Cowboy Steaks

I got lost for a minute. Or maybe just distracted. Part of me wants to ramble on about loss, and change, and growth, and discovery. The rest, though, says “nah, let’s just talk about the cowboy steaks.”

Cowboy steaks, it is.

For Father’s Day, the hubs wanted cowboy steaks. Have you seen them? They’re ginormous, bone-in, 3-inch-thick, dry-aged rib eye steaks. For carnivores, they’re a luxurious, over-the-top experience. My local Wegmans has them for a few weekends in the summer, and then they’re gone.

These are not everyday steaks. I’m not even going to bother talking about the health aspects because seriously all you have to do is look at them-p0 to have a pretty good idea that this is not health food, but I will warn you that two of these bad boys will deplete your bank account by approximately the GNP of a small island nation. It’s an important disclaimer, considering what happens next.

To do them right, you need a lot of salt, a lot of patience, and some lump (not briquette) charcoal.

Mostly, though, they take a lot of nerve, a touch of chutzpah, and a splash of moxie (the sense of daring, not the soda), because the best way to cook these? Directly on the coals.

Without further rambling on my part:

Cowboy Steaks

Ingredients

  • Steaks
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lump Charcoal*
  • Fire

Instructions

Liberally salt and pepper the steaks, place on a rack (be sure to put a plate or pan under the rack to catch the salt and juices) and set aside until they come to room temperature. I put mine in the microwave with the light turned off. I gave them an hour and it was about right.

A half hour or so into the warming time, light your charcoal. I use a Weber chimney because it usually lights cleanly and without needing chemicals. Since these are done directly on the coals, I strongly advise against using any kind of lighter fluid.

Our goal is heat, so your coals are ready when the entire chimney full is glowing red and there are flames shooting out of the top. Please use gloves to empty them into your grill.*

Spread the hot coals evenly across the bottom of the grill, and let them calm down a minute until they just start to become a little ashy. If you’re using an infrared surface thermometer, it should read around 800º.

Blow the ash off of the coals–ideally using some kind of fireplace bellows because somebody in this house didn’t and her eyebrows, while still intact, were worried for a moment.

And now for the moment of truth. Grab your nicely warmed steaks by the bones, lay them directly on top of the coals, put the lid on, and STEP AWAY FROM THE GRILL. Don’t look back. Just go into the kitchen, take a deep breath or two and don’t think about what your accountant is going to say when you admit that you just burned up a week’s salary on an “experiment”.

After about 8 minutes*, carefully flip your steaks over onto a different part of the grill, making sure to flick off the bits of charcoal that will inevitably be stuck to your steak. Let cook for another 5 minutes or so then temp them. A perfect medium rare is 135º; adjust according to taste. Leave on a little longer if you need to, just be sure to give them a good 5-10 minute rest before serving.

When they’re done, flick off an bits of coal, let rest a bit, and serve. We had 2 steaks that served 3 people and 2 dogs, with plenty left over for breakfast tacos.

Notes

*A word on grills: whatever kind of charcoal grill you have is fine. We have a 33-year-old Weber kettle grill that keeps bumping along. It’s not fancy, but it works. A fire pit (in-ground or not) would work, as would a hibachi or smoker grill. Really, anything that will hold hot coals without potentially causing an uncontrolled fire will do the trick.

*Lump charcoal differs from briquette in that it is, basically, wood that has been burnt down into coals. It’s clean, burns well, and leaves very little ash. Briquettes, on the other hand, are coals that have been compressed, often with added chemicals, into uniform pieces. They’re the most popular and least expensive option for grilling, but rarely have the same smoky-grill flavor that you get from lump charcoal. For this experience, do yourself a favor and invest in a bag of the lump charcoal.

*Different cooks have different advice on timing these. I will generally err on the side of pulling them too soon because it’s easy to pop them into a 180º oven to finish.

Comments

There are a lot of places with more in-depth information about the science and technique of direct-coal cooking. We decided to try it after reading a piece in the NY Times, but that’s just one of many potential sources–if this is something that interests you, there’s a lot to learn.

