Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Lonzino

I never imagined that I would have as much trouble with a Charcutepalooza challenge as I have with this last one. I’ve cured meat successfully already this year and I figured with my fancy new curing chamber (otherwise known as an old fridge with a bunch of gadgets inside) it would be even easier.

Sigh. Not so much.

The charcuterie challenge this month was to cure a whole cut. I was awfully tempted to try my hand at bresaola (because it is hard to find and I love it so) but I knew there was a high chance of failure on this particular challenge. I decided that if I did happen to have a failure, I would rather fail with a cheaper cut of meat such a pork loin then a more expensive beef round. I settled on Lonzino (air dried pork loin) and found a recipe (complete with video) on Matt Wright’s lovely blog.

This is where Twitter came in. My first question was for Matt (@wrightfood onTwitter) “just how funky are the casings you use”. I am extremely smell averse and I knew if the casings were too stinky I was in big trouble. He assured me that with a good soaking and a little vinegar I should be just fine. So, I preceded along my merry way, starting the pork loin in the cure, ordering the casing that Matt suggested and getting my curing chamber up and running (based on Matt’s setup).

A few days later it was time to get the meat into the chamber. When I trimmed up my pork loin to for curing, one end of it was pretty darn thin, so I made the decision to cut it in half so that I could put the thicker end in the casing and leave the thin end naked.

Before I added the meat, my chamber was holding nicely at 55 degrees with 76% humidity. Just about perfect. As soon as I added the meat the humidity jumped to 93%. I turned to Twitter again, asking Matt, Michael Ruhlman (@ruhlman) and the whole of the #Charcutepalooza community, “is this going to be a problem?”

Matt was the first to respond.

We Tweeted back and forth a few more times and basically he told me because of the size of my chamber, I definitely needed to add a fan to the mix (which was confirmed later by Mrs. Wheelbarrow). Of course being told you need to add a fan to the mix does not necessarily mean you have time to add a fan to the mix. As Matt had suggested, I had propped the door opened and that had helped with the humidity, but I had a feeling I was going to be in for trouble.

Four days later, trouble showed up. The end of the loin that I had put into the casing developed a few spots of black mold. I’d been expecting mold of some kind. It’s a frequent issue with cured meats but I’d always heard that mold could simply be washed of with a vinegar solution so I was a bit surprised when, after tweeting this:

I got this reply:

Okay I wasn’t surprised about that one, but I was surprised by this one:

Trash it!? But… vinegar… won’t that work?

Kill me? Um, no thanks.

Sigh.

 

With a little more Twitter discussion, I determined that the uncased end could possibly be saved. but after a couple more days in the non-fanned curing chamber I realized that my meat was not happy in there. It had developed a few spots of white fuzzy mold (which can be washed off with vinegar) so I made the decision to move the meat to a new spot. While not the ideal conditions, my pantry/liquor cabinet/laundry room would have to do.

Almost immediately my meat just looked better and it finally started losing some weight. My lonzino started at 360 grams so my target weight was 252 grams. After a couple more days of anxious waiting (and white fuzzy mold washing) my lonzino was finally ready to try.

I cut a few slices and gave it a try. Hmm, a little bit salty and a little too junipery, but not bad. I tossed a few slices in with some pasta and called it lunch.

Next I decided to serve it as part of my charcutepalooza finale dinner. I spread a little Chevre (Yarmuth Farms Chevre from Darrington WA to be exact) on a cracker and then topped it with a thin slice of lonzino and a little scallion. Delicious. The goat cheese masked the overly juniper taste and added a nice creaminess to the mix. I could have eaten ten of them (of course I was serving seven other dishes so I refrained).

I’m grateful for all the help (and the dirty jokes about meat, casings and more) I’ve received from Matt and the rest of the Twitter community over the last few weeks. This whole thing wouldn’t be nearly as fun without you.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

White Bean and Sage Soup

It has become painfully (pardon the pun) obvious to me that at the moment, my ankles and knees are just not up to doing triathlons. I wish that this had occurred to me sooner. That I had stopped trying so that I could avoid re-injuring myself over and over, but sometimes I guess I’m slow (or maybe stubborn).

With this realization, I have re-embraced swimming. It was always my favorite of the three sports anyway. I had been swimming at the local community pool. For my occasional swims it made sense to be on a pay as you go $5 a swim type plan, but I never really enjoyed that pool. I hated swimming inside in the middle of summer and it seemed like the pool was always closed at times when I wanted to be swimming. Plus, I have never been a fan of community locker rooms.

