Rhythm of the EGG



My Big Green Egg (EGG) can be seen from the walkway passing by our rear courtyard. When I’m out cooking, passersby often kibitz… “What’s for dinner? What kind of BBQ is that? Do you like it?” and so on. Some recognize it and it’s “I’ve been meaning to get one of those.” To that I say, “Well… go for it!”




I brought my little ol’ Webber Q gas grill from San Francisco. Didn’t get much kibitzing about that.


One of the many reasons for moving from San Francisco to Reno was the Big Green Egg. Carol’s brother Mark (and Jannie) cooked for us several times on their EGG at their home in Jackson, Ohio. They made us promise to get an EGG when we had room for one — not a hard promise to make… or realize.

The first few times cooking on the EGG I was not patient — Tim Carter, of Carter Bros. ACE Hardware warned me of this when he assembled my EGG. By now, I have developed a nice and easy routine, as I will demonstrate. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking a steak for five or six minutes or a rack of ribs for three hours, the first steps are the same, and they take one hour. We usually eat dinner about 7pm, so for anything but a “low and slow” meal, that means I light the fire a little before 6pm.

this picture was taken after a “low and slow” fire, so there’s not much charcoal left


Sometime during the afternoon, I walk out and open up the EGG, remove the grate and stir the extinguished charcoal from the last meal. The ashes fall into the ash area under the fire pit and I form the charcoal around the edges, so the new charcoal will fill the center and top.

A note on charcoal. I was instructed to use only natural lump charcoal. This is made from 100% hardwood, burns hot and clean, and there are no by-products. At the end of cooking, the fire is extinguished by closing the dampers and cutting off the air supply. I’ve found the Big Green Egg brand of charcoal the best. I’ve tried other brands that are less expensive, but they’re not as good. Besides, we’re talking about 50 cents a pound difference, and I add about a pound per fire.

I light the fire with SAFE-LITE Fire Starter Squares, blocks of compressed sawdust coated with natural paraffin wax.

The fire will be ready in an hour, so now I’ll continue my prep.

today I’m grilling a yellow tomato, a peach, a leftover baked potato, a thick piece of halibut – skin on – and Romano beans

The halibut is marinating in equal parts of soy sauce, white wine and lime juice. The fruits and vegetables have been tossed with olive oil, the beans were steamed for 5 minutes beforehand.

Plenty of time to relax now, have a glass of Scotch, some cheese and crackers and watch some Giants on the TV.

The wait is over and the food is on the grill.

The temperature is holding at about 350. I set the timer for the halibut at six minutes a side. I’ll take off the vegetables when they are ready… they will hold.

meanwhile, this is what I’m looking at beyond the EGG

food cooks, about to be turned

vegetables are done, they’ll go into a warm oven

I mentioned the halibut is thick… took almost 15 minutes to reach 135°F, but it turned out nice and juicy. Too bad I wasn’t artful about cutting it for the plate.

halibut, potato, Romano beans, tomato… peach for dessert

The EGG and the live fire and the time and the outdoors bring a rhythm and pleasure to such a meal.




I recently saw the movie, Chef…

Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony) to launch a food truck. [rotten tomatoes]

the chef (El Jefe) and Percy on the road

MY TAKE: Nice to be entertained with a fun story about chefs, critics and food. The characters are well drawn — there are times of pathos and disappointment and times of great fun and accomplishment… hard work and passion win in the end. Food porn abounds — chopping, slicing, roasting, tasting, presenting of food food food… The chef beautifully does a step-by-step cooking of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich at home for his son.

On a Saturday with Carol at Mah Jongg, I was compelled to make my own grilled cheese sandwich. I remembered a three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich using Cowgirl Creamery cheeses from a sunny summer day at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Marketplace hard on the bay.

I have three good cheeses right here at home — not the same ones used at Hog Island, but they will go well together — and I have bread — not a dense country bread, but Oroweat Whole Grain, 12 Grain Bread… bread nonetheless — and I have butter and a skillet.

