You’ve all heard of Beer Can Chicken — probably cooked it. Insert a half-full beer can up a chicken’s keister, put that assembly on the grill and wait for the yummy, moist chicken dinner.

Well, if you happen to own a Big Green Egg — or even if you don’t — BGE is happy to sell you a ceramic conical device called Sittin’ Chicken in which to place six ounces of beer and shove up the aforementioned keister. In this case, you call it Beer Butt Chicken.

Here’s how it goes…

First of all, buy an organic, free-range chicken. I got mine at the Farmers Market, and I’ve visited the farm where it was raised, so I know its a swell bird. Mine was a tad over five pounds.


My chicken listed a bit to the right, but did not fall over.

Chicken is on the EGG. The white thing is a “Ceramic Platesetter” and makes the EGG a roaster or smoker.

The chicken is roasted at 375°F and sprayed from time to time with a beer and cider and oil and vinegar mixture. Helps it brown and flavors up the skin.

Here’s my chicken after 40 minutes.

Here’s my chicken after 70 minutes. I took its thigh temperature and called it done.

Here we are, rested and ready to carve.

We invited son Brian and Natasza over for Sunday Dinner and to watch the British Open Golf Championship from Muirfield Scotland that I had taped. It is live at 5am PDT, not a good time for Sunday Dinner. Phil Mickelson — long one of my favorites — came from five strokes back to win. We were all very happy about that, and I won a couple of coin, as well.

Carved. Carcass in the background.

Brian made Vichyssoise for a first course. Its chilled creaminess welcome as it has been very hot in Reno.

And here is our table.

Later in the evening, golf over, guests gone and a cooling breeze on the front porch, Carol and I watched the moonrise.


California Quail

I can’t believe I haven’t written about Fatted Calf Fig and Sausage Stuffed Quail. I first made it in September of 2010 and have cooked it one or more times a year since. It is so good and rich and well, different. Here’s the way Fatted Calf announced it:

Finally Figs
Finally, figs!  Beautiful, fat, dusky figs oozing with droplets of ambrosial sap from nearby Capay valley! That means, finally, fig and sausage stuffed quail.   And not just any quail but beautiful, plump, naturally raised Wolfe Ranch ( quail from Vacaville.
Farmer Brent Wolfe has been raising quail and other poultry his entire life and has developed his own breeding stock.  That means that the quail spend their entire lives on Brent’s Vacaville Ranch.  And Brent’s quail grow big, much bigger than your average quail, making them just perfect for stuffing.
The quail come straight from the farm to the Fatted Calf kitchen where they take a brief bath in brine that keeps them moist and delicious.  They are then stuffed with perfectly ripe figs encased in a blanket of lemon and herb sausage.   Roast in a hot oven or on the grill and as the skin turns golden brown and the sausage juices baste the quail internally, the fig becomes molten caramel.  Savor the first bite, finally!

I’d have to say that the quail was every bit as good as it sounds

A little research told me that less than a week after we dined on the Fatted Calf Quail, we left for Kyiv, Ukriane to attend son Brian’s wedding service and meet Natasza’s parents. Quail seemed to slip down the list of writing subjects.

In any case, we took pictures the first time and again when we grilled it last week, so here’s making up for lost time.

Could not be simpler to prepare:
• Brown the quail.
• Roast the quail.
• Make some elegant accompaniments.

Naked Quail stuffed with sausage and a fat fig

Brown the quail; roast the quail

It took about 8 minutes to brown the quail on all sides, then another 12 minutes or so to get it to an internal  temperature of 160°F; a total of 20 minutes. Continue reading

get yer ROX on

Somewhere back then — either just before or just after we moved to Reno — there was a splashy ad in one or more of the splashy cooking magazines we get — do you know how inexpensive actual glossy full color cooking magazines are these days? — for SALT ROX.

Hmmmmm… interesting idea, and probably does what it says, but awfully expensive. Costs more than all of our cooking magazine subscriptions, combined; $112, including shipping. We let it pass.

Months later, a UPS package is left on our porch. Darned heavy.

Hours later, Carol asks me to take a look at “your anniversary gift” so I can try it before Eric and Alison visit. The deluxe 8 x 12 x 2 inches Hamalayan SALT ROX. Darned heavy. Carol got a Living Social deal — $49 including shipping, a $63 savings.

