Homemade Pastrami: Holy Delicatessen!

Pastrami is awesome, especially when you get good fresh deli quality pastrami. But you don’t have to go out to the market to get it. Pastrami is nothing but seasoned and smoked corned beef, and you can make it yourself! If you’re an enthusiast, you can even brine your own corned beef. If not, just buy a good quality corned beef. My favorite is Wigley’s, but Ginsberg is also very good.

Take the corned beef out of the package and dry it thoroughly. Dry rub it with black pepper and coriander that you toasted lightly in a pan and then crushed with the bottom of the pan. Rub the corned beef all over and give a thorough coating. Then smoke that baby (I use hickory) until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees (with my smoker that took about 5 hours). Then put the meat on a steamer rack in a big pan with water. Cover it and throw it in the oven on 350 degrees until the brisket gets really good and fork tender (about 4 hours).

Voilà — you have incredible deli-quality pastrami and lots of it. It stores well wrapped tight, or freeze it for future use (assuming of course you don’t scarf it all down). Then have a deli party right in your own backyard.

Corn Spoonbread!

cornThis dish sounds like a wonderful southern delight, but truthfully it’s made more like a French soufflé. Okay, I know a soufflé sounds like it might be way too difficult, but Corn Spoonbread is not that hard to make.

You start by making some grits. Yep, just add in ¾ cup of cornmeal into some simmering scalded milk until it thickens. Stir in an ear of corn kernels cut off the cob. Then stir in a tablespoon of butter until it melts. Taste it for seasoning and add salt, pepper and maybe a little sugar until it tastes really good.

You need to separate five eggs. Take the yolks and whip them until the color gets lighter, then whip in ½ a teaspoon of baking powder. Stir a little of the warm grits mixture into the egg yolks to temper them. Do this a couple times. Then whisk the yolk mixture into the grit mixture. At this point this mixture can be held for hours.

When ready to finish, butter up a small frying pan or iron skillet. Whip your egg whites (in a mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar really helps) until the eggs have stiff peaks, but not dry. Then take a spatula and gently fold the egg whites into the corn base. Don’t worry if it has white steaks, just avoid big lumps. Spatula the mixture into the frying pan and pop it into a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the pan loses most of its jiggle when you nudge it. The toothpick method also works. Pull it out and spoon it up! Goes great with just about everything!

Leftover Pizza for Stuffing!

genoa. . . Yep, that’s right, stuffing!

All too often we end up with a piece or two of leftover pizza. The kids usually forget to wrap it properly and it just kind of dries out and takes up room in the fridge for a week until someone throws it out. Well I had a radical idea, and it works!

I took the pizza and threw it in my food processor and ground it into small chunks. Then I wrapped some boneless chicken thighs (skin on) around it. I brushed it with a little olive oil and seasoned it with a little salt a pepper and baked them on 350 degree until the chicken was done. It was great!

When you think about it pizza has all the elements of a great stuffing. Mine had pepperoni and Italian sausage. Stuffing frequently has sausage in it. The crust is just bread, which is the base for most stuffing. The cheese is another bingo, while the sauce and seasoning just add more flavor. In fact, if you had a few pieces, you could easily stuff a whole chicken or some double pork chops. If your pizza is to dry, just add a little water before stuffing. Just don’t throw away pizza anymore. . . get creative!

Here are a few of my favorite pizza recipes:

Ramps Aren’t Just for Skateboarders!

Many people aren’t familiar with ramps, but they are a wild leek. They look very much like a small scallion, but their stem is thinner and the bulb is a bit rounder. Their flavor is kind of a cross between a farmed leek and a scallion with a touch more sweetness. . . .Unique, fun and super easy.

You can just toss these babies in a little olive oil and throw them on the grill until they’re cooked through and slightly charred. They make great partners to fiddlehead ferns and morel mushrooms as the grand trio of seasonal spring exotics.

Personally, I love to serve these with lamb, but they go well with anything. You can even put them in salads. So when people say they’re looking for ramps, don’t point to the skateboard park, send them straight to your favorite high-end produce department!

Fiddlehead Ferns: Natures Imitation of a French Horn

Fiddlehead Ferns are tasty and fun. . . They have a pretty unique look that reminds me of a French Horn. They’re round and rolled up like a flat spiral. These little beauties taste similar to green beans with just a touch of butter. And right now they are coming into season!!!

They do great sautéed (you can blanch and refresh them first for color and quick service). They’re also great by themselves and do nicely mixed with other veggies. A small mound on a plate makes a great presentation by alone. A little drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper really makes them sing.

With spring entertaining season here, treat yourself and your guests to something special and adorn you plates with these little green beauties. They are a true sign that you are serving something special!

How to Cook with Morel Mushrooms

Lamb-morels I just encountered my fist box of morel mushrooms last week. . . They came from Oregon, which is where a lot where our supply comes from. While it’s fun to forage for them yourself, it’s always a culinary delight if you just find a good supply and make some tasty, creative recipes with them.

Remember that morels are indeed wild mushrooms. That means they’re quite often home to harmless bugs and insects. The best thing to do is either soak them in water for a couple of hours and they will come out and float to the top. Or even better, just slice them in half length-wise and remove the bugs yourself. If you’re going to scavenge for these mushrooms, be careful and educate yourself. A fairly close imposter exists that’s toxic!

Cooking these beautiful mushrooms is a simple and delicious feat. One of my favorite recipes is Morel Mushroom Chips. Just dust them in a little flour, pan fry them and sprinkle them with a little sea salt. They’re heavenly! Morels are also ideal for stuffing and roasting. Mix some cheese, diced rendered sausage or bacon, and some herbs and bread crumbs together and stuff them. Then drizzle a little olive oil on them, season with salt and pepper and roast them at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. This goes incredibly well with steak, lamb or just about any protein. Even an omelet stuffed with sautéed morels and cheese is an inspirational dish. You may also want to try my recipe for succulent Rack of Lamb with Sauteed Morel Mushrooms (pictured above).

This type of mushroom is around for only about five to six weeks so get them while they last. Happy Moreling!

Steelhead Fishing Day Menu

gumboMy buddies and I went steelhead fishing for the first time two weekends ago. I was quite concerned, because winter had not really broken on the Pere Marquette River, where we made our angling retreat. So I threw on some good waders and base layers and prayed for good weather.

Of course, menu planning was key to maintaining our body heat in the cool temps. Warm soups and broths were essential. We took hot chicken broth to drink and had a wonderful gumbo for lunch. But we started the day by having a traditional Mexican breakfast soup called Ahagodos. It’s just delicious. You start out with a good, rich chicken broth that has finely diced, seeded chipotle peppers added to it to give it a little spice and a touch of smoky flavor. Then you add some small, diced carrot, onions, celery and peas along with a little rice (not too much or it will thicken the soup over time). Then you finish it by adding a large diced avocado and a poached egg.

I was really happy with how well I was able to poach and shock the eggs and put them in small thermos. I then added them to the hot soup on the river to warm them up, and the yolk stayed soft enough to incorporate into the broth and add some richness. This whole approach worked great as we essentially warmed ourselves from the inside out. And it was worth the effort. The fish were just beautiful!

Here are a few more recipes to try featuring broth as an essential ingredient: