Thanksgiving 2016

Sorry, no recipes this time, just a few notes and photos.

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L to R: Escargot, Pesce, Baguette, Truffle, Ditalini

The deMenthes enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving. Number one daughter Escargot was here, along with number one son Baguette, number one daughter in law Truffle, and number one grandson Pesce. Number one granddaughter Biscotto had to stay in Las Vegas and work, so we were one short of total Number Oneness, but at least Biscotto was able to visit us earlier in October.

The menu included turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce (two kinds), gravy, mashed potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, a green bean casserole topped with deep fried onion rings, hot rolls, and a smoked pork shoulder with home-made barbecue sauce … all things we’ve cooked before, with most of the recipes and cooking techniques described on this cooking blog (see the recipe index above). Our pumpkin pie came from Costco, because honestly they make a better one than we can, and this year, so did the mashed potatoes, which Costco sells in five-pound containers, more than enough for six hungry adults.

I smoked this year’s pork shoulder a little differently than the one I did in 2013. I dry-rubbed it the day before (using the rub from this recipe) and didn’t use a mop during the smoking, which took about six hours. It was every bit as moist inside as the one I smoked before, so I think in the future I’ll dispense with the mop altogether. Of course my Fortress of Smoke™ is a bullet-style Weber incorporating a basin of water above the coals, which helps whatever you’re smoking retain moisture. If you’re using a dry smoker, the mop may be necessary.


The Fortress of Smoke™


Pork shoulder going on the smoker


After six hours


Sliced and ready to serve


Oven Baked Beef Back Ribs

We had a couple of slabs of beef back ribs in the freezer and were looking for something to do with them. I saw this recipe online and thought it was worth a try, with a few modifications of my own. The idea is simple: cut the ribs between the bones, dry rub and let them sit a while, bake them, then finish them off under the broiler.


  • Dry Rub
    • 1 tbsp onion powder
    • 1 tbsp garlic powder
    • 2 tbsps brown sugar
    • 1 tbsp oil
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Other
    • 2.5 lbs beef back ribs, cut between the bones
    • 2 tbsp BBQ sauce

Dry-rubbed ribs ready for the oven


Combine dry rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

If the ribs aren’t pre-cut, cut them between the bones, first pulling the thin membrane off the back of the slabs (hint: grasp a corner of the membrane with a paper towel and pull steadily). Using a brush, coat the ribs with rub on all sides. I put my dry-rubbed ribs in a sealed Tupperware container and let them sit on the kitchen counter for about three hours.


Ribs after baking, brushed w/BBQ sauce, ready for the broiler

Pre-heat the oven to 265°F. Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with aluminum foil and arrange the ribs in a single layer. Cover the ribs with more aluminum foil and crimp the edges. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 3 1/2 hours.

When the ribs are done, remove and discard the top layer of aluminum foil and gently transfer the ribs to a plate or platter—the meat will be very tender at this stage and if you manhandle the ribs the meat will come right off the bones. Pour the oil and fat out of the baking pan and replace the bottom layer of aluminum foil with a fresh sheet. Put the ribs back on the baking pan, brush them with a little barbecue sauce, and put them on the middle rack under the broiler, uncovered, for three to five minutes.


Serving suggestion (extra BBQ sauce optional)


Two-and-a-half pounds of ribs is plenty for four.

Be sure to use a baking pan with raised edges—a lot of oil and fat will cook out of the ribs while they bake.

The purpose behind broiling the ribs after baking them is to make them crispy on the outside. I was going to finish mine off on the backyard gas grill, but the meat was so tender coming out of the oven it would have fallen off the bones and down inside the grill grating, so using the broiler to crisp them was the best option.

I served the ribs with corn on the cob and ranch beans. Chard or collard greens would be good sides as well. Some people like extra BBQ sauce, but since these ribs are both dry-rubbed and brushed with a little sauce, you probably won’t need any more.

This is the first dry rub I’ve made with oil in it. That’s what allows you to brush it on, which is a technique I like now that I’ve tried it. As for the rub’s flavor, I thought it a little mild, and next time I’ll add more chili powder and a little cayenne (maybe even a few drops of liquid smoke).


