Tag Archives: pork

A Foray Out – A Bento Picnic

I was invited to attend a picnic this weekend and I was delighted to accept because the weather during the day has been so un-San Francisco like, warm and sunny, almost like summer!


The night before, however, I was beset with anxiety. How would I get there? Where could I sit? Would I be able to access the picnic area? Was there an accessible restroom nearby that I could get to? Would I be able to stay out in the sun the whole time? What could I wear to cover up? Where is my hat? What can I make to bring? Would I be a burden to the other people? Would I have a good time?


Oh, anxiety, you are such a demon. I supposed all this comes from feeling helpless and vulnerable during this healing period. It’s only temporary but the lack of sleep the night before and the insurmountable hurdles some of these questions posed felt quite difficult.  Happily, it all worked out beautifully.


Fortunately for me, in San Francisco, there are places where a disabled person can picnic and have a good time! We went to Chrissy Field and my friends picked me up in their car. Thanks to my temporary handicap placard we were able to party pretty near to the picnic area. There was a decent dirt path that led to the lawn and we found a nice spot with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the curve of the city to the Bay Bridge.


NHK picnic


The purpose of this picnic was more than just friends getting together for the afternoon.  My amazing friend Biggie was being interviewed by NHK World television for a program about foreigners making bento.  She is the original bento food blogger and received much acclaim for her website Lunch In a Box.  I personally use her website frequently to find recipes because she’s an amazing cook and when I get home I wonder, how did she make that Thai curry?  Or what is in that sanbaizu sauce?


This is such an exciting time for her and so wonderful that the Japanese film crew flew out to watch her make bento and then observe the bento picnic and then (gulp) interview her friends about bento and Biggie.   I grew up eating Japanese food, thanks to my neighbors and living where I did, but I never made or enjoyed a homemade bento before my friendship with Biggie.  It has really expanded my world.


NHK picnic

As Biggie says, bento crosses all cultural lines and anything can go into a bento, and it is the best way to use leftovers!


With my weird food allergies, I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in the emergency room because something I purchased for lunch was contaminated by egg.   Bringing a bento box not only is an economical way to use leftovers but makes lunch feel special.  This is a direct-from-Biggie-quote.


NHK picnic

For her special picnic I wanted to bring something tasty and special and happily I had enough goodies in the fridge for a special bento.  The focus of my blog and locus of my food preferences are items that are local, sustainably sourced and grown.  The harmoniousness of my bento happily reflected this mindset.

NHK picnic
(my bento is in the little metal tin at the bottom!)


Happily, everyone enjoyed my humble bento, especially the Japanese film crew who polished off every last bit except for a sprinkling of red onion.  I also brought a container of Costco’s smoked pulled pork doused in bacon hot sauce (my favorite sauce) and some fresh rice, which got polished off.  Cold bing cherries were the perfect finish to my contributions to the picnic.


The other bentos were truly fantastic and I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of them.  Because I was sitting up in a camp chair (the current gimp factor did not permit me to join the others on the picnic blankets), my angle of photography was pretty poor.


Biggie made her incredible Spam musubi, the best spam musubi on the planet, I might add (see her site for the recipe); little liverwurst and sweet pickle roll up sandwiches, maki style; a bento filled with rolled local sliced salamis, prosciutto and bresola; Tillamouk extra fancy white cheddar; a fancy prepared bento with fruit and vegetables and the maki sandwiches; and a bento of hot rice and mapo dofu, a spicy pork and tofu dish made extra spicy with lots of Sriracha sauce; and a huge Louisana crunch cake.  It isn’t a picnic without cake!  Friends brought a bento made especially for a child with fried fish, vegetables and fruits, a bento with fried polenta squares drizzled with pesto (amazing!), edamame and vegetables.   We washed all of this down with lots of wine, hard cider and beer, and juice boxes and chilled water and juices for the kids.


As one parent said, bringing bento to a picnic is a perfect thing, because it can be eaten alone or shared and it’s not like a huge bowl of food that can get tipped over or go off.


We hit that wonderful peaceful lull that comes to every picnic when everyone is sated, the sun feels fantastic and one gazes out over the incredible views with perfect contentment.  Like a bento, it was a perfectly encapsulated moment of enjoyment.


NHK picnic
(the fog, rolling in a bit)


The interviews were handled with great care and consideration and did not feel at all intrusive.  We really enjoyed getting to meet the crew and chat about food cultures, eating habits in California and San Francisco and how we knew Biggie.  It was such a fun day!


Soon the program will be aired and I am excited to see my dear friend on television – soon the world will be sharing in her wonderful food!


