Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liverwurst and Ice-cream

Did you know that liverwurst sandwiches and banana splits go together very nicely?

Today Mom and I had lunch with a dear friend and a few of her grandchildren. She took us to Superior Dairy in Hanford, an old-fashion lunch place I had never been to before. High high white embossed ceiling, pink and white striped counter stools and "soda fountain" styling. Big picture windows on all sides gave the place an open, bright, airy feeling. The menu was printed on the paper place mats.

As you would expect from a dairy lunch place in a dairy sort of town, ice cream was the predominant item. Sandwiches were an also-ran. A sandwich sounded good to start with. Hmm, something a little more unusual, something I don't make at home very often, something...

Liverwurst! I don't think I've ever seen liverwurst sandwiches on a restaurant lunch menu before. Not that I'm wild about liverwurst, but I do like it, and don't buy it often because I'm the only one who will touch it.

The waitress came.

"Liverwurst." And then, because I felt sort of dangerous just by ordering liverwurst, I topped it off. "On white bread, please."

And then our friend Mona topped us all.

"I'll have a banana split for lunch."

Eek! Skewered! I might have done that if I'd thought about it, instead of saving ice cream for dessert. But as it turned out, it was for the best. As we saw when the banana split arrived.

It was vertical. It had to be because the banana boat was too small to fit it all in horizontally. It stood up about 12 inches into the air, when you take into account the pile of whipped cream on top. A strawberry flavored Mt. Whitney rose up in the middle of the dish, flanked by a vanilla Mt. Shasta and a chocolate Mt. Lassen. Juicy strawberry sauce studded with chunks of pineapple cascaded down the steep sides. Luckily the banana boat sailed on a safety saucer to capture the runoff.

The waitress only brought one spoon! What was she thinking? I don't know if it was my complimentary comments or my wistful looks that caused Mona to tell me to "dig in, I can't eat it all!"

A bite of liverwurst, a spoon of strawberry ice cream, a nibble of potato chips and then start over. Yum yum! I recommend it. My friend ran out of gas before I did. I made the last bite of liverwurst, chips and ice cream come out even.

On the way out the door, I saw other folks with an "S.O.S." parked in front of them. That stands for Super Oversize Sunday, or something like that. The name is descriptive. Think of a punch bowl on a stem, ice cream and sauce rising up to about eye level, topped by the ubiquitous cloud of whipped cream and a cherry.

That will be just right when I go back with another half-dozen friends to help me with it!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Now We're Smokin'!

I don’t think we have hickory trees in this part of the country, but you can buy shreds and chunks of the stuff in bags, which is good, since hickory smoke is wonderful to flavor meat with.

I started experimenting long, indirect cooking in the Weber Barbecue with country style ribs and turkeys a couple years ago. Lately, I’ve been trying out some smoking techniques. Basically, you just keep the heat low, and periodically throw pieces of soaked wood pieces on the hot briquettes. I have just finished doing a couple of huge pork butts for CHAS’ CAV 101 weekend in a week and a half. Here’s what I did:

I realized there are lots of types of “barbecue,” depending on the region. So far, I really think I like the North Carolina style. It is one of the earliest styles, back in the Colonial days. They used sauces they called “ketchup,” but they were not the tomato ketchups we are familiar with. They were thin and vinegar based, flavored with mushrooms and other vegetables and spices. Remember, tomatoes at that time were considered by many to be poisonous. The predominant flavors of North Carolina style are apple cider vinegar, salt, a little heat from cayenne pepper, and smoke.

I tried this barbecue twice previously, but this time I took the advice of Tom “Big Heat” Solomon from Gun Mountain Virginia and did not mop, rub, or marinate the meat first. Before, it seemed like the long time over the heat made the rub particles become a little gritty. With this method, the “infusion” technique, the seasoning goes into the meat after it’s all done.

I bought 2 – 8 pound pork butts, and cut off most of the thin layer of fat on the one side. Believe me, there is plenty of fat in the meat- you won’t miss it! I set up the Weber with about 3 or 4 dozen briquettes (Kingsford, Mesquite) divided on each side. I set a pan of water under the rack between them (for moisture) and put the roasts, fat side down, on the top rack. They barely fit. I stuck a Pampered Chef digital thermometer down in the vent hole to monitor the air temperature. My goal was to keep it between 225 and 260 degrees. I carefully placed some pieces of soaked hickory chips on the coals. If you don’t put them on carefully, they’ll throw up ash which gets on the meat.

I started at 9 a.m. Every hour I added about 7 briquettes on each side along with a few pieces of soaked hickory. After 2 hours, I turned the roasts over to fat side up. It was surprisingly easy to keep the temperature constant. It dipped down to 206 briefly, and spent some of the time at 268. I kept this up until 7 p.m. Tom says to smoke the meat from 10 to 12 hours. At 7, when I would have taken it out, I decided to let it stay in until 8, but not add more coals. Well, the existing coals took on new life and when I went to take the meat out, it was still chugging along at 265 degrees.