Eighth Rule of Cooking Club

Don’t forget to pass everything that’s on the table! That is Rule #8, and it’s a good one.

Last Saturday the On-On Gourmets met at the home of Magret de Canard for an evening of preparing and enjoying Middle Eastern cuisine. The menu consisted of the following dishes: an appetizer of Rubyan Meshwi (Emirati Grilled Prawns), Baba Ganoush, Middle Eastern vegetable salad, a main dish of Lubya Khadra Billahma (lamb w/green string beans), and baclava for dessert.


Rubyan Meshwi

Apart from the lamb, which Ditalini cooked at home beforehand, we all participated in making the other dishes. Magret was in charge of the vegetable salad (for which I cut up feta cheese and harvested basil from a neighbor’s herb garden); Manzo & Anitra did most of the work on the shrimp and the Baba Ganoush, and our newest member Hermana Gazpacho helped with the dicing and slicing, and brought the baclava.


L to R: Manzo, Ditalini, Hermana, Anitra, Magret

A most excellent mean ensued, except no one got any Baba Ganoush until the plates were cleared, when Magret remembered we were supposed to have had some and the untouched bowl was discovered sitting in front of Ditalini, hence Rule #8, a very important Rule indeed.


Lubya Khadra Billahma with rice

So we had two desserts, the Baba Ganoush and the baclava, and everything was right with the world. After dinner we played a board game while we discussed our next evening together. Because of this, that, and the other we can’t get together until mid-October, when we’ll all prepare recipes from the Pioneer Woman.


Vegetable salad & Arabian flatbread


Crouton’s Slow-Cooked Beef Back Ribs


This is not my photo, but one I found on the net. Next time I make beef back ribs (and there will be a next time) I’ll take my own photos and update this recipe with visuals.


  • 2-3 lb slab of beef back ribs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp Gray Poupon mustard
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Texas Pete hot sauce (optional)
  • 1 tbsp liquid smoke (optional)


Beef back ribs are usually sold in a two- to three-pound slab. Unlike pork ribs, where you have to remove the membrane from the back first, there’s no special preparation required with beef back ribs … just rinse and dry them first. If the ribs appear to be super-meaty, cut the slab into individual ribs first. If they’re less meaty, cut the slab into sections of two ribs each.

Mix the other ingredients in a slow cooker or crock pot. Layer the ribs and make sure they’re coated with sauce before cooking. Set the slow cooker or crock pot to warm and cook for eight hours.


Beef back ribs are a nice change of pace from pork ribs. They’re tougher than pork ribs, but you fix that by slow-cooking them. These ribs turned out well: meaty and fall-off-the-bone tender. I skipped the hot sauce and liquid smoke this time and the flavor was what I’d call “conventional barbecue.” Next time I’ll add the hot sauce and liquid smoke for a spicier, smokier flavor. Any of the traditional barbecue sides would be good with these: cole slaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, etc.


Seventh Rule of Cooking Club

Outdoor grilling and smoking requires every bit as much planning & preparation as cooking in the kitchen.

Yesterday’s bimonthly meeting of the On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers was a grilling cook-off. Ditalini and I were the designated hosts, so we set up a new Fortress of Smoke™ on the concrete pad where our hot tub once resided: a charcoal kettle grill, a charcoal smoker, and a gas grill.


The Fortress of Smoke™

A lot of the planning & prep was making sure the right grilling tools and pans were in place. Late in the morning I fired up the smoker to prepare our contribution, a large brisket of beef and a rack of pork spareribs, pre-rubbed the day before and stored overnight in the refrigerator. The meat, ready at 4 PM, went into a warm oven, wrapped in foil so it wouldn’t dry out.

Other On On Gourmets arrived at 5 PM and we got to work on the rest of the grilling. This wasn’t our biggest turnout, since some of our members were away for Easter, but our core group was there: in front, left to right, Anitra Spezzatino & Ditalini deMenthe; in back, Manzo Spezzatino, Magret de Canard, & yours truly, Crouton deMenthe.


On On Gourmets

Magret made a grilled vegetable platter with asparagus, carrots, red pepper, and summer squash: marinating the vegetables at home and cooking them, with Manzo’s help, at our house on the gas grill. Anitra also prepped her dish at home and cooked it on the gas grill: ginger-soy-lime marinated shrimp.

