Major Dags: Volume 2 (feat. Bean Hole Beans & Lamb Pinwheel Roast)

Welcome back to the segment on this blog that documents my “oopsie daisies”.  These are the meals that I thought would make great posts, and in the end they were either a complete failure or I forgot to take pictures.  You know, major dags.

I should quickly address my inconsistent blogging patterns lately.  Lotsa travel and not a lot of cooking recently.  In addition, I have a bit of a creativity block these days; when I am home for a weekend I stare into my freezer of crazy crap and cant think of anything to make.  So, once again, I will put out the call for requests.  If you read this blog regularly and you’ve wanted to see me attempt a difficult dish, please add the suggestion to the comments on this post.  I have a freezer full of all parts of cow, lamb, and pig along with some rabbit, pheasant, and venison.  Give me some ideas!  I don’t ask for much (aside from you patiently reading this crap and telling me how much you love it), so help me out please.

Anyhoo, this post will focus on two well intended failures: Bean Hole Beans and a Lamb Pinwheel Roast.

Bean Hole Beans

Last year on our camping trip in Maine I resumed my love affair with cooking things under the ground by attempting bean hole beans.  Relatively simple concept: mix all your baked bean ingredients in a big pot, stick the pot in a hole in the ground and build a fire on top.  In 18-24 hours, you should have baked beans.  Should have.

I started out by digging a small hole inside of our fire pit area and starting a small fire in the base of it that I intended to let burn down to a thick bed of embers.  The key adjective for the hole and the fire is “small”.

I know, I know, that's not a very deep hole.  But, I was missing both Mooman's shovel and Mooman so the digging was slow going and complaint-heavy.  Once I got to about the depth of the pot I gave it a good enough nod and walked away

I know, I know, that’s not a very deep hole.  But, I was missing both Mooman’s shovel and Mooman’s shoveling ability so the digging was slow going and complaint-heavy.  Once I got to about the depth of the pot I gave it a good-nuff nod and walked away

With the fire burning down, I started preparing the beans for cooking.  First step was to lay slices of salt pork in the bottom of a cast iron pot I stole from under my coworkers desk.

Dear Joe, when you asked me whether you could cook eggs in this freebie from a supplier, I knew that you weren't going to give it the life it deserved.  Not to mention that you still haven't noticed the it is gone and it has been 11 months

Dear Joe, when you asked me whether you could cook eggs in this freebie cast iron pot from a supplier, I knew that you weren’t going to give it the life it deserved.  Not to mention that 11 months have elapsed and you still haven’t noticed it is gone

On top of the pork I poured in a few pounds of pre-soaked beans and a mixture of onions, chopped salt pork, garlic, mustard, sugar, vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.

Anyone who has read the Momere's Baked Beans post knows these ingredients anywhere.  However, this turned out so sh*tty that I didn't want her name attached to them, so lets just pretend this is some crappy allrecipes.com recipe

Anyone who has read the Momere’s Baked Beans post recognizes these signature ingredients.  However, this turned out so sh*tty that I didn’t want her name attached to the final product, so lets just pretend this is some crappy allrecipes.com recipe

I gently stirred in about 6 cups of water trying to mix everything together without disrupting the bottom layer of salt pork.  Not my strong point since I generally only know one method of stirring which is to scrape everything off the bottom and stir until it looks like a whirlpool.  But I was careful, and it looked relatively familiar at the end.

I think this is best done in a back yard since this contained about 7 more ingredients than should be featured in a camping dish.  Maple syrup and mosquito ridden campground definitely don't go well together

I think this is best done in a backyard since this contained about 7 more ingredients than should be featured in a camping dish.  Maple syrup and mosquito ridden campgrounds definitely don’t go well together, plus I complained about my sticky hands until people got sick of hearing about them and went to bed

I wrapped the top with two layers of tin foil, then nested the heavy lid on before doing another wrap of foil over the top.  I was planning to completely cover this thing with sandy dirt, and nothing would suck more than even a tiny bit getting inside and ruining the batch.  Once I felt it was well sealed, I nestled it into the hole on top of the glowing embers from the fire.

Steamers and butter cooking on the grate, 'course.  How great is Maine, right?

Steamers, vegetable butter ball, and drawn butter cooking on the grate, ‘course.  How great is Maine?!?!?

