Category Archives: thrifty living

Soup for a Duvet Day

This Saturday was a mellow day, I lounged around the house doing a bit of cooking, a bit of housework, and a bit of watching Netflix, but mostly I was snoozing on top of the bed while wearing fleecy sweats and wooley socks. When I was describing it to a British colleague he said, oh we call those “Duvet Days”! I love this term so much, I definitely had a wonderful Duvet Day this weekend.

After a slightly boozy cafe mocha or two and some toast while lounging on the duvet, I discovered a delightful Australian drama on Acorn TV which rivals Downton Abbey, set in post World War II in a small town named Inverness near Sidney. “A Place to call Home” has drama, romance, draconian grandmothers, illicit affairs, and blackmail make for perfect Saturday Duvet Days. Around 2 pm I started to feel peckish and nothing in the fridge and pantry terribly inspired me except I knew I had russet potatoes and a tub of sour cream in the fridge for a bodacious baked potato with a ribeye I had thawed that morning. But I really didn’t feel like having a steak for some reason, it felt like too much work and I really just wanted soup, and then I remembered the first dinner I ever made my family.

Growing up with my mom and sister being such amazing cooks, I learned a lot perched by their elbows. Even my father was a good cook and made what he called Turkey Bone soup after Thanksgiving every year, and blueberry pies in the summer. My mom had tons of lovely cookbooks, and I would take a pile of them and lie on my stomach on the cool tile floor of the entry hall to read. The light slanted in from the tall vertical pebbled windows surrounding the front door to the courtyard with the perfect brightness for reading and yet I was out from underfoot and could be left alone in peace. While reading, I would image what everything would taste like and wonder if we had the ingredients to make these things, and made a list of things I had never heard of before to ask mom later, or realize with a loud internal “AHA! *that’s* where mom got that recipe!” when I saw something utterly familiar. The Spice Islands Cookbook was a family favorite, the majority of the pages were spotted with stains and the book would fall open to those family favorites when the pages were ruffled.

One recipe caught my attention, Sour Cream Potato Soup, because I always loved baked potatoes, *and* it had cumin, my absolute favorite spice. I remember looking through the kitchen and realizing everything I needed was there, and it didn’t sound hard, and maybe mom would let me cook it for dinner. I was so excited about it, and yet it was just a small pot of soup, but my family was very kind about it and it really did taste good.


(A humble soup and yet so flavorful and unusual)

The purpose of the cookbook was to highlight the products made by Spice Islands, and to introduce spices to 50s housewives who were not terribly adventurous in the culinary department.  It is quite a varied cookbook in terms of cuisines and countries, since the spices are mostly sourced from “exotic locales”.  The recipes come out quite well using dried spices and herbs, which in the long ago pantries of bored housewives or wintertime, even in San Francisco, can be handy when fresh things are limited, or when one can’t be bothered to get out of pajamas to go grocery shopping.

I peeled a few potatoes and diced them, and assembled all of the soup ingredients while waiting for the dishwasher to finish its cycle.  Diced potatoes are simmered in a beef broth until tender, then mashed in the pan with a potato masher, which is very appealing to an 8 year old.  Cumin, beau monde seasoning, and black pepper are added to the pot, then cream thickened with arrowroot, and finally sour cream are stirred in.  A final handful of chervil finishes the soup, but I never seem to have chervil around, so fresh parsley made do. I had some turkey broth leftover from the Thanksgiving carcass so this time I used half turkey and half beef broth.

Another nap happened upon me while the soup was cooking, so I perked myself up to finish the cooking with a restorative cup of tea.  The soup was quickly ready, and as it was after 5:00 pm I had a tot of whiskey to wash down my initial mug of soup.  Another dram of whiskey and another mugful of soup made me feel so happy and content with the world and it tasted just as good as I remembered.

Next time you have a Duvet Day I hope you try making a pot of this soup.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Cumin Potato Soup

 

My Favorite Breakfast

biscuits-gravy

Weekends are when I have time for a leisurely morning at home. I like to putter through my apartment sipping espresso, doing random tidying and half listening to my morning playlist of Tame Impala and Parisian bistro music. At some point I realize I truly am hungry and enter the kitchen in earnest looking for something delicious yet soothing.

