Pastrami Calzone

Sometimes you have great plans for making a meal, other times you have to forage through your refrigerator and be creative. This was definitely one of those other times.

A few weeks ago, I cured and smoked two beef tongues and made them into pastrami. I have been eating it and sharing with others, but I still have almost an entire one remaining. Tonight I planned to make a nice hot, pastrami sandwich, but when I opened the refrigerator door, I noticed that there was a pizza dough ball that needed to be baked. My on the fly decision was to make a pastrami calzone.

First I preheated the oven with our pizza stone in it to 475°. Then I stretched out the dough ball on the pizza peel.

I diced up about 2 cups of the pastrami, half of a red onion, and a quarter of a red bell pepper.

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I sauteed these ingredients with a 1/4 cup of whole grain brown mustard. While that was cooking, I shredded about a cup of aged Irish cheddar cheese.

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After I took the pan off the heat, I began assembling my calzone. I put half of the meat, onion, pepper and mustard mixture onto the crust, then sprinkled the cheese on top, before adding the other half of the pre-cooked mixture.

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I laid the other side of the pizza crust over the top, carefully folding the edges over one another to make a good seal. Then into the oven it went for about 18 minutes.

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Once I removed it from the oven, I cut it in half.

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The dominant aroma from the calzone was the vinegary mustard. My first taste combined the flavors of the mustard, the pastrami, and the onion. Those flavors completely over-powered the cheese and the red bell pepper, but sometimes that’s what happens when you challenge yourself with the contents of the refrigerator. It tasted pretty good, but perhaps a stronger flavored cheese and some roasted bell pepper would give it a little bit more. There is always the next time.

Posted in Charcuterie, Meal by Mike | Leave a comment

My BBQ Tour of Asheville

I recently spent a week near Asheville with my family. As it was a vacation, I tried my hardest to relax and enjoy myself as much as possible. Being in North Carolina, I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to try some authentic BBQ.

We stayed in an amazing AirBnB cottage just outside the town of Swannanoa. It is the first town you come to if you go East out of Asheville on I-40. Our location made it easy for us to try restaurants in the city, as well as out in the neighboring towns.

The first BBQ restaurant that I tried was Phil’s Bar-B-Que Pit in Black Mountain. Phil’s describes itself as “Alabama BBQ,” and upon entering the restaurant it is easy to see they mean it. I’m not certain of the style of BBQ that comes from Alabama, but the larger than life sized poster of Nick Saban and a wall of other University of Alabama paraphernalia made it obvious that ‘Bama is certainly favored there.

As for the food, I chose a three meat combo plate. I had chopped pork, a red hot, and sliced brisket with sides of vinegar slaw, onion rings, and hush puppies. The chopped pork had good flavor and texture, and I could taste a hint of vinegar from the mop sauce they had applied during the smoking and chopping process. The red hot had a nice smokiness, but lacked any distinct flavor beyond that. The sliced brisket was a complete fail in my opinion. It was very dry and lacked any distinct flavor either.

The sauces helped each of the meats, but I am a firm believer that great BBQ needs no sauce. At least the meats each came without sauce, so I was able to sample each of the sauces with each of the meats. Their sauces included a Classic Red BBQ Sauce, an East Carolina BBQ Sauce, a White BBQ Sauce, a Mustard BBQ Sauce and a Hot BBQ Sauce. I did not try the White BBQ Sauce, but each of the other sauces seemed to have a single flavor note – Classic Red was mild and slightly sweet, East Carolina was heavy on vinegar with a hint of heat, the Mustard was tangy with a bit of sweetness and heat and the Hot was like the Classic Red with a slight hint of heat. The Mustard paired best with the red hot and the East Carolina was best with the chopped pork. Nothing could save the brisket.

The second BBQ restaurant that I tried was Buxton Hall, located on the South Slope in Asheville. Buxton Hall was the one place that I had heard from before going to Asheville, and I was certain that I wanted to sample what they had to offer. A visit like this means I had higher expectations regarding what I was going to eat, but I have to say I was not disappointed at all.

