Do It Yourself

Half-Smokes on the Grill and 21A IPA in the Can

DSCN5298 Around here, half-smoke sausages and Ben’s Chili Bowl are as synonymous as Nixon and Watergate. You just can’t think of one without the other.

There’s good reason for that. Ben’s makes a good half-smoke. But Ben’s is more than the dog. It’s historic. It’s famous. And it’s nearly as iconic as 1600 Penn.

But with all due respect, Ben's doesn’t produce the best half-smoke sausage in town. You do. Or at least you can.

A few weeks ago, the DC Foodies brain trust and their families got together at my place for an afternoon barbecue and beers. For the occasion, I ordered a 6-foot lamb sausage from my buddy Carlos at Canalas Quality Meats. (You might recall the 5-foot bratwurst I picked up a couple years ago). I noticed that there were a couple bins of half-smokes (hot and mild), so I picked up a couple mild ones for the kids.

The next day, I tossed all the sausages on the grill. The half-smokes finished first and were cut up into bite-size pieces. When the lamb was finished, I followed everyone into the kitchen to start setting everything out to eat. As I was preparing the plates, I noticed a stray piece of half-smoke and popped it in my mouth.

It was the best thing I ate all day.

Don’t get me wrong, the lamb sausage flavored with rosemary and oregano was great. But the half-smokes were incredible. Even chopped up, the sausage was moist with fat, a little spicy and perfectly smokey.

Like I said, Ben’s makes a good half-smoke, but the fresh ones I grilled were better.

DSCN5295 For this recipe, I also made a grilled tomato and shallot relish that you can use in place of ketchup. If you don’t use ketchup, no worries, these half-smokes certainly don’t need any help. And because I treated the half-smokes as sausages rather than hot dogs, I added a little mayo and stone-ground mustard as well. To each their own.

To go with the half-smokes, I picked up a six pack of 21 Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA. IPAs are my favorite style of beer, but their bitter, hoppy flavors make them tough to pair with food. So what do you do? Pair the beer with something spicy and very flavorful, like half-smoke sausages.

Thanks to the craft beer revolution, there are plenty of IPAs to choose from. Locally, we have Flying Dog’s Snake Dog IPA and Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA. I chose an IPA brewed 3,000 miles away in San Francisco because 1) it’s a great beer, and 2) I was brain washed into it.

You see, I listen to two beer-themed pod casts (yup, I sure do): Beer School and The Brewing Network’s Sunday Session. The Sunday Session is co-hosted by Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder of the 21st Amendment Brewpub and Brewery. He’s also friends with John Foster and Motor, the hosts of Beer School. John and Motor are also friends with Nico Freccia, the other co-founder of the 21st Amendment Brewery (or 21A for those in the know), and a frequent guest on The Sunday Session. As you can imagine, the 21A comes up A LOT on these shows.

DSCN5301When their beers started showing up in the area a few months ago, I had a strange urge to try them. But just to show I’m not too brain washed, their most popular (beloved) beer, Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, isn’t really to my liking. But the 21A IPA is excellent, as is the Monk’s Blood Belgian Dark Ale. I also dig the card-board packaging and the fact that all their beers come in cans.

About that IPA, it comes in at a robust 7% ABV and pours a clear golden wheat color. It’s certainly a fully hopped beer, but not nearly as aggressive as other left coast IPAs like Green Flash’s West Coast IPA and Stone’s Ruination IPA. And thanks to the fact that it’s in a can, it’s less susceptible to skunking and you can take it places that otherwise prohibit bottles, like national parks and church.