I don’t make grilled cheese sandwiches often because I’m a little cloudy on the technique. Chef Carl in the movie starts by browning two half-sandwiches then eases them together with a deft spatula move. I had always built a whole sandwich, browned it on one side then turned it to finish on the other. The turning was not always excellently accomplished.

So, here is my illustrated adventure…


three cheeses: blue, brie and havarti’ pickles and olives on the side; the fabulous Oroweat bread

These ingredients are from Raley’s… I normally get my cheese — cut from wheels — from Wedge, Reno’s premier cheese shop.

bread and cheese browning in skillet

I buttered both slices of bread, placed the cheese on the un-buttered side, and transferred the bread to the hot skillet.

here’s my sandwich just about finished

My spatula move in easing the sandwich halves together was not as deft as that of the Chef.

my sandwich served by me to me…

Not so pretty, but oh my, it was goooood, and gracious plenty for lunch. YUM

Another new toy

I like poached eggs, but not the mess of poaching them, and while I do them pretty well, there are many opportunities to mess up.

Well, what do you know? I was looking on Epicurious.com for some recipe or something and saw an ad for a foolproof-five-fork-rated egg poacher reduced 25 percent for Epicurious readers.

Why debate? I just won many $$$ in the RectorFootball pool. A couple clicks and a few days later and that big boy was in my kitchen. There was even an empty spot in the pantry to store it.

First try…

My first beautiful poached eggs — served over leftover chili from the Sierra Canyon Great Balls of Fire Chili Cook-off — was not a disaster. Neither were the results perfect. This egg poacher has an inherent problem; it is not a poacher, it is a steamer. To poach something, one would immerse it in liquid. With this “poacher,” one places an egg in a cup, suspended over boiling or simmering water, so the egg cooks in steam. Big difference.

two eggs steaming

Thus, the whites don’t etherially wrap the yolks, but rather, wrap the yolks fairly firmly. Nevertheless, the result is a soft white with a runny yolk to seep into and flavor each bite of the chili. It’s simply a different eating experience.

On the other hand, this “poacher” does some things a simple pan of water cannot do. Here is a recipe from the instruction manual — printed in four languages — that comes with the poacher.

Fill the egg poacher pan one-third full of water.
Mix four eggs with some milk or cream. Season with pepper and salt. Pour the mixture into the cups.
Set the saucepan on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Put the cups in the tray and place the whole into the pan. Cover with the glass lid and leave to steam for about 4 minutes. The eggs might rise a bit during the steaming, but  do not worry, they will collapse as soon as you take the eggs out.
Take out the cups from the tray and turn them upside down on to a plate. Serve with toasted bread triangles.
Add chopped chives to the egg mixture.
Add small pieces of bacon or ham to the egg mixture.

I chose to chop a mushroom, saute it in butter and add those pieces to the cups. Pour the egg mixture over that and pop it into the “poacher.”

sauteed mushrooms in two poacher cups

add egg mixture to the cups

eggs plated alongside bacon strips

The eggs jiggled when I turned them out of the cups. I was surprised to find the outer layer soft like a scrambled egg and the center runny, as a poached egg would be. Now that’s a good egg. Yum.

There are other variations, which I have yet to try, so look back occasionally to see what’s up.



La Strada 2009 '10 '14

Nataliya after the wedding.

On one of my first visits to Reno — house hunting with Brian in June of 2009 — after a long day of scouting the town we needed a bite to eat, but not just any bite. He had done some research and declared La Strada in the El Dorado Hotel and Casino to be the best casino restaurant. Of course we went there to eat and ordered the four-course tasting menu with a few bucks extra for wine pairing. Excellent.

Neither of us knew at the time that the best restaurants in Reno are not necessarily in the casinos.

Fast forward to 2014. Brian and Nataliya have a home in Sparks and Nataliya is teaching a Biology course at Truckee Meadows Community College. Last week she got her first paycheck. WooHoo! Time for a celebration. Nataliya selected Sunday dinner. Brian checked out some of the best restaurants in Reno; Rapscallion Seafood House, Bricks, 4th Street Bistro… all are closed on Sunday. Why not go to La Strada? It’s a celebratory kind of place. We went there after their Reno wedding in June of 2010. OK then… dinner at seven.

