The best times are spent discovering the cooking passions of folk I find along the way, people who will tell you their story because it is also a story about food. These are folks who understand the magic of home cooking. My current Ezekiel’s Table adventure is exploring low-and-slow smoked brisket. I’m working up a new menu for upcoming classes.
The other day I was just finishing my first attempt and there was a knock on my door. It was Kevin Beyrouty of Quickstop Fire Protection here for a yearly inspection of my fire extinguishers. After introducing himself he immediately set to work. With arms inked boldly in flames he hoisted up that huge restaurant-grade extinguisher like it was nothing and prepared to take it out to his truck for the inspection. Pegging him for a guy who might be a bit of a grill master I bragged excitedly…
“I just did a 12 hour smoked brisket! You ever try that?”
His eyes lit up. “Yeah, actually I have. I could smell it. Smells fantastic in here!” Then he went on… “I’m a firefighter in Trenton–That’s my other job. We like to smoke meat while we’re doing other work there. You know, if you have to leave in the middle of a cook, it’s not a problem.”
“You want to try some then?” I asked hopefully. “I’d love to know if you think I did it right.”
He gave me that ‘You-have-no-idea’ look, and then said, “I haven’t really eaten lunch yet today.”
A hungry firefighter…Are you kidding??? Well the chef mom in me (to say nothing of the one-time Red Cross volunteer) got busy and I sliced him up a bunch of that brisket. I stuffed two tortillas with it and some homemade kraut. He was so kind in his praise– said that this was much better than what the firefighters in Trenton make (intelligent man), and mentioned also the kraut. I showed him how I ferment vegetables at home, and he said his wife, “who is an old soul” loves to do that kind of thing too. Another kindred spirit found!
Work done, he finished up the tacos and wrote out the bill–giving me a lovely price break for the service. Then I sent him off with more brisket to share with the guys in Trenton, a fermenting valve to give to his wife and my best recipe for grilling meat. What a fun way to do business!
Another passion of mine is creating converts to a life of food adventures. It happens at my cooking class dinner parties here at Ezekiel’s Table. Someone always says, “I had no idea we could do this!” And I know another flame has been lighted. Contact Ezekiel’s Table soon to plan your group’s fall or winter event!
… And be sure to get those fire extinguishers checked!
Smoking your own brisket takes bbq to a whole new level, and autumn is in someways a better time to do this than summer. Maybe it’s something about that gorgeous smell of smoke in the fall. Smoking is not hard if you are patient, and if you have some kind of grill or smoking box that closes up tightly and maintains a low steady temperature. The result is a mouthful of delicious layers of earthy flavor (in the best sense), along with teasing tang and bite. Simply unforgettable.
I am working on a brisket for a friend’s Rosh Hashanah party, and I am determined to smoke it low-and-slow Texas-style in my Big Green Egg. There are so many strong opinions on smoking a brisket, it’s a little daunting. However, none of the guests coming to this dinner knows a thing about doing a brisket this way–so how can I go wrong? It is best just to try things, to look for a little input from those who know, and to keep trying until we’ve hit that sweet spot.
With low-and-slow, the MOST important thing is not to let the temperature get overly hot, as that toughens the meat, and then there is no undoing it. Let that brisket cook slowly with the ambient temperature never going above about 250°F or so–a little lower is best. That way, the fat breaks downs slowly and the meat never toughens up. This may take 12 to 18 hours if done right. The meat will stay tender and juicy. Some say the meat itself should cook to 175 to 185°F. Some take it higher. I am going to take it to 165°F then wrap it up in butcher paper and keep it going until it reaches 203°F degrees.
Preparing the brisket: The experts somehow know how to get a full untrimmed brisket (as opposed to the flat cut that is more widely available.) They like to trim the silverskin and some of the fat just so. Also, there is some wonderful marbling found in this cut that you won’t find in the flat cut. I’m going with a huge 12 pound flat cut only because that is easier to find. (Try Costco.) The folks at the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Kingston tell me I can order an uncut one from them. For my next smoke, I’ll order one from Highland Gourmet Market. So far, I’ve tried a couple of rubs, one with celery seed–almost like a pastrami, and the other with a hot tangy spice. I also see some very highly regarded sources that do nothing but salt and pepper. But for me, I can’t resist spice and smoke… It’s not very subtle, but that’s where I live. So, it’s the Texas Spice Rub for us this time! Lots of rub on the meat, then let it sit while preparing the fire.
