Rhythm of the EGG

 

 

My Big Green Egg (EGG) can be seen from the walkway passing by our rear courtyard. When I’m out cooking, passersby often kibitz… “What’s for dinner? What kind of BBQ is that? Do you like it?” and so on. Some recognize it and it’s “I’ve been meaning to get one of those.” To that I say, “Well… go for it!”

 

 

 

I brought my little ol’ Webber Q gas grill from San Francisco. Didn’t get much kibitzing about that.

 

One of the many reasons for moving from San Francisco to Reno was the Big Green Egg. Carol’s brother Mark (and Jannie) cooked for us several times on their EGG at their home in Jackson, Ohio. They made us promise to get an EGG when we had room for one — not a hard promise to make… or realize.

The first few times cooking on the EGG I was not patient — Tim Carter, of Carter Bros. ACE Hardware warned me of this when he assembled my EGG. By now, I have developed a nice and easy routine, as I will demonstrate. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking a steak for five or six minutes or a rack of ribs for three hours, the first steps are the same, and they take one hour. We usually eat dinner about 7pm, so for anything but a “low and slow” meal, that means I light the fire a little before 6pm.

this picture was taken after a “low and slow” fire, so there’s not much charcoal left

 

Sometime during the afternoon, I walk out and open up the EGG, remove the grate and stir the extinguished charcoal from the last meal. The ashes fall into the ash area under the fire pit and I form the charcoal around the edges, so the new charcoal will fill the center and top.

A note on charcoal. I was instructed to use only natural lump charcoal. This is made from 100% hardwood, burns hot and clean, and there are no by-products. At the end of cooking, the fire is extinguished by closing the dampers and cutting off the air supply. I’ve found the Big Green Egg brand of charcoal the best. I’ve tried other brands that are less expensive, but they’re not as good. Besides, we’re talking about 50 cents a pound difference, and I add about a pound per fire.

I light the fire with SAFE-LITE Fire Starter Squares, blocks of compressed sawdust coated with natural paraffin wax.

The fire will be ready in an hour, so now I’ll continue my prep.

today I’m grilling a yellow tomato, a peach, a leftover baked potato, a thick piece of halibut – skin on – and Romano beans

The halibut is marinating in equal parts of soy sauce, white wine and lime juice. The fruits and vegetables have been tossed with olive oil, the beans were steamed for 5 minutes beforehand.

Plenty of time to relax now, have a glass of Scotch, some cheese and crackers and watch some Giants on the TV.

The wait is over and the food is on the grill.

The temperature is holding at about 350. I set the timer for the halibut at six minutes a side. I’ll take off the vegetables when they are ready… they will hold.

meanwhile, this is what I’m looking at beyond the EGG

food cooks, about to be turned

vegetables are done, they’ll go into a warm oven

I mentioned the halibut is thick… took almost 15 minutes to reach 135°F, but it turned out nice and juicy. Too bad I wasn’t artful about cutting it for the plate.

halibut, potato, Romano beans, tomato… peach for dessert

The EGG and the live fire and the time and the outdoors bring a rhythm and pleasure to such a meal.

 

 

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GRILLED CHEESE SAND

I recently saw the movie, Chef…

Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony) to launch a food truck. [rotten tomatoes]

the chef (El Jefe) and Percy on the road

MY TAKE: Nice to be entertained with a fun story about chefs, critics and food. The characters are well drawn — there are times of pathos and disappointment and times of great fun and accomplishment… hard work and passion win in the end. Food porn abounds — chopping, slicing, roasting, tasting, presenting of food food food… The chef beautifully does a step-by-step cooking of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich at home for his son.

On a Saturday with Carol at Mah Jongg, I was compelled to make my own grilled cheese sandwich. I remembered a three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich using Cowgirl Creamery cheeses from a sunny summer day at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Marketplace hard on the bay.

I have three good cheeses right here at home — not the same ones used at Hog Island, but they will go well together — and I have bread — not a dense country bread, but Oroweat Whole Grain, 12 Grain Bread… bread nonetheless — and I have butter and a skillet.