I ordered the BBQ & Hash Deluxe Plate. This included chopped pork that came from a whole hog, South Carolina hash, slaw, pickles, hushpuppies, rice & one side. I chose a side of the slaw after the waitress told me that the slaw that came with the plate was essentially a garnish.

The chopped pork was everything I hoped it would be. The fat that rendered during the time the hog spent in the pit made it moist and flavorful, and there was a nice hint of vinegar from what the pitmaster mopped on it while it smoked. That vinegar helped cut through the richness of the fat, making it unctuous but not greasy.

The South Carolina hash was something new to me. I had an idea what it was, but I’d never had a chance to try it. SC hash looks like a thick gravy that has bits of shredded meat in it. It is made of many parts of the hog, including offal. There was a noticeable taste of irony liver in this hash, but it didn’t overpower everything else. Mixed in with the cup of rice that came with it, it was perfect. The starch of the rice thickened the gravy even more and the taste of the rice blended with the minerally meat to temper the flavor and make it an excellent option for a side dish. The only things I added to it were some black pepper and a couple splashes of hot sauce.

My only regret regarding the food at Buxton Hall was my choice of side. That is not to say that the slaw was bad, but there was nothing special about it. While I was eating it, I noticed that one of the other sides available was Green Beans Cooked Under the Hog. Reading the name of that dish made me want to try it. Typing it now made me want to try it. One last thing to mention about Buxton Hall was the dessert that I shared with my family, the Peach Cobbler. If you ever get the opportunity to try it, take that opportunity. You won’t regret it.

After leaving Asheville and spending a relaxing week with my in-laws in Myrtle Beach, we returned to Asheville for an overnight stay on the way home. The social media person for another Asheville BBQ restaurant had engaged me via Twitter regarding a photo and tweet that I had posted while eating at Buxton Hall, so I decided I would give them a try. This took me to Luella’s Bar-B-Que.

I went to the South Asheville Luella’s location at Biltmore Park. I placed my order to go and talked with one of the employees while I waited. He was a bit cocky when I told him that I had eaten at Buxton Hall and filled me in on a bit of the history of Luella’s. It is a restaurant that has been around since 2007 and espouses a family atmosphere regarding its employees. Hearing the story of Luella’s made me glad that I took the chance to try it.

I chose the chopped pork and smoked andouille sausage. My wife had the BBQ Chicken Salad. The chopped pork was ok, but not as good as that from Buxton Hall. The andouille was advertised as medium spicy, but in addition to being bland in its spices, it was lacking any taste of smoke. With sauce they were ok, but I mentioned earlier my thoughts on the quality of BBQ that requires sauce. The best thing that I had was some of my wife’s salad. The smoked chicken was pulled and tossed with Romaine, Tomato, Cucumber, Lue’s Pickled Corn Relish and Fried Onions. The dressing was creamy buttermilk with basil. The flavors combined perfectly to meld the smoke of the chicken with the tanginess of the relish and the creamy, acidic buttermilk of the dressing. As I had my order to go, I knew it was possible that the quality might suffer. That may have affected my thoughts regarding the meat, but the taste was just not what I hoped it would be.

Overall, I would highly recommend that anyone eat at Buxton Hall. As for the other two, they are definitely better than no BBQ at all, but neither are in the same league as Buxton Hall.

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Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken

Frank Fejeran’s new joint has been open for just over a month now, and I have finally had a chance to check it out. I went in during the latter half of the dinner rush, because I had heard it is busy. That was no rumor. When I arrived, there were no open seats available in the dining room and there was a line of people ordering food about 10 deep.

I waited my turn and placed my order (3 piece dark, spicyAF, baked beans, potato salad and two Biscuit Donuts). I was told it would be 25 minutes, so I asked if I could step into the kitchen to say hi to Frank while I waited. I walked into the kitchen and was amazed at what I saw.

I have seen or worked in some pretty small kitchens in my day, but Ma Lou’s kitchen is about as small as they come. Considering there are six people working in the space, efficiency is the name of the game. I stood in the corner, by the back door, and watched the smooth choreography of a well oiled machine.

