Category Archives: Food Porn

Asparagus and Potato Tart for a Party

It was the 4th of July and I was in such a happy mood! I was having a lot of fun around that time, walking all around town with no pain, meeting fabulous new people, seeing friends I love dearly, and just enjoying my life.

On the 4th, some dear friends had a potluck for the holiday, and I wanted to bring something absolutely beautiful and yet utilize what I had in my pantry.

As I assessed my inventory, I found a lovely sheet of puff pastry in the freezer, I have some beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes, some fresh herbs, and Gruyere cheese. I went off to the store and bought some additional fresh produce and things for the weekend and picked up a bundle of asparagus.

The morning before the party, I fired up the oven and boiled the potatoes, and once they were cool I sliced them and seasoned them well with Kosher salt. Meantime, I rolled out the puff pastry and cut it into a square, then created edges with the scraps. I brushed the bottom of the pastry inside the square with a little mustard, followed by some sour cream.

The sliced potatoes went on next, followed by a hearty layer of Gruyere, then the asparagus which were topped with a little more cheese, salt and pepper, and some leaves of fresh thyme.  30 minutes later, it looked perfect!

The party was a really fun time, seeing my friends and having a foggy and drizzly afternoon celebrating our country’s 240th birthday!  The tart was a huge success and was quickly decimated to crumbs. We escaped the fog after the food was devoured into the warm house with large glasses of bourbon to spur our conversations.  I plan to make this tart again for a picnic this weekend, hope you try it sometime too!

 

Recipe:  Asparagus, Potato and Gruyere Cheese Tart

 

Shroomasagna!

GiftBasket
Last month at a dinner meeting of the Mycological Society of San Francisco I was the fortunate winner of a raffle, which was a rather huge basket of gourmet mushrooms from Mycopia Mushrooms in Sebastopol. The beautiful wicker basket was stuffed with five of their mushroom varieties: Trumpet Royale, Velvet Pioppini, Forest Nameko, Alba Clamshell and Brown Clamshell. One of these mushrooms, the Forest Nameko mushroom, was one I had not tried before.  It is a beautiful walnut brown color cap with a gelatinous texture on a long stem.  I put some in a wonderful miso soup but the texture of the mushrooms, which is vaguely slippery, was not one of my favorites, but the flavor was wonderful.

 

 

The remainder of the glorious mushrooms in the basket were incorporated into a mushroom lasagna that a friend and I made for our weekly “friends who are family” dinner, and out of all of the various lasagnas I have made over the years, this one was by far my absolute favorite. We served the “Shroomasagna” with a simple salad of romaine, halved seedless Thompson grapes, and a light vinaigrette of apple and balsamic vinegars, chased with glasses of chilled rosé. It was hard to wait for the lasagna to cool enough to slice!

I did not snap a photo this in all of its sliced glory, so you may just have to make a batch for yourself sometime.  It was really, really good.

Recipe:   Gourmet Mushroom Lasagne (Shroomasagna)

 

Sunday Meals with Framily

I am delighted to find a way to offset the dreaded Sunday blues I have been feeling by having a “framily” dinner – a dinner with friends who are like my family.

This Sunday sadness is an odd phenomenon for me.  For many years I thought it was because on Sunday afternoon I remembered I had to go to work on Monday to a job I hated. As time passed and I changed jobs, then changed jobs again, I was in a series of long-term relationships with men who lived out of the City. Sundays meant either they left to go home, or I did, and there again leaving me feeling lonely at dinner and facing an evening of dread anticipating work.

Osso Bucco dinner

Work got better but I was always seemed to end up alone Sunday night and in my societally-programmed brain Sundays are meant to be spent with family or friends, with a well anticipated family meal capping off the weekend’s adventures with each other, or hopefully, at the minimum, the successful completion of chores that inevitably pile up. But that is not my life, and now that I am single and even without a cat roommate I find the sorrow and loneliness is sometimes overwhelming. Some Sundays I even spent watching Hallmark Channel movies and dabbing at the eyes with tissue, such a deplorable state in which to find oneself.  The Hallmark Channel!!

Last weekend however, I invited friends over for dinner and we had such a nice evening together, full of laughter, silliness and great food, even if it is a challenge to cook in my tiny kitchen astride a scooter. I realized, even after they went home, that I didn’t feel as lonely as I usually do, and this is because my dear friends are my family and that this simple family meal felt right and true and I felt like a member of a family, a family of friends, my “framily”.

