Category Archives: Wine & Food

Dinner was Just Ducky


There is a delicacy for which certain high-end restaurants in Beijing are famous.  It’s called “Peking Duck.”  I must say that it is indeed impressive.

After a very exhausting day our guide Mao Gu’i “Jim” Chen of China Spree turned us loose for a bit of rest back at the hotel, only to return a short while later to herd us to our next destination — the famous Bianyifang Restaurant dating back originally to 1855 using an established name that goes back even further.  A lot further.  To 1412 to be exact.

Can you imagine . . . a restaurant that traces its roots back to 364 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and some 80 years before Columbus tripped over the New World on his way to Beijing for some Peking Duck?

The most incredible thing you’ll first notice about Peking Duck is the tasty, crisp skin.  It’s simply indescribably.  You just have to taste it to know what I mean.  Served with the duck were lotus root, noodles, snow peas, other assorted vegetables, a type of crepe in which to place the duck meat, various condiments, and a rather interesting Yanjing beer.

Here’s the feast complete with descriptions:

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Old Doug, New Trick — Baguette Redux


Homemade Rustic French Baguettes

Homemade Rustic French Baguettes

Who says you can’t teach an old Doug a new trick?  Remember this recipe?:  It’s in the Bag(uette)

Today I’m going to show you my new favorite French baguette recipe, derived from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.  But don’t worry.  We’ll get back to that China series on Wednesday.

Today’s recipe is modified to make slightly larger baguettes better suited to my larger baguette rack.  I’ve also changed the steaming procedure and baking time slightly from that called for in the King Arthur version.

Poolish ingredients

Poolish ingredients

As with all really good rustic breads, this one starts with a fermented poolish.  For this you’ll need:

  • Unbleached all purpose flour, 148 grams/5.25 ounces by weight
  • Cool water, 148 grams/5¼ ounces by weight
  • Yeast, ¼ tsp.

Mix the flour and yeast together, then add the cool water.  Blend until the flour and water are fully incorporated.

Blend together

Blend together

Cover and let the poolish ferment for 12 hours.

Fermented Poolish

Fermented Poolish

Next comes the dough.

Dough ingredients

Dough ingredients

This portion of the recipe calls for a lot more of the same plus salt, butter, and the poolish:

  • Poolish
  • Butter
  • Flour, 298 grams/10½ ounces by weight
  • Water, 148 grams/5¼ ounces by weight
  • Salt, 2½ tsp. table or 5 tsp. coarse Kosher
  • Yeast, 1¾ tsp.

Pulse together in a food processor the flour, salt, and yeast.

Flour, yeast, and salt

Flour, yeast, and salt

Add the poolish.

Add the poolish

Add the poolish

Add the water.  I like to first swish the water around the now-empty poolish bowl to get all the remaining fermented goodness out of it.

Add Water

Add Water

Pulse together all the ingredients except for that pat of butter.  You’ll be using that in a moment.

Pulse together

Pulse together

Scrape the sides of the processor.

Scrape sides and pulse again

Scrape sides and pulse again

Wait about 20 minutes to let the flour hydrate, then start pulsing again.  Don’t overdo it!  You want to pulse just enough that the dough holds together and the ingredients are fully incorporated, but you don’t want the dough to smooth out and become elastic.  If you do that then your bread will become tough and chewy on the inside.

Don't overdo it

Don’t overdo it

Now, remember that butter?  Use it to liberally coat a large bowl and plop the dough into the bowl.

Place dough into buttered bowl

Place dough into buttered bowl

Turn the dough so that it’s well greased on all sides, then cover the bowl and let the dough rise for two hours.

Turn to butter all sides, cover and let rise

Turn to butter all sides, cover and let rise

During that two hours you’re going to uncover the bowl twice — once at the 40-minute mark and again at the 80-minute mark.  During these times you’re going to pick up the dough, let it gently elongate, and then you’re going to fold the dough onto itself.  This redistributes the yeast and removes excess carbon dioxide from the dough.

Deflate and fold at 40 minutes

Deflate and fold at 40 minutes

And again at 80 minutes

And again at 80 minutes

After the two hours are up divide the dough into three equal pieces of about 250 grams/8⅞ ounces each and place the pieces onto some parchment paper.  Roll each piece into a rough log shape, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.

Divide and form into logs; rest for 20 minutes covered

Divide and form into logs; rest for 20 minutes covered

Cover during rests and risings

Cover during rests and risings

Uncover the logs and place them onto a well-floured surface.  Keep that parchment paper.  You’ll use that again later.  Generously flour the tops of the logs as well.

Flour tops

Flour tops

Now hand-roll the logs into long, thin baguette shapes.

Hand rolled

Hand rolled

Place the floured, rolled baguettes into your baguette rack, which you’ve now lined with that piece of parchment paper you saved from earlier.  Cover the baguettes again and let them rise one final time for about fifty minutes.

Baguettes ready to rise

Baguettes ready to rise

While the baguettes are doing their final proofing, place a cast iron skillet on the lowest rack of your oven and crank that sucker up to 500°F/260°C.  You read that right.  We want that oven almost crematorium hot.  Well, that’s a slight exaggeration.

Place your racks in this configuration and start heating that skillet to 500°

Place your racks in this configuration and start heating that skillet to 500°

After the final rise uncover the baguettes and gently pull out the parchment paper lining.  Allow the baguettes to roll as you pull away the paper.

Carefully remove parchment paper after the rise

Carefully remove parchment paper after the rise

Put on a good heat resistant glove for this next step.  Water boils at 212°, but the temperature of steam is unlimited!  Open the oven, quickly pour into the heated skillet one cup of water, and immediately shut the over door.

