Tag Archives: Food Porn

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

 

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?

    Grown Up Boozy Treats – Negroni Jelly

    I was invited to attend a craft night by a local art and yarn shop this week. Our hostess provides wine and nibbles but welcomed contributions so naturally my thoughts turned to cocktails.  Knitting and drinking a cocktail is positively the best thing ever.

    The Negroni is my favorite cocktail these days, equal parts of St. Georges Terroir gin or #209 gin, Campari and Carpano Antica sweet red Vermouth, stirred with ice and served up in a swanky glass with a bit of orange peel. The diehard Italians serve it over ice in a highball but I prefer it my way.

    I drink alone, yeah, with no body else! #Georgeknows

    It’s not often convenient to bring a cocktail shaker and ice and cocktail fixings with you to a craft night, especially when the venue is a comic book store, so why not resurrect the old 80′s favorite of Jello-O Shots in Negroni form? Since these are grown up boozy treats I like to call them jellies as the British do.

    Negroni jelly is shockingly easy to make. Actually, I forgot to make these until about 12:45 am and rousted myself from bed and mixed them up in under 2 minutes.  I heated up a cup of water in a measuring cup, added a few pieces of orange zest and two packets of unflavored gelatin and microwaved it until the gelatin was completely dissolved. Every 20 seconds or so I would stir the mixture with a fork. Then, I poured this into my small casserole dish, and measured in equal parts of  #209 gin, Campari and Cinzano Rosso, gave it another stir with the fork, and put it in the fridge.

    To serve, cut little cubes with a spatula, plop into a cup and serve.

    Negroni jelly

    I preferred to eat the jelly with my fingers, a kid at heart always!

    Negroni jelly

    Besides being visually stunning, their flavor was truly zingy.  The presence of the orange was lovely and subtle, the flavor of a good Negroni was really clear and the jelly had a pleasant, bitter tang of gin and Campari. We couldn’t stop eating them and wiggling them at each other.

    The evening was really fun and a bit surreal.  We were a bunch of pretty girls (and one cool guy) sitting in a comic book store knitting and eating boozy jellies and sipping wine.  The regular customers were pretty cool about our being there but there was a distinct feeling of being in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

    Although the Negroni jelly had a strong alcohol flavor it doesn’t really have much alcohol, so one can eat them with without compunction. I will be making more jellies of a boozy nature for the upcoming craft nights. What flavor should I do next?

    Negroni Jelly

    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 

    Oysterfest

    This weekend I was invited to a wonderful Northern California treat, an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. Oysters are a perfect protein and a great example of sustainable and environmentally responsible seafood farming in California. Located along the Tomales Bay, the Hog Island Oyster Company, among others, grows over 3 million oysters a year, all Food Alliance Certified Sustainable.

    My friends have an annual tradition of picnicking at Hog Island with their family and friends and I was delighted to be included this year in their wonderful picnic, which includes raw and grilled oysters fresh from the bay, plus wonderful wine and side dishes brought from our homes.

    For years I have had oyster parties where we would buy a couple of boxes of medium oysters from Drake’s Bay Oysters (formerly Johnson’s Oysters) and grill them over mesquite with a variety of savory sauces or just lemon and hot sauce. Drake’s days of operation are coming to a close because the National Park Service decided to shut them down, and fabricated and misinterpreted evidence and have steadfastly ignored all scientific evidence to support their claim they operate sustainably while protecting the environment. We are continuing to hope they can get the NPS to overturn their irrational and puzzling decision and listen to Drake’s and all of the environmental and scientific groups supporting them to let their oyster farming continue.

    I no longer have a place to grill at home but remember my oyster parties fondly and was very excited to have a chance to join a party of oyster lovers. My dearest friends joined me, D___, my little friend Bug and L___ are major oyster aficionados also so we packed up the car and hit the road.

    Love this view

    The drive north and west was quite pleasant, despite a bit of traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads from San Rafael all the way to Highway 1. The slow pace afforded us time for a natural history lesson given by yours truly on some of the wildflowers and trees in bloom in the chaparral, riparian and redwood forest environments. We passed through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a beloved place for creek walking, picnics and hiking, and I hope to go there soon to do some of that with my friends.

    Arriving at Hog Island on a weekend is an adventure. Highway 1 is lined with cars trying to park precariously on the side of the road to access the various oyster companies and restaurants that line Tomales Bay. We were very lucky to snag the last spot along the bed of oyster shells along the shoulder near Hog Island’s spot. Each night after the oyster farm closes they dump wheelbarrows full of shells along the shoulders, where cars crunch them into pure white and rather fragrant gravel.

    We trudged along, carrying our loads of picnic baskets and apparatus to the reserved group picnic tables that hug the edge of the cove. If you don’t have a reservation don’t bother going, it is so very crowded there and the lines for oysters and a spot to sit were ridiculous. Instead, buy oysters to go and find a picnic spot in Point Reyes National Seashore; there is nothing finer than slurping oysters while sitting on the beach!

