Tag Archives: Pork

soup swap III: a porky good time

A couple weekends ago, the soup swap was brought back to life after a one-year hiatus. What were we thinking, skipping a year? I do not know. My only excuse is that we moved last January and at the time, I probably didn’t think the house was “ready” to have people over. I can’t say that it’s that much more ready now- we still have a long way to go and the list of home improvement projects is long- but fortunately I’ve forced myself to get over it and lower my standards; otherwise, I’d never have any guests!

It’s a well-known fact that a little pork can enhance just about any soup, and we found it amusing that everyone’s soups, without specifically planning it that way, had pork in them. Michelle’s was the meatiest, a pork and tomatillo stew with big chunks of tender, falling-apart meat. Kate brought a delicious split pea with bacon, perked up with the addition of fresh rosemary. Molly made a hearty chickpea and sausage soup with some Hungarian sausage she’d been gifted from a neighbor, and Sarah made a fantastic wonton soup with homemade, pork-filled dumplings.

I was torn on what to make and, as before, prepared two soups- one to eat for lunch that day and one to take home. I had found a borscht recipe in Molly O’Neill’s One Big Table* that used slab bacon as the meat rather than beef, and I just happened to have some homemade un-smoked bacon in my freezer, so I made that as the soup to swap. For lunch, I created a soup that brought together elements of Eastern European peasant food (or at least, what I imagine it to be): sautéed cabbage, leeks and mushrooms in a light chicken and mushroom broth, with kasha (buckwheat) for an earthy flavor, and venison & pork meatballs. The final touch was some homemade yogurt stirred into each bowl for a little tang. It went perfectly with the homemade crusty rye bread Molly had brought. For dessert, I made a rustic apple tart- no recipe, just thawed out some graham cracker dough from the freezer, made a sort of custard from eggs and yogurt, sugar and cinnamon and poured it over sliced apples. Because of the yogurt, the custard didn’t have a perfectly smooth texture (the ladies said it reminded them of bread pudding), but that didn’t bother anyone.

I kind of fell down on the job this year as compared to soup swaps past, where I photographed every soup and posted recipes for each one. I’m going with the excuse that I now live with a hungry male and the soups disappeared much faster than they did when it was just little ol’ me consuming them. Not only that, but ironically my schedule as a freelancer has, so far, left less time for blogging and photography than before! But as you can see, I did snap some photos of the borscht and will provide that recipe. I hadn’t made borscht in a few years but I had a pretty specific taste memory of what I wanted, so I used the recipe from One Big Table and tweaked it a bit, using the same ingredients but altering some quantities (more beets, less potato) and the cooking method (dirtying only one pot instead of two). I like my borscht to have a nice punchy sweet and sour flavor, so I added quite a bit more vinegar, and used my homemade red wine vinegar instead of the white vinegar called for. The only other change I’d suggest is cutting the carrots in something other than matchsticks, unless you have pro knife skills. It took me half an hour to cut 2 carrots! D’oh.

Anyway, borscht recipe below, and here are links to the previous two soup swaps if you want to check out those recipes. And of course, I highly recommend hosting a soup swap of your own: you get a fridge full of soups and only have to do the work of making one, and all that time you save can be spent in a pleasant afternoon eating, chatting and sipping wine with girlfriends. Total no-brainer.

*Incidentally, as of press time this great cookbook is on sale for 60% off- get it while you can!

Beet & Cabbage Borscht with Pork (adapted from One Big Table by Molly O’Neill)
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½ lb salt pork or slab bacon, preferably unsmoked
2 quarts beef broth or bouillon
2 small or medium onions, roughly chopped, ok to leave skins on
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs neutral vegetable oil or olive oil
1 lb beets (about 3 medium), peeled and shredded
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks (or small coins)
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ small head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch dice
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
sour cream for garnish
chopped fresh parsley, dill or chives for garnish

In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, cover the pork with water by 2 inches, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pork and pour out the water. Return the pork to the pot with the beef broth, onion and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook about 2 hours, until tender.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle separate the meat from the skin and fat, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids; reserve the liquid.

Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Sauté the beets and carrots until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes, adding the garlic after about 5 minutes. Raise the heat slightly and add the cabbage; cook, stirring frequently, until slightly wilted. Add the tomatoes, potatoes and reserved cooking liquid; bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are done to your liking.

Add the meat, sugar and vinegar to the pot. Stir well and taste for salt and pepper, adding as needed, and add vinegar to taste– you’re aiming for a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. Beets and carrots are quite sweet, so I added much more vinegar than the original recipe called for (I used ¼ cup as opposed to 1 tablespoon), but taste and adjust based on your own preferences.

Serve with a spoonful of sour cream stirred in, and garnish with chopped herbs of your choice.

oaxacan mole verde: a springtime stew

Everywhere I turn- on Facebook and Twitter and even *gasp* real-life conversations (remember those?)- people are, to put it gently, lamenting spring’s tardy appearance this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to ditch the scarf and gloves, and temps in the 60s would feel balmy right about now, but I try not to dwell on that which I cannot change. Instead, I’m trying to transition as best I can, by cooking foods which satisfy both the craving for something warm and hearty, and the desperate longing for something green.