Add water to that 500° skillet, but BEWARE THE STEAM!

Add water to that 500° skillet, but BEWARE THE STEAM!

Without delay start slashing the tops of your baguettes with a razor blade or other extremely sharp implement.  The trick here is quick, shallow, diagonal cuts holding the blade at about a 45° angle rather than slashing straight downward.  Make four or five cuts almost lengthwise with a slight side-to-side bias.

Shallow, angled, diagonal slashes

Shallow, angled, diagonal slashes

Immediately following the slashing (starting to sound like an early Jamie Lee Curtis film, isn’t it) transfer the baguette-laden rack to the oven, placing the baguettes directly over the hot, steaming skillet.  Shut the oven and lower the temperature to 475°F/245°C.  Let the baguettes bake for 20 minutes, then quickly remove the skillet, shut the door, and bake for another four or five minutes at most.  This will allow direct heating to crisp and brown the bottom of the baguettes.

Fresh from the oven

Fresh from the oven

If you’ve done this last step correctly, your baguettes will have an even, dark brown, rustic look on all sides.

Rustic look on all sides

Rustic look on all sides

As with any rustic baguette this bread is great on its own, served with butter, used as an accompaniment with escargot or pasta dishes, or as the supporting actor in a steamy production of Swiss fondue, which is the fate that awaited these particular examples.

Swiss Fondue and Rustic French Baguette Bread — What a Combo!

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Blackened Pork Chops — Or Blackened Anything Else for That Matter


Perfect Pork

Perfect Pork

Okay, you’re simply not going to believe how quick and simple this main course is.  Meanwhile, your dinner guests aren’t going to believe how tasty it is.

But before we get started let’s talk about the blackening seasoning.  This seasoning will remind you of the pricy premade stuff that comes in containers emblazoned with the likeness of certain celebrity chefs, but it’ll cost you a fraction of the amount and taste a whole lot fresher because you make it that way.  This blackening seasoning by the way is good for a whole lot more than just pork chops.  It also works exceptionally well with flattened chicken breast, fish (especially wild salmon), thinner-cut beef steaks, and other meats using the same basic cooking principles described below, although you wouldn’t want to pound fish.

Blackening Seasoning:

  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. white peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. whole thyme leaves
  • ½ tsp. oregano leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp. paprika

Put the seasoning ingredients list above into a heavy-duty blender, preferably one such as the Vitamix with the dry ingredient blender.  You can use the blender that originally comes with your Vitamix, but over time hardened spices such as peppercorns will scratch up the inside of your container and make it cloudy.  It’s better in my view to just go ahead and get the attachment to take that abuse.

Blend the seasoning ingredients at high speed until everything is the consistency of a fine powder, including the peppercorns and the thyme and oregano leaves.  Put the seasoning into an old spice jar that comes with a top containing shaker holes.  This blend retains its freshness for at least a couple of months, but don’t make more than you’ll use much beyond that time as the complex fragrances will diminish over time.

What You'll Need

What You’ll Need

The Rest:

  • 2 thick-cut pork chops, frozen (The ones photographed for this blog were 1 ½ inches thick)
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. butter, melted

About an hour before you’re ready to begin take the frozen chops out of the freezer.  You want the chops to still be frozen when you slice them, but not so hard as to make it difficult.  Place the chops on edge and slice in half, then slice the halves yet again resulting in four cutlet-style medallions.  Set the cutlets aside to fully defrost, about ten minutes or so.

Frozen Meats Slice Easier

Frozen Meats Slice Easier

While you’re waiting for the pork to defrost start heating a cast iron skillet on highest heat.  Don’t forget to turn on your exhaust fan!  This is going to get smoky.  You want that pan hotter than you’ve probably ever had it before.

Super Hot Searing

Super Hot Searing

Now go melt that butter.  While the butter is melting pound both sides of the pork cutlets with a tenderizer until they are very, very thin.

Pound Into Submission

Pound Into Submission

Pour melted butter onto the cutlets and smear the butter using the backside of a spoon.

Buttery Goodness

Buttery Goodness

Sprinkle liberal amounts of your fresh blackening seasoning.  Flip the cutlets over and repeat on the opposite side.

Seasoning with Gusto

Seasoning with Gusto

Is your skillet smoking hot?  I mean really smoking?  Can you feel the heat radiating off it from a foot or two away?  I mean really radiating?  If so, then you’re ready.  You might want to open the doors and windows now, too, because that exhaust fan is going to need all the help it can get.

Place some of the pork cutlets directly onto the sizzling hot skillet.  Don’t crowd the pan.  After no more than a couple of minutes check the underneath side of one.  If it’s nicely browned then flip the lot and brown on the opposite side.  Remove and keep warm as you repeat the process for the remaining cutlets.

Don''t Crowd Me

Don”t Crowd Me!

Blackened and Ready to Flip

Blackened and Ready to Flip

Wine selection:  You can go a couple of ways with this mildly spicy dish.  My preference would be an Australian Shiraz to compliment the peppery flavor of the seasonings used.  You could however get by with a slightly sweet white such as a Gewürztraminer or perhaps even a Johannesburg Riesling.  If you wanted to cut the difference, I would probably go with a Pinot Noir or perhaps even a mildly sweet rosé.  I would definitely stay away from Bordeaux-style reds, oaked Chardonnays, or anything either too tannic or too hearty in flavor, although a good GSM or Châteauneuf-du-Pape just might hold up to these complex assortment of flavors.

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