The Knife Story

Yesterday, I mentioned the only time I’ve cut myself with one of our Shun knives is when I was cleaning it (and amusingly David later said same for him; I swear, if we’re not careful, people are going to start confusing us in public).  Like most things, it’s not a simple story.

It was New Year’s Eve, and we were at home.  We’re not fans of going out on New Year’s Eve; most of the time, we host friends or go to someone’s house. The year in question we canceled plans because Gretchyn got a pretty bad case of the flu on the 29th or so; she was out of it for several days. By this time she was at the point of being able to eat a little, so I made a bite for both of us and was cleaning up afterward.  It was just before 10pm.  I was drying the knife.

I don’t even remember the cut, I just remember looking at my thumb, open from tip to the first joint, and lots of blood already on the towel.  I swear that my first thought was Oh, hell no. I will not be the person in the ER on New Year’s Eve.  This was a wound which wasn’t going to close on its own or that I could just put a normal Band Aid on.  I considered calling our friend Dr. Beverly, whose husband Matt is a nurse; they always carry a suture kit in their vehicle just for such emergencies, and they didn’t live that far away.  Then I realized that they were probably out enjoying themselves, and being wine fans like us, perhaps a bit into their cups already.  When I called them the following day, she said, “No, we could have come over; we didn’t do anything either.”

The main problem is that I’m right-handed and the cut was on my right thumb.  At this point, my first aid training kicked in. Clean the wound.  Stop the bleeding.  Keep pressure on it.  The whole time, I’m irritated with myself for making such a rookie mistake.  Gretchyn had just fallen asleep, so I didn’t want to wake her up.  I got it reasonably-well bandaged with some gauze and medical tape from the kit we keep in the bathroom.  The worst part of it at this point is the fact that I had just poured a Trappist ale which a Belgian colleague had arranged to get me via a network of mutual friends.  It was a reasonably special beer—and also relatively high in alcohol, which is problematic when you’re trying to get a wound to clot.  So there I stood, my thumb now throbbing, staring at this liter of deliciousness which I wasn’t going to consume any time soon.

The blood continued to seep into the bandage.  My field dressing wasn’t working all that well.  I considered for a minute finding a sewing needle and some dental floss.  What kept me off of that idea wasn’t the fact that I have absolutely no skill in stitching a wound or the technique involved (it’s gotta be simple, right? People do it in the movies all the time), it wasn’t even the pain, it was the fact that I’d have to attempt it left-handed so I knew it’s be awkward and messy.  I unwrapped the bandage, cleaned and disinfected the wound again, then went for the only solution available to me:

Crazy glue.

It worked.  It formed enough of a bond to keep the cut closed long enough for the blood to clot and the natural healing process to take over.  We saw Beverly and Matt a few days later; she took a look at it and told me that while an ER might have stitched it, they might have also just used a medical adhesive and a butterfly bandage.  She said it looked fine, there was no evidence of infection, and to call her next time just in case.

The rest of the story is that you don’t realize how much you use the thumb on your dominant hand until you’re without it for a few weeks.  Now, even when I dry the knives, I grip the knife in my right hand, just in case.  Of course, you only need to cut yourself like that once to make sure you pay full attention every time thereafter.

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The Knives

Cooking can get to be an expensive hobby, what with all the exciting gadgets and cookware available to us in the 21st century.  While we have lots goodies like cherry pitters and salad spinners, brassiers and Dutch ovens, it’s helpful to remember the most basic thing we use in the kitchen: the knives.  While you can get bargain versions of many kitchen tools, it’s my contention that knives are the one thing that you want to spend good money on.

We have a drawer full of knives of many shapes and sizes, but we keep going back to the same ones again and again for most of what we do.  You’ll notice a pattern:

Shun Knives

That’s an 8″ Hikari, 7″ Santoku, 7″ serrated utility, and 4″ classic paring knife, all from Shun.  I certainly don’t want to turn this into a Shun commercial, but I can’t ignore the fact that these four knives take care of nearly everything we do and how much we love them.  The top one is our newest purchase, and what got me thinking about the knives in the first place.  We’ve had the other three for in the neighborhood of ten years; the Hikari is our newest, and what got me thinking about this topic in the first place.

Obviously, a knife must have and keep a great edge.  For me, the whole thing is about these knives is balance and feel.  Even though the Hikari is a sweet knife, the Santoku is still my favorite because of the weight.  I get that Gretchyn, whose hands are a little smaller than mine, likes the lighter weight and slightly tapered grip of the Hikari–which I’m happy to use any time, especially for more delicate work.