When I prepared my prosciutto leg in January, I had a fair amount of meat (and bone; see above) left over from the trimmings. I took some out of the freezer a couple weeks ago to make a Oaxacan pork stew.  I’m sure the very word “stew” conjures rib-sticking, squarely winter food, but bear with me. The dish incorporates plenty of green things like tomatillos and squash and an herb purée that gives it a lively perk and, when stirred in, turns the color from olive-drab to a brilliant emerald.  The stew’s heat (both temperature and spice-wise) will fend off these last bouts of winter chill, while the vegetables and herbs will prime your palate for green things to come.

I served this one night to my friend Amanda, wh0 has visited Oaxaca with her Mexican beau, and she said it was very similar to something she had tried there. I wouldn’t expect anything less of a Rick Bayless recipe- this one comes from his book  Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. The only change I made was to use zucchini in place of the chayote because the market was out of it that day, but I think it’s a fine (if less authentic) substitution. I also used frozen green beans because I prefer them over the somewhat large, tough specimens that are found in stores this time of year.

If you still think that stew is too much of a winter dish, I would humbly remind you that in Mexico it is MUCH warmer than it is in most parts of North America, and they eat stews like this all the time! I won’t preach to you about not being deterred by the long ingredients list or prep time; this is unapologetically a recipe for those who may actually enjoy spending an afternoon in the kitchen. Might as well, since it’s still too cold to go outdoors.

Oaxacan Pork Stew with Vegetables & Herbs /Mole Verde Oaxaqueño (adapted slightly from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen)
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2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 lb pork bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
2/3 cup dried navy beans
4 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 lb medium tomatillos. husked and rinsed
fresh green chiles to taste- about 2 jalapeños or 3 serranos
½ tsp cumin, preferably toasted and freshly ground
½ tsp black pepper, preferably fresh ground
pinch of ground cloves
1 ½ Tbx lard or vegetable oil
2 medium (1 lb total) chayotes, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch chunks, or substitute 1 lb zucchini (do not peel)
1 ½ cups (about 6 oz) tender young green beans, trimmed and cut in half, or substitute frozen if no good fresh beans are available
2/3 cup fresh masa, or  generous ½ cup masa harina mixed with 6 Tbs hot water
about 2 tsp salt
4 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish
2 small sprigs epazote (or 5-6 sprigs of cilantro if unavailable)
2 leaves hoja santa (or 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds)

Place the meat and bones in a large Dutch oven or cazuela and cover with 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, skimming the gray foam that rises to the surface. When no more foam surfaces, add the beans, minced garlic and onion. Partially cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the beans are cooked and the meat is tender, 1 ½- 2 hours. Add any water as needed during cooking to keep the beans and meat covered.

Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft and blackened on one side, about 3-5 minutes; turn them over and blacken the other side. Transfer tomatillos along with any juices to a blender or food processor. Heat a cast iron skillet or heavy griddle over medium heat. Roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic in the dry skillet, turning frequently, until soft and blackened in spots. (Note: I found it helpful to keep the garlic on the outer edge of the pan to avoid burning.) Peel the garlic and roughly chop it with the chiles. Add to blender along with the cumin, cloves and pepper, and purée until smooth.

When the meat and beans are tender, pour them into a colander set over a large bowl or stockpot. Remove the bones, picking them clean of any remaining meat and adding it back to the colander. Set colander aside. Skim the fat from the top of the broth.  Wash and dry your Dutch oven or  cazuela, set over medium heat, and add the lard or oil. When hot, add the tomatillo purée- it should sizzle sharply (test a drop first). Stir constantly for about 5 minutes to thicken. Add 4 cups of the pork broth, partially cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the chayote or zucchini and green beans and cook 5 minutes longer.

In a small bowl, whisk 2/3 cup broth with the masa mixture, mixing well to remove lumps, then whisk into the stew base until thickened. Return the meat and beans to the stew pot. Season with salt to taste, usually about 2 teaspoons. Let the stew simmer gently while you prepare the herb mixture.

Purée the herbs with 1/3 cup broth in a blender until smooth. (If you are short of broth, you can use water.) Stir the puréed herbs into the stew. Add broth or water as needed to achieve a medium-thick consistency. Ladle into wide soup bowls, garnish with additional parsley, and serve immediately with warm corn tortillas. If not eating all of the stew immediately, stir a spoonful of herb mixture into each individual serving rather than the whole pot, reserving the remaining mixture to add to the stew when reheating it.

home cured bacon and frisée aux lardons {charcutepalooza}


It seems as though charcuterie has officially reached an apotheosis- the food world has been incessantly abuzz of late about all things cured, smoked, salted and brined (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others). Although several adventurous food bloggers like Matt Wright and Hank Shaw have been dabbling in meat curing for some time now, things recently reached a fever pitch in the blogging world and on Twitter with the advent of Charcutepalooza, a challenge in which a different type of curing technique is explored each month.