Half Smokes and Grilled Tomato Relish
(Makes 4 to 8 servings)

4 to 16 half smokes (two per person) from Canalas Quality Meats
1 to 2 packages of hot dog buns
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, pealed and halved
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher Salt and black pepper to taste

For the half smokes, pull them out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to start grilling so they can warm up some. For the relish, you’ll want to break out the grilling stir-fry basket. Otherwise, skewer the tomatoes and be careful not to let the shallots slip between the grates. Lightly coat the tomatoes and halved shallots with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

DSCN5292 You’ll want to create a hot spot and a cool spot on the grill. When the grill is ready, place the shallots in the basket or directly on the grill, just slightly off the hot spot. Place the half smokes on the hot spot and close the lid. Grill for 5 minutes. Open the lid and check the sausages. If one side is nicely browned and charred turn them over. Also, flip the shallots over and add the tomatoes to the basket or grill. Close the lid and grill for another 5 minutes. (Check the tomatoes at about 3 minutes. If the skin is already charring and starting to split, move them to the cool spot.) Now, open the lid and move the sausages over to the cool spot (if you haven’t already). If the tomatoes have started to burst, they’re ready to come off.

If your cool spot is well away from the coals, you can leave the sausages on the grill to stay warm. (If you’re using a gas grill, just close the lid and turn off the heat.) The easiest way to do the relish is in a food processor. Basically, add the shallots first and pulse until they’re well chopped. And then add the tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse the ingredients and taste. When you’re happy, it’s ready to go.

If you don’t have a food processor, just rough chop the shallots and tomatoes and combine all the ingredients in a bowl.

Now, pull the sausages off the grill and stick them in some buns. Finish with the relish and your condiments of choice. I hear Cosby likes his with mustard and onions.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

It took me about a year to master my family's secret tomato sauce -- it took me 45 minutes to fall in love with Marcella Hazan's recipe and feel like I created something really special. And really simple.

If you've never heard of Marcella Hazan, never read her cookbooks or seen her picture, it doesn't mean she hasn't had some impact on your life. In short, Marcella Hazan taught America how to cook Italian. So if you've ever visited an Italian restaurant, slurped spaghetti or soaked up balsamic vinaigrette with Italian bread, you probably have Marcella to thank.

She was born in Italy and moved to New York with her husband, who encouraged her to immerse herself in NY culture, visit local markets, and learn to love cooking. Her hobby became her career, and six cookbooks (and a memoir) later she's one of the best known, best loved chefs in the world. She's known world wide for her attention to detail, focus on fresh ingredients and stubborn character.

Her tomato sauce, which was featured in her fourth book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, takes a common ingredient out of the Italian equation -- you will find no olive oil in this sauce. In its place you'll use butter, which will leave you wondering why you weren't using butter in your sauce all along. Seriously, this is one simple, beautiful recipe to have in your arsenal.

2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (I used a 28 oz. can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes)
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half.

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a slow simmer, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with your spoon. Add salt as needed.

Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

This recipe makes enough sauce for one pound of pasta. It's also fabulous with sautéed vegetables, like zucchini. And this might be obvious, but don't you dare throw away that onion. Cut it up, put it on your plate, devour it.

Rum-Flavored Marshmallows

It's the time of year (combined with my twice-a day-walk by ACKC) that's got me craving hot cocoa. I'd like it in a big mug, accompanied by A Christmas Story or Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. The Swiss Miss variety will do, but a cup made from my neighbor's recipe, topped off with fluffy marshmallows, would certainly be preferred.

Making hot cocoa is simple and quick, but making those fluffy marshmallows takes a little more preparation. You can buy marshmallows – a variety of colors, shapes and sizes are available in bags just about anywhere – but homemade marshmallows provide a spongier, creamier texture with a more complex taste. And maybe you're laughing at my description of marshmallow flavor as "complex", but trust me. Homemade marshmallows are nothing to laugh at. Especially when there's rum involved.

NOW I have your attention. You can add any flavor to marshmallows, including chocolate, cinnamon or coconut, but since my marshmallows are going straight into a cup of hot cocoa, I can think of no better flavor than rum to spice up that cup.