As the orders came in, one guy read the tickets and prepped (dipped in liquid and dredged in seasoned flour) each piece of chicken to get dropped in the fryer. Frank was working the fryers and dropped the chicken for each order before passing the ticket to the two guys working the finishing table. Depending on how the chicken was ordered: Southern, Medium, or SpicyAF (AsF**k), they prepared each order and bag it up. The person preparing sides was just inside the front door of the kitchen, managing a steam table for the baked beans, a refrigerator for the cold sides and another fryer for the fries and the Biscuit Donuts.

The cold storage for the chicken was behind the guys working the finishing table. The other side of the room had the sinks and drying space for the dishwasher. The entire prepping, cooking and cleaning space of the operation occupied a room of about 150 square feet.

I got my order and took it home, since I ordered the Biscuit Donuts to share with my family. The chicken smelled so good, it took everything I had to not dig in on the 20 minute drive home. My patience was definitely rewarded though.

As anyone who knows me understands, I like things spicy. I wasn’t taking Frank’s spicyAF as a challenge, but I was hoping it would worthy of its name. It was. The level of spicy was hot, but not so hot that all it did was burn. There was a good amount of flavor in the heat, and the meat was extremely juicy as well.

The sides provided a good balance to the spicyAF chicken. The baked beans had a thick, viscous sauce, and the beans themselves were cooked to perfection. The spices in the sauce complemented the spice on my chicken, just with less intensity. The potato salad had a creaminess from the potatoes (not a mayo-based dressing) with crunchy texture from bits of carrot and red onion. My favorite part of the potato salad was the delicate essence of dill. It is easy to do bad potato salad, but Frank has really brought his A game with this one. This was easily the best potato salad I have had at a restaurant.

Finally, I have to say something about the Biscuit Donut. Think the flaky layers of a biscuit encased in the texture of a donut that has been fried to golden perfection and lightly coated with a simple glaze. It is the marriage of two things you wouldn’t expect to go together, but they match one another to exceed expectations.

I have no doubt that I will go to Ma Lou’s again. Next time, I may take my family and try to brave the crowds and get my order to stay.

Posted in Ann Arbor food, Michigan Foods | 1 Comment

In Honor of National Pasta Day

After what has seemed like an extraordinarily busy 3/4 of a year, I have begun cooking on a more regular basis. I have been able to read some of the books that I got for my birthday way back in March. The one I’ve been reading the most of late is Cooking by Hand, by Paul Bertolli. Since today is National Pasta Day, I thought it appropriate to write a bit about the pasta dishes I have been making.

I have been making homemade pasta for many years, first using the recipe for egg noodles in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that my parents gave me when I first moved into an apartment while in college. More recently, I have been using the recipe for egg pasta from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. I have tried adding semolina flour in various ratios to the All Purpose flour that the recipe listed. All of these pastas were good, and if I hadn’t tried anything else I would have definitely been satisfied.

Bertolli’s Whole-Egg Pasta recipe calls for Artisan flour. I have opted to use high-gluten flour that I have found in the bulk section of one of the local grocery stores. The recipe also calls for two whole eggs (rather than the combination of whole eggs and egg yolks that the previous recipes did) and a small amount of water. What I have discovered is that the texture of the dough in this recipe is velvety smooth and the texture of cooked noodles is more tender, even when cooked to al dente.

What I’ve also determined is that the pasta from this recipe is extremely versatile in how it can be served. I’ve made it to go with a vegetable sauté, added it to a thick soup and also to pair with a hearty ragu. Ultimately, it is the new favorite in my house.