As we ordered — I planned on the Rigatoni Fra Diavolo — Brian ordered the four-coarse tasting menu. Hey, that sounds good, I’ll have it too.

First course, a green salad featuring smoked salmon.

2014 First Course: Lovely salad featuring smoked salmon and fennel.

As we launched into the meal we talked about this being our third tasting menu including the one after their wedding in 2010. — And where could one get a four coarse tasting menu in San Francisco for $40? — I know I have pictures of the last one, but I didn’t take notes… in any case, maybe we can compare.

2010 First course — This salad appears to feature steak.

The courses seem to repeat themselves, but with different stars.

Second Course: white and red pasta.

2014 Second Course — the La Strada signature Wild Mushroom Stuffed Ravioli paired with Lasagna.

2010 Second Course — Lasagna and Ravioli, but with definitely different ingredients.

Third Course: surf and turf.

2014 Third Course — Osso Bucco on a bed of soft polenta, Salmon with a Crabmeat Glaze and Broccolini

2010 Third Course — Looks like a white fish, maybe Halibut and maybe a veal and mushroom companion. The carrot and asparagus are attractive.

And then — ta da… the Dessert Course

2014 Dessert Course — semifreddo, a semi-frozen ice cream cake

2010 The Wedding Cake — not from the kitchens of La Strada, but from an Austrian Bakery, Franz’s Backstube

As it turns out, we live quite near this bakery. Heads of the bride and groom previously eaten for good luck.

So… if you’re up for a celebration in Reno, we know a place.

Salmon Tartare

Not to mention Salmon with a Hot Mustard Glaze

On this day, I stood in front of Scolari’s fish counter, a locally owned and operated supermarket with 10 locations, mostly in Reno and Sparks. They tend to have beautiful produce, a nice meat and fish counter and an extensive deli counter featuring local and regional brands.

How could I miss the Verlasso Salmon with its rich salmon color and plump fillets?

Verlasso is the first and only ocean raised, farmed, Atlantic Salmon to receive the “good alternative buy” ranking from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Farmed off the coast of Patagonia Chile, it is filleted on location, packed in ice and shipped fresh.

I have never bought and cooked it before, but Carol has. This is my big chance. Two half-pound fillets, a little over an inch thick. Beautiful.

Verlasso Salmon fillets

It was still too cold and windy to grill, so I launched a recipe search for such a lovely fish. I settled on a NY Times recipe from February, 2006; Salmon With Hot Mustard Glaze adapted from David Kinch, then 44 and who remains the chef and a partner at Manresa, Los Gatos, California. Cooking Time: 30 minutes or less. Quick, EZ and lookin’ good.

While noodling around on the internet, I happened — by pure chance — onto a web site called thekitchn.com. I had never heard of it, but suddenly I was staring at a picture of a Hasselback Potato. It was striking in its purity and presentation.

from the web site: slice, slather with butter or bacon grease and bake at 425

Like the salmon recipe, the instructions couldn’t be simpler, but the potato took an hour or so to cook, so I started with that. Continue reading

grilling again

There’s something special about a grilled meal. From the shopping to the eating there’s a protocol, choices and a routine. This meal started with me standing in front of the fish case at Raley’s. The weather in Reno has been beautiful; sunny, clear, a bit cool in the 40’s but occasionally easing up to 51 or 52. Makes a body think of breaking out the grill.

Thinking grill, I noticed some lovely Steelhead Trout fillets. This has become my favorite grilling fish ever since discovering it as a whole fish at Raley’s. I wrote about that guy, and have since grilled the fillets any chance I get.

Rainbow trout/steelhead are ray-finned fishes in the salmon family, and they are one of the top sport fish in North America. Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species, but they have different lifestyles. Steelhead are anadromous, meaning they spend part of their lives in the sea, while rainbow trout spend their lives mostly or entirely in freshwater.


