Category Archives: Slow

This meal should be made on the weekend

This time it’s more than just the apple pie

What does it take to put on a sit down, linen-napkined, starched-damask-table-clothed, polished silvered, Norman Rockwellian-style, Thanksgiving dinner? The sort of dinner at which there are little acorn shaped chocolate hazelnut truffles at every place, where candles glow in polished silver candelabra, and heavy cream-colored place cards perch over every plate. Imagine cooking a dinner like that for twenty five people. Every year. For ten years. What if you followed that dinner with a similarly scaled Christmas dinner just one month later? Sounds totally crazy, right?

Since we moved to Seattle nine years ago, I have never had to make Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas dinner for that matter, thanks to my aunt, who lives just around the corner. Since I obviously like to cook, perhaps you are wondering why I don’t want to cook Thanksgiving dinner myself? I suppose, if anyone besides my very talented aunt were cooking, maybe I would have broken away from her big dinner and done my own. Sometimes I have thought about trying a sourdough, artichoke and prosciutto stuffing, or making brussels sprouts with chestnuts. But how could I? And miss her incredible menu and all the fun?! No way.

It goes like this:  On Thanksgiving night, as soon as I walk in the door, my uncle hands me a flute of champagne. In the background, one of my brother-in-law’s CDs plays just loudly enough to hear. Some cousins are clustered on low couches around the fire, which is blazing and snapping with big oak logs.  On the coffee table, my dad’s sister has placed the Braunschweiger pate with aspic. Braunschweiger pate with aspic might be considered odd in this day and age and even a little lowbrow, but it is traditional in our family and beloved by those who knew our Great-Aunt Frances, who, years ago, always used to bring it. Weirdly, my kids adore it and I have to stop them devouring all of it so that somebody else can have a little taste. In the kitchen, more cousins play yatzy and cribbage games at the table, keeping my aunt company. She should be very busy with dinner.

But my aunt looks as cool as a cucumber. Her kitchen is orderly and calm. How can this be? It’s as if, at the very last minute, she‘ll have to wave some magic foodie wand, and suddenly everything will appear on the buffet. Gleaming porcelain and glazed carrots. A wide platter of crisp little green beans with shallots or almonds. Deep pink sweet and sour cabbage.  Hillocks of mashed potatoes with several lakes of melted butter glistening in the valleys. Clearly she’s been up to something. You have to actually roast a turkey if you want the house filled with that bronzy, burnished scent. It’s astonishing. How does her kitchen stay so clean? How come everything is done at exactly six thirty? There are mountains of deliciousness to account for! How does she do it?!

I think I’m about to find out.

This year, for the first time in a long time, most of us cousins have dispersed for the holiday. And so, my aunt is taking a break from Thanksgiving. I have decided it’s my turn to host a slightly smaller version of the holiday myself. Besides the five in my immediate family, my neighbors are coming to dinner. So are my aunt and uncle (who usually host), and cousin Steve. Hosting Thanksgiving for my aunt feels a little like hosting the queen of England (or maybe the Queen of Thanksgiving). This will take some planning. A lot of planning probably. I am aiming for a perfect Thanksgiving like my aunt’s, although in miniature, as my dining room seats just ten in a pinch. And why not? There is nothing intrinsically complicated about Thanksgiving dinner. What you need is a good plan of attack.

Here’s mine:

In the week before Thanksgiving week:

  1. Make turkey stock and freeze it.
  2. Iron all the napkins (now is the time to make sure you have enough!) and the best tablecloth.
  3. Figure out the candle situation. Do you have any? Are they the right color? Do you want tapers, tea lights or pillars? All three?
  4. Figure out what wines you will serve. Have both red and white on hand and count on a bottle per person. (although we all hope you have some left over)
  5. Have a non-alcoholic beverage for kids and those who don’t wish to imbibe. We have the obvious sparkling apple juice and bottled water.
  6. Buy the place cards and candy favors if you like that sort of thing. My kids would be crushed if I forgot.
  7. Figure out where you will serve the food – in my aunts house, the kitchen is so huge and she keeps it so tidy, she can serve from the enormous kitchen island. She displays the dessert on the buffet. I think my kitchen will be something of a disaster and I am clearing off the side board this afternoon. The kid art and clutter that typically inhabits that space will take off for the basement temporarily.
  8. Are there enough serving dishes in the house? Take an inventory.  As you plan for all the serving pieces, imagine if they will all fit on the table or if you will need a serving station, either the sideboard in the dining room or a table in the kitchen. Look for:
  • a platter for the turkey – Mine won’t have to be too big as I will be carving in the kitchen and not at the table (I’m not good at carving and I don’t wish to have some sloppy turkey dismemberment in front of my whole family) Slices of turkey don’t take up as much room as the whole bird.
  • A gravy boat, a small ladle and a little plate to catch the drips
  • a bowl or two for cranberry sauce – one for each end of the table (I have a couple of plain white cafe au lait bowls that will suffice) with two little serving spoons
  • a medium bowl for the stuffing
  • a large baking dish that can go from oven to table for the dressing – white stoneware is what I have
  • a large bowl for mashed potatoes
  • a medium bowl for the red cabbage
  • 2 medium sized bowls for the glazed carrots and green beans
  • 5 (at least) serving spoons and one nice fork for the sides and turkey
  • enough plates, silverware, water glasses, wine glasses, dessert plates and coffee cups
  • you may also like cocktail or champagne glasses (I have made cranberry shrub – which I will mix with ginger syrup, gin and a splash of soda – I really hope it will be good!)
On the weekend before Thanksgiving:
  1. Make the cornbread if you are serving cornbread dressing. You can freeze it then pull it out the day before Thanksgiving so it can dry out a little.
  2. Make and refrigerate a pie crust. See here for my favorite method.
  3. If you are farming out any part of your dinner to your guests, make sure they know what to bring now, if they don’t know already. Appetizers and dessert make the most sense as side dishes would get cold if brought from home and you don’t want anyone messing around in the kitchen when you are trying to pull it all together at the last minute (at least that’s what my aunt says!)
  4. Make the cranberry sauce
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, pick up the turkey and make the brine. I bought a brining bag but if you are going to use a huge stock pot, make sure that your fridge is big enough and that you have space. I know some people do this in a cooler with a lot of ice but that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I would probably have to throw the cooler away afterwards.
On Wednesday set the table and do the flowers.
Thanksgiving Day
Make the pie
Make the stuffing
Trim the carrot and green beans
Toast the almonds
Drain (if you brined it) and stuff the turkey
Roast the turkey
Start the red cabbage
When turkey comes out of the oven, make the gravy
Finish the vegetable sides.
Serve and clean up.
Whew.
Now let’s just see if I can stick to the schedule! I’ll keep you posted.
Later today or maybe tomorrow, I will post a recipe for the cranberry shrub – I made some earlier this week and it’s wonderful. You can mix it with soda or ginger-ale for kids  or with champagne or gin for grown-ups – fun!
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Is THIS delicious enough?