When everything was ready, I cut up the ribs, carved the brisket, put a bottle of home-made barbecue sauce on the table, and we sat down to our feast:


Brisket & ribs, marinated shrimp, grilled vegetables

I said it was a cook-off, and I’d like to say we were all winners, but actually we were all supposed to use grilling recipes from celebrity chef Bobby Flay, and since Manzo & Anitra were the only members who followed the rules, I guess I have to say their shrimp won! But really, everything was fabulous.

Thanks to good planning & preparation, that is!

Our next cooking hash will be in May, and this time we’re going to do something different: rather than cook at a member’s house, we’re going to go out to a famous local Spanish restaurant, Casa Vicente, for tapas.


Sixth Rule of Cooking Club

When doubling Cajun recipes, don’t double the cayenne.

The On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers met again Saturday night, this time at the home of Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, where we were joined by Giacomo’s brother, Washington DC refugee Giuseppe “Pastoso” Mandriano, hiding from the wrath of the Blizzard of 2016. I usually know what people’s names mean, but Pastoso was new to me so I looked it up. It means “mellow” in Italian. What an odd name. Anyway, here we are, posing for an Ellen DeGeneres-style group selfie:


L to R: Magret de Canard, Ditalini deMenthe, Anitra Spezzatino, Manzo Spezzatino, Crouton deMenthe, Giuseppe “Pastoso” Mandriano, Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano

Our theme was Cajun, specifically the cooking of the late chef Paul Prudhomme. Magret de Canard made shrimp, the Spezzatinos a cucumber salad and a jambalaya, the deMenthes pecan praline candies for dessert. The brothers Mandriano helped with the prep, while I chopped peppers, celery, and onions; as we have done before, everyone participated in the cooking.

A few photos (sorry, I forgot to take one of the shrimp, which we gobbled up as an appetizer).


Ditalini’s pecan praline candies


Chaos in the kitchen, pt I


Anitra’s jambalaya


Crouton chops!


Chaos in the kitchen, pt II


Dinner a la Paul Prudhomme

It was a fabulous dinner, and spicy too (see Rule #6). We marveled over Giacomo’s kitchen and utensil collection, the biggest and best we’ve encountered to date, and we collectively thank him for his hospitality.

The next meeting of the On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers will be in March. Our theme will be outdoor barbecue and grilling, using recipes from Bobby Flay. Ditalini and I are hosting, which is only right, since it is I, Crouton deMenthe, who invented the Fortress of Smoke™.


Caldo de Birria


I discovered this stew at a Mexican restaurant in Tucson. So far I’ve found only one other local restaurant serving it. I’m told it’s street food, highly regarded as a hangover cure. What impressed me was its rich beefiness, reminding me a bit of German oxtail soup: a thick broth with plenty melt-in-your-mouth meat at the bottom of the bowl, served with garnishes to sprinkle on top: cilantro, onion, lime, sometimes finely-diced cabbage; tortillas on the side to mop up the broth.

My recipe is a work in progress. English-language recipes are few and far between; when you do find them they differ significantly on ingredients and are often geared to the preparation of industrial quantities of the stuff. But I am determined, and to that end I asked the waiter at the Mexican restaurant to see whether the owner would share her recipe. Here’s what he brought back:

IMG_2762If you can’t read it, it says “beef or goat, easy on cinnamon, chile California, garlic salt, easy oregano, onion.”

As this hand-written recipe should tell you, making caldo de birria is an art. Comparing this restaurant’s recipe to others I’ve found, the general idea is to use beef and sometimes one other kind of meat (goat, spare ribs), water, a purée made from chiles, onion, garlic, and spices (cinnamon, oregano, sometimes cloves, bay leaf, salt & pepper). This restaurant uses chiles California; other cooks use a combination of guajillo, ancho, mulato, or cascabel chiles. Making the chile purée is a bit of an effort, but I knocked it out in an hour, and it was my first time. I’ll give you the details below.

So with that as background, I made my own step-by-step recipe, with ingredients sized to serve four to six people. I was pretty happy with my first effort; happy enough to commit my home-made recipe to the cooking blog. Sure, I’ll tinker with it next time, but the basics are here.