Once the pot was well situated, I covered it up with a couple shovel-fulls of dirt and ashg from the surrounding fire.

I was disturbingly anxious about whether these $8 worth of ingredients would be a success.  In hindsight I had to admit I need to start taking some of these cooking missions a little less serious

I was disturbingly anxious about whether these $8 worth of ingredients would be a success.  In hindsight I have to admit I need to start taking some of these cooking missions a little less seriously.  Also, that shovel is 7 years old, I have no idea why it still has a label on it

Once the pot was fully covered with earth/ash, we built another small fire on top and got a good bed of embers in place for the the cold night.  Followed that with another fire in the morning, more embers, off to the beach for a full day and back to the fire to uncover and remove the beans. Not nearly as difficult as the hogs head because it was buried shallower and had a handle.

This oven mitt had a real tough weekend but we still use it despite black burned marks from the fire.  I think that is mostly becuase I am incapable of throwing anything out that I still see a little life left in

This Le Creuset oven mitt had a real tough weekend but we still use it despite black burned marks from the fire.  I know that was a bit of a brand name drop, but I just wanted to reiterate/clarify/recognize that despite some steps in this process looking wilderness-y, I was just a suburbanite playing camping

With cameras ready and a nervous expression on my face, I peeled the foil away and removed the lid to discover… that it hadn’t cooked.  Maybe it cooked a little bit but not much, and certainly not enough to eat.  I was crushed.

Looked no different.  I was crushed and basically wouldn't speak to anyone for about fifteen minutes.  I am positive I made things uncomfortable and unpleasant for those around me, which is when Janet came in handy for a "Heyyyyy!!  Look at Janet! she is sitting and not doing anything and stuff! Awwww"  Forgot to mention Janet came camping

Looked no different.  I don’t think I spoke to anyone for about fifteen minutes.  I am positive I made things uncomfortable and unpleasant for those around me, which is when Janet came in handy for a distracting “Heyyyyy!! Look at Janet! she is sitting and not doing anything and stuff! Awwww”  Forgot to mention Janet came camping

I have a pretty good idea what I did wrong (of course I am a know it all even when I am wrong).  I am sure that there was supposed to be a consistent fire on top, but given that it was cooking for 18 hours+ I had some concerns on overdoing it and the same strategy worked fine for the hogs head three ears earlier.  I also think I needed a deeper hole with more embers that had burned for longer than the batch I used.  The hole itself wasn’t warm enough to start since it needed to almost preheat like an oven.

I need to take another crack at this and get my vengence.  On myself, I guess.  Sometime soon.  On to the next major dag.

Lamb Pinwheel Roast

I can’t remember the exact occasion for this one, mainly because I don’t date my photos well, but I think it might have been Mommy Ryan’s birthday.  I also think Tim was being bossy/cranky about what he wanted to eat because it was pre-ordained that we would be having a butterfly leg of lamb and deviled eggs.  Weirdo.

I thought a great idea with the leg of lamb would be to make a pinwheel roast, almost like a lamb porchetta.  Except this one would be stuffed with all of the awesome flavors Mommy Ryan used to pack into her lamb dishes.  Namely, Dijon mustard, rosemary, garlic, and lots of salt.  Decent idea in principle, but you know I will be bungling this somewhere along the way.  Lets start with the lamb.

Looks pretty identical to any deboned piece of meat shown on this blog previously.  Most similar to the duck from the turducken I think

Looks pretty identical to any deboned piece of meat shown on this blog previously.  Most similar to the duck from the turducken I think, but without the weird snorkel thing from that shot

My goal was to make some small slices in the meat so that it would be approximately the same thickness throughout and also spread out as flat as possible.  With that done, I started working on the filling.  Three key ingredients: rosemary, (green) onion, and garlic.

Yeah, it's been a while but that pile of raw garlic doesn't look any smaller.  Not sure exactly how I thought this was the appropriate balance.  Looks like a crap ton of rosemary too, actually

Yeah, it’s been a while but that pile of raw garlic doesn’t look any smaller.  Not sure exactly how I thought this was the appropriate balance.  Looks like a crap ton of rosemary too, actually

The onions, rosemary, and garlic went into a bowl with cubed staled bread, a couple tablespoons of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise and lots of salt and pepper.  The goal was to create a wet stuffing that would flavor the lamb from the inside out, but also mimic the lamb flavors we grew up with.