Setting up the Big Green Egg for a 12-18 hour smoke takes some doing. Layer the hardwood charcoal with hunks of hardwood. (I’m using oak because I have so much of it from an ancient felled tree in my yard–and that’s what so many of the big boys use.) The trick is to get a good fire going (that will last) without letting the temperature get above 250°F. To start it, I use my blow torch from Home Depot…not a very romantic way to start a fire but it does the job, and it’s the same torch I use for my crème brûlée. (That isn’t very romantic either.) Let the fire go for about an hour so the bad tasting smoke is gone, but the temperature close to the grill is about 225°F.
My favorite thermometer company (Thermoworks) is just coming out with something called the Smoker. It measures the internal temperature of the meat and the air next to the grill at the same time. (This is very helpful when you want to cook meat ‘low-and-slow’.) Additionally, it has a remote reader so you can go take a nap (or go to sleep for the night), and be awakened when the meat reaches temperature. Brilliant!
The last important thing is to put a pan of hot water in there with the meat so there is a little moisture going on.
There you go! Smoker is ready, the meat has been rubbed, pan of water in the box, put the brisket in the smoker and let it do its thing! Some recipes for Texas Style brisket call for a ‘sop’ (that is a sauce to baste the meat during smoking). I’ll try that another time. So, I’ll see you in 12-18 hours.
…About 16 hours later… the temperature of the brisket is at 165°F. I take it out and wrap it in parchment. (I’ll try using the pink butcher paper that the pros use at some point.) Then it’s back into the smoker (or an oven) until it reaches 203°F.
Remove the brisket and let it sit for 30-60 minutes… Then it’s time to party! Eat up.
Texas Style Smoked Brisket
The Rub is adapted from a recipe by Derrick Riches of aboutFood.com .
5 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
¼ cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced lovage (if available)
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
¼ teaspoon hot chili powder
(I use 1 teaspoon ghost pepper salt from Savory Spice)
Full Brisket — 7-14 pounds trimmed of silverskin
Directions: Preheat smoker to 200-250°F.
Combine all ingredients. This can be frozen and used later.
Remove brisket from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. 1 hour before cooking. Rub with enough mustard to provide a sticky surface for the spices.
Sprinkle and pat as much of the spice mixture over the entire surface of the brisket as will stick. Be sure to get the sides as well.
Allow to cure for 1 hour before putting on the bbq.
See the link above on the smoking technique. Pretty much, it goes like this: Preheat your smoker up to temperature. Place a pan of hot water under (or near) the roast. Put on the grill and place the roast directly on top. (The meat should not be touching the water.)
Close up the smoker with a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. Cook until meat reaches 185°F. At this point you can remove the roast and let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes before serving, or you can wrap it in parchment at 165°F and keep it on the grill or in the oven until it comes to 203°F.
Leave it to me to take a perfectly healthy food product and tweak it into something sinful. I’ve gone and done it again.
Everyone is talking these days of the wisdom of home fermenting. This ancient home preservation method is great for the gut, the immune system, the brain even! It adds probiotics, and vitamins to your body, and more importantly–flavor! I love to ferment vegetables of course, and more recently milk. Not just milk, but cream. Mmmmmmmmm. The tang almost knocks you sideways, but then the sweet cream calms you down. Then the zest makes it fresh and the almond just sort of tells its own little story. This is the kind of flavor that almost feels like magic–as though your tongue is understanding a new reality–no matter how many ‘cream teas’ you might have attended.
Now there are those who say that organic non-homogenized milk and cream produced from happy pastured cows is much healthier than the stuff that’s been messed with by larger dairy producers. One can only hope. I’m willing to go with that just by the taste and how it makes me feel. So, I go through all kinds of trouble to get the best milk I can, and I turn it into kefir. Here is more about that.