Later, at home, I reflected on how enriched my life is by knowing extraordinary people like Biggie and the parents from her child’s school, our mutual friends and new friends, and the access to scenes and food like today.  Despite being disabled at the moment, I feel like a very lucky lady.


NHK picnic


Summer in SF Means Sugo


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!

the chopped meats

the sugo after a purée

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

Happiness Is… This Month’s Meat CSA

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


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

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

    I also scored another amazingly tasty treat.


    Magic Bacon Bombs!!

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

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


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

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



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

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

    Get your own meat CSA!

    Under the Calamansi Tree

    As a California girl I grew up with the ubiquitous citrus trees in the yard; everyone had citrus coming out of their ears in my neighborhood. Our lunch boxes were stuffed with giant naval oranges, every mom’s kitchen had bowls of lemons and limes everywhere that were deployed for sherbets, and every kid on my block would set up a lemonade and limeade stand in the driveway.  I used to lie under the orange tree when it bloomed to just inhale the sweet fragrance.   Mom used to paint orange or lemon leaves plucked from the trees with melted chocolate and then slowly peel off a perfect glossy leaf to make decorations for our summer cakes. One horrible year our rabbit almost killed our trees by nibbling away all the bark, almost girdling them. It was a close call but we caught him and put him back in his hutch with a branch of leaves as an apology for his ongoing confinement. You just can’t trust a rabbit.

    Photo from Wikipedia Commons

    Photo from Wikipedia Commons

    What we didn’t have, however, was a calamansi tree.  The Citrofortunella microcarpa, aka the Calamondin or calamansi is a tiny green/orange marble-shaped citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between an orange and a lime, and is most commonly used in Filipino cuisine.   I first got to try this charming citrus varietal during my working days at the Bank. My coworkers, who were Filipino, had weekly potlucks with lots of halved calamansi to squirt over our adobo and pancit and as a flavoring in desserts. This group loved to cook and loved to have parties and I was instantly smitten with their cuisine and their beloved calamansi lime.

    I forgot about the rare calamansi until years later when I was at the Russian festival and one of the volunteers gave me a shot of a unique sour orange infused vodka. Served ice cold in tiny shot glasses the stuff was lethal and the guy explained that he found a tiny tree growing these strange round mini oranges in his back yard of his new home in Daly City.  They looked like oranges but were so tart and aromatic, so naturally he made vodka with them. What else? He didn’t know what they were called but I knew they looked familiar to me.  It was such a puzzle.

    Fast forward again to a month ago when food blogger Gapultos of Burnt Lumpia. was touring his new Filipino cookbook, The Adobo Road. It was a wonderful event and the book is really exciting, a mix of traditional Filipino recipes with local California ingredients and a modern edge.  Of course Marvin’s delicious food was served and much to my delight decorating his noodles were a few halves of calamansi!


    (you will want to buy this)

    One taste and suddenly everything clicked. I remembered the fruit from the bank and from the vodka tasting booth and I think I might have shouted, “That’s it!!!”   I relayed this all to Marvin and we had a good chuckle.

    I have been meaning to shop in the Mission and pick up a bag of calamansi so that I can cook some of Marvin’s recipes and also infuse some vodka of my own, but again, the thought slipped my mind. However, today, my coworker brought me a treat from her weekend visit home where her grandparents were visiting from the Philippines – she brought me a bag of calamansi!


    I was so excited! I dashed to the kitchen immediately and sliced up a few to add to my ice water. The bright flavor really perked up the stuffy afternoon. We are going through a mild heat wave and the chilled citrus tang in cool water was a most welcome treat.

    A chilly treat

    When I got home I washed them and piled them in my favorite souffle pan, which doubles as my fruit bowl. Humming my version of the song from Dr. No I started perusing my other Filipino friends’ blogs for recipes using calamansi.

    “Underneath the calamansi tree me honey and me can watch for the moon…..”

    (apologies to Diana Coupland)

    My coworker had suggested making a syrup from the calamansi or just squeezing the juice and freezing it.  This bowl of calamansi is especially ripe so I must work with them quickly and I plan to zest them with my microplane grater before juicing them.  One idea I bookmarked for the juice is a marinade with soy sauce and garlic for pork or beef.  Another popular use is squeezed over fried or grilled fish.  This made me think about the delicious shrimp poke I had over the weekend with D___, wouldn’t a shrimp cervice with calamansi be delicious?  I am working on a recipe for this.

    I came across Jun’s calamansi whiskey sour.  I just happened to have everything required and it was perfect (thanks Jun!) way to relax while I read a mound of cookbooks for inspiration.


