Skillet Sourdough: Kirk Spencer

Kirk made a delicious looking sandwich over on his blog that looks great, so I thought I’d direct you over there for a look.  Best part is, he baked that bread in his skillet:

This is my favorite cast iron skillet – a Wagnerware deep number 8. Ignore the number; it’s a ten inch skillet that’s just over 3 inches deep.  I picked it up, rusted, at a garage sale for 25 cents.  No, it is not an antique, just a bargain.  The loaf of bread beside it is the sourdough loaf I baked in my favorite skillet. I think I’ll save a digression on making sourdough for later.

Head on over to see what’s cooking at Mental Meanderings.

Men Who Cook: Kirk Spencer, Pork Tenderloin Confit

From the Men Who Cook series, Kirk Spencer offers another tasty recipe:

Here’s another fun one to try:

Pork Tenderloin Confit

It’s a three-step process: curing, preserving, and cooking.

Step one, Curing: You’ll do this 12-18 hours before the next step time. Make a curing rub of approximately 1 cup coarse salt and seasonings of choice. For your first run I’m going to recommend about 10 cloves of garlic and 10 sprigs of fresh thyme. Smash the cloves, strip the leaves from the sprigs, and toss with the salt to mix thoroughly. Now in a pan large enough to hold the tenderloin make a bed of half the cure, put the tenderloin on it, and sprinkle the rest on top. Take any that’s loose and pat it on the sides so the whole loin is covered. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.

Step two, preserving: Set your oven to 200 degrees F (180 F if you can manage it). Melt about two pounds of butter. Remove the loin from the refrigerator and rinse off the salt, then place in a clean oven-proof dish that will hold it. Pour the butter over the top. If the loin is not covered by at least half an inch, melt and add more butter. Put in the oven for approximately 3 hours. (NOTE: You’re poaching this loin in butter.) Two tests for done – the traditional skewer (the meat will give almost no resistance when done) and the temperature test (aim for 165 internal).

The following is optional but explains why this step is preserving, not cooking. Pull the pan out of the oven, let it cool for half an hour, then put meat into a quart masonry jar. Strain the butter through a cheesecloth, and pour enough into the jar to fully cover the loin. Close with a lid, and place in refrigerator. Keep for one week to three months. The flavors will intensify over time, but at three months it’s supposedly getting a bit strong. (I don’t know. I’ve never lasted past a month.)

FINISHING: Two options: For both, slice the loin into medallions. If you’re finishing instead of preserving, you can serve these hot, buttery loin medallions as is. Alternately, put medallions with a bit of the butter in a hot skillet to brown both sides – about two minutes on a side. This can be done with the cold or hot loin medallions. I really like serving these with parboiled and parsleyed new potatoes and red cabbage, but have been known to use buttered noodles (yes, more butter) and a cold pea salad as well.

Confit is a traditional means of preservation. Poach the meat in fat till it’s done, then let the fat solidify around it and store in a cool location. Traditionally you do this with a fatty meat (duck and goose being the most famous) and use its own fat. I’ve discovered that poaching in butter is delicious, too, and works for oh so many other meats.

Use either or neither, and good luck,


Thanks Kirk.  For more of Kirk’s recipes and thought on life in general, check out his blog:  Mental Meanderings

Men Who Cook: Quick and Easy

So Kirk Spencer did my job for me today over on his blog.  And he stated what I’ve been thinking all week, but hadn’t gotten around to writing.  You don’t have to be fancy to eat well.   I guess if I could, what I would for anyone who relies on fast food or prepackaged food, I would come to your house and show how easy and how tasty simple foods are.  Fresh when possible, frozen next best thing, but control your own ingredients and you’ll be happier and healthier, and the food tastes so much better.  Kirk always says it better:

12 minutes after I walked in the door from a very frustrating “we’ll call you” interview, we ate.

And I think most folk would have been perfectly happy to join us.

The bottom line here is you don’t have to be fancy. A lot of foods taste great just heated. A simple steak. A quick chef’s salad. Some ears of corn previously frozen for times like this.

Just a point to keep in mind.

For his complete quick and easy Salmon dinner, head on over here.

Men Who Cook: Kirk Spencer, California Stuffed Trout

I’m not sure, but I think Kirk is the person who pushed my guest recipe section into a Men Who Cook series.  He has sent me two recipes for this series and I’ll post one now and I’ll save the other for later when we need a lift.  Kirk’s recipes are as much fun to read as they are to eat.  Here is Kirk:

I learned to cook before I was 10. My parents believed all their kids should know how to do everything in the house, and that was one of the things done. Turns out I have a knack for it. I actually thought I was going to be a chef; till I worked in a restaurant and learned how much WORK doing that sort of thing really is. Still, I’ve been cooking for about 40 years.

