Experiments with smoked vegetables

Smoked Beets

Smoked Beets at left with fermented beets, pickled scapes, fried caraway seeds

The other night I fired up the Weber Bullet in the usual way, loaded some nice applewood… then, instead of a brisket or turkey on the lower rack I put in vegetables. And on the top, a tray of maple syrup. The results were interesting.

I’d heard about the beet that’s carved table side at Agern in NYC, and this was more an homage rather than an actual recreation (especially since I haven’t eaten there, though I’ve been to the Northern Food Hall next door). There, the beet is encased in an egg white crust that is cracked open for the diner. The *smoked beets are combined with raw, pickled (I assume sweet and sour) and *fermented beets and dolloped with *fried caraway seeds and scrapings of fresh horseradish. I only had the * items, but I added some pickled scapes which I expect contributed a similar flavor balance.

The verdict? Like I said, “interesting”. The smoked beets were tart yet retained a raw taste (in a good way). Not surprising since roasted beets get up to 400 degrees and the inside of the smoker isn’t close to that. The flavors of the individual items didn’t really come together as a cohesive whole. Guess I will have to force myself to go to Agern and try the real thing.

Smoked Brussels Sprouts

Smoked Brussels sprouts with smoked maple syrup

Then, on to smoked Brussels sprouts. Braising these with bacon for a smoky flavor is currently a thing, so why not just eliminate the middleman and actually smoke them? And I wanted to toss them with smoked maple syrup which I’d made by letting some good Grade B spend time in a flat aluminum pan on the top, as well as a bit of butter.

Again, interesting. With smoked meats, the bitterness of the smoke flavor is usually balanced by fat. No such luck here. These items were bitter but by no means inedible. I’ll happily use them as garnishes rather than complete courses.

The smoked maple syrup? It’s okay and I will use it in small doses for some cheese grits, maybe. I have no doubt I could have gotten the same effect with some Liquid Smoke. If we don’t experiment with smoked vegetables and other new concepts, we don’t evolve. But next time I’m sticking to brisket (with maybe a few veggies… eggplant?… around the edges).

NEW TO BURNT MY FINGERS? As you’ll soon discover, we’re  little obsessive about slow cooking over wood and coals. My original brisket recipe is as good a place to start as any.

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Sad about sub sandwiches

Roma Italian Mix

Roma Imports Italian Mix sub made by Mike at the Saratoga Springs store on 8/15/16.

Our local Tour De Italian Deli 2.0 happened the other day, and I will refer you to the excellent and very detailed write up on the Fussy Little Blog with analysis of the sub sandwiches we tried. But here’s what that post doesn’t mention: only six tasters showed up for our Italian subs, compared to two dozen or more for other Fussy tours, and one of them didn’t really count because she had no teeth and couldn’t talk.

I had already sensed a worrisome trend when I was unable to find a jar of Pastene Crushed Peppers to bring to the event (local brand Casa Visco was a fine substitute, except that the jar was smaller and more expensive). Could it be, for health reasons or some other ridiculous excuse, these behemoths of the deli counter are declining in popularity? Is something terribly wrong in Italian Sub Land? Let’s hope not.

La Gioia Italian Mix

La Gioia of Schenectady was the winner on our Italian Deli tour. It was pretty good, though no match for Roma.

I wanted to calibrate my tasting experience against the best local submarine sandwich, so a couple of days after the tour I stopped by Roma Importing in Saratoga Springs for the Italian Mix shown above. The ingredients are nothing special. Cittero Genoa Salami, Boar’s Head (sic) Capicola and BelGioso sharp provolone on a nice puffy roll. But the assembly and the good Italian dressing bring it all together.

Note the multilayered presentation of the meat and cheese. Roma’s thin-slices the ingredients (each from a roll perhaps six inches in diameter), stacks them up on a plastic sheet, then rolls up that sheet to the width of the sandwich which means each product is doubled for a more profound eating experience. So much better than random meats poking out the sides of the sandwich, as its done at most places.

This October I will be across the continent in Los Angeles for a conference, and I plan to hightail it to Giamela’s in the Atwater district for their Italian Combo. It comes on a sesame roll and the meats are covered with chopped pickles, onions and tomatoes and you get spicy peppers and carrots on the side. (Read my Yelp review for essential advice on how to mod this sub to perfection.) It’s as different from Roma’s as Giotto is from Michelangelo, yet both Roma and Giamela are masters of their craft. Like the Medici, we need to cultivate them so they can continue to practice their art.

Made properly, an Italian style submarine sandwich is an everyman’s treat that should be enshrined, not eschewed. The balance of roll, protein and vegetable add up to a complete meal in your hand. Hopefully our hot summer is responsible for the hiatus of sub lovers. I am counting on a redolent, cappy-filled fall.

