Monday, June 27, 2016

Boordy Vineyard's Sweetland Cellars Wines

About a month ago, as we toodled up Long Green Pike on our way to visit friends in Forest Hill, we drove past Boordy Vineyards. Not having realized it was so close to us, we decided a visit was in order. That opportunity came more quickly than we anticipated, as we were soon invited to a dinner to celebrate the wine producer's Sweetland Cellars line of wines.

Formerly known as Boordy's "Just for Fun" series, products from the Sweetland Cellars brand are, as the name suggests, on the sweeter side.

Some folks may turn their noses up at sweet wines, but other people will drink nothing but. Personally, I think Moscato and some Rieslings are great "gateway wines" for the uninitiated. I grew up drinking my grandmother's home-made wine, which was very strong and very sweet. A shotglass-full was enough, but it was delicious and fruity. My tastes have expanded over the years and I can appreciate bone-dry wines, but there's still a special place in my heart for the sweeter ones.

Sweetland Cellars offers six wines so far, two whites, three reds, and a dark pink wine--Jazz Berry--that contains primarily strawberry and raspberry juices with some grape. Tango Peach is a Moscato flavored with peaches and White Sangria is infused with mango and citrus. The blueberry-infused Zinberry, the citrus and spice Viva Sangria, and the even spicier Spiced Wassail, round out the line.

While these wines would be great to sip with friends on a fun evening (or all alone in the privacy of your bathtub - we don't judge), we discovered that the Sweetland Cellars wines also pair well with food and can be used as ingredients in cocktails.

After an opportunity to taste the wines and snack on a spread of charcuterie and cheeses by Hampden's The Food Market served in Boordy's barn, we got a little tour of the Sweetland Cellars state-of-the-art winemaking facility, which was completed in 2013. Everything a winemaker needs is in this cathedral-like structure, the result of the De Ford family's many years in the wine business.

After the tour, we were treated to a five course small plates-style dinner with cocktail pairings, each including one of Sweetland Cellars wines.

The first course was tuna tartare with "everything" spiced aioli, dried veggies, and wheat toast. The accompanying cocktail, "Peach on the Beach," featured Sweetland Cellars Tango Peach wine. (The recipes for the cocktails we tried and more are on the Sweetland Cellars web site, but I've included them here as well.)

3 oz chilled Tango Peach
1 oz Citron vodka
2 muddled raspberries
Splash 7-up

The second course was spicy grilled shrimp with a charred pineapple "pudding" and chewy morsels of dehydrated pineapple. The accompanying cocktail was a "White Sangria Fizz," that complemented the sweet pineapple flavors.

3 oz chilled White Sangria
1 oz vodka
2 oz apple juice
Splash of club soda

Our third course was pan-seared duck breast with cherries, chocolate, and pecans served with a Jazz Berry chocolate martini.

3 parts chilled Jazz Berry
1 part Chocolate vodka

Another meat course of lamb chops with coffee, black garlic, goat cheese, and chimichurri evoked the flavors of India and was served with a "Zinberry Smash" cocktail.

3 oz chilled Zinberry
1 oz vodka
Muddled blueberries
Twist of lemon
Splash ginger ale
Splash tonic or soda water
Sprig of mint

Finally, we enjoyed desserts made by one of Sweetland's employees. The mini blueberry cheesecakes used Zinberry wine in the glaze, while the peaches on the peach cupcakes were poached in Tango Peach.

It was a fun night. Everything was so beautiful, from the grounds to the food, hell, even the people. The De Ford family was so nice and willing to answer any and all questions about their Sweetland Cellars products, and offered a good introduction to a line of wines with which we were not familiar. Time to stock up so I can drink alone in the bathtub experiment with wine cocktails to go with our own dinners.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Minxeats at the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

Mr Minx and I attended a Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament round one battle on Monday: Chef Fabio Mura of Grille 620 vs Chad Novak of Das Bier Haus.

The competition starts out with a half hour of cold prep. No cooking is allowed at this time, at least nothing that needs to be prepared with heat. So ice cream-making is fine, as is chopping, dicing, and breaking down meat products.

The theme of this battle was Game Day, and the teams were expected to produce three courses of food that would be appropriate for eating at a sporting event. There were theme ingredients provided by the competition's many sponsors, this time including Dr Pepper and bone-in pork butt, among other items.

After cold prep, the cooking began in earnest. Partway through, I was called over to assign mystery ingredients to the chefs. I chose to give Fabio ghost pepper smoked salt, while Chad got sriracha peas. Neither ingredient seemed to be an impediment.