I truly do miss having poached eggs at times, except for the unfortunate side effect of, you know, death, should I ingest an egg.  However, I still crave that creamy, soft comfort food kind of dish that appeals on a lazy morning. And the answer to that craving now for me is biscuits and gravy.

My first experience with biscuits and gravy was a truck stop at the base of the Grapevine on I-5.  I was with my mom and we were heading to LA to visit grandma.  In our family, a road trip meant that we had to pack the car and depart usually before 5:30 am. I have no idea why this insanity was inflicted upon us poor kids and my poor mom, but there you are, up at at ’em, bleary eyed well before the break of dawn, and completely ravenous by the time the Grapevine rose up ahead of us at the end of the San Joaquin Valley.

At the truck stop, an actual trucker in a John Deer hat (or something like it) was chowing down on a massive plate of a fried ham steak, eggs, and something I didn’t recognize but needed to know more about, and it turned out to be biscuits and gravy.  I have been hooked ever since.

Mom’s sausage gravy is a winner, with an entire pound of good breakfast sausage skinned of their casings and browned in a skillet, flour added to the scant amount of fat left in the pan after draining, and whole or skim milk stirred in vigorously.  This was all taking place while buttermilk biscuits were rising in the oven.  My job was to make mom her coffee, a pour over in a Melita cone, and to set the table and to fend off the cat from eating the slices of cantaloupe set out on a small bowl on each placemat.

These days, I have perfected an egg-free biscuit recipe, and during this time of year when morels are popping up all over the place, I have made morel gravy instead of sausage gravy.  Add a glass of prosecco and some espresso topped with bourbon whipped cream, a couple of biscuits and gravy are the perfect prelude to an epic post-breakfast nap, preferably with a James Bond movie on TV.

Whether you have access to morels or another mushroom, or prefer sausage, I hope you try this comforting breakfast dish, with or without a John Deere hat.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy (with Morel Gravy option)

 

 

A San Francisco Special Breakfast & DOLE’s Peel The Love Banana Cabana Tour

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I have been battling food allergies for a few years now, and was therefore ecstatic to discover that most of the tropical fruits do not set off my intolerances, so I have been indulging in bananas a lot.

Not only are bananas delicious and the ultimate comfort food, they are high in B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and potassium, all of which are really helpful with my efforts to heal.  When DOLE approached me to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador I was delighted!  I do “peel the love”, every day!

People take bananas for granted, and forget how versatile and useful they are, for example, I have been using them as an egg substitute, in addition to eating out of hand for my morning breakfast. This weekend I made a true San Francisco treat, sourdough banana pancakes.

There is something in the air in San Francisco that makes our sourdough special, so my sourdough starter gets used for great bread but also for great pancakes.  They are so light and fluffy and and the addition of bananas offsets the lashings of butter and maple syrup from Quebec that I slather on liberally.

I like to add sliced bananas inside the batter while the pancakes are baking, then cover them with a bit more batter so they do not stick when you’re ready to flip them over.

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Today I used my “status” pan, as Julia Child calls it, a lovely polished aluminum crepe pan with a Bakelite handle, a gorgeous vintage piece I found at an estate sale years ago. It made the pancakes crisp up to the most perfect color of golden brown.

As an extra treat, I cooked the bananas first in a Bananas Foster sauce, and then we used a little of the extra boozy syrup to spread over our pancakes like some sort of fantastical boozy jam.

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Speaking of Peel the Love, I learned recently that I have been opening bananas incorrectly my entire life.  Now I open them like this and it’s so much easier!

I showed my sister this trick over the 4th of July weekend and we we were both astounded that we had never figured this out before. Thank you, internet.

I think it’s interesting to note that most of our bananas in the United States come from DOLE, and the only state where bananas in the US are grown are from the DOLE farms in Hawaii. Hawaii has more than just pineapples!