Pasta w/ a vegetable sauté


Pork, Veggie and Noodle Soup


Pasta w/ Duck Gizzard Ragu

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Vidalia Onion Upside Down Cornbread

I have always been a lover of cornbread, but frequently am dissatisfied because the texture ends up too dry and very crumbly. To remedy that, I recently sought out a recipe from one of the food blogs that I read. A quick search resulted in a wonderful recipe from the Sweet Savant, for this Vidalia Onion Upside Down Cornbread.

cornbread-turned-outThe first time that I made this recipe we were hosting friends for dinner and I wanted to make cornbread to go along with a smoked tri-tip roast. As I read the list of ingredients, I noticed two things that stood out. 8 ounces of frozen broccoli-thawed and 16 ounces of 2% cottage cheese. I have never been a fan of frozen broccoli, so I determined that I would break not just one, but two of the cardinal sins of hosting someone for a meal at your home (1. Never try a new recipe for the first time; and 2. Never alter a recipe the first time you make it). I decided that fresh corn, cut off the cob, and some chopped peppers (bell, jalapeno, or whatever I had on hand) would be good substitutes for the unwanted ingredient.

I prepared the corn to be added to the batter by cooking it on the smoker briefly, just long enough to get a bit of char on the kernels from them touching the grate. From there I cut the kernels off the cobs and mixed them in with the rest of the wet ingredients. I also added the chopped peppers (poblanos in this case) to the chopped bacon as I browned it in a separate skillet.

I think my favorite part of this cornbread is the golden Vidalia onion slices that provide a stunning display on the top once the loaf is inverted and removed from the frying pan. In addition to the stunning visual they provide, they keep the bread moist and contribute some subtle sweetness.

cornbread-in-the-ovenMy second favorite part about this cornbread is that I get to bake it a cast iron skillet. One lesson that I learned the first time that I made it was that I needed to bake it in a skillet with taller sides, as the butter that the Vidalia onions saute in will flow over side and make a big smoky mess of the oven if the sides are not tall enough. The second time I made it, I used the cast iron Dutch oven that I got from my Mother. Any time I get to use one of the kitchen tools I got from her is a good day. The tall sides of the Dutch oven successfully contained the butter, and that made everyone in my house much happier.

The bottom line is that this cornbread is moist and packs a lot of flavor in each bite. I think the cottage cheese is responsible for the moisture and some of the subtle dairy taste. Because it has sugar in it, my Dad would have called it Johnny Cake, but I am more interested in eating it than debating what it should be called. What I do know is that I have never had any leftovers when I have made it. That is always a good sign.

Vidalia Onion Upside Down Cornbread

Derived from the original recipe of Demetra Overton –
Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 40 mins  Total time: 55 mins
Serves: 8

Requires a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet, but I used an 11 inch Dutch oven that has 3 3/4″ tall sides and that worked very well.


  • 2 Vidalia Onions
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter
  • 1 1/2 Cups of cornmeal
  • 1 Cup of AP flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 1/3 Cup white sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 Cup diced poblano pepper
  • 3/4 Cup fresh corn kernels, cooked and cut from the cob
  • 1/2 Cup bacon, chopped and cooked
  • 4 eggs
  • 16 ounces of cottage cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cook the corn (still on the cob) for about 3-4 minutes (over an open flame will char some of the kernels and will provide great flavor and color inside the finished loaf).
  3. Saute the bacon in a separate pan and add the diced pepper for the last minute or two so it softens.
  4. Slice the Vidalia Onions into rings, leaving the rings together if possible.
  5. Melt the butter in the cast iron skillet (the one to be used for baking).
  6. Place the onion slices close together in the the butter, filling in any spaces with smaller bits of onion.
  7. Finely chop any remaining Vidalia onion and reserve it.
  8. Let the onions cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.
  9. While the onions are cooking, mix the batter.
  10. Add the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl and stir to combine.
  11. In a large bowl beat 4 eggs and mix in the cottage cheese.
  12. Add the reserved chopped onions.
  13. Add the bacon and diced peppers.
  14. Add the cornmeal mix and stir to combine.
  15. Pour batter over the onions.
  16. Bake the cornbread for 20-25 minutes or until done.
  17. Let the cornbread cool for 10-15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan.
  18. Place a plate or breadboard over the pan and, using oven mitts, carefully flip the pan over and remove cornbread from the pan.
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A New York Weekend, Day Three

To wrap up our weekend in New York, we ventured onto the island of Manhattan. On the way, we learned the lesson that precision is required when entering an address into a GPS unit. Always make sure you include the name of the borough of New York City, or else you may end up wandering around Brooklyn or Queens instead of your desired destination elsewhere.