Oh my goodness! They were perfect! Dark, dark brown, smoky, falling off the bone, but not disintegrated. I could hardly keep a certain person’s paws off the meat.

Now for the “infusion” part. I pulled and cut it up in “thumb-sized” (more or less) pieces, as my directions called for, and then packed it in 3 cast iron skillets. I poured a salt water solution over the top, then poured about a cup of apple cider vinegar over each one. I sprinkled just a bit of cayenne pepper on top. If it was for us, I would have put more, but these were for folks who might not appreciate the heat! Then I just cooked it down until the liquid was gone, adding vinegar to taste until I felt it was done just right.

It doesn’t sound too fancy, just these few ingredients. But it is really a wonderful combination when you take the time to pump in all that smoke. There are no shortcuts, even if you have Wright’s Liquid Smoke in the cupboard!

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Flavor Sensations

A couple weeks ago I bought my first ipod. Or is it Ipod? I’m not sure of the capitalization rules that Apple has claimed. Although I have been shoving a lot of my music onto it, one of my real interests is podcasts. As spring, ever so slowly, approaches, I’m looking forward to shaking off my hibernation and beginning to walk and run for fitness. (Ok, so maybe it’s what most people regard as “jogging,” but I am trying to follow Melinda’s terminology, “There’s no such thing as jogging, only walking and running.”) When I have to go back and forth on the same old terrain, I want to have some educational, thoughtful, provocative, scintillating and possibly titillating words to listen to.

So I took 2 days to learn how to work the whole computer (laptop at a fast connection spot like Starbucks)/ device/ download/ sync/ rip/ copy cd/ playlist/ i-store/ thingy. If I had not had Tristan helping me, I’m sure it would have taken longer! But I think I’ve got it now, by George!

One of the first things I did was to take a shopping spree (technically not "shopping," since I only got the free podcasts) at the i-store. I subscribed to:

Grammar Girl: Oh the lovely anticipations of pronouns and dangling participles. I can feel myself salivating. Watch out, you poor recipients of my Grammar Evangelism Fervor!

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: I love to have a history lesson that offers more questions than answers! Did the original labor-saving device, slavery, stall technological innovation in societies? and more on the subject…

Medical Matters: What is bullying? Has the definition gone so far that even the normal learning experiences of childhood are avoided?

Persiflagers Infectious Disease Puscast: Chock full of wonderful tidbits relating to the world of fascinating disease elements. Alert! Family dinner conversation is about to get very interesting.

Stuff You Missed in History Class: Haven’t listened to this one yet, but queued up is “Zenobia, Warrior Queen.”

And the last, the one that finally will get me to a food subject…

Brain Stuff: 2-4 minute episodes in which the guy, Marshall Brain (I assume the name is a happy coincidence) answers the kinds of questions that everybody has but didn’t know it until they saw it answered. The episode that caught my attention was, “How do artificial flavors work?”

I would have to listen to it again to give all the correct details such as the esters, volatile chemicals, sensory cells, etc. but what intrigued me was how hard people work, using trial and error and chemical analysis to get flavor agents that taste like something real. It only takes one chemical to get banana flavor, or orange flavor, or grape. But if they want it to be more real, then they start toying with the mixture, adding a little more acetate and butyl aggregate etc. But what is rare is to make a flavor that DOESN’T TASTE LIKE ANYTHING ELSE!

Think about it, all those fruit flavors we grew up with: Cherry, Strawberry, Lemon, Grape, Orange, Lime, and Watermelon (courtesy of Jolly Rancher). They are all very distinct. Yes, I know that the fake flavor may not taste a whole lot like the real flavor, but it’s the fake flavor we are talking about right now. You could shut your eyes and know what color and flavor it was. Strawberry and Cherry were always problematic, since they are both red. But the industry seems to have handled that by making Strawberry more pinkish. Pineapple, while distinctive, curiously didn’t seem to be in use much back then in gum, suckers, chews, KoolAid, Jello, fondant creams… In the past few years, a few more flavors have crept up. But honestly, they aren’t especially distinctive. Kiwi, Mango, papaya, tangerine, yeah yeah…

Can you imagine how exciting it would be to see a new color that had never been noticed before? Would it be the same to experience a new fruit flavor that had never been tasted before? Something intense and distinct, like a big wad of Sour Grape Mouthful Gum? (If you lived back in the late 60’s you might remember the birth of sour candy and Mouthful Gum, a solid package of gum the size of a deck of playing cards.)

The example they gave was Juicy Fruit Gum, that it was a made-up flavor. I was a little disappointed in that example. I remembered Juicy Fruit from a long time ago as being a nicely mellow, sweet and gently fruity grayish stick of Wrigleys. Recently I had a nostalgic turn and bought a pack. It was very yellow (I guess they got the hang of artificial colors) and it reminded me mostly of banana punch.

So, please, someone out there take the challenge and invent a new fruit flavor! And when you do, give it a color and a shape so we can visualize the mysterious new vegetable and wonder what the real flavor of it is.