I’ve cleaned up my act. Asparagus, arugula, beets, lima beans, salmon, plain yogurt, walnuts, blueberries, raspberries and cantaloupe and a dearth of processed grains have shaped my daily menu. Instead of veering wildly from starving myself to voracious bingeing on pear and custard pastries or salt and pepper potato chips I’ve made sure to consume responsibly in a measured and thoughtful fashion. (Although I have to confess, I was occasionally saved from some very poor choices by a square of dark chocolate.)

Then over the weekend I read this article by Mark Bittman. And I watched his little video and became obsessed. As you know, I am a slave to a rustic soup and this one was full of pork fat, cheese and olive oil. I know it’s not possible to detox on all that animal protein and fat, but is it possible to eat this kind of food in the midst of a detox and still be committed to detoxing?! For me, the metric has to be based on how delicious and flavorful the food is – which is a very personal way to measure! It seemed crazy to even try this soup, but…I just had to! Even the most thoughtfully prepared detox food can quickly become very boring!

In Mr. de Carlo’s “Bone Soup” there is a side of baby back pork ribs (it could have been any piece of meat with a large bone but the pork neck the butcher had was frozen in a solid lump and I wasn’t willing to wait for it to thaw). There is a lot of olive oil, not only in the soup, but on the soup and also gilding the deftly salted croutons which garnish the soup with bright raggedly torn leaves of basil. And how about the two big handfuls of parmesan cheese, in the soup – adding body and complex, savory, tang – and then even more thrown over the soup for good measure? This is what Mr. Bittman has to say about it:

But it’s worth pointing out, I think, that the soup is neither a fat-bomb (I wouldn’t be surprised if it has fewer calories than Olga’s) nor one that lacks complexity.

I am still trying to figure out how this soup is not a “fat-bomb”…

Olga’s method, as described by Mr. Bittman, is strikingly similar to this recipe I love from Alice Waters, which if you can refrain from adding cheese, is actually vegan. It’s very very healthy. And Mark Bittman says that this might have fewer calories than a vegetable soup made with water and olive oil…Hmmm.

I can’t wrap my head around it. Oh well. I will just trust Mark Bittman!

I felt compelled to make this soup as soon as I read the recipe and I would hate not to try something so clearly marvelous because of some silly detox “rules”. This is how to think about it: Bone Soup is a little vacation from the Detox. And like a really good vacation it will be revivifying, meditative, transporting and totally necessary. It is an entirely different sort of health transgression from pastry and potato chips.  The thing is, you can eat pretty much whatever you want on a diet if you set seriously high standards – this means only eat food that is truly delicious. Since Bone Soup takes five hours from start to finish there is no danger of eating that way everyday. I wouldn’t want to. Who would?! It’s too rich. It’s a maybe once a week vacation from the berries, melons, lettuces, yogurt and fish that I usually eat.

Save this complex and warming soup for a cold day. Like yesterday.

Bone and Black Chickpea Soup

slightly adapted from Frank de Carlo’s Black Chickpea Soup

  • 1 cup black dried chickpeas, soaked over night and then drained (next time I’m going with the yellow chickpeas, black chickpeas are good but much more firm than the yellow)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil + more for the croutons
  • 1 pound baby back pork ribs
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 14 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, drained if very liquid and chopped
  • a bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound rustic bread cut or torn in 1 1/2″ chunks
  • 1 cup chard leaves, washed and roughly shredded
  • 2 eggs
  • coarsely grated parmesan – about 3 cups
  • fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and torn into large pieces
  1. Over a medium flame, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a 7 quart heavy stock pot or Dutch oven.  While the oil is heating, lightly season the meat with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the oil is shimmering, start browning the meat. There should be a distinct sizzle but no smoke. If you happen to burn the fond (the delicious brown crispy stuff on the bottom of the pot, be sure to wipe it off before you continue to the next step or your soup will taste acrid.) The meat should be deeply browned on both sides but not burnt.
  2. After the meat is brown, add the tomatoes, bay, thyme sprigs, drained chickpeas, wine and enough water to cover everything by an inch. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a simmer over medium high heat. Then turn the heat to low, with the lid half way off. You can simmer for 3 – 5 hours.
  3. While the soup is simmering, take a moment to make the croutons. Heat the oven to 325. Toss the bread cubes in a bowl with some olive oil, 3 or 4 tablespoons and a pinch of sea salt. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes or until they are golden and crisp. Remove and set aside until ready to serve.
  4. When both the meat and the beans are fully cooked and tender, remove the meat to a cutting board and when it has cooled slightly, shred the meat and discard the bones, fat and gristle. Add the shredded meat back to the pot.
  5. Beat the two eggs together in a small bowl and then whisk into the soup. Whisk in 2 cups of the parmesan, and swirl in a little more olive oil
  6. To serve, ladle the soup into a wide soup plate or bowl. Garnish each with a few large croutons, another drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and several torn basil leaves.
Mr. de Carlo describes this soup as Umbrian. I don’t understand how this works exactly, but when I eat something like this, so complex and so distinctly of a certain place, it’s like being right there in Umbria just for those few moments you are eating. And for me that is reason enough to make this soup.

 

 

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After Christmas dinner comes plum pudding

As you might have guessed I’ve given Christmas Dinner a lot of thought. There have been culinary highs and lows. I’ve made far too much, too rich food. I’ve lost a lot of sleep. I’ve allowed my kids too much Christmas chocolate and suffered some mind-bogglingly bad behavior. Two years ago I had to spend the afternoon on Christmas day in bed, trying to catch-up on rest I was too wired to get the night before. A lost cause. I’d drunk too much coffee!

Figuring out how to have a nice day, a nice dinner and nicely behaved kids forces me to be reductive. I don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen. I want to play a board game, do a puzzle, get out of the house for some fresh air with the family and the dog. I want to make food that my kids will look forward to, that will thrill the grown-ups. If we want to be sure to have happy kids, this would not be the time for experimentation, even though my natural inclination is to try something new. Experimentation feels festive to me and I have to shelve that impulse. I have tried to create a tradition that isn’t bogged down by either trendy recipes that will quickly seem passé or uninspired renditions of the menus we had as kids.