EGG moved to front courtyard

As soon as I could after our early December snow, I shoveled a path and moved the gas grill to the garage and the EGG to the front courtyard. And we bought an LED clip-on light — that makes winter (nighttime) grilling possible.

the light is clipped on the right “wing” and you can see its shadow on the wall

So on with the grilling. To eat at 7pm, I light the grill a little before six, and it is plenty dark at that time in January.

EGG Glows, but it doesn’t shake… I shake, it’s cold.

Tonight, I wanted to do everything on the grill. Trout, spinach and sliced potato. I boiled the potato until cooked through. Then slice it, oil and season it, and finish on the grill with the fish. The trout will cook in 6 to 8 minutes and I’ll hold that and the potato slices in a warm oven. The spinach cooks in about 3 minutes, is a bit messy, demands attention and cools quickly — especially outdoors in the winter — so I cook that last. Rinse the spinach and take it to the grill in a colander. Place it on my cast iron grill pan (the lid of my cast iron skillet), and toss while it cooks. That’s the attention demanding messy part. There’s way too much spinach to fit the grill pan, but it shrinks a lot as it cooks, so its put on as much spinach as possible, toss and shrink, put on more spinach, etcetera, all the while trying to keep it on the skillet and not scattering on the grill. [Harder to write than do…] And the fire is HOT.

trout over spinach with grilled potato slices

That went so well, I grilled again the very next day. We had three Maine lobster tails left from Christmas dinner. Excellent candidates for grilling. Those ‘tails plus grilled onion slice and baked potato. Not so fussy about doing everything on the grill this time. The onion slices take about 10 minutes to crisp tender, the lobster tails about six minutes. I timed so they both came off at once, figuring it’s no crime to cook the onion slices a few minutes longer.

Lobster tail, onion and baked potato. The M doesn’t Mean anything, just grill marks as a result of turning and rotating. Kinda cool, though.

A few days later, I had an appointment at my Dermatologist — near South Virginia and McCarran  — and not far from Whole Food. My must haves from Whole Food are Newman’s Own Organic Thin Sticks Pretzels, whatever fish looks good — and oh-by-the-way — they make the best Lamb Merguez Sausages. Another grill opportunity. They also had cippilini onions, so we got a few for grilling beside the sausages. We picked up some Brussels sprouts, as well. Those pretzels are just so crisp and crunchy and so good.

Merguez, Brussels sprouts, grilled cippilini and scraps of red bell pepper for color

Who ever heard of grilling Brussels sprouts? Not me. But I figured if I par-boiled them oiled them up and just threw them on the grill, what could go wrong? Turns out, nothing went wrong… delicious. Grilled cippilini onions are the best. Peel and slice in half… perfect thickness and caramelized a bit, they taste so sweet and good.

Altogether, three really good grilled meals. And just in time. This morning it snowed.

Christmas Eats 2013

What do you do Christmas week, but eat? We ate some strange and wonderful things, so I thought I’d write about it.

It started the week before at a neighborhood holiday party. Folks bring stuff and rather than making a casserole or something, we took a cheese plate.

from 12 o’clock, mixed olives, St. Agur, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, Mousse Pate over various candied and dried fruits and nuts.

Yummy. Last year we just took a fat piece of St. Agur, a double cream blue cheese from France and a piece of country pate. This year, we opted to have our favorite cheese store — Wedge — make up a cheese platter. Good choice. AND, believe it or not, there were leftovers (not many) and we got to take those home.

Christmas eve, we went to Brian and Natasza for dinner. Brian is often messing around with something interesting to cook. He finds “Manager’s Special” stuff at the supermarket (nobody else wants it) and he figures out something to do with it. On this occasion, it was pork belly, which is basically uncured bacon. He found a recipe in a food blog for Grilled Korean Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps (Daeji Bulgogi).

marinated pork belly

Marinate your “Manager’s Special” pork belly in a spicy marinade/dipping sauce.
Grill on direct medium heat flipping every two minutes, until the pork is browned and crispy. Brian’s pork took 3 or 4 flips.

the grilling is easy but demands attention and makes a lot of smoke

off the grill and onto the table — oh my, that is good

pork belly served with cabbage wrap and rice

Natasza made brown rice with mushrooms and a shredded beet salad with nuts and raisins. I kibitzed and took some pictures.

