Tag Archives: pork

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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East Coast Spring: Ramp & Ricotta Tart

 Alistair looked at the tart with a raised eyebrow. That’s not the only thing we’re having for dinner, is it? 

Actually we are also having grilled asparagus — and without missing a beat I passed the platter of charred green spears to him to take to the table. We both sighed deeply, an inner groan, dreading dinner in different ways.

He plunked himself down in his chair and looked intently at his brother. Leo, check out the weird green stuff mom is making us eat for dinner. I rolled my eyes and served them each a slice. The tart cut beautifully, the ramps just tender enough to yield to my knife. It looked gorgeous too, with that messy nonchalance that seems to be the thing in food photography. It also smelled pretty good. The whole house smelled great in fact, probably because of the bacon. And also, probably because of the bacon, both boys tried the tart. Those boys. First the ramp tart was deemed too green, and all of a sudden they’d cleaned their plates and were asking for seconds. This kind of moment is very gratifying for parents.

We got a big bag of ramps from the chef at Martin’s office. (Chefs seem to be de rigueur in larger tech offices – I know this must seem inconceivable to most working people. Don’t worry, it seems that way to me too.) We also got cauliflower rabe, leeks, and rhubarb.

Ramps are not something you see on the West coast very often although I’ve heard they’re trying to cultivate them here in Washington. They’re a kind of wild leek. They grow in the forest on the east coast like crazy at this time of year. Locals actually give them away because they’re so abundant; elsewhere they show up in posh restaurants up and down the coast. On the east coast these are a locavore, foraged delicacy; until recently in Washington, they were an exotic import. I was pretty excited to try to make them into something. It took me two days to think of exactly what I wanted to do…

I have to say, in a mere two days, those ramps kind of took over. I had read, and failed to heed, the warning that ramps need to be carefully wrapped in the refrigerator because of their aggressively leek-y smell. It’s more than that. There is an underlying funkiness that is hard to describe, intriguing but not entirely pleasant. I carried on with the tart anyway, dying to know what all the fuss was about.

The tart was actually kind of wonderful. Was it because of the ramps though?! Certainly they added a sort of earthy exoticism. On the other hand, doesn’t anything taste good with ricotta, shallots and nutmeg? Ramps are very lovely to look at and it is fun to try new and unfamiliar foods. Do I think you should make this tart if you can’t get your hands on any ramps? Absolutely. Use scallions (making very sure that they’re spanking fresh ones)  if you can’t get ramps. You’ll still have an unusually pretty tart, reeking of spring (and bacon!)

Ramp Tart

  • 1 3/4 cups ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 5 slices of good bacon
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves, rinsed
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 15 ramps
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 partially-baked tart crust – Use this tart pastry recipe replacing half the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Allow the pastry to rest for an hour in the refrigerator before rolling it out and baking. See below for instructions.
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. In a large non-stick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until somewhat but not totally crisp. Set aside on paper towels. Pour out all but 1 tbsp of the drippings.
  3. In the leftover bacon fat, sauté the sliced shallot until softened. Place in the bowl of the food processor.
  4. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add the wet spinach leaves. Set over medium heat until wilted. Add to the bowl of the food processor.
  5. Put the ramps in the skillet with a little water – maybe a 1/3 cup. Cook the ramps until they are a bit wilted. Drain and set aside.
  6. Add the ricotta, egg and a grating of nutmeg, a pinch of salt and several grindings of pepper to the food processor. Whirl until completely mixed and smooth.
  7. Cut or tear the bacon into bite sized pieces.
  8. Fill the the tart shell with the ricotta mixture. Scatter the bacon over top and arrange the ramps over the bacon.
  9. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden at the edges.

Baking the Tart Pastry

I was kind of nervous about the pastry in the loose bottomed tart pan. Lining a regular pie plate is pretty easy but the ridged edge of the tart pan seems like it would be more difficult. I was wrong. See below. If I can do it, anyone can.

Using a rolling pin, lift the circle of dough over the tart pan

Gently press the dough up against the edges of the tart pan

Push the rolling pin over the edges of the pan to remove the excess crust neatly

With a sharp fork, poke holes all over the crust

Line the crust with parchment and fill with dried beans. Bake at 400 for 9 minutes until the pastry no longer looks raw. Then remove the beans and return to the oven for 3 more minutes.