I spoke honestly about my feelings over that dinner and found that some of my friends feel the same way.  Either they’re not in a relationship right now, or their partner lives far away like mine used to, or the child custody arrangements mean half of the Sundays they say goodbye to their children and go home alone.  I have proposed a standing Sunday dinner or midday supper going forward where we gather and relax and enjoy.  I know it can’t happen every weekend but I hope it will.

This weekend, despite the 6.1 earthquake that rocked the Bay Area and severely damaged the town of Napa, we in SF were in good shape, a little shaken but not stirred, if you know what I mean.  Saturday, before all of the excitement, I prepared an osso bucco with a large format beef shank from my amazing local butcher, 4505 Meats.  I love making osso bucco and it is very nostalgic for me and I haven’t made it for four years.

Osso Bucco dinner

I made a variation of my usual osso bucco and added shitakes and some local bell peppers, just because I had them, and used a bunch of whole carrots scattered across the top.  Everything cooked away in the oven while I practiced crutching around the apartment.

I was so proud of myself for using crutches almost the entire day, except when I made myself a sandwich for dinner.  It was quite a gourmet sandwich made from leftover smoked beef brisket but once I had made it I couldn’t figure out how to transport it to my dining table.  I tried wrapping it in a paper towel but couldn’t hang onto it while holding onto the crutches and it fell on the floor, happily still wrapped up.  Then I put it in waxed paper and tried sticking inside my tee shirt, but it fell out!  So much for passing the pencil test then, I chuckled to myself.  Then I put it in a ziplock baggie and held it in my teeth, like a dog.  Utterly hilarious.

When my sandwich was done, so was the osso bucco and I let it cool a bit on the stove before packing it up for my friend’s place.

On Sunday, D___  made a gorgeous pot of polenta with lots of butter and cheese, and we reheated the sauce first to thicken it a bit then added the meat and carrots to warm up. While it was heating I chopped up a huge mound of gremolata, the magical mixture of garlic, lemon zest and parsley that is scattered over the top of the osso bucco and livens up the dish.

Osso Bucco dinner
(once you make gremolata you will want to put it on everything)

Another friend made a beautiful salad of avocados and ripe tomatoes and brought some tomato basil bisque to start.

Osso Bucco dinner

Osso Bucco dinner
(from the Unsafeway, delicious!)

We sipped on Prosecco then rose, while the young man in the house enjoyed his milk in a wine glass.

Osso Bucco dinner
Osso Bucco dinner
(there is a huge mound of cheese-laden polenta under that sugo!)

There was a moment during dinner where the conversation just halted and we all felt so replete and blissed out.  Having a luxurious and hearty mid-day meal on Sunday was so pleasant and relaxing, it was the perfect moment.  Afterwards we chatted and played games and I knitted a bit while the sun streamed in the window while the room was chilled by the Pacific breezes.  We all felt really happy!  Mission accomplished!

 

Next weekend, tacos!

Recipe:  Overnight Osso Bucco

How Do You Like Your Nuts?

I wanted to makes spiced pecans for a snack for a day’s excursion to the South Bay and needed inspiration, so I posed this question, “How do you like your nuts?” to some culinary minded friends on Facebook. Usually spiced nuts are mixed with egg whites and baked to allow the seasonings to adhere to the surface of the nut, but for me that is disallowed because of the eggs so I needed a new idea.

Happily my friends came through with suggestions such as rosemary and cayenne, sugar and black pepper and butter!

My memory flashed on a jar of Aji Amarillo chile powder I purchased from Peppahead, a friend’s family business. It’s a beautiful yellow chile with a warm heat and fruity flavor, and much more interesting than cayenne pepper.

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My grocery delivery the night before included a sack of fresh rosemary so I broke off a big piece and pulled the jar of Demerara sugar from the pantry cupboard and set to work making hot, spicy, salty and sweet nuts for our snacking pleasure.