As the kefir sours to perfection, the solidified sour cream is skimmed off and saved. There are only a few tablespoons of the stuff, which can be gathered and churned into some delicious pastured cultured butter, or into a form of sweet Devonshire Cream I call ‘kefired cream’ (out of respect for Devonians who might feel very particular about gets to be called Devonshire cream). However, very little can be made from a gallon of kefir! It is wisely said that eating in good health has something to do with consuming natural dairy fats and white flour in the balance and proportions that they occur in real life. It’s true, but in this case I’m going rogue.
Cherry Grove Farm Creamery, the raw milk dairy just down the street has begun to offer pint bottles of Trickling Farms heavy cream– the thickest heavy cream known to man. It is pasteurized but not homogenized. (That non-homogenized part is crucial in making kefir). Why, I ask myself, don’t I just enrich the usual milk supply with more of this excellent cream to create enough sweetened kefired cream for a serious party?
So I added a whole pint of heavy cream to my normal 1½ cups of milk and kefir grains then let it sit overnight, as one does when making kefir. Carefully skimming off the pure-cream top of the ferment, I place it in a bowl and whisk in enough sweetener, lemon zest, and almond extract to make it divine. It’s just like making any whipped cream– this time whipping only to the point of being a rich luscious sauce.
I took some of it to the local bakery, The Gingered Peach, where they make amazing scones. We set up a tea party, my friend and I, and we even tried to get our friends behind the counter to try some of this with us. (Thanks, Wes for obliging!) Who should walk in but friend Oliver who runs the dairy mentioned earlier. He tried some of the kefired cream on a bite of butter-pecan scone and thought it was amazing. In fact, he wants me to do a class at the dairy. I think I might. People have to know about this stuff!
There you have it… the best topping imaginable for scones, waffles crepes, and fresh fruit, you name it. It’s a reminder that whole real food has a beguiling character, and that just can’t be faked.
I have taken quite a fancy lately to making my own kefir. It may not be much to look at, but it is a delicious yogurt-like drink that is just about the best way to get those probiotics that give you a happy tummy. Homemade kefir is even better than anything you can buy, because most commercial products are made with a culture powder that is a less complex probiotic brew. Here is how it is done at home:
Buy the best non-homogenized milk available: raw, if you are allowed it (Pennsylvania-yes, New Jersey-no). What you need next are kefir grains which is a living culture in the form of curds that look something like cottage cheese. You can get them from a kefir-making friend. (Yes, it does matter who your friends are!) I got mine from Dorothy Mullen or contact me and I’ll give you some of mine.
All you do is stir a couple of tablespoons of the kefir grains into 1½ cups of the milk, cover with a cloth and leave it to sit overnight. The next morning you will find the cultured milk graciously awaiting you all thick and inviting. Because the milk is not homogenized, there will be a layer of the cultured cream on top. No matter, just pour it all through a strainer (which is placed smartly over a glass) and with a rubber spatula (or a freshly washed finger) you gently roll the grains around until they are stripped of most of the surrounding creaminess. Set the grains aside to start another batch–be sure to do that immediately. You don’t want those grains to dry out. In the glass, you now have your day’s supply of kefir.
I love it plain, or I might use it in a fresh fruit smoothie. Often I use it in recipes where yogurt or buttermilk are called for.
Then again, I can get wild. In my classes I use it to make cheese, Devonshire cream, or even as an ice cream base, More on that another day.
As some of you know, I have been taking time off travelling and tending to a joyously expanding family. Yes, I’m now a proud grandmother. But I’m back in Princeton, it’s a lovely spring, and it is time to reopen the doors of Ezekiel’s Table cooking class/dinner parties for you and your family, friends and colleagues!
It is my personal mission to get people to cook more, to cook more for one another, and to cook with one another. I consider it the basis of our living with deeper connection. It happens at every one of my cooking class dinner parties, where friends and colleagues work together in fresh ways, and are always so pleased by what they create together.