I was going to write about the Delicious Detox too, but it can wait until tomorrow. There was a very Delicious Setback on Day 1…

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Rarified poached egg on toast

If you were walking down Federal Avenue last Friday, and you happened to look up through the windows of my dining room, you would have seen a solitary woman at the table, eating lunch a tad more ceremoniously than one might usually when eating alone at home. That was me. It was a cold bright sunny day and I was taking this lunch seriously, some might say with intent, on a proper plate with a linen napkin. (Often my lunch is peanut butter and bitter marmalade on whole wheat toast, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter.) Mary Alice, who is beyond generous, brought over half a dozen, warm, very fresh eggs from Gumbo and Kebab, her chickens. Finally, I could recreate the poached eggs on toast with roast asparagus, satiny folds of prosciutto, and truffle butter I had last spring at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, on another sunny, much warmer, day in California.

In preparation for the eggs, I spent just a few minutes adding truffle oil and sea salt to softened french butter. Mashing it in, then tasting. Too much oil? Too much salt? When is it delicious enough? Oh, the sacrifices I make! Spending the morning making and tasting truffle butter indeed! If you remember lunch from the Girl and the Fig, you probably remember the truffle butter. You only need a tablespoon. It is easy to make and the oil is pretty easy to come by. Roast asparagus takes one minute of prep, four minutes in the oven. No problem there. The bread and even sometimes Prosciutto di Parma you can buy at the supermarket.

What aren’t so easy to come by, unless you have your own chickens, are fresh eggs. I hate to say it, but to enjoy this lunch, you have to have a very fresh egg. Even though the sandwich (somehow this really doesn’t feel like the right word!) is very simple, it is one of my top ten meals. I feel very lucky. Everyone should have a friend like Mary Alice.

Poached Egg on Toast with Prosciutto, Asparagus and Truffle Butter

  • 1 slice excellent bread with some whole wheat and a little rye if possible, a scant 1/2″ thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 very fresh egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed, woody ends snapped off
  • 1 tbsp french butter, or cultured butter, at room temperature with a few drops of truffle oil and a small pinch of kosher sea salt mashed in, to taste
  • several pinches of kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  a skillet and a little metal pan you can put under the broiler.

Perfect poached eggs

  1. Set the broiler to high. Raise the oven shelf to the top rail.
  2. Heat up the skillet for a few minutes over medium high heat.
  3. Add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When the butter stops foaming, add the bread. Let it sizzle but don’t let it burn. It should be deeply golden and crisp before you flip it over. Toast both sides. Place the toast on a nice plate.
  4. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the toast.
  5. Wipe out the skillet and fill it with water. Heat the water over high heat until it simmers. Add a tsp of salt. When the water is simmering crack the egg into the water. You may need to lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. If you have never poached a very fresh egg before, you’ll be amazed to see how the white holds together in a perfect oval! Now I know why the eggs I typically poach look so sloppy. Cook until the white is firm, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the yolk harden. That’s your sauce.
  6. Just as soon as you crack the egg into the water, toss the asparagus on the metal broiler pan with 1 tbsp of olive and a big pinch of kosher sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the asparagus under the broiler for 2 minutes, then turn them over, they should be crisp and a little brown. Set them back under the broiler for 2 more minutes. When they are browned but before they become floppy and overdone, remove from the oven. Take them off the pan and put them right on top of the prosciutto. You don’t want them to continue to cook on the hot metal pan.
  7. Remove the egg from the boiling water with a slotted spoon if you have one, and carefully lay it on top of the asparagus. Dab the heaping tbsp of truffle butter on the side of the plate.
  8. Sit somewhere quiet and hopefully tidied up, with a large clean linen napkin and a glass of mineral water. Eat your lunch peacefully, without rushing.

After the asparagus and prosciutto and most of the toast and egg were gone, I found myself chasing tiny crisp crumbs around the plate with my knife, carefully scooping them up against the blade and then dipping the tip into the truffle butter. Some of the large grains of sea salt caught in the buttery crumbs adding mineral crunch and tang.  Then of course there were the traces of molten yolk that got scooped up too. I licked the end of knife. That was such an excellent lunch.