Peel the Love - Hi-Res

This summer DOLE is holding a national tour called Peel the Love :”Banana Cabana Tour” and they’re coming to the Bay Area next week. They will be featuring unique recipes and ideas for parties and to ideas perk up your every day with bananas. If you’re nearby, go check out the fun, and meet Bobbie, their banana mascot.

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  • Aug. 7 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Nob Hill Foods (270 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Redwood City)
  • Aug. 9 – Nob Hill Foods (2531 Blanding Ave., Alameda)

Elsewhere in the nation, the DOLE jeep and Bobbie the Banana will be appearing here.  Yes, there will be bananas, lots of them.

 

Thank you, Dole, for this opportunity to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador!

Recipe:  Sourdough Pancakes (with Bananas)

Recipe: Bananas Foster

Learn more about the Peel the Love “Banana Cabana” Tour here!

Fascinating banana nutrition facts here

Please note this is a sponsored post and I was compensated by DOLE. The opinions herein are my own.  The Banana Cabana Tour is still a lot of fun and the recipe here and my opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday Cooking

Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

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It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
o Broiled tomatoes
o Sautéed chard
o Gratined chard stems and leeks
o Rainbow quinoa
o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

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The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

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I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

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The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

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The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

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The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

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The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

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The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

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Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

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When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

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Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

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When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

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I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

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While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

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The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

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When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems

 

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.

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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 

Sharknado Pizza Party

Luna sent me a note on Facebook that said, “There’s this crazy movie coming up on the SciFi Channel called Sharknado, we have to do this.”

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A bit of backstory, we had an absolutely hilarious time watching Snakes On A Plane together, screaming every single time a snake shot out of someplace unexpected, which was about every 3 minutes once the movie got started, so of course I invited Luna over to have a Sharknado party! Then more friends joined in and next thing you know my apartment is full of hungry ladies, sipping on some great wine and ready to be vastly entertained by what could be one of the best-worst scifi movies ever.

There were sharks eating people as they flew by, seemingly unfazed by the lack of water, sharks whapping people across the face and removing most of said face, and sharks eating through cars and bar stools. There was fabulously deadpan acting by Tara Reid and dialogue that was probably written by kindergartners (with apologies to the kids).

And there was pizza. Being flat broke and yet needing to be a good hostess I made up a giant bowl full of pizza dough which rose and rose and rose as we nibbled on treats from the freezer. Yes, we had foie! There was a rather sizeable foie gras mousse from a splurgy purchase in the recent past, and sparkling wine and wonderful red wine from a recent shipment I received that day and Anna brought an amazing assortment of crackers. Everyone brought various treats to top the pizza so we were set.

Making pizza

To have a successful pizza party you need lots of toppings. We had a great assortment but really the toppings can be anything you like on a pizza. You need a sauce or two, many cheeses, vegetables and lots of other savory things:

  • fresh tomato sauce canned by Anna
  • pesto sauce
  • buffalo mozzerella cheese
  • feta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • ricotta cheese
  • basil
  • arugula
  • slivered asparagus
  • Sweety Drop peppers
  • crispy freeze-dried onion slices
  • assorted olives
  • Bacon Hot Sauce
  • capocollo salami

We would have had sauteed leeks and bacon but the movie was about to start and we felt like we had enough options at this point. The oven was roaring at 500 F, all the windows were open and the wine was flowing freely. I tore off an orange-sized ball of pizza dough from the massive bowl heaped with dough and helped each guest quickly form it into a round which was draped on my makeshift pizza peel – a flat-edged cookie sheet well sprinkled with cornmeal – and then they were free to top it with their choice of sauces, cheeses and tidbits.

Anastasia's pizza

(Anastasia’s pizza – pesto, olives, cappocolo, ricotta, basil, crispy onion)

The prepared pizza was slid carefully onto the super hot pizza stone and baked 10-15 minutes, then we cut it into wedges and everyone got to try a slice. Multiply this by five, we made a lot of pizza that night!

