Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chocolate Truffles

At this time of year, I love to make chocolate truffles flavored with my organic Artemesia liqueurs. So delicious, such a nice gift, (so tasty with a sip of my liqueur!) And truth to tell, although they are time-consuming on a large scale, they really are not hard to make at all. Maybe I shouldn't admit that.....

I have been making truffles flavored with Artemesia Buddha's Hand Citron liqueur, Artemesia Orahovica Walnut Liqueur and Artemesia Kumquat Liqueur to delicious effect for several years. This year, I decided to experiment, and tried flavoring them with my Artemesia Oro Blanco Grapefruit and Meyer Lemon with Rosemary Liqueurs. Wow! Although the recipe doesn't incorporate much liqueur, the flavors really shine through the chocolate. I made three whole batches of truffles in the last week, (about 58 truffles per batch) and I'm already down to a very small handful. That's how popular they are!

Truffles are made by making a ganache (chocolate and heavy cream) and flavoring it in a variety of different ways. There are many, many recipes out there, each with slightly varying proportions of chocolate and cream. Some call for butter, too. This recipe really focuses on the chocolate, so choose a good quality, bittersweet one to be your base. Likewise, use a good quality, unsweetened cocoa powder to roll them in. (I use Trader Joe's Organic 73% super dark chocolate for the ganache, and Trader Joe's Organic Cocoa Powder; very good quality at a very good price.)

Chocolate Truffles

Yields about fify 1/2 ounce truffles

20 ounces 73% organic chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups heavy organic cream
9 TB full-flavored Artemesia Liqueur
Unsweetened organic cocoa powder for rolling

Put the chocolate in a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream in a medium-sized, heavy sauce pan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, and continue to boil for about 1 minute; this will prolong the shelf-life by killing any rogue organisms. Keep a close watch on it - don't let it boil up and over! (Did you just accidentally let it boil up and over, because you got distracted for 30 seconds? No worries, you don't have to toss it, but you will have to beat it into the chocolate with more effort, and stir it occasionally as it cools in the fridge to keep it from separating.)

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let it sit for a few minutes. The heat of the cream will melt the chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate/cream mixture until they are well blended and all the chocolate bits are melted and incorporated.

If you wish to make three different flavors, subdivide this into 3 even portions in 3 smaller ceramic or glass bowls or containers, and use 3TB of each of the flavors of liqueur for the smaller batches. Now add the liqueur(s), stirring vigorously with your spoon to incorporate the liqueur. At this point, the base begins cooling and separating, and it looks like it will never come together. Do not panic! Keep stirring, and I promise that the whole thing will become smooth and emulsified again. Cover, label, and repeat with each flavor. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally if necessary to incorporate the butterfat. Refrigerate the base until the whole is solid, at least an hour.

About an hour before you roll the truffles, take all of them out of the refrigerator to warm up a little. If they are completely chilled, it can be a little hard-going when you scoop. The glass or ceramic bowl keeps each batch at the desired temperature until you can get to it.

Sift about a 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder into a pie dish. Using a 1/2 ounce (1.25" wide) cookie dough scoop, melon-baller, or a teaspoon, scoop the ganache into even-size balls. Roll it a little in the palm of your (very clean) hand or with your (equally clean) fingers to round it off, and drop it into the cocoa powder. Roll it to coat well with the cocoa, and then put it on a plate until you are ready to package them up, or put them all in a covered container in the refrigerator for later. Don't forget to label your containers! You may need to roll the truffles in the cocoa again when you package them later, as they tend to "sweat" a little in storage.

The truffles will last for a few weeks at room temperature, and a few months in the refrigerator.

For a larger batch of four flavors, 1 1/2 times as big, use 30 ounces of chocolate, and 2 1/4 cups of heavy cream. Divide the ganache into four even portions, and to each add 3 TB + 1 tsp of liqueur.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oaxacan Black Mole with Turkey

A couple of years ago, as we prepared to spend Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with my family, I received a very sad e-mail from my sister Cynta. She had just gotten back from her first trip to Oaxaca, a beautiful historic city on the Pacific coast of Southern Mexico, known for highly burnished glazed black clay pots, silver jewelry, and mole. Mole is a style of highly developed sauce, which can be red, black, green or yellow, depending on the ingredients, and is typically served stewed with meats. Every different family has their special mole recipe, and she had gone crazy for it while she was there. She bought countless little packages of it from vendors at the markets, preparing to bring them home to warm her through the cold Massachusetts winter. She meant to put them all into her checked luggage, but..... through a cruel twist of fate, she accidentally left them in her carry-on bags, and.... yes, that's right; they were all confiscated. Now she was back home in the bleak midwinter; it was cold, it was dark, and the usual New England food just was not what she was craving. The desperate plea came; would I bring the ingredients to make Oaxacan Black Mole while we were visiting?

