Category Archives: Meats Meats Meats

Sweet, Heavenly Bacon

There is a farm not far from where we live that raises heirloom beef, pork and poultry, but because we’re complete losers, we’ve been too chicken to drive up to the main office there to actually buy stuff from them. We’ve been hemming and hawing for years about it, and finally this week, while on a mission to buy a Boston butt for pork tacos, Boomer decided to stop in and check them out. Naturally, they didn’t have Boston butt, but they did have bacon ends, and we can’t ever say no to bacon. So Boomer left with a pound of really fatty-looking chunks of slab bacon and a dozen eggs, just to give them a try.

Pookie was working on Saturday, so it gave us a great opportunity to have a bacon scramble, since Pookie hates eggs. I diced up a bit of the slab ends, cooked them up, scrambled them into the eggs, and then proceeded to fall deeply and irrevocably in love. The eggs were not discernibly better than the organic ones from my bobo grocery store, but the bacon? “Sublime” does not begin to do justice to it. It was sweet, buttery, and rich without any of the heavy, salty, overwhelmingly smoky baconness I’m used to. There was definitely a smokiness to it, but it was a light, fresh woodsmoke kind of flavor, like the taste equivalent of when you get a whiff of a neighbor’s chimney smoke on a clear winter day. I already held bacon near the top of my list of Greatest Foodstuffs On Earth, but this iteration of it may very well put it over the top.

I hadn’t put together any concrete plans for what I was going to make for dinner that night, other than that it was going to be pasta, as Saturday is our traditional pasta night. After licking my plate clean upon gobbling up all of my bacon scramble, I decided I had to make something with more of the bacon in it.

I started out by thinly slicing about five small onions, then caramelized them. Then I removed them from the pan and tossed in my diced bacon. The amazing thing about this bacon is that, despite being just a bunch of fatty slab ends, when rendered it gave up very little grease. I never had to pour off any excess, or deal with nasty splattering. It was just delicious, delicious bacony goodness.

Once the bacon was browned, I returned the onions to the pan, and then stirred in about four whole canned tomatoes which I’d finely chopped. I let the whole thing simmer until the tomatoes had broken down and then I added some chopped flat-leaf parsley (I was surprised to discover I still had some frozen from our garden’s final harvest last Fall). With a nice sprinkling of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste, it was good to go. And because I’d been drinking, I took a bunch of pictures.

We had this tossed with linguine fini and parmesan cheese, and I have to say, it was simply delicious.

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A Very Boomer Lunch

Today we had a barbecue lunch for Boomer, and then picnicked on the deck while she opened her Boomer Day presents.

While the presents were really the main course, we were also a bit interested in the food. I decided to give a new recipe (for me) a try: Grilled Chicken with Tamarind-Orange Glaze. I made the sauce on Wednesday night, and it took about an hour to reduce down to a nice glaze-y consistency. It wasn’t terribly happy about having been refrigerated for a few days, but a vigorous reheating this morning cured it of its problems.

The chicken grilled up beautifully, and I whipped up some basmati rice and grilled some pineapple to go with it all.

This was a scrumptious meal. The tamarind-orange sauce was a bit too tamarind tangy on its own, but as a glaze it was really fantastic. It was fresh and zesty and a bit outside of my comfort zone (I’ve never cooked with tamarind before), so it was a special treat to try something new. But again, the main point of the picnic was Boomer’s presents, so the real test will be to see how this holds up without a party attached. I think it’ll do that well.

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Mai Day! Or: Wintry Food’s Last Gasp

Tra la! It’s May! Finally! The best month of the year! (Okay, that’s a lie. October is the best month of the year, but if you remove “the start of the hockey season” from the equation, May wins in a squeaker because it’s got my birthday.) To celebrate this auspicious event, Mother Nature has given us several days of cold weather, gray skies, and a promise of rain that has yet to be delivered on. So when I was grocery shopping for this week, I felt like it was late September, and actually looked at a mother shopping with her ten-year-old-ish daughter and found myself thinking, “I bet that kid is totally bummed about having had to go back to school.” Because of this autumnal feel in the air, I ended up planning on making a pork roast for dinner this week.

