Weird Crap I Cook: Ponce

I’m not sure whether this is a good thing, but unlike the usual 72 hours from “that sounds interesting” to research & cooking, I planned to cook this meal a few weeks in advance.  The logic actually worked backwards: I had to be in NYC for a fantasy baseball draft Sunday, so we decided to hang in NJ with Tim’s smoker (and some people) Saturday, and THEN I found something to cook at the grocery store.  Good old fashioned pork maws.

“Maw is a much more appealing term than stomach!” – savvy pork advertiser.  These were coming out of the butcher’s area chopped in half and I had to ask for a whole one.  I got my usual perplexed look from the folks in white coats

I’d recently seen the Bizarre Foods New Orleans episode that showed a sausage stuffed hog stomach that was smoked, braised and carved like a roast.  Sign me up!  It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the stomach and after finding minimal documentation online for how to make it at home, I was hooked on the idea of making it.

After purchase, the stomach spent a couple months in a vacuum sealed bag in the freezer before heading into a cooler with a half pork shoulder for the drive to NJ.  Plan was to wake up Saturday, grind up the shoulder with garlic and onions, mix in some spices, prep the stomach, stuff it, and cook it.  At least that’s how I thought of it; I clearly didn’t understand how big a step “prep the stomach” would be.

A big welcome to the newest blog villain, Tim’s awful digital camera!  That knife was participating in it’s second grossest food preparation after previously cutting off the finger tip of Hub Hollow lead singer, and benefactor of Janet’s awesome wardrobe, Jill.  I guess that wasn’t really food preparation, just way too much knife for a soft brie and tiny Greek woman

From there the meat, garlic, and onions were cut into cubes and, with Tim’s instruction (he helped too much this time to earn his usual mean spirited remarks) headed into the grinder.  We used the handy meat grinder attachment for his new Kitchenaid mixer, an item I’ve also owned for a few years but have been too scared to use.

I did half the meat coarse grind and half fine grind.  My guess is I exclusively use the coarse grind moving forward since it’s a little more what you expect from sausage and ground meat in general

Once the meat, onion and garlic were all ground together, we stirred in a lot of salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika along with some chopped arugala from Tim’s garden.

Probably between 3 and 4 pounds of sausage.  The arugala was a last second call when I realized there needed to be some contrasting herb flavor that was missing from the current mix.  Plus, I will put arugala in anything if given the opportunity

To test for flavor I pulled a bit out of the bowl and fried it in a pan.  It was pretty freaking tasty, but I added a little more seasoning to be safe.

Welp, with all those pleasantries out of the way, let’s get down to the main event and check out that stomach!

There she is!  Note the whitish area on the top right that must be where they cut an opening to empty the contents and clean the inside of the stomach thoroughly. It was a lot larger than it looked in the package

I’m not sure if it was feeling inadequate surrounded by such enormous stomachs and increased in size overnight, but this hog maw was way bigger than expected.  Since the goal with ponce is to have the meat tightly packed into the stomach, I needed to make sure that it wasn’t going to be too big for the sausage we’d made.  First step was stitching closed that large cut used to clean the stomach.

What to stitch with was definitely a hot topic at the Tim Ryan household for a solid hour, but we ended up going with whatever Kristi could find on her usual morning coffee/hog-stomach-stitching-material run.  The final materials ended up being a standard thick sewing needle and some unflavored dental floss.

I felt like a field medic or a fugitive from the law who needs to do some quick triage in order to keep on his quest to clear his name.  Neither of those analogies pressure tests too well since I was probably in pajamas, toasty warm, and full from a nice breakfast

After finishing the stitch on the large cut, I found the other entry point to the stomach (yes, there are two of course) and attached it to Tim’s faucet.  The questions I wanted to answer were how watertight the stitching was and how large it got when fully inflated.  And the answers were, “holy MOLY!!!”

This wasn’t even close to fully inflated but it was huge.  It looked like the hot air balloon that the most annoying character in movie history built in Waterworld.  Anyone who has seen that movie just slapped their head in an, “Ohhh! Thank god he told me what that reminded me of, that was going to keep me up at night!” reaction

It was immediately obvious that the stomach was too large for the amount of sausage we’d made.  So, using the same lethal paring knife, I made an unscientific judgement on where to cut, and stitched it up all over again.  This go-round was 10x more infuriating since the outside was getting greasy as it warmed up and my fingers were full of holes from errant stitching.  Meals like this are less a labor of love than a labor of stupidity.

