29 July 2010

Garden deliciousness

This really is the best time of year.  We have all kinds of fresh stuff available at the farmer's market, but we also have lots of tasty stuff available at home in the garden.  Given that we're renters, we focus on growing two things - herbs and tomatoes.  Herbs because we like to cook with fresh herbs every day, and the ones in the grocery store are often in rough shape when you see them, and certainly don't keep well in the fridge.

The other thing we grow is tomatoes.  (shown below, Green Zebra, Lemon Boy and Red Cherry tomatoes all harvested recently from the Dude garden).


The difference between garden tomato varieties and grocery store tomato varieties is much larger than with any other bit of grocery produce.  Grocery store tomates are tough and they're bitter in comparison to some of the varieties you can grow in your garden.  And there's a reason for that.  While some might attribute love or careful growing, it's not that at all.

Tomatoes are fragile.  If we're not careful, we can bruise a tomato, just carrying it the 20 feet from our garden to the kitchen counter.  The varieties that are grown by farmers have to be able to be handled in large numbers, and shipped long distances.  They get packed by the ton.  They have to survive that process without damage.  So plant breeders select for varieties that will be sturdy.  There are tradeoffs to be made, and in the end, a tomato that doesn't make it to market loses the farmer money.  So they have to be tough.

As a gardener, you can grow varieties that are fragile.  And you have fewer tradeoffs.  You can grow the varieties that are delicious.  Like my two favourites, Green Zebra.

Green zebra

And Black Krim.

Black Krim tomato

Black Krim and Green Zebra are juicy and delicious.  They have no bitter flavour (indeed, these could almost be served as a dessert they're so sweet).  We often serve raw slices with a bit of sprinkled kosher salt on them.

Remember, if you can grow it in your home, get the varieties that have been bred to be delicious.  It's the same amount of work (mostly - some varieties are a little fussier in the garden), and the reward is soooo much more.  You'll want the awesome power of tomato genetics on your side.  You'll be glad you did.

25 July 2010

Farmer's market pizza


One of my favourite things about living in San Diego is the quality of the farmer's markets and the many ethnic markets in the city.  My favourite farmer's market in San Diego is the Little Italy farmer's market on Saturday mornings.  (Mrs. Dude prefers the Hillcrest one on Sunday).  The strength of the Hillcrest market is the selection of produce.  The strength of Little Italy is that it has a butcher, smoked fish vendor, Knight Salumi and a sea urchin vendor.  You can see how a bbq enthusiast would prefer Little Italy.


Saturday was a lovely morning to be at the farmer's market. The sky was blue. The weather was nice, and several musicians were doing their thang.

Little Italy farmer's market

Clearly I wasn't the only one who thought so.

I picked up the pepperoni from Knight Salumi. Forgive the ragged edges, I'm still learning to use my new Sugimoto gyuto. This inspired me to make smoked pizza (I've made described this recipe before so I won't get into details here)

Knight Salumi pepperoni

And I picked up some produce and goat white cheddar (those green zebras are from our garden).

Farmer's market produce

Finally, on my way out of the market, I saw a vendor selling microgreens. When I told him of my smoked pizza plan, he pointed me towards the basil microgreens. I steered clear (seemed to obvious) and headed for the radish microgreens.

Radish microgreens

I made the pizza dough as described here. Laid it out on a screaming hot grill (prepared to have a hot area and a cool area).

Pizza dough

In just two minutes, you can brown one side of the dough. And watch it bubble up.

Pizza dough

When the bubbles get really large...

Pizza dough

And the underside is browned...

Pizza crust

You can flip it over, and bring it into the kitchen to be dressed with garlic oil and toppings.


Put it on the cool side of the grill and close up the grill for ten minutes or so (until the cheese has melted).


When the cheese looks good, slide the pizza over the fire to brown the underside of the crust for a minute or two. Slide off the grill, and put on any toppings that aren't heat friendly (like the microgreens, and fresh basil leaves from our garden).


Serve.  Fresh ingredients on pizza are a huge win.  The radish microgreens added a really nice, bright crisp element to the greasy/cheesiness of this pizza.  But really, it was all win.  And if you're organized, you can have 3 of these on the go simultaneously on the grill, at various stages of cooking.