Of course, I could not say no. I researched recipes online and printed one out that sounded good. Then, armed with my recipe I went off to the two Mexican markets that are a few blocks from our house; Mi Tierra and Mi Ranchito, and purchased chiles, Mexican chocolate, and various nuts and seeds, all of which I tucked into my luggage.

At my parents' farm I brined two small, local turkeys overnight, and Joel barbecued them on the Weber on Thursday. While it was pretty good - for turkey - (let's be honest; this is not an exciting meat) there was plenty of meat leftover. The day after Thanksgiving, we packed up most of the leftovers and carted them off to Cynta's house. Then she, our cousin Lisa and I got to work making the mole.

Now, Joel and I have made turkey every way you can, and every type of bird. I think we can make a turkey taste about as good as a turkey can taste. However, that turkey with mole was the highest achievement of the species ever. The mole is so complex and delicious, I'm sure even a leftover butterball would taste mighty fine. But when you add smoked turkey, well; let's just say it brings a whole lot to the party. You know how you always have all those leftovers after Thanksgiving, and you are bored to tears with sandwiches, grey soup, casseroles? You know how you wrap it up and put it in the freezer, and then a year later, you guiltily tip it into the trash can or green bin, because freezing only makes it worse? (One year I even saw a cooked turkey in the free box up the street. Ewww.) Not a problem with mole; I had to ration out the leftovers in tiny little containers. I'm not going to kid you; this is a labor-intensive recipe. However, if you have a friend or two to help, it makes a huge difference. When I made it all by myself this week, it took about 4 hours. But my friends, it was WORTH it!

We liked that first mole so much, the next year we cut straight to the mole application for the turkey. On Tuesday I brined the birds, on Wednesday Joel barbecued them while I made the mole, and on Thursday we heated up the mole with the cut-up bits of turkey. Wow. And there we were on Thanksgiving, free to relax and enjoy our guests.

This year, we decided to do it again. I made just a few little changes to the mole this year; I decided it needed a little more heat, so I raised the recipe from one chipotle chile to two. I also used all of the drippings from the cooking pan in place of as much of the final seven cups of broth as possible. Since the drippings are very salty when you've brined a bird, I didn't add any salt to the dish at all. Guess what? This year's mole blew my little mind.


(Serves 8, with about 10 cups of sauce, which will mean leftovers to make enchiladas or more chicken with)

Very slightly adapted from Rick Bayless

* 12 medium (about 6 ounces) dried mulato chiles
* 8 medium (about 2 1/2 ounces) dried pasilla chiles
* 4 medium (about 1 ounces) dried guajillo chiles
* 2 dried chipotle chiles
* 1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces
* 2 1/4-inch-thick slices of white onion
* 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
* About 2 cups rich-tasting lard or vegetable oil (for frying the chiles)
* 1/2 cup sesame seeds, plus a few extra for garnish
* 1/4 cup pecan halves
* 1/4 cup unskinned or Spanish peanuts
* 1/4 cup unskinned almonds
* About 10 cups chicken broth
* 1 pound (2 medium-large or 6 to 8 plum) green tomatoes, roughly chopped
* 4 ounces (2 to 3 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
* 2 slices stale bread, toasted until very dark
* 1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
* 1 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
* A scant teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
* 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
* 1/2 ripe banana
* 1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate
* 2 or 3 avocado leaves (if you have them)
* Salt, about 1 tablespoon depending on the saltiness of the broth
* Sugar, about 1/4 cup (or a little more)
* 2 large (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters OR a large quantity (leftover) turkey


Pull out the stems (and attached seed pods) from the chiles, tear them open and shake or scrape out the seeds, collecting them as you go. Reserve the chilies casing/skin for later.

Now, do something that will seem very odd: scoop the seeds into an ungreased medium-size (8- to 9-inch) skillet along with the torn-up tortilla, set over medium heat, turn on an exhaust fan, open a window and toast your seeds and tortilla, shaking the pan regularly, until thoroughly burned to charcoal black, about 15 minutes. (This is very important to the flavor and color of the mole.) Now, scrape them into a fine-mesh strainer and rinse for 30 seconds or so, then transfer to a blender.

Set an ungreased small iron skillet over medium heat, lay on a piece of aluminum foil, and lay the onion slices and garlic cloves on that. Roast until soft and very dark (about 5 minutes on each side of the onion slices--peel it off the foil to turn it; about 15 minutes for the garlic--turn it frequently as it roasts). Cool the garlic a bit, peel it and combine with the onion in a large bowl.