Chefs and fire crafters generally agree that this works on certain cuts of meat, such as the cowboy steak, for two reasons. First, this method transfers the heat directly into the meat, meaning a faster and more even cook. Second, by eliminating the airspace between the meat and the fire (such as when cooking on grates), you greatly reduce the chance of flare-ups from the melting fat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out to Lunch

Sometimes, luck and serendipity bring me wonderful and unexpected opportunities to do the work that I value the most (feeding people and creating opportunities, particularly within at-risk populations).  It’s work that takes a lot of time and care, which means that even though I’m still cooking and learning and researching, the actual writing of this blog isn’t happening at the moment.  So I’m off on another hiatus. I’ll be back, because I really love this project, and it’s because I love this project enough to take it seriously that I’m taking a break.  In the meantime, here’s a sample of what I’ve been up to.

 

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake Finger Lakes Region, NY

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake (I don’t love the Pioneer Woman, but damn this is good)

Pecan Sandies and Cinnamon-Orange Butter Cookies. Finger Lakes Region, NY

Pecan Sandies and Cinnamon-Orange Wreaths

Miss Shirley's Biscuits, Baltimore, MD

Miss Shirley’s Biscuits,
Baltimore, MD

Miss Shirley's Bacon-Gouda Grits Baltimore, MD

Miss Shirley’s Bacon-Gouda Grits
Baltimore, MD

Charcuterie Plate (my very favorite thing to eat) Baltimore, MD

Charcuterie Plate (my very favorite thing to eat, any time any where)
Baltimore, MD

"That Does Sound Nice" bourbon cocktail Baltimore, MD

“That Does Sound Nice” bourbon cocktail
Baltimore, MD

Bacon Milkshake at the Papermoon Diner Baltimore, MD

Bacon Milkshake at the Papermoon Diner
Baltimore, MD

Lamb and Feta Omelette Flint, MI

Gyro Omelet
Flint, MI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold remedy. It worked.

Cold remedy. It worked.

 

 

I may have had an Eye Voices and a Pisco Sour. I know I had no regrets. Baltimore, MD

I may have had an Eye Voices and a Pisco Sour. I know I had no regrets.
Baltimore, MD

This is painted on walls around the city of Baltimore, MD. I kind of love it.

This is painted on walls around the city of Baltimore, MD. I kind of love it.

Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, MD

Miracle on 34th Street Baltimore, MD

Miracle on 34th Street
Baltimore, MD

If I liked Mocha, I'da had one for the name alone. Baltimore, MD

If I liked mocha lattes, I’da had one for the name alone.
Baltimore, MD

A really lovely herb garden, the kind I wish I had the patience to create. Baltimore, MD

A really lovely herb garden, the kind I wish I had the patience to create.
Baltimore, MD

I usually avoid posting mixtures of my kid, for a lot of good reasons. But I can't resist this one. He prefers cats to dogs (actually, doesn't really like dogs), but fell in love with this little Pug named Quinn.

I usually avoid posting pictures of my kid, for a lot of good reasons. But I can’t resist this one. He prefers cats to dogs, but fell in love with Quinn the Pug. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him carry a dog around.   Chelsea, MI

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business plan revisions (Not my happy place, but a necessary evil) Flint, MI

Business plan revisions
(Not my happy place, but a necessary evil)
Flint, MI

Dwight.

Dwight.

LumpyCarl, ready to celebrate the holidays.

LumpyCarl, ready to celebrate the holidays.

 

 

Mansfield, PA

Mansfield, PA

Santa's Vespa Lewisburg, PA

Santa’s Vespa
Lewisburg, PA

 

Meanwhile…Skolebrød (Norwegian School Bread)

If you know me at all, you know I have a family of Disney Geeks. My boychild has been to The World something like 25 times in his 13 years, and still loves it. Disney World is the place we go as a family to regroup, to celebrate, to relax…it’s just kind of our thing.

There is a dedicated class of Disney-haters who point to the saccharinely-sweet, super-fake, over-packaged, control-freakiness of the place as reasons to avoid it. I get that. But IMHO those are some of the best reasons to go, especially when life has sucker-punched you in the throat one time too many and a little break from reality is exactly what’s needed to get you back on your unicycle and plowing forward. We’re Disney Geeks and proud of it.

The World Showcase at EPCOT is one of my favorite places in the World. It’s like a sanitized world tour with easily accessible restrooms (loos, toilettes, baños) that don’t require ,50€ to access. (We should chat some time about the irrefutable necessity of having a pocket full of ,50€ coins when traveling in Europe, especially if like me, you’re a middle-aged woman.) My favorite bits are in the details, like the green boxes along the World Showcase Lagoon that mimic the artists’ stalls along the Seine in Paris, and the food. Where the heck else can you find a perfectly flaky palmier less than a mile from Italian tiramisu, Japanese mochi, and our all-around favorite, skolebrød?