22 July 2010



It's been *hot* in southern California the last few days.  To survive, homemade lemonade.
1 ¼ cup lemon juice (from 4ish fresh lemons)
4 ½ cups water
1 cup sugar
Mix one cup water with the sugar. Heat and stir to dissolve the sugar (this is simple syrup).

Mix the lemon juice with the remainder of the water and the simple syrup. Serve over ice.

Nothing beats homemade lemonade. Ridiculously more flavourful than purchased lemonade (and if you have homegrown lemons - even better).

20 July 2010

Burnt ends

When work gets crazy (and it's all kinds of crazy right now), nothing relaxes me more than a day spent smoking meat. Twelve hours to smoke a brisket means that I'm spending all day outside, tending the fire. Perhaps with a beer, perhaps with a book. That is utter relaxation. Some people meditate. Others do Tai Chi. I smoke meat.

This past weekend, I prepared a meal for a party where I intended to cook for 50. So 2 briskets on the smoker (using this recipe and mesquite smoke), and I'm relaxing my way through the afternoon...

Raw, rubbed brisket

Well as it happens, only 30 or so folks showed up, so now I have an enviable problem. We've eaten one brisket, but I still have one 14 lb brisket to consume.  Now, brisket sandwiches for weeks is pretty tasty, but what about doing something creative with part of the other brisket.  Well, how about burnt ends?  Burnt ends are the re-smoked point of a beef brisket.  The brisket parts are called the flat (which is traditionally sliced for sandwiches) and the point, which is thicker and fattier (see diagram here).

In this case, I sliced off the point of a brisket that had been smoked for twelve hours and put it in the fridge until the following day.  The next day, back on the smoker it goes.

Brisket point

Smoke for 4 hours at 225 °F.

Burnt end

Look at that darkened crust (also called bark).  That's apparently what you're going for (and indeed, is always Mrs. Dude's favourite part of a brisket).  This additional smoking released even more fat, rendered and caught in the drip pan below.

Burnt end

Let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

How did it turn out?  Mrs. Dude thought it could have spent even longer on the smoker, she would have liked even more thick, tough bark.  You can see that it's not terribly thick when sliced.  Next time I'll keep it on there another 2 hours.

Serving burnt end

Indeed, you almost can't over-smoke this cut.  It's so thick, and so fatty it ought to be damn near impossible to dry this out.  You could use the dried out bits to season chile, or do like we did, and serve them on buns with bbq sauce.

Served with:

Served with

15 July 2010

Too-stupid-to-cook chicken

In our house, Mrs. Dude cooks Monday-Thursday (sometimes Monday-Friday). I cook on the weekends. Weeknights are a rush. From the time we get home, we have a little over an hour and a half to serve dinner and get Bbq Jr (age: 4) into bed.

But on Fridays, we let Bbq Jr stay up a bit later. This gives us time to cook a Too-stupid-to-cook chicken, as described by Michael Ruhlman:
Americans are being taught that we’re too stupid to cook. That cooking is so hard we need to let other people do it for us. The messages are everywhere. Boxed cake mix. Why is it there? Because a real cake is too hard! You can’t bake a cake! Takes too long, you can’t do it, you’re gonna fail!

Look at all those rotisserie chickens stacked in the warming bin at the grocery store. Why? Because roasting a chicken is too hard, takes FOREVER. An hour. I don’t have an hour to watch a chicken cook!

Companies that make microwaveable dinners have spent countless R&D dollars to transform dishes that used to take 7 minutes in the microwave into ones that take 3 minutes. “Hey, Marge, that’s four minutes of extra TEEvee we can watch!”
Here's the deal. This chicken takes about 70 minutes, from the time you unwrap the chicken, until the time you carve it. Ten minutes to heat up the oven, and 60 minutes to cook. Plus, if you have a loyalty card at the grocer's, this chicken costs all of $3.50 (plus onion, lemon and herbs). In our case, the lemon and thyme is free (friends' garden for lemon, our garden for thyme). Yum.  This is perfect on a Friday night, when we let Bbq Jr. stay up a bit later.

Preheat your oven to 450 °F. Okay, here we go. Chop an onion in half. Peel it. Chop a lemon in half. Chop off a large bunch of thyme.