While the onion and garlic are roasting, turn on the oven to 350 degrees (for toasting nuts), return the skillet to medium heat, measure in about 1/2 cup of the lard or oil (aren't you glad you rendered it already from your good pig? You’ll need about 1/2-inch depth), and, when hot, begin frying the chiles a couple at a time they’ll unfurl quickly, then release their aroma and piquancy (keep that exhaust on and window open) and, after about 30 seconds, have lightened in color and be well toasted (they should be crisp when cool, but not burnt smelling). Drain them well, gather them into a large bowl, cover with hot tap water, and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to insure even soaking. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.

While the chiles are soaking, toast the seeds and nuts. Spread the sesame seeds onto a baking sheet or ovenproof skillet, spread the pecans, peanuts and almonds onto another baking sheet or skillet, then set both into the oven. In about 12 minutes the sesame seeds will have toasted to a dark brown; the nuts will take slightly longer. Add all of them to the blender (reserving a few sesame seeds for garnish), along with 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and blend to as smooth a puree as you can. Transfer to a small bowl. Without rinsing the blender, combine the green tomatoes and tomatillos with another 1/2 cup of the broth and puree. Pour into another bowl. Again, without rinsing the blender, combine the roasted onion and garlic with the toasted bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, banana and 3/4 cup broth. Blend to a smooth puree and pour into a small bowl.

Finally, without rinsing the blender, scoop in half of the chiles, measure in 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid, blend to a smooth puree, then pour into another bowl. Repeat with the remaining chiles and another 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid.


From four purees to mole. In a very large (8- to 9-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 3 tablespoons of the lard you used for the chiles and set over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the tomato puree and stir and scrape (a flat-sided wooden spatula works well here) for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced, thick as tomato paste, and very dark (it’ll be the color of cinnamon stick and may be sticking to the pot in places). Add the nut puree and continue the stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again (this time it’ll be the color of black olive paste), about 8 minutes. Then, as you guessed it, add the banana-spice puree and stir and scrape for another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers back down to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.

Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but, thankfully, not constantly). Stir in the remaining 7 cups of broth, (using as much of the drippings from the turkey as possible if you have them) the chocolate and avocado leaves, (cs note: I wrapped the leaves in cheesecloth so I could easily remove them) partially cover and simmer gently for about an hour, for all the flavors to come together. Season with salt and sugar (remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and that sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors). Remove the avocado leaves.

In batches in a loosely covered blender, puree the sauce until as smooth as possible, then pass through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl.


Return the mole to the same pot and heat it to a simmer. Nestle the leg-and-thigh quarters of the chicken into the bubbling black liquid, partially cover and time 15 minutes, then nestle in the breast quarters, partially cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the chicken is done.

With a slotted spoon, fish out the chicken pieces and transfer them to a large warm platter. Spoon a generous amount of the mole over and around them, sprinkle with the reserved sesame seeds and set triumphantly before your lucky guests.

ADVANCE PREPARATION: The mole can be completed through Step 2 several days ahead (it gets better, in fact); cover and refrigerate. Complete Step 3 shortly before serving.

VARIATIONS AND IMPROVISATIONS: Bayless' recipe calls for Chilhuacle chiles, which are very difficult to find even if you’re in Oaxaca. I tried, so you can trust me on this. Unless someone has bought a few pounds in Oaxaca and carried them home in their luggage, and sold them to a chile broker, and you happen to time it just right..... This being the case, I have written the substitution ratios in the recipe above. Bayless also recommends serving black mole alongside roast porkloin (a crown roast of pork with black mole would be stunning for New Year’s Eve), or even grilled or roasted beef, venison or lamb, or for enchiladas.

Now, where are you going to get green tomatoes at this time of year? If you make this in the Fall in California, you can save out the last, unripe ones of the season; that's what I did. Or, you can freeze them for later. Or, you can just use all tomatillos, which are available year-round.

Of course you will need corn tortillas to go with this, and we also had a classic red Mexican rice with it. Muy delicisioso. I'll have to do another post with that in it....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Szechuan Green Beans

I bought my carbon steel wok at a yard sale in San Francisco in 1986. I was living in the City and getting acquainted with all the glorious ethnic foods you could ever desire, and I was ready to try my hand at stir-fry - or so I thought. My various attempts at it were, well..... pathetic. What went so disastrously wrong? I had no idea how to approach wok cooking, so I acted like I was braising meat; I'd saute one ingredient, then keep adding the next until everything was in there. Wow, can you believe that treating it like a braised dish cooked quickly at high heat created a dish that was somewhere between a failed braise and a lousy stir-fry? The meat was gray, the broccoli was undercooked, the sauce was watery. Sigh. The wok went into deep storage for the next two decades, miraculously surviving several moves.