A couple of months ago I finally took the plunge and joined a swim club that is just a half-mile from our house. For as often as I wanted to be swimming (3-4 times a week) the private club was just a few dollars more a month.

I cannot begin to describe just how much I love it. I mean, for one thing, they have an adult-only locker room with private showers. That alone is worth the few extra dollars a month. My favorite thing about the club, however, is that they have an outdoor pool that they keep heated to 80 degrees year round. It’s a funny experience to make a run from the heated indoors so that you can jump in the pool to warm up.

I’m usually a morning swimmer, but on occasion it is just impossible for me to get out of bed early for a swim. Yesterday was one of those days. Instead, I waited for my husband to get home (since we share a car) and then went for a late afternoon swim. Of course a late afternoon swim at this time of year in Seattle means the sun has gone down.

Surrounded by darkness, I hopped into the fog-covered pool. I put my headphones on and suddenly, even though I was sharing the pool with a swim team, I was transported to my own underwater space. Save for a few shadows, I was alone with my music and my thoughts.

Tired and hungry, it was eventually time to go. I came home to a house redolent with sage and garlic and was quite pleased to remember that I had left a pot of soup simmering on the stove. Simple yet delicious, it brought me back to reality and filled me up at the same time.

 

 

White Bean and Sage Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
 
Simple and inexpensive, this soup requires very little hands on time. Make it a meal by adding a simple salad and some crusty bread.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound navy beans, picked through and rinsed (no need to soak)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 6-8 ounce salt pork
  • 2 sprig fresh sage, wrapped in a cheesecloth sachet
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a stockpot. Do not add salt as the salt pork will add a lot of saltiness to the soup. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours or until beans are tender.
  2. Using tongs, remove and discard sage sachet and cheese rind. Move salt pork to a cutting board and cut the meaty portion of the piece into small pieces. Discard the fat. Add the meat back to the soup.
  3. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if desired.

 

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Will Bake for Food

The reasons I cook vary from day to day. Some days I feel like experimenting, so I spend hours in the kitchen perfecting something new. Some days I just need to eat so I’m in and out in under half an hour. Some days the only reason I’m in the kitchen is because someone else is paying me to be there. And then some times there are days like today when I’m in the kitchen, stereo blaring, dancing in my slippers and cooking with joy in my heart, knowing that what I am creating is going to help someone else.

This Saturday, November 12, I’ll be at Will Bake for Food, a food blogger bake sale to help fight hunger in our community. The basic premise is, you bring canned food (or cash) which can then be traded for tickets which can be used for delicious baked goods from some of Seattle’s food bloggers (and trust me, there are a lot of us). Last year we collected one ton of food and $1000 (and sold out in just 90 minutes).

In order to get ready for the sale, today I’m baking Streusel Jam Tarts made with either Peach Lavender or Cherry Jam (home canned of course). Here they are just before going in the oven.

I’ll also be bringing some of my Grandma’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (well, it’s her recipe, but I’ll be baking them) and some of my Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Cereal Brittle.

The event is being held at University Heights Center, 5031 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105 from 11-2 (or until the baked goods run out). Hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Rillettes

 

I was going to do it. I had every intention. I was going to take a chicken, pull its skin off like a disgusting, slimy sweater and then refashion the whole thing into something that people have said is delicious.

I’ll be honest though, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. For one, the galatine looks like old food (as in not modern) and something I wasn’t really interested in. Secondly it made a lot. I mean the whole idea of this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was to stretch a small amount of food into an amount to feed a group. I just didn’t want to make a bunch of food that would eventually go to waste and I just didn’t have enough free time this month to throw together a dinner party.

Then came the thing that made the whole point mute. I got sick. So sick. Nothing sounded good to eat and I had no energy for cooking.

Finally with two days to spare, I felt up to cooking, but, I still wasn’t up to full Jennifer strength. I needed my challenge to be easily completed in just a few hours. Galatine out. Rillettes in.

I’ve made rillettes before (I made the fantastic recipe from the Pork and Sons cookbook last month as part of my meal) but I’ve always made it with pork. I wanted to try something new so I thought I would use chicken. Then I started thinking about flavorings. I love the tangy flavor of buffalo wings and I thought that would be in interesting direction to take. Here’s the ingredients.

To start, I combined all the ingredients except for the chicken and the vinegar in a saucepan and heated it until the lard had melted. Then I added the chicken and brought the pot to a low simmer. I stirred it a couple of times, but there was enough liquid in the pot that I didn’t have to worry about it too much.