Chicken stuffing

If you have time, warm the chicken to room temp (about half an hour). We don't have time on a Friday night, so we skip this step and get a *slightly* less perfect skin. But really, the skin will still be fairly awesome... Dry off the outside of a chicken. Pull the neck and giblets out of the chicken. (We save these for chicken stock, you can discard them if that's not your thing). Stuff the lemon, thyme and onion in the cavity. Rub 1 tbsp of kosher salt all over the skin of the chicken.

Raw chicken

Place the chicken in an oven-friendly pan. Place in oven. Cook for one hour. Remove from oven.

Too stupid to cook chicken

Serve. This is the best & cheapest fast dinner you will ever serve your family. Promise.

Serve with a lovely pinot, and this becomes a fancy dinner:


What a lovely Friday evening.

13 July 2010

Fishy ribs

I'm a fan of fish sauce.  Made from fermented fish, it adds a lovely umami dimension to Asian foods.  Indeed, my favourite flavour in Vietnamese cuisine comes from fish sauce.  And that classic English sauce - Worcestershire Sauce - gets its depth from fish sauce.  Yum.

So when I see someone wants me to brine some pork product in fermented fish, well - there's only one reaction.  Yum.  This recipe comes from the restaurant Fatty 'Cue, via the New York Times:
2 cups fish sauce (preferably Three Crabs brand)
1 medium shallot, peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup sugar
2 racks pork ribs
2 tablespoons (or more?) toasted and ground Indonesian long pepper
6 oz palm sugar
First, mix 1 ½ cups of fish sauce with the chopped garlic, pepper and shallots and sugar.


Given that this is a brine, and the salt content of the brine is important, I used the recommended brand of fish sauce - 3 crabs:

3 crabs fish sauce

At $3.50 a bottle, this was the most expensive fish sauce.  Source:  99 Ranch.

Now, bring the brine up to full volume with a gallon of water.  Boil the mix for 30 minutes.  Covered.  I will now share with you the information that the author of the New York Times article does not:  Boiling fish sauce in your home, covered or no, will have adverse effects on your marriage.  Keep in mind, I'm a fish sauce fan (see above).  I love the stuff.  Boiling fish sauce in your home does not smell good.  Fortunately, I did this the night before, so there was plenty of time to clear out the stench before guests came.

Cool the brine, and place in the fridge in a non-reactive container.  Six to twelve hours ahead of time (I'd go long on this, if you can), place the ribs in the brine and keep them in the fridge.  (Note to self:  Is the world ready for fermented rib sauce?).

Okay, before you smoke the ribs, prepare the dry rub.  The dry rub is composed of Indonesian long peppers, aka tiêu lóp for Vietnamese folks or Pippali Rasayana in Sanskrit.   KirkK of mmm-yoso was kind enough to help me track the peppers to the Indian market on Black Mountain Road (undergoing some renovations, sign is down, but I think it's called Bombay Market?).  They called these peppers "peepal small".  They come out of the container looking like this:

Long peppers

The recipe suggests you toast them. I put them in a dry frying pan over high heat for about 5 minutes. It was startling to watch them wiggle in the pan as they expanded - wish I had a good enough video recorder to show you. But post-toasting, they were quite fragrant and swollen:

toasted long pepper

They smelled like black pepper, but milder.  And with more depth.  Grind 'em up into a fine powder.

ground toasted long pepper

And sprinkle the powder over the ribs. Now this is where I believe I erred. Having never cooked with this pepper before, I went easy on it, when I really should have put on a fair amount. Don't go easy. Use at least 2 tbsp of powder on your ribs. Maybe more. It's a nice flavour, and you don't have to worry about it overpowering the pork.

early ribs

Fire up the grill to smoke on indirect heat.  Aim for 200 °F.  You've got five long hours to wait for these ribs.  Tend the fire with wet hickory and charcoal.  End of hour one:

mid ribs

End of hour two:

mid ribs

End of hour three:

mid ribs

End of hour four:

final ribs

During the last hour, make the glaze.  Palm sugar is a sweetener derived from palm sap.  It has a characteristic flavour that once you've tasted it, you'll recognize it as the sweetener of choice in many Asian desserts (we make a mango sticky rice that features it - I'll have to photograph it the next time we make it).  Palm sugar is available in Asian grocers, sold as a giant brick (often labeled as Palm Candy).

palm sugar

I've not yet figured out how to handle it easily, as the only way to break off a chunk is to whack it repeatedly with a meat tenderizer. I'm sure there's a better way. (Anyone?)  Break off 6 oz of palm sugar, and dissolve it over heat in ¾ cup water.  Once you've created this simple syrup, remove from the heat and add ½ cup fish sauce. Brush this glaze over the ribs a few times during the last half hour.