I missed the first challenge, duck prosciutto, but was told that I could “make it up” at a later date (as I write this, the duck is hanging in my basement pantry). The second challenge was something that my friend Kim has been making for a while now, home-cured bacon. I decided to go for it, so I hit up the Bucu family’s stand at Eastern Market and had this gentleman hack me off a 5-lb piece of pork belly.

The cure was simple- just salt, pepper, aromatics and pink (curing) salt, rubbed on the belly and left to work its magic for a week. The belly was then rinsed, patted dry and put in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temp of 150°. This stage was the only “problem” I had with the recipe- it stated to cook for 90 minutes or a temp of 150°, and it took me over 2 hours to reach that temperature, unless my thermometer is really off. But I figured it was better to err on the side of overcooking than undercooking.

As Charcuterie guru Michael Ruhlman suggested in his blog post on bacon, I went ahead and fried up a small piece as soon as it was done (well, after I removed the skin… I’m a pretty die-hard meat lover, but seeing nipples on my bacon was a little freaky). It was saltier than commercial bacon, but I figured that might have been due to it being an end piece.

In the past couple weeks, we have eaten the bacon on its own and incorporated it into several dishes such as Cuban-style black beans and this venison & porcini ragú. Since it’s not smoked, it’s a great stand-in for pancetta. I also made the French bistro classic frisée aux lardons, a salad composed of bitter frisée (a green in the endive family) tossed with vinaigrette, fried cubes of unsmoked bacon (lardons), and topped with a poached egg. There are versions that don’t use the egg, but to my mind it’s the best part, and really makes it a meal. The store Marvin went to didn’t have frisée so we had to use curly endive (possibly the same plant but more mature?), but it was a suitable stand-in. The salad with a glass of Beaujolais and a nibble of Roquefort was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.

Frisée aux Lardons
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serves two; recipe can be multiplied to serve more

2 small heads of frisée, washed, cored and torn into pieces
3 Tbs sherry vinegar or good quality red wine vinegar
about 3 oz. unsmoked slab bacon, cut into ½-inch batons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 Tbs olive oil as needed
2 eggs
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
optional if you have on hand: 1 Tbs minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil or chives

Notes: This salad is great with homemade croutons if you’re so inclined. Add them when you toss the salad so they absorb a bit of the dressing. Also, oil & vinegar amounts are a starting point and will vary according to your volume of salad and how lightly or heavily dressed you like things. Please adjust as needed! Last but not least, although I encourage you all to cure your own bacon now that I know how easy it is, you can substitute cut-up strips of regular bacon and have a less traditional but still delicious salad.

Wash and spin-dry the frisée and place in a bowl large enough to toss. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the lardons; drain. Heat a small skillet and fry the lardons over medium heat until they begin to brown and render some of their fat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze any brown bits from the skillet. Remove from heat. Whisk in olive oil to taste until the dressing tastes balanced (this will depend how much fat was rendered from the lardons). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill a medium-sized pan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer. While waiting for the water, toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and tweak as needed with additional oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Distribute onto two plates or shallow bowls.  (A note here for people like myself with ADD tendencies: poached eggs wait for no one, so make sure to have the table, drinks etc. ready when you put the eggs in.) Poach the eggs for four minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks remain runny. Retrieve the eggs with a slotted spoon, gently shaking off as much water as possible. Place an egg on each salad and garnish with the herbs, if using. Serve immediately.

venturing

When my band plays live shows, it’s common for us to play certain songs faster than the tempo we record or rehearse them in.  There’s an energy to a live performance that incites you to do everything louder, faster, harder.  For some of the songs that are already up-tempo, the live versions are sometimes performed at breakneck speeds that make you feel as if you’re on a runaway train that could careen off the tracks at any moment.  It’s nerve-wracking to think it could all fall apart, but exhilarating at the same time when you finish the song, looking around at your bandmates like “Did we really just pull that off?”.

This is the feeling that sums up my September- a frantic, energetic, delirious blur.  It bums me out that I’ve gone the entire month so far- over three weeks- without posting here, even though I had the first week of the month off (the pork loin shown above was cooked up north over Labor Day weekend, the last couple leisure days I’ve had).  Rest assured,  I haven’t been neglecting this space out of laziness or lack of interest.  I’ve become involved in a few different new projects that are kicking into high gear and keeping nearly every free moment occupied, so I do feel a bit neurotic.  But like that song that just manages not to self-implode, I’ve been holding it all together by the skin of my teeth and feeling, for the most part, immensely satisfied.