I melted almost an entire stick of butter in a skillet and added the sugar, spices and the rosemary and when it was all melty and mixed well, I poured in handfuls of fat pecan halves. Four minutes of stirring later I poured the hot nuts onto a platter to cool and showered them with sprinkles of crunchy Maldon sea salt. I love Maldon salt, it has such a clean flavor and the squared shaped crystals, like little patio umbrellas, crunch delightfully between your molars before hitting your tongue with that perfect salty hit.

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When they were mostly cooled I scooped them into a little bento box that would fit into my satchel I was bringing on the trip. I made up a thermos of hot Earl Grey tea and tossed in some little bags of peanut M&Ms for good measure and set off for my fun day with friends.

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When we stopped for a break we were the envy of all around us as we popped these rich, toasty, buttery, spicy and sweet and salty nuts into our mouths and groaned in delighted pleasure as all the flavors combined in our mouths. It was an utterly satisfying snack. The best part is that I still have a half a bag of pecans left at home to make more!!!

Spice up your own nuts here! (printer friendly recipe)

Party Flatbreads

My friends C___ and D___ had a party this weekend to celebrate C___’s birthday, their wedding anniversary and the anniversary of moving to their condo. What a fun trio of occasions!

I had splurged on a purchase of the best mozzarella on the planet, from Angelo and Franco, a whole BBQed chicken and racks of ribs from Sneaky’s Underground BBQ and with the haul from some recent grocery forays I realized I had some great ingredients in the pantry to make flatbreads for the party.

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Using a dough recipe from Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads, I mixed up a batch of dough and had enough for three flatbreads for the party plus enough for home dinners for the next two weeks.

I made three flatbreads:

  • Marinated grapes in herbs and olive oil, goat cheese and pecans
  • Brown tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil
  • BBQ chicken mixed with BBQ sauce, red onions, Gruyere



  • Each flatbread baked in about 15 minutes and were topped with a sprinkle of Maldon crunchy sea salt when they came out of the oven. They were perfect with the variety of white and red Rhone style wines my friends poured. Warm or at room temperature, we scarfed them down.

    If you think outside the box any leftover or ingredient can be made into a flatbread or a pizza. To me, the difference between a flatbread and a pizza has to do with tomato sauce; dough with tomato sauce is a pizza, anything else is a flatbread. They’re both equally delicious! A local Indian place is making flatbreads with curry sauce and tandoori chicken, it’s fantastic and I am bitter they don’t deliver to my neighborhood.

    Tonight I am making myself a BBQ chicken flatbread just for me for dinner, the oven is preheating now and I can’t wait.

    For other pizza toppings ideas, check out my Sharknado pizza party! What would you make?

    Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls

    I freely confess that I am a big fan of the Pillsbury orange sticky rolls that come in the cardboard tube at the grocery store.  As a kid we were not allowed junk food except a box of any cereal we wanted around our birthdays, Hostess ding dongs when we went sailing, and these orange sticky rolls around the holidays.

    pillsbury

    Ohh, naughty!

    As an adult, naturally, I felt the wild rush of freedom and indulged myself frequently in these rolls and then felt quite guilty for consuming a product full of trans fats and who knows what else.

    This weekend I deliberately did not book anything for Saturday so that I could have a rest day at home. I planned to knit and recreate my childhood favorite holiday treat but in a healthier fashion.  It worked for the most part but I learned an important lesson.

    The recipe I concocted for the sweet roll dough was quite healthy, it is a yeast risen dough similar to that used for cinnamon rolls but instead of egg yolks and lashings of butter I used fruity olive oil from Lodi.

    The dough rose in my giant Wovo salad bowl for 90 minutes while I watched scifi shows on Netflix, knitted a shawl and sipped lungo shots of espresso.

    Olive oil dough rising
    This is a 10 quart salad bowl, almost brimming over with yeast dough

    For the filling I zested some citrus – oranges and a grapefruit – with a microplane grater and mixed this into sugar, then added some juice to make a slurry to spread over the dough.

    Getting busy with a citrus sweet roll filling
    my apartment smelled wonderful at this point

    I used a few tablespoons of the fruit juice to make a paste, then sprinkled over walnuts from Sonoma County that I toasted in a skillet.

    This filling was inspired by some random food show I saw where a diner chef made enormous sweet rolls well sanded with sugar and butter.  In trying to make these healthier I omitted the butter entirely.

