineral content which provide a variety, and inconsistent, set of flavors.

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Hope this helps and Happy Cooking!

The Year Ahead

The new year has started so I thought I would begin with a peek into what I plan on blogging about in the weeks and months ahead.

I plan to make this blog a bit more regular and post on a consistent weekly basis, ideally on the same day of the week.  This should accomplish 3 things:  1) require some discipline on my part, 2) provide some consistency to allow me to schedule this into my week and 3) provide readers encouragement to check back on a regular basis.  A new blog should be posted by Sunday night of each week.

One of the more difficult aspects of blogging is determing the subject matter.   Fortunately for Christmas I received some gifts that should provide me with weeks, if not months, of inspiration.  My most coveted gift is a meat grinder and sausage stuffer that I plan to make copious use of.  I plan to make smoked, dried and regular sausages as well as using it to freshly grind my own meats for hamburgers, meatloafs and meatballs.  Fertile ground for quite a few blogs, dontcha think?

MeatGrinder

Also, I received a pasta maker which I’ve been dying to dive into.  Even more blogging will be inspired by the various sauces that I will be cooking up to go with the fresh pasta.  Once you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy fresh pasta you’ll never want to touch the stuff in a box again – the perfect subject for a blog!  Not to mention the trials and tribulations of working with a new gadget!

PastaMaker

Finally, there is beer!  I have to admit, for a blogger that includes “beer” and “brewing” in the description for his blog page I have been terribly remiss in blogging on the subject.  In 2014 that will change and will commit to blogging once a month on the subjects of beer and/or brewing.   I am a member of the Central Florida Homebrewer’s Association which meets on the first Sunday of the month.  This will allow me to cheat as I will be able to use inspirations from our monthly meetings to develop a blog for each month which should be posted on the second Sunday of the month.

Well, I hope I’ve whetted everyone’s appetite for the New Year.  As always, please do not hesitate to provide feedback, suggestions etc.

Welcome 2014!

Hot, Sweet & Spicy Smoked Pork Butt

* * * UPDATED RECIPE * * *

OK, faithful readers, here’s my final blog for the year…and it’s my (finally) perfected recipe for a smoked pork Boston Butt (a.k.a. pork shoulder).  The heat from the chipotles plus the citrus notes from orange juice are a wonderful compliment to the sweetness of the pork and makes the bark on this piece of smoke pork simply amazing.

2 cups light brown sugar
3 tbs ground mustard
3 tbs garlic powder
3 tbs onion powder
3 tbs oregano
3 tbs ground sage
3 tbs chipoble peppers in adobo sauce (finely chopped)
1/2 tbs whole thyme
1/2 tbs ground black pepper
1/2 cup kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Work together by hand into the consistency of damp saw dust(I strongly recommend that you wear gloves due to the chipotles).  Rinse the pork butt/shoulder under cold running water and pat dry.

Next, and this is important, stab the meat with a wide bladed knife (I use a 7-inch chef’s knife) to a depth of an inch or so on top or fatty side, bottom and sides.  Evenly coat the meat with the rub, inserting some of the rub into all of the punctures.  Wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 48 hours starting with the fat side up, flipping over half-way through.

Cook in a smoker set to 225°F for 12 hours using apple wood.  Place a mixture of 1 1/2 cups of pulp-free orange juice and 1 1/2 cups of water in the bottom of the smoker. When done, remove from smoker and tightly wrap in aluminum foil (I recommend Heavy Duty foil) and allow to rest for no less than 45 minutes.

Pull the pork, serve and enjoy.

Happy New Year to all!!!

A Tale of (Smoked)Two Turkey Breasts

 

Well, folks, it has been more than a month since my last entry.  Holiday season has been far more busy than I would have liked and blogging has just not been in my sights.  So, as my Christmas gift to all, I’m updating with some info on smoked turkey breasts.

Probably the biggest concern, and complaint, about cooking turkey the tendency for the white meat to dry out over the course of the cooking process which, I believe, results in the popularity of the dark meat portions of the birds.  I have come across all sorts of recommended solutions to this with varying degrees of success to include the ubiquitous “tenting” technique, my mother’s solution of rubbing the bird down with mayonnaise and the incredibly popular deep-fried turkey.  I find tenting to be a bit of a challenge as it seems to be more art than science;  they mayo actually does a decent job of sealing the turkey and provides a beautiful golden color to the bird; deep-frying dies result in, in my opinion, in a juicy bird with crispy skin but it’s a major pain in the ass what with the cleanup and having to purchase several gallons of oil, etc. 

As the title of this blog implies, there is another alternative…smoking.  I’ve read articles recommending it and seen it in various TV shows.  I’ll admit that I was somewhat skeptical of the process since my experience with smoked meats has relied on the fat content of the meat being smoked and I’ve never thought of turkey as being especially fatty.  I was encouraged to smoke a turkey because of my success with smoking pork and sausages.  I was more than pleased with the results and I received rave reviews from friends and family that tried it.

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Successfully smoking a turkey breast is a 2 step process:  brining then smoking.  For brining I purchased a food grade bucket from Firehouse Subs ($1.00 – it’s the one that their pickles come in).  I use Alton Brown’s recommendation of a ratio of 2.5 ounces of kosher salt per quart of water.  I used a total of 2 gallons of water plus ~2 lbs. of ice (The point is to make sure that the brine level covers the turkey breast entirely to a depth of 2 inches.  In addition to the kosher salt I add the following:  2 cups of brown sugar, 1/2 cup molasses, 3 tbs black pepper corns (crushed), 3 whole allspice (crushed), 4 large bay leaves, 3 tbs sage leaves, 3 tbs romary (whole) and 3 tbs thyme leaves.  Place all of the dry ingredients in the bucket and then add 2 quarts of boiling water and stir.  This will help to dissolve the salt and sugar as well as release the oils from the herbs and spices.  Add the rest of the water (cold) and ice then place your turkey breast in the brine solution.  Be sure to turn the bird so that the cavities fill with the solution.  Allow to brine for 12 hours.

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The smoking part is the easiest part:  Remove the turkey breast from the solution and rinse completely under cold running water, pat dry with paper towels and then allow to sit at room temp for at about an hour.  Pre-heat your smoker to 275°F using cherry wood  as well as apple juice in the smoker with excellent results.  Put the bird in when the smoker is ready, drop the temp to 225°F and smoke for approximately 4 hours (internal temp of breast meat should be about 160°F).  Remove and wrap tightly in heavy duty aluminum and allow to rest for no less then 45 minutes (the bird will continue to cook and rise to at least 165°). 

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