Much more manageable, and yes, it did make me reconsider stomach stapling as a good fallback if I can’t get in shape on my own at some point.  The new fallback is that Olestra stuff, seems like a total no-brainer

With the stomach prepped, a quick change in attachments turned the Kitchenaid from a meat grinder to a sausage stuffer.  Albeit a somewhat frustrating one that made sounds like a boot stuck in mud.

I kept asking Tim if he wanted to switch roles and be the stomach holder but he kept saying, “nah, I’m good”.  Weirdo

After a lot of shifting the meat inside the casing and moving the spout around to continue stretching the stomach, we finally got all of the sausage in.  Quick stitch on the opening, and we were ready to go.

The stitched side made it oddly resemble some sort of stuffed animal, which it kinda was, but not the type I’d let Janet play with

Well, I was glad the grossest part was over, though it really wasn’t too bad while we were in process since there were no funky smells.  At one point the fully inflated ponce slipped out of my hands and slowly wandered across the counter away from me, moving further away with each botched grab.  Offered a good mix of angered frustration and laughing hysterically at my own stupidity.

After a quick rub with some salt, pepper, and paprika the stomach joined the four racks of ribs that Tim had cooking in the smoker.

Godspeed, little doodle.  Always hard to know you are shutting the door for a few hours with no peaking allowed, but I’ve become pretty good at it.  Janet hiding her face in every ultrasound for 6 straight months taught me that one

While that smoked, Kristi and I visited John and Julie’s place to find them in the midst of planting 36 trees around the property with the rusty backhoe that John bought on Craigslist and fixed up.  While it was amazing how much they were getting done, let’s just say that we choose to spend our weekends a little differently.

My guess is she is slightly more competent than her father behind the wheel of this thing

Back at the other Ryan ranch, two hours into the four hour smoke, I found Tim pacing outside the smoker anxiously waiting to open it.  For someone who preaches the patience of good BBQ cooking, he was remarkably antsy.

This was after we flipped the ponce.  We could see liquid bubbling inside the ponce and I couldn’t believe the stitching was holding without leaking.  Second proudest I have been of my sewing after the work I did to keep together the awful vendor sample backpack I used throughout Europe.  That thing consisted entirely of paperclips, duct tape, and hotel sewing kits by the end of my two month trip

The lid went back down for another two hours of smoking in the 200F-225F range (total of just over four hours), before we finally had this:

Starting to look more like a large kielbasa or sausage, right?  Mildly intriguing at least?

From there the ponce headed into a beer braise.  Well, not actually a beer braise, but a braise in the six pack of Odouls Amber that Tim had been trying to find a use for since our baby shower last May.  Ended up working out pretty well since I would have hated wasting 6 dark beers on this.

Threw the bone from the pork shoulder in the braise along with some crushed cloves of garlic.  As usual, this was all guesswork, but at least my excuse this time was a complete lack of documentation online instead of a pseudo-manly disdain for outside advice

The lid went on and the ponce braised for about 2 hours in a 300F oven.  Despite not having a recipe to work with, I knew it should have braised for longer than that, but there was a mass of toddlers and the adults responsible for said toddlers arriving at the house.

At first they were tided over with a smorgasbord of kielbasa and Italian sausage along with some chicken liver crostini from Tim (just in case you needed a reminder of how much Ryans love liver).  But, eventually we had to feed everyone dinner and that’s how the ponce ended up on the cutting board, even if we didn’t expect anyone to eat it.

It was around this point that we realized Tim’s camera would only take an in-focus shot with a flash and a perfectly steady hand. Tim’s Camera, like a Terminator sent from the future to infuriate me on a day when it’s owner decided to be helpful for once.  Friggin’ jerk camera, I’ll show him

While the ponce rested, I (over)cooked some white rice in chicken stock and reduced the braising liquid on the stovetop.  Once it had reduced by half, I whisked in a couple tablespoons of roux to thicken it and we had a nice dark gravy to go with the ponce and rice.  Speaking of the ponce, here’s some action shots of the carving from our crew of queasy photographers.

Looked about how I wanted from a texture perspective, but I wanted some more pink color from the smoke.  Just looked less like smoked sausage than I had hoped it would

Still smiling the same way when photographed cooking.  Note Tim’s pointing gesture to disown the meal in photo documented form

There were no funky smells, just smoked meat and what looked like a pork meatloaf.  I was excited to try it, I just didn’t know who else would be.  To my surprise, some friends started serving themselves slices of ponce so I made myself a plate and went to hide so I wouldn’t have to look anyone in the eye.