Remember the other day when I made the saddest cheese soup? I also made skolebrød that day, and luckily it was much more successful. Probably because it doesn’t require extra-sharp cheddar.

Instead, skolebrød is a delicious, not overly-sweet, cardamom-infused, custard-filled bread topped with a simple glaze and toasted coconut. To be honest, it had never occurred to me to make them at home until Christine baked them on a recent episode of The Great British Baking Show. I’m glad I did, because they turned out beautifully if a bit larger than I expected–something to correct in the next batch.

What I learned is that skolebrød is time-consuming, so plan accordingly. Like all enriched doughs, be patient and give it plenty of time for proofing, both before and after you’ve shaped the buns.

Skolebrød

Makes 16

Ingredients

for the dough

1 1/2 cup water, divided

1 Tbs yeast

1 tsp salt

3 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) sugar + 1 tsp

6 Tbs butter

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

2-2 1/2# (7-8 cups) all-purpose flour

1 egg

for the custard (pastry cream or crème pat if you’re into GBBS)

4 egg yolks

1 2/3 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 Tbs cornstarch, dissolved in a bit of water

for the topping

3/4 cup toasted coconut

1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

~1/4 cup milk

1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  • Start by proofing your yeast: dissolve a teaspoon of the sugar into a 1/4 cup of warm water* and let sit until it becomes frothy
  • Place butter and remaining 1 1/4 cup water in a small pan and heat to between 95-105º. Remove from heat and set aside (be sure to check the temp before adding it to your dough, as residual heat from the pan may increase the temperature. Anything above 120º will kill the yeast).
  • In a large bowl, stir together salt, cardamom, sugar, and 7 cups of the flour
  • Stir in the water/butter mixture, yeast, and egg. This will result in a shaggy, fairly dry mess. If the dough feels wet, add a bit more flour.

    IMG_9473

    Hard to believe this mess comes together as beautifully as it does.

  • Turn the shaggy mess onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. The dough will be quite dense–kneading it is a great upper-body workout.§

    See?

    See?

  • Shape the dough into a ball and place in a well-oiled bowl, turning once so that all sides are coated in the oil. Cover and let rest in a warm, non-drafty place* for at least an hour (mine took two), until doubled in size.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size and no longer springs back when lightly tapped, its ready
  • Gently deflate the dough by turning it out onto your work surface, then cut it into 16 equal pieces
  • Let the pieces rest for 10 minutes–this allows the gluten strands to relax a bit before you start shaping it
  • Shape each piece into a tight ball and place on a parchment (silpat, oil, something non-stick)-lined sheet pan
  • Place sheet pan(s) in a warm, draft-free place and let proof until doubled in size (30 minutes to an hour)
  • Preheat oven to 375º
  • When your buns are ready (again, doubled in size and don’t spring back when lightly touched), bake for 15-20 minutes. The tops should be lightly browned, and the buns sound hollow when tapped.IMG_9488
  • Using your thumbs or a wooden spoon handle, poke a hole in the middle of each–this is where you’ll fill them with the custard
  • Let cool completely

for the custard (pastry cream, crème pat, etc)

  • Heat the milk until simmering but do not boil
  • In a double boiler off the heat (or in a metal bowl that you can place over a pot of simmering water) whisk the egg yolks, vanilla, and sugar together until fluffy and doubled in size
  • Bring the water in your double boiler or pan to a low simmer
  • Mix the cornstarch with water to create a thin starchy liquid
  • Temper the egg mixture by slowly adding in the hot milk, whisking all the while. Tempering the eggs slowly keeps them from being scrambled by the sudden addition of hot milk. When the egg mixture is heated through and smooth, whisk in the remaining hot milk and place over simmering water
  • Whisking constantly, add the cornstarch mixture and continue cooking without boiling until the custard has become thick enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon without running off
  • Remove from heat and cool it quickly (in the pan) in an ice bath

for the topping

  • Toast the coconut in a shallow pan in the 375º oven for 10-15 minutes. It should be just lightly browned.
  • Make the glaze by whisking the vanilla and milk into the powdered sugar. It should be fairly thick, so adjust the milk and sugar levels as needed.

to assemble

  • Dip the top of the buns into the glaze mixture, turning it so that all of the top is covered
  • Liberally sprinkle the glazed tops with coconut
  • Using a pastry bag*, fill the buns with custard. If you’re fancy, you can finish them off with a bit of a decorative star or swirl.*

Notes

  • I’ve lost too many batches of dough to dead yeast (I buy it in bulk) so I always proof it first. It’s not technically required for this recipe.
  • I use my microwave as a proof-box. It helps that it’s located above the stove, and the light underneath generates just enough heat to help my dough along. Alternately, preheat your oven to 150º before you start kneading, then turn it off as soon as it reaches temp.
  • I can never find a pastry bag. I just use a ziploc with the corner cut out.
  • I’m not fancy. Not even a little. They still taste really really good.