    While I was relaxing a friend called and we decided to go out to a movie that started in 23 minutes at the theater down the street.   Hurriedly I made up a rather large batch of calamansi whiskey sours and strained it into a canteen, then filled up a baggie with ice cubes and added some plastic cups and shoved my illicit cocktail party into my capacious handbag. There is a reason ladies carry large handbags and sometimes my handbag is the happiest place on earth!

    Dayum. Calamansi rye sour.

    During the movie I poured out the heady cocktail into ice filled cups, filling our row with a heavenly scent of citrus, rye and honey. We sipped them slowly and enjoyed watching a very handsome Superman; it is truly a most civilized way to see a movie!

    Tonight I will marinate an orphaned pork chop from 4505 Meats with soy and garlic and broil, and add some some sauteed baby bok choy and steamed brown rice to complete my dinner.  While this cooks I will zest and juice the remaining bowl of calamansi to be stashed in my freezer.  The rinds will go into a rather large bottle of vodka to infuse it with the sweet tang of the fruit.   A few weeks from now I will have a rather lovely bottle of infused vodka to drink over ice with splash of bubbly water or in an elegant version of a “calamansi” drop.

    If you ever see calamansi in your shop or see a tree at your garden center I highly recommend you scoop them up.

    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.



    (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.


    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.

    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.


    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.


    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

    Braising the Beast: Slow Cooking the Pork Shoulder Medallion

    After yesterday’s grand adventure of getting out of bed following the flu, my marinated pork shoulder medallion was ready to be braised. I was hungry.

    I took out the bag with the hefty pork medallion and through the plastic I could see the chunks of garlic, bright shreds of orange peel and pools of gleaming olive oil, it looked so inviting. I knew this was going to be a great dinner.

    I rummaged through the vegetable bin and it was mostly empty save lots of unopened packs of bacon, 3 very strong Spanish yellow onions and the bottom, seedy half of a butternut squash. I decided to save the bacon for later and started cooking.

    I lifted the pork from the bag, scraping off the fragrant marinade as I went, dried it a bit and seasoned it heavily with salt and pepper. In my 5 quart enameled Dutch oven I browned the pork until it achieved a deep brown on all sides. I started the browning with a spoonful of duck fat but the pork has such a thick layer of luscious creamy fat that it didn’t take much to render a good inch of fat during the browning process.

    I removed the browned pork onto a platter and poured off the fat. Seemed such a shame to toss it but I would rather not eat it especially given the recent state of my stomach.

    The pot had lots of lovely browned, stuck on bits so I added the chicken stock that I purchased from the butcher (sadly I was out of homemade and hadn’t roasted a chicken in ages, my empty freezer keened over the loss). While the stock was heating up I added in a cutting board full of chopped onions, salt and pepper, a fresh bay leaf, all of the marinade from the plastic bag I could scrape out and a slosh of balsamic vinegar. The pork went in the pot next, almost submerged in the savory broth, and the top to the Dutch oven went on. I slid the pot into what is quaintly called a slow oven, in modern kitchens this is between 300-325 F.

    I set the timer on my phone for 2 hours and went to bed with the phone right next to my more clear ear and conked out solidly.

    A lovely nap later and a cup of tea, I peeled and seeded the hunk of butternut squash and cut it into large dice. I added them to the Dutch oven, making sure the pork shoulder was still cozy and covered with the braising liquid.


    It looked pretty good to me.

    It went back in the oven for another 45 minutes, which gave me enough time to have a steamy shower and to tidy up the kitchen with my hair wrapped up turban-style. I really wanted a caftan to wear but that was not to be.

    When the timer went off again I removed the merrily bubbling pot from the oven and gave myself a brief sauna when I opened the Dutch oven lid. I think it smelled good, my poor nose is pretty malfunctional. I tasted the squash and it was perfectly tender, meltingly so. The pork was extremely tender but still holding its shape.

    The thick layer of porky fat on the medallion had given off so much fat that there must have been a good cup and a half of it floating on top of the pot. I was planning on removing the meat to let it rest and add orzo to the pot to soak up the savory broth and with the squash become the most delicious pasta base for chunks of the tender pork. I just knew that I really needed to chill off the braising liquid to remove this fat, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the dish.

    With a heavy heart and an empty stomach I removed the pork and then, with a slotted spoon, removed the creamy onions and butternut squash pieces to a storage bowl. I poured the broth and fat into a tub and marveled at the thick layer that already began to separate from the broth. I slid the tub of broth into the freezer and put away the pork to chill in the fridge and then ordered a pizza. It was a perfectly fine pizza and the salad was excellent, but I wished it was the next day. I know though that this dish will taste even better the next night.