  • Stew
    • 4 dried guajillo chiles
    • 4 dried ancho chiles
    • 1 cup hot water
    • 1 lb top round, cubed for stew
    • 1 1/2 quarts water
    • 1 quart beef broth
    • 1 onion
    • 6 garlic cloves
    • 2 dried bay leaves
    • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
    • 1 tbsp ground cumin
    • 1 tbsp oregano
    • pinch of cinnamon
    • 1 or 2 cloves (optional)
    • salt & pepper
  • Sauce
    • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Garnish
    • 1/2 cup diced onion
    • 2 limes, cut in wedges
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    • corn or flour tortillas


Chile purée: put on a pair of disposable kitchen gloves and keep them on while working with the chile peppers (very important). Bring a pot of water to boil, reduce to simmer, and soak the dried peppers for 20 minutes. With tongs, remove the peppers and place on paper towels to drain. Pull the stems from the peppers and discard. Slice the peppers in half, scrape out the seeds and membranes and discard. Put the cleaned peppers in a food processor or blender with one cup of hot water and purée. Strain the liquid from the purée into a bowl and set it aside. Throw the pulp away. Here are some photos:

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Stew: put water & beef stock in a good-sized pot. Add the meat, garlic cloves, and onion (the onion does not stay in the finished stew, so rather than chopping it up, peel a whole onion and score it deeply on one side so that it won’t come apart in the stew as it cooks and can be fished out later with a slotted spoon). Bring the stew to a boil and cook for 1 hour. Add the bay leaves, thyme, chile purée, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, cloves, salt & pepper. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for another hour or so, or until the meat is tender.


Sauce: some recipes call for a sauce to be served on the side, presumably to be stirred into the stew to taste. Frankly, the sauce did nothing for me and I won’t bother to make it again. I will also note that neither of the two restaurants where I tried caldo de birria served it with sauce. If you want to try it and make your own decision, just purée the ingredients in a blender, then set aside for later.

Garnish: I like the onion, cilantro, and cabbage finely diced. The lime is a good accompaniment too. I understand sliced radishes are sometimes used as a garnish.


Serving: serve in bowls with sauce, garnish, and tortillas on the side.


Fifth Rule of Cooking Club

Know your coconut milk products.

The On-On Gourmets cooking club met Saturday at the home of Anitra and Manzo Spezzatino for an evening of Thai cooking and consumption. Three new members attended: Pomodoro Calde, an experienced cook with years of experience preparing Thai food for guests at her resort in Fiji, and two mutual friends, Manière d’un Chien and Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano. Pomodoro, Manière, and Giacomo are members of the Hash House Harriers, as are the rest of us. Also in attendance: Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe, Magret de Canard.


Pomodoro & Manière, center



We invaded Anitra’s kitchen, somewhat to her consternation, to prepare Tome Kha Gai (chicken-coconut soup), Gaeng Kiow Wahn Gai (green chicken curry), Kung Yai Pad Som Makahm Bpiak (shrimp with spicy tamarind sauce), and Tad Mun Pla (fish cakes with chili dip). The only items that had been prepared beforehand were Anitra’s appetizer, fried cauliflower stalks with a peanut dipping sauce, and Ditalini’s dessert flan, not exactly (or even remotely) Thai but somehow just right after all that spicy food.

A few photos:


Pomodoro preparing tamarind sauce, with Manzo & Anitra observing


The finished meal


Fish cakes w/dipping sauce


Ditalini with her flan, Anitra with her camera

About Rule #5: here’s what you need to know about coconut milk products. Our green chicken curry, prepared with cream of coconut instead of coconut cream, was an unexpectedly sweet taste adventure!

Our next cooking club adventure will be at the home of Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, and our dinner will be based on recipes from the late chef Paul Prudhomme.


Ditalini’s Oxtail Soup

IMG_1887When I was a kid, living in Germany with my USAF family, one of my favorite dishes was ochsenschwanzsuppe — oxtail soup, a thick and flavorful beefy broth. In later years, married and living in the USA, I’d sometimes pick up a package of Knorr Oxtail Soup Mix, surprisingly good for an instant soup mix, with a rich flavor and smell close to what I remembered of the real thing.

