Friday, April 30, 2010

Caramelized Pork Belly and Shrimp

In our last meat CSA we got a huge slab of unsmoked bacon, basically pork belly, and I have to admit I had no idea what we would do with it. Pork belly is one of those foods that I think is really fancy and you must be an incredibly talented CHEF in order to know what to do with it. Also, Pork Bellies are traded on Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which seems strange. Anyway, how often do you really have pork belly laying around? I felt no small amount of pressure to do something amazing. We had previously chopped up a small bit of it to include in a pasta dish (more on that later), but I just felt it wasn't highlighted the way it should be. Elaine mentioned she would like it caramelized Vietnamese style and I had never even heard of such a thing so assumed she must be crazy. Then serendipity entered in and I saw a recipe for caramelized pork belly and shrimp in my May issue of bon appetit magazine. So its confirmed, Elaine is not crazy. Well, not in this case anyway. She is a genius - this was a really great recipe and the perfect way to make the pork belly the star of the show.

Here's what you need:

5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar (recipe called for white, we used rice)
1 jalapeno minced with seeds (recipe called for red, we used green)
1 large garlic clove, minced

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and let stand at room temp for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Elaine says she would like to make a gallon of this a put it on everything.

Pork Belly and Shrimp:
6 teaspoons sugar (I realize now I used 6 tablespoons...oh well, I don't think I would change that in hindsight.)
1 1-pound slab rindless pork belly cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices then crosswise into 5 inch lengths (that's right, it says rindless...I cut the rind off myself. I felt like Dexter - pig flesh is supposedly the closest to human flesh you know....sorry to my veggie friends!!)
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined with tails intact
2 green onions, thinly sliced into strips
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Cooked rice (recipe said white, we had brown)

Sprinkle sugar over the bottom of a heavy skillet, don't use non stick and make sure its big enough to fit all the pork in one layer. Place skillet over medium heat and cook until the sugar melts, don't stir (but go ahead a make some fun faces).

Once it caramelizes into a golden brown color (about 7 minutes), arrange the pork in a single layer. Add 1/2 cup water and cook until the water evaporates turning the pork occasionally about 12 to 14 minutes. Repeat this process 2 more times, adding a half a cup of water each time and cooking until it evaporates. On my last go around, I turned the heat up a bit to really caramelize and crisp up the pork. It got a little darker than the picture in the magazine but since I've realized I also added too much sugar, maybe that explains it. It will look something like this:

Remove the pork from the skillet and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of pepper.

Return the skillet to the heat and add shrimp to the drippings. Saute about 2 minutes until shrimp are golden (they will pickup a lot of the remaining caramelized sugar in the bottom of the pan as well as a ton of flavor). Return the pork to the skillet and toss until shrimp are done just about 1 minute longer. Mound on a platter and sprinkle onions and cilantro on top. Serve over rice and drizzle with sauce, to taste.

This dish was so rich that I only ate a little, but I'm planning to eat my leftovers today and I CAN'T WAIT. The pork was nutty, sweet, salty and delicious and although I've never thought of mixing pork and shrimp before (not really kosher, is it?) it was a great combination. Plus, caramelized? Yes, please - what a great addition to a savory dish, perfectly balancing the saltiness and spiciness of the rest of the plate. I feel like Kevin Gillespie, Master of Pig, only I WILL be the next Top Chef.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Highly Irritated.

The other day, on Facebook, I saw in my news feed that both Elaine and another of our mutual friends had signed Jamie Oliver's petition to support better food in schools. I am really enjoying and admiring Jamie and what he is trying to do via his show so I signed the petition too and posted it to my Facebook profile. Then I watched as that post spread like wildfire and was re-post by a handful of my friends. I liked seeing something just a tad more important than "I only listen to voicemail to get rid of the little icon" circulate through my different groups of pals.

And then I was totally and completely enraged
by someone I have never met and the
comment she posted in response to one of my friends who had re-posted the petition. This person wrote:

Um, we're getting a little to [sic] over-policing with the foods these days. I think way too many in our society simply blame everyone but themselves for the obesity problems. Removing vending machines from schools, banning trans yai, people just need to stop taking the easy way out with feeding their kids too much cheap fast food, giving them the unhealthy lunchables or overprocessed foods and then blame the weight problems on schools other other public sectors so we'll waste our tax dollars to make it to costly or challenging for restaurants, school districts and other food industry stakeholders to operate because they're being over-regulated. It's so easy to get on the bandwagon when you're either a wealthy celebrity or from the opposite end of the demographic spectrum who benefit from our tax dollars bearing the higher costs of yet more government intervention or subsidies. Why don't they promote just being able to make wise choices without tabooing foods that most of us should know to eat in health portions or frequencies?? Brain-up, world!!!...