Brian and Natasza came to our house the next day for Christmas and dinner. A while back, we bought some mail order Maine Lobster Tails for this very occasion. Brian promised to make pasta and a caviar sauce. Carol found this marvelous recipe on Food 52 for Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette. She made mashed sweet potatoes as well. Sounds like dinner. Continue reading

My new favorite kitchen thing

a cheese thing…

that’s Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery

It’s a cheese board with a glass cover. I’m pretty sure it has a name, but don’t know what it is. Anyway, it is great because good cheese shouldn’t be served or eaten cold. And if this is empty, it’s a reminder to get the cheese out of the fridge in time. I’d better go get mine out now.

Saw it at World Market for $20. They had one, and I bought it on the spot. WooHoo.

Dinner Salad

Breakfast Salad

“I’m cooking some spaghetti and that 1 1/2 links sausage with red sauce for dinner. If you want a salad, make one, I don’t care.” Carol announced dinner plans while I watched “Sportstalk Live” a show on Comcast Sports Net Bay Area and picked up on my Direct TV. Gotta keep in touch, and the 49ers whupped up on the Seahawks yesterday.

When I saw her put the water on to boil, I started thinking about the salad. We both like what we call Israeli Salad, which is basically chopped vegetables. The true Israeli Salad (or Arab salad) has a base of tomatoes and cucumbers, but I make it with whatever — and tomatoes and cucumbers aren’t exactly in season (there’s six inches of snow out the window).

I started by littering the kitchen counter with all things choppable and started chopping. I know I started with three cornichons and that didn’t look like enough, so I chopped one more. This gave me a basic quantity to match for each vegetable. To chop a cornichon as wide as its diameter, gave me a size to work with. So… the rest of the vegetables are listed in alphabetical order. I can’t remember in what order I chopped and added, and it doesn’t matter.

  • • pickled asparagus from a jar
    • celery, the very very tender inner heart left from using stalks to make soup
    • green olives
    • mandarin orange, sectioned and chopped
    • red radishes
    • scallions
    • sugar snap peas
    and lastly, a sliced endive. Last because I didn’t know if one would be enough. It was.

I tossed those with Newman’s Own salad dressing and there you have it. (OK, I coulda shoulda made my own dressing, but I did the whole salad while the spaghetti was cooking. Besides, I like Newman’s.)

dinner — chopped salad, spaghetti with red sauce

That made more than enough for Carol’s and my dinner salad and I had a cup and a half or so left for my breakfast (that was not unplanned, I love salad for breakfast).

Salad out of the fridge. I like salad for breakfast, but not cold salad. I dumped it on a plate and put in the countertop convection oven for a while at 150°F while I fried some cubes of Spam (I chopped one slice, about 1/2 ounce). Added the Spam to the salad plate and fried a flat egg to go over.

plate of not cold chopped salad

with a flat egg



A Great Day

… and a soup day

I had a great day today.
When I got up at 6:30 to make coffee, the temperature was 46°F, but it was snowing. I went back to bed as usual, and when I got up for good at 7:30, the temperature had dropped to 24°F and it was snowing hard, but with no wind.

6:50am I took this to show Carol in case the snow went away before she got up.

It snowed on until noon, first those tiny flakes, then bigger, fluffy ones. I measured four inches.

12:30pm The snow did not go away.

I love fresh snow. It is so pretty and everything is silent and still.

Won’t be going out today except to shovel, so I got busy in the warm indoors.

Made a Christmas gift for brother Wendell. It’s pretty cool, but I won’t disclose it here. That took the morning, because it required some thought and research.

Then I turned my attention to Turkey Barley Soup. It’s so good, that it can become a turkey leftover tradition. There is something very satisfying about making a hearty soup on a cold and snowy day.

Soup is an assembly process and it is like T’ai Chi to me to move around the kitchen, collecting vegetables and chopping, assembling the ingredients, stirring the big pot.

The big pot of vegetables. I like it because it’s wide and makes for easy stirring.