Yesterday Ditalini cooked up a pot of real oxtail soup, adapting a recipe from a German cookbook. She added some root vegetables to make it her own, actually more of a stew, but the broth itself was the oxtail soup I remember, sinfully rich and tasty.


To make a brothier oxtail soup, just leave the stewing vegetables out of the ingredients.

The oxtails you’ll find at the grocery store or butcher shop probably don’t come from actual oxen, but from regular beef cattle. I’m sure they taste the same.

Preparation time: about three hours, but a lot of that is sitting around while the soup simmers.


  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • pot vegetables:
    • 1/4 cup finely-chopped onion
    • 1/4 cup finely-chopped carrot
    • 1/4 cup finely-chopped celery
    • 1 tbsp finely-chopped garlic
  • 2 packages oxtails (6-8 oxtails cut in 2″ lengths)
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch of thyme
  • 5 or 6 peppercorns
  • roux:
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 small onion, finely-diced
    • 4 tbsp flour
    • 1 cup of broth from the pot
  • stewing vegetables:
    • 2 medium potatoes, cut in 2″ chunks
    • 2 carrots, ditto
    • 2 stalks celery, ditto
  • pinch of paprika
  • 1/2 cup madeira or sherry
  • salt


Brown the oxtails in a little olive oil and remove from pot. Now sauté the finely-chopped pot vegetables. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the water, beef stock, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2 hours.


Browning the oxtails

Cut up the stewing vegetables and set aside.

Make a roux in a separate frying pan with butter, onion, flour, and a cup of broth from the pot. When the oxtail soup has simmered in the pot long enough, add the roux and stewing vegetables, the paprika, madeira or sherry, and salt to taste. Cook uncovered until the stew vegetables are done.

Ditalini took an additional step: before adding the roux and stewing vegetables to the pot, she fished the oxtails out of the broth with a slotted spoon, let them cool, then picked the meat off the bones and returned the meat to the pot.


Removing meat from the bones before returning to the pot (roux cooking on the side)


Fourth Rule of Cooking Club

Don’t overload electrical circuits.

Members of our cooking club met last night at the home of Magret de Canard for our second attempt at a do-it-yourself dinner, this time to cook our own meats and vegetables on raclette grills. Everyone had a role to play in preparing dinner beforehand: Houskový took charge of the roasted potatoes, Anitra and Ditalini chopped meats and veggies for grilling, while the rest of us — me, Manzo, Gina, and Magret — whipped up dipping sauces. A small amount of wine was consumed during the prep session.


Community prep work: Gina Cannoli, Magret de Canard, Manzo Spezzatino, Crouton deMenthe

Once all was ready we sat down and started cooking veggies and meats on two electric raclette grills. That is when we learned the fourth rule of cooking club: Anitra noticed a distance lack of sizzle on the grill at her end of the table. Fortunately Magret had a long extension cord and we were able to find a working plug on the other side of the room. Before long both grills were sizzling away.

raclette grillRaclette cooking is German, similar to Swiss fondue and Korean tabletop barbecue. You cook your meet and veggies on the grill while you melt cheese in little trays that slide into recesses below the hot grill top. The dipping sauces went very well with our meat (beef, chicken, and shrimp) and veggies (broccoli and quartered mushrooms); as for the melted cheese, some of us put it on our roasted potatoes while some of us dipped bread in it.

I almost forgot — Magret had another project for us, preparing our own desserts. She cut sheets of puff pastry into squares and gave us all chocolate and hazelnut chunks for filling. After we filled our pastries and folded them over into triangles, Magret put them aside on baking trays, then put them in a preheated oven as we finished dinner. Dare I say even more wine was consumed at table? But you already guessed that.


Cooking club: Gina Cannoli, Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe, Anitra Spezzatino, Houskový Knedlík, Magret de Canard

So: two successful community cooking projects in a row now. It really is more fun when everyone has something to do, and we’re thinking about other DIY ideas for future meetings. Next time, though, we’ve agreed to go back to our original scheme: picking a single chef and assigning different courses to members to prepare at home and bring to the hosts’ house. Our July hosts are Anitra and Manzo, our chef is Emeril Lagasse, and we’re cooking Cajun.