Two Butts and a Picnic

A personal best has been achieved. Last night the Weber was extended and fired up. At 9 pm, having achieved a steady state temperature of 240 +/- 30 deg-F (despite light wind, rain and a low of 45-deg-F), two boston butts* (6-7 lbs each) and a picnic roast (6-7 lbs) were placed on the grill and it was capped with one vent opened on top and bottom. Started with lump but replenished using briquettes at 11 pm, 3 am, 7 am and 11 am. One problem encountered was a low dome temp of 105-deg-F was accidentally hit at 3 am because the lump burned out too fast. I suspect however a mean kinetic temperature of approximately 240 was achieved for almost all the grill time. Twelve hours into the cooking, the internal temp of the meat (measured at several spots near the bone, was 195-200 deg-F. Despite this reading, the roasts were left on until Noon, a total of 15 hours. For fatty pork roasts, I've always cooked them long and have never turned one dry. I believe the window of optimal cooking is huge. The pork roasts were removed, wrapped in foil and placed in a warm oven until 3 pm. Still quite warm but easy to handle, they fell apart nicely. Fork-pullable indeed. The meat was lightly dressed with a mixture of ketchup and cider vinegar (3:2 v/v) and served up with rolls and coleslaw for a proper pulled pork sandwich for 20 or so (with several pounds leftover). It was heavenly. I wrote this to remind myself of all the things that can go wrong (coals going out, overcooking, letting it sit for hours until dinner time). It seems all you need to do is cook it till 195 internal and then keep cooking. I don't know if it's possible to overcook a butt/picnic. Also, the picnic was significantly leaner. I think the taste of the two was about the same.

*Note: Butts and picnic roast were rubbed with a mixture of brown sugar (4 T), salt (2 T), pepper (2 T), paprika (2 T), coriander (2 T), oregano (2 T, dried), parsley (2 T, dried), wrapped in foil and placed in a cooler (ca. 45-deg-F) until ready for cooking.


Bring it on

An event on Sunday presents the opportunity to provide barbecue for the hordes. Or at least 20 or so. The Weber is not quite enough for 3 pork loins and a veritable coop of chicken. Thanks to the Thunderbelly extension for the weber (and a handful of modifications), we're now running a heavily modified rig that should be able to accommodate another layer of slow cooked goodness.

Warning: The Thunderbelly website is perhaps the worst site ever designed. Turn your volume down.


Vino Della Merda

I'm a frustrated synthetic organic chemist who's real passion is food science. When I heard a bit on NPR about how good "bag in a box wine" is, I couldn't resist. The wine was actually called "technically superior" referring to the foil lining and how the integrity of the wine is maintained over time. Some wine, it was mentioned, was actually kept for 6 months. As the wine is dispensed, the foil lining collapses, thus preventing any oxidation of the remaining wine.

I'm frugal and am incapable of discriminating a $7 bottle from a $20 one. I figured I was a perfect candidate to sample a wine that promised to deliver copious quantities of wine at a bargain price. However, I hadn't had box wine since the early days of graduate school and didn't know what to expect.

My palate must have matured. I will say the wine tasted the same over the course of two weeks of dedicated tasting (after all, by this point, it's free) the wine tasted the same. Unfortunately, it was vile. I chose Franzia's Chianti. It was sweet. Really sweet. They must have halted the fermentation with potassium sorbate (or lighter fluid) and then pumped in some really low grade honey. I was essentially stuck with 5 liters of putrid grade wine that I eventually stopped drinking (after about 2 liters) and wouldn't even use for cooking. While the packaging of box wine may be good, beware of what lurks within.

The box is currently stored in my basement, near the paint thinner.


Blue Nuts

Lately, I've been using bleached white flour and small percentages of shortening and sweeteners in my breads. I haven't endured feelings of guilt like this since the crabby nuns (it would be disrespectful to call them bitchy and mean) of Immaculate Conception cast their Spell of Perpetual Guilt some decades ago.

