Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cooking Up Some BBQ

I can’t believe it’s August already, and I haven’t smoked any meat until now. Lately Vesna has been into Jamaican cooking, so we rubbed a beef brisket with allspice, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, Scotch Bonnet, onion and such, and I put it on the smoker. The smoker is made from 2 large clay flower pots, a grill, a steel pie pan, and some rocks. I use a digital thermometer to keep track of the temperature. Good hardwood charcoal is pretty easy to find these days, so I rarely have to dip into my hickory stock.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I haven't posted in a good, long time. What can I say? It was a long cold winter, and for the length of it I wished I could leave the covers over my head in my soft bed. Some time along the winter months I discovered the Rhapsody music service, and every day has been filled with all of the music that I feared was forgotten, plus all of the new and exciting music that I would never have heard otherwise.

Rhapsody is a subscription music service. For a monthly fee, you get to listen to your choice of about 3 million songs. In the few months that I've had Rhapsody, I've listened to hundreds of songs that I don't own. I would never have been able to afford to listen to all this music if I had to buy the tracks in Itunes.

Radio has been dead for me for a long time. When I was a young man in the '80's, I would go to New Jersey and work as a roofer for my grandfather, where I would enjoy the great music that came out of New York's radio stations. You just never wanted to turn off your radio.

I think the last great song I heard on the radio was "Resignation Superman" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It's hard to find new music. I don't know how I found Lemon Jelly, but I really like them.

I don't think that I could live without music. Dark times without music are dark indeed. If there is a song to match my mood, then gloom can't envelop my soul.

The family is home, so I have to quit writing now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Peppa Pig

England is a long way to go for a pancake connection, but when my 3 year old requested pancakes today, I knew what made him want them. He was watching the episode of Peppa Pig where Daddy pig cooks pancakes for breakfast. The Cartoon Network here in the U.S. doesn’t show Peppa Pig any more, which is a shame. My son liked it, we all liked it. I thought it was a good show for kids, but the Cartoon Network quit showing a lot of the kid’s shows that we really liked.

Two of the cartoons that we watched were Peppa Pig and Gordon The Garden Gnome. Both of these shows are from the UK, where they speak English, but for some reason they re-did the voices with American voice actors. This makes no sense to me. Did someone think that English accents would confuse the children? I went looking on for Peppa and Gordon, but I didn’t have much luck, so I thought I’d check out Amazon UK. They had a wonderful selection of the shows that we were looking for.

As soon as Daddy Pig started flipping pancakes, Ulysses came running. He wanted to make pancakes, so I took down the batter bowl, and gathered up all the ingredients. As I placed each ingredient on the counter, he would name it and give a little cheer. I knew we would make a mess, but I didn’t really care. We spilled some buttermilk and some flour, but it was all fun.

Here is the recipe that we used:
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ t salt
½ t sugar
½ t baking soda
2 large eggs
1 cup homemade buttermilk
1 T melted butter
thin with a little plain milk or water if the batter is too thick

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Back from Vacation

We took a little vacation down to Columbia, Missouri. It was a fine trip. I finally ate a Sonic burger after all the teaser adds I’ve seen here in Wisconsin, with no Sonic around. Not good -- that’s what I have to say about it. The onion rings were over cooked, and sickeningly sweet. I ordered a cheeseburger with mayonnaise, but what I found in the bag was a dry, tasteless burger with no cheese and little mayonnaise. My wife ordered a hot dog, which looked good, but made her sick. This is why I cook. I want something good to eat.

I like hamburgers. I like the hamburgers that I get at Culver’s here in Wisconsin. I used to love the Locomotive burgers I used to get in Carteret, NJ, the Crystal Beer Parlor in Savannah, GA. I even liked the weird, slaw burgers I got in Korea. The only memory I’ll have of the Sonic burger that I ate is a bad one. The Whopper Junior with cheese that I had a Burger King was a gem in comparison. Hardee’s has a decent line of burgers. Why couldn’t Sonic be as good? I know -- it’s fast food. I don’t buy fast food often, so it’s easy for me to remember the number of times that I’ve had a unsatisfactory experience, which comes to about a third of the time. They just make too many mistakes. This is why I cook. Food is supposed to be good. When I make something I don’t like, I can learn from the experience. When I eat out and the experience leaves much to be desired, my only true recourse is to not spend my money there again, and somehow, that makes the whole thing feel dirty.

The best food that I ate the whole trip was the food that we made. We made this really exceptional pumpkin stuffed with ground beef and spices. I made a good breakfast of hash browned potatoes with scrambled eggs. Columbia has some nice neighborhood grocery stores, but the beer is too expensive -- even the cheap beer isn’t cheap.

We used Google to chart a course that avoids the Interstates. The trip didn’t take any longer, but more than that, it really felt like we were experiencing the countryside. The highlight of the return trip was in Florida, Missouri to see the house where Samuel Clemens was born. Some day I hope to see Hannibal, where one of the world's greatest writers spent his youth.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Basic Breakfast Dhal

Adapted from: Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking

Dhal (which also may be spelled “dal” or “dahl”) is a term which applies to a wide variety of pulses, beans and lentils. They are a staple of Indian cookery, and we’ve discovered that they can make an incredibly savory and satiating breakfast. I like to serve this one with brown rice and an over-easy egg, with mixed vegetables on the side. Then you can take some along to work for lunch.