A month ago, I convinced my job to let me cut my work week to 32 hours so that I could have some extra time for entrepreneurial pursuits.  I was a little nervous about the reduction in pay, but I knew it was something I had to do and was ready to take a bit of a risk. Since then, I have started making products for a small business with a friend (more on this soon!) and have written my first freelance article for Model D (out 9/28). I’ve also been working on getting this blog redesigned and moved over to a new domain, which I hope to have done in October in time for its 2-year anniversary.

Meanwhile, my cooking has fallen a bit to the wayside.  I’ve largely been subsisting off salads, bread, cheese, and very simply cooked vegetables from the farmers’ market- nothing to write home about, but nourishing to the soul as well as the body.  As summer grinds to a halt, I’m spending massive amounts of free time processing various fruits and vegetables, something I haven’t done on a large scale before.  I hope to get my blogging mojo back soon, but for the moment my other projects are demanding just about all of my attention.  I hope you’ll bear with me as I transition into these new and exciting ventures!

Grilled Pork Loin with Garlic & Rosemary

I haven’t really made anything requiring a recipe in the last month, but I did make the grilled pork loin pictured above with my favorite sous-chef, my brother Jesse, on Labor Day weekend up north.

Take a pork loin and cut it for a roulade (or have the butcher do this if you don’t know how).  Generously season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Lay flat. Make a paste out of generous amounts of garlic and rosemary with a little olive oil; smear this liberally on one side of the meat.  Roll it up and secure with butcher’s twine. Grill over high heat until it begins to color and brown, then transfer to indirect heat and grill, covered, until internal temperature is 145°.  Allow to rest for about 10 minutes tented with foil; slice and serve.  We served this with a “sauce” made of fresh Michigan peaches peeled and macerated with a small amount of sugar, and the grilled sweet corn pictured in the new masthead.

why i hate cookbooks.

“Why I hate cookbooks” may seem like an odd blog post title for someone who owns as many cookbooks as I do, and who regularly swoons over them.  But every so often, I have one of those frustrating cooking experiences that make me almost angry at the cookbook author for whatever flaw in their recipe that caused the demise of my dinner.

a half-baked chicken recipe

The primary problem with cookbooks is obviously that they’re not interactive.  Have a question or need something clarified? You’re outta luck.*  Unlike blogs, where you can usually get a question on a recipe answered via the comments or an email, cookbooks are static and unyielding, leaving many home cooks up in the air and having to guess at what was intended.

Part of this has to do with the fact that many cookbooks assume a level of knowledge or background that may or may not be there.  Many foodies probably scoff at cookbook authors such as Nigella Lawson, who is not a “real chef” but just a home cook like (most of) the rest of us.  But that’s exactly the thing I love about Nigella’s cookbooks (and blogs like the Amateur Gourmet)- they bother to describe mishaps or trouble spots they experienced while making the dish, in hopes of sparing you the same problems.  Details like “don’t worry if your dough appears clumpy” can be invaluable when making a recipe for the first time. (I try to include these types of details in the recipes I give here- it makes them longer, but I’d rather give too much info than not enough!)

rillettes rejects

Another pet peeve is cookbook authors who don’t seem to test their recipes with American ingredients, even though the U. S. is the primary market for their book sales (they should take a page from Julia Child- she specifically tested her French recipes in an American kitchen with American ingredients, to make sure they would work).  I frequently encounter this problem when cooking from ethnic cookbooks whose authors live abroad.  There are big differences in ingredients such as flour or even meat, and adjustments need to be made.  The person executing the recipe should not be expected to know to make these modifications.

you deserve to look at something prettier than my failed recipes…

So, what prompted this bout of cookbook disaffection?  Spending an entire afternoon and evening in the kitchen one Sunday, and having two different dishes not turn out as expected. The dishes attempted were pork rillettes (from Charcuterie) and a baked chicken and freekeh dish (from the The New Book of Middle Eastern Food). The rillettes, made with expensive pastured pork, turned out the consistency of chewed tuna fish. Note to self: next time, do NOT use the stand mixer as suggested in the book!  Next time I’ll use a fork to gently break apart the meat.  Another issue was that there was not even a ballpark indication of how much liquid to add, and I think I added too much, which also contributed to the “wet tuna” consistency.

pork that reminds you of tuna is just… wrong.

The baked chicken dish was rescued but turned into something completely different from what was intended.  I thought the instructions were a little wonky- boil the chicken for an hour, then cut it up and bake it for 30 minutes- but forged ahead, trusting the recipe. After 1 hour of simmering, however, my chicken was falling apart and unable to be cut up into pieces. What would the additional 30 minutes of baking have done anyway, besides drying out the meat?!  Bizarre. (Incidentally, this is not the first time I’ve had an issue with a recipe from this book.)  I ended up picking all of the meat from the carcass, putting it back in the broth with the freekeh,  and just calling it soup.  It tasted fine in the end, but what if I hadn’t been experienced enough to shift gears and transform the dish into something else?