Meanwhile, Boomer went on a beer run to Triumph Brewery in Princeton; she returned home with the Viennese Lager we’re having a love affair with lately as well as a growler of Maibock, Triumph’s celebration of the new month. So tonight we had what I hope is our last wintry roasted meal with a celebratory May beer on the side.

The pork was done per one of Cook’s Illustrated’s recipes. I browned the boneless pork loin on all sides with a little salt and pepper in a bit of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile, I cut two large fennel bulbs and two pounds of carrots into one-inch pieces and tossed them with three tablespoons each of butter and honey, plus some salt and fresh ground black pepper, in the bottom of a large roasting pan. I set the V rack over the carrots and fennel, nestled the pork into the rack, and let it go for 45 minutes in a 300-degree (F) oven. When it was done in the oven, I set the pork to rest under a foil tent and then returned the pan with the fennel and carrots to the oven, cranked the heat up to 500, and let them roast for another 15 minutes. Then the jus was put together in the pan I’d browned the pork in earlier. I sauteed a finely-chopped onion (the recipe calls for shallot, but I forgot to buy it) in the oil in the pan until it was soft, then added two cups of chicken stock, two bay leaves, two fresh thyme sprigs and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar. After simmering it down for 15 minutes, I squeezed in the juice from half a lemon, and we were good to go. Because Pookie’s only just starting her efforts to learn to like carrots, I also roasted some potatoes just with olive oil, salt and pepper.

This is a reliably tasty meal, and the carrots and fennel are just ridiculously delicious. But as I’m getting crazy antsy for the Farm season to start (especially the strawberries), I’d kind of rather I was being inspired to grill something filled with fresh veggies and herbs and sunshine and awesomeness. Fortunately, the beer was very Springy and festive. It was just the twist this dinner needed.

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky, Hearty Meals, Meats Meats Meats

Pork + Bacon + Fire = Happy

Today was the day I have long been waiting for — the hockey schedule and weather conspired to make it the perfect day to dust off the old Weber to make some dinner. The inaugural grilled meal of the season? Pork and Bacon Kebabs, a recipe from Food + Wine last summer. The only change I make to the recipe is to omit the caraway seeds in the marinade; I included them the first time I made this last May, and I just found them distracting. Of course, I don’t really like caraway seeds in anything, so that might have been the problem.

Now, I never used to be a very ardent grillmaster, but there’s something so incredible about Maple Hoo’s backyard that makes me just want to be out there poking at some charcoals with a beer in one hand every night of the week. We have a magnificent maple in the center of the yard, with a grand, leafy canopy that coolly rustles overhead on even the hottest summer night. Tonight it was more a grand, fluffy canopy of buds, but there’s a lot of promise of what’s to come:

We happen to live in a very quiet neighborhood, and our property abuts a large wooded nature reserve, so when you’re out in the back in the afternoon and evening, it’s almost impossibly peaceful and serene. When our deck furniture was all living on the lawn rather than the deck during the kitchen construction last summer, we discovered that having a couple of benches around the grill makes for a lovely gathering place for all of us as we nurse our beverages and wait while the fire goes through its paces.

Tonight’s beverage was a Viennese Lager from Triumph Brewery, and the weather was absolutely perfect for sitting, sipping, and shooting the shit. And when the fire was all ready, we had these to look forward to:

I doubled the recipe, because this makes exquisite leftovers, so I was facing a couple of waves of grilling.

Now, a couple of years ago, Boomer and I went to the Culinary Institute of America for their Barbeque Boot Camp. The chef instructors were incredibly blase about grilling, and on the day that we were preparing direct- and fast-cooked foods, they just built the biggest, hottest fire you can imagine, and we grilled on that. Ever since, I’ve taken the approach that that was intentional, and a giant, super-hot fire is the key to good grilling. Moderation is for wimps. And when you grill with the kind of fire I do, these kebabs are done in a hurry. Of course, they’re also frequently enveloped in belching flames, because when you’re grilling bacon, you’re going to get some flare-ups.

After a few intense minutes of concentration, trying to keep ahead of the raging hotspots while making sure the bacon got cooked through, my first foray into grilling for the year was all over. Because there are no nice vegetables to be had anywhere around here these days, and because I was pretty mentally fried on Monday when I planned my menu for this week, I went with some bobo side dishes tonight. We had baked potatoes and some sweet corn I’d frozen last summer. Let me just say — I’ve been so antsy to grill for the last few weeks, and in the end, it was deliciously worth the wait.

