Remaking Christine

42, jobless, standing in the kitchen
  • .: Pushed forward, no looking back :.

    Have you ever wanted to be one of those people who loves what they do for a living, but never quite had the guts to make the necessary leaps to get there?
    Me too. But then I got pushed.
    This is the developing story of how I traded my fat-salaried tech writing job for a culinary school apron in the hopes of shoring up a budding career as a food writer.

  • .: Cook. Eat. Write. :.

  • Dinner Club Farewell

    Posted By on February 29, 2012

    Saying goodbye is never easy, but starting that conversation over a glorious meal does ease the process considerably.

    On Saturday night Andy and I hosted our Carlisle dinner club for the very last time since we established it back in August 2005, as we are relocating to coastal Maine sometime this summer where Andy will take up his new job teaching in the Government Department at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and I will become expert at lobster dishes and blueberry desserts.  I’m not changing my vote on the origin of Whoopie pies, though. It’s PA all the way on that score.

    Ours is a varied group of 10 eaters (we’ve had as many as 14 over the years as we’re not the first to abandon ship) who have lived in places like Memphis and Manhattan, Norwich (England) and Naples (Florida), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. And collectively have traveled to many more places in between.

    But we’ve all called Central Pennsylvania our overlapping home for these last seven years, during which we’ve gathered every other month or so to cooperatively turn out feasts not often seen in these parts.  We juggle work and family schedules to fit these dinners in because we have common bonds in addition to the shared locale:  we love to eat really good food, enjoy intelligent banter fueled by good wine, and fully understand the notion that ties established at the table last long after the dishes are done.

    We decided – well, Andy was really not part of that decision but he’s typically a good sport about these kinds of things  – to go out with a bang up seven course tasting menu with paired wines and palate cleansing intermezzi.

    As hostess, I set the theme (The Best Damn Meal You Have Ever Had In Carlisle) and the date, and prepared the two main courses, a dessert, and each intermezzo. 

    My friends each selected a course to bring to the table that would both fit the available time in their schedule and help expand their culinary repertoire. And they picked a wine to match.

    Chris and her daughter Thea came up with the signature cocktail for the evening. 

    OK, Thea is only in second grade — and since we’re not too much like Don Draper whose daughter is well schooled on how to make his evening drinks — so I’ll confess here that she made a stellar non-alcohol concoction of grapefruit juice, ginger, and coconut seltzer for her mom and dad a couple weeks ago. It was Chris and I who thought to add the Absolute Ruby Red and Domaine Canton – French ginger liqueur.  

    The menu started with these broiled oysters and Sriracha lime butter, a sort of bonus to amuse the bouches, if you will.  (Recipe link)  I did alter it a bit, though, swapping out the shallots for garlic and the cilantro for heartier Italian parsley.

    Chris has always wanted to try a country pork pate. So she did (in spite of spending the whole week tending to Charlie, Thea’s little brother, who was severely under the weather), combining several recipes, adding in a bit of chicken liver (because she loves them) and omitting the pistachios (because another member is very allergic). We toasted Chris’s success with Veuve Clicquot.

    We cleansed our palates with a green apple and calvados sorbet (Recipe link) – a nod to John and Ellen, also founding members of dinner club who run a wonderful apple (and peach, pear, cherry and apricot) orchard in the rolling hills of Adams County just south of Carlisle, the fruit of which has blessed our dinner club table many times over.  

    The Ulsh’s – John and Tonia – are smokin’.  Yes, they are indeed a very attractive couple (you can learn more about them on John’s blog), but in this context my turn of phrase is due to John’s newest hobby: smoking everything in one of the two smokers he’s got rigged up to his laptop so that he can maintain a constant temp, even when he’s sleeping.

    For our dining pleasure, John smoked a chicken, and together they made use of it in a creamy chowder (also cooked on John’s outdoor gear) and presented it in a heavy Lodge cast iron pot. (Recipe link.) The only complication in that dish was an artistic dispute between this couple of cooks regarding how much the tomatoes should be broken down before the soup was ready to serve.   

    The pasta course – provided by Katie – was a salty and peppery mix of sautéed cauliflower, capers, pine nuts, bread crumbs and barilotti:  an interesting taste and textural exploration for all diners, including her husband, Todd, who complimented the dish and its cook, with “You can make that at home anytime, honey!”