Lovely garlic from the spring farmers market

I especially liked working with the garlic that I got at the Farmers Market in the spring and hung in the kitchen to dry. It’s beautiful garlic and a joy to peel and smash.

The shopping was interesting. A key ingredient of the soup is pearl barley… not something you find just anywhere. Carol happened to be in Trader Joe’s — although we don’t usually shop there except for my favorite salted peanuts — and she got barley, but it is “ten minute barley.” Not the same, we cook the barley for this soup an hour or more.

On another day, we were in Raley’s and I cruised the rice and grain aisle. Astonishingly, there were three women with carts and me with no cart in that aisle all at once. Since I needed to peruse the shelves, I stood aside and mentioned I was looking for pearl barley. “I’m looking for pearl barley, too,” said a woman about my age. She found it first and offered me a package.

“You must be making Turkey Barley Soup,” I said, since I got the recipe last Thanksgiving from the Reno Gazette Journal.

“Yes,” she said, “I am.”

The recipe with plenty of pictures is in last year’s post, Turkey Left Over, but I made some modifications and clarifications, so I will repeat it here.

Based on an amalgamation of recipes and making stock much of my cooking life.
Yield, about 8 cups.

In a large stockpot, place Turkey carcass, and cover with water. When the water is nearly boiling, remove the pot from heat and pour off the water. (This takes care of the blood and scummy stuff so you don’t have to skim much.)
Cover the turkey carcass again with cold water, about 12 cups. Heat to a near simmer and add 2 each carrots and celery stalks; 1 onion, quartered; 1/2 lemon, rinsed and quartered; some peppercorns, a bay leaf; an herb bouquet. Cook uncovered at a bare simmer for about 2 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and let stand for an hour or so. Remove meaty bones, strain the stock and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, skim any fat from the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to 8 cups.

I borrowed this method from Tom Colicchio, in his book Think Like a Chef.
Nancy Horn does her stock in the oven (her recipe is below).

Nancy Horn of Dish Cafe and Catering Co.
Yield, about 3 quarts soup.
This soup is all about barley absorbing turkey broth, so make your own broth for the best soup. Store bought canned broth just doesn’t cut it, in this case.

Place a dutch oven (my 6Q white Le Creuset) on the stove over medium high heat. Add 1 Tbsp each of butter and olive oil. Peel and chop 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, 2 large leeks (tender parts), 1 large yellow onion. Add to pot, along with 1 bay leaf. Stir and season with salt/pepper mixture and sauté until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown around edges. [Takes about an hour to this point.]
Peel and smash 4 cloves garlic; add to pot and cook a minute. Add 1 cup dry white wine and stir to deglaze the pot. Simmer to reduce wine by half.
Add 8 cups turkey stock, bring to a simmer and add 1 cup pearl barley and 3 sprigs thyme. Stir well to incorporate. Simmer, covered, stirring every now and then until barley is tender, about 1 hour.
Chop and stir in 1 bunch Italian Parsley and 2 cups shredded cooked turkey. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Adjust amount of stock for brothyness. Serve with Romano or Parmesan cheese.

I use a salt/pepper mixture of 2 parts kosher salt, 1 part coarsely ground pepper.
Instead of parsley I used a small, young and tender bunch of Swiss chard,
torn in pieces and stems removed. (At our winter Garden Shop Farmers Market there’s a guy that grows hydroponic vegetables in a cold frame. Young, tender Swiss Chard year ’round.)

That, my friends, is yummy soup. Even better the next day for lunch.

TURKEY STOCK – Oven Method
Nancy Horn of Dish Cafe and Catering Co.
Yield, about 6 quarts.

Preheat Oven to 225°F.
In a large stockpot, place Turkey carcass, 4 each carrots and celery stalks; 2 onions, quartered, unpeeled; 1 lemon, rinsed and quartered; 6 peppercorns, 3 bay leaves; an herb bouquet. Cover with cold water. Cover and place in oven for 12 hours.
Remove from oven, remove solids and strain. Let stand for at least an hour and skim or otherwise remove fat.