Did I say enraged? I wanted to post back SO BADLY but I didn't because I don't know this person. Then I realized...I have a blog! I can say whatever I want!! So here it is.

Yes, Jamie Oliver is a celebrity. Yes, he is wealthy. But you cannot in the same breath blame him for being too rich and famous to be serious about what he's doing while at the same time refuse to understand the type of financial situation that drives someone to feed their children $1 McDonald's hamburgers and have them eat 2 (usually free) meals a day at school. I reject outright the argument that we have to feed school children what amounts to nutritional napalm because otherwise taxes will rise. I reject anyone who suggests that you can get anything healthy, EVER, out of a vending machine. And actually, Jamie Oliver is doing EXACTLY what she suggests - empowering people to make healthy choices and teaching them to cook real food for their families. Her post really represents the type of can-do attitude that gets stuff done - oh, its too complicated, taxes will rise, we're policing food, let's ignore the problem. How can this be your your solution? How is your thought process not....before I reject this outright, is there a way to do this within budget and so called nutritional standards so that our kids are healthier and they know a tomato when they see it?

Sorry...I told you I was enraged.

Here are some
CDC facts to chomp on, via Jamie Oliver.
  • 68% of American adults are overweight
  • One in three people are obese.
  • Second only to smoking, something almost equal to leprosy these days, obesity is America's leading source of premature death.
  • Obesity related issues account for nearly 10% of US health care spending - what about those tax dollars now?
  • Nearly one in three American children are obese - about 23 million kids.
  • Today's generation of children are predicted to be the first who will die at a younger age than their parents due to obesity related health problems. Doesn't this scare anyone else? Especially when it is preventable? Even if its not your kid?
  • 31 million kids eat school lunch - more than 60% of those meals are provided at no cost to kids and their families.
  • The Federal government reimburses schools $0.25 per lunch and $2.68 for meals that are provided for free. About $1 of that is spent on the actual food.
  • The School Nutrition Association estimates it costs more like $3 to produce lunch but schools have to find the extra money, and often it comes from the sale of nutritionally poor foods sold through vending machines and snack lines.
  • The federal school meals budget is $11.9 billion a year. By comparison, health care spending on obesity is already $147 billion.
I don't know why Jamie Oliver is doing what he's doing. I don't know if he's doing it the right way or the wrong way (although I tend to think what he's doing is working). I don't have children but you can be assured that if I did they wouldn't be eating school lunch and you can bet your bottom dollar that I know how lucky I am to be able to afford that choice.

I do know that this Brit has raised more awareness about this issue in this country then anyone in recent memory and I do know that there has to be a better solution than french fries as vegetables and pizza for breakfast. I have always been afforded the luxury of 3 healthy, home-cooked meals a day. Breakfast was a sit down affair, my mom MADE us drink our milk (thanks Mama!) and eat our oatmeal. Even when mom stopped making our lunches in middle school, we had to make our own lunch to take to school and dinner was always delicious, accompanied by a salad and made with lots of love (thanks Papa!). I know a lot kids are not as lucky as we were in this regard but it doesn't mean their parents love them any less or that they don't deserve the exact same thing we had. We can blame parents for being lazy or absent but that doesn't help the kids who are eating this crap everyday. These are little humans and just because their families need some help doesn't mean they don't deserve the same healthy, nutritious meals that I got when I was a kid and I am positive that the country who put a man on the moon can figure out a way to do this according to "nutritional guidelines" and without breaking the bank. I for one am ready to work towards that possibility instead of throwing up roadblocks such as over-regulation and concerns over rising taxes. Saying people should make better food choices is ignoring that fact that many people feel they can't afford or don't know how to make those choices.

If you need any kind of motivation, I encourage you to check out
Food, Inc, airing on PBS TONIGHT at 9pm. This movie will change your attitude towards food and make you think about some pretty important things. And, to bring it back to where it all started, if you feel so inclined, sign Jamie's petition. Petitions don't solve the world's problems, they don't address every detail. But if you agree that we can do better by this country's children, this might be a great place to start.