Rum-Flavored Marshmallows
Confectioners sugar (for dusting. I used around 1/3 of a box)
1 tablespoon rum extract
1 cup water
3 envelopes gelatin (I found a box of 4 envelopes at Harris Teeter)
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
¼ tsp salt

You'll also need a candy thermometer and a standing mixer

Marsh_3Fold a piece of parchment paper until it fits snugly into the bottom of the pan you'll be using. I used a 7 by 11 inch pan, but other variations should work (just make sure you have at least 1 1/2 inches in depth). Let the edges of the paper drape over the edges of the pan on 2 sides (see picture).  Generously sieve the bottom of the pan with confectioner's sugar.

Pour the rum extract and 3/4 of the cup of water into a mixer bowl and sprinkle it with the gelatin. Stir with a fork, and let stand while you complete the next step.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of water, the granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt in a sauce pan and cook on medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Raise the heat to high, and let the mixture boil until it reaches 250 degrees.

Remove the syrup from the heat. Begin mixing the bowl of softened gelatin with your stand mixer (on a low speed) and slowly pour the syrup mixture in. Raise the speed of the mixer to medium, and beat for 2 minutes. Then raise the speed of the mixer to high, and beat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is solid white in color and very thick in texture.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Sieve a layer of confectioner's sugar on top, and let the mixture stand, uncovered, over night so the marshmallow can set.

Marsh1To remove the marshmallow from the pan, take a knife and slide it along the edges of the pan that are not covered with parchment paper. You can use a little confectioners sugar on the knife if need be. Remove the marshmallow, in a block from the pan and place it on a counter top, covered lightly in confectioner's sugar. Using a pizza slicer (with a round blade), cut strips of marshmallow to your desired thickness. Then cut the strips into blocks. Toss these blocks in a bowl of confectioner's sugar, and then lay them on a piece of parchment paper to dry for 1 1/2 hours.

Store your finished marshmallows in an air tight container in a cool, dry place. They should last up to 3 weeks.

Spirited egg nog

Image009 Stick me on your Christmas card list, folks, because I'm giving you a present.

A couple years ago, my buddy Columbo gave me the recipe for the greatest egg nog ever.


Mind you, I like the store bought stuff. I grew up on it and looked forward to it every year. And then Columbo, who grew up not 30 miles from me in central Florida, assured me that if I followed the recipe I'd never go back to the commercial stuff. He was right.

Not only is the egg nog incredibly rich, wonderfully sweet and perfectly noggy (it's a word ... now), but it's as boozy as Andy Capp. I ain't kidding, this stuff is not for kids. The recipe makes a half gallon of egg nog; a cup and a half of it is straight booze.

Man, I love this nog.

The original recipe calls for equal amounts of bourbon, brandy and light rum. This mixture makes a fine nog, but I've altered (improved) it. Growing up, my mom always added spiced rum to her egg nog. Consequently, that's the flavor I like and expect, although I prefer dark rum. I also like using Wild Turkey 101 proof bourbon, which is strong stuff (my chest is as hairy as Santa's beard). To incorporate the additional rum and compensate for the higher strength bourbon, I add three quarters of a cup of rum, a quarter cup of bourbon and a half cup of brandy.

Basically, if you keep the mixture of spirits to a cup and a half, you're going to be fine.

So without further ado, here's the recipe.

You're welcome.

Egg Nog
6 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup light rum
Nutmeg for garnish

Separate the eggs and beat the egg yolks with sugar until thick. Slowly add the cream, milk and spirits.

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the mixture. Chill for a few hours in the refrigerator.

Sprinkle with nutmeg before serving.

Smoking and freezing

Image010I understand why some people say Labor Day is the official end of grilling season. I understood it acutely on a recent Saturday morning as my breath fogged the air in front of me.

As much as I believe that grilling is a year-round activity, there are a few things that are better done during the warmer months. Smoking meat is on the top of that list.

Rather, smoking meat was on the top of that list.