Harry & Ida’s – look closely and you can see me in the window

Once we made it into Manhattan and found street parking, we made our way to Harry and Ida’s in the East Village. The sign on the sidewalk out front claimed this to be the home of the World’s Best Pastrami Sandwich. Seeing that claim, I decided what I would order before stepping inside the store.

As we walked through the door, co-owner Will Horowitz saw John and welcomed us into the kitchen. Jason and I did not meet Will at the Charcuterie Masters event, where he and John served as two of the judges. After showing us around the kitchen and curing areas of the shop, he suggested that we go around the corner to get lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar. I ordered The Ida sandwich (the “lighter” version of their pastrami sandwich with only 1/4 of a pound of meat) as we passed the counter, letting them know I would be back to get my order.

The size of Momofuku Noodle Bar surprised me. I have been to New York City before and know that many stores and restaurants have small footprints, but Momofuku seemed excessively small. Perhaps it was just the total number of people around the tables and seated at the bar that made the room appear filled to capacity throughout the entire time we were there?

There was a short wait before we sat down, but we took advantage of this time to look at the menu and decide what we would order. The seating at tables has a communal feeling, unless you are a group of six, you share a table with another group or two. Our odd number resulted in the hostess finding a chair for John to sit at the end of table.

We ordered almost as soon as we sat down, selecting buns (a couple Shitake and a couple Brisket), small plates (Kimchee/Pickles and Rice Cakes) to start, and a noodle bowl for each of us (a Momfuku Ramen, a Spicy Miso Ramen and a Black Winter Truffle Ramen). As we each tasted the starters, we concluded that the buns alone would have been worth the wait. The dough was tender and light, but strong enough to contain the juicy and amazingly flavorful fillings. For me, it was a toss-up which variety was better-I could have eaten dozens of each of them.


Enjoying the last of the Truffle Ramen

When our noodle bowls arrived, we were all overwhelmed by the intoxicating aroma of the Black Winter Truffle Ramen. We were not alone, as the people sitting next to us at the table also commented on the rich and earthy scent. I am a huge fan of noodles, and I have had freshly made ramen before, but the texture of these noodles was like no ramen I have ever eaten. The richness of the broth in each of bowls made us realize that these were no regular bowls of soup. There was a decadence to them. I had expected that from the Truffle one, but the pork stock of the Momfuku Ramen and the dashi of the Spicy Miso Ramen were just as rich in flavor in their own way.

After completing our feeding frenzy, we made the short walk back to Harry and Ida’s. While we were eating, Will and his kitchen staff were prepping eels for cleaning and smoking. I had never witnessed this activity before but it was fascinating to see the squirming eels, stunned by being salted, taken to the board where they were skinned and gutted. From there, they were moved into the smoker.

Will finished our behind the scenes tour of his place by guiding us to basement. There we saw his fermenting chamber. He explained that they preserve all of the vegetables on the menu at both Harry and Ida’s and Ducks Eatery, and that they forage for many of them and buy everything else from farmers at nearby markets. After the tour, I picked up my sandwich and we made our way back to the car.

For some crazy reason, I expected that there would not be a great deal of traffic on a Sunday. I was wrong. We drove up FDR Drive along the East side of Manhattan and were in stop and go traffic the entire way. I guess when you are driving in a city with the population of New York, there will almost always be traffic. The traffic did get lighter once we got to the George Washington Bridge.

Once we got into New Jersey, we intended to make our way up the West side of the Hudson River and into upstate New York. We started up the Garden State Parkway, but decided to head for home when we were unable to contact any of the people we hoped to visit. This allowed us to make our way into the sunset on I-80.