Collard greens-style kale from Tim’s garden, Erin’s slaw, Tim’s Greek ribs and the ponce/rice/gravy.  Pretty dece plate actually, the ponce looked totally innocuous when separated from it’s original context

The ponce was interesting.  It had far less flavor than I expected based on the piece of sausage that we test fried earlier in the day.  The sausage was moist and had the consistency of meat loaf without any odd flavors coming in from the stomach, which basically acted as a gigantic sausage casing.  The stomach itself could have used a couple more hours of braising since it was pretty chewy.

I was a little bummed out since I wanted a super dense sausage with lots of smokiness, but the gravy added some smoke and beer flavors and the rice was a solid bed for the meat.  OK first run overall, but I need to put some time into improving my sausage making ability back in JP.  As usual, Tim’s ribs and Erin’s slaw were both awesome.

The most surprising part was that most of the ponce ended up eaten (or partially eaten).  I think the idea of it sounds a lot grosser than the actual final presentation, but generally I feel that way about most things I make.  Thanks to the Tim for the hospitality and the Peapack/Far Hills/B’ville crew for their tolerance of my endeavor.  Next week will either be more or less gross, I promise.

Pete’s Burgers: The Wellington

In the midst of my 18,000 word missive on the food in Philly, I addressed my feelings on what should be considered a good burger.  I was sick of complicated restaurant burgers with foie gras and chutney instead of bacon and ketchup being considered the best in a city just because they essentially buy your taste buds.  So I ranted about it.  But you likely missed that since the post was intolerably long.

Allow me to refresh you on my thoughts.  A great burger is ground beef, heavily salted and peppered, charred on a rarely cleaned grill, and served on a simple bun with a strong cheese and mushrooms/bacon/onions/condiments as desired.  Simple and really delicious, it especially helps if the ground beef is closer to 80/20 than 93/7.

That doesn’t mean I avoid messing around with burgers and trying to come up with new delicious ways to eat them.  I love trying to make new stuff (very eloquent, Pete).  So, while I will address the perfect traditional burger and the famous Dupee burger at another time, let’s kick off this new post category with the burger we made in Naples, FL last week: The Wellington Burger.

My mom lives in an awesome condo in Naples with lots of perks; high-end community grills, great restaurants, and a butcher shop that has adventurous cuts. Most importantly: delicious tasting kiddie pool water, at least according to Janet

We made a Beef Wellington over Christmas in Michigan 5 or 6 years ago and I wasn’t the biggest fan.  Each component sounded awesome; beef tenderloin, liver pate, duxelles (mixture of mushrooms, onions, and shallots), all wrapped in pastry dough.  It ended up being way too much in my opinion; just insanely rich.  But stuffed in a burger…. that had some potential.

We started out by throwing a sliced red onion in a pan to caramelize and sauteing a half pound of sliced mushrooms in butter.

Tim is such a nerd, he looked up a recipe for caramelizing onions. Admittedly, he did an awesome job and even cooked in bacon grease which got my nod of approval. But, honestly, who looks up a recipe to pan cook an onion?

Kristi prepared the mushrooms and didn't even need a recipe to do so. Tim was completely blown away! He was all like, "how did you know how to do THAT?!?!?" Friggin jerk, I'll show him

While those cooked, I got the other ingredients prepped.  First, the duck liver mousse.

Annnnd prepped! Went with the pre-made gourmet food store variety since I can't fathom taking the time to make a liver mousse then stuffing it into a burger. That's a Bells Two Hearted in the background. For those keeping track, Naples has Michigan beer, Philadelphia scrapple, and a Skyline Chili franchise. Great place

The selection of what kind of liver pate to use wasn’t that complicated since Mommy Ryan had a block of duck liver mousse in her fridge.  She is a Ryan after all, and odds are that if you look in a Ryan fridge or freezer there will be some form of liver product somewhere.  Makes choices in these situations easy.

The ground beef headed into a bowl for seasoning with lots of salt and pepper.

I know it looks like a ton, but you need a lot of salt for two lbs of meat. It didn't taste salty. Side note: I mysteriously dropped my rant on the stupidity of ground Kobe beef and people paying more for it because Mommy Ryan bought ground Wagyu (American Kobe) despite my pleas not to do so. Lets just move on and pretend it's regular 85/15, OK?