    Before the fish course, we cleansed with a chopeed blood orange and fennel salad with a bit of salted pine nut and rosemary brittle (Recipe link) as a garnish. 

    The salad is a staple for me this time of year, the latter is not, and everyone who tasted it had very similar reactions:  silence and then “Oh … My … God!”  

    I’ve always read about talented cooks who enjoy dish out at a high-end restaurant and return to their own kitchens to recreate it there.  This fish course my first attempt at that process.  On our last night in Lyon in December we dined at the Michelin single starred Maison Clovis (19 bd Brotteaux F – 69006 Lyon).  As part of the chef’s tasting menu, we received salmon, crab and avocado ravioli.  It arrived at table with no pasta as we had expected. Rather, the smoked salmon served as the wrapper around crab, avocado, chives and lemon. 

    The F inrench version also at in watercress foam.  My rendition included lobster (in deference to the next destination in our lives) and the green on the plate was a spinach almond pesto with creme fraiche – couldn’t find the cress and am not really a foam fan.

    Our final cleansing course was this powerful white wine and herb granita. Wow, this one’s got a very pronounced finished. I used a Vouvray, my new go to white since our time in Lyon. (Recipe link.)

    The meat course comprised lamb loin chops (I served those as the main course at our inaugural dinner club meal) – marinated in garlic, olive oil and fresh oregano – served with spice harissa carrot salad (Recipe link), and a really deep Shiraz.  Sexist as it may seem, the ladies were getting full at this juncture and knew full well chocolate would be on offer soon, so the men got double the amount of red meat on their plates as we did.  No complaints from that end of the table, for sure.

    The fruit dessert – paired with an ice wine — was this simple lemon posset (Recipe link) , tarted up with a thin skim coat of meyer lemon curd (Recipe link) and a decoration of the fruit’s candied peel.

    The meal ended with a bit of late bottled vintage port, and Ellen’s chocolate trio:  salted chocolate covered caramels (that had absolutely perfect consistency so that when you bit into them, soft tails of caramel trailed from the candy as you pulled them away from your lip); dried sour cherry and black walnut bark; and, handmade Scottish shortbread dipped in chocolate. 

    It was a bittersweet ending to both this meal and our time at table with this group of friends.

    On Thanksgiving, there’s just no place like home

    Posted By on November 25, 2011

    The thing about having Thanksgiving dinner with fellow Americans when you are on foreign soil is that it’s really just all about Home.

    So my first major meal – mind you, I had a considerable amount of cheese (Comte), bread (pave), saucisson (sec) and wine (Cote de Rhone) in my first 27 hours, but this was the first full dining experience — in France was strikingly similar to the one I’d eaten at my Mom’s Western Massachusetts table the weekend before we left the country.

    Other than the 8 PM start time, the spread on the table in a river-facing apartment on the Quai de Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, where I spent the actual Turkey Day included everything from broad-breasted birds secured by our Greek-American hostess to pecan pie made by a Georgian-born University of Virginia student studying in Lyon for the semester. The French twist on the meal came by way dinner conversation during which various cooks told of the hoops they jumped through to acquire the proper ingredients for our traditional Thanksgiving fare.

    “Every year I order the turkeys from the same place. And every year I get ‘Dinde? Vous voulez une Dinde maintenant? En Novembre?’ from the woman who answers the phone. I’ve been ordering my Thanksgiving turkeys from the same place for 20 years,” said our hostess, explaining that the French don’t eat turkey until Christmas dinner.

    The cranberries were supposed to be imported by yours truly. But in the rush between walking the Freedom trail (part of Eliza’s home-schooled tutorial on the Revolutionary War) and getting the four suitcases into my sister-in-law’s van headed toward Logan airport — they got left behind in my parked car in a Boston suburb along with four Luna bars. Luckily another student’s mother managed to smuggle into the country a bag of contraband berries for the sauce, so only the apple crumble was left to suffice with the dried variety which are more readily available here.