I have to admit that since it's been awhile, I totally had no idea what that green blob is in the center.  Upon further review, it is a blob of mint jelly which joined the party along with some additional brown sugar as well.  It's all coming back to me now

I have to admit that since it’s been awhile, I totally had no idea what that green blob was in the center.  Upon further review, it is a blob of mint jelly which joined the party along with some additional brown sugar as well.  It’s all coming back, coming back to me now.  Shout out to my girl Celine!

The stuffing was pungent, but I felt like I needed that to stand up to the strong flavor of lamb and there was a lot of meat.  Using the same process I used with the turducken, I pressed as much of the stuffing as I could into the lamb in an even layer.

Midday cooking in Tim's kitchen is actually great for fotos,  It's a hell hole at night though.  Lighting-wise.  I feel like I am writing a scathing Trip Advisor review or something, but it really is terrible for taking pitcures usually

Midday cooking in Tim’s kitchen is actually great for fotos, It’s a hell hole at night though.  Lighting-wise.  I feel like I am writing a scathing Trip Advisor review or something, but it really is terrible for taking pictures usually

I attempted to roll the lamb up porchetta style and was mildly successful, but the real feat was that I actually tied it up without the whole thing falling apart.  I am assuming Tim didn’t help but probably criticized my technique.  Friggin’ jerk, I’ll show him.

The bundled package headed into the fridge for a few hours.

Again, am I on Rhee Drummond's blog or something?  Why does it feel like this is a hipster, back to nature setting?  I swear this is the same place I took blurry photos of Yuengling and dental floss-stitched smoked hog stomach

Again, am I on Rhee Drummond’s blog or something?  Where did all of this natural light come from?  I swear this is the same place I took blurry photos of Yuengling and dental floss-stitched smoked hog stomach a few months earlier

And here’s where it went off the rails.  I was obsessed with having a crispy outside on the lamb and it was a beautiful day, so I thought I could cook it slow-ish on the grill at Brother John’s.  And when I get an idea in my head it’s tough to steer me away, so onto John’s grill it went.

I should have stopped when he told me there were hot and cold spot on the grill.  I should have swallowed my pride and preheated the oven.  I shoulda

I should have stopped when he told me there were hot and cold spot on the grill.  I should have swallowed my pride and preheated the oven.  I shoulda…

This one ended up as a bit of a debacle in the cooking process.  In the first five minutes on the grill, one part of the lamb had burned while the other end of it looked like no heat had been applied.  I rolled it around on the grill a bit to keep it from burning but that led to less trapped heat (due to opening the grill constantly) and less cooking through.  When it was finally in danger of charring too much for edibility, I had to put it in the oven for 20-30 minutes.  Which didn’t make a damned bit of difference.  The stuffing was barely warmed and the inside of the lamb was rare instead of lightly cooked all the way through.  A mess and a nightmare on the stomach due to raw lamb an garlic in the mix.  Happy birthday Mommy Ryan!

Send in your suggestions!  I desperately need them.

Weird Crap I Cook: Pork Cheeks and Pancakes

This post will continue my long love affair with cheeks.  They look odd, come in unpredictable shapes and size, and I’ve only found one reliable location to buy them in the northeastern US: the Italian Market in Philly.  I’ve heard Savenor’s in Cambridge sells beef cheeks for $20 a pound and my other option is $100 for a 50 pound box in the warehouse district.  Neither of those works too well for me, so I will continue with an endless cycle of loading up occasionally, vacuum sealing and using the meat for a couple years.

Anyhoo, I’ve had these pork cheeks for awhile now and I’ve been looking for a good opportunity to use them.  With a reprise of the “Shhhh, Janet’s sleepin'” Oktoberfest party on tap this past weekend, I retrieved the cheeks from the chest freezer to thaw and started meal planning late last week.

On Saturday, I got going a few hours before folks came over by browning three sliced medium onions and some coarse chopped garlic in lard.

Went with lard because it was in the fridge and I was sick of having it in there.  An extremely common explanation on this blog.  Stop leaving me lard in my mailbox, everyone!