After an hour I added the vinegar and let it cook for another 45 minutes or so until the chicken was falling apart. Then, using a slotted spoon, I moved all the meat to the bowl of my stand mixer.

Using the paddle attachment I ran the mixer for about a minute until the meat had broken apart. I tested for flavor and consistency and added a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid and a splash more of vinegar.

 

Then I packed the meat into 3 half-pint jars.

 

While I packed the jars, the cooking liquid separated into layers with the fat on top, so I was able to easily spoon a layer of fat top each of the packed jars.

 

I stashed the jars in the fridge so the fat could re-solidify and the flavors could marry.

Since buffalo wings are often served with blue cheese dressing, I thought that a hunk of good blue cheese, along with some crusty bread and a few celery sticks would be the perfect accompaniments.

The rillettes made a delightful dinner. The “buffalo wing” flavor was subtle, but delicious. I could have used a little more heat (and maybe a little more tang) but overall, this recipe is a winner.

Buffalo Chicken Rillettes
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: three 8-oz jars
 
When checking the rillettes for seasoning, keep in mind that the flavors will not be as strong once the mixture has cooled. Season the mixture a little stronger than you think you should.
Ingredients
  • 5 ounces pork fat or lard
  • ½ Cup Frank’s Original Red Hot Sauce
  • ½ Cup Water
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 Pinch cayenne
  • 1 Clove garlic, minced
  • 1½ Pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces, large veins removed.
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
Instructions
  1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the chicken and white vinegar, in a saucepan and heat gently until the fat has melted. Add the chicken and cook over very low heat, stirring often for 1 hour. Add the vinegar to the pan and continue to cook until the meat shreds easily, about another hour.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed until the meat breaks into pieces. Adjust consistency by adding a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid to the bowl (consistency should be spreadable, not runny or dry). Test for seasoning and add more salt, hot sauce or vinegar as needed.
  3. Pack the meat into a suitable jar or ramekin. Allow the cooking liquid to separate and spoon fat over the top of the meat to cover and create a seal.
  4. Serve with crusty bread, celery sticks and good blue cheese.

 

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The Willows Inn on Lummi Island

Back in January, after reading a New York Times wrote an article titled 10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride, I began plotting our trip. I figured, if it’s worth a plane ride, it must be worth a two-hour car trip. Looking at our calendar (and the hotel’s calendar), our first chance would be … September. Oh my, such a long wait. But again, if it’s worth a plane ride, it has to be worth waiting nine months.

Finally the time was here. Lummi Island is normally serviced be a car ferry, but for three weeks every September the car ferry is dry docked and the island is only serviced by a passenger ferry. If we had been staying more than night, I might have been disappointed not to have a car, but since ours was to be a very quick trip, and the hotel was very nice about picking us up at the car ferry, we decided to just go with it.

We arrived with enough time to relax in our room for a while before heading down for pre-dinner cocktails. It was a gorgeous sunny day so we decided to relax on the deck with cocktails and snacks.

My favorite of the drinks I enjoyed was the Spotted Owl made with Aviation gin, nettle purée, Douglas fir eau de vie, lemon, simple syrup.

Tangy and refreshing with a shocking green color. Our options for snacks were marinated cheese or turkey confit. Since I am mad for cheese, that is what we decided to have. I absolutely loved the simple presentation of the cheese presented in a jar.

Finally it was time for dinner. At our table we were greeted with menus detailing the five-course meal that was to come (and some sparkling wine). I am a strong believer that when you’re having a tasting menu, unless you have an actual sensitivity to certain foods, you should eat what the chef prepares. I may not be the biggest fan of fish in the world, but it just doesn’t make sense to me not to eat what the chef feels he cooks best. That being said, I was a little relieved to see that there was only one course that would have fish. Then I started looking over the back of the menu, where the provenance of the ingredients being used were listed. Salmon, clams and oysters were all listed but they were nowhere to be found on the menu. That’s when we found out about the snacks.

They started bringing out plate upon plate of one- to two-bite snacks. Many of them fish, most of them delicious (you never know what you might find out you like).

Snacks:

Smoked reefnet sockeye salmon
This was served in a closed wooden box with something burning beneath it so when the lid was taken off the box a delightful little puff of smoke came out and filled the air.

Salmon roe roll
Salmon I can live with, enjoy even. Salmon roe on the other hand is often a little too “fishy” for me. However, the crispy roll and the cream filling were very tasty.

Potato chip with homemade sauerkraut and black cod
Not much to say about this one. The title of the dish pretty much tells you exactly what it is. Didn’t love it or hate it.