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Recipe index…. check it out!

For way too long I’ve been promising to index the recipes on this site, which are now close to 200. I’ve just installed the Visual Recipe Index plugin, which you can see in action here.

At last you can see everything in one place, organized by category, each recipe with its title and a clever little thumbnail. If the visuals take too long to load, you can save time by using the search box in your BROWSER (not the Burnt My Fingers search box) to take you to a particular recipe on the page. Then, open as usual to retrieve the recipe.

Wow, we’ve been busy…. lots of stuff there and most of it looks pretty tasty. Let me know how you like it.

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Recipe: Utica Greens

Utica Greens

Utica Greens

Utica Greens, named after that central New York city, are the traditional accompaniment to Chicken Riggies. They are also nice with grilled steak or chicken, or maybe as a topping on an eggplant parm sandwich. Note that my version is quite a bit lighter than what you may have had in an upstate restaurant, where they often pride themselves on packing in the prosciut’, peppers, cheese and oil. This just has a nice balance. Serves 4.

1 medium-to-large head of escarole, 1 pound or more
1/4 c chicken stock
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 c onion, thinly sliced
1 pickled cherry pepper, seeded and chopped*
1/4 c vinegar peppers or bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1/4 prosciutto or pancetta, chopped
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
1/3 c bread crumbs
1/3 c Parmesan cheese, grated

Method: thoroughly wash the escarole, removing any brown ends or leaves, and chop into 1-inch strips. Place in a covered saucepan with the chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and sweat 5 minutes until the greens have reduced by half. (At this point you can refrigerate the greens and bring them out when it’s time to cook and serve.)

Utica Greens in 8-inch oven pan

Utica Greens in 8-inch oven pan. Some recipes use a lot more product, but mine is ample to serve 4 as a side dish.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add garlic and onion and bell peppers if you’re using them. Sauté until tender. Add prosciutto or pancetta and cook till it crisps a bit; add cherry peppers and vinegar peppers. Add spices and reserved escarole and its liquid (if there’s a lot you can drain some off) along with a little cheese and a little parmesan. Mix well and transfer to a 8-inch baking pan or a small cast iron skillet. Cover the top with an equal mix of bread crumbs and cheese (you might want to just mix them up in a bowl). Bake until cheese melts and the liquid is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

*Do try to find Italian style pickled cherry peppers. But if you fail, sprinkle in some flakes of crushed red pepper and increase the vinegar peppers/bell peppers a bit.

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Grumpy about Growlers

Bigelow Growler

Bigelow Brewing growler

On my recent visit to the Kneading Conference in Maine, I stopped by Bigelow Brewing which was a sponsor of the event. (They pride themselves on using locally grown grains when possible, and even include some spent malts in the crust for their wood-fired pizza.) Enjoyed a solid double IPA which was also fairly priced—except that I had to pay an additional $6 for a Bigelow growler, even though I had another growler empty in my car.

What’s up with that?

Maine is one of a number of states that will only allow breweries to refill growlers (64 ounce jugs, usually glass) that have their name on them. These are the same bluestocking legislators that used to prohibit listing ABV on containers in Maine because they thought people would seek out the higher alcohol beers; it was later determined that knowing how much you are drinking helps you drink responsibly. Duh.

In California, they’ve repealed the similar law that required me to purchase a growler at Green Flash, but Tom McCormick, Executive Director of the state’s craft beer association says many of his members still refuse to refill such “third party growlers”.

Claims McCormick, “breweries are allowed to refill growlers from another brewery (with restrictions), but many (I would say most) choose not to. This is mainly due to concern over the cleanliness of the growler. Brewers know that growlers they provide are clean, and when their own growler comes in for a refill, they can exchange for a clean one.” He goes on to say, “… Most brewers are just as concerned about the branding of their beer as they are about just ‘selling more beer.’ A growler wrapped in duct tape with a label slapped over it just doesn’t work for most craft brewers.”

I have never, ever seen a barkeep say “hey, your growler is skanky, I’m giving you a new one for free”. On the other hand they’re usually happy to give your bottle a rinse if necessary. And the reference to duct tape above is about the bizarre requirement in some places (I’ve encountered this but can’t remember where) that you can refill a third party growler but you have to obscure the other brewery’s name.

If a brewery’s concerned about branding, they can do that best by making great beer. And the person who takes the trouble to bring in his or her own growler is clearly an enthusiast, a conservationist, and fiscally responsible. What’s not to love? Let’s set those third part growlers free!