    Tomorrow, the finish…

    Emerging from Being Under the Weather and the Joy of a Meat CSA

    I’ve been under the weather for almost three weeks now, the flu had me in a tight grip like a siren holding me fast under a turbulent sea. There’s nothing one can do except hunker down and hope it goes away.

    Copious amounts of tea, water, aspirin, cough syrup and half dozen boxes of tissues and throat lozenges have been used up and now I’m left with a sinus and ear infection that has me feeling like an alien in a fish bowl. It is, however, a bit of an improvement and after eating a bland dish of pasta I started to feel slightly perky.

    With this little bit of energy I pulled out a pork shoulder medallion I received in this month’s meat CSA from 4505 Meats. I froze all of the goodies from my CSA bag with the exception of this medallion and the chicken, Campari and apple sausages that I cooked up and nibbled on during the week. I have also been living on a large tub of chicken stock from the shop, reheated and sipped with a sprinkle of salt for each meal. (I will write more about the meat CSA and how to join at another time.)

    Tonight, after I rinsed off my dinner dishes, I removed the large slab of pork with its rich layer of creamy pork fat and all tied up nicely with twine, and slid it into a bag for marinating. There’s not much left in the Roost since I haven’t shopped for ages but I do have garlic, a softening Cara Cara orange and lots of spices.

    I roughed up the garlic and used my julienne peeler to zest the orange, put in a teaspoonful of cumin seeds and a few dried California bay leaves in the bag with the pork and a slosh of olive oil purloined from the Fancy Food Show. I pressed out as much air as I could from the bag, gave the pork a brief massage, bunged it in the fridge.

    The fever has me craving all kinds of things, like cool fruit juices, milkshakes and Rhine ice wine, but today a dear friend brought me a salted caramel milkshake and a hilarious “this is what a pie-shake does to two bouncy eight year old boys” show and a rather fun sing-a-long with a yodeling pickle. I swear that this bit of hilarity really made me feel so much better. Of course I slept for for hours after they left, but here I was, puttering lopsidedly in the kitchen. But cold, sweet fruit juice, how I want some so badly, it’s been 19 months since I’ve had any.

    I looked at that denuded orange sitting on the cutting mat and juiced it and decided to try drinking it. It looked so pretty, Cara Cara oranges look like pink grapefruits inside and are so lovely and sweet. Maybe it’s this flu or that I can’t barely taste anything or maybe, dare I hope?, my food intolerances are easing, because I drank that shimmering pink juice and didn’t feel any nasty tingling or bee sting feelings at all. It surely was a satisfying little glass of juice!

    So back to bed I go, tomorrow is another day. I’ll figure out how to braise the pork medallion in the morning.

    Berry Fun Night with Driscolls

    Blackberries are to me the essential summer fruit.  My memories of blackberries are blazing hot days camping – limbs brown as a berry, hair bleached pale blonde,  a perpetually sunburned nose – I was a child of the creek, meadow, forest, lake and golden hills.  Strong and lithe from running and climbing trees and swimming my mom could barely entice me out of what ever body of water we were near; it was pure joy.

    At the last camping trip before school if we were lucky the blackberries that lined the creeks and rivers would be ripe, and we would test the berries daily to see if they were ready to be plucked by greedy fingers, wincing from the brambles.    Old coffee cans would be deployed, some with strings tied through holes punched by an awl near the top rim and worn about the neck, and we were instructed to return when the can was full.

    Wading through strong currents to reach blackberry bushes so laden they were almost touching the water my sister and I or my little friends  and I would strive to get every berry possible, fingers and mouths stained purple.  Perhaps half of our harvest was consumed on the spot for testing purposes.  Occasionally a howl of anguish would be heard when we barked a shin against an underwater snag or when a particularly enticing berry slipped from our pruned fingers into the flowing water.

    Damp, bedraggled of hair and clothes and purple all over we would trudge back to the campsite where mom would sugar down the berries in a bowl covered with a mesh umbrella to keep out the yellow jackets.   The slim metal can that fit inside the old ice cream maker would be filled with her vanilla bean custard base and dropped inside the tub, then layered between crushed ice and rock salt.  We would turn and turn that handle and eventually we couldn’t make it move anymore, when my dad or his pal Fred would reach down and give it 20 easy cranks; we would marvel at their strength. The ice cream maker would be swathed in beach towels and hidden in the shade to harden the ice cream while we ate dinner in the slanting sunshine of the late summer evening.

    After our dinner fat curls of creamy ice cream would be dished out and we were allowed to fill our bowls with as many blackberries and sweet purple syrup as we could fit.  The sweet juice at the bottom was always the best part and we would take elaborate pains to swirl the berries and ice cream together to create violet hued streaks with our spoons.   If no adult was looking we would lick the bowls clean with our hummingbird-Labrador tongues.