    I rolled out the dough to a large rectangle, applied the filling and then rolled up the dough on the long edge to form a log about 16″ long.   I cut the log into about 12 even pieces and filled up a buttered pyrex baker.

    Citrus walnut sweet rolls rising
    About halfway risen

    You can see how generous the citrus-sugar filling was and there were plenty of walnuts to go around.  I think perhaps I should have put fewer rolls in the pan though.

    I had too many to fit so I made up an extra pan in a tin pie plate.  Lagniappe for the chef!

    Bonus pan of sweet rolls
    Ready to rise before baking

    My apartment was nice and warm on this very foggy, dark day, and after about 45 minutes the rolls were puffed and yeasty and looking pleasantly plump – ready for the oven.

    After baking I made up a quick frosting with more of the citrus juice and powdered sugar.  Despite using almost a full box of confectioners sugar there was barely enough icing to cover the rolls in both pans.

    There is never enough icing
    browned to a toasty golden

    The aroma from the oven was mouth-watering.  A whiff of orange with a hint of grapefruit, the sweet sugar icing melting in between the rolls, citrus sugar caramelizing the walnuts, the yeasty baked rolls with a tang of rich, fruity olive oil, they smelled just like Christmas in my childhood home.

    The citrus sticky rolls were best eaten warm out right out of the oven, but truthfully I think they would be much improved with some melted butter in the filling.  The icing wasn’t quite what I wanted either, I need to tinker with that a bit I think.

    Citrus walnut sweet rolls

    So luscious

    I won’t admit how quickly this pan of rolls disappeared and will firmly disavow any knowledge of my actions.  They needed to be reheated if you don’t eat them right away.  Despite the liberal buttering of the baking pan they were hard to remove because of the caramelized sugar on the bottom.  They were not as tender the next day either and this is where I think the butter is essential.

    The recipe includes the addition of butter but you can omit as your conscience dictates.  They were really wonderful and toothsome as is, but next time I make them I will use butter.

    Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls recipe 

    Happiness Is… This Month’s Meat CSA

    Happiness is…..my beautiful butcher’s bag from 4505 Meats monthly meat CSA.

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  • a quart of lamb stock
  • chicharonnes
  • chicken livers
  • bone-in beef rib eye
  • harissa-rubbed sirloin medallions
  • pork rib chop
  • chicken apple Calvados sausages
  • ground beef
  • harissa-rubbed flapskirt

    This month I specifically requested a selection of meat suitable for grilling plus I asked for chicken livers, and it was so nice of them to accommodate me. Other than making my mom’s pate de maison and a steak with macque choux I haven’t really mapped out what I’m going to cook with my meat allotment this month.

    I also scored another amazingly tasty treat.

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    Magic Bacon Bombs!!

    Magic Bacon Bombs are the 4505 Meats’ version of crack: queso and chorizo stuffed jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon. Kaboom.

    I bought the last of them last weekend and they haven’t made anymore but when I called today about picking up my meat CSA Nicholas very kindly agreed to make me some more.

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    It was fun to chat while they finished assembling them for me and then they wrapped them up for my trip home. The drawing was a hilarious touch!

    Usually one puts them on the grill and cooks them until the bacon is crispy, but since I live so very high above the street with no grilling facilities, I will do them up in the oven and in my humble opinion they’re even more delicious.

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    Fantastic…

    It will be fun to plan out my my menus. I have friends coming over this month and plan to put my broiler to good use.

    Please remember to support your local butcher, particularly if they are like 4505 Meats and purchase pasture-raised whole animals and butcher them nose-to-tail.

    Get your own meat CSA!

    Weekend Fun and This Includes Brunch

    This weekend we had warm weather. This time of year in San Francisco is like the rest of the world’s summer, one can go to work without a warm jacket and suddenly ladies wearing skirts with bare legs looks like a good idea instead of scoffing at all their goosebumps. I dusted off my linen skirt, said hello to my pasty legs and took them out for a spin.

    My dear friend C___ invited me to join him to a trek to the Livermore Valley. He had been gifted a wonderful bottle of wine from Murrieta’s Well Winery and wanted more. The winery is built on the site of the spring where Joachin Murrieta, the famed outlaw and bandit, used to water his horses. There is a nice little fountain built using the spring water and no more wild horses. The wine, however, was fantastic and well worth the drive.