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Recipe: Pickled Carrots with Ginger

Pickled Carrots with Ginger

Pickled Carrots with Ginger

Simple ingredients produce a complex flavorful result. Use these pickled carrots with ginger in salads or on a charcuterie tray; the gingery brine is tasty enough to drink on its own or as the base for a pickleback cocktail. I pretty much followed the recipe that came with my FARMcurious lids and hope they won’t mind so long as a few of you buy their airlock canning gadgets. Makes 1 pint.

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch discs (a mandoline is good for this)
1 inch length ginger root, in a thickness to match the carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch disks
1 C water
1 T Kosher salt

Method: Layer the carrots and ginger in a pint canning jar, alternating the layers between the two ingredients. Thoroughly dissolve the salt in water and pour over carrots. There should be about 1″ headspace at the top of the jar. Screw on FarmCurious lid with airlock or use your favorite pickling technique to close the jar. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 weeks or more, checking for and removing any mold that forms on the surface. Taste and, when the flavor is as you like it (the vegetables will still be crunchy) transfer to the refrigerator where they will keep for several weeks.

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Memories of the 2016 Kneading Conference

Amy Halloran Grain Pledge

Taking the pledge with Amy Halloran at 2016 Kneading Conference

On July 28 and 29 I spent a highly entertaining and educational couple of days at the 2016 Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, ME in the company of 250 folks, most of whom were professional bakers or food educators. Skowhegan is a small but robust town in the heart of what was once Maine’s wheat belt, and part of the story is the mill that outgoing conference director Amber Lambke cofounded in the town’s former jail. It’s now running at capacity as regional farmers rediscover the commercial potential of locally grown grains.

Ciril Hitz Pretzels

Ciril Hitz making pretzels with lye water

The sessions were mostly workshops where the presenter demonstrated techniques and shared recipes along with a running commentary and answers to questions from the audience. There was quite a bit of tasting involved. There was also excellent grain-focused food from two local caterers, The Bankery and Radici Cucina. Three hands-on tracks (serious home baking, building a masonry oven, and production cooking in a wood fired oven) were offered but with advance registration required. (If these interest you, get on the email list so you can jump on the 2017 conference when registration opens next March.)

Richard Miscovich

Richard Miscovich demonstrates shaping technique

Keynote speaker Amy Halloran had us pledge to support wheat and gave us all “Flour Ambassador” stickers to wear but most of presenters focused on more exotic grain varieties. Ciril Hitz baked breads and pastries with spelt and einkorn. Richard Miscovich shared a recipe for Election Bread* inspired by colonial recipes in the culinary museum at Johnson & Wales University where he teaches, and made with high-extraction flour from Amber Lambke’s mill. Masonry oven evangelist Albie Barden sent us away with pouches of rare Darwin John corn kernels to propagate and, as a bonus, tobacco seed pods found in a 1200 year old native American grave. I also departed with 60 pounds of mostly locally-milled flours and whole grains from the busy conference store, as well as many tips and friendships garnered over lunch or while standing in line.

Tasting Savory Jams

There was plenty of tasting throughout!

I have never met a baker I didn’t like, or at least find interesting. There are good reasons for this. Bakers are realists. Like potters and carpenters, they work with their hands all day long. Fingers don’t lie. Second, they like food and by extension the greater pleasures of life or they would have chosen a different profession. Third, they need to be good storytellers in order to make the public enjoy and pay for what they make. If you have the opportunity, marry a baker. Failing that (or if you are looking for a mate), make plans to attend next year’s event.

P.S. There’s also a Saturday Bread Fair the day after the conference, where many of the excellent loaves from the wood fired production track were up for sale (get there early before they sell out!) and mini-workshops were offered. Unlike the conference, it’s free to the public. It was also a great way to extend the glow of the previous two days—and eat more bread.

*In post-revolutionary days, when voting was a new concept, folks were given small cakes as a reward for casting their ballot. This recipe attempts to recreate the Election Cake using spices that were popular at that time. Richard Miscovich and colleagues want to spread it far and wide so we can “Make America Cake Again” to celebrate the 2016 election. They’re still doing some fine tuning, after which I will publish the recipe on my blog.

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Oscar’s Pickled Kielbasa

Jerrys Pickled Kielbasa

Jerry’s Pickled Kielbasa from Oscar’s Smokehouse

Ever since my experiment with a Pickled Meal in a Jar I’ve been looking for a commercial source of pickled sausage for a reality check. This week I finally found one, a jar of Jerry’s Pickled Kielbasa at Oscar’s Smokehouse in Warrensburg, NY. Oscar’s is a well-regarded local distributor whose products are seen at better markets around the Saratoga area, and I know they wouldn’t put it on the shelf if they didn’t consider it a worthy example of the category.