Smoking is part of the barbecue family of cooking techniques. It's a low and slow process. Grilling, by comparison, is hot and fast. When you’re smoking or barbecuing, you’re effectively baking in the great outdoors. When you’re smoking or barbecuing in the winter, you’re baking in a walk-in freezer.

The ambient temperature is constantly trying to cool the smoker off, which makes it that much harder to maintain proper cooking temperatures within the smoker.

I was talking to some friends about this a few months ago when I realized I wouldn’t have time to smoke another pork butt this year (yes, these are the kinds of conversations I engage in). I told Sarah and Andy about how much of a pain in the ass it would be to try and keep my little bullet smoker hot enough, long enough (26 hours) to properly cook a butt.

Image001 That’s when they mentioned their smoker. It seems the guy they bought their house from left behind a 738 sq. inch smoker, replete with firebox and smokestack.

Would that work in the winter, they asked?

I didn’t know, but I’d find out. That’s how I came to find myself outside their house on a 32 degree morning loading two ducks, a chicken and a few sausages into their smoker.

Because I didn’t know whether I could smoke anything on such a cold day, I decided to skip the 8 pound pork butt and improve my chances with the smaller birds and Italian sausages. To help the process even more, I butterflied the birds and laid them flat on the grill.

Image004_3As it turned out, the butt might've worked. I assumed it would take between five and six hours to smoke the birds and sausages. It took about three.

Unlike my little bullet smoker, which only has a small pan to build a fire in, I was able to build a big and hot fire in the firebox. I was also better able feed the fire and use larger pieces of wood throughout the cooking process. That meant the interior of the smoker stayed hot enough, consistently enough, despite the freezing temperatures outside.

The result? Smoky, delicious fowl and sausage. The sausages needed only about an hour, but came out of the smoker dark-skinned and juicy inside.

The birds were cooked thoroughly and moist. Even though they only got a few hours in the smoke, the flavor gently permeated the chicken and duck meat, standing up to the juniper beer glaze, barbecue sauce and Chinese five-spice powder that seasoned the birds.

So can you smoke meat in the winter? Absolutely. Is it a good idea to take on a project that requires you to hang out outside in freezing temperatures? Probably not.

But the results sure are good.

Image037 Smoked chicken

1 5 1/2 lb. chicken, butterflied

1 1/2 cups of barbecue sauce

1/2 cup of barbecue rub

Guinness barbecue sauce

1 cup Guinness beer

2 cups of ketchup

5 cloves of garlic, minced finely

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

3 tbs. brown sugar

3 tsp. cracked black pepper

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. liquid smoke

The night before, rub the chicken thoroughly with barbecue rub, making sure to get it under the skin as well as on it. For smoking chicken or pork, I use Steven Raichlen's barbecue rub. However, I use garlic and onion powder rather than flakes.

For the barbecue sauce, I use my own, which is a spicy Guinness-based sauce. You can also use your favorite commercial sauce. If you make my barbecue sauce, simply combine the ingredients in a sauce pan and cook uncovered over low heat for 20 minutes.

When you're ready to smoke, build a fire in the firebox and place a pot of water or apple cider inside to keep the air moist. You will have to refill the pot every couple hours.
I'm not fussy about the wood I use for heat. For the smoke, I use cherry wood chips.

Butterfly the chicken and place the bird inside the smoker skin-side up. After three hours, use a thermometer to check the temperature. If it's between 170 and 180 degrees, the chicken is ready to come off.

You'll notice that the skin of the bird has turned black. It's not burned, it blackened by the smoke. This is called the bark. I usually peel the skin off the bird and dice up about half of it to mix in with the chicken.

After the bird has rested for about 10 minutes, pull the meat off the carcass. Cut into bite-size pieces and mix with the diced skin and barbecue sauce.