After much trial and error I’ve finally arrived at what feels like the perfect Christmas meal. It has been a long haul. One year I prepared a slavishly Swedish smörgåsbord with smoked fish, ham, meatballs, lingonberries and all the trimmings. The next year I made a totally traditional British meal with a haunch of roast beef, billowing Yorkshire pudding, crisply roast potatoes and gravy—followed by plum pudding. Cooking such complicated heavy meals takes weeks of prep and planning and it gets boring. This led to exhaustion (me), bad behavior (my kids) and frustration (Martin). Then I had an illuminating conversation with my aunt.

The answer to my dinner conundrum turned out to be French dip sandwiches. Seriously. And no, they aren’t too pedestrian for the main event on Christmas Day. My aunt takes the French dip sandwich to a whole new level and yet she manages to keep the process easy so that her Christmas day is a relaxing one where she can enjoy her family and still have a meal that everyone looks forward to. She makes a standing rib roast for all of us on Christmas Eve and then, with leftovers, builds the most luxurious French dips the next day.

I can do this! I thought. So now I roast a beef tenderloin, which is a very easy thing to do on Christmas Eve, and slice it up the next day. I stir a little horseradish into some creme fraîche so it’s got a searing edge to it. I open a jar of cherry chutney that I buy at the store—that’s easy. I put par baked little French breads from La Brea into the oven; they are perfect with a crispy crust and an interior with just enough oomph that it doesn’t melt into the brothy dip. (Once I tried brioche rolls – a disaster! They disintegrated.) I butter the bread and layer it with piles of thinly sliced rosy beef. Wrapping the sandwiches in foil, I put them in the oven to make sure they get good and hot and move on to the salad. The beef broth for dipping is made the weekend before, and heated up just before serving.

With the sandwiches there will be a salad, a variation on the one that I made a few weeks ago, the failed salad. I’ve tweaked the recipe and now it works. The watercress gets a much milder blue cheese, blood oranges and candied walnuts. I kept the pickled currants and shallots and added juice from the blood orange to the vinaigrette. Now the salad is perfectly balanced. The colors are vibrant and very Christmas-y.

For starters we have smoked salmon on homemade Swedish rye bread with all the trimmings: minced red onion or chives, lemon, unsalted cultured butter, sea salt. With this you must serve champagne.

The one thing I couldn’t ditch was the plum pudding. And I’m going to tell you how to make it, even though I would put money on the fact that nobody who reads this will actually try making one. My grandfather faxed the recipe to me from England, transcribed from my grandmother’s “norse mutterings”, back in 1991. It really wouldn’t be Christmas dinner if I didn’t serve Granny’s Plum Pudding afterwards.

Christmas Menu

Smoked salmon, creme fraiche, minced red onion and lemon on Swedish rye bread with fennel seed and orange rind

French dip sandwiches with horseradish cream, sour cherry chutney and strong beef broth for dipping

Watercress salad with gorgonzola dolce, blood oranges, candied walnuts, quick pickled dried currants and shallots

Granny’s Plum Pudding and Hard Sauce

Plum Pudding  

You can make this weeks in advance of Christmas. It will only improve with age.

  • 3/4 cups softened butter
  • 2 cups soft bread crumbs from white bread
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups dried currants
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup candied citron or orange peel or a mixture of both – chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1 large cooking apple, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • the zest of one orange and one lemon
  • 3/4 cup sherry—or “any booze you have”; some people like Guinness for this. Others, ginger beer.

Stir all the ingredients together until well combined. Pack into a buttered pudding basin and steam in a soup pot for 6 hours. You do this by sealing the pudding basin and placing on a stainless steel vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water so that it comes a quarter way up the sides of the pudding basin. After six hours let it rest uncovered on the counter until it is cool. Store in the refrigerator for weeks if necessary and reheat in a steamer on the stove. This seems to take about 2 hours. All this cooking will not hurt the pudding in any way.

Martin says that Plum Pudding is really just a vehicle for the following hard sauce and I understand what he is saying up to a point. In my opinion, you do need to serve Plum Pudding with some sort of sauce. We like Hard Sauce. Some people serve it with a sickly rum creme anglaise kind of thing but I don’t approve of that.

Hard Sauce

  • 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups soft brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp brandy

Cream the butter and then add the sugar. A hand mixer or food processor will make this very quick. Then add the brandy and process until smooth. Taste it; you may want more brandy. Put the hard sauce in the refrigerator to chill. I like this lethally strong as the contrast of the boozy sauce melting over the the mindbendingly rich and steamy pudding is so completely diverting.

It would be very much in the spirit of the Christmas season to have a not-too-small piece heated up in the microwave the morning after with a spoonful of Hard Sauce. Eat it in bed before the kids have woken up with a cup of strong Indian tea with milk on the bedside table, while reading one of the books you unwrapped the day before.

That’s what I would do.

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Ribollita

More cannellini beans. More soup with bread stirred into it. What can I say? I imagine it will be difficult to convince anyone that they ought to run out and try this soup. I was dubious too, the first time I tried it.

I don’t think it’s just the memory of the candlelit barrel vaulted brick ceiling in the restaurant or of being an architecture student in Florence or of walking out in the chilly darkened narrow streets of late fall behind the basilica of Santo Spirito. That memory is sketchy and faded and would be unlikely to have any bearing on how I remember this soup. It was over 20 years ago after all. I do remember the cistern quality of the room, the dim light, the heavy dark wooden furniture. Also that it was kind of thrilling to enter a space that was so deep underground. A dozen of us crowded around a long corner table. We’d been strongly encouraged to try the ribollita. Yes, skip tagliatelle al cinghiale e porcini. Skip bistecca alla fiorentina. (It’s way out of your meager student budget anyway.) Don’t just order a salad or pasta. So I, like everyone else at the table except for one extremely picky person, shrugged and ordered ribollita. I am still so happy I did.

Ribollita is not a brothy soup. It looks like wet stuffing. (I shouldn’t have written that. Now you’ll never try it.) There are ragged shreds of cavolo nero run all through it – it wouldn’t be ribollita without the cavolo nero. Don’t think you can just substitute plain old kale or cabbage and still call it ribollita. Bread is essential. I have come across recipes that layer the bread in the soup like some kind of bread lasagna. This seems wrong to me. It needs tearing up and stirring in; transforming plain old minestrone into a deliciously rich velvet mess. A drip or two of green olive oil over the top, just before serving – that’s also important.