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Split Pea Soup

Last week we had an eight year old friend over for dinner.  I had a few misgivings when I offered the invitation because I was committed to making Split Pea Soup and I don’t know too many kids who would want to eat Split Pea Soup. The truth is, this particular kid is averse to some of the most kid-friendly foods like tomato sauce, cheese and pasta so the probability of actually getting him to taste the soup, seemed low. I am not even sure there are too many grown-ups who would be delighted to eat the thick green porridge. I knew even my kids would probably have to be bribed (or as I like to think: incented) with chocolate milkshakes for dessert and another viewing of the Old Spice commercials on Youtube afterwards.  Also, it didn’t help that (as a joke) I described the soup as “green glop with pink chunks in it”. Sorry about that. It did seem funny at the time.  It is a testament to how completely delicious this soup is that every kid ate quite a lot of it, but our eight year old guest devoured it with gusto! If that isn’t enough to convince, I have nothing more to say to you.  As we ate we had some big laughs about the plethora of hair that would grow on his chest because he ate it all – he practically licked the bowl.

I do not come from Split Pea eating people. My mom never made split pea soup. Even my husband, who is from Sweden, where many families have split pea soup and pancakes every Thursday night, even his family never really adopted the tradition. So I am not sure why I decided that the Split Pea Soup from the most current issue of Cooks Illustrated would be just the thing. But it was.

Since I had never made split pea soup before, I looked it up in the Joy of Cooking to see how this version differs from the traditional method. Barring substituting a ham steak and bacon for the ham hock, the methods are strikingly similar. It’s a lot easier to shred a ham steak than deal with the complexities of the hock with its skin, bone and fat. In addition to the traditional croutons (please just make these yourself – or don’t bother) I added crumbled bacon and a swirl of something called balsamic cream that my dad brought me from Germany. Perfect with this soup and I will tell you how to make something similar if you want to try it.

Split Pea Soup is warming, filling, mild and yet somehow very delicious. I can’t pretend that it is pretty.  It is very easy to make. It is perfect for January.

Split Pea Soup

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • sea salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or grated with a microplane
  • 7 cups of water
  • 1 ham steak – about 1 pound, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 slices of thick cut bacon
  • 2 cups split peas
  • 1/2 tsp of dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 carrots cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • Black pepper, crumbled bacon, croutons and balsamic reduction (recipes follow) for garnish
  1. Over medium high heat, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed 6 quart soup pot. Add the onion and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Cook 4 minutes, stirring.
  2. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Add water, ham steak, bacon, split peas, thyme and bay. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until peas are tender – about 45 minutes.
  4. Remove the ham steak and put on a plate. Cover with aluminum foil to keep it from drying out.
  5. Add carrots and celery and cover. Simmer for a further 30 minutes.
  6. While the soup is simmering, shred the ham with two forks, removing and discarding skin. Remove thyme sprigs – if you used them, bay leaves and bacon slices and discard. After 30 mintues, stir the ham into the soup and serve right away. The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If it gets too thick, it can be thinned with a few tablespoons of water.

Croutons

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups 1/2″ bread cubes  - I used a dense baguette with the crusts removed
  • Coarse sea salt
  1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a medium sized heavy bottomed saute pan.
  2. Add the bread cubes.
  3. Stir occasionally for 7 minutes until the bread is golden and crisp
  4. Sprinkle with a couple of pinches of sea salt

Balsamic Reduction

This is so easy that it isn’t really recipe.

  • 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
  1. In a small heavy bottomed sauce pan, reduce the vinegar by half until it is thick and syrupy and coats the back of a spoon.
  2. Cool.

Don’t forget to add freshly ground pepper just before serving!


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Remembering Russian Hill – A very quick pasta for winter

When I first moved to San Francisco I lived in Russian Hill, which in retrospect was like living in a village within the city. Perched high up above North Beach and Van Ness, Russian Hill felt like a remote hill town in Italy. The bustle of San Francisco was all around, but that was at the bottom of the hill. At the top of the hill, embedded in the mass of apartment buildings, elegant townhouses and tiny parks were short strips of restaurants, dry cleaners and little dusty corner stores. Occasionally a tiny dress shop or gallery would appear…and then disappear. I was a regular at a bakery, a little brunch spot, my bus stop and a small, bustling restaurant.