Farm basket with herb emulsion
Basically a deconstructed salad with a basket of greens and vegetable tops, hazelnut “dirt” and herb dressing served in a little terra cotta pot. Fun, but a little messy. We got “dirt” crumbs everywhere.

Butter clam, cucumber, geoduck and potato, served with frozen horseradish
I liked all the components of this dish, but the horseradish “snow” that was served with it was my favorite part. It’s a little hard to describe, but picture a spicy snow cone and you’ll come close.

Kale toast with black truffle purée and rye crumble
My favorite of the snacks, the combination of crisp cooked kale (not sure if it was fried or baked) along with the truffle was fantastic.

Pickled oysters with garden sorrel

The presentation of this dish was just stunning. River rocks frozen in ice with the oysters atop. Unfortunately oysters are one of the flavors I really don’t like. I know I’m supposed to (it’s one of those things chefs are supposed to just like) but I have never met an oyster I enjoyed. But I’ll keep trying…

So, now we’re seven plates in and we haven’t even started dinner. Oh my.

First course
Organic grains with pickled mushrooms

The grains in question were emmer, barley, farro and spelt and they were in a slightly bitter sauce (made from watercress, I think). The pickled mushrooms added a nice counter balance.

Second course
Squid with kohlrabi and seaweed and an oyster emulsion
I’ve never had squid before in any form other than fried. I liked this dish (except for the oyster emulsion) but squid probably isn’t going to become a “OMG they have fresh squid I have to order that” kind of thing any time soon.

Just when we thought they were done bringing out snacks they brought out one more.
White anchovies with pickled elderberries in a brown butter sauce
The look on my husband’s face when a whole anchovy was sat down in front of him was priceless. While I’m not a huge fan of fish, my husband really doesn’t like it. But, being adventurous eaters we went for it. I was pleasantly surprised (and I really liked the brown butter sauce) while the husband, well, not so much.

Third course
Nettles farm hen’s egg with summer vegetables and lemon verbena sauce

This was described as every vegetable currently in season on the farm served with a poached egg (though technically it was a sous vide egg yolk not a poached egg). This was my favorite dish of the night. Perfectly ripe vegetables, some pickled, some cooked, some raw surrounding a perfectly cooked, creamy egg yolk. Each bite was a little different depending on which vegetables happened to be on the fork and the yolk and lemon verbena sauce made for a totally tasty dressing.

Fourth course
Slow roasted pork shoulder with grilled onions

There were at least three different types of onions surrounding a tender piece of pork shoulder. The pork had a slightly sweet, tangy barbecue type sauce as well as an onion au jus. Outstanding.

Before the dessert course they brought out a single paper husked cape gooseberry as a palette cleanser. So much better than sorbet.

Fifth course
Green apples with buttermilk and licorice

This had apple sorbet topped with buttermilk foam and surrounded by very (very) thin slices of apple and some kind of licorice gel chips. A very intriguing combination.

Finally, because we hadn’t had nearly enough, we were presented with flax seed caramels. Yes.

After dinner I was allowed to go into the kitchen and chat with the chef for a while. I am always amazed when I go in a kitchen and it turns out to be tiny (and without much special equipment). For most of the meal, the doors to the kitchen were left open so I got to enjoy watching the staff assemble all of our delicious plates. I’m always surprised when a kitchen is so calm and quiet when they are producing that kind of food. P.S. the chef said that my idea for sous vide paté was genius (which I have to say made me feel pretty darn good about myself).

Finally we made our way back to our room where we were greeted by chocolates on our pillows. The hot tub was calling my name but the bed called louder.

The next morning we returned to the dining room for breakfast and then the concierge gave us a ride up to visit Nettles Farm. I love that all of the vegetables, herbs, berries and flowers that we ate throughout our meal came from a farm less than a mile away. We spied on the chickens and pilfered a few tomatoes from their vines.

 

With that we walked back to the Inn and then got a ride back to the ferry. Our quick trip suddenly over.

So, was it worth the wait and the drive? I would answer with a resounding yes as this will get a place in my top ten meal list. Though I’m not sure I would make the effort again (I like to spread my fine dining experiences around a little).

 

The fish-hating husband, however. Well he had a different take. You can read all about how a non-fish eater with the palette of a five-year old copes with a meal like this right here.

 

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Country-Style Paté cooked Sous Vide

 

When I saw this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge I was excited. Really excited.

I. love. pate.

There, I said it.