    The corn syrup for the pecan pie was purchased for an outrageous sum at the British Isles shop that also carries a few American products. The vegetarians in the group had to use pumpkin in their butternut squash casserole because they weren’t aware of the common ex-pat trick of going to the back of the ethnic grocery store in the east side of the city to find the exact squash varietal required by the Pilgrims. And to outfit the recently published New York Times curried cauliflower recipe I was charged with assembling, the hostess’s son ran three times down to the Chinese grocery on the corner for limes, ginger and chives and we had to swap out cayenne for the more readily available Piment d’Espelette. But it all worked in the end.

    The only things I saw “À table” in Lyon that Alba did not include in her spread in Massachusetts were the huge almond macarons that had only the slightest whisper of butter crème filling to hold the two sides together, making the centers chewy but keeping the outer edge fall-away crispy. I didn’t catch the name of the patisserie from where they came, but I won’t hesitate to sample all the macarons in Lyon until I locate them once again. And you can bet that I will be very thankful for the hoops I’ll have to jump through to make reproduce that element of this particular Thanksgiving.

    Eliza in the Kitchen: Take Two

    Posted By on September 30, 2011

    So Eliza hijacked the CSA booty again today. 

    The last time this happened, I beamed with pride at the fact that I had a kid that could just dig in and whip something up that was both nutritious and edible. No holds barred, no cookbooks opened.

    This time I was in awe as I watched her mind whirling as she selected among our CSA choices of parsley or dill, chard or spinach, beets or squash; as she scouted in the freezer for just the right type of sausage; and, as she weighed the merits of fresh goat’s cheese against the natural match of cheddar and Mexican-style chorizo. Her reasoned selections all came together in a stuffed poblano chile that Dad gets to eat for lunch tomorrow.

    My reward came along the way as I picked up on hints of my influence as she flitted between fridge, butcher block, knife magnet and gas burner.

    “Can I suck on one of the chicken stock ice cubes in the freezer for a snack, Mom?”

    “What protein should I put in my veggie-stuffed patty pan?  How about some of this quinoa?”

    “Bacon is just the best meat there is!”

    As an overworked culinary-obsessed mother, it was one of those afternoons that made my effort to put a good meal made from real food on the table as many nights as womanly possible, just that much more worth it.

    #cookwithyourkids

    Thursdays with Josephine

    Posted By on September 22, 2011

    There are some days when it feels like I live in the backwater of the middle of nowhere.

    And there are others when I feel like Carlisle, Pennsylvania, sits at the intersection of everywhere.

    Meet Josephine.

    In her native Rwanda, she’s a successful business woman who spends her working hours supplying the country’s aquaculture industry (mostly farmed tilapia) with necessary equipment.  But here, she’s taken a year off to become a domestic goddess. She shakes with a deep belly laugh at the thought, raises her hands to the sky and spreads the laughter throughout the room.

     But she is, nonetheless, steeled for the transformation.

    Josephine considers it her duty to pursue the historically domestic arts of cooking, cleaning and carting children around, while her husband, Didas, pursues his master’s degree as an International Fellow the US Army War College here, and her three children navigate Carlisle’s elementary, middle and high school systems.

    About four days after she landed in this country, she landed in her kitchen.  Eyes wide, looking in terror at the natural gas range in the corner, she confessed that she was one of those girls who learned only a few traditional, regional dishes as part of her formal kitchen education (one of which is a nut sauce and sweet potatoes which she is bring to dinner on Sunday!). But grew up leaving the day-to-day cooking to others.

    In Rwanda, she has help, lots of help.  Here, she has only the modern conveniences (self-cleaning oven, power cycle on the dishwasher, and OxiClean) that make the less glamorous parts of being household deity require a little less godly elbow grease.   

     And she has me. 

    She is so eager to learn how to cook for her family. And I find that when I try to teach about any food-related topic, I pick up more information than I exude.  That combination has led us to our Thursday afternoon cooking lessons.

    So far we’ve conquered simply sautéing thin protein (pork or chicken) in a hot pan and finishing it with some kind of pan sauce (chicken broth, white wine and herbs, a can of chopped tomatoes); breaded and baked chicken drumsticks that work for both dinner or packed school lunches; and, a basic roasted chicken courtesy of Mark Bittman of the New York Times, who espouses using in a very hot cast iron skillet to ensure that the dark meat cooks in the same time frame as the breasts.