I’ll never fully turn away from cookbooks, but right now, I’m more than a little disenchanted.  My resources (both time and money-wise) are limited, and I can’t afford to devote them to recipes that can’t deliver a reliable result.

6/4/10 UPDATE: I had houseguests from France to whom I hesitantly served the rillettes, explaining that it was my first effort, etc.  They both said that the rillettes were “tout à fait correct” (i.e. just fine), and judging by the quantity they consumed, I don’t think they were just being polite! They said rillettes can range from fine to coarse.  I still think I’ll hand-mix them next time, but it was good to know they weren’t the failure I thought they were. I do think a few weeks in the fridge improved the flavor & texture.

*A couple notable exceptions are Rick Bayless and Paula Wolfert, both of whom are great about answering questions via Twitter!

chorizo & potatoes in a sherry broth, and the ruhlman standard

On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”.  During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner.  Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”.  I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.

My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example.  She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth.  A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.

As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home!  I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color.  If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.

*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings.  She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work.  Hop on over there for more ideas.  I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.

Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
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1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)

Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage.  However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.

Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°.  Put water on to boil.  Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat.  Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat.  Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins).  Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.

When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).

Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop.  You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving.  Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.

bacon-wrapped meatloaf! (the venison diaries, part III)

With the exception of the occasional kofta or vat of chili, it’s not often that you’ll see me using ground meat as a base for recipes- no Hamburger Helper-type menus in this household.  But my dad gave me several pounds of ground venison a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through them, trying new things and expanding my ground meat repertoire.  My first two installments of the Venison Diaries were more experimental, but this time I decided to go thoroughly retro and make a meatloaf.

A typical “meatloaf mix” usually consists of 50% ground beef, 25% pork and 25% veal, giving a good balance of fat and flavor.  For my meatloaf mix, I used 50% venison and 50% pork.  I wanted to make sure the leanness of the venison was balanced out with the fattier pork so I didn’t end up with a dry loaf.  However, I definitely think I could have used some veal and gone with a 50-25-25 mix as well.  The recipe I used, from Cook’s Illustrated, uses a sweet and tangy (almost like BBQ sauce) glaze on the meatloaf, and also has you wrap it in bacon *drool*.  To make this meatloaf extra-special, I bought some Nueske’s bacon to do the job.  I first heard about Nueske’s via Matthew Amster-Burton in his book Hungry Monkey, and then my local grocery store started carrying it so I gave it a try.  I wondered what could be so special about it to justify an almost $9 per pound price tag… until I tried it.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary bacon.  I typically buy Niman Ranch bacon because of their sustainable practices*, and their bacon is certainly good quality, but Nueske’s is on another level- it has a different texture and “feel” than most supermarket bacon, and it doesn’t shrink up nearly as much as other brands.  Finally, the flavor is nothing short of sublime.  (And no, I didn’t receive any freebies from Nueske’s to write this blog post… but if someone at the company is reading this, I’ll be glad to take anything you send my way!! )

I figured as long as I was making meatloaf I may as well go totally traditional in my side dishes as well, so I made some mashed potatoes and peas.  I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve made mashed potatoes, but I do own a potato ricer, which I put to use on some white Michigan potatoes for an unbelievably light and creamy result.  The potato ricer is, yes, an extra step and an extra item to wash, but the difference is well worth it.  I wish I had made a bigger batch!  Even though this wasn’t a typical type of menu for me, Marvin and I both really enjoyed it and I would definitely make it again if and when I get another venison windfall.

*I was disappointed not to find anything on the Nueske’s website about how their pigs are raised.  The only info I could find online was that the pigs Nueske’s uses are “raised to their specifications” in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada (not in Wisconsin, where the company is located) and fed a diet of a barley and corn mixture.

Meatloaf with Bacon and Brown Sugar-Ketchup Glaze (adapted from American Classics by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated)
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For meatloaf:
1 lb ground venison or beef
½ lb ground veal
½ lb ground pork
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large eggs
½ tsp dried thyme leaves (or use fresh and increase to 1 tsp)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
few dashes Tabasco or similar hot sauce
½ cup plain yogurt or whole milk
cup crushed saltines (about 16) or quick oatmeal, OR 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
cup minced fresh parsley
6-8 oz thin-sliced bacon

For glaze:
½ cup ketchup, preferably organic/ without high fructose corn syrup
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 tsp cider vinegar or white vinegar

Make the glaze: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 350°.  Heat the oil in a medium skillet.  Sauté the onion & garlic over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Mix the eggs, thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, milk or yogurt, and hot sauce in a medium bowl.  Put the meats in a large bowl and combine with your hands (if you didn’t buy a pre-mixed meatloaf mix).  Add the egg mixture, onions, parsley, and crackers or breadcrumbs; mix until evenly blended and mixture is not sticking to the bowl.  If mixture sticks, add more milk 1-2 Tbs at a time until it no longer sticks.  (Note: I chose to go a different route and blend the meat in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  This gave a totally different texture to the finished meatloaf, but one that I personally prefer.)