During the competition, we purchased food and adult beverages from the Tournament's venue, the Inn at the Colonnade. Their restaurant, Alizée, offers a limited menu to Tournament attendees (the full menu is available inside the restaurant proper).

After an hour of cooktime, the chefs plated their food for presentation, then prepared plates for the three judges. (I was a judge once, back in 2010, which was fun, even though I don't think my opinion was taken at all seriously.) After careful consideration, for it was a close contest, Fabio Mura was declared the winner.

Chef Mura and his team from Grille 620 will face Brett Arnold from Smokin' Hot Bar & Grille on
Monday, July 18, 2016. Doors open at 5:30; the competition starts at 6pm and generally runs until 9:45pm. To purchase tickets for this or any other match, and for more details, go to the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament web site.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

The French Kitchen at the Lord Baltimore Hotel

A few years back, the restaurant at the Lord Baltimore Hotel hired a French chef and named their restaurant The French Kitchen. The French chef is gone, but there's still a wire-framed replica of the Eiffel Tower in the dining room and a few French touches on the menu. Recently, the Minx and I were invited to a media dinner to try out some of The French Kitchen's latest offerings.

Of course, we had to start off with a cocktail or three. We were intrigued by the custom cocktail called the Lavender Martini. It consists of Hendricks gin, St. Germaine, lavender simple syrup, and a twist of lemon peel. The gin is hardly noticeable (which is a good thing to me) and the elderflower liqueur and lavender syrup provide a floral, almost perfume-y punch, brightened by the oil of the lemon peel. Quite refreshing for summer.

Our first course was an "amuse-bouche" of fried green tomatoes. I put the designation in quotes because it was more than one bite and could be classified as a small plate item. Nevertheless, it was delicious. Expecting a crumbed preparation, I was surprised by the crunchy beer batter coating on the tomato slices. This fried goodness was complemented by a spicy remoulade and shreds of smoky country ham. A sprinkling of corn and bell pepper added another textural element while soothing my conscience with the notion that this could be considered a healthy dish.

For appetizers, the Minx selected the pork belly while I opted for the shrimp and corn chowder. The thick slice of tender pork belly was well-seared and topped with plumped dried cherries. It was served with a slaw of jicama, apple, carrots, and cabbage, dressed with the distinct flavors of champagne vinegar and cardamom. My shrimp and corn chowder was rich and redolent of corn. Bits of carrot and celery swam with the tasty shrimp.

Our entree selections betrayed our Maryland roots as I ordered the crab cakes and the Minx ordered the rockfish. The horseradish-crusted wild rockfish was partnered with broiled tomatoes somewhat reminiscent of the stewed variety, a old-fashioned favorite of the Minx. Along with the "wilted heritage greens" (which sure tasted like romaine lettuce to her) and Dijon sauce, she felt that it could pass as a French riff on an Eastern Shore dinner.

At the urging of our waitress, I chose the crab cakes. She told us they were made with Maryland blue crab and were so popular that people came in from out of town just to eat them. Having the local meat makes a huge difference in flavor, and the cakes were mildly seasoned to allow it to shine through. However, the Minx felt they had a bit too much filler. The accompanying melange of fava beans, corn, red bell pepper, and asparagus was a pleasant addition.

The dessert offerings were probably the most French aspect of our meal, or at least my profiteroles were. The dainty puffs of choux pastry were filled with icy cold vanilla gelato, served with a rich chocolate fudge sauce, and made for a decadent finale to the meal.

The Minx's pavlova had chunks of meringue surfing on a bed of berries, fruit, and lemon curd. The bright fruit flavors made for a very summery dish and the meringue tasted slightly of almonds.

The French Kitchen may be leaning more toward New American cuisine than the Continental influences implied by its namesake, but the dishes are quite sophisticated and satisfying. You might also want to check out the breathtaking view from the hotel's LB Skybar on the 19th floor before or after your meal.

The French Kitchen at the Lord Baltimore Hotel
20 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Flashback Friday - Fried Rice a la Leftovers

Don't let a little bit of this and a little bit of that ever go to waste - give dregs purpose with a dish like fried rice.


This post was originally published on July 14, 2010.
Fried Rice a la Leftovers

Looking in the fridge for dinner inspiration, I found a lone bulb of fennel and a ton of carrots and celery. In the freezer, we had about a third pound of shrimp and tiny amounts of peas and green beans. Additionally, there was a whole pack of Chinese sausages, which gave me the idea to make fried rice. There were also a couple of packets of soy sauce and duck sauce from the last time we ordered Chinese food. I combined them with the dregs of a jar of XO sauce and a lot of garlic to make a sauce for the rice. The only thing I needed was the rice itself, so I whipped up a batch in the rice cooker and set it in the fridge to cool for several hours.