The goal was to give the onions a little color but not cook them fully since they would be braising in with the meat eventually.  While those cooked, I pulled the thawed 3lb package of pork cheeks out of the fridge.

Tim is incredibly wasteful with his food saver bag sizing which is completely contrary to his hippie “ohhh, I compost my coffee grounds and eggshells for my garden” persona.  In reality this thing was a football sized frozen brick when we packaged it and needed lots of room.  I hate when I bail him out

The cheeks were all given a good rinse, patted dry, and piled up on a plate for me to pick through and pretend I knew what I was doing when assessing them.

Cheeks are interesting, every piece looks and feels completely different, though I probably pretended I had opinions on each piece as I picked through them.  Grabbed your cheeks and moved your jaw around a bit yet?  I do that every time I see raw cheek meat

Unlike the beef cheeks from the Italian Market, these didn’t require an intense 30 minutes of finger endangering trimming.  Generally the meat looked pretty good, mostly trimmed of fat and with no extra silver skin or connective tissue hanging on.  The oddest thing was the broad range of size and shape for each piece of meat.

I end up having to scrub both cutting boards in the end but the pattern of stupidity just refuses to end.  Or I refuse to let it end.  Either way, you should fully expect to one day see a third cutting board on top which will go unaddressed for awhile before I start complaining about using three cutting boards instead of just two.  Basically, I foresee this blog capturing my slow decent into insanity

Quick aside: a lot of the bizarre shapes and sizes of the cheeks comes from where I usually get these.  I think the general process is that they butcher a bunch of the same type of animal and throw the cheeks in the same bucket before freezing them into a gigantic block.  My friendly butcher then slices the block while frozen so you end up with some full pieces and some halfies.  Now you know.

With the meat patted dry, the remainder of the ugly pieces trimmed off, and the onions browned, I moved on to seasoning the cheeks.  Nothing special here, just a good amount of light brown sugar, salt, and black pepper.

Got my ingredients in dat shot! Bonus items include half a brown banana for Janet (she eats equal parts expensive fruits and borderline trash), the video monitor (she was nappin’), and an extremely long receipt from Kristi’s pre-Sandy grocery run that we finished before Sandy hit

I seasoned both sides of the meat and in under a minute you could see the salt drawing out the moisture in the meat and the brown sugar trapping it.  With that process going, I removed the onions from the pot, flipped the cheeks and gave the meat another sprinkle of seasoning.

Nice to see that brown sugar melting in.  Also, helps clarify that there was a second plate of cheek meat, not just the cutting board pile.  I am extremely talented at thawing out the exact right amount of meat based on that meat being labeled properly

The cheeks went into the Big Yellow in two waves to brown on all sides and hopefully not build up too much burned sugar on the bottom of the pot.  Not browning the beef cheeks was the biggest mistake I made when cooking that meal and I have beat myself up for it at least once a week in the 22 months since then.  So, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

I failed at the “no burned sugar spot” attempt.  I have this issue every frigging time I brown stuff in Big Yellow but I’m too lazy to do it in a separate pan that would require separate washing and drying

After 5 or so minutes on each side the first batch came out and the next batch went in.  Eventually leaving me with a nice big pile of browned cheek meat.

Lookin’ dece, pig cheeks.  Some pieces looked like tenderloin, some like cutlets, but all totally different.  I can’t wait for Con to visit his Grandma so I can get more.  Con, go visit your Grandma!

Due to the amount of burned sugar caked on the bottom, I scraped a bit off with a wooden spoon and threw it away before properly deglazing with a solid pour of dry sherry.  The remaining good bits were scraped off the bottom while the sherry cooked down and after a few minutes I added a carton of beef broth and a beer.  As usual, it was the worst beer in my fridge.

This Kentucky Bourbon Ale four pack probably cost between $10 and $15 at our local boutique beer shop and was brought over by a guest weeks ago.  I’m sure it is brewed with love, but it tasted like the Milwaukee’s Best and Southern Comfort boilermakers I chugged in college on more than one occasion.  Had a damp belch just thinking about that one

The sweet bourbon flavored beer seemed like a natural match for the braise and the flavors I’d added so far.  After waiting out the initial foam-up from pouring cold beer into the hot liquid, I added a couple bay leaves, a clove, and turned the heat to medium to let the liquid reduce for about fifteen minutes.