At the end of hour five:

glazed ribs

Remove from the smoker.  Let rest ten minutes, chop and serve.  Meat should be tender, and practically falling off the bone.

serving ribs

These ribs were quite nice. Moist, smooth and not terribly sweet, despite all the palm sugar. And much milder flavour than our usual rib preparation.

Serve with:


10 July 2010

A lazy Saturday calls for...

... a gin & tonic.  I just got Artisanal Cocktails by Scott Beattie.  And while I should be making some of the truly exciting cocktails in the book, the cool and cloudy weather here in San Diego the last two months got me in the mood for a lovely gin & tonic:

Gin & tonic water
lime slice
1 ½ oz Junipero gin
2 oz Fever-Tree tonic water, chilled
Mix.  Serve.  Yum.

Gin & Tonic

08 July 2010

Lavender-honey ice cream

So we're toodling through the Little Italy farmer's market, and lo and behold, we encounter a vendor selling fresh lavender.  It smells awesome.  Unlike many flowers, lavender isn't super perfumy.  Perfumey?  Perfumish?  Whatever.  So for $2, I find myself in possession of a lifetime supply of fresh lavender (or at least, more than I can ever use in the few days until they deteriorate).  What to do?  How about lavender-honey ice cream, from David Lebovitz' The Perfect Scoop:
½ cup honey
¼ cup fresh lavender flowers
1 ½ cups whole milk
¼ cup sugar
pinch salt
1 ½ cups heavy cream
5 large eggs
Remove the eggs from the fridge, and bring to room temperature.

Pull the lavender flowers off the stems (this is accomplished quite easily by running your fingers down the stem from top to bottom).  Measure out the flowers.

Fresh lavender flowers

Heat honey with ½ lavender, just until bubbles start to form in the honey.  Remove from the heat, and let sit an hour or so to extract some of that tasty lavenderness.  It looks kinda grotey, but it's tasty.

Lavender infused honey

Put the cream in a bowl.  Rewarm the honey a tad (just to make it runny), and pour it through a sieve into the cream.  Squish those lavender chunkies with a spoon or spatula to get out as much tastiness as possible.

Meanwhile, warm the milk sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve, and the milk is hot.  Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites, and beat the egg yolks into a lovely bright yellow foam.

Add the warm milk to the yolks, a wee bit at a time, mixing constantly.  You're making an emulsion here, so to keep it from breaking, you have to add the milk slowly (particularly at the beginning).  I always find this part hard to photograph, (basically impossible if I'm alone in the kitchen), so see older posts on ice cream for pics of this part.  It's basically the same for any custard.

Put the egg yolk mix back on the stove, and heat, stirring constantly over medium-low heat.  This part is easiest with a thermometer (keeps you from curdling the custard). Heat to 175°F. Never stop stirring. At 175°F, the custard should have thickened nicely, shouldn't have curdled, and will be ready for the next step.  Immediately pour the hot custard over the lavender chunkies, into the cool cream.  Mix, and add the remainder of the lavender.

Lavender infused cream

Cool in the fridge overnight.  Sieve out the fresh lavender, and run through your ice cream maker, using the directions for your machine.  For the KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment this means that you've frozen the attachment for at least 24 hours.  Then, you slowly pour in the sieved ice cream mix into a the machine while the beater is stirring on low.

Churning ice cream

Churn for 25ish minutes.  Then scoop into a cold container, and cure in the freezer overnight to finish hardening it.

Honey lavender ice cream

I served this with a wee drizzle of honey on top.

Honey lavender ice cream

What a nice flavour.  The honey smoothes out the lavender flavour, making it a nice, mild dessert.  This might be the best ice cream yet.  And the lavender is such an unusual flavour, that it manages it be striking and mild at the same time.  Very nice, and perfect for a warm summer's day.

Happy Summer.