It was at the intersection of Hyde and Union, and there were 3 or 4 little restaurants clustered at the corner. Intimate in size, not places to cross the city for (parking would just about kill you if you were driving ) but warm, welcoming and familiar. The restaurant corner was two blocks from my apartment. My favorite was the Italian one that was not called I Fratelli. I honestly can’t recall the name – I’m drawing a complete blank. This was not a restaurant that anyone (except me!) would ever write about. It was a very good place to meet another friend or two who also lived on Russian Hill. Which is one of the things I liked about it. In fact, one reason I loved that Russian Hill restaurant was because it was small and unpretentious and so completely removed from the chic, bourgeois, dressy Union Street and the funky, too touristy North Beach.

When I walked home in the dark after work (in my memory it is always wintertime – you would never go to this restaurant on a bright sunny day), I anticipated passing that little restaurant. The windows would be steamed up and there always seemed to be a seductive aroma ambling out the doors and down the street, drawing me in. The scent was of browning lamb chops and pepper, of arugula, shaved parmesan and spicy red wine – at least that’s what I always imagined. Even though the food wasn’t fancy, it was very good.  Through the window I could see the patrons, either tête à tête or in happy more boisterous groups. Everyone looked at home and relaxed. It was that kind of restaurant.

It was around that time that my friend Mark gave me River Cafe Cookbook (published in the U.S. as Italian Country). Rustic Italian cooking was a really big deal at the time and it seemed like everyone was talking, thinking, dreaming about it—including me. As I cooked my way through Ribollita, Cannellini Bean Soup, Pappardelle alle Lepre and the Polenta Almond Lemon Cake, I came upon Cloe’s Quick Sausage Sauce. I know, after all those pretty Italian names “Cloe’s Quick Sausage Sauce” sounds pedestrian and un-lovely. It’s not. The creamy fennel scented pork has a little hit of heat from the chilies, summery warmth from the tomatoes, richness from the cream and the complex tang you can only get from a good aged parmesan cheese. I’d had a similar dish at that little Russian Hill trattoria. On a wintery night, you could light the candles, pour a glass of wine and eat this; tête à tête or in a happy boisterous group. It will be wonderful I promise.

Cloe’s Quick Sausage Sauce, River Cafe Cook Book, Italian Country

Serves 6

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion chopped fine
  • 5 Italian sausages, spiced with fennel seed, removed from casings
  • 1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28 ounce can Italian tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan, divided
  • 1 pound pasta – I like cavatappi
  1. Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil in a 10 inch heavy sauté pan. sauté onions over medium high heat until browned.
  2. Add sausages, rosemary, red pepper flakes and the bay leaves. Mash the sausages over high heat until finely crumbled and continue to mash and push around for 20 minutes. They are done when they seem to have started to disintegrate. Don’t be lax here, and just break them up and leave them. Take the time to thoroughly break them up and keep going – it is key to the texture of the finished dish.
  3. While sausages are browning, start a large pot of water for the pasta. Once it is boiling, salt generously
  4. When 20 minutes is up, add the tomatoes to the sauce and return to a simmer. Remove from heat.
  5. When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss into the sauté pan with the sauce and add the cream. Heat until steaming, remove from heat and add half the parmesan.
  6. Serve immediately and pass the remaining parmesan at the table.
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Peas Pasta Ham and Cream

Peas, Pasta, Ham and Cream. Sigh. I have made this so many times I have been dreading to write about it. I have to write about it though, because I can make it with my eyes closed. Also I always have all these ingredients on hand. Even the cream (or rather especially the cream). And my kids, dare I say all kids, like Peas Pasta Ham and Cream.

Once, there was an actual recipe that I followed in Marcella Hazan’s Marcella Cucina. In fact the first time I made this, we made the handmade garganelli (a homemade hand formed macaroni) as she recommended, used gorgeous leftover Christmas ham and ate it the day after Christmas with a really good Pinot.

Times have changed and the method has morphed accordingly. What we have now is a down and dirty last minute preparation that you can get on the table in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. I don’t think my fast version has lost too much credibility. Ok, it doesn’t have the carefully crafted (seemingly!) simple luxury of that post-Christmas meal of 12 years ago, but everybody likes this dish. At least at our house. And my sister’s house. In fact, I believe it was after I showed my sister how to make this that she said “You need to start a blog. I need more recipes like this and so do all my friends.”