In the last two years I have started paying attention, reading recipes to understand the completely different structure of steps that a stir-fry requires. Then I dusted off that wok, and got brave. Now I get it; with wok cooking, unlike most Western-style cooking, you cook the ingredients in a certain order, removing them from the pan when they are done, cooking the next item, and then combining them all at the end. That's how you deal with the meat, which needs to be fried, and the broccoli, which needs to be steamed.

This recipe for Szechuan-style green beans comes from the same "best of the best of the best" America's Test Kitchen magazine that the light cheesecake recipe came from. This recipe is outstanding; I've made it three times in two weeks, experimenting with meats (leftover chicken, ground turkey, ground lamb) because the recipe called for 1/4 pound of ground pork, and the ground pork in my freezer is all in 5 pound packages, ready for the next sausage party.

As usual, I have adapted the recipe. As written, the recipe assumes we do not have access to the proper ingredients or tools. I think you should have the option of using either the ingredients commonly available in remote locations OR the traditional Chinese ingredients available to people who live in the city. Then, there is the question of tools. They tell us to use a non-stick skillet at high heat. Good lord. When I read a couple of years ago that the coating on non-stick skillets breaks down into a toxic gas at high temperatures and has actually killed people's pets, I got rid of all my non-stick skillets and started using my cast iron skillets almost exclusively. Think about it; where does that coating go when it gets scraped off while you're using your spatula to serve the eggs? That's right - into your eggs. Oh, I know we're supposed to use a plastic spatula to prevent the scraping. Do you know what happens to plastic at high heat? I know, I know, I'm an insane Berkeley woman, but I still recommend you get rid of the nonstick skillet; cast iron is so great! At the very least, DON'T use it at high temperature. I will now descend from the foodie soapbox and give you the recipe. You can substitute ground lamb or turkey, or leftover chicken for the pork, and faithful reader Demaris tells me she's been making it with tofu for her vegetarian friends for years - it is all dee-lish. Serve it with rice for a one-dish meal.

Szechuan Green Beans

adapted from America's Test Kitchen Best-Ever Recipes

2 TB soy sauce
2 TB water
1 TB Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp corn or tapioca starch
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp dry mustard

2 TB high smoke point oil - peanut, sunflower, or safflower
1 lb green beans - (Chinese long beans if you can get them) stem ends trimmed and cut into 2" lengths

1/4 pound ground pork (or lamb or turkey)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 TB minced fresh ginger

3 scallions (green onions) sliced thin
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

1. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, water, sherry, sugar, starch, white and red peppers, and mustard until the sugar and the lumps dissolve.

2. Heat the oil in a wok or large cast iron skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add the beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp tender and the skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5-8 minutes. (Reduce heat to medium-high if the beans darken too quickly.) Transfer the beans to a large plate or bowl.

3. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the pork to the now-empty wok or skillet. Cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir the sauce to recombine and add the sauce, along with the beans, to the pan. Toss and cook until the sauce is thickened, 5-10 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the scallions and sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Notes: For a heartier use as a main course, increase the meat to 1/2 a pound, and add another 1 TB of soy sauce, 1 TB of water, 1 1/2 tsp rice wine/sherry, and another 1/2 tsp tapioca or corn starch.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Light New York-Style Cheesecake

A friend of mine was telling me the other day about how his ex and the ex's new partner generously had him over for dinner, finishing the meal with a home-made cheesecake. "I hate to complain;" he said, "it was so lovely of them to cook me dinner... but that cheesecake! They made a low fat version with tofu, and they pretended it was regular cheesecake, and it was just awful!"

I like cheesecake. Alright, I LOVE cheesecake! And I've eaten some quite decent lowfat cheesecakes in my day, none of which involved tofu. My mother used to make one that I quite enjoyed; however, you could tell it was low-fat, because the large quantities of cottage cheese gave it a grainy quality. So when I made an impulse purchase of America's Test Kitchen Best-Ever Recipes at the check-out line at Berkeley Bowl Grocery and found a recipe in it for a delectable sounding light cheesecake, I was pretty excited. Although I get bored with their writing style, I appreciate the Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated's scientific approach to perfecting a recipe, and this one sounded like a winner. It wasn't long before I made the recipe. Results? A cheesecake for the ages. And if you decide to conceal its low-fat nature from your guests, I don't think any of them will go home and complain about how you tried to slip some tofu over on them!

One note: their recipe calls for straining low-fat yoghurt for 12 hours to make a concentrated "yoghurt cheese." I couldn't understand why they didn't just use Greek-style yoghurt, which is already strained, so that's what I did. (I especially like Fage brand, which is now made in up-state New York near my father-in-law's hometown.) The recipe below reflects this adaptation. If you choose to do it their way, strain 2 cups of lowfat yoghurt in a cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl (make sure there is no pectin in the yoghurt!) for 12 hours, until you have 1 cup of yoghurt cheese.

p.s. I never did get around to making the strawberry topping - we liked the cake just fine straight up!