I took a break from driving while we made our way across Pennsylvania. That gave me the opportunity to eat the pastrami sandwich from Harry and Ida’s. It was at this point that I learned that the sign in front of their store did not exaggerate or lie. This was the World’s Best Pastrami Sandwich (at least the best that I have ever had and I have tried the pastrami at Katz’s, the Carnegie Deli, Attman’s [Baltimore], Zingerman’s [Ann Arbor] and many other delis). When John and Jason smelled the awesome aroma of the pastrami sandwich, they both asked what I was eating. When I was done eating, I told them all about it. All in all, it was an appropriate end to an excellent weekend.

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A New York Weekend, Day Two

After all the excitement from the amazing food and conversations about food on Friday night, I could not imagine that Saturday would be able to rise to a similar level. Man, was I wrong.

We started the day with a trip back to Brooklyn, to the Bushwick neighborhood this time. Our destination was Roberta’s, a pizza place known for its brunch. We were supposed to meet with a guy who has an idea and a prototype for a mobile chat application that could be of interest to members of The Salt Cured Pig. As we arrived, the first thing that I noticed was that Bushwick appears to be the center of the hipster universe. This meant that with my full, bushy beard, I was not totally out of place.

We sat down and prepared to order when the final member of our party arrived. Michael Ruhlman, the well-known chef and author (or co-author) of such works as Charcuterie, Salumi and Ratio. I have to admit that I was a bit starstruck. Michael spoke with each of us about what we do, our involvement with The Salt Cured Pig and its new parent group The Handcrafted Larder, and he seemed genuinely interested in what each of us had to say.

I have seen Michael Ruhlman on TV or online many times (as a judge on “Iron Chef America” and as a road trip companion of Anthony Bourdain on an episode of “No Reservations”), though I had no idea how personable he would be in our face to face encounter. We chatted a bit about the charcuterie plate we had ordered while waiting for our pizza to arrive. We all agreed that none of it was remarkable, but that everything except the nduja on it was a topping for a pizza, so eating it as appetizers may not have shown it in its best light. As we finished our meal and conversation, I was unable to restrain my inner fanboy and told him how much I have enjoyed learning about food from his blog and books. He accepted my admiration with humility and thanked me for my kind words. It was an unexpected encounter with a true food celebrity and a very enjoyable one at that.

Most of the rest of the day was devoted to the Charcuterie Masters event at the Flushing Town Hall. There I got to meet several fellow members of The Salt Cured Pig who I had previously only known online. The standout interaction of the afternoon was having an extended conversation with Bob del Grosso.

Bob is a chef, formerly on the faculty of the Culinary Institute of America and currently at Drexel University. Bob is also one of my favorite food people who spends a good bit of time online. He doesn’t take himself or life too seriously and can even be seen on Facebook joking about the irony of the current popular fascination with bone broth or wearing a hat he has manufactured from ramps and chicken wire. Bob and I swapped several stories of working in restaurant and home kitchens. Inevitably, we also ended up talking about bone broth. For those who think that Bob only jokes about that subject, you should know that Bob has conducted quite a bit of research and can seriously converse about how bone broth has been represented in culinary history and fully debunking the fantastical claims of impossible health benefits associated with its consumption.

Finally, we got down to the main event. Having volunteered to assist with the judging of the competition, I set up the process for how each entry was accepted, documented and passed to the judges for their input. This kept the judges unaware of who submitted each entry and allowed them to assess each one without bias. Working primarily behind the scenes, I did not sample too many of the multitude of varieties of charcuterie. I did taste some amazing fennel salami that Steven Jagoda made (it was the winner in its category). I also tried a couple jamon pata negra samples (one aged 24 months and one aged 36 months), coppa di testa, and the best pistachio-studded mortadella I have ever had that Rodrigo Duarte of Caseiro E Bom provided.

Coppa di testa, presented in the skin of the pig's head

Coppa di testa, presented in the skin of the pig’s head

Pistachio-studded mortadella

Pistachio-studded Mortadella










It was an excellent event to cap off a great day.

A New York Weekend, Day One

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