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Category: Food

Europe Thoughts

What do you know; it’s a different culture! Um.

That was a pretty great trip. It was really satisfying to find out that I’m still able to do a 14 day trip with one bag successfully; I’m getting older but still pretty functional. We saw places I’d never seen, which is always awesome. My backpack was stolen on the way to Budapest (literally from three feet above my head, kudos to the thief) so that was sad, but I had my electronics and passport and credit cards on me at the time so it could have been worse. I’m lucky to be able to take that kind of loss in stride.

I did find out something interesting about my resilience. I can be very minimal if I’ve planned for it, which I knew. However, as it turned out, the thought of figuring out where to buy some replacement clothing and toiletries and a bunch of other small things was daunting for me. I didn’t mind being bare bones, I minded having to reconstruct my framework for travel on short notice. In the end Delta rebooked our flight at no cost so we could cut the trip short and not spend any additional money. Right call, and we’ll revisit Budapest again some day.

Cologne Dom
This is a thing I liked.

Things I liked a lot, in rough chronological order: Paris croissants, Disneyland Paris (the main park), the Amsterdam houseboat we stayed in, pannekoeken, rijstafel, Amsterdam museums, Utrecht city center, Cologne Cathedral, drinking kolsch in Cologne, the train from Cologne to Vienna along the Rhine, Vienna cafes, Vienna ferris wheel, apple strudel, and a fake ruin bar in Budapest.

Things that were underwhelming: Walt Disney Studios Park, the Disney hotel, the Imperial Quarters in Vienna, and food at Disneyland Paris (worse than Disneyland or WDW’s food).

We Did A New Thing

I was expecting the whole cruise ship experience to be cheesy as hell and possibly not enjoyable without a heavy dose of irony. However, at the tender age of forty-eight, I am keenly interested in new classes of experience and the idea of using a very large ship as a sort of hermit crab shell was intriguing. Also, Alaska.

My short review: that was actually reasonably fun. Alaska is flat out gorgeous and historically fascinating, so you should visit it if possible. There is no way to visit southeast Alaska from the contiguous 48 without a significant investment of time and money; given that, it makes a bunch of sense to unpack your stuff into a big floating hotel rather than unpacking and packing and flying and unpacking and packing and so on. I wouldn’t recommend a cruise for the sake of the food, the entertainment, or the social opportunities — YMMV on the last, I’m a bit of an iconoclast — but all of the above are just fine as side elements to a cruise focused on seeing the sights.

Details: we took Holland America’s MS Noordam on a six night cruise departing from Vancouver. We spent a day cruising the Endicott Arm, stayed in Juneau overnight, and stopped for most of a day in Ketchikan. We also had two full days at sea.

In a little more detail…

The Darling

1 bottle vanilla soda (we used Dry)
1 shot vodka (Tito’s!)
1/2 clementine, peeled and segmented
Squirt of lemon or lime juice
Pinch of ginger

I imagine the procedure here is pretty obvious. I squeezed one of the clementine segments over the drink and dropped the husk in, but the rest go in unmolested so you can eat them at the end after they absorb some vodka. The ginger is sprinkled over the top once you’ve mixed it.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

It’s really easy to do twice-baked potatoes on the Egg, especially if you have like three hours to kill. Which, sure, sometimes.

Take your nice big russets. Put some olive oil on the outside, and whatever spice you want. I used some hickory garlic rub and that was nice. Wrap them in foil, and kick ’em into the Egg at 400 degrees for an hour. Turn them every 20 or 30 minutes. I did a WoW instance during that hour and I didn’t worry about the temperature once and it all worked out okay.

Then take the potatoes off and let them cool. While that’s happening, fry up some bacon. Then fry some onions and whatever else in the bacon grease; I used some old smoked chiles that Gretchen gave me, and some spinach. I would have used garlic but we were out, which is sad. You need to let the potatoes cool for like 20 minutes so you have time.

Mix up: a cup or so of sour cream or Greek yogurt. We used yogurt. Another cup or so of butter. Chop up the bacon and the spinach and so on. Salt and pepper if you want. Then hollow out the potatoes, leaving like a quarter inch of potato on all sides, and throw that in. Mash it all together. Oh, and some cheese!

Then put that glop back in the potatoes, and sprinkle some cheese on top, and let it go back in the Egg at like 350 or so for another 20 minutes. If you hurry it, like I did, it won’t totally set up and bake but it’ll still taste good.

I am pretty sure this is not healthy.

(Green is the meat temperature, purple is the grill temp.)

Our second run at pulled pork was wildly successful. We used a different rub (hickory garlic, very tasty) but I think the big differences were in cooking technique. First off, I foiled the pork butt at around 150 degrees. This is where you wrap the thing in foil with a half a cup of water or apple juice in it. As the chart below shows, this more or less eliminated the stall while the moisture from the meat evaporates.