Light New York-Style Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen Best-Ever Recipes

9 whole graham crackers (5 oz) broken into rough pieces, ground into fine even crumbs in food processor
4 TB (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 TB sugar

1 lb 1% cottage cheese
1 lb light cream cheese, room temp (see note)
8 oz (1 cup) lowfat Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2-1 tsp grated zest from 1 lemon
1 TB vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temp
nonstick cooking spray

1 lb strawberries (about 1 qt) washed, dried, hulled, cut lengthwise into 1/4" wedges
1/4 c sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 TB lemon juice (from the lemon you've zested)

Notes: Okay, you know all these ingredients have to be organic, right? Especially the lemon! If you are using the zest (skin) of a fruit that's been sprayed with pesticides and/or wax in your cheesecake - yuck! On the light cream cheese: don't use fat-free cream cheese or tofu substitute - feh. That stuff has I-don't-know-what coagulant in it, and the consistency is foul. Light cream cheese is the stuff that usually comes whipped in a container; it's lower fat than Neufchâtel.

1. Take the eggs, cream cheese, yoghurt, and cottage cheese out of the refrigerator so they can come to room temperature.

2. Pre-heat your oven to 325 F, and put your rack in the middle position.

For the Crust:

3. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and graham cracker crumbs, and stir in the melted butter until all is well combined. Press evenly into the bottom of a 9" springform pan, including over the joint where the top clasps the bottom.

4. Put the pan onto a baking sheet, and bake until the crust is fragrant and beginning to brown, 10-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Raise the temperature to 500 degrees F.

For the Filling:

5. Meanwhile, line a strainer with a clean dish towel or several paper towels, and place it over a bowl or pan. Add the cottage cheese, and strain for 30 minutes.

6. Process the strained cottage cheese into your food processor until smooth, scraping down sides of processor as needed, about 1 minute.

7. Add the cream cheese and Greek yoghurt and process until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

8. Add the sugar, salt, lemon zest and vanilla, and process until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

9. With the motor running, add 1 egg at a time and process until smooth.

10. Being careful not to disturb the baked crust, spray the exposed portions of the pan with cooking spray. Set the pan on the baking sheet and pour in the filling.

11. Bake for 10 minutes at 500 F. Without opening the door, reduce the temperature to 200 F, and continue to bake until the center of the cheesecake registers 150 F on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 1/2 hours. The center will be solid.

12. Transfer the cake onto a wire cooling rack, and run a paring knife around the edges of the cake to loosen. Cool at room temperature until barely warm, around 2 1/2 to 3 hours, running the knife around the edges about once an hour. Then wrap the cake up and refrigerate it.

For the Topping:

13. Toss the berries with the sugar and salt in a medium bowl and let macerate for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.

14. Process the jam in the small bowl of your food processor (or use your invaluable immersion blender - even better!) until smooth.

15. Transfer the jam to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring frequently, until no longer frothy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then gently stir the warm jam into the strawberries. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

To serve: Wrap a hot kitchen towel around the pan and let it stand for 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and blot the moisture from the top of the cake. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing. Serve with the strawberry topping.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Leek and Potato Soup with Kale

This summer I subscribed to an organic CSA box from the youth teaching garden in our neighborhood, Berkeley Youth Alternatives. "CSA" = Community Supported Agriculture - subscribers pay up front to get a mixed weekly box of whatever produce is ready that week. It's a huge support to the farmer, and a lot of fun to look inside and find the lovely surprises of the week. My box sometimes held strawberries, kale, chard, lettuce, onions, apples, collards, tomatoes, beets, apricots..... and many of the weeks it held leeks and/or potatoes.

I had a little trouble keeping up with all the perishables we were receiving, but leeks and potatoes will keep for weeks and weeks, so by the last week of the subscription I had a nice collection built up of gorgeous yellow and red potatoes, a number of leeks, and a bunch of kale in the refrigerator.

Leek and potato soup; what a lovely dish. So delicious, yet so simple that you don't even need a recipe for it once you have the concept down. In fact, I wasn't going to do an entry on it here, but.....

Since I had a nice supply of ingredients, I made a very big batch, which I shared with neighbors who are in need of a little extra support right now. German, the main cook in the family, described for me how he had come home from working the late shift to find a tiny portion of soup left for him by the rest of the family. He tried to analyze the ingredients as he wiped the bowl clean with a stack of tortillas, and he quizzed me on them as we waited together at the school bus stop. He really, really, really liked it, and he really, really wanted the recipe, so.....