Image023 Juniper Duck

1 duck, butterflied

1 tbs. of juniper berries, crushed

2 tbs. of brown sugar

2 tsp. of black pepper corns, crushed very lightly

2 cans of Guinness beer

Sea salt and pepper to taste

When you're ready to smoke, build a fire in the firebox and place a pot of water inside to keep the air moist.

Butterfly the duck and season with salt and pepper and place in the smoker skin-side up. Smoke for about 3 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 170 to 180 degrees.

Begin preparing the glaze by combining the beer, juniper berries, pepper corns and brown sugar in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat so the sauce simmers uncovered. When the sauce has reduced by about half and thickened, about 20 minutes, move off the heat.

After the duck has been in the smoker for about an hour, brush with the juniper glaze. Repeat every hour until the duck is done.

When the duck is cooked, remove from the smoker and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Then, carve the meat off the carcass and brush with the remaining juniper glaze.

Image025 Chinese five-spice duck

1 duck, butterflied

2 tbs. of Chinese five-spice powder

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

The day before, rub the duck thoroughly with the salt, pepper and five-spice powder, making sure to get the seasonings under the skin.

When you're ready to smoke, build a fire in the firebox and place a pot of water inside to keep the air moist.

Butterfly the duck and place it in the smoker skin-side up. Smoke for about 3 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 170 to 180 degrees.

I served the duck with -- what else? -- duck sauce.

Steak Au Poivre vs. Surf and Turf

Image042_3What is it about a magazine's glossy pages that makes good look great?

Sure, sure, the professional photographers big time periodicals employ can make magic with lighting and camera angles. But still, there's something somehow heightening to the images on those shiny slick pages.

Take steak, as Esquire did. We all know what steak looks like. Delicious to be sure, but familiar. But dedicate a few pages to some well shot pictures of charred beef sweating its own fat and you have something down right alluring.

The steak spread was part of Esquire's September issue. Fourteen glorious pages were dedicated to all things steer: wagyu beef, the perfect drink to have with steak (a martini, of course), a plug for The Prime Rib in Baltimore and an ode to Bern's Steak House, an institution of a steak restaurant in Tampa, Fla.

It was a good issue.

Image057_4 Once I stopped ogling the meat, I zeroed in on the three recipes that ran with the article. Michael Mina, chef at StripSteak in Las Vegas, offered his recipe for butter-poached bone-in top loin. Dave Walzog of SW Steakhouse in Las Vegas proffered his recipe for barbecue-spice-rubbed skirt steak with charred onions and jalapenos.

The third recipe -- filet mignon au poivre -- came from Bill Rodgers, executive chef at Keen's Chop House in New York. This is the recipe I would recreate.

Not only would I tackle Rodgers' take on the classic French dish, I'd put it up against my own take on surf and turf. Not that I have anything against Rodgers. I'm sure he's a nice enough guy and he runs a pretty swanky restaurant. I was just curious whether my assembled taste testers could tell who's recipe was who's and who's was better. They couldn't tell, but there were a lot of good guesses. More importantly, four of the five picked my steak as their favorite. (Take that, Rodgers!)

Both steaks were seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked on the grill (Rodgers' in a very hot cast-iron pan and mine directly over the coals). The recipes differed in what we put on the steaks. For Rodgers, a rich brown au poivre sauce. For me, a grilled shrimp compound butter.

Although Walzog's skirt steak recipe is more befitting the grill, I chose Rodgers to make a point about filet mignon: it's an overrated cut. Because it's so lean (i.e. no fat) filet mignon lacks flavor. That's why it's so often wrapped in bacon, or in this case, covered in an au poivre sauce or capped with a compound butter.

But once you marry the steak to the fat, it's good enough to photograph.