I have no regrets. My breads have never been better. And they're good for at least 3 days. The lean crusty breads derived from small quantities/no yeast, no sweetener and no shortening of any kind, while good and virtuous, are tough on a busy schedule. So, to assuage my guilt, I've gone to confession.

Ha, ha, ha. Just wanted to know if you were paying attention.

No, I've started using, up to 1/3 by weight of the flour makeup, whole grain flour. Whole wheat, rye and rolled oats, alone or in combination have been used with extraordinarily good results. And just to try to be one with Mother Earth and all that, I threw in nuts; sunflower seeds or walnuts. However, I noticed a purpleish tinge to some of the loaves. Hated it. I like my grain-blend breads to be off-white. I always blamed it on the rolled oats but I realized the other night, it's the walnuts! Google to the rescue. I guess if you don't roast them ahead of time, they are unstable and impart a blueish hue to the food they're cooked in.

Pretty interesting, just thought I'd share.


Of Eggplant, Pizzas and Humility

I think I shed a tear when this pizza came out of the oven.

I've been accused of being overly humble when it comes to my pizzas and breads. Kind of like the kid in class who complains of getting an A but wanted an A+. I vehemently deny this. I know what's good and what needs improving.

This is a pizza topped with a scant bit of tomato sauce, roasted eggplant, caramelized red onion and a bit of chevre. It was decadent. It's one of our favorites (and actually pretty low fat). It was inspired by a trip to Wrigleyville in the early 90s. Trish, her Bro Mike, Nadie and I went out one night for good food and blues and we had this heavenly pizza. The way I make it is different than we originally had, but every bit as good. Anything I bake can always be better - but this is pretty darn good and I am pretty darn content with it. For now.

Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese Pizza - one 14" pie
General methods were reported here. Specifics are given below.

The Dough:
water, 200 mL (200 oz, ca. 7 oz)
flour, 300 grams (Gold Medal All purpose, 2 1/4 cups)
honey, 20 g (1 T)
olive oil, 25 g (2 T)
salt, 5 grams (1 t)
yeast, 3 grams (1 t), Fleischmann's Active dry for bread machines

Toppings Prep:
Eggplant. In the two schools of eggplant, I am a NON-salter, so there. The eggplant was sliced in ca. 1/4" slices lengthwise and lightly coated with a scant bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted on parchment covered baking sheets in a 425-deg-F oven till golden brown (15 minutes per side).

Onion. Sliced red onion is caramelized by initially sauteeing on high and immediately crank it down to real low heat and barely touch it for 20 minutes.

Tomato Sauce. Anything will do. I used just enough to color the shell red.

Chevre. I used a pretty dry brand and would rather have used a brand called Chavrie. But crumbled on about 3 oz.


Mmmmm - Pitas

I used a pretty standard recipe and rushed them a lot to get 'em done in time for dinner and they still turned out well. Lots of room for improvement. Below is the recipe I used (and some suggestions for things I'd change).

Pita Breads
Machine kneeded dough. Add to the pan in this order:
water, 200 g (room temp)
yeast, 1 t (Fleischmann's bread machine)
honey, 20 g (1 T)
olive oil, ca. 12 g (1 T)
all purpose flour, 250 g (I used Gold Medal this time, I'm using Pillsbury in the future)
wheat/rye flour, 50 g (1:1 w/w)
salt, 5 g (1 t)

Machine kneed (30 min), 1st rise 60 minutes (this is a restatement of the dough cycle in my machine). The dough was divided in 6 pieces (ca. 100 g each) and each piece was rounded.* They were allowed to rise a second time beneath a moistened flour sack towel on the counter top for 15 minutes. The oven was preheated to 425-deg-F. As you all know, an oven can never be preheated too much. Two cookie sheets were covered with a piece of parchment paper and each of the dough blobs was squished into a squat disc. These discs were allowed to rest again for 10 minutes (didn't bother to cover them). The squat discs were then squashed into little pizza shells (using liberal amounts of flour to prevent sticking), ca. 6" diameter. These little pizzas were arranged on the sheets of parchment and allowed to rest beneath the moistened towel. I let them rest for 10 minutes but would give them at least 20 minutes next time. The sheets were launched into the 425-deg-F oven (lower third rack) using a quick shot of steam (from spraying the oven walls with a high powered squirt gun). They cooked about 15 minutes (and plumped like blowfish), until they were slighly browned. I repeated with the second sheet. The second sheet puffed up better (they rested longer). I removed them and let them rest in the basket pictured until dinner. We ate 'em with hummus. The next day they still tasted pretty good.