But every kitchen offers the same opportunity to have this kind of fun, and it doesn’t need to start with a big ol’ fancy meal. As Quakers say, ‘If you want to do anything meaningful, start small. If you’re doing the right thing from the right place it will bloom.’
Spring is a Time for Tea! —Uncommon Bread Fellows Series #3
During my time away, I found myself thinking and reading more about tea gatherings, their history and their increasing relevance today. We live in a fast-paced world, with little time to cook a fine meal for ourselves let alone for our friends; and restaurant meals can be a burdensome investment of time and money.
Tea gatherings and coffee dates however, can be a refreshingly low obligation event, and so we go to the coffee house. An invitation to Small World or Starbucks is a no-brainer for last-minute invites, for the testing out of new friendships and business connections, and for safe first dates. They offer the beginnings, and for some the end points of comfortable social gatherings. But heck, why let those tea and coffee houses have all the fun?
I put on a tea a couple of weeks ago–an event with acclaimed novelist Lauren B. Davis we offered together for the Friends of the Princeton Public Library auction. It presented a challenge, however. Having just returned from a long time away with my daughter and her new baby, I had little time to set up and cook, and I was lacking some essential equipment to boot.
I borrowed some plate stands and fancy teapots from good friends, threw down some squares of color over a big white tablecloth, fixed some sandwiches and baked up some scones. Talk about potential intimidation… restaurateur Raoul Momo and his wife were on the guest list.
As it turns out, I had a blast with the whole group. The most talked about item was a very simple strawberry barley scone–certainly not the most time-consuming item on that tea menu, but evidently the best. I sent the recipe home with everyone, and I am sending it to you (see the link). Furthermore, I plan to have several more teas with friends, and I cannot wait to have tea parties with my granddaughter! Those barley scones will definitely be on the table.
I challenge you to this: Do a tea gathering at home, even if you are the only one being gathered. Try the barley scone recipe if you like, but whatever you do, don’t even think about being correct or frilly–unless of course, frilly is how you roll. As for me, afternoon teas are now a daily event at 3 in the afternoon, and I find that one simple slightly sweet whole grain snack with a hot cup of tea feeds the soul.
Reclaim that tea table! Make it a very personal creative statement. Make it wild or elegantly simple. All it takes is a clean surface–which can be nothing more than a blanket in the grass, 2 cups (–OK maybe only one cup if you’re determined to practice alone), some hot water, a snack, and perhaps one or two hours of your time. Easy, right? Yet it can lead to amazing things, both in the breadth and depth of new friendships, but to a new creative spirit and new found commitment for food gatherings in your life. You’ll know you’re catching the bug when you find yourself eyeing teapots that are quirky…or wildly expensive… or both.
Remember–If you are considering a cooking class dinner party at Ezekiel’s Table for the fall, it is not too early to inquire. Those autumn places fill up fast. Who wouldn’t want to have cooking classes in our historic home in Princeton??? Have a wonderful spring! This is the end of my Uncommon Bread Fellows series… Next month’s topic? Gnocchi!
Autumn Greetings, Friends!
Living in a university town makes us keenly aware of the changing seasons, especially when fall arrives. You can just feel the youthful energy of the returning students in the streets. Freshmen (looking younger every year) clump tightly together as they walk the sidewalk wide-eyed and giddy with expectation, upperclassmen run up to each other anxious to reconnect, graduate students equally bunched are wearing their excitement for new connections behind a mask of ennui which quickly melts at the pub. My husband and I love this time of year, and we make a point of strolling down Nassau Street every possible evening to drink it all in.
Autumn has its way of reminding us of the passing of time as it reminds of of our own passages. It is a time that invites us to reflect on how we want to age, and how our lifestyle choices reflect our desires.
Food is at the center of that as are the long strolls. Both are the building blocks of well-being, and we are reminded how much cooking at home has been so central to our home life. We often think back on the dinners we’ve enjoyed at our house and the dinners to come. As I feel the passing of time, I sense the growing desire to align my cooking habits with a care for health, and I’ll be spending some time with Dorothy Mullen’s Suppers Programs around that.
