Tag Archives: Recipes

For The Zucchini Overwhelmed – Tiger Salad

Some lucky people are swamped with zucchini these days. Imagine a garden in your own yard, filled with summer produce and zucchini and herbs popping out all over. Since I am an urban dweller and dirt-deprived I am quite envious of people with gardens. We just passed the annual “sneak some zucchini on your neighbor’s porch” day, and sadly no one did this to me, but in my urban highrise it would be likely snarfed up by other garden-free zucchini-hungry neighbors.

Photo courtesy of Faith Kramer - Blog Appetit

Photo courtesy of Faith Kramer
Blog Appetit

If you are overwhelmed with zucchini you might like to try the refreshing salad I made for the Bay Area Food Blogger’s picnic.  It’s a riff on a traditional Thai salad that calls for cucumber and celery.  With my weird food intolerances I cannot eat those vegetables so I decided to go with thinly sliced zucchini and fennel to approximate texture and found the combination even better than what I remembered having at my local Thai restaurants.  It was really refreshing with the mint and cilantro leaves and a hit of heat from red chile flakes.   I served with an Asian marinated chicken legs and that was a terrific combination.

My little double-edged mandolin made quick work of the prep, I sliced up the zucchini right into the mixing bowl, then carefully sliced the fennel.  I picked off leaves from the bunches of mint and cilantro, added a pinch or two of the red chile and added shiso dressing until everything seemed moistened enough.  After an hour in the fridge I tossed the vegetables again as the zucchini expressed a lot of water from their contact with the soy shiso dressing.   Before leaving for the picnic I mixed up the vegetables one last time and lifted them out of the mixing bowl with a slotted spoon to leave behind the excess liquid.  I plopped the salad into my picnic serving box and added some more herbs and toasted sesame seeds on top, into my cooler it went and I was off to the park!

Many thanks to Faith of Blog Appetit for sharing her photo of the salad!  Now I need to make her vegetarian paella.

Recipe:  Zucchini Tiger Salad + Shiso Salad Dressing

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 

Cocktail Adventures with LUPEC

Like any urban lady I love sipping a well crafted cocktail. It was my pleasure to join an amazing group of ladies called LUPEC or Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails. Many members are bartenders or business owners or aficionados like myself and several of the members are some of my best friends.

At our last meeting we had the opportunity to try two fantastic cocktails. The first was a wonderful cocktail using Casa Noble Organic Reposado Tequila.

CN Reposado Angle

Casa Noble is located in Jalisco Mexico and uses blue agave for their tequila. You don’t find organic tequila very often and the Casa Noble tequila is quite special. The Reposado is aged for just under a year in French white oak barrels, like fine wine. Their Anejo tequila is aged between two to five years in the oak barrels. The Reposado tequila tasted more like a fine whiskey to me, smokey and oakey. A fun note about the distillery, they have partnered with famed rocker Carlos Santana. Not only does he make amazing music and sexy shoes for us ladies but now he makes tequila. I just love this guy, and he’s local too.

carlos

Casa noble

LUPEC met at Laszlo, which is a fun bar in the Mission district and the bartender there, Kevin, made a wonderful Old Fashioned for us using the Reposado tequila.

I have long loved the Old Fashioned cocktail, ever since the Commander of the US Power Squadron sat me down one day at the tender age of 12 and taught me how to make one. The Power Squadron is like a country club but for yachts and powerboats, and my late father was Commander for a time. The Commander I remember the most was a family friend and he would have us over to his home on the Peninsula often. The Old Fashioned was his favorite tipple and he was shocked that his favorite “bartender” only knew how to mix the perfect martini. I guess you could say I had rather of an Auntie Mame childhood, mixing cocktails for my family’s friends and guests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the cocktail, it’s a drink of a sugar cube dowsed with bitters and a few pieces of fruit or orange rind, muddled together in an old fashioned glass, named for the drink naturally. Whiskey and sometimes a dash of soda water are stirred in with a few large hunks of ice and garnished with more fruit. I used to carve out the ice myself with an ice pick and block ice because that’s the way he liked it. These days I love the silicon large format ice cube trays such as these from Tovolo.