Ribollita is the easiest thing in the world to make and at the same time, time consuming. To extract rich flavor from such simple ingredients, you have to let it cook for awhile but the hands on part is minimal. You will be richly rewarded for a little planning and labor! I think I might be begging you to try this…No, I am begging you to try this. You won’t regret it. Ribollita is just the thing for December. Utterly warming and deeply satisfying on an almost spiritual level for adults. And yet my four year old plowed through a large bowl. Even after burning his tongue, he kept on eating. Then he asked for seconds.

Ribollita - serves 6

  • 1 cup of cannellini beans, soaked over night and simmered for about 45 minutes until tender. Save the cooking liquid. (Simmer with a bay leaf and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Add a tablespoon of salt towards the end.)
  • A small bunch of chopped parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 large stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (14 1/2 ) ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero, stalks removed and sliced into coarse shreds
  • 1 loaf of stale pugliese or other Italian style bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-2″ pieces
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil and parmesan
  1. Over medium heat, in a large heavy soup pot, place the parsley, garlic, celery, carrot, onion and olive oil and stir. When the vegetables are hot and gently sizzling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Leave for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let it stick or brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes, and cook for another 30 minutes in the same way.
  3. Add the cavolo nero and half the cannellini beans with enough of their cooking liquid to cover everything and make the soup liquid. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender if you have one or a food processor if you don’t, puree the remaining cannellini beans. Add them to the soup. If the soup looks dry, add a little boiling water until it is just liquid.
  5. Add the bread, several glugs of extra virgin olive oil, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  6. The soup should be extremely thick.
  7. Garnish each serving with more olive oil at the table and parmesan if desired.
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Slow Roasted Tomatoes

I first had these slow roasted tomatoes at Vios, the Greek restaurant around the corner from my house. It’s just the right kind of neighborhood restaurant – with couples, old people, teenagers and families all mixed up. The owner is Greek, his eyes twinkle when he talks and he often sits down to chat at your table. He makes this chicken souvlaki plate that I just love so I had to try to make all the parts at home. Nestled on a small oval plate are little skewers of chicken flecked with thyme, the creamiest tzatziki shot with green olive oil, warm triangles of pita (crisp on the outside, moist on the inside!), a tangle of flat-leaf parsley leaves and thin ribbons of red onion dressed in olive oil. You take all the parts and combine them as you wish – my favorite kind of eating.

The best part though, and the part I had the most difficult time figuring out, are the slow roasted tomatoes. The tomatoes are key. I had this idea of eating under the grape vine trellis in my back yard surrounded by big platters of grilled chicken, salads, hummus and tzatziki, in the heat of a warm summer night: my very own home a Greek taverna! Most of the pieces of the menu are so easy but those darn tomatoes had me stumped. I couldn’t figure out how to match their melting caramelized savory-sweetness.

I actually called the restaurant to see if they would give me the recipe. The person I spoke to was polite and friendly but rather vague, some might say cagey. She said, “Well, you just cut the tomatoes up, put a tiny bit of sugar on them, a pinch of salt and cook them for a really long time in a low oven.”  Hmmm. “How low?!” I asked. “Uhhh, well, I really couldn’t say. A low oven. For a long time.” She laughed. “How much sugar?!” I whined. She laughed again but wouldn’t tell me anything else. I was on my own.

After several tries I am happy to say I think I’ve nailed it. I made them last week with the last tomatoes from the garden. We had these dense paste tomatoes hanging from the vines and they were just right for the job. Big heirloom tomatoes are too juicy for this recipe. The cool thing is that even those dreadful wintertime Roma tomatoes actually work pretty well slow roasted. So even if summer is long gone and there is no chance at all of recreating your very own Greek taverna in the backyard, you can still pretend in your dining room. That’s what I do.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

and I mean slow – 2-3 hours

  • a dozen Roma tomatoes or similarly meaty tomato
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2-3 3″ sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat the oven to 250.

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon or your smallest finger, push the seeds out and discard them. In a large bowl toss the tomatoes with the salt, sugar and thyme.

On a large rimmed sheet pan arrange the tomatoes cut side up.

Bake until they are somewhat shriveled and browned at the edges – this could take 2-3 hours. Be sure to save all the juices from the pan to drip over the tomatoes and keep them moist.

There are many ways to serve these slow roasted tomatoes if you aren’t up for a massive Greek feast. Try them tossed with hot pasta and goat cheese and some torn basil leaves. Slip them into a sandwich like this one. Or if you’re flagging in the late afternoon, pull a few out of the refrigerator and eat them with more goat cheese on rye crisp crackers. You’ll be happy you did.

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Just in time for August: Peach Custard Tart

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that making this tart is a snap or anything. It’s not. Pate Sucrée is a pain and I’m never sure if I’ve got it right. That being said, even when the pastry comes out funny looking, it never seems to make a difference – the custard holds everything together beautifully. And to miss out on this Peach Tart at the height of the peach season in a state known for their “Holy Sh-t” peaches, well, that would just be wrong. So pull up your socks and get to work. This one is absolutely worth it.

In this tart, the peaches crisp up under a delicate cloak of sugar and underneath are smooth and sweetly-tart. If you make the tart the day you plan to eat it (you must – this is not a dessert to make ahead of time) the custard will be so softly, almost breathtakingly set, and still you’ll be able to make beautiful neat slices. The creamy filling is on the verge of cascading over the crisp crust, just barely holding together, voluptuous and satiny. I scented the custard with St. Germaine, that elderflower liqueur I’m always going on about. The elderflower only enhanced the perfume of the peach, there was no alcoholic tang – nothing aggressive or distracting. This tart shouldn’t have a grown-up edge. The peach is the star here and the ripe fruit flavor sings.

Last summer, I made a version with nectarines which I thought at the time was the pinnacle of all summer stone fruit desserts- I would never have believed there was a better way. And now this. Sigh. The world is a beautiful place. Full of surprises.

Pate Sucrée

Even though the pastry looks pocked and unevenly browned, this has never posed any noticeable problem

I have to credit In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley for this recipe – and SO many others. A truly excellent dessert resource. I never use anything else. Definitely this book is in my top three favorite cookbooks. And that includes all of them. Not just dessert!

Get all the ingredients measured out and in the freezer before you begin. You might even put the tart pan in there too.