    And our kitchen girl talk centers on things like the struggles of being a big wage earner and then the effect on not having that cash flow on the ego. And we’ve philosophized about how living just one year in a strange country is not really living at all but merely vacationing with a schedule. And we’ve strategized about accommodating school drop-off duties with random required doctor’s visits. But it’s food, really, that’s facilitates the union of minds and hearts here. 

    This week we’re working with savory pumpkin dishes.  Josephine misses that combination from home, and I am running some more formal cooking classes on that topic next week. 

    So if we can keep from laughing long enough to jot down a few thoughts, we’ll keep you posted on our progress.

    Sometimes eating out of the box is very, very easy

    Posted By on August 28, 2011

    Cam eating from inside the [CSA] box

    Eating out of the CSA box

    This is my buddy Cameron (taking refuge here in Central PA while his Boston home weathers Irene) munching on the last of the season’s organic watermelon that showed up in my CSA box last week.  It was in the fridge all week and was ice cold.  Cam surprised his mom when he said “Actually it’s my second time eating watermelon with black seeds!”  He especially liked the “legal” spitting!

    Comfort food for Irene

    Posted By on August 27, 2011

    I am land locked, granted. And we’ve got a new roof and an upgraded gutter system that will hopefully shuttle all of the rain water we’re going to get tomorrow afternoon as far away from our basement as possible.  

    But even from where I sit here in Central PA as merely a storm voyeur, it’s been unnerving to watch Irene’s eye makes its way up the East Coast and read on Twitter and Facebook about how friends from the Carolinas up to Maine are battening down the every hatch they can find to brace for this hurricane. 

    My little experiment – the one where I’m attempting to make meals using only food that currently sits on my pantry shelves and in my freezers or comes in my bi-monthly CSA box — seems a tad trivial as friends face sustained 75 MPH winds and the coastline stands to get hammered by conditions that will yield serious ecological damage.

    So since I can do nothing to stop the storm, I’ve had to roll with it the best way I know how.  I whipped up a big pot of comfort food. 

    Seeing as Eliza was the only one of us to be directly inconvenienced by the storm (she was in Cape May, New Jersey, with one of her best friend’s families most of last week and had to get up at 3:30 Friday morning to meet the 8 AM evacuation order there), I made her favorite soup. 

    It’s called Leftover Lamb and Bean Soup. 

    Eliza's comfort food, steaming Lamb and Bean Soup

    The lamb part is a stock made from the bones of the last three  legs of lamb we’ve eaten that were in the deep freeze in the basement which got lovely boost from the  OXO lamb bouillon cube my English friends smuggled into the US when they visited,  and celery, carrots and onions from the CSA box.  The variety of beans came from cans sitting on my pantry shelf. 

    I still worry for all the folks living along the coast, hoping they have a steaming bowl of their favorite soup to help them weather the storm.

    Leftover lamb and bean soup

    Makes about 8 cups of soup

    This has become a favorite of my daughter Eliza who has helped me tweak the recipe to her liking over the past three or four years. If I need to stretch the soup a bit to fill more bowls, I add 1 ½ cups of cooked small pasta like ditalini.

    Ingredients

    The remains of a carved leg of lamb, preferably one with a little bit of meat still on it

    2 quarts cold water

    2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

    2 stalks of celery, washed and roughly chopped

    1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

    1 teaspoon black peppercorns

    A tied bouquet of rosemary, sage and thyme sprigs

    1 can of cannellini beans

    1 can of red kidney beans

    3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

    2 carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rounds

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Grated Parmesan cheese

    Method

    Bend the carved leg of lamb at the knee joint so that it fits into a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Cover it with cold water.   Add carrots, celery, onion, peppercorn and herbs.  Over medium-high heat, bring the broth to a bowl and then immediately lower the heat to low to maintain barely a simmer.  Simmer the broth for about four hours. 

    Remove the bone from the broth and set on a plate to cool. Carve off any meat still on the bone and cut it into ½-inches pieces.

    Place a fine mesh colander over a large bowl and drain the broth into the bowl.  Discard the aromatics that are caught in the colander.  Wash the Dutch oven.  Pour the broth back into the clean Dutch oven.