Second, I didn’t let it get quite up to 200. 195 degrees and she came off.

Third, I let it sit in the cooler for a full hour, not just 30 minutes, so the moisture distributed better.

End result was awesome.

Big Green Salmon & Burgers

Quick notes:

Planked wild salmon from Schaub’s, which is not an everyday kind of treat but man it’s good stuff: soak the cedar planks, let them heat up for 4-5 minutes at 400 degrees, put the salmon in skin down for 20 minutes. You cook these longer than salmon right on the grill because it’s effectively indirect heat.

Burgers: 500 degrees, 2 minutes on either side, close the dome and bottom vent, let them sit for 4-5 minutes to finish up. First time out I put the cast iron half moon in when I put the burgers on, which sucked away a lot of heat, so they were a tad rare. Next time we’ll skip that bit.

Egg Notes

The EggWe got a Big Green Egg. (Darry Smith, Eggs By The Bay, sold it to us. Great guy, highly recommended.) Pricy, but cheaper than an iPad and we’ll be using it longer, so no qualms about the purchase.

Neither Susan or I have any grilling experience. We’ve done three meals, all of which turned out perfectly from a cooking perspective. I am not great at marinades yet but that’s a different question. The Egg is stupid easy to use. This weekend we embark on a pork butt as our first smoking attempt.

Notes for posterity:

Chicken from an EggThe chicken was at 350ish direct heat, 15 minutes on one side then flipped and around 10 more minutes. The last ten minutes we dumped in leeks and potato wedges on the cast iron half-pan, which came out perfect. The wedges were parboiled first. I think next time we’d want to do the wedges a bit hotter for more of a crust.

The pork chops were an inch or so thick. We gave ’em ten minutes on each side at 375. Also direct heat.

The salmon got ten minutes skin side down, two minutes skin side up, again 375 degrees, again direct heat.

After the pork butt smoking, the gasket adhesive should be well and truly cured and we’ll be able to experiment with higher heats.

Half Moon Bay

We cranked over to Half Moon Bay yesterday for breakfast and a bit of sightseeing. I am somewhat baffled as to how I managed to spend ten years in Silicon Valley without doing much of that sort of thing, but that’s youth for you, I guess. The drive over 92 is lovely, and the Pacific is still there, and Half Moon Bay has a reasonably cute downtown. I recommend Chez Shea despite the cutesy name. You can sit out in the patio, on which subject see photograph.

Afterwards we drove up Route 1 to Pacifica for barbecue. It’s a good sign when a barbecue place has a line outside. Also when the smoker is clearly visible. The sausage was pretty good: nice meat, maybe a tad over spiced without the depth of flavor I wanted, but solid. The brisket was totally decent and they gave me a fatty cut without blinking. Not as much flavor as you’d get in Texas, which I think is because they’re just using oak wood, but they wouldn’t get laughed out of Austin or anything.


Caldwell County Courthouse Conservation of attention notice: if you’re from Austin you know all this.

We drove down to Lockhart today with Susan’s parents to do the barbecue pilgrimage. This is not the only possible barbecue pilgrimage, even in Central Texas. There’s Luling and Taylor and Llano, but Lockhart is pretty damned close and it’s home to a few legendary barbecue places, so we wanted to see what it was all about. Being heathens from out of state and all.

Lockhart is a tiny little town. All three of the high reputation places are within a couple blocks of each other, with a really cool Second Empire style sandstone courthouse in the middle. We did Smitty’s, which lies right next to 183. It’s this old, completely unassuming brick building with a very mellow sign. We went around the block, came in the front, and found out the line is back on the 183 side anyhow.

Smitty's smoking pit You order right in front of the smoking pit. My hair smells like oak smoke from the ten minute wait. These smokers have been in operation for over a hundred years, and I gotta think some of the quality is due to a well-seasoned apparatus. It’s market style Texas barbecue: you can get brisket lean or moist, pork ribs, pork chops, and sausage. By the pound, mostly. There’s a market in front of the building for drinks and sides. The meat is piled up on butcher paper. You get a knife, no fork.

Smitty's fireIn terms of quality… wow. It’s the best meat I’ve ever had, beating out the original Morton’s in Chicago. So there’s better meat out there, I’m sure, since it’s not like I’ve ever eaten at the French Laundry or anything. But man, that moist brisket was amazing. Good beef, smoked for hours, until the fat renders into the meat and gives it more flavor. No sauce. Insanely tender.

The sausage was exactly to my tastes. It was spicy but not uber-hot, and fairly grainy. Next time I’d ask for somewhat more smoked links to get it a little drier, but it’s not like it was bad. We had some left over and it’s going into breakfast tacos soon. I can’t wait.

The pork chop was stupid thick, cause it’s smoked, so it’s not like there was any worry about cooking it too dry to get it done all the way through. Yum.