IMG_9475§ I’m sure my trusty stand mixer would’ve done a beautiful job with this dough. Lately, though, I’ve been into hand-crafting my breads.  There’s something wonderfully zen about the feel of the ingredients coming together into a cohesive dough that I’m finally starting to appreciate.

 

 

It’s true, these buns are a lot of work. Are they worth it? Absolutely–it’s kind of like sneaking off to Disney World, if Disney World just happened to be in a small town in Western New York.

 

 

 

 

The Saddest Cheese Soup I Ever Made

I promised at the beginning of this project that I would write about both my successes and my failures so I’ll start this post by taking complete ownership of my cheese soup experience. The recipe itself is well-written, easy to follow, only slightly tricky, and I suspect that given a different set of ingredients it would be truly amazing.

It always comes down to ingredients, doesn’t it?

The two main flavor components of the soup are the cheese, and the beer. Here’s what you need to know: if the cheese and the beer don’t play nicely together, the soup will be crap. Also, if you don’t like the cheese or the beer, you probably shouldn’t use them in your soup.

Here’s what I know about beer:   .

That’s not entirely true; I know what I like: porters, stouts, and some lagers. Anything malty, really–I feel the same way about Scotch, in case you were wondering; I’ll take malty over peaty every time. I also know what I don’t like: Pale Ale of any kind. Anything hoppy, really. For this recipe, I used a can of Brooklyn Lager, which is at the top of my personal range for hoppiness. I like it with barbecue because it cuts through the smokiness of the meat–especially with pork. I used it in the soup because, well, its what I had.

But what about the cheese?

I like cheese, a lot. Like most people my age, I grew up on the processed Kraft American slices, and it’s taken me a lot of years to move beyond that particular gold standard. My favorite “nobody else is home but me and it’s dinner time and I’m hungry” meal is cheese with crackers or toasts, and I’ve been known to pay way too much for a good wedge of Tallegio or Manchego. But you know what I still don’t like? Extra-sharp cheddar. Like hoppy beers, the bitterness of the extra-sharp makes me shudder while it lingers on the back of my palate blowing out my ability to taste any other flavor.

Which begs the question, “What were you thinking, Brooke, to combine hoppy lager with extra-sharp cheddar?”

My only answer is: I clearly wasn’t. If I make this recipe again, and I really should, it will be with milder cheddar and a much-less-assertive beer. Like Yuengling,  maybe. (Which I actually do like because it’s easy to drink, especially if I’m having more than one.)

So here’s my advice: don’t use hoppy beer and sharp cheddar together. It’s not yummy. Although I will say that the couple of spoonfuls with bacon weren’t so bad because the salty, smoky, fattiness (because cheese doesn’t add nearly enough fat) helped cut the bitterness. But then it’s not cheese soup anymore. It’s cheese-bacon, and that’s a totally different thing.

IMG_9492

Should come with a warning label: Does not go with cheese

IMG_9483

See the one in the middle? Yeah, it doesn’t belong here.

IMG_9502

It looks good, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and if you want to try the recipe at home, it comes from the book Dishing Up Vermont by Tracey Medeiros. I still recommend the book, just not my variation on the recipe.

Welcome to Vermont: The Green Mountain State

vermont-welcome-sign

I have the hardest time writing about the places I love the most. Or more accurately, I have a hard time editing myself because I want to talk about everything, which would be both cumbersome and desperately dull. Vermont is a good example of this because I want to write about the really fabulous teenager I met once on a plane, and the Bennington Battle Monument, and the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro, and about how Wilmington, this odd little enclave between Bennington and Brattleboro looks more like a movie set than a town, and the pure joy of driving through the Green Mountains in summer, not to mention the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour, Green Mountain Coffee, and the cheese we get every year at this place called Hogback Mountain…oh my the cheese!

See what I mean?