Oh – and another thing: in my version you’ll only need one pot. So nice.

Peas Pasta Ham and Cream

This is a great dish to offer the sort of kids who only want to eat pasta with butter – it’s a kind of gateway dish to something more exotic.

It’s a good idea to keep frozen Petit Peas in the freezer at all times.

For an older baby, you can make this with orzo.

Asparagus makes a good variation – use the pencil thin variety and cut them into small pieces – add to the pasta water just as you would add the peas.

  • 3/4 lb pasta – any type will do but I like pipe rigate because the little pipes catch peas like crazy so kids are less likely to leave all the peas on the plate
  • 1 c. frozen petite peas – the regular kind are too mealy
  • 3/4 – 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced ham (I like a Breton style ham. I might avoid a heavily smoked one. If you can get it, prosciutto cotto would be perfect)
  • Reggiano Parmesan (you could also use grana padano but do NOT use anything called cheese that comes out of a green tube –  that would be weird and wrong)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground (I prefer coarsely) black pepper
  1. Start a large saucepan of water, full to almost an inch away from the rim, over hight heat
  2. When the water is boiling add 2 tsp of salt and then the pasta. Stir thoroughly  - this isn’t really quite enough water to ensure that the pasta wont stick to itself. So stir it a couple of times as it cooks. Set the timer for 3 minutes less than it takes to cook the pasta.
  3. If you haven’t already, slice the ham cut into 1/4 inch ribbons and grate 3/4 cup of cheese plus more for serving. (I think the beauty of this dish is that the pasta cooking time is just the right amount of time to do slicing and grating)
  4. When the timer goes off, add the peas and set the timer for 3 minutes.
  5. Drain the peas and pasta in the colander and give them a good shake to get the excess water off.  Return them to the saucepan.
  6. Add the cream and turn up the heat, getting it to simmer and stirring all the time. Stir for 2 minutes or so until the cream coats the pasta and has thickened slightly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and toss in the 3/4 c. grated Parmesan and the ham.
  7. Grind some black pepper and sprinkle some sea salt over the top. Stir and taste, adjusting the seasoning as necessary – you may want more cheese, more pepper, who knows?
  8. Serve with a bowl of grated Parmesan on the side.

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Five Spice Pork with Chinese Egg Noodles

I have a big beef with fake-y Chinese food and weird ingredient substitutions. For instance, I have never had any success with Dan Dan Noodles using peanut butter. It always comes out gloopy. There is this one recipe in Joy that fails miserably. In my copy I have a note next to “Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles” in thick blue indelible ink that states: “DO NOT TRY TO MAKE THIS AGAIN!”. Barefoot Contessa and Cook’s Illustrated recipes aren’t any better. Also, I never feel that spaghetti is an adequate substitute for Chinese egg noodles. I don’t know what it is exactly but Italian noodles just don’t have the same bounce as the Chinese kind.

Still, I am always looking for recipes that will give me that exotic hit, without a trip to Uwajimaya, the fantastic but somewhat out of the way Asian grocery here in Seattle. There’s nothing like inhaling steaming star anise scented broth, savoring the hot caramel notes of sauteed garlic and chillies or the salt and tang of fermented black beans in the middle of a busy week but often there isn’t time to swan around town, scavenging for ingredients. This recipe doesn’t call for anything esoteric. Ok, maybe you can’t easily find those bags of tangled fresh Chinese egg noodles in grocery stores outside of bigger towns and cities – I don’t really know – but all of the other ingredients are common in most big American grocery stores these days.

In this dish there is bacon to mimic the smoky barbecue pork flavor missing from plain old ground pork. Also Worcestershire, which I’ve seen in other American versions of Chinese dishes and I have to say, I find it a little disconcerting. I won’t let it get to me though. Actually, I’m happy that I haven’t tasted the original dish, because if I knew what this was really supposed be like, I might not prepare this pork and noodle dish again (I bet there’s a word for this arcane kind of snobbery). However, this recipe is so easy, fast and kid friendly, with that exotic whiff of China, it would be a shame not to make it from time to time.

Don’t let my photograph, which makes it look like brown glop on spaghetti, put you off. It tastes much better than the photograph would have you think, trust me. It would have been much more handsome served in individual bowls…maybe with thicker noodles.  I’ll just have to play with it.