    Blackberries bring that feeling for summer bliss back the instant I eat one, even on a foggy blustery San Francisco winter night.  It sounds funny to write about blackberries in the middle of winter but Driscolls Berries in  Watsonville grows organic berries year -round, thanks to our mild climate.  They invited me and a small group of food bloggers to attend a special dinner featuring their blackberries cooked by Rick Rodgers, a special chef and author from New York,  a seminar on food photography tips and tricks by  Caren Alpert, a local legendary food photographer and food styling and prop technique by  Carol Hacker, a San Francisco prop stylist.   It was quite a room full of talent and I learned a lot.

    The event space was fun too, in the Dogpatch area of SF at the Hands On Gourmet space; their staff were top notch and it is a cool old converted warehouse complete with paned windows like they have at Fort Mason.

    Down the rabbit hole #driscollmoments

    Down the rabbit hole! The delicious Blackberry Cobbler cocktail.

    We sipped on wine and mingled, it was like a reunion with many of my favorite food blogger friends.   I really enjoyed getting to talk to Rick of Driscolls Berries and our long chat about organic farming and the fruit industry in California throughout the last few decades was enlightening.

    The event started with cooking demonstrations by Chef Rick then Caren and Carol would style and shoot the food item using Caren’s gorgeous camera tethered to a laptop.  Although the photos shown here are my own it was fascinating to see the three of them work together and see the many conversations and adjustments that were made to the tableau to produce the desired shot.  Despite my lack of photography equipment (I use an iPhone 4), it was very gratifying to see that my instinctual attempts at photography are perfectly in line with their teachings, after all isn’t having the eye and instinct 90% of being a good photographer?

    The first demo was for the slurpable Blackberry Cobbler cocktail.  It reminded me of a cocktail I had recently at Rye, my favorite watering hole.  The bartender there used crushed ice and raspberries but the rest was essentially the same.  I have included the recipe at the end of this article, go wild and try other berries!

    Savory blackberry custard tarts by @cookbookrick at #driscollsmoments

    The first course was a savory blackberry custard tart, shown above.  Oh how depressed I was that I couldn’t even try one but given the rapidity of their disappearance from everyone’s plates they seemed to be exquisitely tasty.

    If you would like a sweet blackberry tart recipe, Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy developed a gorgeous version for the party.

    The entree was a pancetta-wrapped pork loin roast with a blackberry sauce which the chef called a compote, but I would make it again cooked down and strained. I love wrapping roasts in bacon and so that wasn’t anything new for me but the sauce was a big hit.  He served the roast with a cold salad of roasted fennel, more blackberries and gorgonzola cheese.  I believe this salad will become part of my regular repetoire this year.

    Desserts were quite lovely; Chef Rick made a cobbler with a crunchy topping that was baked like a granola and served with Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous vanilla ice cream. He also made a blackberry bundt style cake that smelled delicious.

    To thank us for coming the kind folks at Driscoll’s gifted us with basket after basket of blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, along with a perfect berry colander, an apron and one of Chef Rick’s cookbooks, mine was about Christmas – how timely!  Also the staff at Baddish Group gave us each a pastry tamper, what a wonderful gift!  I cannot wait to use mine, no more using my thumb or my pestle to make mini tart shells.

    It was a very enjoyable evening and I learned a great deal as well as enjoying the company and the great food.  The best take away for me for the whole evening was knowing the Driscoll’s berries are available all year long, and they taste just as sweet in the winter as they do in the heat of the summer.

    Blackberry Cobbler Cocktail

    1/2 cup ripe blackberries, plus extra for garnish
    1 oz. fresh lemon juice
    1 oz. simple syrup
    11⁄2 oz.  gin
    1⁄2 oz. Crème de Cassis
    Splash of sparkling wine

    In a mixing glass, muddle blackberries, lemon juice and simple syrup.

    Add the gin and the Crème de Cassis. Top with ice and shake vigorously.

    Pour into a tall glass and top with the sparkling wine. Stir from the bottom up and serve with more blackberries for garnish and a straw for sipping.

    Serving Size: 1 cocktail

     If you would like to have some delicious Driscolls blackberries please leave a comment and I will pick a few names at random and send you a generous $5 coupon courtesy of Driscolls!


    Read more about the event from the San Francisco Examiner


    Savory Cheese Tartlettes with Blackberries

    Blackberry-Sage Compote for Roast Pork/Fowl

    Roasted Fennel Salad with Blackberries and Gorgonzola