I don’t get to eat it very much. And it’s so rich I really wouldn’t want to, but I was excited to get to make my own. I started my research, first with Ruhlman & Polceyn’s Charcuterie, then The Art of Charcuterie. The “charcuterie challenge” specified making a paté en croute (paté wrapped in pastry) but as I started doing my research I thought that pate might be well suited to sous vide cooking. So, although I’ve been doing the charcuterie challenges so far this year, I decided to go with the “apprentice challenge”, making either Paté Campagne or a Paté Granintée (paté with an inlay, such as a pork tenderloin). As I read through a few of the recipes which featured inlays I noticed that the pate in them was generally smooth, and as I am still a little mad about grinding $36 worth of beautiful short ribs into a paste to make hot dogs, I decided a country-style paté was the way to go.

Something about the recipes I’d found so far just weren’t doing anything for me. I turned to a couple more of my cookbooks for inspiration and finally found some in Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. The recipe I came up with is really a distillation of three recipes from each of the cookbooks I used as sources. Flavoring and wrapping it in caul fat came from Les Halles, the use of a panade came from Charcuterie and the idea of using chunks of meat and fat as “garnish” came from The Art of Charcuterie. Here’s the ingredients.

To start, I ran just the pork shoulder through the grinder using the large die. I took about 2/3 of the ground meat out and set it aside, then combined the rest of it with the liver, fat onions and garlic. I ran this through the grinder using the small die. I stashed this in the fridge …

… while I mixed together the brandy, cream, eggs, parsley, salt, flour and a wee pinch of allspice to make a panade.

In the bowl of my stand mixer I combined the ground meat with the panade. Pretty much all of the recipes that I read said that I should mix this together for a couple of minutes, until it became tacky. Thing is, mine was really loose, not tacky at all. I felt like at this point I had no choice but to venture onward, so I tossed my large chunks of pork fat, smoked bacon and pork shoulder into the mixer for just a few more spins.

I don’t have any fancy terrines, so I pulled out a Pyrex loaf dish and lined it with caul fat. At this point I should have had to carefully pack the meat into the dish but mine, instead, poured right in.

I further wrapped the caul fat around the top of the paté …

… then sealed the whole thing in a vacuum bag.

I had a bit of a hard time settling on a temperature for the sous vide. Whole cuts of pork only needs to be cooked to 145° but I couldn’t find any definitive information on a temperature for the liver. All of the pork paté recipes that I’d seen called for cooking to an internal temperature of 150° so I decided, for safety sake, to set the sous vide at 150° and call it good. I left it in the water bath overnight and then carefully retrieved it first thing when I woke up. As I pulled the pan from the water I had a momentary panic thinking that my bag had sprung a leak and the whole thing was ruined. Luckily, the juice in the bag was just juice that had been exuded by the paté.

I put a weight on the paté and let it cool for a couple of hours on the counter before moving it to the fridge to cool completely. Then the torture started. Days of waiting. Not only for the flavors of the paté to meld and develop a bit, but also for my guests to arrive. You see, the last couple of Charcutepalooza challenges have been a terrific excuse to throw a party.

 

                                                                                                        Photos by Dawn Jeffries

We dined on the best of the late-summer produce that I could find. Zucchini preserved with garlic and herbs in olive oil then tossed with pasta and fresh basil. A potato and corn salad with pesto aioli. A take on the classic Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and nectarines. Cucumbers quick pickled in sweetened rice vinegar (just like Grandma used to make). Sangria with plums, melon and nectarines. And Pork Rillettes (which will be a blog post of their own some day soon because, yum).

And of course, the paté. Turns out sous vide is a terrific method for cooking paté. Moist and flavorful and full of delicious porky goodness. I served it with crusty bread, spicy dijon mustard and sour grapes. The grapes were very easy to make, basically filling a mason jar with grapes and a few sprigs of tarragon, topping them with apple cider vinegar (with a little sugar and pickling salt) then letting them set for about a month, and they were a terrific foil to the fattiness of the paté.