Place the meat mixture on a work surface.  Wet your hands and pat the mixture into a loaf shape, approximately 9″ x 5″.  Place the loaf on a foil-coated rimmed baking sheet.  Brush the loaf with half the glaze (be sure not to double dip your brush since you’ll be serving the remainder of the glaze).  Arrange the bacon slices crosswise over the top of the loaf, tucking the ends underneath.

Bake until the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature registers 160°, about 1 hour.  Let rest 15-20 minutes before serving.  Warm the remaining glaze and serve on the side.

vietnamese pork-stuffed tofu with tomato sauce

“I have always thought about/ Staying here and going out/ Tonight I should have stayed at home/ Playing with my pleasure zone”  -New Order, The Perfect Kiss

plated tofu 1

I never thought this day would come, but I have to admit that I’ve started to see the light as far as being an early riser on the weekends.  I woke up around 8:30 this past Saturday morning, as I have been wont to do lately, blissfully clear-headed and ready to take advantage of the day.  I had turned down a couple offers to go out the night before, preferring to have a mellow evening at home, and was feeling pretty self-satisfied as the day lay before me like a plate of noodles waiting to be sauced.

tofu on plate verticalAs I drank my coffee, I began to contemplate why I have a more “take it or leave it” attitude towards going out these days, despite still being single and (relatively) unencumbered.  It’s not that I don’t like to be social- quite the opposite, in fact.  But these days, I’d much rather be social by going to a barbecue or having a few friends over for dinner than staying out all hours.  It’s not that I don’t have the energy; more that I’ve lost the drive.

It occurred to me that a big part of the attraction for people to go out and hit the bars or stay out late can be summed up in one word: possibility.  The possibility that you’ll meet someone new, experience something new, etc.  It’s a big pull when you’re younger and are in a hurry to get as much living under your belt as you can.  But I realized that when you’re perfectly content with what (and who) you have, you lose that “seeking” instinct (or at least, it gets redirected).

Nowadays for example, perhaps the kitchen is your “pleasure zone”, and as-yet-untried recipes your possibilities.  And maybe you’d enjoy nothing more than to stay in and spend an entire evening making a somewhat fiddly dish like, let’s say, Vietnamese stuffed tofu, while your significant other sits in the other room working on the computer, and you bounce around the kitchen with the Pandora station set to New Order.

Vietnamese Pork-Stuffed Tofu with Tomato Sauce (recipe from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen) printer-friendly version

plated tofu 2 squareI bought this book a couple months ago, but didn’t know where to begin- everything sounded so good!   The book’s photo of these little pork-filled tofu squares caught my eye, and  I figured they were as good a starting point as any.  I was also intrigued by the tomato sauce since I had never had anything like that in any Vietnamese restaurants.  The assembly is a little time-consuming but not overly difficult, and as the author points out, they make good leftovers when heated up in the toaster oven.

For the tofu squares:
a 1-lb block of medium firm (“regular”) tofu
1/3 lb ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
1 scallion, white and light green parts, finely chopped
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbs fish sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tsp cold water
canola or other neutral oil for panfrying

For the sauce:
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, pulsed briefly in the food processor (or drain, reserving juice, and finely chop on a cutting board) *
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fish sauce
salt
sugar

*The author calls for 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and finely chopped ripe tomatoes.  If you have access to good tomatoes, feel free to use them in place of the canned.

Directions:

Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine pork, scallion, mushroom, egg, fish sauce, pepper and cornstarch mixture and beat vigorously with a fork until well blended.  Set aside.

pork filling in bowl 2Prepare the tofu: Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2 inch thick pieces each about 2 1/4 inches square.  You may have to cut the tofu in half crosswise.  There will be 8, 10, or 12 pieces depending on the size and shape of the block.  Lay a piece flat on your work surface and cut a horizontal slit in it, stopping 1/2 to 1/4 inch shy of the opposite side to avoid splitting the piece in half.  Make sure the cut is equally deep on both sides.  Repeat with the remaining pieces.  (I laid my tofu on paper towel and lightly pressed the squares to get out excess water before stuffing them.)

tofu on plate horizontalStuff the tofu: Hold a piece of tofu in one hand and use the other hand to open it up carefully like a tiny book.  Use a knife or small spatula to spread a layer of filling about 1/4 inch thick on one side (I filled mine a little thicker than this, and still had leftover filling.)  Lower the top flap and press the filling gently into place.  Don’t worry if the tofu tears a little.  As you work, place the stuffed tofu squares on a double layer of paper towel to absorb excess water.

tofu in panFry the tofu:  Preheat the oven to 175 or 200 for keeping the tofu squares hot once they are fried.  Pour enough oil in a nonstick skillet to film the bottom (about 4 tbs) and heat over medium heat.  Panfry the tofu in two batches, frying for 4-6 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.  Carefully flip the tofu and fry the second side for another 4-6 minutes, or until golden brown and the filling is cooked.  Transfer the cooked tofu to a plate or cookie sheet and place in the oven while you fry the second batch. (I lined a cookie sheet with paper towel to absorb some of the oil.)  Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces.