Nothing left to do but try it. We can give it a good test with something particularly bland like skinless, boneless chicken thighs. There’s even a recipe on the ad for Grilled Lemon Dijon Chicken Breasts (we don’t do breasts, we do the ever-so-slightly-less-bland thighs). To round out the dinner, I chose to do a Cabbage Panade recipe by Deborah Madison from her new cookbook, Vegetable Literacy (10 Speed Press).

[Make garlic stock, saute a sliced onion with juniper berries and sage leaves, add cabbage and cook until tender, layer in a baking dish with cheese topped rye bread slices and bake.]

Salt ROX

Cooking on the rock is very different than straight grill cooking. One must start with the rock on a cold grill, for fear of cracking the rock by putting it on a hot grill (also for fear of burning my fingers… did I say that sucker is heavy?). I was surprised that it doesn’t take much longer to heat up the grill with the rock than without the rock… about 20 minutes.

I marinated and dried and oiled my thighs and when the grill was ready, put ‘em on. Boneless thighs don’t take long to cook — I figured six or eight minutes to 165°F.

thighs cook

When I opened the grill to turn them, I noticed they were “cooking wet.” Of course, they’re on a rock. The juices from the meat can’t drip into the fire (oh, a little runs off the edge). The ROX folks say “It’s like brining without the water!”

Sure enough, after about 6 minutes the thighs registered 165 and I took them inside to rest.

ROX chicken thigh with cabbage panade and a 2012 Bonny Doon Picpoul

The chicken was excellent, moist and flavorful with a pleasant salty undercurrent. Yum. Sadly, the Cabbage Panade imagined as a perfect accompaniment, wasn’t much, lacking in flavor and the texture mooshed.

So, the SALT ROX worked.

burger with roasted potato, ROXed onion and 2012 Cline California Zinfandel

One more test with hamburgers. Once again, they were moist, but the mildly salty edge was masked by the stronger meat flavor.

SALT ROX has rules:
start cold on a cold grill or in a cold oven.
let the rock cool completely before moving.
do not wash with anything, including water.
scrape “clean.” Stains are okay.

ROX after use for chicken thighs

ROX after use for beef patties and sliced onion

So… we got our ROX on. How often will we use it? Don’t know. But it seems like a good thing for chicken thighs and fish wouldn’t be a stretch. We also have our totally wonderful grill pan, and grilling season is coming on strong.


Chicken Cut-up

I am so pleased… I just cut up a chicken. It took about 10 minutes of cutting and several hours of agonizing.

Now, I’ve cut up chickens before. I even took a knife skills class at CUESA. Here’s a picture of a half chicken that I cut up to make Fried Chicken just after I took the class in February, 2011. I wrote a story about it. Well, that was a year-and-a-half ago.

Last week we bought a whole chicken, frozen, from Hadji Paul’s, a chicken and egg guy at our local Garden Shop Nursery Farmers Market. We haven’t yet found reliable, sustainable meat guys, but this guy and his wife are reliable, their eggs are great and they just brought their first meat chickens to Market.

I flashed back to my eats story, The Root of a Stew from just this past April. The recipe calls for 3 leg and thighs, but I figured I could use the legs, thighs and wings of my chicken for this stew.

So I dreamed about cutting up that chicken, and in my dreams, all I remembered was holding up the bird by a wing, turning it a certain way and… and what?

This morning, after my walk and breakfast, I Googled “Cut up a chicken” and found a video from Food Network showing Alex Guarnashelli cutting up a chicken. Looked really easy. I went to the kitchen, got my chicken out of the fridge and everything came back to me, slightly different than the video.

Start with the wing, the way Dave-the-Butcher taught us. Pick up the bird by a wing, turning it a certain way so the weight of the chicken pulls the skin taught and make a cut where the wing meets the breast. Bend back the wing to locate the joint… make a clean cut around the joint and cut the joint.
Do the other wing.

Breast up,
Cut off the thigh and leg… make a cut and bend back so you can see the joint… make a clean cut around the joint and cut the joint.
Cut off the other thigh…
Separate the leg and thigh… make a cut and bend back so you can see the joint… cut cleanly through the joint.