 

 

Country-Style Paté cooked Sous Vide
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12-14
 
In addition to using small chunks of meat and fat as a “garnish” in your pate, dried fruit or pistachios would be pretty and quite tasty. Experiment to find flavors that you like.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ pound pork liver, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ pound pork fat, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 clove garlic, chopped
panande
  • 3 ounces brandy
  • 2 ounces cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2-3 Tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1 pinch allspice
garnish
  • 2 ounces smoky bacon, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 2 ounces pork fat, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 2 ounces pork shoulder, cut into ½ inch dice
to wrap
  • caul fat
Instructions
  1. Grind the pork shoulder using a large die. Remove ⅔ of it to a smaller bowl and set it aside in the refrigerator. Combine the remaining pork shoulder with the liver, pork fat onions and garlic grind the mixture using the small die. Combine this with the previously ground pork shoulder and set it aside in the refrigerator.
  2. Whisk together all of the panade ingredients and add them to the ground meat. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix until the panade is well incorporated. Add the garnish and mix briefly. Refrigerate this mixture while you line a loaf dish with the caul fat. Pour the paté mixture into the loaf dish and wrap the caul fat over the top of the mixture. Vacuum-seal the paté and place the dish into a sous vide water bath heated to 150°. Cook for 6-12 hours.
  3. Carefully remove the dish from the water bath and place a weight on top of it to compress it and remove any air pockets. After it has cooled for a couple of hours move the paté, with the weight, to the refrigerator to cool completely. Wait at least two days before consuming. Enjoy with crusty bread, spicy mustard and pickles.

 

 

 

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Tête Pressée

“She was a good pig. I used to pet her everyday.”

Yes, this is what I was told by the petite girl working the counter when I picked up my pig’s head.

This statement caused some very mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was happy to know that my pig was well loved and cared for. On the other hand, that statement really made me think. Sometimes (too often, I think) it is easy to forget that the meat I eat was a living, breathing thing, just days or hours before. But that statement was a reminder. A slap in the face of a reminder. Another creature has given its life so that I can have nourishment and enjoyment. It’s a sacrifice that needs to be respected.

~ ~ ~

As I worked in the kitchen, making jam and pickles from the rest of my farmer’s market bounty I thought about the head in my cooler bag. I was nervous to start with when I decided to take on this challenge (I was going to make something with trotters but my husband talked me into getting a head) but the more I thought about it the more nervous I got. I have a bit of a gag reflex and I just didn’t know how this was going to go down. Finally, I ran out of projects to procrastinate with and it was time. Well first, maybe a cocktail to steel my nerves.

For my challenge this month, I had decided to make a tête pressée (rolled pressed pigs head). The idea of head cheese (with it’s gelatenousness and all) did not appeal (I mentioned my gag reflex, right). The first step in my project was brining. So, all I had to do was take the head out of the bag, rinse her off, put her in a bowl and then pour the brine over the top. Oh yeah, and cut her tongue out and her ear off. The ear removal went fine, but once I started in on the tongue I saw her teeth. Don’t know why, but that sight set me off. It took great effort for me to finish up, but I did. Phew. Into the fridge for three days of brining.

Finally it was time for step two. Rinse her off and start her boiling. I tried, at this point to singe off all her little face hairs (p.s. this smells awful) but my torch ran out of propane. I decided to deal with them later and get the show on the road. Into the pot she went along with some mirepoix and water (and minus her nose because her whole head wouldn’t fit in the pot).

A couple of hours simmering later and it was time for the next step. I manhandled her out of the pot and set her aside to cool. Meanwhile I strained the stock and sauteed some shallots and parsley.

That feeling came back. The nervous stomach feelings of doom for what was to come. When researching this project I’d come across a post by Hank Shaw in which he was making head cheese. He called picking the meat off the head “grim business” and he’s a hunter for goodness sake. How was I supposed to deal with it?

Perhaps a little more liquid courage. Yes, that might help. I donned some gloves and dug in. The first problem was the hairs. Even the ones that I had singed off were still a problem. I ended up basically having to scrape and cut the skin of the entire head. That done I moved onto the real sticky business. First, removal of the eye. No, wait. First, one more drink. It gave me the courage but the process was still awful. There was gagging and deep breathing and much trying not to throw up. Not fun. But I persevered. Feeling my way through, separating the good from the bad. It’s a grim business indeed.

Happily, now, I was just left with the good stuff. Time to roll. The meat (fat) on my head was quite thick so I sliced it in half. I set out some cheese cloth and put half the head down then layered on the shallots and parsley mixture along with the tongue and all the other tasty meat that I had pulled off the head, then topped it with the other half of the head. Finally I rolled the whole thing up tight and secured it with some butchers twine.

The roll went back into the stock which was then left to cool in the fridge. The idea being that the gelatinous stock kinda gets into the nooks and crannies and holds the whole bit together.

Happily, when it was time to serve, it did just that. I had been so worried that the whole thing would just fall apart when I sliced it (and yes, a few slices did) but for the most part, it worked out great.

I served the tête pressée with thinly sliced red spring onions and spicy Dijon mustard which definitely help to cut the richness of the meat. Best described as unctious, the tête pressée was a wonderful part of our warm August dinner party.