Drew's Surf and Turf
(Makes two servings)

2 filet mignon, approximately 8 oz. each
Image004_21/4 lb. of medium fresh shrimp, peeled
2 jumbo fresh shrimp, peeled
1 stick of butter, unsalted
1 tbs. fresh tarragon
1 tbs. fresh oregano
2 shallots, minced
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbs. of sea salt
2 tbs. of cracked black pepper
4 tbs. olive oil
Wax paper

You need to make the compound butter either the night before or the morning of so it has time to firm up. To do so, skewer the medium shrimp, brush with a little olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. As you do this, pull the butter out of the refrigerator and let it warm up to room temperature.

Butter11_2Grill the shrimp for about three minutes per side. When the shrimp are cooked, pull them off the grill, let them cool and then rough chop them. Next, sauté the minced shallots on the stove over medium heat for three to five minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

When the butter is soft and everything is cool enough to handle, place the butter in the middle of a sheet of wax paper and make a groove down the length of the butter. Sprinkle 2 tsp. of salt and pepper over the butter. Add the tarragon, shallots, shrimp, red pepper flakes and oregano. Gently mix the ingredients thoroughly. (You ever watch the folks at Cold Stone Creamery mix toppings into ice cream? Mixing ingredients into compound butter is a very similar process.) When the ingredients are combined, fold the wax paper in half and begin forming the butter into a log. Finish by rolling the butter into a tube or log shape and tie the wax paper off at the ends.

When you're ready to start cooking, remove the steaks and jumbo shrimp from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you're ready to begin or when you light your charcoalImage016_3 grill. When the grill is hot, brushImage022_3  the steaks with olive oil and season them liberally with salt and pepper. Brush  the shrimp with oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Place the steaks over the hottest part of the grill and cook for seven minutes per side or until a crust forms. Grill the shrimp off to the side of the grill for about three minutes per side or until they curl and turn pink. Pull it all off and let the steaks rest for at least three minutes.

When the surf and turf are ready, slice a thick wedge off the compound butter and place the disk on top of the filet. Top the whole thing with a grilled jumbo shrimp.

Creme Fraiche

With Thanksgiving looming over all our heads and dinner in obscure destinations in most of our futures, (well, Scranton, PA and Wasilla, AK were a little more obscure before the election) it’s time to figure out where we’ll get our crème fraiche. While this French equivalent for sour cream may not be on the top of your list of turkey accoutrements, it should be. Mashed potatoes, butternut squash soup, crudités (I don't think anyone needs a recipe for chopped vegetables) and spicy pumpkin pie all taste better with a dollop of cream fraiche.

The problem arises after you’ve fought beltway traffic and arrived in one of those obscure places on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, and you’re peering into your grandmother’s refrigerator or local grocer’s freezer – you probably will not find crème fraiche. And if you do, it will cost you. Crème fraiche is significantly more expensive than sour cream or whipped cream.

It’s also very easy to make!

1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Mix together buttermilk and cream in a jar. Shake the jar gently until the ingredients are well blended, then remove the lid. Let this mixture sit at room temperature until it has thickened significantly- you’re looking for a texture similar to sour cream. This will take at least 6 hours. You can stir the mixture once or twice to check the consistency.

When the mixture has thickened, refrigerate it until served- at least 12 hours.

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand (or grandma lives somewhere so obscure that they don’t even have buttermilk) you can substitute with sour cream.

Tip: To speed up the process, use room temperature buttermilk and whipping cream.


Cooking is like any other passion - you do it for a while, you challenge yourself, read as much as you can and with a lot of practice, you succeed. Your omelets are fluffy, sauces are creamy, steak is the perfect shade of pink. But every once in a while, like after you’ve made a crispy batch of bacon, and it’s waiting to accompany lettuce and tomato on sour dough bread, you make your own mayonnaise. And your confidence is knocked down a few notches.

Like they say in fishing, mayonnaise is all in the wrist. Following an old Paul Prudhomme recipe, I whisked four egg yolks for what seemed like forever, waiting for them to foam. Not so much. I took a break, wiped sweat off my brow and tried again.