That is all. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Best Burger Elaine Ever Ate

At least that's what she told me. Maybe she was flattering me, but I tend to think not. I was all alone in the house all day Saturday (cue violin music) and I used my time to make my loved ones a delicious meal - Grass Fed Beef Burgers with Bleu Cheese Sauce and Red Onion Jam. We have three basic components here: burger, bleu cheese sauce and red onion jam. Here's what happened.

I used our CSA ground beef to make these and I don't think I am lying when I say that I really taste a difference. The meat is simply more flavorful and juicier and if these effects are psychological, I don't really care. They tasted awesome. I combined the ground beef with 1/2 a large onion (grated), salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce and a splash of whole milk - if I had cream, I would have used that instead. I formed them into HUGE burgers, at least the size of my head, and made an indentation in the center of each, as though you stuck a ping pong ball half way into the burger. This will keep the burger nice and flat when you cook it and it won't seize up into a ball. We like ours medium rare and these were so think that we actually need to cook them longer than usual to make sure they weren't completely raw.

Bleu Cheese Sauce
This isn't even a recipe: leftover chunk of bleu cheese, a little bit of plain yogurt (maybe a1/4 cup) and juice from half a lemon. Easy and delicious.

Red Onion Jam
You will need:
2 red onions
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine

Slice the onions super thin and sautee in the olive oil, seasoned with s&p. Once they are translucent (about 10 minutes) add the sugar and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Add the vinegar (carefully) and wine and stir to combine. Cook until all the liquid evaporates....about 20-30 minutes. You are left with an extremely flavorful, sweet and tangy marmalade type concoction. I can imagine this is an awesome addition to a grilled cheese on some pumpernickel bread. It was so easy and I think you'll really like it.

I chose not to serve any other garnishes with these, I think lettuce and such would just get in the way of tasting the condiments. The bleu cheese and red onion jam were great compliments to each other and definitely a hit here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am sure you have seen these things before, perhaps in your fruit basket or at the back of your freezer:
Don't pretend you don't recognize it, because I know you do. Elaine and I will throw a banana in the freezer and the first sign of trouble to "save for later" with the idea to "make something with it." We found no fewer than 5 black bananas in the freezer so I finally made something with them: Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies. I merged a couple of recipes together including one from and the one from the back of the chocolate chip package.

Here is what you need:

2 1/2 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup mashed banana (I used 4 bananas)
2 cups chocolate chunks

Here is what you do:
- Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda
- Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy then beat in eggs and vanilla extract.
- Add mashed bananas.
- Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks.
- Drop by spoonfuls (I used a little ice cream scoop) onto greased cookie sheets and bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes.

These are very cake-y and delicious and while I definitely tasted banana, some people said they couldn't tell until I mentioned it. I took 2 dozen to work and they didn't even last until noon.

Some other things I thought to add to these were peanut butter or peanut butter chips and I also thought of adding some oats.

There are 4 more over-ripe bananas in the fruit basket, so I'll get to try something else soon!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Challenge: Clean out the Fridge: Part Cocktail

Perhaps you are in need of a cocktail after a long week (month?) at work and perhaps also you are too lazy to walk TWO BLOCKS to the liquor store, in which case you start getting creative. Hence the following two drinks.

First up:
I'm not sure what to call this. I took all the little bags of frozen fruit (mangos and strawberries) that were in the freezer from who knows when, some orange sherbet from who knows when and some really good rum from our Halloween party and blended it all together. Also added some juice from a forlorn looking lemon. While maybe not the best cocktail ever (Elaine said she would have preferred vodka), it was quite delicious and refreshing.

Next, Brandy Milk Punch.
I've been meaning to write about this one for a while. Elaine and F came back from New Orleans a few years ago with this recipe. Most recipes just call for brandy, milk, powdered sugar and nutmeg but Elaine always puts in creme de cacao too...not sure if the ones they had in N.O. had that but it sure is good so I don't care. And of course, since we are attempting to use up stuff in the fridge, this version isn't really traditional at all. In addition to the brandy, creme de cacao and milk, we also added the last of some vanilla ice cream and the seeds from a vanilla bean and blended it all together. It's like dessert in a glass!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

CSA Chicken #2 - Just A Little Guy, Roasted on Day Old Bread

On our most recent meat CSA pick up, we recieved:

two small packages of ground beef
a package of country style pork ribs
3 little lamb chops
a huge brick of FRESH BACON (psyched out of my mind about this, and taking suggestions for how to use it)
an itty bitty whole chicken

For sunday dinner last week, I roasted that little tiny chicken up for our dinner.