Along the way, I found that far too often I didn’t have ‘that particular ingredient’ to hand. Shortly after that I realized that most dishes are variations on a theme; even before we get into the fact that one person’s “too hot” is another ‘s “where’s the spice?”

Oh, and I also got my grandmother’s cookbook. Well, actually it was the one she got from HER grandmother. You laughed at the way I wrote squab in a coffin, and yet that’s the way the whole book reads. Dibs and splashes, handfuls of this and pinches of the other, and “a bit of this or that” to taste, depending on what’s on hand. My first successful pie dough came from that book, and I’ll give you a close approximation of the instructions:

Take two double handfuls of flour and a pinch of salt and stir them together. Cut in a fist of lard (Grandmother drew through that and wrote “shortening”) till it is mealy. Sprinkle handfuls of water and stir till it comes together.

Oh, it’s a short crust – tough, not delicate and flaky. It’s a crust that would stand up to her husband taking a slice with him to the field. I’ve picked up a few tricks for when I want to make it delicate and flaky (half a fist of butter instead of shortening – and reduce the total size of the fist – just for an example). However, it works, works easily and well for people who are flummoxed or frightened by more “proper” instructions.

But that seriously influenced how I write instructions. Precision is for chefs – the professionals who have spent years testing the same recipe over and over and strive for repetitive perfection. Me, I’m a cook. I’m tossing together today’s ingredients and since I don’t live near a great market and have to pinch a penny or two when I DO go, I’m looking for what’s going to be happily devoured by my family and guests.

Fortunately, I seem to have figured it out.


Note from TaMara:  In my defense, when Kirk says I laughed at how he wrote Squab in a Coffin – it was because I enjoyed it!  Here’s his latest recipe, California Stuffed Trout in a pouch:

Recipes? I can go for hours on recipes.

California Stuffed Trout in a pouch

The basic recipe is simple. You need whole trout, as fresh as possible. (If you’re one of those who can’t handle the head looking back at you, you can cook this headless. Just get a friendly decapitator to assist.) You’re going to loosely pack a filling (which I’ll get to in a minute) in the belly, then seal the trout up and bake it.

Properly you’re going to seal the trout in a parchment pouch. Functionally, aluminum foil works though if your taste buds are sensitive you can taste the difference. You can also purchase brown paper (lunch) bags and oil them, put the fish in, close and staple the top, and bake. The process, however, is to trap all the steam inside so the cooking is as much about steaming as it about baking.

So what about that stuffing? You’ll want some chopped nuts, some fruit (small or rough chopped), a hot pepper that you’ve finely minced, and a pinch of salt. You’ll want roughly 2 parts nuts to one part fruit, and about a quarter cup of filling per fish. Now my preference is pecans, blueberries, and habanero that I’ve carefully seeded and cleaned of membrane, and I tend to make four of these (one habanero between the four, thank you). That’s a bit hot for some folk, and other folk look a bit askance at the blue stained interior of the fish when it’s done. However, I’ve used currants and cherries and apples and cranberries, each to good effect.  Loose stuff the fish, and put it in your pouch. Seal the pouch to trap the steam. Put in a hot oven (375-425 degrees F) for about 10-15 minutes for two to four fish, 15-20 for four to eight, and you’re on your own if you’re serving a feast. Serve in pouch, but warn your guests to be careful when opening as it will blast them with the steam.

Oh, formal?

Stuffed Trout en papillote

preheat oven to 400.

  • 1 cup chopped pecans.
  • 1/2 cup blueberries.
  • 1 habanero, seeded, membrane removed, minced.
  • 1/2 tsp salt.
  • 4 fresh trout, cleaned. (wear gloves for protection)

Mix pecans, berries, habanero and salt. Loosely stuff the trout, and place in parchment pouches. Seal pouches.

Bake 10-15 minutes at 400 (F).

Serve in pouches while hot.

Recommended sides: vinaigrette slaw OR other crisp salad; steamed vegetables.

That sounds so good.  Can’t wait to try it.  Thanks, Kirk.

Guest Recipe: Kirk Spencer Strikes Again

From the same man who brought us Squab in a Coffin, here’s his take on a Reuben:

I call it that because I can only have one when the rest of the family will be gone for a few days – and I’m not going to be around other people for a few days either. I’ve had people call it a reuben. It’s related, more or less.

Bread: Coarse black rye.
Sauerkraut: the strongest you can get. I don’t want it so strong it will come when called. I want it so strong that when you call it’ll flip you off and keep beating up the pickles that are trying to hide in the corner.

For the rest,  head on over to his blog  and read this great recipe, you won’t be sorry.  Meanwhile, I’ll use this opportunity to remind you about my new series, Men Who Cook.  We’ve got some great recipes coming up, but I’m still looking for a few good men to participate.