Dorothy asked for my help to make healthy food interesting, delicious and easy to prepare. Like me, she understands the importance of people cooking and eating together with intention. Cooking good healthy food is much like writing a sermon, you know. As much as one might love the subject, the finished product still has to appeal to the unconvinced.
Artistically, I’ve felt drawn to two things of late…
I’m drawn down to the grain in its whole unadulterated glory fueled by Alice Medrich’s new book The Flavor Flours and by my current obsession with a Danish sourdough bread that respects the grain like nothing I’ve ever made before. (There will be more on that next post.)
And those vegetables! They are really calling out to me now. How could it be otherwise? Late summer brings the best of the harvest forward, and the farmers markets are full to bursting. Also, those vegetables form the cornerstone of healthy eating. They make every part of your body happier.
The late season russets are out now, and in my very scraggly little herb patch the sorrel is singing its final song. I’d say it’s time to put them together for one last hurrah.
Potato Sorrel Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks or white onion
1 stalk celery
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 qt chicken stock
1 large russet potato, diced
2 cups sorrel, roughly chopped
¼ cup parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
small handful of herbs such as thyme or basil
a drizzle of olive oil or dollop of sour cream for garnish
Marigold petals (if you can get them)
In a stainless steel pot heat the olive oil. Add the leeks or onion, celery, and salt. Cook until tender. Add the stock and potatoes and cook until the potatoes are tender. Place in a blender with the sorrel and herbs. Blend in batches until the soup is a bright green and very smooth. Adjust the salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled, depending on the weather. Garnish just before serving.
I just had a tea party here with a lovely group of women! It’s becoming a yearly event. (You know who you are…) What better thing to do when one is still thinking about bread? Tea parties are all about little flour-based snacks… crumpets, scones, little cakes, and of course… tea sandwiches! I can’t get enough of them.
My current obsession for those sandwiches, and it has been for some time now, is Danish Sourdough Rye.
The bread takes two or three days to make, and although one can buy the flours and cracked grains, I prefer to grind the grains myself. (If you have a Kitchen-Aid mixer you can get a grinding attachment.) You’d think THREE DAYS? What a bother! But really, it’s like having a plant. It just takes a little thought each day, never much work–not even kneading! And the bread? Well, if you like the stuff with substance, it will bring tears to your eyes. And it’s perfect to have with tea. Believe me, Ladies… There’s nothing frilly about this kind of tea.
Speaking of tea and tea parties, I realize that I don’t have enough of them in my life, and I think most other people don’t either. So, during the summer, I am adding Saturday morning and afternoon teas to my cooking class parties! Only for summer, you and your eight or so friends, can come and make scones, crumpets, sandwiches, and sweets meant for tea. Then we’ll sit outside next to Stony Brook (weather permitting) and have a glass of bubbly and a right proper tea.
Sourdough Rye Recipe:
3/4 cup cracked rye
3/4 cup cracked wheat
2 tablespoons each flax and pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 cup sourdough rye
2 1/2 cups filtered water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup barley malt syrup or molasses
1 cup rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup barley flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Day 1:Combine thoroughly the cracked rye, cracked wheat sourdough, flax, sunflower, pumpkin seeds, sourdough, and filtered water in a large non-metal bowl. Cover and set aside for at least 24 hours (48 hours will do nicely though).
Day 2: 1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle in the salt and drizzle in the barley malt or molasses. Stir thoroughly.
2) Add the flours and stir in the same direction for about 3 minutes. Bread should resemble a thick porridge.
3) Oil a 9×5″ loaf pan. (I prefer cast iron.) Sprinkle the bottom thoroughly with the sesame seeds, shaking the pan well enough that any extras to come up the sides of the pan a bit. Let rise several hours or overnight until risen 3/4 inch or so.
4) Place in an oven for 2 hours. (Yes, you heard right… 2 hours.)
5) Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool. It’s best to keep the loaf until the next day before cutting in. This will last in a sealed container refrigerated for several days.
Summer Tea Menu!