I’ve been reading Tracey Medeiros’ Dishing Up Vermont in preparation for writing this post. It’s a beautifully photographed book that celebrates the farms, dairies, and orchards that populate the state. As one of the early adopters of the farm-to-table philosophy, Vermont has much to celebrate and I want to cook everything. Well, everything except the meatloaf. I could do an entire post about how the phrase “I don’t like meatloaf” always leads to “that’s because you haven’t tried mine.” Chances are very, very good that I have tried yours, or at least a version of it because I’ve had literally hundreds of them thrown at..er, served to… me, and I can say unequivocally that I don’t like meatloaf. Meatloaves. Whichever.

I’m digressing again. A classic cheese soup is absolutely on the menu for this trip, but I’m still struggling to choose a second recipe to play with. While maple seems like an obvious, and delicious, choice, I keep wandering back to The Three Stones, a Mayan restaurant in Brattleboro. I grew up on Tex-Mex and thought I had at least an idea of what to expect, but The Three Stones took everything I thought I knew and flipped it onto its head. One of the stand-out surprises was an onzicil (pumpkin-seed) salsa with panucho–a stuffed tortilla similar to an empanada. I think I might need to recreate that, particularly as pumpkin seeds are in season.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to find a few pictures from our travels through the state. It turns out that most of my Vermont photos are either in my head or have people in them. For a minute, I thought I was going be reduced to posting the picture of a cheese sandwich that I picked up in a London train station–I have more pictures of that than I do of Vermont. I’m not sure what this says about me.

IMG_8828

Blue Benn Diner, Bennington, VT

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Part (only part) of the Blue Benn menu

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Bennington Battle Monument

IMG_5125

Green Mountains (toward NY) from atop the BBM

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Hogback Mountain Cheese, T-shirt, and effluvia shop

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Ferry crossing from Ft. Ticonderoga NY to Shoreham VT

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Bridge from Brattleboro VT to New Hampshire

 

 

 

 

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No caption needed

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Cheese sandwich, St. Pancras train station, London, UK.

Welcome to Rhode Island: The Ocean State

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Or, more formally, the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. In other words, it’s a teeny tiny state with a very long name. It’s also the state with the softest sand I’ve ever had the luxury of walking on.

IMG_5297

After our annual Maine trip last summer, we decided that it was time to go exploring and ended up in Narragansett, land of steamers, coffee milk, and johnnycakes. Narragansett borders the fishing town/port of Gallilee, and if you’re looking to book a room in Narragansett at the last possible minute during the high season, you’re likely to end up in Gallilee.

Salty Brine State Beach

Salty Brine State Beach

Also Salty Brine State Beach

Also Salty Brine State Beach

Gallilee, I can assure you, is nothing like the picturesque New England beach town of Narragansett. For one thing, there’s way too much seagull poo; for another, it smells like what it is: a port town which explains that whole seagull problem.  On the plus side, the seafood is literally just off the boat fresh and the beach is a two minute walk from any hotel in town. It’s also a friendly place where it’s pretty easy to lose a lot of time just watching the boats go by. I’m looking forward to a return trip at some unspecified point in the future.

Until then, we’ll be mixing up some Coffee Milk and an order of Johnnycakes. It’s not quite the same as being there, but it’s as close as we’re going to get here in Western NY.

I'm pretty sure I watched them pull these off the boat just for me.

I’m pretty sure I watched them pull these off the boat just for me.

Johnny Cakes

I’m going to keep this short and sweet then move on because it’s time to think about the cheesy, maple-y goodness that is Vermont. I spent weeks…weeks! trying to do something different and clever with  Johnnycake before coming to the conclusion that it’s a dish so simple, and so perfect as is that I just need to leave it alone.

Johnnycake, also known as “Journey Cake” is one of the defining foods of Rhode Island. Made of cornmeal, one might expect that they’re actually cornbread in disguise when in reality they’re sassy pancakes. The cornmeal gives them a crunch that regular pancakes are sorely lacking and they pair beautifully with maple syrup. There are thousands of recipes out there, most of them damn near identical. Thus, I’m not posting one because in this case? Google does a way better job of it than I ever will.

On to Vermont,

~Brooke

 

Meanwhile…Pepperoni Rolls

Summers are pretty laissez-faire around here. There’s usually food in the house, and we get around to something dinner-like late in the evening but beyond that it’s every one for themselves. This all changes when school starts. Dinner happens earlier,

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

more meals are planned, and a lot of Sunday baking happens in preparation for the week ahead. Each week includes a cookie of the boy’s choosing, some kind of lunch foundation, and breakfast bread(s).