    At the vineyard
    (me standing on actual dirt! It feels as if I haven’t been outside in years. Oh wait!)

    Chris at the vineyard
    (my dear friend C___ whom I’ve known since I was a sweet young thang of 18.)

    Murietta's Well is where he camped, fascinating
    (If there is a historical plaque I am compelled to read it, thanks to parental training.)

    Chris at Murietta's Well
    (THE spring, please note the horses and Senor Murietta depicted on the tile)

    It is a beautiful spot, very hot and arid and this seems to suit the vines. Surprisingly to a few folks wine grapes, like good tomatoes, like to be stressed.

    Ascension
    (detail of the steps leading up to the wine tasting room)

    Vineyards
    (peeking out the window to the vines and patio)

    Their winemaker is Chilean and has been planting Portuguese grape varietals but making them in a Rhone style. I learned a lot about varietals I had never heard of previously. The tasting room was busy but we got the full treatment and ended up having a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the vines while they pulled our wine from the “library” since we were allowed to buy some things not usually available. I like my wine friends and their superpowers!

    Not enough of a recommendation for me.
    (one of their award-winning whites, but who knew Houston had a wine competition / rodeo?)

    View from the balcony
    (a fine view with a glass of wine)

    Me and Chris at Murietta's Well
    (happy happy)

    We ran into some traffic in Livermore, some of the side streets were really cute but overall the place is reminiscent of Los Angeles sprawl with housing tracts popping up on the hills. Some vines were being planted too, I would rather see the wineries expand myself.

    Traffic in Livermore

    I came home from winetasting and made myself some of my homemade bacon! Wow! Then I took a nap! Then, I had more wine.

    Delicious! Murietta's Well 2010 Cabernet Franc
    (a post-wine-tasting glass of wine)

    Sunday morning I went to brunch. Please note this is the most social weekend I have had where I just did things for fun and it felt great to be “normal” and to make plans with friends and be able to actually attend them. Brunch was a popup for a local bakery, Marla Bakery, at the State Bird Provisions restaurant. If you are going to be in SF this Sunday I would recommend having their brunch, email them for a reservation or go early at sit at the counter like we did.

    Marla cherry tart
    (cherry and frangipane tart)

    Anticipation is building for @marlabakery brunch

    Marla’s pastries are incredibly beautiful. This the Marla bun which is like a palmier but made into a larger roll.

    Lovely cherry & tarragon scones @marlabakery

    I had dried cherry and tarragon scones with a little jar of marscapone and rhubarb compote piped in. All of these years searching for decent clotted cream in the city and I realize, stupidly, that I should have been using marscapone. It was truly brilliant. I didn’t get much of the tarragon but it is allergy season after all and my nose proved shamefully incapable of detecting aromas this weekend.  These sold out before Noon and I am very glad I had the foresight to order one to go.

    Keep thinking about this lamb & fattoush @marlabakery brunch

    For the brunch “entree” I had roasted rare lamb that took three days to prepare. It was rubbed in yogurt and barahat and was roasted perfectly.  Tender, thin slides were drizzled with harissa spiced yogurt. The flatbread had been brushed with spices too and was enormous and warm like a hug. The fattoush salad was herby and tart and included pickled onions and crispy flatbread crackers.

    Darling coffee service @marlabakery brunch

    I washed this down with a glass of cava and coffee service by Wrecking Ball. Ethopian coffee in a tiny carafe really hit the spot. The little biscotti were a nice touch too, I gifted them to my friend as they contain almonds and I can’t eat them right now.

    I wish I could go back this Sunday but I will be off on another adventure!

    Where to Go

    Murrieta’s Well
    3005 Mines Road
    Livermore, CA 94550

    Marla’s Bakery
    Every Thursday between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Mission Community Market at 22nd & Bartlett in San Francisco
    Watch their Facebook page for pop up brunch locations

    State Bird Provisions
    1529 Fillmore Street
    San Francisco, CA 94115

    Bursting with Bacon

    Oh man, the bourbon maple is so intense.  The herb-pine syrup is heady.