Now, there are tons of different recipes out there, and I'm sure they are all delicious. Many of them call for heavy cream and butter; this recipe gets its thick consistency and richness from the potatoes alone.

Because leeks are often piled with soil to keep them pale and tender, they usually have dirt sandwiched between their layers. To clean them, slice off the root end and the tough, dark green end. Peel off the tough outer layer. Then slice the top end of the leek about halfway down its length. Under running water, spread the layers apart and rinse out any stray mud.

Special equipment: The immersion blender, a hand-held wand with a blade at the end, is an invaluable tool for creaming soups, making salad dressings, mixing up a batch of fresh mayonnaise or aioli, and blending smoothies. They cost about $20-25 at kitchenware shops such as Bed, Bath and Beyond. Otherwise, a blender, food processor, or in a pinch, potato masher will do.

Leek and Potato Soup with Kale

1 lb smoked sausage, sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced into 1/2 moons 1/4 - 1/3" thick
3-4 leeks, trimmed of root ends, white and pale green parts only, sliced thinly
3-4 TB olive oil or butter
4-6 medium sized potatoes, any variety
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable broth (if you don't have any homemade stock on hand, I like Better Than Bouillon organic)
1 bunch kale, washed, dried, ribs cut out, and sliced into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

1. Brown the sliced sausage in 2 TB of olive oil over medium high heat, stirring frequently. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage from the pan and reserve.

2. Reduce heat to low; if needed, add additional oil. Add leeks, stir until coated with fat. Cover and allow to "sweat" in its own moisture, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat, until tender, about 5 minutes. Do not brown the leeks; they should be pale and soft.

3. Meanwhile, put the broth in a large stock pot and turn flame to medium high.

4. Wash and dry potatoes, and cut away any blemishes, eyes, sprouts, or green spots. (When exposed to sun, potatoes can turn green. This is toxic and should be composted.) Cut into medium sized dice, and add to stock pot.

5. Bring stock and potatoes to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender.

6. When leeks are ready, add them to the potatoes and broth.

7. When potatoes are tender, remove from heat, and using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, cream the soup. A few chunks are fine. (If you don't have one of these tools, you can use a potato masher. The soup won't be as creamy, but it will still be good.)

8. Add several generous turns of fresh ground black or white pepper, and adjust the seasonings as needed.

9. Add the chopped kale. The heat of the soup will be enough to cook it, while you complete dinner preparations.

10. Put a spoonful of sausage in each bowl, and then cover with a healthy serving of soup.

Serve with a nice hearty bread, such as Levain, and butter.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicken Adobo

My dear friend Ted was partial to recipes which literally took days to prepare, and the baking of cakes which required a structural engineer. He adored Martha Stewart, whose recipes all seemed to start with the purchase of a special non-standard sized set of cake pans. (7" cake pans? What the...?) Just before he left us, he made a disparaging remark to me about Bon Appetit Magazine that will stay with me forever. "Fifteen Minute Recipes!" he spat contemptuously. "What on earth would I want with fifteen minute recipes? I want a recipe that is complicated, that takes a lot of time to make!"

Well, that was Ted, alright. Of course, when he wasn't making these famously complicated dishes, he was fond of having a quick meal at the cheap Indian restaurant up the street, or having something equally convenient. Now, frankly, I like me a good fifteen minute recipe! I cook most nights of the week, and much as I love to dedicate many hours to braising a nice piece of meat, or an afternoon to making many pounds of sausage, I find there is a special beauty and satisfaction in a simple recipe that comes together quickly, but still has fully developed flavors.

This recipe for Philippine-style chicken adobo from the Gourmet cookbook is one of those beautifully simple recipes; it borders on the absurd that such a complex tasting dish takes so little active time to prepare. The marinade, which later becomes a wonderful sauce, comes together in about 5 minutes. You can set this up the night or morning before, leave it in the fridge while you're at work, and put it in the oven when you come home. Be sure to make a nice big batch of brown rice to soak up the flavorful sauce.

"Adobo" means spice rub, but an adobo in the Philippines bears no resemblance to one in Mexico. This version is typical of the Philippino style; garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and fresh-ground black pepper make a lively combination, and turn the meat a rich mahogany color.

Philippine-Style Chicken Adobo

from The Gourmet Cookbook

1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 TB minced garlic
2 Turkish (or 1 California) bay leaves
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 whole chicken legs or 8 thighs (2 1/2 pounds total) rinsed, patted dry, cut into drumsticks and thighs

Accompaniment: cooked brown rice

1. Stir together vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and pepper in a glass, lidded container just large enough to hold all of the contents. Add the chicken, carefully submerging and covering it with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 48 hours, turning the chicken occasionally to distribute the marinade.