Straighten the skin and plump the bird. Continue reading


And off the grill

Just walk out the door…

Enamored as I am with the ability to walk out onto my terrace and grill, I want to grill EVERYTHING.
I’ve been thinking about meatballs, but that seems like a cool weather thing — not August in the high desert — but loving meatballs as I do, I got some ground beef at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

Why not do meatballs on the grill? My swell grill pan should make that possible, at least on the no-stick front.

My recipe files produced only one recipe suitable — Marlena Spieler’s Big Meatballs, but those are kind of boring. The others are braised, rather than fried or broiled. Better to adapt something from meatloaf. I spied two major candidates:
K-Paul Cajun Meatloaf and Sam Sifton’s Fancy Meatloaf (NYT) that he made for Nora Ephron.

The very next day the RGJ (Reno Gazette Journal, a pretty good local rag) published “Make It Easy: Meatloaf burgers look ahead to Labor Day”. How’s that for timing? The recipe is eerily similar to K-Paul meatloaf, using cooked onion and green bell peppers, lots of good spices and ketchup. I decided to go with the RGJ version; see what it’s like.

And since I still have some caul fat in the freezer, I’ll just make some of the burgers as crepinettes. I’m using grass fed Angus ground beef from Hole-in-One Ranch and that is very lean, so I substituted 1/4 pound of ground pork for that amount of beef.

Here it is, mixed up and ready to be wrapped.

The meatloaf mixture is a bit loose and moist, but certainly formable. I wrapped 4 burgers and made two plain patties, put them in the refrigerator overnight to rest and get their act together.

The next day, I got the grill going, unwrapped two crepinettes and two plain meatloaf burgers.

Ready for grilling…

I used my grill pan for its non stick qualities. Once the grill was pre-heated, I turned off the center burner and turned the outside burner to medium. They took about 15 minutes to cook to 135°F. Continue reading

The Whole Recipe — Sugo

Sugo alla South Roanoke Apartment Villages Pool

Every family has a few recipes that are ALWAYS served. For us one of those is a spaghetti sauce that was handed down to my mother almost directly from a buonafide Italian grandmother. It was referenced in a very early Eats article on different kinds of tomato sauces, which even has a comment that echos a very important part of this sauce: you add the tomato paste to the onions and garlic in oil and “fry” the paste a bit to caramelize some of the concentrated sugars before adding the wet tomato sauce and plum tomatoes to simmer.

With this communal nature of recipes in mind I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this “handing down” of food knowledge because the process of teaching cooking has always (and continues to be) one of master-and-apprentice. This model is codified in the culinary world where every serious chef has worked their way up from dishwasher to prep to line, but that’s just a reflection of how humans have always learned to cook: watching someone with more skill, and listening to them explain why they are doing it. Since I knew a bit, but not the whole story, about how this family favorite was acquired, I decided to capture the Whole Recipe for anyone who is interested in it, not just the ingredients and preparation.

As you can see in the photo at the top, I made a batch of this over the weekend — a bit for dinner and mostly to freeze for many easy future dinners. I was inspired to make it because I had defrosted our kitchen freezer and found some frozen spare ribs hiding in the drifts of ice in the back, and I was sure they were dried out, but would still be able to flavor a long cooked dish, and pork-on-the-bone is a critical component of this dish, in my opinion. The great thing about using spare ribs in this sauce is that by hour four or five the meat falls off the bone and pretty much melts into the sauce — you don’t really see chunks of meat in your sauce (unless you add it to the end as Carol recommends) — which I’ve learned is one of the characteristics of a classic Italian sugo. Continue reading

Some Fine Grilled Chicken

A new tool
Finding a recipe
Cooking and eating

We went Saturday to the Farmers Market on California Street. It is good; a double row of stalls strung out across a shopping center parking lot. [Pictures next time, I promise.] There are plenty of fruits and vegetables to choose from, but only one meat source: Hole-in-One Ranch with a great selection of grass fed beef, but no other meat varieties.

On the way home, we stopped at Raley’s to scout their meat department. Well, its a supermarket and 99 percent of their meat is precut and wrapped, just like any supermarket. The meat guy did point out that certain chicken was organic. We bought a pack of 4 thighs, not knowing what we would do with them. (I look forward to reporting our success in finding good meat and seafood sources in Reno, but we’re not there yet.)