Pizza making hands

(post-pizza making hands)

Each pie was really fantastic, the crust was chewy and blistered black from the stone and crisp on the edges, the cheeses were browned and gooey and buttery and salty and the toppings made it all really interesting and unique.

First pie in the oven

(first pie baking away, despite the crappy apartment rental electric oven they bake up really nicely)

My pizza

(my pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, asparagus, Sweety Drops)
Luna's pizza

(Luna’s pizza: pesto, cappocolo, mozzerella, Sweety Drops, arugula)

Anjali's pizza

(Anjali’s pizza: feta, pesto, cappocolo, asparagus, tomato sauce, Sweety Drops, crispy onion)

Near the end of the movie as we were mostly sated, a bit tipsy and reeling from laughter, the final pizza of the night was put in to bake, a dessert pizza!

Strawberry balsamic glaze ricotta basil dessert pizza #pizzaparty #Sharkado

Don’t knock a dessert pizza until you try it! Anna’s creation of roasted strawberries, the sweet, creamy ricotta, the tang of the basil and the rich, chocolate jimmies from Copenhagen made this the best pizza of the night.

The movie was over and the apartment was dusted in flour and wine corks. We quickly tidied up the kitchen and inflated the aerobed and those who stayed over fell asleep almost immediately. What a great night and what a tasty dinner! I can’t wait for the next cheesy scifi movie, Koalacane?

P.S. Sharknado II is coming in 2014!

Summer in SF Means Sugo

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It was 55 F last night at 6:00 pm and the fog was blowing hard. My kitchen was steamy and this made me happy. I was making a batch of Naples-style sugo for dinner later in the week and the aromas were spilling out into the hallway, torturing my neighbors. Sugo, for those of you who don’t have Italian relatives, neighbors or lovers, is the Italian word for gravy or shorthand for their hearty, meat-filled pasta sauce.

My late ex used to make his sugo twice a year for parties, which were much beloved by his family and friends. We would make up 3′ tall pots of his sugo and then freeze tubs of it for those nights we didn’t feel like cooking but wanted a bowl of heaven. I haven’t made it since he passed away and, although I thought about this a great deal, I just didn’t have the heart to pull out my notes.  They were notes of dinners we made, recipes we created, his family recipes, my family recipes, and drawings by his daughter.  I have three notebooks full of our food diaries, hiding in my bookcase.  But it has been quite a few years and I had a lot of large cuts of meat in the freezer that needed cooking, and it’s “summer” and I wanted sugo.  Ecola, the time is now.

His recipe contained a lot of ground meat and meatballs but his brother would often make it with large pieces of meet from the game he harvested and other goodies.  I pulled out the 4 pound pork neck I had in the freezer, some sausages and goat chops and also a pound of Roma tomatoes that I made last summer, the most ripe tomatoes bursting with juice, peeled and roasted slowly to concentrate their juices. With my cutting board mounded with ingredients I whipped on an apron and got started.

I browned off the meats in my largest cast iron Dutch oven with some grapeseed oil until they were richly browned, then added some butter before adding the vegetables. This was Marc’s secret to his sugo, lots of butter! I had an enormous onion, several carrots and some cloves of garlic which sauteed until they were soft. Then I added the thawed roasted tomatoes and about half of bottle of this amazing Cabernet Franc from Murrietta’s Well. It was probably too good to cook with but it tasted amazing and I knew the smooth richness of the wine would marry well with the meats. I had another tin of San Marzano tomatoes that I squeezed between my hands to crush and added some herbs – rosemary, sage, crushed chiles and California bay laurel, and a few handfuls of porchini, a gift from Anna. I snuggled the seared meats into the rich sauce and added a bit of chicken broth to fill up the enormous casserole and let it slow cook in my oven for hours.

Every once in a while I stirred up the pot and turned over the pork neck and added a bit more water to keep the liquids up above the meats. It smelled divine and I tried unsuccessfully not to burn my hands when I removed the heavy cast iron lid off my pot. The meats were so tender and falling off the bone but still sweetly juicy. The sauce was thick and dark with caramelized flavor from the long, slow cooking and an intensity from the wonderful wine.