2. Let the chicken stand at room temperature for 45 minutes before baking.

3. Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 F.

4. Arrange the chicken pieces in one layer, skin side up, in a 13 x 9" baking dish and pour marinade over it. Bake until cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the chicken, again skin side up, to a broiling pan. Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan.

5. Turn oven to broil. Broil chicken about 4 inches from heat until skin is golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes.

6. While the chicken broils, skim fat from the pan juices and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves.

Serve chicken and sauce with rice.

p.s. My daughter thought this dish was superfine.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler with Gruyere Crust

Summer is officially over, but we have been having a killer heat wave here in Berkeley for the past week, giving the last cherry tomatoes an extra push in productivity. About this time of year, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's a bit sad that summer is over; it's hard to get up on these dark mornings, hard to know that there will be no more melon or tomatoes or cucumbers until next year. On the other hand, in some ways I've already moved on in the garden; neglected, over-ripe tomatoes are falling to the ground in the back yard patch, and I'm ready to plant something else.

This delicious recipe I cut out of Martha Stewart Living years ago uses two pounds of mixed cherry tomatoes, putting that final rush of bounty to good use. The crust recipe, rich with butter and gruyere cheese, makes enough for two cobblers; put half of it aside in the freezer for the next batch of cobbler, or dream up another delicious use for it later in the season. (Be warned - although the crust lasts well in the freezer, it does not in the refrigerator. Once you have thawed it, use it within a day or two at most.)

Mixed Tomato Cobbler With Gruyere Crust

From Martha Stewart Living

Crust: (Makes 2 crusts; freeze one)
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup grated gruyere, plus 1/4 cup for top of crust
1 cup cold unsalted butter, (two sticks) cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup ice water

1. Use your food processor's grating attachment to grate the gruyere, then set the cheese aside and put back in the regular blade.

2. Place flour, salt, sugar, and 1 cup of the cheese in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine.

3. Add butter, process until mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.

4. With machine running, pour ice water (about 1/4 cup) little by little through feed tube. Stop the machine, then pulse until dough holds together without becoming wet or sticky. Don't process more than 30 seconds.

5. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each into a disk; wrap in waxed or parchment paper, then place in a reusable plastic bag. Chill 1 in fridge for an hour, wrap the other well and freeze for later use.

1 TB butter or olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds assorted cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried, and de-stemmed
1/4 cup + 2 tsp flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup chopped basil
pinch of freshly ground pepper

1 egg

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

2. Melt 1 TB butter or oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Cool.

3. Place tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with flour, salt, sugar, basil and pepper. Add cooled onion mixture, toss to combine. Transfer to a deep 9 1/2 or 10 inch pie dish.

4. Roll out half the dough into a circle 1 inch larger than pie dish. Transfer rolled dough to top of dish; tuck in edges to seal. Make 3-4 slits in crust, form decorative edge if desired.

5. In small bowl, mix egg with 1 tsp water. Brush egg glaze over crust, sprinkle crust with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Place pie dish on baking sheet to catch drips. Bake until crust is golden and insides bubbling, about 50 minutes. (Most of the egg will be left over; I like to fry it in the pan I've just cooked the onion and garlic in, then sprinkle it with any leftover gruyere. With an additional egg, this makes a lovely small supper dish for your child who can't stand to wait for the cobbler to cook, or who dislikes tomatoes.)

6. Resist the temptation to eat it right away; cool to room temp before serving so the juices thicken up and you don't burn the roof of your mouth.

A lovely dry vin rosé, like the excellent one in the picture (a birthday gift) is perfect with this dish.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sugar-Free Apple Cream Pie

My friend Shiela celebrated her birthday this week, and I gave her a choice: cake, or Apple Cream Pie? "Apple Cream Pie!" she responded without hesitation. Then came the bonus challenge: Shiela just had open-heart surgery; her niece Elise was firm - "NO added sugar!" No added sugar? Oof.

Fortunately, upon reflection, I remembered that I had a bag of xylitol on hand. Now, I have mixed feelings about xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol extracted from wood, corn husks, and other plants. In some ways, it's like a miracle; it has 40% fewer calories than sugar, and something about its structure makes it great for diabetics. It actually helps prevent tooth-decay (that's why you find it in so many sugar-free gums) and preliminary reports show that it may have a large number of other positive side effects, from preventing infection to helping prevent osteoporosis. It tastes and measures just like sugar, and makes a great substitute in many cooking situations. It doesn't behave just like sugar in all applications - it really wants to recrystallize in a big way! But pie is a place where it - and its relative erythritol - shine.  My friend can't have any added sugar... so I used it. The results were delicious; equal to using sugar. If you need to do some sugar-free cooking, this is a recipe that it works on.