  • (1) 11″loose bottom fluted tart pan
  • 1 7/8 c. all purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled for 10 minutes in the freezer
  • 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten, reserving one of the whites (you might need one more yolk but don’t crack it yet)

Dried beans make great pie weights

  1. In the food processor, whirl the flour, salt and confectioners’ sugar for a few seconds with the steel blade.
  2. Toss the cold butter evenly over the top and pulse until the largest pieces of butter are about a 1/4″. Don’t over process.
  3. Add the lightly beaten egg yolks, and pulse 2 or 3 more times. The mixture should look slightly moist and if you squeeze it, it should hold together in a clump. If it seems very dry and isn’t holding together, add one more lightly beaten egg yolk to the dough, pulsing briefly to distribute. (I had to add one last time – don’t let this make you feel like a failure.)
  4. Dump the dough into the tart pan and with lightly floured fingers press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You will have extra dough. The top of the dough ought to line up with the top edge of the pan and it should be no less than 1/4″ thick. The dough will shrink slightly as it bakes.
  5. Wrap the tart pan in plastic wrap and freeze for an hour, or let it rest in the refrigerator for 3-24 hours. Do not skip this crucial step. The dough needs to be chilled and well rested before it goes in the oven.
  6. Set the oven to 375.
  7. Prick the bottom of the tart shell about 20 times with the tines of a fork. I press my fingers against the dough when I pull the fork out or it crumbles.
  8. Line the bottom of the tart pan with parchment. Unintentionally, I bought silicone coated parchment last time, and I am glad. You can use regular old parchment or foil, but there is a danger of it sticking to the pastry when you remove it part way through the baking process. Top the parchment or foil with pie weights if you have them or do what I do: keep a stash of dried beans for the purpose.
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges of the pastry are becoming golden and the pastry bottom is looking cooked and a little dry.
  10. Carefully remove the parchment or foil and weights, and bake for another 10 minutes, until lightly browned all over.
  11. Set the oven to 325.
  12. Cool tart pastry on a rack for 15 minutes.
  13. Brush the tart with the reserved beaten egg white and bake for 3-5 minutes – just until the pastry looks dry.

Peach Custard Tart

  • (1) Pate Sucrée tart crust
  • 3-4 ripe peaches
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 2 tbsp for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour (not a typo – you need very little flour here)
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla + 2 tbsp St. Germaine (or you could just use the seeds from one vanilla bean or barring that, 2 tsp regular old vanilla – this tart will be amazing no matter what)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325
  2. Wash and dry the peaches and peel them with a swivel vegetable peeler – the serrated ones for soft fruits work very very well! Halve the peaches by cutting all the way around, using the little natural seam as your guide. Gently twist the two sides to pull them apart and remove the stone in the center. Cut each half into 8 wedges. Arrange the sliced fruit in concentric circles around the tart crust, starting at the outer edge. Be prudent and don’t over fill. Leave room for the custard!
  3. Set tart pan on a rimmed cookie sheet. This will make it easier to put into the oven without spilling.
  4. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly add the 1/2 cup of sugar, whisking as you go. Sift the flour over the eggs and sugar, and whisk again until very smooth. Add the cream and whisk some more – as you can see, smoothness is the idea here. Stir in the vanilla and St. Germaine or whatever flavoring you have chosen. Pour the custard over the peaches in the tart shell. Sprinkle evenly with the 2 tbsp of sugar.
  5. Bake the tart for 35-45 minutes, or until the custard in the middle is barely set – test by lightly touching the center with your finger. Place the tart pan on a wire rack on the counter until cool – at least 2 1/2 hours.
  6. Don’t count on having any leftovers for breakfast. You’re sure to be disappointed!

This Peach Tart was so delicious, I was sort of devastated when it was gone so quickly. Then I thought about it for a minute. I will just make another next weekend. Life, and peach season, is too short not to.

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Summer with a twist – Rhubarb cocktails and gravad lax

It’s summer (sort of) here in the Pacific Northwest.  I’m going to keep this quick and offer Gravad Lax – home cured salmon – as an option for when you are tired of the grill.

For me this happens maybe once each summer – usually during a heat wave when it’s too hot to stand around flipping burgers in front of a red-hot pile of charcoal. Instead of singeing your eyebrows off in 90 degree heat by the Weber while your guests are sitting over there drinking cold beer, your dinner is already done, so you can be sitting in the sun with a beer too. You see, you salt the fish two days before you eat it, allowing it to cure in the refrigerator. About half an hour before you want to eat, pull the salmon from the cold of the fridge and shave the thinnest translucent slices possible from the fish. The salt will have pulled all the moisture out and the color will be vividly red. The cool salty-silky salmon is a welcome change from peppery charred filets you might expect on a hot June night. Even though it’s not exactly hot here in Seattle.

I like to imagine serving gravad lax in the long bright evenings you get in Stockholm at midsummer, but without the mosquitoes. We didn’t have mosquitoes last week but since this is Seattle in June, we had rain, rain, rain. No sultry summer evening in the garden for us! Still, we had a fantastic time with friends. With the salmon, we served rhubarb cocktails. I’m including both recipes. Happy summer!

The Stockholm - serves 1

  • 1/2 ounce aquavit
  • 1/2 ounce cointreau
  • 1 1/2 ounces rhubarb puree (recipe follows)
  • dash of orange bitters
  • Prosecco to top up
  • a piece of orange peel, cut wide with a sharp vegetable peeler

Rhubarb puree – makes enough for many cocktails

  • 4 stalks rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2″ slices
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar
  • juice of one lime

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a small baking dish (for instance, an 8″x8″ square pan or a gratin). Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake in the oven for about 1/2 an hour until the fruit is completely soft.
  4. Push the rhubarb through a fine mesh sieve with a wooden spoon or, if you are feeling completely lazy, puree in the food processor. (if you opt for the food processor, the puree will be somewhat fibrous)
  5. Refrigerate until cold and proceed.

Assembling the cocktail:

  1. In a tall cold champagne flute stir together the aquavit, cointreau, rhubarb puree and the bitters.
  2. Top up with chilly Prosecco and float a wide piece of orange peel to finish.

This is now my favorite summer cocktail. That St. Germaine that I sometimes rave about would potentially be an excellent substitute for the Cointreau if you happen to have any lying around.

Gravad Lax - serves 6-8 as a generous appetizer

Allow 4 days to complete the recipe. Note that there is a total of 15 minutes  easy work though.