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Filed under Hearty Meals, Meats Meats Meats, Pommerdoodling

How I Spent My Annual Bonus

Last month was that happiest time of the year for the people who work for my employer — annual bonus time. Normally I don’t pay much heed to my bonus, just enjoying the bit of breathing space it gives me if it’s my month to pay the mortgage, although I did once upgrade us from a futon to a cheap couch with it. This year I decided to treat myself to something cool, and splurged on an heirloom prosciutto from La Quercia. I’d gotten a sampler of some of their amazing cured pork products for Christmas, and figured this would be a scrumptious addition to my pantry for the next few months. Of course, I couldn’t have a prosciutto without a meat slicer, could I? So, yeah, I splurged on that, too.

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The prosciutto itself is out of this world. It is so buttery and rich, with a depth to the flavor of the meat itself that puts the pre-packaged deli “prosciutto” that my bobo grocery store sells to shame. (I suspect that stuff is just thin-sliced regular ham, actually.) It’s exquisite. I am so excited about all the things I’m going to be able to make with this; it’s the kind of foodstuff that makes a meal extraordinary.

Meanwhile, the slicer is the bomb. I was more than a little terrified of it, but it turns out that it’s amazingly simple to use, and remarkably good at its job.

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In trying to decide what meal to kick my new meat-slicer-and-prosciutto era off with, I decided I was desperately in the mood for asparagus risotto. Of course, Pookie hates asparagus, and while she likes the flavor of prosciutto, she’s not a fan of the texture. So I decided to make a creamy leek risotto with chicken (so I wasn’t just feeding my sister rice and leeks for dinner), and then added the asparagus and prosciutto to my bowl and Boomer’s when Pookie wasn’t looking.

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It was all pretty simple and on-the-fly — I sauteed some chicken (one whole boneless, skinless breast, cut into small pieces) in olive oil in a dutch oven, then removed it from the pot. In the same pot I melted a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil and then sweated the leeks (two of them, white and light green parts only, chopped relatively fine and carefully rinsed) in that. Then I stirred in two cups of arborio rice and let them get a nice coating of the oil before stirring in about a half cup of white wine. Once the liquid was all absorbed, I added about a cup of hot chicken stock, and did the risotto thing: stir pretty regularly, simmer on low heat, let the liquid absorb, then add more stock. I used something in the neighborhood of seven cups of stock. When the rice was all tender and everything was creamy, I seasoned with salt and black pepper, and stirred the chicken back into the pot along with about a half a cup of fresh grated parmesan cheese. Overall, pretty basic, but still, pretty tasty. And with the addition of some steamed asparagus and that mind-blowing prosciutto? This became a masterpiece. Okay, maybe not a masterpiece, but it was pretty damn delicious.

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What To Do With Mountains Of Butt Steaks

The biggest challenge (and most exciting new recipe) of my Week Of Trying this past week came from Bruce Aidell’s Complete Book of Pork, for Beer and Mustard Braised Chops. The recipe was for a fattier chop than your standard pork chop, and specifically suggested getting “4 butt steaks” that were all 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 inches thick. I sent Boomer to Whole Foods with the instructions, written verbatim from the cookbook. The person at the meat counter interpreted them thusly:

mountainofbuttsmall.jpg

Yeah, that’s almost seven pounds of sliced-up Boston butt. That was… more pork than I needed. But we all had a good laugh at it, considering we don’t often eat “cuts of meat” types of meat around here, and considering we’d found ourselves in possession of what can only be described as a mountain of butt steaks. Who wouldn’t find that funny?

Anyway, I put half the butt steaks aside for later use, and proceeded to beer-and-mustard braise just two of these monster butt steaks. The recipe started with a flavor rub of 1 tbsp each of fresh chopped thyme, rosemary and sage, 1 tsp each of ground mustard, sweet Hungarian paprika and kosher salt, and something like half a teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper. The steaks needed to be rubbed all over with the spice mix, then left to sit at room temperature for an hour (or wrapped tightly in the fridge for up to 24 hours, with the explanation that the longer it sits with the rub, the tastier the pork will be).