I happened to be chatting a few weeks back with one of our friends, David Williams, who you might know as a professional Magic: the Gathering player, poker star, and Master Chef finalist (and for the next two days, ESPN WSOP analyst).  He was actually giving me a few plating tips (absolutely the weakest part of my game) when knives came up; we quickly realized our mutual love of the Shun–and it was all about craftsmanship and feel.  We even had a similar criticism: they need to be sharpened quite frequently.  Still, that’s a small price to pay for the perfection of the way these babies handle.  I believe that being so comfortable with them is the reason I’ve never cut myself while using one (plus always keeping a sharp edge, so you don’t need to force the knife to work).  I did once lay open my thumb while cleaning the Santoku, but that’s another story.

Of course, this is less about a particular brand than it is about finding the perfect knives for yourself.  Our hands are different sizes and strengths. Some folks like one knife for everything, some love a different blade for each job. The clear part to me is that the knife that suits you best, lasts the longest, and serves you best in the kitchen is going to cost a little extra–but then again, you’re worth it.

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Post-Ric’s Friday Wine Down

We moved to Lakeland just over a year ago and nearly immediately found a great local wine shop.  Ric’s Wine Market has become the place we get most of the wine we don’t pick up from mailing lists.  More importantly, it’s a place we go nearly every Friday because the regular crowd that hangs out there are great folks who accepted us with open arms right away.  It starts with owners Ric and Sherry, who run a great, customer-oriented place.  Ric has a great palate and nose for picking out great wines as reasonable prices.  To make things even better, Ric and I share a fondness for the same kinds of wines; although we both love wines from all around the world, there’s a great deal of overlap in our sweet spots, Bordeaux in particular.  Ric and Sherry host a small tasting from 5-7 (the “Friday Wine Down”), and then some portion of the crowd usually goes out to dinner afterward.

A few months back, we got together with some of the regulars and agreed that occasionally we’d go to someone’s house afterward instead of going to a restaurant.  One of the reasons is that we never know how many folks will be going out, and it’s tough to take 8 or more people to a restaurant on a Friday without a reservation.  The effort has gone quite nicely because for what the two of us would spend on a meal in a decent restaurant, we can cook for the 12-15 people who are in the normal rotation.  This past Friday, we did just that–although the crowd was more like 20 this time (for which we thankfully prepared).  For the most part, I’m going to let the pictures tell the story.

Post Ric Friday Cellar Door

Cellar Door with the Menu and First Wave of Wines

We did all the cooking ourselves, since buying it or catering it would kind of defeat the purpose.  Here’s what the layout looked like before some of our friends brought a few additions and desserts.

Post Ric Friday Food.jpg

The Food Layout

All of the food went over extremely well, but the hit of the evening had to be the mini twice-baked potatoes (in the back, on the right).  We roasted small potatoes at 400F for about 40 minutes–enough to get the skin nice and firm, even a little crispy.  After letting them get cool enough to handle, we cut a hole in the top and scooped out the meat with a melon-baller.  Into this we mixed melted butter, sour cream, shredded cheddar, and a little salt and pepper.  We then stuffed the filling back in, dusted with some smoked paprika, and baked for another 30 minutes at 350F. When they came out, we topped them with some diced scallions.  They’re a great cocktail party food because they’re a single bite that you don’t even need a plate for.  If we had made half again the amount, they’d have probably all been gone as well.

Of course, the reason this group gets together is wine.  The first three on the list were all picks from Ric’s.  They’re all in a nice price range for a larger crowd (around $20 each), and every one is a winner.  The last one on the original list is from one of our mailers, Bedrock Wine Company, and wunderkind winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson.  This particular Syrah was the early hit of the evening, as Bedrock wines tend to be.  More than one person asked “where can we get some of this?”  We were on the waiting list for the wines for about a year, but now we get enough of an allocation that we can share some of it with our friends, which we’re always happy to do.  Of course, the list grew as folks showed up and brought bottles.  We eventually ran out of room:

Post Ric Friday Cellar Part 2

The Later List

Even later, as they sometimes do, things got serious:

Post Ric Lynch

2003 Chateau Lynch-Bages and friends

You can just barely make out the vintage on the left of the bottle.  It’s a 2003, as is the Chateau Valandraud you seek peeking out to the right.  The 03 Lynch is a spectacular wine from a sometimes-challenging vintage, all barnyard, leather, black fruits, and well-integrated tannins.  I know I’m a little biased since Lynch-Bages is my favorite Bordeaux house, but this is exactly what I want the perfect wine to smell and taste like.