Leftovers Fried Rice

About 2 tablespoons soy sauce
About 1 tablespoon duck sauce
1 tablespoon XO sauce or Chinese hot bean paste, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 lap cheong (Chinese sausage), one chopped into small pieces, two halved lengthwise and then cut into 3/4" chunks
1 small onion, diced
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced on the bias
The celery-like parts from a bulb of fennel, peeled, sliced in half, and chopped
3 whole scallions, thinly sliced, both white and green
Approx 1 cup leftover vegetables (cooked or frozen peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, etc.)
Leftover meat (shrimp, cooked chicken, roast beef, etc.)
4 cups cold cooked rice, grains separated
salt and pepper

Mix the sauce ingredients together and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat. When hot, add the sausage and onions and a nice pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown and the smaller pieces of sausage start to crisp up. (The sausage should provide enough fat to cook the onions. If it seems dry, add a teaspoon or so of vegetable oil to the pan.) Add most of the scallions, the carrots, celery, and fennel, and stir-fry until the carrots start to lose some of their crispness.

Add the leftover vegetables and meats and stir to combine. Turn the heat up to high and add the rice to the pan, making sure to break up any clumps. Pour the sauce over and mix well until most of the rice is coated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls, garnished with the remaining scallion and cilantro, if you have it. Serves 4 as a main dish and 6-8 as a side.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Gnocco is Coming

Some might call the neighborhood Highlandtown (pronounced, in the local patois, Hollan-teahwn), and some might call it Brewer's Hill, regardless, the small but charming space at the corner of Eaton and Fleet Streets is now home to a restaurant called Gnocco.

We first met chef/owner Brian Lavin after he took over kitchen duties at Salt, in Butcher's Hill, and we featured a few of his recipes in our book, Baltimore Chef's Table. A bit later, he moved on to Fork and Wrench. Today, the talented Lavin has his very own place with which to leave his mark on Baltimore's culinary scene.

We were invited to Gnocco for a pre-opening media tasting and were quite impressed. The space is small, but bright and welcoming, with a long reclaimed-wood bar and glossy subway tile on the back wall. The menu is "Mediterranean-inspired," with touches of Italy and Spain in Lavin's simple and seasonal dishes. The items we tasted aren't necessarily going to be on the opening menu, but were a good indication of the style of food that will be served at Gnocco come opening day, June 21st.

Among our favorite dishes were oysters on the half shell served with uni, creme fraiche, and salmon roe (that reminded me of the late, lamented Pabu's "Happy Spoons" dish that I loved so much), and a lovely crostini of eggplant agrodolce topped with stracciatella (which will be made in-house).

There were also crispy stuffed olives with 'nduja (a spicy spreadable pork sausage) and boquerones (anchovies), beef tartare, and incredibly tender octopus.

We also tasted three entrees: a lovely house-made agnolotti stuffed with goat cheese and chives, with sauteed chanterelles and hazelnuts; a whole red snapper with yogurt and a cucumber and radish salad; and a perfect NY strip with grilled green onions and romesco.

Everything was really top notch. Simply looking at the photos makes me want to eat it all over again.

We think Gnocco shows great promise, and are looking forward to enjoying a full dinner there sometime later this summer.

3734 Fleet Street
Baltimore, MD 21224

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Flashback Friday - Octopus

In this episode, Kathy tackles a fearsome multi-legged sea creature...and wins!


This post was originally published on January 19, 2015.

I didn't grow up eating octopus. To tell the truth, it seemed a little odd to me. But then every restaurant started serving calamari, which became an octopus gateway food for me. Of course, I still didn't have the opportunity to try octopus until I was well into my adult years, but when I did, I loved it. Now I order it every time I see it.

I've heard tales that it takes a long time to tenderize, so I imagined hours and hours of boiling, braising, or simmering. In reality, it takes no more long to cook than, say, beef stew. Less time than short ribs, or baking a turkey. And small octopi take less than an hour. So what's the big deal?

When I saw small octopi in the frozen seafood section of our local Weis Market, I knew it was time to take some home and cook them myself. Our cookbook, Baltimore Chef's Table, features an octopus recipe from Grille 620 in Ellicott City. I've tasted it, it's delicious, but as we don't have a dutch oven or grill pan in our tiny kitchen, I borrowed the idea but changed it up a bit. (As I usually do.) I boiled the cephalopods with lemon and garlic until tender, and then seared them in a screaming hot saute pan to get a little texture. I also added fennel and onion to the beans, and a bit of smoked paprika to the vinaigrette, to mimic the smoky flavor the meat might pick up on a grill.