Make the sauce:  Lower the heat slightly and pour off all but 2 tbs of oil from the pan.  Add the garlic to the pan and saute for about 15 seconds or until fragrant.  Add the tomatoes and fish sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors.  When the sauce has thickened slightly, taste and season with a little salt to deepen the flavor and a little sugar to balance the acidity.

To serve, spoon the sauce onto a platter (or plate individually) and place the tofu squares on top.

ants on a tree (recipe from “hungry monkey”)

For my newly-minted book club, I had the ambitious idea that not only would I read a food-related book a month, I would also try to post a recipe or two from said book.  June’ s book was Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton; go here to see the book review and discussion.  (I actually made the dish a couple weeks ago, but time has a habit of slipping away from me these days, hence the delay in posting.)

Ants on a Tree plated 1

It wasn’t hard to choose a recipe out of this book- I went with Ants on a Tree (not to be confused with Ants on a Log, an entirely different animal) because the author constantly refers to it as his family’s favorite dish, and it’s the one thing his daughter has been willing to eat even through her pickiest phases of toddlerhood.  It’s a Szechuan (or Szichuan, depending on your fancy) noodle dish consisting of seasoned ground pork (the “ants”) and bean thread noodles (the “tree”), and it would give me an excuse to use some of those Szechuan peppercorns I bought a while back at Penzey’s.

noodles in bowlThe nice thing about this recipe, and one reason I imagine it’s become a favorite at the author’s dinner table, is that it’s pretty easy to throw together.  I’m sure after making it a few times and having the seasonings memorized, you could whip it together in a matter of 30 minutes or less.  I love highly-seasoned food, so I did enjoy this dish; my only difference of opinion is that I found it a little too “decadent” (see my note below re: oil) to want to consume it on a regular basis.  Also, I wouldn’t consider this a one-dish meal since it’s just meat and carbs with no veg, so I made a batch of my Chinese-style kale to eat alongside the noodles. We had leftovers, which I would venture to say tasted even better in my lunch the next day.

Making this dish led me to ponder having my own hungry monkey someday, and wondering what his or her unwaveringly favorite food would be.  Until then, I’ll just have to live vicariously through the Amster-Burtons, and raise a forkful of noodles as a salute to Iris and her international palate.

Ants on a Tree (recipe from Hungry Monkey, with a couple tiny tweaks as noted) printer-friendly version

pork in wok8 oz. ground pork
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs hot bean paste (sometimes sold as spicy bean paste, or hot bean sauce)
1 tsp cornstarch
6-8 oz cellophane (bean thread) noodles
1-2 tbs peanut or other neutral oil (see notes)
2 scallions, white & light green parts only, thinly sliced (the darker tops can be sliced and used as a garnish)
1 red jalapeño or Fresno chili, seeded and minced
1/4 cup chicken stock (canned or from concentrated bouillon is fine)
1 tbs dark (mushroom) soy sauce
1/4 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns (see notes)

Notes: You may try to see if you can get away with using less than the 2 tbs oil called for in the original recipe, as I found the end result to be a little on the greasy side (perhaps the pork I used had a higher fat content than what the author normally uses).  Also, the Szechuan peppercorns are listed as “optional”, but if I was of a mind to leave them out, I’d just make a different dish instead; in fact, I would even suggest upping the amount to 1/2 tsp if you’re feeling gutsy.

Directions:  Put some water on to boil.  Meanwhile, combine regular soy sauce and cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl to dissolve the cornstarch.  Add the sugar, hot bean paste and pork, stirring thoroughly to combine.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Place the noodles in a large bowl and when your water comes to a boil, pour over the noodles to cover.  Soak for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drain in a colander.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Add the scallions and jalapeño and cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently.  Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, breaking up any chunks, about 3 minutes. (You really want to break up the pork as small as possible, or the meat will all sit at the bottom of the dish, negating the whole “ants on a tree” thing.)

Add the noodles, chicken stock, dark soy sauce and Szechaun pepper.  Cook, tossing the noodles with tongs or two wooden spoons, until the sauce is absorbed and the pork is well distributed throughout the noodles.  Transfer to a large platter and serve immediately, garnishing with a few chopped scallions if desired.

 

pork potstickers in portland (day 2: 11/14/08: kathy’s kitchen)

gyoza-kale-color-adjustAt long last, here it is: the potstickers post I have been referring to for weeks now!  I have no excuse, as Kathy has already so kindly typed up the recipe for me.  So, as those of you who have been reading know, I visited Portland and Seattle about a month ago, staying 2 1/2 days in each city (see posts on Portland, day 1 & day 2).  My second day in Portland, Kathy taught me how to make guo tieh (literally, “pot stick”; also known in English/ Japanese as gyoza).  She invited her friend Rhonda over to help out, and the three of us had a great time learning and assembling together (not to mention consuming prodigious quantities of wine).   I also made a pot of my “Chinese-style” kale to go alongside, since the gyoza were our main dish. (Since this post is going to be rather long, I’ll post the kale recipe in a seperate blog entry, along with alternate versions of the potstickers.)