Five Spice Pork with Chinese Egg Noodles

Serves 6

  • 3/4 cup peanuts
  • 4-5 thick slices of bacon
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic
  • One 3″ piece of ginger
  • 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/4 lbs ground pork
  • 3/4 tsp five-spice powder
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced, white ends separated from green tops
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dark Asian sesame oil
  • 3 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 lbs fresh Chinese egg noodles
  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt.
  2. Into a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, Worcestershire, sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar. Set aside.
  3. As the water is heating, start chopping. If you want this to be really fast, use your food processor.
  4. First roughly chop the nuts; if using the processor, pulse. Set aside.
  5. Then, cut the bacon into 1″ pieces and roughly chop the garlic and ginger. Put the bacon, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
  6. Over medium heat, place a 12″ heavy duty sauté pan add the contents of the food processor. Cook, mashing it apart (a metal potato masher like this one works really well for this), until the bacon renders its fat and browns. This should take 4 minutes.
  7. Add the ground pork, five spice powder and 1/4 tsp salt and raise the heat to medium high. Break up the pork with a wooden spoon (unless of course you have that potato masher – it works particularly well for ground pork) and cook until it loses its pink, raw color – this should take 3 minutes.
  8. At this point the water should be boiling, so add the noodles and cook following the package instructions.
  9. Add the white part of the scallions and the contents of the bowl from step 2 (soy sauce, Worcestershire, sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar.) Stir the contents of the pan and heat thoroughly.
  10. Drain the noodles and toss them into the pork mixture.  Divide between individual bowls and sprinkle with scallion greens and peanuts.


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Toad in the Hole

Another recipe for Lisa:

Toad in the Hole is a terrible name. To the uninitiated it probably sounds disgusting. Toad in the Hole looks strange too. Rows of browned sausages set adrift on a golden sea of Yorkshire Pudding. I made “Toad” for dinner on Friday because it’s fast – and fascinating and appealing to kids – even the picky kind. I love this kind of British comfort food – it can be delicious if you don’t cut corners and buy average sausages. I always go to A & J Meats up on Queen Anne if I’m going to make Toad in the Hole.

Kids find the name intriguing. Like other odd British food names, (Spotted Dick, Bubble and Squeak, Bangers and Mash, Potted Tongue come to mind) the name Toad-in-the-Hole makes for wonderful kid dinner table conversation. Why is it called that? What if it really was toads?! – ew! How does it puff up? I can’t think of any kid who doesn’t groove on all the puffy foods in this category: popovers, Yorkshire Pudding, Dutch Babies. Even though the puffy pancake is mostly unfamiliar territory to Americans I haven’t met even a picky kid who doesn’t want to give Toad-in-the-Hole a try. A big doughy and crispy raft with sausages on top and some lightly steamed green beans. It’s easy and just the thing.

For me, Toad-in-the-Hole would be perfect with a hot cup of tea with milk. Ketchup is ok with this if you must.

Toad-in-the-Hole

English Food, Jane Grigson

Serves 4-6, takes about 50 minutes start to finish

  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 pound excellent quality pork sausages, nothing too exotic in the flavoring department
  • 1 3/4 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of milk
  1. Set the oven to 425 F.
  2. Separate the links of the sausages using kitchen scissors.
  3. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat for a minute or two.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of canola oil to the hot pan; when it shimmers, add the sausages. Spend about 5 minutes getting a good crisp exterior.
  5. Set the sausages aside on a plate.
  6. Put 2 tbsp of the canola oil and any leftover drippings from the sausages in a 9×13 baking dish and put it in the oven. Now proceed quickly with the batter in the next three steps; the oil needs to be hot, not burnt.
  7. Mix the flour and the salt in a medium sized bowl.
  8. Make a well in the middle and break the eggs into it.
  9. Add a little milk and, beginning in the center, stir the ingredients into a batter while gradually pouring in the rest of the milk.  The batter will be creamy and pourable.
  10. Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour about 1/4 of the batter into the pan to make a thin layer that completely covers the bottom. You don’t have to be exact.
  11. Bake for 5 minutes.
  12. Remove from the oven again, and place the sausages on top and pour in the rest of the batter.
  13. Bake a further 30-35 minutes until the batter is all puffy and brown. Now would be a good time to prepare any vegetables.
  14. Call the kids to come and see as you take it out of the oven – the golden finale is dramatic!
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A “perfect” dinner…

There’s this lady food writer who kind of bugs me.  She’s very lovely (a former Wilhelmina model), she writes about healthy food alternatives (admirable), and she tries to keep things simple for busy families (good idea!). So I feel like kind of a worm for not liking her.

