Monthly Archives: December 2009

braising pork shoulder for new year’s eve

pork shoulder braising

Those are two pork shoulders in there, braising with mirepoix, good stock, fresh herbs, and caramelized apples.

Isn't it beautiful?

Sure, the finished plates are usually more attractive, but there's something even more compelling about the process. Look at those bobbing pieces of meat, being broken down as the heat surrounds them in the oven. (Okay, I made Danny take the braising pot out of the oven for this shot, but they went right back in.) It's the anticipation that makes this taste so good.

This is our way to ring in the new year. Friends are coming over for dinner. We'll eat tiny cheese-filled rolls, salads with pomegrantate seeds, roasted potatoes, sweet potato souffle, and brussels sprouts. At the end will be a cherry pie I'm making with the last bag of cherries we picked from our tree in July.

At the heart of the meal, however, will be these shoulder roasts, tender enough to fall away from the fork after nearly 10 hours of slow braising. We'll lift those forks to our mouths and bless the year that has passed.

We feel really grateful to be writing here, to spend time with those of you who are reading, to be able to cook and write and take photographs of the food we are making. We can't wait for more in 2010.

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Happy New Year, everyone.

p.s. If you should want to make something like this dish, here's Danny's rapid-fire narrative of how to make these pork shoulders.

Take some rosemary, some sage (oh, I don't know, a big handful of each?), some black peppercorns, and lots of garlic. Smear the shoulders with them. Wrap them up and stick them in the fridge.

The next morning, wipe off all the stuff and put it to the side. Sear the shoulders in some canola oil. When they are nice and brown, put the shoulders on a plate. Wait.

Sauté off some mirepoix (you know, equal parts onion, celery, and carrots). When the onions are soft and browning, add in the rosemary, sage, peppercorns, and garlic that coated the shoulders. Cook until you can smell it all.

Put the shoulders into a huge braising pot. Add in the sauteed vegetables. Pour in hot stock to cover.

Brown apple halves in butter. When they have started to caramelize, throw them in with the pork.

Cook, at about 300, for hours and  hours until the pork is tender enough to fall into pieces with the slightest touch of the fork.

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pork chops with garam masala

pork chops for lunch

We've been away for a bit. There were some medical mysteries (all solved, and well), Danny started work again (a restaurant on the island where we live. we'll tell you more about it soon), and the holidays. Didn't everyone go quiet over the holidays, as we searched for presents and tried to make it through the mayhem alive? Anyway, we've been silent here and we don't like it.

We've missed you.

We're back now, with plenty of new suggestions, bizarre bacon stories, and recipes for you. Today, a quiet recipe, simple enough to cook in 10 minutes. A wonderful lunch.

* Take two bone-in pork chops.

* Dust them with a healthy pinch of garam masala powder, which is a pungent Indian spice mix. When garam masala is made in the home, it can be a different blend of seasonings and spices from region to region, house to house. But most commercial garam masala mixes (and that's what we had in our kitchen) contain at least garlic, ginger, dried chiles, mustard seeds, turmeric, and coriander. Those all blend well with pork.

(If we had more time, we would have ground our own with a mortar and pestle. But we wanted pork chops, fast, so we used the pre-ground powder.)

* Season the chops with salt and pepper. Season from chest height, so you don't over-salt the pork. Toss on a touch of finely chopped rosemary, if you want.

* Get a sauté pan hot. Screaming ass hot, as Danny likes to say. Pour in a bit of oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. It should start running around right away.

* Lay the pork chops in the hot oil. Let them flash sauté until they are browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. (These were thin pork chops. They cooked nearly right away.) Flip them (turn them away from you, not toward, so as to avoid the hot oil). Cook another 2 minutes until they are browned. No more. You don't want them tough.

We ate these lovely pork chops with boiled potatoes with rosemary. This was just what we wanted to eat.  It was a simple little lunch in the afternoon, with our daughter, watching the sun tilt toward the west, on one of the last days of the year.

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the chef with a pig tattooed on his arm should have won

praise the lard

If you're like us, you have been watching Top Chef, avidly, waiting to see who would win.

We have one thing to say after last night's finale. The wrong guy won.

Don't get us wrong. Michael Voltaggio is talented, wildly creative, and sure to be a success. He also seemed like the kind of cocksure, swaggering chef that make people roll their eyes when they hear the title of chef. Barking at other contestants, unable to put aside his competitiveness to congratulate his own brother, and generally just kind of an ass, Michael Voltaggio made a lot of people unhappy when he won.

Mostly because we were all rooting for Kevin.

Kevin Gillespie, the man with the beard, the guy with the uncanny resemblance to Yukon Cornelius, and the sweetest chef on television. Kevin, we wanted you to win.

He makes soulful food. He doesn't yell at anyone else. And mostly, he cooks some amazing pork. As Gail Simmons wrote in her blog about the show: “Kevin …with his deceptively simple Southern flavors and heavy (often genius) use of pork.” Yep. The man loves pork.

He has a pig tattooed on his arm, for goodness' sake!

(That photograph above is not of Kevin, however. It's actually a friend of Danny's.)