It might seem like a lot of time and effort to put into a breakfast. However, it’s very sustaining. I really feel like I’ve had a meal that’s going to get me through the morning after I’ve eaten this breakfast. As far as time goes, consider moving your time around so you can have a really good breakfast instead of a really late dinner. If you go to bed earlier you can get up sooner and make something good that will be an investment in your energy and well-being for the day ahead.

You can use this recipe for just about any of the dhals that can be found wherever Indian groceries are sold. The ones we like the best are whole mung dhal and chana dhal. Basmati rice or Indian quick breads like chapatis also go perfectly with dhals.


1 cup mung or chana dhal
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 onion
pinch of asafetida powder
1 tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp red pepper
2 slices of fresh ginger (for chana dhal)

Soak the dhal overnight in water. I like to put a little homemade buttermilk in the soaking water, but you can skip this part (or use a little plain yogurt) if you’re not into making your own buttermilk. Depending on your water supply and the freshness of your beans, you might have success cooking mung or chana without soaking. However, a good soak is the easiest way to ensure that it cooks right. Otherwise, you could end up with a pot of dhal that never softens, no matter how long you cook it.

In the morning, rinse the dhal and put it in a 2 quart pot with enough water to cover it by about an inch. Cook it on high until it starts to boil and foam. Skim off the foam and turn the heat down to a simmer. Add the turmeric and salt (the ginger slices go in at this time if you’re cooking chana dhal). Cover the pot, stir occasionally, and cook until it’s done, about 45 to 60 minutes. If you want your dhal to be more like a soup, you can add a little water at the end, or if you want it to be more like mashed potatoes, you can take the lid off near the end and let the water steam away.

While the dhal is cooking, slice an onion into paper thin slices. In a skillet, heat some oil until it’s really hot. Add a pinch of asafetida, then the cumin seed, and then the onion. Keep the onion moving so it doesn’t burn -- you may need to reduce the heat somewhat. The goal here is to cook the onion until it is caramel brown and almost crisp. About a minute before you’re done cooking the onion-spice blend, add the red pepper to the skillet. If you add it too soon, you won’t be able to breathe while you’re cooking unless you’re wearing a gas mask.

Ideally, the onion is finished cooking at about the same time that the dhal is -- this takes some practice. Now put the onion and spices into the pot of dhal just as it’s finished cooking, stir it in, and let it rest for a few minutes with the lid on.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sourdough Starter

Getting a sourdough starter going in your kitchen using nothing but flour and water is the most challenging way to acquire one, but it is probably the most authentic. Why it’s important to be authentic is a whole other discussion, but good place to start is by reading about it in Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. Sourdough bread has been around for over 3000 years, and a good argument can be made that it is better for you than modern yeast breads.

There isn’t any one recipe for sourdough starter that is going to work for everyone. Differences in the water that you drink, whether you live in a city or a rural setting, and in what part of the world you live in, will determine the sourdough starter that you will be able to make. You can use commercial yeast to get a starter going, you can buy a sourdough starters on the internet, you can get a culture from someone who has one going, or you can start one from scratch in your own home.

The sourdough starter that we have now we made from scratch using flour, water, and vinegar. The first starter we made was right out of Nourishing Traditions, and it worked. The next time we tried to make a starter using the same formula we ended up with a smelly mess. Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself wanting to try my hand at sourdough again, so I poked around on the internet to see what other people are doing. The made from scratch recipes all seem to be about the same -- flour, water, cover with cloth; add a little flour and water each day -- takes about a week. Unfortunately, in less than 24 hours I had another smelly mess on my hands. Not all bacteria are good for starters, and sometimes one can get going that isn’t going to work. The water where I live is pretty hard, so I needed to add a little vinegar to it to change the pH, which seems to have done the trick.

So here is how I got my sourdough starter going:
In a large glass bowl mix:
2 cups rye flour
2 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
The next day add:
1 cup rye flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
On the third day add:
1 cup rye flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

After the third day, I didn’t add any more to the mix, but I did keep my eye on it. It didn’t seem to do anything for a couple of days after that, but once it started to bubble it was clear that it was going to work.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Iced Tea

Having spent a good deal of time in the South, I’ve developed a taste for iced tea. While I don’t actually put ice in my tea, having a perfectly good refrigerator, and an overstuffed freezer, I adjusted the recipe to account for the lack of frozen water.

Bring to a boil water in a small pot, remove from the heat, add the tea bags, cover, steep for 5-10 minutes, depending on the brand of tea and how strong you like it, pour it all into a 2 quart pitcher, add enough water to fill the pitcher, remove the tea bags, add sweetener, refrigerate, and you’re done. For the sweetener, you can use sugar, 1/4 to 1/2 a cup depending on your sweet tooth, but I use a teaspoon of Superose, a saccharin based sweetener.

Teas that I like:

Lipton Family Size
2 tea bags
I like Lipton tea, but I detest the individually wrapped tea bags. The Family Size tea bags are larger, so there aren’t a bunch of packets to open.

8 tea bags
Luzianne, another fine tea, is a little hard to find in Madison, WI, but luckily Woodman’s carries it -- no individual wrappings on the bags, but you do have to deal with all the strings.

Tetley British Blend
7 tea bags
This is the tea that I would drink on the road when I was still driving a cab. Two bottles of Tetley would keep me going through the long shift. On the road, I would drink it unsweetened -- very refreshing. The tea comes in a round bag without string and superfluous packaging.

PG Tips
5 tea bags
I love this tea. We just found it at Woodman’s, so this is our first box. It makes a wonderful iced tea. The bags are shaped like a pyramid, and have no strings. This tea is going to stay stocked in my cupboard.

...more tea review to come.