    Last month I had the pleasure of being invited to purchase a share of a Mangalitsa pig. The Mangalitsa is one of those wonderful heirloom breeds where the fat is not bred out of the animal like our modern day pork, in fact this breed of pig has a prodigious fat layer and is one of the most prized breed of pork in the world.

    acorns

    This particular pig was finished on acorns, which means for the last few weeks of its blissfully unaware life he was fed mounds and mounds of acorns. To us humans acorns are unconscionably bitter but pigs eat them up like potato chips.    Besides the no doubt gustatory delight of crunching them up in their forceful jowls it has an ancillary benefit of infusing the meat and fat with a delightful nuttiness reminiscent of hazelnuts. An acorn finished pig is a marvelous thing and I bought lots of it.

    My modest meat budget was consumed by this purchase but the enormous 10 pound side of pork belly, a sizable pork loin, a tub of creamy, pure lard and a substantial pork neck was enough to pack my freezer and will provide me with porky enjoyment for quite some time.

    My plan was to cure the pork belly in two ways, one with maple, bourbon and brown sugar and the other with a more traditional fresh and dried herb and spice blend.

    To approximate the effect of smoked bacon, for which I completely lack the facilities to achieve, I used crushed black pepper that had been smoked over defunct bourbon barrels and a simple syrup infused from local pine trees from Mount Tamalpais.

    I never really realized how easy it is to cure bacon.   The most difficult part was cutting the massive 10 pound pork belly into two pieces  because the skin is so very tough. 10 pounds of pork belly is quite large.

    10# Mangalitsa pork belly I cut them in half, look at that glorious fat!

    Pork belly, cut in half and trimmed

    I had two ziplock bags, one for the sweet cure and one for the savory cure.  I  chucked in the ingredients into each bag and shook them around to mix.

    The cure

    On a clean cutting mat I arranged the pork belly, skin side down, poured over the cure mix and patted it around a bit before sliding the belly into the same bag.

    The traditional cure

    With both pieces of pork belly rubbed in their cure and sealed in their bags, I massaged them a bit and put them into the fridge.  See you in a week!

    See you in a week!

    That was not hard at all, nor was it hard to pick up the bag during the following week and give it a little massage, flip it over once in a while and just admire it.

    To make the slabs even I had to do a little bit of trimming.  The skin side of these pieces had the nipples of the pig!  Well, we all know that pigs are animals and are mammals and that mammals have nipples but nonetheless it was a tiny bit of a surprise.  However, I am at the top of the food chain and have butchered my own animals for food, in my distant past, so it just made my eyebrows rise a moment then I continued on with my trimming.  I used these pieces, which weighed about a pound and a haf, into red cooked pork belly last Sunday.

    The trimmings, includes the nipples!

    A week later it was time to cook the cured raw bacon.

    In lieu of smoking, I used the aforementioned flavorings in the cure to provide a smokey flavor and set about baking the slabs in the oven on low heat until the meat reached 150 F.   This was last Sunday during my cooking explosion and it wasn’t much work to add baking the bacon to my list of cooking projects that day.

    I removed the raw bacon slabs from their curing bags and gave them a good rinse.  They certainly didn’t look like much but their aroma was fantastic.  The peppercorns discolored the skin, which I found interesting.  I used my nonstick cooling rack for cakes set inside a half-sheet jelly roll pan.

    Cured and rinsed raw bacon

     

    (Note the peppercorn stains on the skin, interesting!)

    Cured and rinsed and ready to bake!  I poured in a good slug of bourbon into the bottom the the baking sheet before sliding it into the oven.  I was hoping this would add extra aroma to the finished bacon.

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    After baking, not a lot of fat was in the bottom of the pan as you can see, and the slabs looked just as they should, very bacon-like.  I slid a meat thermometer into the sides of the slabs at various points to check the desired temperature of 150 F.

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    Check out the thick layer of fat!  I could really smell the difference between the two slabs with their very different cures, but overall there was a rich nuance of nutty fat that I have never detected with ordinary bacon.  This is the delectable Mangalitsa acorn enhanced fat.  Wow.

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    (these look like small pieces but my carving knife is 14″ long!)

    I cut the bacon slab in half and then sliced off the skin to reveal the pearly, nutty fat. The meaty underside was particularly gorgeous too.

    The same process was repeated on the other slab of bacon.  I wrapped two of the half-slabs in plastic wrap then secured them airtight in a ziplock bag for the freezer.  The other two half slabs went into the fridge for immediate use.