I don’t make grilled cheese sandwiches often because I’m a little cloudy on the technique. Chef Carl in the movie starts by browning two half-sandwiches then eases them together with a deft spatula move. I had always built a whole sandwich, browned it on one side then turned it to finish on the other. The turning was not always excellently accomplished.

So, here is my illustrated adventure…

 

three cheeses: blue, brie and havarti’ pickles and olives on the side; the fabulous Oroweat bread

These ingredients are from Raley’s… I normally get my cheese — cut from wheels — from Wedge, Reno’s premier cheese shop.

bread and cheese browning in skillet

I buttered both slices of bread, placed the cheese on the un-buttered side, and transferred the bread to the hot skillet.

here’s my sandwich just about finished

My spatula move in easing the sandwich halves together was not as deft as that of the Chef.

my sandwich served by me to me…

Not so pretty, but oh my, it was goooood, and gracious plenty for lunch. YUM

La Strada 2009 '10 '14

Nataliya after the wedding.

On one of my first visits to Reno — house hunting with Brian in June of 2009 — after a long day of scouting the town we needed a bite to eat, but not just any bite. He had done some research and declared La Strada in the El Dorado Hotel and Casino to be the best casino restaurant. Of course we went there to eat and ordered the four-course tasting menu with a few bucks extra for wine pairing. Excellent.

Neither of us knew at the time that the best restaurants in Reno are not necessarily in the casinos.

Fast forward to 2014. Brian and Nataliya have a home in Sparks and Nataliya is teaching a Biology course at Truckee Meadows Community College. Last week she got her first paycheck. WooHoo! Time for a celebration. Nataliya selected Sunday dinner. Brian checked out some of the best restaurants in Reno; Rapscallion Seafood House, Bricks, 4th Street Bistro… all are closed on Sunday. Why not go to La Strada? It’s a celebratory kind of place. We went there after their Reno wedding in June of 2010. OK then… dinner at seven.

As we ordered — I planned on the Rigatoni Fra Diavolo — Brian ordered the four-coarse tasting menu. Hey, that sounds good, I’ll have it too.

First course, a green salad featuring smoked salmon.

2014 First Course: Lovely salad featuring smoked salmon and fennel.

As we launched into the meal we talked about this being our third tasting menu including the one after their wedding in 2010. — And where could one get a four coarse tasting menu in San Francisco for $40? — I know I have pictures of the last one, but I didn’t take notes… in any case, maybe we can compare.

2010 First course — This salad appears to feature steak.

The courses seem to repeat themselves, but with different stars.

Second Course: white and red pasta.

2014 Second Course — the La Strada signature Wild Mushroom Stuffed Ravioli paired with Lasagna.

2010 Second Course — Lasagna and Ravioli, but with definitely different ingredients.

Third Course: surf and turf.

2014 Third Course — Osso Bucco on a bed of soft polenta, Salmon with a Crabmeat Glaze and Broccolini

2010 Third Course — Looks like a white fish, maybe Halibut and maybe a veal and mushroom companion. The carrot and asparagus are attractive.

And then — ta da… the Dessert Course

2014 Dessert Course — semifreddo, a semi-frozen ice cream cake

2010 The Wedding Cake — not from the kitchens of La Strada, but from an Austrian Bakery, Franz’s Backstube

As it turns out, we live quite near this bakery. Heads of the bride and groom previously eaten for good luck.

So… if you’re up for a celebration in Reno, we know a place.

COOPERSTOWN

Day 11 Friday October 18th
THE DAY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. But first, breakfast — complementary at the Holiday Inn Express. Pretty good; scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage gravy biscuits, fruit, and lots of stuff I don’t generally eat like hot and cold cereal. And coffee.

free parking

We got to downtown Cooperstown around 10am to find free parking everywhere in the winter. Crude signs grace all the meters on Main Street and in the big parking lots behind the storefronts. In the shade on Main Street, there was a chill in the air and a nasty breeze. We posed in the sun for pictures in front of the Hall of Fame. Admission for Seniors, $12.