Tequila old fashioned

You can vary the Old Fashioned by changing up the bitters or the whiskey, using American whiskey or rye, and now, using an aged tequila. What a great twist on an old favorite!

Kevin’s version used simple syrup instead of a sugar cube and although I am not sure what kind of bitters he used I am quite fond of either the Bitter Truth aromatic or orange bitters. This Old Fashioned had a mysterious and alluring smokiness to it from the oak barrels of the Reposado. The brandied cherry was a nice touch.

Square one

We were served another fun cocktail that night featuring vodka from Square One.

Square One is another organic distillery that I have enjoyed getting to know over the past two years. They use organic rye from the US to make their vodka and water from the Grand Tetons; it is so lovely and smooth. They infuse some of their vodka with unusual flavors and I am quite fond of the Basil infusion. It has organic Thai, lemon, Genovese and sweet basil varieties, plus a touch of organic coriander (cilantro), honeysuckle and lemongrass. It is very aromatic and unusual and makes great cocktails.

We were served a riff on the Last Word, called at Laszlo as the My Word and it was definitely refreshing and a little dangerous. One could have quite a lot of these on a thirsty night.

Both of the representatives for Casa Noble and Square One are delightful ladies and it was great fun to get to know them and sip their cocktails. I am hoping to add the Casa Noble Reposado and Anejo tequilas and the Square One Basil to my liquor collection for some cocktail play at home.

Make these yourself!

Reposado Tequila Old Fashioned

2 T water
1 lump of sugar —- or 1 tsp. agave nectar
Angostura bitters – or any bitters you like, there are some amazing ones, my current favorite is the Bitter Truth orange bitters
A 3” piece of orange peel, no pith (white part)
Ice
2 oz Casa Noble Organic Reposado tequila
Brandied cherries or maraschino cherries (or a piece of pineapple, a piece of orange or all of them)

Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in an tumbler. You can use agave syrup instead if you like or simple syrup. Add two dashes bitters and a piece of orange peel, but twist the orange peel first then rim the glass with it before placing it inside the cocktail glass. Muddle (smash gently) with a spoon for a few minutes. Add a large cube of ice (large format) or fill 1/3 way with ice cubes, add the tequila and stir well. Garnish with fruit. Sip!

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—–

Square One Basil My Word

3/4 oz. Square One Basil vodka
3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Mix all together in a shaker with ice, shake or stir well until very cold. Strain and serve up in a coupe or martini glass that has been chilled. Sip!

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

You can almost hear the sizzle.

Morning snack before brunch, Mangalitsa bacon

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

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

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

Better Bacon

5# fresh pork belly, skin on
large ziplock bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 5 pounds of bacon
(printer friendly recipe)

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

Happy baconing!

Farmers Market Day and Red Cooked Pork Belly

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

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

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

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

String market bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bento

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

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

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

REC: Red Cooked Pork Belly

(printer friendly)

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

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

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

Serve with plain rice.  Serves 4-6.

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

My First Tagine – Chicken with Preserved Lemon

A beautiful Emil Henry tagine found its way to my home and I was so excited to wash it up and begin my maiden voyage of Moroccan tagine cooking.

My apartment is so tiny and I have enough kitchen equipment to stock several large homes, so my new tagine gets to live under the antique Japanese slat table I use as a coffee table. It’s such a gorgeous color, it looks like sculpture nestled under the bench.

My new tagine, which gets to live under my coffee table. #cityliving

The tagine gets to keep my vintage Taylor and Ng chicken roaster company along with my massive Irish cut crystal ice bucket that currently houses yarn.

Tagine and Chicken, good neighbors :)

This lovely gift also included a jar of preserved lemons from Tunisia, a large jar of saffron from Spain and some fancy couscous. I started with browning the chicken in some deep green olive oil from Lodi.

Heating the deep green olive oil.

The base of the tagine holds 6 cups of stew and is larger than my Caphalon searing pan. It did a tremendous job slowly browning the chicken to the perfect golden hue.

This tagine is amazing for browning chicken. I'm smitten.

(My, what big thighs!)