For my first time cooking octopus, it was a huge success. Next time, I'll seek out a larger specimen.

Octopus with Cannelini Beans and Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette

1 lb octopus (can be one or two whole)
2 lemons, cut in half (divided use)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
Red pepper flakes
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 bulb fennel, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 15-oz can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon honey (I used lemon blossom honey, but any neutral honey will do)
Juice of 1 lemon
Smoked paprika
Salt, and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place octopus, 1 lemon (squeeze the juice over the octopus and toss the halves in too), the garlic, and a big pinch of red pepper flakes in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn heat down a bit. You want an active simmer. Continue to simmer until a knife inserted into the neck of the octopus pierces the flesh easily, about 45 minutes. Remove octopus from pot and place into a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Over medium heat, cook the onion and fennel in a splash of olive oil and pinch of salt until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the drained beans and stir to combine. Heat until beans are warmed through.

While beans are cooking, place the honey in a small bowl. Using a fork or small whisk, blend in the lemon juice. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, stir to emulsify into a vinaigrette, and season with a big pinch of smoked paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Remove octopus from refrigerator. Separate the legs from the head. If the head is large, cut into 2 or three pieces.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a large saute pan and heat until nearly smoking. Carefully add the octopus (it might splatter). Cook for a couple minutes per side, to warm through and add some crispy browned bits. Add the second lemon, cut side down, to the pan, to brown the cut sides and to warm the juice.

To serve, place the beans on a serving plate. Top with octopus. Drizzle vinaigrette over all. Garnish with lemon halves; use them to add a bit more tangy lemon flavor.

Serves 2-4.

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Monday, June 06, 2016

Avocado Soup

I've gotten super lazy, as far as cooking is concerned. I haven't been particularly inspired to concoct anything new, and have been happy to eat whatever I could throw together from stuff already on hand. And we've been eating restaurant meals quite a bit. Then came a weekend in which we had no plans following a week in which we ate out four times. I had no excuses not to whip up something tasty and satisfying, else be labeled a fraud as a food blogger. (Who ever heard of a food blogger who doesn't want to cook?)

On the way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things. I knew we had two ripe avocados at home to work with and went from there. Rather than simply make my typical cop-out, guacamole, I thought I'd do something soup-like. I've been trying to avoid wheat, so for texture (and carbs...Mr Minx must have his carbs) I made some polenta croutons with blue cornmeal that had been sitting in our pantry, neglected. More texture came from crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds, and shrimp were added for protein. The result was colorful and tasty, and I was very very pleased.

Thinking back on my concoction, I realized many of the ingredients were similar to those in the not-so-great meal I had at David Burke Fabrick in NY last year. Had I received there what I concocted in my own kitchen with my own hands, I might have looked more favorably upon the place.

Avocado Soup with Chipotle Shrimp and Blue Corn Polenta Croutons

For the soup:
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
Olive oil
5 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Large handful cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 4-ounce cans chopped or diced green chiles
2 avocados
Chicken stock
Fresh lime juice

For the croutons:
1 cup medium grind blue cornmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill)
Olive oil
Oil for frying

For the shrimp:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons of adobo sauce from a can of chipotles, plus 1 chipotle, minced
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined

To garnish:
Plain Greek yogurt thinned out with milk to a drizzle-able consistency
1 tomato, seeded and diced

For the soup: Add onion, a couple teaspoons of oil, and a pinch of salt to a medium saucepan. Cook over medium high heat, stirring regularly, until onion has wilted and is beginning to brown lightly at the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, and chiles. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover pan, and cook until tomatillos break down, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into a container, and refrigerate until completely chilled.

When ready to serve, pour into a blender jar and add the flesh of 1 1/2 avocados. (Cut the other half into dice and season with lime juice and a pinch of salt. Set aside until ready to serve.) Puree the tomatillo avocado mixture, adding chicken stock as needed to make a consistency thinner than a puree, but not runny. Season with lime juice and salt. Pour into a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the croutons: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add a big pinch of salt and the cornmeal. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until cornmeal is incorporated--this should only take a minute or so. Turn down the heat, cover the pot, and let the cornmeal simmer for about 10 minutes. Check and stir frequently so the cornmeal doesn't burn or stick. Once all of the liquid has been absorbed and the cornmeal is rather thick, Add a few teaspoons of olive oil and stir vigorously until the cornmeal comes away from the side of the pan into a ball.