Ready to soak up some baseball on a cold October day.

I love the idea of the Baseball Hall of Fame and enjoy the debate leading up to selection time. It’s too bad that the curmudgeons of the Baseball Writers Association of America is so up-tight and has seen fit to elect only a handful of non-oldtimey players over the past few years. Of course there is extreme controversy over the “steroid era” players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. We’ll see how that plays out.

I loved KNBR promoting their broadcaster Jon Miller for the “Broadcast Wing” of the HOF and his subsequent selection.

Pitch and catch outside a window near the Broadcast Wing.

That said, I found the actual National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum a huge disappointment. The organization is sketchy. I guess it’s organized by era, but then, sometimes isn’t. The design and graphics for the exhibits is just horrible. Stuff is somewhat grouped in glass display cases… say 3 jerseys, 5 bats, a couple of gloves, some caps, some shoes… with no clear relationship, no title for the group and you have to get really close to read the “captions” for each item on gray business card type stock. They too are all one size letters with no emphasis. So an old guy like me is constantly stepping back to get the overview, then stepping up, glasses on to read the little cards, then stepping back, and so on.

They should take a cue from the touring exhibit I saw when the All Star Game was in San Francisco. That exhibit was of course smaller, but clear and organized and “Hall of Fame worthy.” Continue reading

grilling again

There’s something special about a grilled meal. From the shopping to the eating there’s a protocol, choices and a routine. This meal started with me standing in front of the fish case at Raley’s. The weather in Reno has been beautiful; sunny, clear, a bit cool in the 40’s but occasionally easing up to 51 or 52. Makes a body think of breaking out the grill.

Thinking grill, I noticed some lovely Steelhead Trout fillets. This has become my favorite grilling fish ever since discovering it as a whole fish at Raley’s. I wrote about that guy, and have since grilled the fillets any chance I get.

Rainbow trout/steelhead are ray-finned fishes in the salmon family, and they are one of the top sport fish in North America. Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species, but they have different lifestyles. Steelhead are anadromous, meaning they spend part of their lives in the sea, while rainbow trout spend their lives mostly or entirely in freshwater.

 

EGG moved to front courtyard

As soon as I could after our early December snow, I shoveled a path and moved the gas grill to the garage and the EGG to the front courtyard. And we bought an LED clip-on light — that makes winter (nighttime) grilling possible.

the light is clipped on the right “wing” and you can see its shadow on the wall

So on with the grilling. To eat at 7pm, I light the grill a little before six, and it is plenty dark at that time in January.

EGG Glows, but it doesn’t shake… I shake, it’s cold.

Tonight, I wanted to do everything on the grill. Trout, spinach and sliced potato. I boiled the potato until cooked through. Then slice it, oil and season it, and finish on the grill with the fish. The trout will cook in 6 to 8 minutes and I’ll hold that and the potato slices in a warm oven. The spinach cooks in about 3 minutes, is a bit messy, demands attention and cools quickly — especially outdoors in the winter — so I cook that last. Rinse the spinach and take it to the grill in a colander. Place it on my cast iron grill pan (the lid of my cast iron skillet), and toss while it cooks. That’s the attention demanding messy part. There’s way too much spinach to fit the grill pan, but it shrinks a lot as it cooks, so its put on as much spinach as possible, toss and shrink, put on more spinach, etcetera, all the while trying to keep it on the skillet and not scattering on the grill. [Harder to write than do…] And the fire is HOT.

trout over spinach with grilled potato slices

That went so well, I grilled again the very next day. We had three Maine lobster tails left from Christmas dinner. Excellent candidates for grilling. Those ‘tails plus grilled onion slice and baked potato. Not so fussy about doing everything on the grill this time. The onion slices take about 10 minutes to crisp tender, the lobster tails about six minutes. I timed so they both came off at once, figuring it’s no crime to cook the onion slices a few minutes longer.

Lobster tail, onion and baked potato. The M doesn’t Mean anything, just grill marks as a result of turning and rotating. Kinda cool, though.