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but my last name is a misnomer. Baking and pastry really aren’t my thing because they require a delicate dance of chemistry and patience (what I call “excessively fiddly cooking”), neither of which is in my wheelhouse. Obviously, I do it anyway. Mostly, I do it because the results are much more satisfying than anything I can buy and I end up feeling weirdly triumphant about the whole mess.

Harvest Muffins

Harvest Muffins

This week, I tackled snickerdoodles and pepperoni rolls, then had fun(?) playing with Melissa Clark’s harvest muffins and Ted Allen’s onion bagels (from an old copy of Food Network magazine that I kept around just in case I ever decided to take on the bagel challenge). Have I mentioned my mad crush on Ted Allen? I’ve crushed on Ted since his Queer Eye days. It’s not a secret; when Ted did an event in Rochester that I couldn’t attend, the hubs very kindly (he really is one of the good guys) went and got me an autographed cookbook. He’s very understanding about my thing with Ted. I’m not entirely sure how Ted feels about it.

Onion Bagels

Onion Bagels

But enough of crushes and baking neuroses. Let’s take a little side trip to West Virginia, home of the pepperoni roll. Pepperoni rolls are iconic West Virginia food, and are considered to have originated as an easy, portable lunch for miners. They are also one of the boy’s current favorites–he calls them “fake Hot Pockets” and takes them for lunch, like, daily. No surprise, I’ve been making a lot of pepperoni rolls lately. They’re a basic olive oil yeast dough stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella. The fat in the dough keeps them from going stale too quickly, and they travel very well. Also: if I can make them, anybody can.

Pepperoni Rolls

Makes 8

Dough

1 Tbs yeast

1 cup warm (110-120º) water

1 tsp sugar

2-3 cups AP flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp fine salt

Filling

32 slices of pepperoni

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  • Stir the sugar into the water, sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbly*
  • Whisk the salt and 1 cup of the flour together in a large bowl
  • Add the yeast and olive oil, stir together until something dough-like starts to form. Add in the second cup of flour 1/4 cup at a time until you have a workable dough.
  • Sprinkle your countertop or other work surface with more flour, turn out the dough, and knead it for 5 minutes. Add more
    A little sticky, but nothing a good bench knife can't handle.

    A little sticky, but nothing a good bench knife can’t handle.

    flour as needed to prevent it from sticking to your hands, the counter, the cat. I tend to leave it slightly tacky because I want the final product to be less dense.

  • Shape the dough into a ball
  • Coat the inside of a large bowl with more olive oil–a tablespoon or so. Add the dough, turn once to coat the top, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled–about an hour.*
  • When the dough is ready, pinch it into 8 equal pieces, shape them into balls and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • After resting, use your hands to shape each piece into a 4×6 rectangle. Be careful not to get the center too thin–the pepperoni will break through and create an oozy mess.
  • Place four slices of pepperoni across the centerIMG_9298
  • Top with 2-3 Tbs of mozzarella
  • Fold lengthwise into thirds
  • Fold over the ends, then flip onto your baking sheet (lined with parchment if you have it…it’s hit or miss around here)
  • Let rise for another 20 minutes while the oven preheats to 375º
  • When the oven is ready, bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Some of the IMG_9304cheese may melt out and brown–this is the best part, I think. Sometimes I even let the boy have it.
  • Cool throughly, then refrigerate in an airtight container.  They’re good cold, and even better after 20 seconds in the microwave.
Lunch is served.

Lunch is served.

Notes

You could probably just throw it all into a bowl and start mixing without doing this step, but I’ve lost too many batches of dough to dead yeast so I always proof mine ahead of time.

I find this dough to be fairly bullet-proof. If I’m short on time, I fill and shape after the first rise. If I’m in the middle of 15 other things, I’ll punch it down and give it a second rise. Both give me good results.

Although I make pepperoni rolls for the boy, this is adaptable to any kind of savory filling–broccoli and cheddar, spinach and feta, ham and swiss, heck maybe even peanut butter and jelly. Go crazy.

At Long Last Coffee Milk

I knew I would get back on this trip eventually and coffee milk is, for me, the perfect re-entry. I love coffee. All coffee. Even really bad 7-11 at 3-in-the-afternoon coffee. Confession: I even drink hotel room coffee from those little weird-brand pod packets without much complaining (mostly, I complain that there aren’t enough of those “whitening powder” packets in the room…and no, I don’t want to know what they put in there). Coffee milk, for the record, is significantly better than hotel-room coffee.