    Pretty sunny day
    (windblown but happy with the great view)

    The sunny sky dotted with dragon and dolphin shaped clouds was perfect, just enough sun, the wind was up but it wasn’t too strong and we didn’t need coats at all, which is a complete miracle for the unpredictable weather along the bay. As experienced picnickers in Northern California we were prepared for everything, including wool hats, thermoses of espresso and flasks of whiskey, to sunhats, SPF 30 and chilled wines. Both D___ and I have glorious picnic baskets with all the accourterments required for sophisticated picnicking.

    I brought a foie terrine to the picnic today
    (a treat from D’Artagnan)

    Cheese plate: chèvre, St Andre, Dubliner
    (chevre, Dubliner and St. Andre)

    Fun nibbles
    (a trio of fun nibbles including chicharonnes from 4505 Meats)

    We laid out our pre-oyster feast of savory tidbits along with L___’s batch of divine lemon meltaway cookies, bite sized lemony buttons that were egg-free (for me!) and D___’s enormous container of beignets fried up freshly that morning, just like the ones from Cafe du Monde! She even brought along a container of powdered sugar to redust the fluffy pillows of fried dough. Such evilly delicious treats and both sweet treats were the hit of the day.

    L___ looked at me with a glint in her eye and said,

    “Yes, I am really going to go there…. oh yeah……. I am!”

    She then spread a bite of beignet with the foie pate. Oh my stars, did that ever look amazing. I had to try it too and it was true evil genius.

    An evilly brilliant idea, pâté on a homemade beignet

    After a very long wait in line our oysters arrived. Oysters really are just the perfect picnic food. Contained within their rugged and ruffled shells are the perfect bite (or two) of saline, oceanic goodness. Hog Island provides each group reservation with a bag of ice, a huge bag of oysters, a tray, gloves and an oyster knife and shucking instructions if you want them, and mesquite charcoal for the grills, plus all the oysters and mignonette sauce you desire. C___’s mom brought up a pair of sauces that were sloshed on the oysters as they grilled: a red Thai curry sundried tomato sauce and a delicious garlic herb butter. I had intended to bring my amazing garlic butter for oysters but a mishap in the kitchen that morning prevented its use, next time!

    LunaRaven13s photo of our oysters

    (L___’s photo of our enormous sack of oysters – please check out her other photos and art here and photos of our picnic here)

    Everyone got into the fun of shucking and the shucking jokes flew fast and wild. N___, D___ and I took up our knives and started prying oysters open, some to slurp just then and some to put on the grill. Even young master Bug had a go and we were soon drenched in brine and well dusted with bits of shells, miniature mussels and limpets. Oddly this year we noticed the oyster shells were really crumbly and flakey but no one seemed to mind much the bits of extra calcium in their treat. No pictures though, shucking oysters is a messy business.

    My method of grilling oysters is simple. Over a bed of coals, you place the rounded side of the oyster on the grilling rack and watch them. After a few minutes liquid will start to bubble and burst out of the shell. At this point, remove them from the heat with tongs and using a towel or hot pad and an oyster knife it is quite easy to slide the knife between the two shells. Remove the top (flat) shell and discard, and cut the oyster free from its curved bottom shell. It’s much easier opening oysters this way than trying to pry them open for a raw bite. If you ever watch an oysterman or a chef at a raw bar open oysters you must understand just how physically tough they are.

    Now, return the oyster in its open shell back onto the grill and dollop in a little sauce and watch them again. Remove the oyster from the grill when the sauce is bubbly. Repeat until everyone is full. If you are grilling for more than 30 minutes you will need to add a few more pieces of charcoal to the bed of coals to keep the heat going – I bank them along one side of the grill and move away the oysters from the live flame.

    Mini sweaters were a big hit
    (lots of wonderful wines and my mini sweaters were a big hit although the whimsy was lost on a few folks. I think they are an essential part to any table.)

    The 50 pound bag of oysters seemed large but it didn’t take long to go through them all. We opened more wine and sat back and watched the beautiful view and chatted with each other in a sated fashion.

    My BFFs @Biggie and R - such a fun day
    (Bug is taking a break after all the pate and oysters in his glamorous Mom’s lap!)

    We are all very excited about N___ and C___’s impending move to the Bay Area. I looked around the table and realized that these people, all so near and dear to my heart, were all friends that I found through Twitter.

    Picnic buddies @lunaraven13 @knit1eat1 thanks for having us!!!
    (C___, N___ and L___)

    L__ and I met and bonded over Massa Farm’s duck harvest one year, and she knew D___ from food blogging so the three of us had a blast one night organizing a dinner of the Bay Area Food Bloggers and have been the best of friends ever since. We are like sisters and it’s a wonderful thing.

    Mustache gang(the Bay Area Food Bloggers infamous mustache incident on our first excursion together)

    Two years ago we had a twitter-sourced meet up of local knitters, crocheters and dyers and met N___, who is an incredible knitting designer and artist, and his husband C____, who graciously kept us company and allowed us to geek out over fiber and fun. Through the magic of Twitter and Facebook we have deepened our relationship and having them move closer is going to be fantastic.