  • 2 pounds salmon (I used Copper River sockeye)
  • 2 teaspoons peppercorns (I used mixed), lightly crushed
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt (not fancy kosher sea salt & not sea salt, just regular old kosher)
  • 2-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3)
  • About a cup of rinsed, coarsely chopped dill
  • lemon wedges, finely minced onion, chopped chives, crème fraiche, cucumber slices, coarse sea salt, thinly sliced dark rye bread to serve

  1. Day 1-2: Freeze the salmon for 48 hours to kill any parasites.
  2. Day 3: First, cut the salmon fillet in half across the short dimension. If you pull any pin bones with needle nosed pliers, you will make slicing and serving a lot easier.
  3. Stir the peppercorns, salt and sugar together in a small bowl.
  4. In a rimmed baking dish (to catch any salt that doesn’t adhere) rub about a third of the salt mixture on the flesh side of each piece of salmon.
  5. Sandwich the salted fish, flesh sides together, with the rest of the salt mixture and the dill in the middle. The thick part of one piece should top the thin part of the other. Place in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, carefully sealed, in the bottom of the refrigerator for 2 days. I would put the bag in a baking dish. Turn the bag a couple of times a day.
  6. Day 5: After 2 days, drain any liquid and scrape off the salt mixture and dill and place in the freezer for half an hour (you don’t HAVE to put it in the freezer but it sure makes slicing it very thin a lot easier)
  7. Gravad lax keeps for at least a week, drained of all the accumulated liquid, in the refrigerator. Well wrapped, it keeps for 3 months in the freezer.
  8. Serve with crème fraiche, chopped chives or minced red onion, lemon wedges, maybe a few cucumber slices and if you are feeling ambitious (I recommend this) some excellent homemade rye bread with fennel seeds. (If you haven’t tried rye without caraway seeds, you haven’t lived. You won’t be disappointed I promise – send me a comment if you want the recipe!) Otherwise some of those rye cocktail squares or German style pumpernickel would be fine.

I like to make a big platter with everything, piling up the gravad lax and all the condiments in heaps. Little teaspoons can scoop up the crème fraiche and onions. Everyone can build little sandwiches according to their own taste. A little bite of sandwich, a taste of the cocktail, and around it goes. What a nice party! A more organized person than I am would at least provide cocktail napkins. Oh well.

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White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 2

 

I don’t think my dad can stand it anymore. I think he might stop coming for dinner. My kids are complaining.  I just need one last brothy fennel scented bowl and I might be able to stop for awhile…

I hope you’re feeling smug. You have stock in the fridge and the freezer now.   Now the soup will be a snap. One thing about making stock is that it slips so easily into the rest of the day – especially if you’re fearless about leaving the barely bubbling pot on low heat and getting on with other things. Although I like all the small building blocks – slicing an onion is an exercise in thoughtful efficiency, smashing every clove in a head of garlic can be cathartic. The scent of fennel seeds crushed under a pestle – and I’m in Italy. There is nothing monumental about any of these tasks but the result is there simmering on the stove. If all you ever do is open a box of stock, all you get is that funky boxy chicken smell.

The work on Day Two is minor. You set the beans to soak  late in the day after the dishes are done, your kids are asleep and you are about to open a good book. At least that is what happens to me every single time. I get into bed at about 11:30 PM with my book, something I’ve been dying to read all day, and then suddenly I remember, I have to soak the beans! So I haul myself out of a warm bed, through the cold house, and downstairs to dump 1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans in the biggest Pyrex bowl and cover them generously with water. Then I go back to my book. That’s the end of Day Two. See what I mean? A four year old could do it – if he could stay up that late.

In the morning, it’s good to start before anyone else is awake. Outside is still darkly grey, but I flick on the light and the kitchen glows like a lantern. Drain the beans and put them in a large pot. Then cover them with 2 inches of water. Add a few smashed cloves of garlic. 24 peppercorns (don’t ask me why 24 – I read it in some recipe somewhere a long time ago and it just stuck) and bay in a large mesh ball. Start the pot to boil. When it does, lower the heat and leave to slowly simmer. I make a cup of coffee and go with my mug back to bed. I can laze around with my book for around 45 minutes then it’s probably time to turn off the stove. Taste a bean and see if it is soft – not mushy though – and nearly ready to eat. Now it is time to salt – if you salt at the beginning, the skins will be tough. Add salt to the water until it is quite salty – at least 2 tbsp. Turn off the heat. Let the beans sit there in the cooking liquid until you’re ready for them.  For me this could take at least until lunchtime.

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup with Fennel, (Finally!)

  • 8 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 generous pinch of red chili flakes
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1  bunch of kale
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 canned plum tomatoes
  • the cooked cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tsp fennel, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder
  • the juice from one lemon
  • sea salt and pepper

Optional condiments

  • grated parmesan
  • green spicy olive oil
  • homemade croutons or toast with olive oil and garlic

Ok – the rest is quick.  Check it out: Chop the onion.

See how I sliced the onion in half from top to bottom, then made long parallel cuts toward the root.  After that it is very simple to slice thin perpendicular cuts to get perfect small dice. Cutting an onion this way is much faster than randomly chopping into tiny pieces.

Peel, then chop the carrots:

Trim then slice the celery:

 

Trim and core the fennel, slice into 1/4″ slices – they should look like long quarter moons.

Wash and remove the ribs of the kale. Slice into ribbons.

 

Take a large heavy bottomed soup pot (I use a 7 1/2 qt. enameled cast iron) and heat over medium heat.

Add 1/3 c. olive oil, the chopped onion and 1 tsp. chili flakes. Stir thoroughly and lower heat. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the carrots and celery. Raise the heat to medium-high. Stir and cook with the lid off for 5 minutes.

Add the chopped garlic , ground fennel and sliced fennel. Cook for two minutes.

Add the tomato. Cook for 2 minutes.

Taste for salt and pepper. If you decided not to salt the stock, be sure that the vegetables are salted until they taste deliciously but not too salty.

Add the beans, then stock. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste and taste again for salt and pepper. I like the lemon subtle. The juice from one small lemon should be plenty – this is not lemon soup.