I’ve finally beaten my urge to always make too much braising liquid.  Next up, my urge to eat to the point of sweatyness.  We can beat this thing guys!

Once the liquid had reduced by about 1/3, I added the cheeks back into the dutch oven and positioned them so they were all mostly covered with the liquid.  Then added back in the onions and garlic, poorly attempting to distribute them evenly.

I’ve gotten better at not doubting myself at the last second right before I put a pot in the oven to braise.  Always leads to major mistakes.  Though I am 75% sure most of my friends come here to watch me fail

With everything back in the pot, the lid went on and Big Yellow headed into a 325F oven for two and a half hours.  During that time I hid remotes and iPhones from Janet, tried to distract myself on my computer while she repeatedly hit the caps lock, and fed her dinner while asking her, “you think Daddy is a good cook, right?”

Finally, as people were starting to show up and Janet headed to bed, Big Yellow came out of the oven.  As usual, I stuck my dumb face directly over the pot as I removed the lid and was blind for 30 seconds from the steam burn.  When my eyes could see again, they saw this.

Braising is the best, you knew this was going to be tender and excellent without even sampling it

The dutch oven was set to the side with the lid half open to let the meat rest for 30-45 minutes.  One thing I’ve learned about cheeks and short ribs is they are always better after a rest of some kind.  Even though this turned out very tasty (spoiler alert!!!), if I had to do it again I would have cooked it the day before and let it all rest together for 24 hours.

While that rested I pulled the lid off of the batch of slow cooked Momere Beans (she turns 100 this weekend!!!!  I mean, wowzers!) and let some of the liquid cook off.

Not sure why I didn’t mention these before but they are a required side dish at Oktoberfest.  Momere and Joycie might have given me a good head shaking had they tried these since my lack of par boiling definitely had them less mushy than the standard baked beans, but most people seem to enjoy that little extra firmness

The beans ended up needing a little more time, so while they finished cooking I boiled a bunch of skin-on red potatoes and let them cool once soft.  Mashed those together with a little milk, a couple big spoonfuls of dijon mustard, chopped green onion, an egg, and lots of salt and pepper.

Hate that I got the basics for this recipe from the Down Home with the Neelys.  Their banter is infuriating but they do cook some delicious grub.  I have no idea how Tim lives with himself regularly cooking from recipes

Once the potato mixture had rested for a bit, I formed it into patties, rolled them in some breadcrumbs and pan fried in a little olive oil.

I love potato pancakes and regularly utilize leftover mashed potatoes for them.  I’m not saying that they are good or edible normally, just that I like the idea of them and cook them regularly

When the pancakes went into the pan, I turned on the burner under the cheeks to warm them up a bit.  As each pancake came off, it got a cheek (or two of the smaller cheeks pieces) on top, along with a ladle of braising liquid/onions, and a big spoonful of Momere Beans.

It’s a good sign when the food is good enough to not make me pause and take a mid-eating picture, but always makes the post feel a little incomplete.  This is the last foto, imagine bites that mash everything on the plate together accompanied with lots of grunts and heavy breathing

The meat was tender and cut easily with a fork without being overly tender and mushy.  Cheek meat doesn’t taste much different from a flavorful piece of pork shoulder, but the grain of the meat is distinct and the meat is less fatty.  You could taste the sweetness from the onions, beer, and brown sugar in the liquid, but the best bites had the added sweetness of a forkload of beans.  The pancake was a nice contrast to the beans and pork with the crispy starch and mustard flavor coming through.  All in all, very solid plate of food and I was stunned that the Oktoberfest crew was able to continue eating sausages after finishing their plates since it was true stick-to-your-ribs food.  Solid overstuffed night of eating.

Off to Momere’s birthday party.  It’s gonna be like the rave at the end of Go I think.  Spoof’n, but pretty amazing that she is 100 and still lives alone in a house heated by a wood burning stove.  I think I am going to be especially blown away when I see the full group of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren at the party this weekend.

Good luck to everyone in the Northeast recovering from Sandy.  LBI as many of you have seen already got hit very hard, but we have hope for our little bayside house and will keep you posted on how it fared when I know more.