For the chicken, I hit my “to cook” files on the computer, looking for some kind of grilled chicken. As previously noted, we have a rekindled love affair with our grill, and this has been exaggerated by a housewarming gift from Carol’s brother Mark and Jannie of Keystone Tomato and Big Green Egg fame: a Technique Grill Pan.

Wow. That sucker sits on your grill and on one side imitates the grill and on the other presents a griddle. And it’s non-freakin’-stick!! Swordfish has a good chance of sticking on your grill, right?

Look at that baby, when I went to turn it, it slid across the grill. And look at those vegetables… Squash, ok that grills up nicely, but carrots? Who would put carrots on a grill? These turned out just crunch tender and tasty. And cherry tomatoes? Didn’t burst, didn’t stick. Did delight.

But I digress… back to those chicken thighs. “Chicken with White BBQ MB” looked interesting, and it had the “MB” suffix, meaning Mark Bittman, an even better chance to be interesting. And it was real simple: Grill your chicken, serve with the sauce.

That’s just what I did, substituting bone-in chicken thighs for breasts. Continue reading


CUESA pig class, a short, quick photo essay.


Break Down a Pig with Dave the Butcher ~ September 20

Dave the Butcher is back and he’s bringing half a pig, including the head! In this class sponsored by Urban Kitchen SF and CUESA, Dave will discuss pork butchery and its different cuts. You’ll find out why pork butt doesn’t come from where you’d expect… Then the class will break down the pig together. Students will take home a boning knife, the meat they butcher, and suggestions for preparing their specific cuts.

I volunteered to help with the CUESA class on Tuesday evening and took my camera, so I was up close and personal for most of the activity. Here’s what I can report:


The HEAD of the class… The whole rest of this pig probably weighed about 220 pounds.

relax and enjoy... your one will become many

relax and enjoy... your one will become many

Carcass of the half pig awaits…

Dave's tools of the trade

Dave's tools of the trade

Start with the foreshank… cut around the leg at the joint, then saw through the bone.

Start with the foreshank… cut around the leg at the joint, then saw through the bone.

Students take over and follow Dave’s instruction.

Move toward the rear, please…  cut loose the forequarter.

Move toward the rear, please… cut loose the forequarter.

WHACK goes mallet on cleaver to break loose a chop...

WHACK goes mallet on cleaver to break loose another chop...

Here’s a couple of nice looking chops, ready to wrap and take home. Yum.

Here’s a couple of nice looking chops, ready to wrap and take home. Yum.


At the end, we volunteers wrapped the meat for the students to take home. There will be some good eating this week.

Be sure and sign up for the CUESA newsletter so you won’t be left out the next time.

Perfect Grilled Dinner

…except for the oops.

Wednesday, I got together a perfect dinner for the grill:


Marinated pork brochette from Fatted Calf,
New potatoes from Marquita Farm,
Romano Beans from Iacopi Farm and
a lovely spring onion.

When I lit the grill, it caught rather slowly, I just closed the lid and went in the kitchen to finish prepping the vegetables. But I had this nagging thought… “could I be out of gas?”

The timer went off at 15 minutes to signal the grill is hot and I went to the back porch only to find the grill temperature about 250°F, not the 600 it should be. No panic, just get out the cast iron.

I got the gas grill because it takes less time for the fire to be ready, and clean-up is way easier than charcoal. Conversely, it’s not as aesthetically swell and unlike charcoal, you cannot tell when you run out of fuel. For the first couple years, I kept a log of when I used the grill, so I’d know when I was nearing the tank’s 20 hour capacity. That was cumbersome, and I gave it up.


Pork and onions and beans will cook nicely in the cast iron grill pan, just fry the potatoes in the cast iron skillet.


Except for the grill pan throwing off some serious smoke, that worked fine. It ain’t the same as grilling and we could tell, but that pork — I’m not sure how or in what it was marinated — was fabulous. Just goes to show… start with good stuff.


Y’know, sometimes I’m inclined to write about a meal just because the pictures are good (not to mention that the meal was good). That might be the case here.