    Open the cans of beans, pouring them into a colander and rinsing them well.  Put the beans, the garlic and carrot slices, and pieces of cooked lamb into the broth.  Bring the soup back up to a simmer and cook it until both the garlic and the carrot slices are tender, about 15 minutes.

    Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.

    Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

    Cheap August eats: Tomato toast

    Posted By on August 23, 2011

    If you’re invited to belly up to the Rudalevige dinner table anytime soon, you might want to think twice about accepting, maybe you can pull out that sick aunt of yours in Seattle so my feelings won’t be hurt. You see, we’ve been forced to take up post-vacation austerity measures and while we can bask in the glory of the harvest season for I bit, I don’t expect that it’s going to be a pretty table for very much longer.

    After wining and dining with friends from the UK in and around northeast for a little over two weeks, the cash reserves are lower than Mr. Fiscal, my financial better half, deems comforting.  At one particularly luxurious meal taken while overlooking Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, he leaned into me and whispered “Enjoy this now, because we may not be able to afford to eat in September.”

    I sipped my second glass of the 20-year-old tawny port in comfort, secure in the knowledge that we were already the proud owners of:

    a.) one fairlybig, pantry stuffed with lots of this and bits of that left over from recipes tried some successfully, some not;

    This pantry could use a bit of weeding, actually.

    b.)  two freezers really full of frozen meats (some of them self cured by my dabblings in charcuterie), soups, nuts and lots and lots berries; and,

    It's a good thing there is plenty of homemade Limoncello (thanks to my friend Chris!) in here to get us through the lean times.

    c.)  a bi-monthly CSA box that will arrive through early November, all of which are paid for in full. 

    My CSA box is actually a bag -- one I picked up at a market in Florence about eight years ago -- that I fill up with my fair share from the Dickinson College Farm every other Friday.

    We’ll just bypass the grocery stores for the most part, buying only dairy products, some bread, and of course, a little bit of chocolate.

    I know, I know.  Don’t cry for me Argentina, I am supposed to be a good cook.  We’ve got all we wanted.  That’s not too much to ask for…

    But the trick to this whole exercise will be matching the whims of my 10-year-old who needs a bit of fattening up (and therefore has to like what’s on the table) and the whinge-ing of my 13-year-old bottomless pit (who will eat a pound of pasta in a sitting and stare at your portion to see if you’re going to consume it all) with what I’ve got on hand.

    Well, it’s August in Pennsylvania so what I’ve got is tomatoes.  We’ve sauced them, sliced them and roasted them.  Panzanella-ed them, processed them whole, and mid-night snacked them in the dark with only a sprinkle of salt.

    And finally, finally, we’ve figured out how Eliza can have them for breakfast. She made a general announcement recently that she was “off” normal breakfast foods including scramble eggs, apples and peanut butter, nutella on crackers, hot cereal and cold pizza. ( Bacon is still acceptable, thank God, so I don’t have to disown her.) When I showed her a feature in the August/September issue of Fine Cooking on changing up your breakfast routine with out of the ordinary morning foods, she zoomed in on the tomato toast with olive oil. It’s simply a toasted piece of baguette (had one in the freezer) topped with a firm, ripe tomato (got 5lbs of those in our CSA distribution) that’s been grated on a box grater and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper (obviously, all in the pantry).

    She’s not only eating this combination for breakfast, but also for dinner alongside pasta and for lunch topped with her newest pantry pal, tuna packed in oil.

    We hit the jackpot on this one!

    A lesson in friendship: Merguez makes a wonderful filling for stuffed, sweet peppers

    Posted By on May 15, 2011

    You just gotta hate when you pull in kitchen reinforcements to help you get through a project and they just kick you culinary butt up and down the island.

    Making merguez

    I have to admit I was hurtling toward the deadline, and I hadn’t attempted this month’s Charcutepalooza bulk sausage challenge.  Not only did my friend and neighbor Ann find a great deal on the lamb required to make merguez, she also came up with a recipe using the final product that was simply way more interesting than my preferred way for eating it.