With the ground beef mixed and the onions and mushrooms cooked, the burgers were ready for final prep before grilling.

Wow Tim, those look great! And it only took you 45 minutes of research and 30 minutes of cook time? Amazing! Can you blame Tim for wanting to start a blog about how awful I am at cooking?

I combined big spoonfuls of the onions and mushrooms and a thick slab of the duck liver mousse in a bowl and mashed together for each burger.

Pre-mashing. On it's own it looks decadent, then you remember it's heading inside of (Wagyu) ground beef. Diet still isn't going well, thanks for asking

On wax paper I flattened out large thin patties of the ground beef to roughly the same size.  The idea was that two patties would surround the filling and be pinched together at the edges.  Each burger got a hefty spoonful of the filling.

Burger #1. You know that looks absurdly delicious, even if you're not a huge poultry liver fan

Burgers #2 and #3. They weren't just for Tim and I, Mommy Ryan was extremely into the idea as well. Kristi sat out, she's still not on the liver bandwagon

Throw the 2nd half on top, pinch the corners, and you have what looks like an innocuous normal burger.  Albeit an extremely large one.

Even without seeing the size of the plate you can tell these burgers were enormous. That plate is the equivalent of the tags on my shirts

The three stuffed burgers went onto a hot grill along with three normal burgers (Tim and I both wanted the best of both worlds).  Big error was putting them all on the grill at the same time since we only wanted the stuffed ones to cook well done with the lid down.  Pretty stupid; the regular burgers ended up medium-well, which is how you narrowly avoided this being my preachy post about a correctly-made real hamburger.

A little perspective on the difference in size. Also, I should give credit where credit is due, Tim really pushed his Wellington burger into a different world (of unhealthiness) with that handful of blue cheese on top. I was extremely jealous once I had time to think about it

From the grill directly onto the essential toasted Martin’s potato rolls, served along with extra condiments and toppings as needed.

Added a little mayo for richness on the Wellington burger. Also, because mayo is awesome. Look, these love handles weren't going to maintain themselves. Wait, what? I already did that one? Dag, how long ago? Oh well

I had to slice into the Wellington and check it out, it would have been less enjoyable without doing so.

I wanted the filling a little more runny for picture purposes but it was warm and mushy throughout. In a good way. Best part was that the filling ran up to the edges of the burger

Despite my previous complaints about traditional Beef Wellington, you can’t combine this many delicious ingredients, in this type of preparation, and have it come out poorly.  The flavor was rich, very decadent, and delicious.  A stuffed burger is the only case where well-done is an acceptable temperature because the contrast of textures is great and the meat stays moist from the filling.  Really amazing, but not really a hamburger.

Next week will either be the crazy surf and turf I referenced previously or something else.  I pickup a cooler full of cow organs this weekend courtesy of Uncle Billy, so, you’ve got that going for you.

The Cabot Challenge: Chocolate and Cheese

Last week I noticed that one of the commenters on the Scotch Eggs post worked at Cabot in Vermont, which was exciting since Kristi and I are big fans of their products.  The Cabot horseradish cheddar is my fav thing and, with Kristi’s family in Middlebury, we can usually count on receiving a gigantic block of the Seriously Sharp Hunters Cheddar with our Christmas gifts.

Stole this from Google images. The giant block is the one I was talking about. It was like a cheese briefcase, but what's sad is how quickly we went through it

Anyhoo, I reached out to Jacquelyn at Cabot and ended up exchanging emails with her and her colleague Wendy last week.  While we were were emailing, the idea for “The Cabot Challenge” was hatched.  The idea is that Wendy talks with some of the folks that develop Cabot recipes and together they come up with a challenge to see if I can use their product in a specific way.  The first challenge from Wendy and co: make a dish that combines chocolate and cheese.

When I saw the challenge I was a little scared; chocolate and desserts aren’t exactly in my normal wheelhouse.  Although brother Tim bought me the Ween album Chocolate and Cheese when I was in college, it wasn’t going to be any help to me here (nor can I show the album cover, this is a family site for cripes sake).  But one of the goals of the Cabot Challenge idea was to force me to attempt new things.

After receiving the free item coupons that Wendy was nice enough to send to me, I headed to the grocery store and returned with this lineup:

Yep, went with the generic nutella. I figured if I didn't call myself out for that I could expect a fair amount of, "everything OK financially Pete? Let me know if you need a loan or something"

At this point I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but there are still two ingredients in this shot I didn’t end up using because I decided how to execute it on the fly.