I removed the meats to a separate bowl to cool and ladled out the sauce to a large bowl and set them by the window opened a touch to blow cool fog over them, nature’s air conditioning put to work!

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the chopped meats

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the sugo after a purée

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the finished sauce, ready for dinner

Tonight when I got home I roughly puréed the sauce, added a touch more butter and some vermouth and the chopped meats and cooked up some pasta. I can’t wait to tuck into a steamy bowl with lashings of grated cheese on top, snuggled into the corner of my settee and watch the fog blow by.

Making this sugo is a little bit like reclaiming my past life and forging ahead with new memories. The 7 quarts of sauce will last me quite a while and I will gift some to some friends so that they can have a little sugo love this chilly summer.

Recipe to follow

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!

Farmers Market Day and Red Cooked Pork Belly

My favorite Saturday activity, when I don’t have a pajama day, is heading to the farmer’s market with a friend to shop and to have a little something tasty for brunch or lunch.

We stopped at the Italian butcher first, Guerra’s Meats, where I scored a fat ribeye, breakfast sausage, some cheeses and milk, for another $30. I like getting my weekend protein first, then filling in with vegetable and other items from the el cheapo farmer’s market.

This weekend I spent $20 at the farmer’s market, including my fantastic huarache el pastor lunch. A huarache is a bean filled masa dough pancake, shaped like a football, and topped with something meaty with the perfect amount of salsa, crema and a handful of chopped cilantro. You can buy them at La Palma Market on 24th Street if you don’t go to the Alemany farmer’s market.

A huarache was the perfect lunch, leisurely nibbled while sitting on a tiny clear spot of a loading bay next to a nice farmer’s truck. It was good to rest a bit after doing all of our shopping and to kick our heels against the back of our cement perch like we were little kids again. For some odd reason a diet soda tasted awfully nice but as it was a rare treat for me I just enjoyed it (mostly) without guilt.

String market bag

My new knitted string market bag performed superbly, I could not believe how much it held, and how nicely everything stayed. It was stuffed with broccoli, obscenely large leeks, the freshest green onions I had ever had the pleasure to hold, pale green zucchini and yellow ball zucchini, a huge bunch of mint and rosemary, crimini and ugly shiitake mushrooms, enormous yet light sourdough English muffins and cranberry walnut bread. I should have taken a picture of it stuffed and outstretched but still comfortable and incredibly stylish on my shoulder.

(If you would like to make one of your own, please visit The Inadvertent Redhead)

I have enough food for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the entire week and probably into the next week, supplemented with more protein from my freezer.

After unloading my friend’s groceries at her place and doing some menu planning while petting her pretty cats and slugging back the necessary glass of red wine, I headed home and started cooking.

My huarache was quite filling but around 4:30 pm I made a snack of Humbolt Fog cheese and the cranberry walnut bread. With my pollinosis the cranberries were a little troublesome but not enough to dissuade me from eating the bread. I started on a pot of red cooked pork belly.

The pork belly was trimmings from the Mangalitsa pork I bought a while back. I had to trim the raw pork belly so that it would fit in my brining bags and the excess, uneven pieces were about 2 pounds. The red cooking, or a slow braise in a soy, Chinese rice wine, ginger, spices and garlic broth, is a traditional way to cook pork belly and other fatty meats. It couldn’t be simpler, I put all of the ingredients in my 5 quart pot, brought it to a boil, covered it and simmered it until the meat was super tender. The aromas it generated as it simmered were amazing, I felt full just by being in the kitchen.

After 2 1/2 hours and another 10 minutes of cooking on high to reduce the sauce I poured off the fat and decided I was too full to eat anything so into the fridge it went!

Sunday morning I dined fabulously well on a huge toasted sourdough muffin, one side buttered, one side smeared with raspberry jam, and a handful of tiny Italian breakfast sausages.