While my butt steaks were enjoying their rub (hee!), I got to work chopping and dicing to get my two cups of thinly sliced yellow onions and 1/2 cup diced carrot. Once everything was ready, I heated a tablespoon of olive oil over moderately high heat in a large skillet and seared the butt steaks on both sides, for about three minutes a side, until they were browned. Then I removed the pork from the pan, lowered the heat to medium, and added the onions and carrots to the pan. The onion/carrot mixture then got covered and left to cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring them frequently, until they were super-soft.

Once the onions were crazy soft, it was time for things to get saucy. I added 1 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of dark beer (I had a growler of Triumph Brewery’s Amber Ale on hand — probably not as dark as it could have been, but plenty dark for me), and stirred up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then I stirred in one tablespoon of coarse-grained mustard and one tablespoon of cider vinegar (the recipe said you could go with balsamic vinegar instead if you so desire), then brought everything to a boil, ready to get braising. The butt steaks (and accumulated juices) went into the sauce, the lid was slapped on, the heat was adjusted to have everything at a simmer, and then I waited about an hour, until the pork was succulent, tender and falling apart. Mmmmm…

To finish off the sauce, you take the pork out of the pan, skim off the fat, and then boil it down until it reduces to a syrupy consistency. Then stir in half a cup of sour cream (or creme fraiche), and serve over the pork. Of course, there was a little work left to be done, as Pookie is not one for carving meats, and moreover, a butt steak is not the world’s most beautiful piece of meat to be confronted with on a dinner plate, especially a butt steak the size of my car. I decided to trim the meat and then cut it into nice chunks, for ease of carving while eating in front of the TV; in the end the presentation was pretty much stew-like. I served this with heaps of sour cream smashed potatoes and some steamed carrots.

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And seriously, despite this taking about three hours from start to finish, on a work night, it was well worth the trouble. The sauce was hearty and rich, while also fresh-tasting with a nice tart zing, and the pork was outrageously tender and succulent. Granted, the pork wasn’t Pookie’s favorite (it made her too conscious of the fact that she was eating a meatstuff), but when she dug into her first bite of the sauce and potatoes, she flipped. I am ever so pleased that the centerpiece recipe of my Week Of Trying turned out so well!

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Breaking Out Of A Rut, Soup-Style

Many years ago, when I was just starting out as someone who “likes to cook”, Pookie suggested I buy “The Daily Soup Cookbook” while we were browsing at a Barnes & Noble. She explained that Daily Soup was one of her favorite places to eat in the City, and she wanted me to make their chicken pot pie soup for her. So I bought the book, and was quickly overwhelmed by all the ingredients in it that I’d never heard of, the intimidating meatstuffs, the homemade stock, the long cooking times and dried beans. I was still on training wheels as a home cook, and most of these recipes seemed totally out of reach for me. I was intimidated by most fresh ingredients, and the only meat I ever cooked with was boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so I settled on their Chicken Barley Soup recipe and basically never looked at anything else in the book again.

Fast forward about ten years, and here I am, a bit more confident as a cook, and looking forward to a long winter making soups in my new kitchen. However, the only two soups I ever make are the aforementioned Chicken Barley one and Cook’s Illustrated’s Pasta e Fagioli, which is a soup that takes about 15 minutes to whip up. Frankly, I’m bored. So last weekend I found myself digging out my Daily Soup book… and what a revelation! None of it seemed scary at all, there were no ingredients I was afraid I couldn’t find, and if there were elements in interesting recipes that I wasn’t necessarily interested in eating, I knew how to work around them. As I raced through the pages I found myself marking nearly every recipe as one I wanted to make immediately. After a few weeks of listlessly casting about through my ever-narrowing repertoire of meals I think I’m willing to make on worknights, I was suddenly rejuvenated, and the first two soups to get the call were a Sausage, Cranberry Bean and Polenta number, and a Braised Pork Chili.