    You see, I couldn’t get past the fact that this lovely, rich, spicy stuff (we followed Mr. Ruhlman’s recipe that includes pork back fat, red wine and roasted red peppers) was pretty much perfection in fried patty form.  And it served as the ideal meaty companion for the pastured spring eggs and the fresh local asparagus I picked up at opening day of the Farmers on the Square market last week.  OK, for those of you who may not realize it, that last sentence was a totally shameless plug for the seasonal, producer-only market I will be managing here in Carlisle, Pennsylvania every Wednesday afternoon from last week until late November.  

    Ann is one of only a handful of friends and acquaintances who is still willing to cook for me since I graduated from cooking school  and earned the title of sous chef at Trattoria Piatto, one of the nicer places to dine in the Carlisle area.  She also holds two very deep, dark secret about my eating habits. 

    I eat EVERYTHING, especially if it includes cheese. And my favorite PMS food-like substance is a bag of ranch-flavored Doritos, eaten without a break, followed by a 20-ounce Diet Coke.

    Bucking my low-brow tendencies toward snack foods, she hit a home run with the merguez-stuffed mini-peppers she served to me and Andy on her wrap-around porch on Friday evening. And I can say in all honesty, that I made that particular determination well before I indulged a little bit too much in the raspberry mojitos her husband made. But seeing as we are all friends here, I can admit that I really liked those too.

    Ann mixed the bulk sausage we made with half its volume in goat cheese, added a bit of cilantro and black pepper and baked the stuffed, finger-sized red and yellow peppers until they were just soft and the very top of the exposed lamb had just started to crisp up. Yes, she was more creative than I and she gave me permission to share her recipe with all of you.  Enjoy!

    Ann’s Merguez-stuffed baby sweet peppers

    Ingredients

    10 miniature red, yellow and orange bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeded

    6 oz merguez

    3 oz chevre at room temperature

     2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

    Several good grinds of black pepper

    Method

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with tin foil.

    Place sausage, cheese, cilantro and black pepper in a small bowl and using your hands, combine the ingredients completely.

    Stuff the peppers with the sausage mixture.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until the peppers start to soften and the sausage crisps up just a tiny bit on top.  Serve warm.

    Just can’t quit smoking even if I wanted to

    Posted By on April 15, 2011

    Hello, my name is Christine.  And I have a problem.  I will smoke anything. 

    Well anything that fits into the Burton stove top smoker, anyway.  I bought it in order to participate in this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge.

    My Burton smoking paraphernalia

    But I wound up smoking so much in the last 30 days that my kids no longer blink an eyelash at the slightly grayish tinge to the air that greets them as they arrived home from school.

    I smoked so much that I smelled.  One day the chiropractor noticed.  “Oh I love your perfume!  What is it?” she asked. Um, eau de oak chips?

    But ironically I did not hot smoke salmon as Mrs. Wheelbarrow suggested when she pointed to my recipe for Hot Smoke Salmon, Soba and Asian greens that was pitted against her recipe in a Food52 contest for your best salmon dish (her recipe for Salmon with Sorrel sauce won, but who’s keeping track?).  I have a sentimental attachment to my maiden voyage into the world of smoke when I jerry rigged my cast-iron wok, a bunch of tin foil and the lid of my lobster pot into a stovetop smoker.  I didn’t want to taint my romantic memories of my first rough and tumble time.

    But with my new purpose-built smoker, I did smoke chickpeas.  They are great for hummus, but you need to hold back a little of the tahini or the dip can be a bit too bitter. 

    Cucumber rounds with smoked hummus, honey, yogurt and sesame seeds

    And I hot smoked fresh mozzarella (Duh! It melts!). 

    Smoked coconut slices

    And I smoked coconut. OH MY GOD!! This is really tasty when you slice off thin pieces to eat plain as a snack –or put it on the vegan club sandwich like they do at The Memphis Taproom in the Kensington neighborhood of Philly. 

     But it goes all soapy tasting if you add vinegar to it, like I did when I ruined the carrot, radish and smoked coconut relish I was hoping to put on my Banh Mi sandwich that night for dinner.  Mr. McGee, care to weigh in on the science behind that one?

    I also smoked beets (don’t bother, they are better roasted) and a chicken breast (make sure you brine those so there is a pellicle for the smoke to stick to or you just get plain old boring breast meat). 