There are websites dedicated to the history and development of coffee milk as Rhode Island’s signature drink. For a more in-depth look at coffee milk history, I recommend this piece on Quahog.org.  Coffee syrup, in case you’re wondering, isn’t just for coffee milk. Narragansett Brewing Company offers a Coffee Milk Stout using the classic Autocrat coffee syrup. For the record, if you can find Autocrat in your area, it’s considered the real thing. If you can’t, you can make your own.

Making it is easy: coffee syrup + milk=coffee milk. Here’s the basic recipe for coffee syrup:

Take 1 cup double-strength coffee, add 1/2 cup sugar, simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes. Simmer, don’t boil; boiling will turn it into an unpleasantly bitter mess.

Here’s my version:

Start with coffee that you like as is. My current love affair is with Intelligentsia’s El Diablo Dark Roast, so that’s what I used. IMG_9270Instead of brewing a double-strength pot, I decided to make mockspresso in my Moka Express. I like the richness and dimension that this brewing method extracts (definitely better than hotel coffee).

I used demerara sugar because it’s what I use in my coffee. I like the slightly caramelized flavor that it brings.

IMG_9268When the coffee is ready, transfer it to a small-medium pan on your stovetop (I measured mine because I didn’t know how much I’d end up with). Add half as much sugar as you have coffee (in this example, 1/2 cup.) Bring to a simmer over low heat, and maintain the simmer for 5 minutes. Do not allow it to boil.

After simmering, remove from heat. The coffee syrup is now ready to use.

To make coffee milk, start with 1 ounce of syrup to 6 ounces of milk. Add more of either according to taste. Although dairy milk is traditional, I made a glass with almond milk, and it was really quite good. It would probably also be good mixed into chocolate milk–either dairy or almond. Or soy, rice, cashew, etc.

And okay, I know this is a post about coffee milk, the traditional Rhode Island beverage. But you know what I liked even more than the coffee milk? Coffee Soda. Oh yeah.

Coffee Soda

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1 glass full of ice cubes

2 ounces coffee syrup

6 ounces club soda or seltzer

A light dash of cream

Stir together and don’t share because then other people will think you should make them one, thus depleting your supply of coffee syrup. Don’t give in to that kind of pressure.

What else can you do with that leftover coffee syrup (“leftover”, ha!)? Here are three more suggestions:

Brush it onto chocolate cake layers before frosting (or cupcakes. That would work too)

Add a shot to flan, brownies, coffee cake, (any baked good, really) before baking, just be sure to adjust the volume of your other liquids.

Use it in barbecue sauce–especially on pork ribs since the blend of sweetness and coffee are pork’s natural allies.

Oh, and a fourth–cocktails. A coffee-milk martini would be pretty dreamy. There’s probably a recipe out the for one, I just haven’t looked (yet).

Meanwhile…We Enter Our First Barbecue Competition

I’m a big believer in pushing myself (kicking and screaming usually) outside my comfort zone, so after spending my summer taking the first baby steps toward building a barbecue catering business, I decided we should enter the Finger Lakes Fire and Smoke competition. It’s brand new this year, and less than an hour from home so it seemed like the perfect place to start.

I knew from my research (translation: spending quality time with “the Google” and watching every available episode of “BBQ Pit Wars” and “BBQ Pitmasters”) that competition ‘cue doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to restaurant/catering/backyard ‘cue. Judging is one-bite, which means that the sauce, smoke, and rubs have to pretty much blow the palate on that bite. Not my typical cooking style; I prefer flavors that build over the course of the dish so I knew that I was in for a challenge. I had two goals going into this thing–getting all of my boxes turned in on time, and, in barbecue speak, not coming in DAL (dead-ass last). We accomplished both of those.

Here’s what the weekend looked like (sort of. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a lot more pictures. I blame a combination of tunnel-vision and dead batteries).

Before

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Step one: Joining KCBS is required if you’re signing up for a sanctioned event. You have to take this solemn and binding oath: “I promise to faithfully uphold the tenets for a Barbeque fanatic. I will cook and/or eat as much barbeque as the law allows, while having as much fun as possible.”

You also have to come up with a unique team name to register with KCBS.

You also have to come up with a unique team name to register with KCBS.

Getting the timing down is hugely important. We completely blew our trial run.