Whenever I go to downtown Seattle, I always stop at the tiny little Crumpet Shop next to the Public Market. Of course you can get amazing crumpets there. And tea–the best tea you will find anywhere! They give you a mug to help yourself at the tea urns, “As much as you like,” they say. “And when you leave, just ask for a ‘to go’ cup and fill it throughout the day as you wander the market!”
I always make my friends get a crumpet, since almost no one I know has really had a great one of those. But I go for my other tea-time favorite, Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Sandwiches on Homemade Oatmeal Bread. The sandwich is easy to make, but if you don’t have the best oatmeal bread available for it, you’d best make it yourself. (See link.)
These tea sandwiches are part of a menu I’m developing for a traditional tea I’m having here in April… well, as traditional as I’m able to get anyway! Salmon and cream cheese is an old favorite. Pickles of some sort, and an herb such as dill is always a great addition. This time, I used a pickle that was left by my culinary muse and good friend Amy Brummer. She showed up at my door last week with a bowlful of home-grown kumquats and and handful of jalapeños saying, “These are just screaming to be put in a jar together!” and I watched as she turned them into citrus-y and spicy pickles. How could I know they would be the perfect little jolt for the smoked salmon???
Directions are minimal so forget measurements.
Spread slices of good oat bread with a little unsalted butter and lots of cream cheese. If making an open-faced sandwich, cut into rounds. Top the bread (or rounds) with sprouts, thinly sliced strips of smoked salmon, thin slices of pickled (or fresh) red onions, lemon zest (or Amy Brummers pickled kumquats), and a sprinkle of thyme or dill. If you are making a full sandwich with two slices of bread, spread a bit of butter and more cream cheese on the top slice before covering the bottom.
OK, I go a little crazy with whole grains, as I prefer to grind them myself (or with oats, I often roll them.) I love all grains freshly ground when possible. For one thing, they stay fresh longer in their whole form.
But before you think I’m too tied to the earth, I do prefer to work with a mixer with both the paddle and dough hook so that I can keep the dough a little wetter than I would do with white bread. If you’ve never made bread before, it might be helpful to read up on it, or look at some YouTube videos for good technique. Just remember… no matter how new you are at this, freshly made bread hot out of the oven is always better than anything you can buy.
Wheat and Oatmeal Bread
- In a saucepan, heat the milk to almost boiling. Turn off the heat and let the milk cool. (This is called scalding.) When cooled a bit, there will be a skin on top of the milk. Remove this and throw away. (That skin tends to prevent the bread from rising.)
- Now add the water, honey, butter and salt to the warm milk and reheat so the butter melts and the honey dissolves. Take off
the heat, stir in the oatmeal, and cool again to lukewarm (about 100 degrees) while you proof the yeast.
- To proof the yeast, put 1/4 cup warm filtered water (we don’t want chlorine in there) into a small bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon sugar and the yeast into the water and stir. Allow to sit until the yeast is bubbly. If it doesn’t get bubbly after 10 minutes, throw it out and get new yeast.
- Add the milk mixture, bubbly yeast, and whole wheat flour to a big bowl (or mixer bowl if you have a good strong one) and mix thoroughly. (If I’m using my standing mixer, I use the paddle for this part. If mixing by hand, use a wooden spoon.) Beat for about 3 minutes to allow the yeast to develop.
- If using a mixer, switch to a dough hook and begin sprinkling in the bread flour using just enough to keep the dough from
sticking. Mix for about 10 minutes, using a spatula to make sure all the dough is getting mixed together. If using your hands, stir in the flour little-by-little with a wooden spoon until the dough gets too thick to stir. Then turn out onto a breadboard and knead for 10 minutes, adding enough bread flour to keep things from getting too sticky.
- Form the dough into a ball and cover with a towel in a draft-free place. Leave to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- When doubled in bulk, punch down and form into two loaves. Place into a well-buttered bread pan, or turn it onto a flat skillet, cover, and let rise again for about an hour. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- When done rising, place in 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake another 25-30 minutes, until loaves are golden brown and feel light when held in your hand.
Hi, I'm Marcia Willsie, owner of Ezekiel's Table and a shameless food-adventuress. Join me here, as I talk about my latest kitchen experiments and culinary wanderings. Learn more.