Great food and great wine are by themselves a treat, but they’re even better when you enjoy them in the midst of wonderful friends.  I have a feeling Post-Ric’s Friday is going to be happening for a long time to come.

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Weeknight Cocktails

Here are two relatively simple cocktails for your weeknight enjoyment.

Angel’s Envy Rye Manhattan


3 oz Angel’s Envy Rye

1 oz Carpano Antica Vermouth

2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Shaken over ice, strained, and served up. Garnished with a homemade maraschino cherry.




Violet Oasis

3 oz Ketel One vodka

1 oz Creme de Violette

1 oz homemade lemon simple syrup

Shaken over ice, strained, and served up.  Garnished with fresh basil.


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Cherry Leather

Sometimes you just try stuff to see what happens, and then you figure out later what you’re going to do with it.  We’re in the middle of cherry season, they’re delicious and cheaply available, so we figured we’d give Cherry Leather a whirl.  The recipe was taken directly from Put ‘Em Up: Fruit, which Gretchyn got from the Book Larder on a trip to Seattle.  Cherry Leather is basically organic fruit roll-ups.

Cherry Leather

In the native and rolled-up forms

Things went according to plan with the recipe, save for the fact that it took a fair amount longer to dry than expected–we actually left it overnight.  It peeled off the wax paper easily enough, although it’s a little sticky to handle.  But the bigger question is what are we going to do with it?

Just Eat It

Obviously, it’s way a healthier fruit snack than anything laden with chemicals and preservatives.  It’s bursting with cherry flavor and nicely sweet.  It will last longer in this form than the cherries themselves would have.  This answer is just a little too first order.

Garnish Dessert

You might simply put a little roll of it into ice cream or use it as a platform for something else.  The substance is pretty malleable, so someone with a little artistic skill might be able to shape it in any number of ways to decorate a cake or pie.

As the Fruit Layer in a Dish

We’re probably still talking dessert here, but you could add a different texture to the inside of a roulade or cake.  It’s likely too sweet for a savory dish, although I might consider it with meats–especially wild game–which like a fruit component.  Again, it’s pretty easy to work with, so a thin, sharp knife in the right hands could do quite a bit to make an attractive and edible garnish.


Bourbon and cherry are a match made in heaven, so garnishing a Manhattan with a Cherry Leather straw/stirrer seems like the right call.  The sweetness of the cherry makes a nice contrast to the tartness of cranberry, so you could probably do the same with a Cape Codder.  The substance might be a better way to flavor your own vodka (and an experiment I’m definitely going to try), although you might need too much of it to make a difference.  Guess we’ll find out.

Sometimes a food discovery isn’t about just eating the food, but about the many ways you can use it.  I suspect this sort of unassuming and simple substance will turn into a powerful weapon in our arsenal.



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Roasted Shrimp Tacos with Chipotle Pineapple Habanero Red Cabbage Slaw

All we wanted was something tasty, different, and relatively easy to make, as well as moderately light.  During the process, we may have come up with a new kitchen hack.  When the local seafood market had a nice deal on royal red shrimp (already cleaned!), we got two pounds, knowing we could make a few dishes over the weekend with them.  First up:  shrimp tacos.

Shrimp Tacos Pineapple Habanero Slaw


Make the slaw

Roast the shrimp

Stuff the tacos


Chipotle Pineapple Habanero Red Cabbage Slaw

½ head red cabbage, shredded

1 habanero, seeded, finely diced

3 scallions (both white and green parts), thinly-sliced

20 oz pineapple chunks, drained

1 cup mayo

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon chipotle powder

1 teaspoon cayenne

Salt to taste


I don’t quite don a radiation suit when I work with habaneros, but close enough. I make sure that I use gloves from the time I pull it off of the plant through cleaning up everything they’ve touched.  It was the second ingredient into the bowl, after the cabbage.  I used only one for this recipe, and it was quite enough.  Habaneros are more about flavor than heat, but you have to respect the burn they can bring.  The rest of the slaw was simply mixing all the ingredients together and giving the flavors time to set in.  Since these pineapples happened to be canned, I poured them out into a strainer and let them drain for a good long time.  We ended up with about ¾ cup of juice, which we later put to use.