Before the weekend I had planned on dipping cheddar slices in dark chocolate and making a sauce to drizzle over it, but it felt kind of boring.  One idea that kept coming up when I talked to people about the challenge was a chocolate grilled cheese.  This morning I finally came around to the idea; some sort of cross between a grilled cheese and a stuffed french toast that could be served as a desert.  I envisioned the filling being a mixture of sharp cheddar, dark chocolate, macerated raspberries, and a little nutella.

First step was rinsing and chopping a handful of raspberries and mixing them with a couple teaspoons of sugar.

When I say stuff like "macerated" it makes me feel like I know what I'm talking about, but you all can see through that and know I am just mixing fruit and sugar and letting it sit for a while

While those sat in the sugar, I broke the dark chocolate pieces up using a mallet so that they would be easier to melt when cooking.

The plastic bag is key, keeps chocolate shrapnel from flying all over the place

After the broken up pieces of chocolate went into the mixing bowl, I attempted a brunoise cut on the cheddar.  Again, trying to sound fancy and not just say, “I cut the cheddar into tiny cubes”.

Kristi was happy that I didn't need to use the whole block for the challenge

That headed into the mixing bowl as well.

My goal was to have about 1.5x as much cheddar as chocolate. Looks about right

At this point I checked on the raspberries and it looked like the sugar had done the work I hoped it would.

Now dats some maceratin'

Which headed into the bowl along with a spoonful of the (faux) nutella.

I considered the raspberries the key ingredient in making this work. Their tartness goes well in pairings with chocolate or cheese and would help cut the richness of the dish

Once I stirred this together and tasted it, it was missing some sweetness and was a little thick.  So, I decided to make it a bit more Vermont pride-y and added a little Vermont maple syrup.

I wanted to make sure I didn't hide the cheddar, that would be cheating the challenge, and as you can see in this shot it's definitely still a main ingredient

While that rested together for a few minutes, I cut the loaf of bread and made the batter that the mini sandwiches would be dipped in before cooking.

I was hoping for a loaf of Italian bread, but couldn't find any that looked good. This mini baguette's size was much more fitting for the final dish

One egg, whole milk (in this case 2% and a little half and half), vanilla extract, and a lot of cinnamon beaten together. Pretty much my go-to French toast batter. This one was a lot milkier than normal since I didn't want it too eggy

After cooking a quick test batch, I decided it needed a little more tartness to balance out the flavors, so I chopped a few more raspberries and added them to the mixture.  Once that settled, we were ready to go.

While melting a little butter in a nonstick pan I cut each piece of baguette most of the way through so they could be filled.

Each piece of bread held about one spoonful of filling

After pressing the sandwiches closed, I placed them in the batter for about 30 seconds on each side.

I love when I see the cinnamon cooked into the finish product

These went into the pan for 4-5 minutes on each side.  Much like a grilled cheese, I needed to keep the pan covered while cooking to make sure the cheese and chocolate melted completely.

They look more like mini grilled cheeses than french toast, right?

After a quick rest on a paper towel to remove any excess butter, you had this delicious looking tiny sandwich:

I was happy the filling didn't ooze out too much. Seeing a little bit of the cheese, chocolate and raspberries is a nice touch, though

I had one of them as-is, just ate it like a sandwich…

It might not look like it in this picture, but the inside was a completely melted delicious mess

…But, eating them with a scoop of vanilla iced cream and a few fresh raspberries really pushed it to another level of deliciousness.

I don't make pretty food, but this comes close. Can't wait to get back to Boston and be in a kitchen that doesn't look like it's lit with a 30 year old Eveready flashlight

The combination of flavors was pretty crazy.  The dark chocolate was bitter, but when mixed with the (faux) nutella there was a nice nutty chocolate flavor.  The raspberries contributed a tart fruity flavor, while the the cheddar added a creamy sharpness.  It was almost a slightly sour flavor, but in a good way.  Overall, I was very happy with how it came out and that both of the key ingredients of the challenge were primary flavors in the final product.  Kristi enjoyed it as well.

If Kristi had her way, every food item on earth would be served in a bowl

Thanks to Wendy and the Cabot team for the cheese and the creativity provoking challenge.  I’m hoping we can make this a somewhat regular feature on the blog and keep mixing things up a bit.

And Bendle (ADB blog villain #2), please keep your comments on two weeks in a row of posts about foods with gooey insides to yourself.