First I got the neck and giblets out of the cavity. Then I made a brine:

1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
a lot of water (about 2 quarts), all mixed together in a big bowl

and lowered the chicken into there. Cook's illustrated wants you to refrigerate it at this point, I never do. Our apartment is cold enough. I left it the brine for about 40 minutes, it should have been an hour, if I'd had time.

I had seen a "good thing" in a Martha Stewart about if you have some day old baguette, to use it, torn up on a baking sheet, instead of a rack, for roasting chicken. I had the hard end of a loaf of sourdough bread I had made (I made my own starter! I'll post about it eventually), and this seemed like such a delicious idea and a great frugal way to use up bread that was getting too hard to chew (which is the state the sourdough was in, truth be told).

I took the chicken out of the brine, dried it off, put the torn up bread (it might have equalled maybe a half a baguette) in Jenean's 9x13 pyrex glass baking dish, put the chicken on it breast side down, painted it all over with melted butter and a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and put it in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, at which time I flipped it over, painted that side with melted butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and added a little water to the bottom of the pan, because the bread was already toasting up beautifully and I was afraid it might burn if it was too dry down there, as the chicken still had about 30 minutes to go. I turned the oven down to 325 for about 20 minutes, and back up to 450 for the last 10 minutes. This was probably not necessary - you should try just leaving it at 400 the whole time.

When the juices from the thigh ran clear it was done. We ate it
with mashed potaters and roasted broccoli and carrots, and the gorgeous crispy pieces of bread, which had soaked up the juices from the chicken and roasted into sort of giant croutons. There was just enough left for Jenean and Axel to both have some for lunch the next day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

CSA Chicken #1 - Moroccan style with Preserved Lemon

We had two huge chicken leg quarters (i.e. the leg and the thigh attached) left from the February CSA (you can see them in the right hand top corner in the picture there in that post) when we got the March CSA, so I decided to get going on them. They were really surprisingly enormous, considering these are free range chickens we get from Stillman's farm. The way the meat CSA works is, once a month you get 10 pounds of various kinds of meat - you don't get to pick, and it's parceled out. Luckily for us, so far, each little parcel seems to be enough meat for the three of us (Jenean, me and Axel F) to have a meal and sometimes lunch the next day, if we're clever about how we prepare it.

This time I definitely wanted to go Moroccan, because our friends Elena and Matthew had given us a gorgeous jar of preserved lemons they had made themselves (amazing, right??).
I looked up a few recipes to get ideas, but then I just sort of did it, rather than following one particular recipe (especially since I was trying to find ways to use up a bunch of random ingredients in the fridge as per our Challenge).

I cut the chicken up and removed the skin, and any big chunks of fat. I threw the chicken pieces in a big bowl, and added:

2 large onions, chopped into large (1 inch) dice
1 shallot, chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1inch piece of ginger, minced
2 cinnamon sticks
6 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp toasted ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander seed
1 tsp cayenne pepper
a couple shakes of ground cinnamon and allspice
a lot of salt and pepper

I tossed that all around, and let it marinate for about an hour.

In my big dutch oven, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. I added the chicken pieces, and cooked them a minute or two on each side (no need to brown them actually) then added in all the onions and spices and everything from the marinade. Then in a stroke of inspiration, I threw in some green olives that had been in the fridge since christmas (really!) and the last third of a jar of sun dried tomato strips (I have no idea how long we've had those - maybe forever). I put the lid on the pot, and put it in a 300 degree oven, for probably 2 hours. I lost track of exactly how long. I was practicing, I was picking Jenean up from work, I don't know.

Anyway - because they were in a low oven, with the lid on the pot the whole time, the chicken and the onions cooked down and released their juices to make their own sauce, and it was lovely. When it came out of the oven and it was time to eat, I added fresh chopped cilantro and two of those gorgeous preserved lemons, chopped up small (I ate some straight - they might be my new favorite snack food). We had it with roasted broccoli and browned butter and almond whole-wheat cous cous (basically follow package directions, but instead of just melting the butter with the water, melt it in the pan with some sliced almonds first, and let them both turn deep golden brown before adding the water; bring it all to a boil, add salt and the cous cous and some golden raisins, if you want, cover and let stand 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, etc).