Ok so maybe I needed to try adding the next few ingredients, and maybe the volume would give me more to whisk, and maybe that would help the thickening, foaming process that was definitely not happening in my bowl.


The last resort? Stick the bowl full of egg, lemon, salt, pepper and oil in the fridge and see if it just needs to chill out, kinda like me at the moment.

Not. A. Chance.

Dsc01012So it’s with a large bowl of yellow goop that I open another cookbook, written by the women that some  people consider the authority on mayonnaise (and plenty of other recipes I’ve yet to master), Julia Child. God bless Julia and her recipe, Mayonnaise in the Food Processor.  “Certainly the easiest way to make mayonnaise,” she writes. At this point, I’m welcoming easy with open arms, and tired wrists.

The recipe below yielded around two cups of yellow, mellow, creamy mayo with little effort and only a few ingredients. Tip: have each ingredient prepared and measured, ready to be poured into the processor at the appropriate time. The mayo will thicken in the processor quickly, and you want to be ready to add ingredients as it’s happening.

1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
½ teaspoon of salt (you may need more to taste)
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (you may need more to taste)
2 cups of high quality olive oil, peanut oil or vegetable oil, or a combination of these
White pepper


Add egg, yolks, mustard and salt into the food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, blend for another 30 seconds. In a very thin stream, start pouring your oil into the mixture as it’s blending. Add all the oil this way. When you’re done, stop the processor, open and check the consistency and taste of your mayonnaise. My consistency was perfect at this point, but it needed a little more salt and lemon. Let the mayo chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.

Soft Pretzels

If you grew up close to Philadelphia, chances are you saw a drunken Mummer, got frost bite at a Thanksgiving Day parade, or booed the Eagles when Randall Cunningham’s pass was not completed (or when Santa Claus took the field. But I really think we’ve moved past that). And while you were doing these things, chances are you had a soft pretzel in your hand. The pretzel probably came from a concession stand at the Vet, a hot dog vendor near the art museum, or even from (and I’m disinfecting with hand sanitizer as I write this) a metal shopping cart on South Street.

Pretzel_1_2I relish those days of crazy fans, parades and soft pretzels. Sure, I love a good Philly cheese steak, but the soft pretzel holds a special place in my heart…right next to Rocky movies and water ice.

Making soft pretzels at home is easy. It takes basic ingredients and a little patience. I had both this weekend; I also have a spouse that worked at a popular pretzel shop (which will go unnamed) and he was able to share with me a roll-snap-cross-uncross-pinch technique to give the pretzels there shape, which no doubt made him very popular with certain mall-dwelling teenage girls in the nineties.

You know who you are.

1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons baking soda
kosher salt

In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of sugar into 1/4 cup of warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over it, and let this stand for 10 minutes. If the mixture is separated, you can stir it a bit to dissolve the yeast.

Combine 1 1/2 cups warm water, flour, and salt in large bowl, then stir the yeast into the mixture in the large bowl.

Knead for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy. If the dough is really sticking to your hands, you can add a little more flour. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, and place the bowl on a warm surface, like on a rack in a warmed oven with the oven door open. (Or in an oven with the light on and the door closed.) The dough should rest for about an hour, and should be about twice its original size when it’s done.

Gently punch dough down and roll it into a log. Depending on how big you want your pretzels to be, separate the dough into portions. (This recipe will make as many as 12, but we like larger, puffier pretzels, so our dough made 6).

Roll each portion into an inch-thick rope (you can go as thin as 1/2 inch). Pick up the ends of the rope, then cross your hands so that your arms make an X. The dough will be in a circle. Then un-cross your arms (crossing the ends of the dough) and pull the ends of the rope down and pinch the ends to the bottom of the dough circle, making a pretzel shape. Place the pretzels on a greased baking sheet.

Mix together 2 cups of warm water and the baking soda. Dip each pretzel into the water completely, shake it off and place it back on the greased cookie sheet. Repeat with each pretzel, and then sprinkle with the kosher salt.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes. 