    We are planning another visit to Tomales Bay this summer for more oysters and picnicking. I shall be sure to correctly prepare my garlic butter sauce but in the interim will enjoy it on prawns and grilled fish.

    Fondue of Butter for Seafood
    2 cubes of unsalted butter (1/2 pound or 1 cup)
    1 head of garlic, peeled and trimmed
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
    1/2 tsp. shallots or onion powder (if desired)

    In a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook very slowly without simmering for an hour or until the garlic is extremely soft and tender and yet not browned. It is very important to monitor the heat of your stove to ensure the butter does not boil and brown and the garlic stays creamy white. When the garlic is super tender use a fork or an immersion blender to puree the garlic. Add salt to taste, the paprika and the shallot/onion powder. Keep warm while grilling the oysters in a small pot on the corner of the BBQ and dollop spoonfuls into the oysters. Grill until bubbly.

    Also, if you are feeling too challenged by dealing with placing the oysters on the grill to finish with the garlic butter, you can place a grill-safe skillet on a corner of the grill and fill with the butter, and plop in the oysters as you open them after their initial grilling. Your guests can use a cocktail fork or spoon to scoop up an oyster as they wish.

    Printer-friendly recipe

    A few notes: Please buy your oysters and seafood from reputable, sustainable sources. On the West Coast you can gather your own shellfish but the red algae that plague our waters can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), particularly in mussels, therefore a quarantine applies to our coast from Oregon to Mexico and shellfish are generally unsafe between March and October. You can phone the Biotoxin Information Line 1-800-553-4133 to get updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year. Other types of shellfish, including oysters and clams, and commercially harvested mussels from certified companies are not included in the quarantine. The commercial companies test their shellfish and are certified as toxin-free.

    Perfect Protein:

    This summer I will be writing about sustainable seafood as part of the Perfect Protein project, created by Eric Ripert and Mario Batali. The book, “The Perfect Protein: A Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World” by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless, is a new, thought-provoking book on why and how we should and can quickly increase the amount of wild seafood in our oceans; as well as how as consumers we can shop and eat more of the right seafood to help feed the world, address hunger and improve the world’s health. I am proud to be part of this project this summer as I have long been a proponent of wild and sustainable fishing, whether fished by myself or by commercial sources. Since I was a teen I have carried a copy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s guide in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone. I love seafood, and feel especially lucky to live on the California coast with all the wonderful edible creatures off our doorstep.

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    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.

    20130515-190802.jpg

    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.

    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)

    Victory Blackberry Pie

    I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

    I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

    Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

    Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

    When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

    When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.

    http://bikebasketpies.com/index.php/bike-basket-pies-booklet/

    But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

    Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

    In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.

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    On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

    I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

    I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.

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    The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

    The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

    The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

    My pie.

    My victory.

    Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.

    The Finale: Slow Braised Pork with Squash and Orzo

    It was worth the wait.

    Over the past few days, the slow braised pork medallion had marinated in orange zest, garlic and cumin and cooked to utter tenderness in a savory broth with onions and butternut squash and a dash of balsamic vinegar to balance the sweetness. I deglazed the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of dry sherry and added this to the meat.

    Did you know that those small silicon basting brushes are great for deglazing sides of pots like this one?  You just dab it into the liquid and wiggle the brush along the sides and all that lovely fond comes off and enriches the broth. Brilliant.

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    I pulled everything out of the fridge and preheated the oven.  I had tried to return to work after a long bout of flu and secondary infections but was still quite unwell. I really needed some good nutrition. I had to finish this dish despite a lack of appetite and the ability to taste anything but I knew I would enjoy it regardless.

    The oven was hot so I scooped out the meat and veggies and pulled off about a cup and a half of solid fat from the surface of the cooled broth. I was glad I took the extra day to remove the that thick layer of unctuous pork fat!

    Everything went into my new lidded Le Creuset casserole dish and I popped it into the oven to get bubbling and hot. I added a half of a package of orzo to the broth and put it back into the oven to cook and absorb all the great flavors from the braising process. A final sprinkling of salt and it was ready.

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    The orzo had absorbed just the right amount of the broth but still had a pleasant brothy aspect. The meat was so very tender and yet not over cooked or stringy as one often finds in slow braised dishes. The onion had almost caramelized and the squash was tender and yet whole.  Succulent is a wonderful word for this dish.
    All I can say @4505_Meats is mmmmm and I <3 pork #meatCSA

    I untied the twine around the pork medallion and it fell apart into perfect hunks.  I wish I had some parsley but it was just wonderful without it.

    This is quite a rich and hearty dish, despite the defatting, and the 1.75 pound of pork would have easily fed six people.  After eating a cat sized bowl and a small glass of wine (which I shouldn’t have had but it tasted wonderful), I portioned up the rest for work lunches.

    On the 3rd day I realized suddenly that I could taste the nuances of orange and cumin from the marinade.  I am so glad the flu etc. had ebbed enough to allow me to appreciate how these lovely flavors mingled together.

    Printer friendly recipe