In the final competition, Kevin cooked a pork belly dish that left the judges wondering if he knew the proper technique for cooking pork belly. As Kevin said in a subsequent interview:

TVGuide.com: The judges were pretty critical of your pork dish. Would you have changed anything in retrospect?
Kevin: No, I wouldn't. I have a lot of feelings about that dish and get a little fired up about it. I could have served it with a piece of roasted pork. But that would have detracted from what I was trying to do, which was to give you multiple textures of something in a single package. For me, the flaw of that dish was not in execution. It came from the fact that I chose to deal with something in a way that was foreign to [the judges]. Let me tell you, there's plenty of people who line up at [our restaurant] to eat that pork belly every single night. I didn't think there was anything wrong with that dish.

Kevin, we would happily line up at your restaurant to eat that pork belly. Maybe someday we will.

In the meantime, just know we think you should have won.

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cheese and bacon grits

cheese and bacon grits

Need another way to eat delicious bacon? Sure you do.

This weekend, we hosted a breakfast party. Bring your favorite morning meal and we'll share it together. We have creative friends. Nothing repeated the next dish.

Several, however, involved pork.

Our friend Jenifer Ward, who writes the lovely blog Experienced Collector, brought us these creamy cheese grits with bacon.

I'm sure you won't be surprised to find that the casserole dish was empty by the time Jenifer left. My goodness, these were popular.

I wish we had more right now. I guess we'll have to make some.

Cheese and Bacon Grits (reprinted with permission from Jenifer Ward's blog, Experience(d) Collector)

2 c. stone-ground grits
6 c. water
1 t. salt
4 T. butter
1/2 lb. shredded cheese (I used Beecher's Flagship and Estrella Valentina)
12 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (I used Skagit River Ranch)
1 c. milk
3 large eggs
1/2-1 tsp. Louisiana Hot Sauce or similar (heck, we're in Seattle, maybe Sriracha!)
1 t. fresh thyme leaves
cracked black pepper and additional salt to taste (depends on saltiness of your bacon and cheese)

Bring water and salt to boil and add grits in a steady stream, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Lower heat and cook, stirring often, until water has been absorbed.  Remove from heat. Stir in butter and transfer to large mixing bowl.

Beat eggs and milk and hot sauce together, then stir into grits. Add cheese (reserve 1/2 cup), bacon and thyme; season with pepper and (if needed) salt. Pour into ungreased, shallow dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top and bake for an additional 1/2 hour or so.  The grits should not jiggle when they're done and the top should be golden.

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lard as a health food?

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photo courtesy of Ashley Rodriguez, from NotWithoutSalt.com
Lard. We've written about it here before, shared Ashley's technique for rendering lard, and shared Kate McDermott's secret of leaf lard for great pie crust.

And then we found Pete Wells' account of his initiation into the beauties of cooking with lard, in Food and Wine.

You have to read it. A sneak peek:

“After hanging out in your mouth for a minute, though, a lard-fried crust becomes soft and creamy, as voluptuous as a Rubens nude but not as heavy. All my kitchen slipups didn't stop me from recognizing that lard is the most elegant fat I've ever met. Even the absence of pork flavor, which at first struck me as a flaw, only made lard seem more delicate and refined.”

Well, those are our thoughts exactly.

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cheese-stuffed pork tenderloin

cheese-stuffed pork loin

That's pork tenderloin, stuffed with cheese, and served with roasted parsnips and boulangere potatoes with whole grain mustard.

Yep, I love Sunday afternoons. And I love this pork dish, which comes from David Leite's magnificent book, The New Portuguese Table. His thorough investigation of all things culinary in Portugal, in recipes translated for the American  home cook, is one of our favorite cookbooks published this year. (And we're not alone. Publisher's Weekly named The New Portuguese Table one of their favorite cookbooks of 2009.)

There's so much to recommend about this book. In fact, Danny and I already explored the book as a whole on our other website, which you can read right here.

However, it is this sentence we want to tell you about here:

“From the Minho in the north to the Algarve in the south, as well as in Madeira and the Azores, pork rules. It's the national meat.”

How could you not want to buy a book that talks about pork this way?

You do want to buy this book. We'd love to share this recipe for cheese-stuffed pork tenderloin, or the one for pasta pyramids stuffed with pork and cheese, or the one for spicy Azorean garlic-roasted pork. There are so many tempting pork recipes in The New Portuguese Table that we would have bought this book for those alone. (We were actually sent this by the publisher.)

But we don't want to share the recipe. We can't improve on it enough to adapt it and make it ours. Plus, David deserves for you to buy the book.

Seriously, go out and buy The New Portuguese Table.

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Humphry Slocombe lard caramels

bacon peanut brittle

Do you remember when we told you about the Humphry Slocombe bacon peanut brittle?

Well, I just read in The New York Times that Humphry Slocombe is now making lard caramels.

And I quote:

“In just one try, he struck the perfect balance between burnt-sugar goodness and porcine umami. The first thing your mouth registers is something akin to saltwater taffy. Then you’re treated to the gustatory equivalent of the aroma of your favorite butcher shop: meaty fattiness. Next, waves of buttery sweetness alternating with a hint of salt and the smokiness of bacon.”

They started making these caramels after we were there.

So not fair.

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