Oil a 8-inch square baking pan. Pour in the cornmeal (it will come out in one big blob) and smooth until it fills the pan evenly. Bash pan on the counter once or twice to help it out. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.

Once cornmeal has firmed up, invert the pan over a cutting board and cut half the cornmeal into 1" cubes. (You won't need all the cornmeal for this recipe. Save the rest to fry up for breakfast the next day, served with maple syrup.)

Heat a bit of vegetable oil in a skillet. Add cornmeal squares and fry until browned on all sides. Drain on paper towel-lined plates.

For the shrimp: Put the garlic, adobo, soy, and olive oil in a zip-top bag. Add the shrimp. Seal the bag with as much air removed as possible, then mix the shrimp around with the marinade ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Once the soup and croutons are done, it's time to fry the shrimp. Heat up a large skillet and pour in the contents of the shrimp bag. Cook shrimp over medium-high heat, turning them once, until they are pink and opaque.

To serve: Arrange several croutons in a shallow soup bowl. Gently pour in some of the chilled soup. Top with a few shrimp. Combine the chopped tomato with the reserved chopped avocado and garnish the soup with it. Drizzle yogurt over all.

Serves 4

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Friday, June 03, 2016

Flashback Friday- Pulled Pork with Peaches

Sometimes, when things don't go exactly as planned, one has to make adjustments. This is as true of cooking as anything else.


This post was originally published on March 28, 2014.
Pulled Pork with Peaches
The February issue of Saveur magazine has several interesting recipes for peaches, which seems odd when there's snow on the ground. But canned peaches can be just as tasty; indeed the focus of the article was canning. And while I don't do any canning myself, Del Monte, Libby's, etc., does.

When I spotted a relatively inexpensive pork shoulder at the grocery store, I decided we needed to try the peach-braised pulled pork.

Once home, I realized the recipe called for a 3 lb boneless shoulder, and we had just purchased one that weighed 8.5 lbs, bone-in. It also called for whole cloves, smoked paprika, and lager beer. We had ground cloves, no paprika, and a couple bottles of my brother-in-law's home brewed ale. So I do what I always do--make substitutions. Allspice works just as well as cloves when it comes to matching with peaches, and as long as the beer wasn't stout, it would be fine. As for the paprika--I could have sworn I had a big bag of it in the cupboard, but I suppose I'll have to order more from Penzey's or the Spice House. There's really no substitute, so I just skipped it completely.

I knew from the get-go that 3 hours wouldn't be enough cooking time for the porky behemoth we bought--but what would be?

Three hours into cooking, the meat was cooked but still a little tough. I decided to hack the shoulder into chunks, to help it along. By four+ hours, I was getting impatient and hauled the thing out of the oven. It was plenty tender, but not tender enough to shred with two forks. Instead, I chopped it up with a big knife, all the while sampling it to make sure it was good. I'm all about quality control.

The magazine calls for using only half a cup of the pan juices. There were at least 2 cups, and it seemed like a real waste to toss it (and the onions, garlic, and peaches within it) because it tasted so rich and porky. So I emulsified the whole mess with a stick blender, added half a cup of brown sugar and the rest of the peaches and peach syrup, and boiled it vigorously for about fifteen minutes. And instead of serving it with sauteed onions and peach jam, I made some slaw with brussels sprouts, because that's what we had.

It was great, but we had pork for days and days. And days. Not complaining, but 8.5 lbs is a lot of pork for two people.

Peach-Braised Pulled Pork, adapted from Saveur

3 tbsp olive oil
3-8 lb boneless pork shoulder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters
2 (12-oz.) bottles beer
1 (1-qt.) jar canned peaches in syrup, drained or use store-bought
1/2 cup brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a baking pan or dutch oven large enough to hold your meat.

Season pork with salt and pepper. Brown meat on all sides, about 10–12 minutes. Remove meat from pan and add allspice, bay leaves, garlic, and onion to pan; cook until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add beer; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan, until reduced by half, 10–12 minutes.

Return pork to pan and add half the peaches. Bake, covered, until pork is tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into pork reads 190°, 3–5 hours. Let cool. If pork is tender enough, use two forks to shred the meat, otherwise, chop it with a sharp knife.

Pour two cups of the pan juices, plus any solids (minus bay leaves), into a sauce pan. Puree with a stick blender. Add the remaining peaches and their juice and the brown sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for fifteen minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir chopped meat into the sauce. If you are using a huge shoulder, like we did, save some of the meat for other uses, like pasta sauce.

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