    It was immediate too, I sliced off two slices of the herb and spice cured bacon with the pine syrup, and one slice of the bourbon maple pepper bacon and fried them up.  Just these three small slices gave off a lot of fat, which I saved for making my steak dinner later that night.

    You can almost hear the sizzle.

    Morning snack before brunch, Mangalitsa bacon

    My own bacon, fried up and gorgeous.   The pine syrup and herbs really shone and matched well with the rich fat.  The bourbon flavor was very strong in the bourbon maple slice and it tasted too salty to me, but I have never minded a strong bourbon flavor nor salty bacon and it certainly didn’t deter me from enjoying this wonderful treat.

    My recipes were inspired by a lecture I attended by Michael Ruhlman for BlogHer Food a few years ago.  When I talked to him after the lecture and mentioned my hesitation over making bacon without a smoker in my very urban apartment (aka no ventilation in the kitchen other than a window on the far end of the dining nook), he assured me that baking it off is just as wonderful as smoking and never to fear the bacon.   His book on charcuterie is fantastic and one day I will indulge myself.

    Making your own bacon is much less expensive than buying it already cured and prepared, and you get to customize the flavors just the way you like it.  Even if you can’t find the luxurious Mangalitsa bacon, any fresh pork belly from your butcher or Asian market will make fantastic bacon.   It was so easy too, the hardest part of the entire process was being in my apartment as it slowly cooked in the oven. The aroma of the bacon was incredible, and if you are a restaurant in San Francisco, it can cause your neighbors to try to shut you down.

    Better Bacon

    5# fresh pork belly, skin on
    large ziplock bag

    Basic cure:
    1/4 cup Kosher salt (Diamond salt)
    2 tsp pink curing salt or sodium nitrite (not Pink Himalayan salt)  (I got mine here)
    1/4 cup sugar (brown, maple, honey, agave)

    Additions – These can be anything you fancy, but here are some good basic recommendations:
    4 T ground or crushed black peppercorns
    4 bay leaves
    1 tsp. ground nutmeg
    5 cloves of garlic, smashed flat
    5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme, or any herb you like
    1/4 cup booze

    My savory herb and spice cure:
    1/4 cup Kosher salt
    2 tsp. pink curing salt
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup June Taylor pine syrup
    4 T bourbon barrel smoked course ground pepper
    4 dried California bay leaves
    10 sprigs of thyme, spanked between my palms
    5 cloves of garlic – smashed flat and skins removed
    1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

    My bourbon, maple, pepper cure:
    1/4 cup Kosher salt
    2 tsp. pink curing salt
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    3 T brown sugar
    4 T whole peppercorns, crushed coarsley with a mortar and pestle
    1/4 cup bourbon

    Mix together the bacon cure in the ziplock bag and shake or squish well to mix. Put the pork belly on a cutting board and pour over the raw pork belly, massage in and place the belly back in the bag (with any of the cure that might remain on the cutting board. Remove all the air from the bag, seal and store in the fridge for at least 7 days. Every few days massage the pork belly a bit and return to the fridge.

    On the day to cook the meat (oven method), turn on the oven to 150-200 F. Put a rack on a baking sheet large enough to hold the raw bacon. Rinse the bacon well, pat try with paper towels and place on the rack.  Pour a good slosh of bourbon into the bottom of the pan.  Place in the cold oven and set the timer for 3 hours.  Add more bourbon to the baking sheet every hour or so, if desired.

    Check the temperature after 3 hours to see if the meat has reached 150 F.  If not, give it another 15-20 minutes or until it reaches 150 F.   Allow to cool, trim off the skin and chill until ready to eat.

    When ready to eat your bacon, slice of a thin or thick slice, add to a cold skillet with a dash of water and fry until as crispy as you like.  If your bacon tastes too salty for you, add more water and cook for a few minutes, then pour off the water and fry until crisp.

    Another advantage to having slab bacon is to make your own lardon.  A lardon is a pinkie-sized rectangle of bacon that is delicious in a warm salad or in soups or just eaten out of hand.  Cut the bacon 1/2″ thick then again into large even matchsticks, add water, and then drain and fry on all sides.  Delectable.