Maybe it’s the photos – she always stares calmly, smilingly at the camera, posed artlessly in front of a roaring fire, apple (healthy!) in hand.  She’s coiffed, but not excessively. She is slim but not scary-slim. Her menus are so virtuously planned – whole grains, leafy greens, colorful vegetables and a modicum of healthy fats in the form of olive oil, almonds or walnuts.  Why do I always roll my eyes?! Probably because in my kitchen, there is always an undercurrent of turmoil, I am always at least slightly disheveled and I have such an affinity for butter.

Anyway, given my feelings about this person, I’m not sure how I ended up trying this menu she authored – but I did.  The thing is, it was great. Sigh…Coriander roast pork tenderloin, spicy roast vegetables and brown rice with walnuts and golden raisins. Really easy and really great.  Now I really feel like a worm.  (Will I now actually try the Healthy Blueberry Muffins?! Where will this lead?)

I did make a couple of changes to the recipes though, to streamline them and also to accommodate the ingredients I had in my house. In my version there is no crushing of seeds and no seasoning of oils. It doesn’t add enough in terms of flavor and all that crushing and infusing makes for too much clean-up. I tossed the spices directly into the food. In addition, I will write it all up here in a game plan to accommodate your busy household.

Coriander Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Roast Vegetables and Brown Rice Pilaf

Game Plan:

15 minutes prep, 35 minutes cooking time

  1. Set the oven to 450 F and place a large rimmed sheet pan in the upper middle rung of the oven.  Set the other rack to the lower middle rung of the oven.
  2. Chop all the vegetables including  the onion and parsley for the pilaf.  This should take about 10 minutes.
  3. Start the rice, cooking the onion, adding rice and water and setting the heat to low.
  4. Mix up all the spices for the vegetables in a small bowl.
  5. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and the spices and put on the sheet pan in the oven.
  6. Rub the pork with the mustard and spices ; brown in saute pan and put in the oven.  This should take 10 minutes.
  7. Toast the walnuts.

Spicy Roasted Vegetables

  • 3-4 large carrots, quartered and cut into 1″ pieces, on diagonal
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 8 or more wedges, leaving root end intact to hold the layer together
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 large head fennel, but into 8-10 wedges, root end intact to hold layers together
  • 1/2 a small butternut squash, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Place vegetables in large mixing bowl and toss with olive oil.
  2. Mix spices with 1 tsp salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Sprinkle over vegetables.
  3. Place vegetables on hot sheet pan in the oven for 35 minutes.
  4. Toss with more kosher salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Brown Rice with Walnuts and Golden Raisins

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 c. brown basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts – toast in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.  They’ll smell fragrant when they’re done.  Pay close attention while toasting so they don’t burn.
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid over medium high heat.
  2. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the oil.
  4. Add 1 1/4 c water and 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, maintaining a low simmer.  You want to be careful.  The water should simmer; too much and you will have dried-out hard grains of rice, too little and you’ll get a soggy mess.
  5. Cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 35 minutes.
  6. Let sit for 5 minutes off the heat and then remove lid and fluff with a fork.
  7. Stir in walnuts, raisins and parsley.

Coriander-Cumin Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 lb- 1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Spread the mustard over the pork tenderloin.
  2. Mix the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and rub onto the mustard coated pork.
  3. Heat the oil in a 12 inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown the pork, turning it with tongs, until nicely browned – about 3 minutes per side.
  4. Put the sauté pan with the pork in the oven and roast until an instant read thermometer registers 155 F – 18-20 minutes.  Rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

I am happy to say that we all liked this dinner very much – really!  If you have family members who are sensitive to spicy foods you may want to reduce the cayenne – but honestly, it is just pleasantly warm – not searingly hot – my 2 year old loved the roasted fennel particularly.  The edges of the vegetables will be caramelized.  The raisins and walnuts add sweetness and richness to the rice.  This is fine mid-week fare on a not-crazy afternoon.  It’s actually very good – although I hate to admit it.

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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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