While the soup simmers, bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Add a tbsp of salt and blanch the kale for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

If I were you, here’s what I’d do.  (I am always guilty of overselling – sigh. I do hope you like this!)  If you have one, set a wide soup plate on the counter. Pour a glass of wine and leave it on the table where you plan to eat so that the flavors open up. Toast a piece of rustic bread by brushing it with olive oil and running it under the broiler. Don’t burn it and do toast both sides – it should be golden and crisp on the outside and almost creamy inside. Peel a clove of garlic and cut it in half. Rub the cut half over one side of the toast and put it in the soup plate. A handful of  blanched kale goes on the toast. Ladle soup over toast and kale until the bowl is brimming. Drizzle a tablespoon of pungent green olive oil over the top and grate parmesan cheese lightly over all of it. Take the soup plate and go sit with the glass of wine.  Take a deep breath – the fennel and garlic are the most forward. Then the warm scent of chicken stock. Pale and yielding cannellini beans contrast with deep green chewy kale. Something about the toast pushes me over the edge. Taste it. White Bean and Kale Soup is grown-up and sophisticated yet so mild and comforting it could be child’s food.

There you have it. My most favorite meal. (at the moment)

 

 

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My Desert Island Food: White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 1

Consider that for years I have scrupulously avoided all dark mineraly leafy greens. Chard, spinach, escarole, kale. So bitter and chewy – not what I was after in a vegetable. So no one could be more surprised than I that my current obsession is with lacinato kale. Dinosaur Kale. Black Kale. The blackest, most tooth-y leafy green of them all. I’m still not quite sure how it happened. And of course kale’s healthy. In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s the healthiest thing at the grocery store. It gets a 1,000 point ANDI* score, right up there with mustard, turnip, collard greens and watercress, making it almost 30% more healthy than even spinach! Why the fixation on kale? The strange dark chewiness – intriguing! I have a girlfriend who is so into lacinato kale that she eats it raw. But first she has to massage the kale. She said it was part of being macrobiotic or something. Massage. Kale. Really?! I should be on the receiving end of any massage, not mere kale.

Anyway I don’t eat it raw. No. I like kale blanched then sauteed with little rings of shallots and ribbons of prosciutto. Tossed with sherry vinegar and a knob of butter. Or in white bean soup. And make that cannellini beans not navy beans. For me, white bean and kale soup is the pinnacle of all soups. I have been working on variations of this soup for over a year and I think I am nearly there. White bean and kale soup might be a strange thing to crave on a desert island, I know, but for me this is the best kind of food: flavorful, nourishing, and more-ish. So today, I am going to start a two-part article on my desert island food which, shockingly, turns out to be White Bean and Kale Soup with Fennel. The creamy beans, the blackish intensity of the kale, the delicate, particular perfume of fennel. Not to mention the chicken broth holding the whole thing together.

Store-bought stock will not cut it in this recipe. I don’t want you to try this with Pacific Organic Chicken Broth or anything else from the soup section at your grocery store. The full experience starts with a deeply flavorful but light-handed, deftly salted broth. If you start with stock from a box, I can’t be responsible for your impression of my favorite soup! You will think I’m a nutcase if you start with industrial broth. (You probably think I am a nutcase anyway!) We have to start from the beginning. Chicken bones, water, salt and pepper, carrots, celery, etc. And go from there. This is how I do it. Part One.

Chicken Broth

People like Ina Garten start their stock from whole chickens. In Ms. Garten’s case, from 3 whole chickens. I have tried this with 2 whole chickens (my pot, while huge, is not that huge) and it is very nice, but it costs $28 just to buy the birds. Stock should be about thriftiness, though not mean frugality. The components should be fresh and plentiful, but whole chickens?! Not here. Save them for roasting and do as I do. Fresh backs and necks with maybe a leftover roast leg or thigh for richness.

Don’t freak out about the length of the recipe. This is fifteen minutes of hands on work. Fifteen minutes! You can handle it.

  • 4 pounds of backs and necks
  • if you have them, any frozen roasted chicken bones or leftovers from a roast chicken
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, washed and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 head of garlic cut in half across the equator
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 24 peppercorns
  • parsley, tied up and tied to the pot
  • olive oil, sea salt, ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450.

Toss the raw chicken backs and necks in a wide roasting pan, giving the bones plenty of space with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 heaping tsp of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Roast for 4o minutes, until deeply browned and very fragrant.

Put the bones in the bottom of your soup pot. I used to use an enormous stainless steel pot, but it was so unwieldy and the process became too much of a production. Now, I use an 8 quart Le Creuset stock pot that I think of as medium sized and make enough stock for 2-3 pots of soup. I use 8 cups of stock for the soup and freeze the leftovers.

Once the bones are in the soup pot, the roasting pan will be a sea of chicken fat and olive oil, pour all of it off and dispose of it properly (not down the drain!). Then take about 1/2 cup of water and scrape up all the brown flavorful bits off the bottom. Do this while the pan is still hot! Be thorough – there is a lot of flavor there. Pour all of the browned pieces and now very flavorful water into the stock pot as well.

Add any leftover roasted bones from a roasting chicken now, or any leftover cooked chicken on the bone if you have it.

Place the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay, peppercorns and parsley into the pot. You can tie the parsley to the side, or not. I like to fish the parsley out at the end as it is kind of slimy and soggy – even though I strain the stock anyway.

Add water until it completely covers the chicken and vegetables and is dangerously close to overflowing.

Heat the water over high heat until just about to boil. Then lower the heat and simmer very, very gently (barely bubbling) for 3-4 hours. Skim off any scum that forms on the top.

When the level of the soup has dropped about an inch and your house is redolent with the the warm scent of chicken broth, it is time to taste. Be thoughtful – you haven’t added sea salt yet.  You have to think carefully about what you are tasting. And you have to choose, salt the broth now or salt the soup later?  I usually salt the soup later – at the beginning when I am cooking the onions, carrots and celery. If you can’t wait that long to start to see that it is perfect already, add one teaspoon of sea salt (I love Redmond Salt from Utah), taste and then add very small increments until your stock tastes lightly salted and totally delicious.

Now it is time to strain off all the vegetables and chicken and bones which will be sapped of anything worthwhile and need to be thrown away. Line a colander with 3 layers of paper towels and ladle the broth through them into a large bowl. You will probably need at least two large bowls.

Then, if you are making soup the next day, ladle 8 cups into a storage container that fits into your refrigerator. Ladle the rest into Ziplock bags in either 4 or 8 cup increments and freeze, labelled and with the date.

I do this every 3 weeks and now I have a huge stockpile of…errr, stock!