The Sausage, Cranberry Bean and Polenta soup turned out like this:

Pot O’ Slop

First off, yes, I had a nicer picture of this soup all plated up and garnished with sage leaves, but frankly, I love how this picture turned out. It looks like a big pot of lumpy brown goo, sort of like whatever it is the ship’s crew gets to eat in Master and Commander. All appearances aside, this soup was just insanely comfort-food delicious. I couldn’t find cranberry beans at my bobo grocery store, so I went with pinto beans, and because my bobo store is, well, bobo, I also had to buy massive amounts of sweet Italian sausage, all of which I used here (what can I say? I’m too lazy to only use one third of the coil of sausage and save the rest for a later meal). The recipe was pretty straightforward: brown up sweet and hot Italian sausage (half a pound of each, or in my case, half a pound of hot, and 1 1/2 pounds of sweet) in some olive oil, remove the sausage from the pot and then sweat up some chopped onion, celery and garlic. Then you add 8 cups of stock (I added closer to 10 or 11 because my stock is frozen in units of something between 3 and 4 cups; cooking is an exact science at IPB Manor, no?), the dried beans, some thyme and some salt and pepper, and then simmer the bejeesus out of it until the beans are soft. Then you pour in a quarter-cup of instant polenta in a stream, stir it up until it thickens, then add a bunch of chopped broccoli rabe and some fresh chopped sage. Wait, wait, you say, where’s the broccoli rabe in that picture? Heh. Right. Well, I’d left the last of our farm produce waaaaay too long in the fridge, and after we noticed the funky smell of their rottingness, Boomer took it upon herself to clean out the produce drawer. And with it went all my fresh produce for this week. I’d been waffling about adding the rabe in the first place, because I knew Pookie wasn’t going to want it, so in the end it was all for the best that the decision was made for me. (I think the soup would have been significantly better for the rabe, though. It was scrumptious, but in a very simple “Hey! It’s sausage and beans!” way. I think the greens would have given this an added complexity that would have greatly improved it as a solid meal.)

Next up was the Braised Pork Chili:

Sweet Baby Jeebus this is good.

There was a bit of a delay in making this, because Boomer tossed the peppers in the Great Produce Purge. So after restocking the fridge, I was able to give this a go. I’ve never braised anything before, but after my experiences making pulled pork, at least the science of how a pork butt gets turned into tender, succulent deliciousness was not intimidating to me. This one starts out quick-soaking a pound of black beans, while simmering 3 lbs of cubed pork butt in 6 cups (or 8-ish in my case) of chicken stock (I think I was using my Thanksgiving-leftover turkey stock, but I didn’t bother really checking). Then you dump the beans into the pork and stock, along with the following chopped items: 3 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 habaneros, 2 ribs of celery, 2 pickled jalapenos, 2 green bell peppers and 1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes (drained). Toss in 3 tablespoons of chili powder, 2 tablespoons of Mexican oregano, 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper. Then cover the pot and put it in a 325-degree (F) oven for an hour. After the hour is up, remove the pot from the oven, slap it back on the stove, put in 1/4 cup (I used 1/2 cup) of bulgur, simmer for 20 minutes, then add 2 cups of corn kernels and let everything get up to a nice heat.

I opted to serve this, despite the bulgur, over brown rice, in part because I love any excuse to eat brown rice and in part because it stretches one pot to make leftover lunches for the entire week. I didn’t have any of my own chili powder on hand, but thank heavens for those freebies Penzey’s Spices includes with every order — I used some Penzey’s chili powder instead. Either the Penzey’s blend is crazy hot, or the habaneros I used, which were the size of apples and were fire-engine red, were rocket-hot, because this turned out to be a four-alarm chili. It was also insanely delicious. I was so pleased with how the pork was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, and I also loved how the addition of celery made this a tiny bit smoother than I’m used to with my regular chili recipe. There was just a bit of vegetal sweetness from it that was a nice little anchor in the flavors.

So that was my excitement from the last little stretch of cooking. I have to say, I’m a little embarrassed now to look back at myself as a 20-year-old, being too afraid to soak some dried beans or use hot peppers. This has been a good exercise for me to see really clearly how much more competent I am now after a decade of puttering around making rinky-dink dinners for Pookie and Boomer. I’ve learned quite a bit in that time, despite my belief to the contrary. In short, these soups were good for both keeping body and soul together, and for my self-esteem!

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