A few days later, I had an appointment at my Dermatologist — near South Virginia and McCarran  — and not far from Whole Food. My must haves from Whole Food are Newman’s Own Organic Thin Sticks Pretzels, whatever fish looks good — and oh-by-the-way — they make the best Lamb Merguez Sausages. Another grill opportunity. They also had cippilini onions, so we got a few for grilling beside the sausages. We picked up some Brussels sprouts, as well. Those pretzels are just so crisp and crunchy and so good.

Merguez, Brussels sprouts, grilled cippilini and scraps of red bell pepper for color

Who ever heard of grilling Brussels sprouts? Not me. But I figured if I par-boiled them oiled them up and just threw them on the grill, what could go wrong? Turns out, nothing went wrong… delicious. Grilled cippilini onions are the best. Peel and slice in half… perfect thickness and caramelized a bit, they taste so sweet and good.

Altogether, three really good grilled meals. And just in time. This morning it snowed.

Christmas Eats 2013

What do you do Christmas week, but eat? We ate some strange and wonderful things, so I thought I’d write about it.

It started the week before at a neighborhood holiday party. Folks bring stuff and rather than making a casserole or something, we took a cheese plate.

from 12 o’clock, mixed olives, St. Agur, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, Mousse Pate over various candied and dried fruits and nuts.

Yummy. Last year we just took a fat piece of St. Agur, a double cream blue cheese from France and a piece of country pate. This year, we opted to have our favorite cheese store — Wedge — make up a cheese platter. Good choice. AND, believe it or not, there were leftovers (not many) and we got to take those home.

Christmas eve, we went to Brian and Natasza for dinner. Brian is often messing around with something interesting to cook. He finds “Manager’s Special” stuff at the supermarket (nobody else wants it) and he figures out something to do with it. On this occasion, it was pork belly, which is basically uncured bacon. He found a recipe in a food blog for Grilled Korean Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps (Daeji Bulgogi).

marinated pork belly

Marinate your “Manager’s Special” pork belly in a spicy marinade/dipping sauce.
Grill on direct medium heat flipping every two minutes, until the pork is browned and crispy. Brian’s pork took 3 or 4 flips.

the grilling is easy but demands attention and makes a lot of smoke

off the grill and onto the table — oh my, that is good

pork belly served with cabbage wrap and rice

Natasza made brown rice with mushrooms and a shredded beet salad with nuts and raisins. I kibitzed and took some pictures.

Brian and Natasza came to our house the next day for Christmas and dinner. A while back, we bought some mail order Maine Lobster Tails for this very occasion. Brian promised to make pasta and a caviar sauce. Carol found this marvelous recipe on Food 52 for Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette. She made mashed sweet potatoes as well. Sounds like dinner. Continue reading

The Pig :: Day Three

“I love sausage, but don’t care to see how it’s made.”

Today, you’ll see how it’s made.

Although the recipes came from various sources, the ingredients are simple and similar:

  • ground pork
  • spices
  • herbs
  • often onions and garlic
  • liquid — usually wine

Breakfast sausage (sage and onions) from Better Than Store Bought by Helen Willyard and Elizabeth Coichie
Saucisson (black and white pepper sausage for dry curing) from La Technique by Jacques Pepin
Pork Liver Terrine Pate Campagnola from Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
Boudin blanc (emulsified sausage) from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
Cotechino (classic Italian with Anise and boiled pork skin) from Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
Crepinettes, each of the fresh sausage mixtures made into patties and wrapped in caul fat

The meat was all cut up yesterday and divided into portions for the various sausages.

prep for Pate Campagnole

Each team put together its recipe ingredients — this particular prep is for the Pate Campagnole — you can tell by the use of liver.

The meat is ground with a cast iron grinder attachment for the commercial mixer.

grinding

The ground meat, herbs, spices, etc. are mixed.

mixing

Here, we visit the terrine. Loaf pans are lined with caul fat and the ground meat mixture pressed into the pans.

pate underway

The pans are placed in a water bath and baked. Continue reading