So how is it? Tastes like kielbasa that’s been sitting in a spicy vinegar brine, that’s how. Once you get past the outer layer there is no “pickling” vs. preserving effect. But the preserving is important since, while a sausage might last a long time in the refrigerator, the outside might get either dried out or moldy depending on the moisture level.

These are going to be just fine for a very long time, so if you see a jar on a bar top I’d say dig in. If you want to make pickled kielbasa (or another sausage) at home I recommend you start with cooked kielbasa and submerge in your favorite brine, then refrigerate.

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Milking the Milkweed

Small Milkweed Pods

When eating milkweed pods, stick to the smaller ones. Penny to show scale.

The milkweed season is almost over and I am glad to come to the end of my culinary explorations of this friendly yet boring wild plant. (Earlier we examined sautéeing the young stalks, and making a side dish out of the buds.) Today we will look at the pods that form at the end of summer.

Small Milkweed Pods after Cooking

Small milkweed pods boiled, then tossed with parmesan

Once again following the advice of the Forager’s Harvest website, I gathered a number of pods when they were small (none over 2 inches in length). This happened over several days and the ones I had picked stayed fresh in the refrigerator. I boiled them briefly, and tossed with grated parmesan cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. Tasted fine, but not particularly exciting. I then attacked some full-size pods (4 inches or more in length) and peeled them open to reveal the interior silk cushioning the seeds. The forager advised mixing these with hot rice where they take on a texture and appearance like grated cheese; I didn’t try this but did munch on some of the silk and found it satisfactory. If I was starving and found a bunch of these I’d probably eat some, but not with gusto.

Mature Milkweed Pods

Mature milkweed pods, peeled back to show the silk inside.

Looking back, the young stalks are the only stage of the milkweed plant I plan to explore further in coming seasons. Like fiddleheads, ramps and scapes, they signal the beginning of spring and will bring smiles to the faces of your diners and they won’t be particularly disappointed when they taste.

P.S. Here’s a USDA pamphlet on milkweed with more interesting lore. Turns out the roots were used to treat pleurisy in colonial days. So maybe our milkweed explorations aren’t done.

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Meet me at Micklethwait Meats

Micklethwait Meat Plate

Mickelthwait Meat Plate with brisket, jalapeño grits, cole slaw, home made bread and pickles

Next time you are in Austin, wave howdy to the 4-hour lines at Franklin Barbecue and continue about ¼ mile down Rosewood to the Micklethwait Craft Meats trailer. There you will find little or no waiting*, excellent brisket, and more important two out-of-the-ordinary reasons to chow down on this supreme Texas barbecue.

The first is the sides. Now you know I love my cole slaw and potato salad, not to mention those pinto beans, and it breaks my heart that many meat centric places seem to buy their accompaniments in the bulk section at Walmart. Not Micklethwait. Their potato salad is made with robust new potatoes served chunky (not cooked to falling-apart consistency) with house-made mayo and dill. The cole slaw has a lemon honey dressing and is flecked with poppyseed. And the buttermilk pie? This is what Billy Graham eats daily, now that he’s ascended to his heavenly reward. (I did my best to duplicate the recipe and mine is outstanding, but I know from the pastry chef’s comments in this excellent Eater article it’s not exactly the same.)

Miklethwait Barbacoa

Micklethwait Barbacoa: slow-smoked beef cheeks, finished in brisket fat…

The second reason is the barbacoa…. a dish that doesn’t show up all that often in Texas BBQ places. The cook explained to me that slow-smoked beef cheeks are “comfitted in brisket fat” which is information you want to hide from your cardiologist. The result is incredibly tender, truly justifying the overused sobriquet melt-in-your-mouth, plus it’s $2 per pound cheaper than brisket.

Micklethwait Andouille

Andouille and sausage (plus a bit of brisket someone put there). The sausage was good, but the andouille was filled with mysterious spices and SO good.

Order a meat plate with barbacoa, jalapeno grits and coleslaw and then another with brisket, beans and potato salad. While you’re at it, get a third with andouille sausage. Add a pound of barbacoa to take home. In each case you will get house-made bread (it’s white like Mrs. Baird’s but that’s the only resemblance) and a smattering of house-made pickles. Eat it all without sharing. It may be your last day on earth, but it will be a pleasurable one.

Micklethwait desserts

Micklethwait’s Moon Pie is a dutiful execution, but their Buttermilk Pie will make the angels sing.

There are plenty of five-star reviews for Micklethwait on Yelp, so I’m putting mine here as a public service. Go there now.

*My friend Leo was turned away because they were sold out, so maybe I just hit a good day. Also, we were there around 11:30. Go early.

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