I just want to say that when you read this recipe it may seem like a lot of work, but if you have a friend or two over, it actually goes very quickly.  We made a batch of pork and a batch of seafood potstickers, and with three of us wrapping it only took about half an hour.  It’s a fun and impressive dish to make for a party if you have helpers… or you can offer to let people take some home for their labor!  They also freeze well, so it’s worthwhile to make extra as long as you’re taking the trouble.

Guo Tieh (Potstickers) with Pork (recipe courtesy Kathy Lee, with ever-so-minor tweaks by Noëlle)gyoza-on-tray-color-adjust

1 1/4 lbs unseasoned ground pork
1 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed in a strainer and squeezed dry
4-5 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press
3 tbs cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
soy sauce to taste- about 4 tbs recommended
sesame oil to taste- about 2 tbsp recommended
2 packages round gyoza wrappers, thawed if frozen
vegetable oil for frying (2 tbs per pan of potstickers)

gyoza-filling-crop

 Directions:  Place the pork in a large mixing bowl.  Adding water a little at a time, stir pork in one direction.  Continue adding water until the pork stirs easily and is sticky.  Stir in the spinach.  Put the cornstarch and baking soda in a small dish and add just enough water to dissolve; stir this mixture into the pork along with the soy sauce and garlic.  At this point, you can put the filling in the fridge if you’re not going to assemble the pot stickers right away.  

When you’re ready to do the assembly, stir in the scallions and sesame oil.  (Noëlle suggests frying up a small ball of the meat mixture to taste if it is seasoned to your liking before filling the gyoza; adjust seasonings as needed.) 

gyoza-in-hand-color-adjust

To wrap the potstickers:  Line a couple cookie sheets with wax paper.  Put a small dish or glass of water at your “work-station”.  Place a wrapper in your hand and put a spoonful of filling in the center (better too little than too much; you don’t want the potstickers to break open).  As you go, you’ll get a feel for how much filling your wrappers can accomodate without being overstuffed.  With your free hand, dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. 

gyoza-fold-color-adjust

fig. 1: "pleating" the gyoza wrapper

 Now, there are two ways to seal the potstickers, the easy way and the “fancier” way.  For the simple method, just fold in half, press the edges together to seal, and indent the bottom (the “fat” part).  To seal them the way we did, fold in half but don’t seal the edges; grasp the wrapper as if it was a taco that you were holding shut at the top.  Basically you are going to pleat one side of the “taco”, leaving the other side smooth.  Fold over a little flap of wrapper towards the center, making a little “pleat” (see fig. 1).  You can either do two or 
gyoza-finished-in-hand
fig. 2: the finished product

three pleats on each side of the center.  You should end up with this (see fig. 2):  the top is pleated while the bottom is not; this gives them a nice shape for nesting them in the pan.  

*Note: if you have made extra potstickers and want to freeze them, leave them on the wax paper and put them in the freezer until they are frozen enough not to stick together; you can then put them in a freezer bag.

Frying the potstickers (go here for boiling instructions):  Put 2 tbs vegetable oil in a cold non-stick skillet.  Add potstickers to the pan in a circle, nesting them snugly against each other, until the pan is full (see below).

gyoza-nestinggyoza-nesting-2

Place the pan on the stove over medium heat.  Do not use more heat or the wrappers will burn!  Let sizzle.  After about 5-7 minutes, gently lift a gyoza and peek at the underside to check for browning.  Total browning time will be between 8-12 minutes, depgyoza-flip-cropending on your stove, skillet, etc.  Once the gyoza are nicely browned, fill a glass with cold water and add to skillet.  Stand back, as this may cause oil to splatter.  You want the water to cover the potstickers about 3/4 of the way.  Cover the skillet to steam (ideally your skillet will have a lid, but use a plate if necessary).  After a few minutes, check the water level.  When all the water has cooked off, remove from heat.  Cover the skillet with an inverted plate the same size or larger than the skillet.  Put an oven mitt on.  Put the oven-mitt hand on the plate and, holding the skillet with the other hand, invert skillet.  Voilà a beautiful plate of golden brown potstickers!

gyoza-platter

gyoza-sauces-crop

Dipping Sauces for Potstickers 
For dipping sauce, Kathy uses a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili sauce; combine to taste.  I make a similar sauce but sometimes add a dash of sesame oil.  The Lee family uses another dipping sauce comprised of nothing but soy sauce and copious amounts of minced garlic!  I also like sweet chili sauce, a thick, syrupy bottled sauce (you can make your own by cooking down sugar syrup and chili sauce; sometimes the bottled kind has high fructose corn syrup).