*Aggregate Nutrient Density Index    http://andiscores.com/

P.S. Ok…after some thought – who am I kidding?! Kale and White Bean Soup may be my desert island food right now – but how long will this obsession really last!?!?! When I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

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Pulled pork sandwiches – yes you can

If there is anything that would stop me from becoming a vegetarian (okay, there are many things) one of them would be the pulled pork sandwich. And carnitas. And those little grilled pork skewers you get with rice noodles and salad at a Vietnamese restaurant. The carnitas and the pork skewers always seem to taste better in the restaurant but I think you can easily approximate barbecued pulled pork at home. A real grill master would certainly beg to differ and it’s true: true barbecue is grilled over hardwood and the smoke imparts flavor. I (lamely, I gather) grill mine on my gas grill.  The great thing about making it yourself though, is how easy it is. Although the actual pulling of the pork initially may seem a little arduous, the work is actually minimal considering that when you are done you will be able to feed 15 people.  It really pays.

Pulled pork sandwiches feel celebratory to me – I think this is because they are so extremely delicious. This year, for Martin’s birthday picnic on the ski slopes, I made pulled pork sandwiches with west North Carolina Barbecue sauce which as the author informs us, is the red, ketchup-y kind as opposed to the vinegary spicy type which is from east North Carolina. I put it all together the day before and we warmed it up on the portable grill of a friend, tailgate style in the parking area.

Yes, yes – a real grill master gets up at 4 am to start the fires and get the pork on but you don’t have to do that. I got the 5 lb Boston butt out of the refrigerator at 12 pm, let it come up to temperature for half an hour on the counter, rubbed it with kosher salt and pepper and put it on the gas grill. Because it’s gas, I never have to worry about tending the fire or running out of fuel. I just let it alone for about 3 hours, and it’s done. Or at least the pork was cooked. The sauce took another 5 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of being left alone on the stove. The time consuming part, should you choose to do so, is hand-pulling the pork. Now, you could just slice it (so lame) and you could just chop it (not for me – it’s just not good enough).  That would indeed be very quick.

When I have to do something time consuming and repetitive (notice I didn’t say laborious) I get into the rhythm of it. Music helps. For instance, I put the Shins mix (or the Talking Heads or something Bollywood or Schubert – whatever) on Pandora and get to work. Anything repetitive in the kitchen and I put on some music and focus. Five pounds of meat takes me about about half an hour of pulling.

What they don’t tell you in the cookbooks, is how to pull pork. They just write: pull the pork into shreds. Which tells you nothing. It is easy to pull a chicken breast and there is nothing to avoid – little gristle, no fat. Pork shoulder is completely different. I kind of wonder if they don’t tell you because they don’t want to put people off. The truth is: Pulling pork is not for the squeamish. You should though – pull pork. If you are too squeamish about things you will miss out on some of the best stuff in life – like these pulled pork sandwiches.

There are motherlodes of pork fat running through the shoulder of a pig (a.k.a. Boston butt) and you have to pull around them.  They are slick and gelatinous. I find that a 6″ chef’s knife can scrape away the worst of it. Your knife and your hands will be slick with grease. Definitely wear an apron. If you slice or chop the meat – these gelatinous and unappetizing pieces end up in your sandwich and you don’t get the textural pleasure that is unique to pulled pork. Although I bet that the real grill master is not as fastidious as I am about getting most of the fat out. Actually, it is very satisfying to pull the pork yourself once you get over the “ick factor”. Just crank up the music and go. If you’re going to eat meat – you’re going to have to get used to fat and tendons and other parts of an animal’s body – that’s all there is to it.

We served the pork on toasted Kaiser rolls and I made black bottom cupcakes. The picky kids got hotdogs. Our friends brought the beer and hot chocolate. We warmed the pork in a cast iron skillet on the grill with a big squeeze bottle of sauce on the side.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with West Carolina Barbecue Sauce – Weber’s Big Book of Grilling 2001

Serves 15

This book was such a surprise to me, recommended by a friend.  Normally I would never try a book by a manufacturer.  I guess I thought it would read like a technician’s manual. Weber’s Big Book of Grilling is a very different thing than the books that come with the KitchenAid mixer or the Cuisinart.  They have nothing to recommend them; they barely scratch the surface of what the machines are capable of, and are never, ever inspiring. This book is different. I bet I have tried and loved more recipes from this book than any other on my shelves.

The Sauce

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c minced yellow onion
  • 2 c ketchup
  • 2/3 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c yellow mustard
  • 1/2 c cider vineger
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco
  • 5 lb boneless pork shoulder, also known as Boston Butt rolled and tied (your butcher can do this, mine was already tied when I bought it)
  • 1-2 tbsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the grill on high heat. Take the pork out of the refrigerator 1/2 an hour before you want to grill. Rub the pork all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Set the grill to indirect medium. On my grill this means you leave the two outer burners on, set to medium and turn off the one in the middle – for indirect heat.  Place the roast fat side up, on the grill. I have a digital thermometer to insert into the meat that beeps when the temperature of the roast gets to 185 F. A five pound roast takes 3 hours more or less. If you have a regular meat thermometer, use that and check every 20 minutes or so after 2 hours.

While the roast is on the grill, make the sauce. In a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring, until translucent. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pork is done, let it stand at room temperature covered in foil for at least 20 minutes. The outside will be burnished red and crisp and incredibly tasty – salty like a potato chip and crunchy and chewy all at once.  You will need a large bowl for the pork, a bowl or plate for the scraps and a cutting board. The hard part – at least the first time – was the distinction between the meat and the fat. It’s not immediately clear.

Since I have never had the pleasure of eating at a true barbecue joint, I have no idea if what I decided to do was authentic. What I do know is that it was completely delicious. You have to use your fingers and know that your hands will become incredibly greasy. I pulled large pieces of meat off the roast.  They were edged with the slick fat that coated my knife and my fingers. That clear fat I pulled off as best I could. Then I took my knife and scraped off any really fatty looking parts clinging to the meat. What I realized after I’d pulled the pork for awhile is that the reddish crisp outer layer of the roast must also be pulled, the fat clinging to the back must be scraped away. If you throw away the crisp part, you get rid of the most wonderful part of this sandwich. It is just the right kind of chewy, with small succulent pieces of pork clinging to the back. Just pull it apart, scrape off the fat and add it to the bowl.

When you have pulled apart the entire roast, toss the meat with a couple of ladles of the warm sauce, just to moisten. Serve the remaining sauce on the side with toasted Kaiser rolls, spread with butter if you like. I like my sandwich pretty saucy and the recipe allows for that.

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