One of the things you find out with slaw after it sits is that it gives up a fair amount of liquid, sometimes making your slaw wetter than you want.  As I was assembling the elements, it struck me that we could drain it while it sat and save the juice to do something else with.  Due to the raw volume of the slaw, I used our lettuce spinner; I had to drain the liquid out a few times over the hour or so it sat, so if I want to do the same in the future, I’ll rig up something more appropriate.  It turned out great, because the slaw stayed crispy and didn’t make the tacos sloppy.  The slaw sat about 2 hours before we used it.

We roasted about one pound of shrimp in a few tablespoons of avocado oil and a teaspoon each of chipotle and cayenne.  We wanted to bring out the flavors in the slaw without over-seasoning the shrimp.  Roasting the shrimp—these were 16-20 counts—took about 11 minutes at 400F.

For sauces, we did two things.  First, we simply used that juice from the slaw.  It was thick enough, although if I were to use it again in the future, I might thicken it a little more.  The other sauce was a simple crème fraiche, cilantro, and lime mixture.  Crème fraiche seems a little awkward to work with, but it becomes just liquid enough at room temperature to be a good drizzle—but there’s no getting it into a squeeze bottle until much later.  If you need it in a bottle right away, use cream, half and half, or milk to make it more liquid.

Diced avocado and roasted corn became the finishing touches on the tacos.  We cut the kernels off of two fresh heads of corn, and tucked them into the toaster oven until they were nice and brown—almost nutty in both color in texture.

The dish came together extremely well.  We both preferred the crème fraiche as a topping to the slaw juice.  The latter added more heat, but the creaminess of the former brought all the other elements together while providing a cooling element for the aggressive heat of the slaw.  It’s the direct we’ll choose to go when we make the dish in the future.  We discussed in the future cutting the shrimp into smaller pieces to simply make the tacos easier to manage. Having them whole presents well, but is a little trickier to wrap up the tortilla and eat.  As I was assembling tacos, Gretchyn put that pineapple juice to use making drinks.

Blackberry Pineapple Side Car

About 8 fresh blackberries, muddled

2 oz. Cognac

1.5 oz pineapple juice

.5 oz Cointreau

.5 oz lemon juice

.5 oz simple syrup

She muddled the blackberries in a cocktail shaker, added in the rest of the ingredients, added ice, shook, and strained, serving it up with a garnish of fresh basil from the garden. The drink’s sweetness did its job of complementing the pineapple as well as contrasting with the heat.  The first version didn’t have the sugared rim; the second did. It didn’t need the additional sweetness to go with the dish. If I were pairing it, I’d leave off the sugar.  Serving it as a straight cocktail, leaving on the sugar is fine.

Blackberry Sidecar

Cooking together doesn’t just provide us with an activity for spending time with each other, it creates a meeting of the minds as we plan, create, modify, and execute a dish.  The joint activity offers us the opportunity to challenge ourselves and each other to keep creating better and better food.

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Rebooting with a Dinner Gang

There were a number of circumstances which let this blog slip away.  It no longer matters what they were; it just matters that we’re bringing it back.

Appropriately, the subject of that reboot is our most recent Dinner Gang, which was number 49.  The theme was cherries.

DG 49 Table

Calm Table, Pre-Storm

As the hosting duties were ours, it fell to us to choose the theme.  We knew going in that we wanted a simple ingredient, one which would test all our abilities to come up with something compelling.  I originally suggested the potato.  Since fresh cherries are in season at the moment, we went for something a little more flavor and a lot more room to build around.  As normally happens, our friends rose to the challenge.

Course 1:  Duck “Slaw” Bruschetta



Course 1 Pairing: NV Champagne de Margerie Blanc de Noirs

The bruschetta was first layered with a rosemary cream cheese, then topped with the slaw made of shredded duck, onion, celery, and a little habanero.  Jim and Neal explained that they wanted the duck itself to have the heat, as opposed to what would be the sort of normal choice of putting the heat into the sauce.  The dish was awash in delicious contrasts, from the smoothness of the cream cheese to the crunch of the slaw, with the cherry sauce providing a silky bridge.  The Blanc de Noirs pairing set it off perfectly, picking up cherry notes which a normal Champagne wouldn’t have.