    Makes 5 pounds of bacon
    (printer friendly recipe)

    A note about the pink curing salt, or sodium nitrite.  It is a naturally occurring salt found in many vegetables and is also used for curing meats and is approved by the FDA.  The salt inhibits the growth of certain nasty bacteria such as botulism and listeria and it is highly recommended when making charcuterie and bacon.  But because bacon is cooked again after its curing and baking, aka in your skillet, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.  You will find that your bacon tastes more like ribs or roast pork than bacon and will not be pink but will be grey or brown.  That’s perfectly fine bacon, however, it is really easy to buy a bag of pink salt and you will have it forever.  I bought a pound bag for around $6.00 and used 4 teaspoons for this batch of bacon so I have plenty left!   If I ever wanted to make other cured meats such as salami or guacinale or any cured meat that is not cooked or smoked, the it is really crucial for the success of the recipe and one’s health to use the small amount of sodium nitrite.   It does not cause cancer, like many incorrectly people assume; sodium nitrate or saltpeter is toxic but it is a very different thing altogether.  

    Happy baconing!

    Morocco In My Kitchen: Lamb Tagine

    Fickle Spring is here, some days it feels like pure summer, some days it feels like the wind has icy teeth. With the fog bank lurking out of sight behind the horizon despite the mild days as soon as the sun sets it is chilly and I have been indulging myself with rich flavors that are yet lean in calories. My latest kitchen gadget, the beautiful tagine from one of my bosses, fit the bill perfectly for the night I decided to make a Moroccan lamb tagine.

    The recipe is inspired by a fellow cook on a Facebook recipe swap forum. Debbie Maizel used apricots and nuts in her dish, which I omitted for annoying allergy reasons, but I used what I had in my kitchen and it was quite versatile. As I am trying to be budget conscious and use what is in my pantry and freezer, such as this generous lamb chop from 4505 Meat’s monthly butcher bag, I like recipes that are more method than a strict requirement of ingredients.

    What made this tagine special is the spicing of the meat. Exotic and yet familiar, the use of ras al hanout and harissa gave the dish great flavor and some spiciness and elevated the lean lamb to a richness that made a small portion feel quite grand. In hindsight I will leave out the chile as the harissa was spicy enough for my wimpy tolerance.

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    Lamb Tagine
    1 lamb shoulder chop, bone in, ~ 1.5 pounds
    2 T olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    1″ piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
    3 cloves of garlic, chopped
    1 preserved lemon, pulp removed, rind chopped
    1 red bell pepper, chopped
    1 pound of carrots, cut into small pieces
    1/2 a cauliflower, cut into small pieces
    1 cup frozen petite peas
    3 T ras al hanout*
    1 tsp Harissa paste*
    1 Seranno chile, seeded and minced (this chile was in the jar with the preserved lemons and was moderately spicy with a nice vinegar kick)
    1 tsp turmeric powder
    Salt
    1 3/4 cups of beef broth
    1/4 c dry white wine
    1/4 c chopped parsley

    cooked couscous, tossed with chopped green onion

    * I obtained these spices from a new organic spice store in San Francisco, Spicely.

    In the base of my tagine I heated the olive oil and while it was heating, I generously seasoned the lamb chop with salt and pepper and then browned it to a dark golden brown on all sides of the chop. I set the chop aside and added the onion, garlic and ginger to the tagine and stirred the fragrant mixture over medium heat until the onion was soft and tender. Then, I added the spice mixtures, the preserved lemon, bell pepper, chile pepper, and the vegetables and cooked this for 5-8 minutes. Then, I added in the broth and the white wine and stirred to loosen the browned bits on the bottom of the tagine, tasted for salt and then snuggled in the browned lamb chop into the mixture. On went the tagine lid and I turned down the heat to low and simmered it for 45 minutes, then turned the lamb and simmered for another 40 minutes until the lamb was tender and falling off the bone. About 10 minutes before the end I strewed over the top of the stew a few handfuls of frozen peas that I had thawed in a strainer in the sink.

    Again I was out of parsley, but I did have a bit of cilantro that was about to go off, so I added a few leaves of what was viable to the stew.

    I scooped out a cup of cooked couscous and ladled on a good dollop of stew, and sat down at my little table to watch the sunset and savor spoonfuls of this rich and spicy stew. I sipped red wine until the light grew purple and felt quite content with life.
    Urban heure de violette

     

    (printer-friendly recipe)