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Peanut Butter Pie, for Mikey

Between my second and third year of college I spent the summer working at a Lutheran summer camp, Camp Perkins, which is about 45 minutes outside of Sun Valley, Idaho. It was the summer camp that I went to growing up and it still holds a fond place in my heart. I was a counselor assistant and spent most of my time in the kitchen. Each morning, a rotating group of counselors and counselor assistants would meet early, before breakfast, for morning prayers. Generally, our time was focused on a story or topic that one of the counselors had found. One story, even after 20 years, still sticks with me.

The (true) story was about a couple. Since the day they had fallen in love, they had made a habit of saying ” love you” every time they parted. Sometimes, of course, this was hard. The story related how even at times when they had been arguing, the last thing they said to each other was “I love you, even if it was through gritted teeth. It almost became a game, just a silly thing that they did, but every time one said it the other knew it was true.

On the morning of the accident, her husband was running late. He had an important meeting to get to and was in a hurry to get on the road. He left the house and got in the car, just saying goodbye. His wife came after him, in pajamas and curlers, and ran to the car. He laughed and said “I love you” and she said it back.

That was the last thing she ever said to him. He never made it into the office that day. Another driver hit and killed him on his drive. Even though her heart was shattered, she felt a sense of peace knowing that the last thing she said to him was “I love you”.

 

Earlier this week, a food blogger from New York, Jennie Perillo, suddenly lost her husband and father to her two small children. Even though I’ve never met any of them I found this news incredibly sad. Although I’ve seen this kind of loss before, when my mom lost her husband (my dad), I have a heard time comprehending what that would be like to go through firsthand.

Jennie wrote a short blog post. She’d been meaning to make him his favorite pie but there was never enough time in the day. “Ill make it tomorrow” she said. But now, suddenly all the tomorrows are gone.

She asked simply that today, if you wanted to help her heal, you make a peanut butter pie and share it with someone you love. So today, I made a pie for Mikey, with healing thoughts and prayers for Jennie and her family, and I’ll be sharing it with my husband, the love of my life. The man that I have made sure to say “I love you” to (sometimes through gritted teeth) every time we part. Because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

 

Get the recipe here: www.injennieskitchen.com

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Grilled Vegetable Chopped Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

So far this summer, my trips to the farmer’s market have been largely uninspiring. With the cool, wet weather that we are having in Seattle, summer produce is late arriving. My most recent trip, however, brought a wealth of inspiration. This particular farmer has been using a greenhouse to help summer along so I was able to find my first “warm weather” produce.

I decided to take advantage of one of our few sunny days and do some grilling. This, combined with some leftover chicken and a couple of ingredients from the pantry produced a wonderful main dish salad. Here’s the ingredients.

To start, I cut the bell pepper into quarters, removing the seeds and what not and then cut the eggplant and zucchini into planks about 1/2″ thick. Then I cut the sweet onions into quarters and pushed them, as well as the garlic, onto skewers. I rubbed everything down with olive oil and then seasoned them all with salt and pepper.

I started the onions and the garlic on the top rack of the grill and then walked away … for too long. Sigh. Burned. That’ll teach me for trying to do three projects at one time. I forged ahead and put the rest of the veggies on the hot grill. Flipping them as they browned …

… and removing them as they cooked through.

I decided the garlic was a goner (and it ended up being unneeded), but went ahead and peeled the charred layers off of the onions so that I could use them. I chopped everything into 1/2″ pieces, including a couple of the greens off of the sweet onions.

I stirred together the pesto, lemon juice and mayo and chopped the chicken. Finally I combined all the ingredients in a large bowl and tossed the whole mix together.

Delicious!

 

GRILLED VEGETABLE CHOPPED SALAD WITH CREAMY PESTO DRESSING
serves 2 generously

This salad can easily be made with prepared pesto and mayonnaise. However, if you have the time, take it and make a batch of pesto and homemade mayo. Put any leftover pesto into an ice cube tray and freeze. That way you’ll have a tasty touch of summer all year round. I used two “ice cubes” worth of pesto in the dressing. Mayonnaise from scratch might sound hard, but it’s easier than you think (especially if you have an immersion blender) and totally worth it. I like to use Alton Brown’s recipe (which I’ve added below) and Chef John’s method (here’s a link). If you can’t find new sweet onions, use a sliced mature sweet onion (for the bulb) and scallions (for the greens). I used leftovers from a rotisserie chicken to keep my kitchen cool.