Getting the timing down is hugely important. We completely blew our trial run.

And then there's the equipment. The Rebel Smoker is a cheap, readily available smoker-grill that I did some mods on to improve our cooking quality. It doesn't even begin to compare to the professional equipment, but I like it anyway.

And there’s equipment. The Rebel Smoker is a cheap, readily available smoker-grill that I did some mods on to improve our cooking quality. It doesn’t even begin to compare to the professional equipment, but I like it anyway.

Lots of sassy red food-grade, high-heat silicone sealant.

Lots of sassy red food-grade, high-heat silicone sealant, a new fire box and some gasket seals and she was read.

We picked this uber-cheap barrel smoker up off Craigslist.

We picked this uber-cheap barrel smoker up off Craigslist.

Gave it a new paint job.

Gave it a new paint job.

And renamed it R2BQ.

And renamed it R2BQ. (R2 still needs some clean-up.)

We also gave our 40-year-old Weber a facelift.

We also gave our 40-year-old Weber a facelift.

Friday Afternoon

I really regret not taking a shot of the loaded-down truck. We looked like the Joads, rambling onto the site with all of our belongings shoved into disorganized boxes and bins.

I really regret not taking a shot of the loaded-down truck. We looked like the Joads, rambling onto the site with all of our belongings shoved into disorganized boxes and bins.

We eventually managed to get it all set up.

We eventually managed to get it all set up. (And learned later that bringing Keurig-style coffee-makers is just not done.)

See the tent? Yeah, that's ours.

Circuit pros have trailers, commercial-grade equipment, and a whole lot of knowledge. See the tent? Yeah, that’s ours.

2 AM Comes Early.

Eventually, the boy crashed in the tent and his dad decided he’d rather just sleep in the truck. I tried to sleep, I really did, but knowing that the fire needed to be lit crazy early made it impossible. I gave up about 1 and spent the time reading instead. At 1:45 am, it was very, very quiet. 15 minutes later, it felt like a house party. 2:00 is the witching hour when everyone gets up, gets out, and gets the fires lit.

2 AM, we have ignition.

We have ignition.

When the blue flames and wild sparks (not pictured) started shooting out the top of my chimney, I grabbed the smoke extinguisher and hovered over it until I was sure I wouldn't burn down the whole damn competition.

When the blue flames and wild sparks (not pictured) started shooting out the top of my chimney, I grabbed the smoke extinguisher and hovered over it until I was sure I wouldn’t burn down the whole damn competition.

The venue was gorgeous. I took this just after sunrise on Seneca Lake.

The venue was gorgeous. I took this just after sunrise on Seneca Lake.

Bad coffee: Nectar of the Gods.

Bad coffee: Nectar of the Gods.

Turn-In

Chicken thighs. I wasn't sure until about 9 am if we'd even managed to get the chicken cooked. I was out of room on the smoker, and all of my attempts to make a bite-through skin had failed miserably. When the brisket point came off to rest, I had just enough room for it so I had to hustle through the breakdown (deboning, pulling excess fat, shaping) and decided to leave the skin off. We placed 23rd, so not DAL but also not good.

Chicken thighs. I wasn’t sure until about 9 am if we’d even have an entry.

Ribs. Also 23rd. Of our entries, I thought this on had the best chance of being

Ribs. Also 23rd. Of our entries, I thought this one had the best chance of being “not awful.” I was wrong (it wasn’t awful, it just didn’t place quite as high as I’d hoped).

Brisket. We came in at #18, placing above a couple of teams who won in the pork categories so I was pretty giddy about that.

18th-place Brisket. We placed above a couple of teams who won in the pork categories so I was pretty giddy about that.

Pork. Pulled on the left, and the

Pork. Pulled on the left, and the “money muscle” on the right. I had a lot of fun explaining to our butcher (who’s a great guy but not familiar with competition meat) that I needed that loin piece left on. We placed at #20 for pork

Afterword

We met some amazing people over the weekend. When they talk about “barbecue family” it’s not just lip-service. Barbecue people are friendly, generous, and kind. Being complete noobs, we expected disdain at best and contempt as more likely. Instead, we had helping hands, received some good advice, tasted some samples of winning entries, heard great storytelling and had a whole lot of goofy fun. The cherry on the sundae is that when awards time rolls around, all the cheering and clapping for the winners is genuine. Because it’s family.

Addendum

We found a partial of the loaded-up truck.

We found a partial of the loaded-up truck.