*Rounding and related procedures are described in the pizza piece, here.


Flat or Fizzy - Fizzy please.

Many years ago, I had a job that enabled me to travel. I went to the U.K. for a few weeks and was lucky enough to attend a festival on the Thames. I went to purchase a bottle of water and the vendor asked - flat or fizzy?

Don't know why I thought of that but it's about as circuitous an introduction as I can muster for this drink I made up. I like fizzy drinks. I've developed a taste for diet vanilla coke lately - it's actually got a stronger vanilla flavor than the non-diet version. And when I'm feeling flush, I indulge in one of those nifty Italian Sodas at the Barnes and Noble cafe - but come on, what a rip.

Here's my simple cheap version of a

Italian (-American) Soda
sugar, 1-2 T
flavor, e.g., vanilla extract, 1 t
water, flat, ca. 1 oz
water, fizzy, ca. 11 oz

Add sugar to your favorite glass. Add about an once of tap water and swirl to dissolve the sugar. Add the flavor extract to the sugar solution. Then, fill with cold fizzy water. I like mine without ice.

I usually don't care about health or diet, but this drink is quite a bit lighter than a typical soft drink. For instance, when Coke finally oozes out of the can, it has a sugar content around 10% by weight. This version is about 3%.


'Merican Style Honey Wheat/Rye

We all need a diversion, especially in baking. I've been working on my lean breads quite a bit lately. The lean crusty breads are by far the most challenging. Once in while, I get the urge to take a walk on the dark side. Today, I used a full yeast charge, shortening (butter) and sweetener (honey). Maybe I shouldn't sweat it. After all, there exists a French style called Viennoise that uses all these dastardly additives.

American Style Wheat or Viennoise? Depends on the demographic of your cocktail party I guess.

Here's the recipe:
water, 200 g
bleached white flour (Pillsbury all purpose), 250 g
wheat/rye mix (1:1 w/w), 50 g
butter, 1 T
honey, 30 g (1.5 T)
yeast (Fleischmann's for machines), 1.5 t
salt, 1 t
sunflower seeds, handful

Straight dough method, first rise 60 min, 2nd rise 25 min, 3rd rise (proof) 40 min in pan, slashed top of loaf, and baked in abundantly pre-heated 425-deg-F oven (short blast of steam) for 25 minutes. Awesome volume (that's the bleached white for ya). Popped the loaf out of the pan and let it sit out overnight to cool. We'll give details of the tasting tomorrow.

The loaf was unbelievable. Our favorite store brand for sandwiches is Brownberry Oat Bread. Very good, but this makes that look sick. The only problem is the pan was a tad undersized. The pan I used for this much dough (roughly 560 g) holds 1200 mL of water. I remade the same loaf (using 230 grams white flour, 50 grams of wheat/rye mix, 20 grams of rolled oats and a handful of walnuts, but same everything else) and used a pan of volume I600 mL. This was much more appropriate. The loaf rose above the rim of the pan but didn't mushroom way over the pan. Selecting the right pan size per unit of dough is tricky. For a pan that held 1600 mL water, I'd probably use 600 g of dough next time.

This recipe was really one of the best I've ever done and is really easy, a great starter recipe. But use bleached (Pillsbury All Purpose) flour. I haven't tried Gold Medal yet but will in the future. The bleached flour seems to give a great volume rise and a great texture. And it's just not that evil to use a bleached flour. Especially when it's mixed with a bunch of grains and nuts.