Meantime, I cooked the ribeye in some bacon fat from the red cooked pork belly and sliced it thinly for work lunches. The bok choy I brought home from work on Thursday was quickly steamed and given a light dressing of oyster sauce and chilled. The pale green zucchini and yellow squash were cut into planks along with some onion, the rosemary and some lemon zest and olive oil and roasted until just crisp-tender. They were packed into a tub for the fridge. The mushrooms were sliced and browned in my biggest and yet too small skillet, the last slosh of port in the bottle went in along with some dried herbs from last summer and a bit of butter. This was packed up with the sliced steak.

Getting quite tired of the kitchen by now, I steamed some basmati rice and wondered what happened to the bag of jasmine rice I bought a few weeks ago, a desultory search in the pantry and auxiliary pantry bags did not yield it. Huh…. I made myself a little bento lunch of rice, the jade green bok choy and the red cooked pork belly.

Bento

Later in the the week I’ll roast the broccoli for lunches and make a leek and bacon pasta. I might make a pizza one night with some of the zucchini. I also have some frozen ground pork which would be wonderful stuffed in the ball zucchini.

It was really fun prepping good food for the week and I enjoyed my domesticity. I also washed up the kitchen and dumped the trash and did some hand laundry. The vacuuming didn’t get done nor did the dusting but I will fit that in some night when I don’t have an extracurricular activity.

I sunk into my comfy Martha Washington chair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some knitting and mindless television before going to bed. It was a fun and productive weekend, nourishing to the body and soul.

REC: Red Cooked Pork Belly

(printer friendly)

3 lbs. of fresh pork belly, cut into cubes
3 pieces of palm sugar or 1 1/2 ounces rock sugar
3 pieces of whole star anise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp. five spice powder
3″ piece of fresh ginger root, sliced into 1/2″ medallions – no need to peel
2 T light soy sauce (this is less salty than regular soy sauce)
3 T dark soy sauce (I use Tamari)
1/4 cup Shao Xing wine – or a white vermouth
2 cups chicken broth – low sodium is best
1 bunch of green onions – whole

Place the pork and all of the other ingredients into your heaviest pot with a lid or a Dutch oven, my 5 quart Le Cruest pot was perfect for this dish.  Bring everything to a boil, stir and cover with a lid.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.  Test the pork, it should be very, very tender when pierced with a fork.  

Remove the lid and simmer over medium high heat for 10 minutes, stirring, to thicken the sauce.  Pour off the fat and remove the ginger, anise and green onions and compost them.

Serve with plain rice.  Serves 4-6.

Chicken Mock Pot Pie

It was one of those nights. I came home from work cranky, sore, hungry, and exceedingly broke.

I surveyed the emptiness of my refrigerator and found a partial carcass of a roasted chicken from the other night and spotted a box of Bisquick stashed in the corner of the pantry. Perfect, it’ll be a mock chicken pot pie kind of night.

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I made myself Negroni, because of course I have all the ingredients for that, but no vegetables, for Pete’s sake I am even out of pepper. But I muster onwards, sipping a few sips of my cocktail made me feel a little better, they also accentuated the urge to have something decent and slightly hearty for dinner.

I looked in the freezer and found a little bit of frozen spinach and some frozen corn kernels and spread those in the bottom of one of my beautiful oval casseroles. I picked out most of the meat from the chicken carcass and added all of the pan juices and sauce from the chicken into the casserole. This went into the oven to get bubbly, while I pulled out that ubiquitous box of Bisquick. I measured out the mix and grated in some cheddar cheese and sprinkled in as much black pepper as I could from the tiny porcelain chicken salt-and-pepper set that I keep on my dining table. I mixed up the biscuit dough with my hands and patted it rather flat between my palms and laid it on top of the casserole filling.

My chicken mock pot pie went into my convection oven while I relaxed at the kitchen table finishing up the latest issue of Lucky Peach. The aromas of Campari, orange and gin were slowly eclipsed by the baking smells of biscuits, cheese, and chicken.

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This is certainly not haute cuisine but it is wonderful comfort food and I’m grateful to be able to cook a decent dinner out of my pantry. I am grateful for a pantry full of great things, including very fine gin.

Nine more days until payday!

hal’s Negroni