Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Night: Farro, Tuscan Kale, Sweet Potatoes, Smoked Hock

Here's a tasty little diddy I wanted to throw out there just to show that we do in fact eat lots of vegetables in our house, and also to soften the blow of the impending series of duck posts that are coming next week. There is a little bit of pork in this dish, but it plays a minor role (sort of). I think it was a better dish with the pork, but this easily could have been made vegetarian. The meat, in this case a smoked hock, was braised to enrich a stock that I made for soup last week. As I was throwing dinner together last night, I saw it sitting there and I realized the hock's delicious destiny. I cooked some onion and some diced sweet potato in some olive oil. I let the potato brown a little after the onion sweat and then I added a bit of garlic and shallot. I warmed the hock up in the pot and then cut away the skin and the meat, diced it up, and tossed it back in. I added about a cup of water and splash of vinegar and then large pile of Tuscan kale. While that simmered away, I cooked some farrow. That's it. Dinner was served up quickly and the kid's devoured it. I think this could become a regular thing. I know it's just another variation on greens and pork, but this particular variation was great.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Belly Full of Bacon

I feel bad. I'm looking through this blog, and all I see is meat, which is unfortunate because that's not how my family and I eat. Sure we love pork, venison, fish, and (a little) beef, but we mostly eat beans and greens. One of my kid's favorite meals is beans and rice. Broiled mackerel with sticky brown rice and a homemade teriyaki sauce comes in at a close second. Third place would have to go to roasted beets served on a bed of beet greens with sardines. We love our oily fish in this house.

My sisters hate me. I could probably get my kids to eat a pound of raw oysters served over a huge salad with spaghetti and hot sauce if I told them too. My poor sisters have resorted to Fluffernutter sandwiches and chips twice a day. Occasionally my nieces will eat a few grapes or a baby carrot providing a brief respite from their near constant state of constipation, but for the most part, three of the four food groups are rarely represented on their plates.

The point being, my kids eat everything. We eat everything. Usually we have meat a couple nights a week. The rest of the time we subsist on veggies and grains. From the looks of my blog, you'd think Ted Nugent lived in the guest room. He doesn't. There are a couple of times a year, though, where Uncle Ted might want to stop by. I know he's a much bigger fan of beef and game than pork, but I think it's safe to say that bacon makes almost everyone happy. That's why last night, I started making 40 pounds of the stuff.

The last time I did this, I had just gotten Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which if you don't have it, I highly suggest clicking that link back there and picking it up, because today we'll be talking about bacon and pancetta, two of the easiest and most rewarding things to recreate from the book.

The most important ingredient in this process is, of course, pork belly; quality pork belly. I've noticed a huge difference between buying pork belly from the butchers in our meat packing district here in Chicago, and belly from sustainable sources. Nothing compares to Slash. That was the name of the first whole pig we bought from our good friends at Prospera Farm in Berlin, WI. The fat was delicate and ethereal. When the bacon was cooked, that soft white ribbon turned completely transparent when it hit the pan. It was magical.

This most recent batch is from Slagel Family Farms. The yet to open Butcher and Larder will be carrying their products in Chicago in the near future. The bellies are pretty incredible. Although these came without skin (which is is nearly required for making good beans in the future), the fat was still beautiful and there was a great deal of meat on these weighty pillows of pork. 

I pulled off a few "special" pieces of belly for other uses. I have two large chunks marinating in a spicy chipotle ancho rub which I will braise, sear, and use in tacos tomorrow. There are also a few choice pieces stashed in the freezer. If bacon is king, uncured belly is the porcelain faced prince of the kingdom and, on special occasions, he'll do just fine.

The haul below is going to hang out in the fridge for a week, then I'll rinse it, and hang it up to dry. When I do, I'll be sure to add those pics as well. There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing several rolls of pancetta hanging in your own pantry. I already have several friends who will be directly benefiting from my efforts, and based on the interest, I'll probably be doing this whole thing again in another month.