Course 2: Duck Confit Crepe with Cherry Gastrique


Course 2 Pairing: 2014 La Crema Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Kathryn and David, to the disappointment of exactly no one, also went for duck to go with the cherry.  David said that he knew precisely what the dish was going to be as soon as they heard the theme (which we gave everyone about 3 weeks lead time on).  The icing on this particular cake were the Port-reconstituted Bing cherries, adding a beautiful darkness to the whole dish.  The contrasts of the rich duck, the airy crepe, and the expressive cherries melded together into flavor symphony.  The ripeness of the 2014 La Crema Pinot Noir struck the perfect chord with the rest of the dish.  To be honest, I’ve previously been ambivalent about La Crema wines.  After drinking this one, I realized that I’d only had their Sonoma Coast version.  There was nothing to be ambivalent about here; the powerful fruit and racy mouthfeel of the Russian River Valley cuvee made it not only a great pairing, but wine I’d be happy to drink on its own.

Course 3: Stone Ground Mustard-Crusted Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin or Oven-Roasted Sockeye with Cherry-Bourbon Reduction, Cherry Kalamata Fennel Ciabatta Stuffing, Braised Fennel.

DG49 Salmon

Course 3 Salmon Pairing: 2012 Martinelli Vineyards Moonshine Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Because we had an abundance of cherries, we had a few weeks earlier macerated some of them in bourbon.  At the time, we didn’t know what we wanted to do.  We obviously figured it out.

For the meat-eaters, we marinated pork tenderloin in some of the bourbon from the cherry jar.  I covered the tenderloins in stone ground mustard and vacuum-sealed them for their two-hour trip in the sous vide bath at 136F.  When they came out, I gave them a quick sear all around before slicing into medallions.  Searing didn’t change the internal temperature too much, but concerned about over-cooking them, I didn’t get the sear as crispy as I otherwise might have.  In the future, I’ll probably cook the pork to an internal of 130 and sear it a little longer.

We marinated the salmon in the cherry bourbon for about an hour.  I didn’t add any acid (a little freshly-squeezed lime juice) until right before putting them into a 425F oven for about eight minutes.  I could have eaten it at six.  The sockeye was almost buttery without any help from us save in the reduction.

The reduction we used for both proteins was made from equal parts of the bourbon-soaked cherries and reconstituted dried cherries, finished with a tablespoon or so of butter just to bring some richness to it.

The stuffing, which we did a test drive of the week before, will become a dish we go back to again.  Ripeness from the cherries, darkness and a touch of saltiness from the olives, and the licorice aromatics of the fennel combined into an explosive side dish.  The caramelized notes of the braised fennel brought it all together.

We knew going in that we’d pair two different wines with the two different meats.  What would work for the pork–with its much higher fat content–wasn’t going to work for the salmon.  We nearly immediately settled on the Martinelli Moonshine Ranch Pinot.  Without the bourbon flavors, I would have suggested an Oregon Pinot, but the bourbon brought a kind of darkness to go with the cherry flavors, which suggested a high-octane Russian River Valley offering instead.

My initial instinct was to go with Barolo to pair with the pork.  During a discussion about the meal with Ric, proprietor of Ric’s Wine Market here in Lakeland, he agreed that Barolo was probably the right way to go, but I might also want to think about something from Rioja.  During one of our test runs, I pulled a 2010 Bodegas Numanthia Toro Numanthia.  This enormous wine was exactly what the pork needed, a surprising ripeness in the fruit complimenting the cherry elements while the towering tannins perfectly complemented the rich pork, and it’s the pairing I’d choose again.  To be fair, the wine on its own is spectacular; it took this dish into the stratosphere.

Course 4: Homemade Pistachio Cherry Bourbon Ice Cream and Dark Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

DG49 Dessert

Course 4 Pairing: Cordial of Du Monte Pistachio Liquer

We made both the ice cream and the biscotti the night before.  The bourbon-soaked cherries went into the ice cream mixture toward the end of the cycle in the ice cream maker.  The alcohol content made the freezing a little trickier, but the ice cream still turned out nicely rich.  The double contrast of the nutty, crispy biscotti and the heady dark chocolate made it a fitting wrap to the meal.  We were mixed on finishing with either a little of the Du Monte or drinking up the last of the wine.

I actually left about half a glass of the Numanthia in the decanter until the next day. Normally, if I’m saving some wine, I’ll vacuum-seal it and put it in the fridge.  This particular wine was so titantic I wanted to see what it was like 24  hours later, still open to the air.  I drank it with the few bits of leftover pork, and it was still singing.  I can’t imagine too many other wines with that kind of staying power.


DG 49 Wines

The Wine Lineup

Once again, the folks we’ve cooked with at least once a month for now more than four years showed that they know what they’re doing.  We wrapped Dinner Gang 49 and eagerly await the decision on what we’ll be doing next month, when we hit the half century mark.

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