1 zucchini, cut into 1/2″ planks
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2″ planks
1 red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
6 new sweet onions, bulbs quartered, some of the greens chopped
10 cloves garlic (optional)
1/4 cup pesto
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise (see recipe below)
juice of 1/2 lemon
6 ounces cooked chicken, chopped
2-3 ounces Parmesan cheese
4-5 leaves romaine lettuce, chopped

Prepare grill for cooking. Grill all the vegetables, flipping as they brown, until they are softened and cooked through. Cool, then cut into 1/2″ pieces.

Stir together the pesto, mayonnaise and lemon juice.

In a large bowl, toss together the cooled and chopped vegetables, onion greens, chicken, lettuce, cheese and dressing. Divide between plates. Enjoy!

 

Alton Brown’s Mayonnaise

1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 pinches sugar
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup oil, safflower or corn

In a glass bowl, whisk together egg yolk and dry ingredients. Combine lemon juice and vinegar in a separate bowl then thoroughly whisk half into the yolk mixture. Start whisking briskly, then start adding the oil a few drops at a time until the liquid seems to thicken and lighten a bit, (which means you’ve got an emulsion on your hands). Once you reach that point you can relax your arm a little (but just a little) and increase the oil flow to a constant (albeit thin) stream. Once half of the oil is in add the rest of the lemon juice mixture.

Continue whisking until all of the oil is incorporated. Leave at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours then refrigerate for up to 1 week.

 

Friday, July 15th, 2011

The $5.77 Hot Dog

We are mid-way through the year of Charcutepalooza challenges. Each month, as the new challenge is revealed I get excited about what new thing I will get to try. This month, however, that was not the case. Emulsified sausage. Nothing about that sounds sexy.

Because I call myself a chef, I’ve been sticking with the Charcuterie (rather than the apprentice) challenge each month. That meant this month I needed to make either Hot Dogs or Mortadella (basically bologna). The thing is, Mortadella has to be stuffed in beef bung and, as I have a low tolerance for funky smells (and I have experienced the funky smells associated with beef bung before) I pretty much immediately decided that Mortadella was out.

That left hot dogs.

Sigh. Hot dogs.

Hot dogs are boring. While I’ll eat the occasional hot dog, it’s nothing I get excited about. Faced with the choice, I’ll take a bratwurst over a hot dog any day of the week. But, I soldiered on.

The recipe in my edition of Charcuterie calls for 2 1/2 pounds of short rib meat (which, according to the recipe would require about 4-5 pounds of bone-in short ribs). So, off to Whole Foods I went. I bought 5 pounds of the most beautiful short ribs (and quickly thought that I would much rather sous vide them then turn them into hot dogs) which totaled $36.

Thirty-six dollars! These had better be worth it.

Then I got to work. First, grind the meat through the large die and mix in salt and curing salt. Then wait. For two days. Next, mix in the seasonings and stash the mixture in the freezer. Then wait. But only for 30 minutes this time. Then regrind the mixture using the small die and stick it back in the freezer. And wait, another 30 minutes or so. Finally, puree the mixture (in batches) in the food processor until it is a paste (yeah, that’s just what I want to look for in my meat, a paste texture).

I chilled the mix again and then (with the help of the husband) stuffed the mixture into casings. Finally, I put the dogs on the grill for smoking (and then popped them into an ice bath for chilling).

So. Many. Steps. These had better be worth it.

I grilled up a couple of dogs, dressed them with sweet onion and mustard, then took a bite.

 

I figure (very conservatively) that I spent about 6 1/2 hours making these hot dogs (which does not include all the time spent waiting). Using Washington State minimum wage as a guide, my time adds up to $56.35. Add to that the $36 spent on beef rib meat and the (conservative) cost for each of my 16 hot dogs is $5.77.

Totally not worth it!

Yes, they are very good hot dogs. I will be happy to take them along on our big-ass camping trip this summer and feed them to our friends. But, I can easily say I will never make hot dogs from scratch again. Way too much time, money and effort involved for an end product that was good, but didn’t blow my mind.

I’ll stick with sausages.

About Me

I'm a personal chef living happily with her picky-eater (but willing to try anything) husband, neurotic black lab and a red heeler puppy.

I watch way too much TV and enjoy hip-hop more than any reasonable grown-up should.

I'm an avid swimmer and sometime triathlete (whenever I'm not nursing an injury).

Find out more about me here.

About This Blog

I started this blog at a time when my personal chef business was quite slow and I needed to keep my mind busy and my skills sharp. But now, business is booming so I've had to put the blog on the back burner. So, no new recipes for now, but please enjoy my archives.

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