    Wow, not sure I could get a protein THAT tight!

    And I over smoked a pork loin for Canadian bacon.  I neglected to turn down the flame under the smoker and got the loin to a blistering 200 degrees internal temperature.  

    Canadian bacon, spinach, pine nuts and gnocchi

    The only thing that saved that loin from being the tightest protein this side of the Mr. Universe pageant was Mr. Ruhlman’s lemon and herby brine.  I still can’t believe that juice flowed from that sucker when I sliced into it.

    Smoked clams

    But the two substances I got the biggest buzz from were little neck clams and asparagus that met up with each other in one very interesting chowder.  After about 12-14 minutes in the smoker, the clams popped open and even the pesky posterior abductor muscle of the clam released itself from the shell. 

    The asparagus took a couple tries to get right.  I started with a 20-minute smoke time as suggested in the Burton-user’s manual.  But at that smoking time I got Army green, mushy, stringy spears like the kind you get out of a can.  It was when I rolled back the smoke time to 10 minutes and put the flame really low that I got the bright green, still kind of crisp asparagus with a tangy, smoky flavor. It was, well, it was ….. smokin’!

     

    Smoked Clam and Asparagus Chowder

    Served 2-4 depending on the size of the bowl

    Ingredients

    Two dozen smoked littleneck clams

    ½ pound smoked asparagus spears

    1 Tablespoon butter

    1 small sweet onion, small dice

    1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

    1 large red potato, large dice

    1 bottle clam juice

    1 cup of milk

    ½ cup of cream

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Method

    Remove clams from their shells and set them aside.  Reserve 12 shells.  Discard 12 shells.

    Cut asparagus spears into 1 ½ inch pieces and set aside.

    In a large pot, melt butter and slowly sauté onions with the thyme leaves.  When the onions are soft, add potatoes, clam juice, milk and reserved clam shells (they have quite a bit of smoky flavor to impart to the broth).  Simmer the broth until the potatoes are fork tender.  Remove clam shells. Add clams, asparagus and cream.  Bring the mixture back to a simmer.  Season the chowder with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

    Where do you find a Korean taco in Carlisle? Short answer: You don’t.

    Posted By on April 12, 2011

    I drove 226 miles round trip to eat a Korean taco out of the side of a truck. 

    You could probably calculate my stupidity in light of gas prices, but you can’t tell me I lack dedication.  And I can definitely tell you that my pilgrimage to dine on food from the Takorean truck in Washington D.C. was worth every, single mile.

    You just don’t get this kind of food truck food in my neck of Central PA.  Yes, we do have Redd’s Smokehouse, a great South Carolina BBQ truck situated on North Hanover Street in Carlisle, but it’s stationary. 

    Part of the fun of the more mobile units is figuring out where they will be on any given day. 

    My co-pilgrim today was fellow tech journalist turned food writer Amy Rogers Nazarov.  Amy lives in DC and scoped out where the truck was supposed to be at noon (the corner of Virginia and 20th). 

    But after we both miraculously found parking spots in the neighborhood, and then managed to find each other (in spite of only meeting once before, at the 1996 Interop trade show in Las Vegas when we covered Microsoft for competing publications), the truck was simply not there.

    Neither of us own a smart phone (yes we KNOW!! We pledged to upgrade into the 21st when our plans change this summer).  But we DO both know the lovely Olga from Mango & Tomato, and she always seems to have a line to Twitter.  She directed us to Franklin Park and McPherson in 10 seconds flat.  It took 10 minutes to relocate, but that gave 25 other people time to get in line before us.  

    It was a chatty crowd that waited very patiently as the spent cherry blossoms floated down all around us.  The guy in line behind us took our photo for posterity (and yes, social networking purposes) and suggested a loaded bulgogi.

    We spent a few moments catching up on who in the tech world we still keep tabs on, and before we knew it, we were choosing between tacos with various combinations of beef, chicken, cilantro, sesame seeds, lime crema, sriracha and kim chi.

    We landed on a park bench, saw the sun peek through the clouds (if only for a very brief moment), and together shared three tacos, lamenting that we should have ordered three more. 

    I guess that means we’ll be back.