An über brat for an über fest

Image020 Look at it.

Five beautiful feet of bratwurst sizzling on the grill. Maybe it's the German in me (probably the Freud), but that enormous sausage is downright pornographic.

Saturday, Sept. 20 was the official start of this year’s Oktoberfest, so grilling an über brat was a must. So too was the sauerkraut, the Oktoberfest beers and the German potato salad...with swine. God I love German food. I also love my butcher.

Image003_2Fact is, I could've ordered a whack of six-inch brats from the guys at Canales Quality Meats in Eastern Market. But why do that when they’ll make me a sausage as long as I want? So I e-mailed Carlos Canales and ordered up five feet of German sausage. It was ready the next day.

See, that's why we should patronize our local butchers and purveyors. The level of customer service is so much higher and the amount of knowledge they have about their products is so much richer than what you’ll find at your local chain grocery store. Besides, the quality and freshness of the products are far and away better than what you can get at Harris Teeter and Safeway. My sausage wasn’t trucked in, Canales made it. Quality, man.

Back to the meal. In addition to the brat, I put together a variation on my mother-in-law’s German potato salad. Ma Schmirler’s dish is a straightforward German potato salad with bacon in a vinegar dressing. In my version, I replaced the boiled red potatoes with grilled fingerlings, added grilled pearl onions and tossed it all in a mustard vinaigrette. I didn’t change a thing about the bacon.

Image046Keeping in the spirit of things, I served all of this with a couple Oktoberfest beers. Using Rob Rutledge’s great reviews of German and American Oktoberfest beers as a guide, I bought six-packs of Bell’s Octoberfest and Erdinger Oktoberfest.


Canales Quality Meats
Eastern Market
306 7 St., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
(202) 547-0542      
E-mail: [email protected]
(Tip: If you want to order your brat or brats from Canales Quality Meats, e-mail Carlos by the Tuesday before you need it.)

Bratwurst and grilled German potato salad
(Makes 5 hearty servings)
For the bratwurst

1 five-foot bratwurst (or 10 traditional six-inch brats)
German mustard
10 buns (optional)
1 lb. sauerkraut (never optional when grilling brats)

For the grilled German potato salad
2 ½ lbs. of fingerling potatoes
2 dozen red pearl onions, pealed and skewered
6 slices of black pepper bacon, cut into lardons (1 inch pieces)
1 clove of garlic, minced finely
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbs. stone ground mustard
6 tbs. canola oil
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. sugar
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Image015 To make the mustard vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, garlic, mustard, thyme, basil, celery seeds and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Slowly add the oil while whisking rapidly. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until the potatoes are ready.

If you're using a charcoal grill, light it before starting on the potatoes. If you have a gas grill, boil the potatoes first. In either case, pull the bratwurst out of the refrigerator so it can lose some of its chill.

Place potatoes in a stock pot, cover with water and add a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until a knife inserted comes out with some resistance. Drain well and let them cool enough to handle. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and set aside.

As the potatoes boil, fry the bacon and set aside.

Image023When the grill is ready, start cooking the potatoes and onions. Grill the potatoes meat side down for 3 minutes. When the potatoes have browned, remove. Pull the onions off with the last of the potatoes and chop coarsely.

While the potatoes are still hot, add them to a bowl with the bacon and onions, toss with the mustard vinaigrette, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Image025_2When the potato salad is done, you're ready to grill the bratwurst and start warming the sauerkraut. Place the sauerkraut in a pot and set it off to the side the grill. Put the brat on the hottest part of the grill. After 5 minutes, carefully flip the brat over and cook for another 5 minutes. Move to a cooler part of the grill and cook for a final 10 minutes. Remove the brat and sauerkraut from the grill. Let the brat rest for 5 minutes.

To serve, cut goodly portions of the brat, spoon out the potato salad, divvy up the warmed sauerkraut and pour the beer.