I used a 5 pound 6 ounce chicken, on sale from the Unsafeway for $6.00. What a whopper of a bird! I could have fit in all of the parts at once but I didn’t want to crowd the pan. While the chicken was searing, I chopped up some onions, garlic and ginger. I fished out three preserved lemons from its jar of brine and rinsed them a little. Then I cut the lemons into quarters and removed the pulp, and finely shredded the rind. Preserved lemons, if you aren’t familiar with them, are simply lemons preserved in coarse salt and a touch of water, and jarred until the salt completely melts into a brine. The lemons have a unique flavor, lemony but mellowed, and are essential to the recipe. You can make your own like Anna and I did one day.

Making chicken tagine for lunch today!
Three large onions and all of the aromatics and the saffron threads went into the tagine base until soft and gently browned. The aroma was heady. I have adopted Molly Katzen’s dogma that if you don’t know what to make for dinner, start by sauteing an onion. The scent will inspire you.

Sautéing onion, garlic, ginger in Lodi olive oile
The vegetables had softened and were golden so I added in the browned chicken, some artichoke hearts in lieu of olives, water, the preserved lemons and artichoke hearts.  I used artichoke hearts because I had them and did not have green olives, which are the traditional accompaniment to this dish.  I really don’t care for the flavor cooked olives, however, and the brininess they add to stews but that is just my preference, and it was my lunch, so I went with what worked for me.

I also added a splash of wine, it may not be authentic but the spirits moved me! On went the adorable cone lid and I relaxed for half an hour while it gently simmered.

My tagine's maiden voyage.

(Ready to simmer, and it already smells great)

After 30 minutes, I flipped over the chicken pieces, basted everything a little, tasted for salt and pepper and added pinches of each, and a good squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon juice and let the tagine cook for another 15 minutes.

I also started water boiling to make the couscous. Couscous is a fine pasta that is shaped into small grains. Traditionally one makes the couscous in a coucousiere, which I happen to have, and it is steamed and fluffed in the top section of the pot while a stew (or just boiling water) simmers in the base. We are fortunate today to have basically instant couscous that only needs to be added to boiling water, returned to a boil, removed from the heat with the lid on to rest for 15 minutes, and voila! Perfect couscous and no effort. The couscous that I received as part of this gift was particularly cool, larger sized shapes but not as large as Israeli couscous. It was *fancy*.  I let the couscousiere languish and used a 2 quart saucepan instead, super fast and so tasty. Why don’t I make more couscous?

m'hamsa couscous

The timer went off, and it was time for my Moroccan lunch! I heaped my bowl with some couscous, pulled out a tender and moist piece of chicken breast and a rich spoonful of vegetables and sauce. The chicken was gently flavored with lemon with the earthy undertone of the saffron and a zip from the ginger and garlic. I was surprised the chicken was a bit spicy but then remembered the lemons were preserved with some beautiful crimson chile peppers, no doubt the peppers infused the lemons with a bit of their heat. I was supposed to have added parsley or cilantro but did not have any and the dish did not suffer from the lack of it. It was a frigid and moist afternoon but inside I was enveloped in a fantasy of dining under azure skies, feeling cool breezes through twisting stone alleys and buildings, hearing exotic foot traffic behind ornately carved screens and wearing embroidered caftans and leather slippers. I nibbled at my beautiful lunch and sipped some rose wine and felt quite pleased with myself for making a hot cooked lunch on a weekend. And it was so easy!

Chicken tagine complete, I must say it was quite tasty and easy.

When I make this again I will use the fresh baby artichokes, quartered, because the canned and frozen ones really lacked the lovely artichoke flavor I was hoping for but it did add a lovely subtlety to the tagine regardless. I set aside some of the couscous and chicken in small containers for the freezer for dinners on another night, and packaged up the rest to take to work for lunch for the next few days. At my office, reheating the chicken and couscous in the work microwave the aroma of lemons, saffron, ginger and spice filled the kitchen and my coworkers were quite complimentary on my humble repast. I made myself a cup of mint tea and relaxed for a moment at my desk, enjoying my desk-chair visit to Morocco in rainy San Francisco.

(Recipe here)

Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.

Gigantes

Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2T parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
extra water if desired
6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
salt and pepper

The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

Serves 4.


It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…