What began as a way to pay for my own yearly bacon habit has turned into something far more sinister. I feel a little like a drug dealer. I buy the stuff wholesale, cut it up with my own flavors, break it out into much smaller portions, and sell it to my friends. Who knows, we'll probably end up sampling the goods when they drop by to pick up their stash. Come to think of it, this lifestyle could be a very dangerous to my health. In a year or two my cholesterol levels are going to be shot.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pickle-tini - Wisconsin's Finest

I was just browsing through my food porn folder on the hard drive (you know you have one too) when I stumbled across this beauty and was reminded of one of my favorite drinks of summer...or winter with the heat on high. The Pickle-tini on the rocks is one of the greatest drinks in my repertoire. It's a simple cocktail. In fact, I'm a big believer in simple cocktails. Here's my recipe for another little diddy I like to call Movie Night: take a rocks glass, add two or three cubes of ice, then grab a big ole bottle of bourbon and fill 'er up just enough so that you don't spill any on the couch when Cinderella starts. If your feeling fancy, add a splash of bitters. Go ahead, you deserve it. Be careful though, the name of this drink changes depending on either the size of you glass or number of cocktails you consume. If you aren't careful the Movie Night becomes a Brown Mumbler which quickly deteriorates into a Sleeping Daddy.

The Pickle-tini is a little more fancy. This drink originates in Wisconsin, as inferred by the rare ingredients found within: Fleischmann's Vodka and Milwaukee's Kosher Dills; a couple cubes, a couple long pours, a couple pickles, and splash of pickle brine (to complement/cover the fine flavor of the spirits). The version seen above was decidedly fancier. The pickles came from a friend's special super sour and spicy pickle batch and the vodka was just plain ole Stoli from the freezer. Some crackers and a hunk of ungodly orange Wisconsin cheddar and you are good to go. In fact, if you have two, you'll probably forget to eat dinner. I did. Maybe you can even come up with another name for the drink that doesn't have that wussy "tini" on the end.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Porcine Persuasion

A little more than a year ago I stumbled across Michael Ruhlman's technique for home-cured pancetta. If you didn't click on that link, go back and click on it. I'll wait. If that picture of the meat just dangling there doesn't have you salivating all over your keyboard then you are either a vegan or a moron...I suppose you could be both, in fact I'm pretty sure if you are a vegan then you're both. That photo had me so hyped up, I installed a bar in my pantry just so that I could see the same thing in my kitchen hanging there during the drying period.

Having just bought a pig from some friends, I decided to have a go at those ominous packages of belly at the bottom of the freezer. What proceeded over the next month was obscene and memories of this time are hazy and clouded by bacon grease. I must have purchased the bellies of more than six whole hogs (since mine were all gone I needed more, right?). I made several variations on the cure including everything from sweet ingredients (brown sugar, molasses, berries, crystallized ginger, maple syrup, and more) to savory ones (thyme, ancho chillies, cumin, bourbon, and so on.). You could smell the curing meat all over the house. Everyone who stopped by stood slack jawed at the ever expanding collection of belly hanging in the pantry and loaded in the freezer. The pictures that follow are only a sample of my indulgence.

I took these before things got really of hand. The two large sections hanging in front of the baking shelf ended up being two very different pancettas. I also roasted some of the belly many times over which resulted in a chewy and sticky kind of bacon which I sliced thick, cut into inch squares, and cooked slowly in a cast iron pan until totally brown. I covered those with chocolate and sprinkled them with grey salt. I served them at a party as a post-dessert and most people didn't realize until later that they weren't eating a tray of amazing caramels.

One of my other favorite dishes from this period was a creamy bowl of Anson Mills polenta with a couple thick sliced pieces of the homemade pancetta and a fresh fried farm egg. For breakfast. With beer. The kids had orange juice. It was a dark time for everyone.

Most foodies these days repeat the mantra, "Everything is better with bacon," and I suppose it is. But I have to say, there is a line. I jumped clear over that line for a while. I'm back now, but seeing that damn picture again on Ruhlman's blog, and not having bacon around the house, is absolutely killing me. Because once you've made your own, buying bacon at the store just feels wrong.