Updates: October, 2012 - It has now been a couple of years since I invented this recipe, and I have a LOT more experience baking the sugar-free way. It being apple season, I decided to make this super-delicious pie using my new-found knowledge.  Oh, baby. That pie didn't last two days - and there are only three of us in the house. And only two of us ate it. Sorry, Joel! Here is the updated recipe.

A caution: Pets should not be allowed to eat xylitol or erythritol, as these ingredients can cause them harm.

Apple Cream Pie

adapted from Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish


1 pie crust (click here for the Foodier Than Thou recipe)

¾ cups xylitol (available in grocery stores in the baking aisle)

OR: 6 TB erythritol + 3 1/2 TB xylitol + 6 tiny scoops stevia powder

3 TB flour
½ tsp salt
6 Granny Smith or other baking apples, peeled, cored, cut in eighths
2 TB lemon juice, as needed (if the apples need contrast)
1 cup heavy cream
1 TB sugar to garnish the top.

1. Combine the 3/4 cups xylitol, flour, and salt and mix well

2. Line pie pan with crust. Sprinkle bottom with 3 TB of sweetener/flour mixture, press gently into crust w/palm of hand.

3. If apples need tartness, toss them with the lemon juice.

4. Arrange apples on top of the pie crust and sprinkle with remainder of sugar mixture

5. Dust very liberally with cinnamon.

6. Pour cream over all

7. Sprinkle w/ 1 TB of sugar (optional - but don't use xylitol or erythritol - they don't melt)

Bake at 450 F for 12 minutes, then lower temp to 350, bake about 1 hour, or until apples are done. The cream will be a little runny when you take the pie out of the oven; it will thicken as it cools.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Apple Cream Pie

Last year, my friend Shiela lent me a delightful little autobiographical book called Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, about her childhood on a farm in Iowa during the great depression. She and her family were poor, but because they had a farm (which had topsoil, unlike other places!) they always had the food they grew and raised. One of the delightful things in the book is the recipes she shares; one that stood out for me was Apple Cream Pie. Naturally, they used lard in their pie crust! I've tried the recipe a few times, and it really is a delicious recipe, well worth a permanent spot in your repertoire.

Apple Cream Pie

from Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish


1 pie crust

¾ cup sugar
3 TB flour
½ tsp salt
6 Granny Smith or other baking apples, peeled, cored, cut in eighths
2 TB lemon juice, as needed (if the apples need contrast)
1 cup heavy cream
1 TB sugar to garnish the top.

1. Combine the 3/4 cups sugar, flour, and salt and mix well

2. Line pie pan with crust. Sprinkle bottom with 3 TB of sugar mixture, press gently into crust w/palm of hand.

3. If apples need tartness, toss them with the lemon juice.

4. Arrange apples on top of the pie crust and sprinkle with remainder of sugar mixture

5. Dust liberally with cinnamon.

6. Pour cream over all

7. Sprinkle w/ 1 TB of sugar.

Bake at 450 F for 12 minutes, then lower temp to 350, bake about 1 hour, or until apples are done. The cream will seem runny when you take out the pie; it will thicken as it cools.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whole-Grain Pie Crust

True Confession: I used to buy pre-made pie crust. 'Struth! And I'm not talking about artisanal, butter pie crust from Berkeley Bowl, my friends. Oooh no. I'm talking about Pet-Ritz, Mrs. Smith, and brands you've never heard of from the freezer case at Grocery Outlet, or "Gross Out" as my dear friend Nina calls it. You know, trans-fat-city, tin foil pans. You feel me?

Yes, I was not always "Foodier Than Thou." Becoming a "foodie" (and I can just hear that special note in my mother's voice when she uses that word to describe someone - something that lets you know that their character, morals and judgment are in doubt.) Where was I? Oh, yes. Becoming a "foodie" developed gradually in me. I think my mother's Yankee-by-way-of-Germany concept is that "foodies" are obsessed with expensive, wasteful ingredients, to the detriment of their immortal souls. Which is a pretty interesting take from a woman who, with her husband, raised chickens, milk goats, honey bees and organic vegetables and made her own yoghurt and cheese from the proceeds for decades. Because for me, what she and my Dad did are at the heart of being a "foodie." Choosing organic produce, sustainably raised meats and eggs, buying food directly from the farmer; to me these are moral choices. And, of course, they taste waaaay better than that other stuff, and they're waaaay better for you than that other stuff.

Ah, but what you all really want to talk about is pie crust, yes? So, I had the mistaken impression that 1) pie crust was too much work, 2) the other stuff was perfectly fine, and 3) my pie crust efforts would be lousy. This, despite the memories of the best pie crust ever - my sister Cynta's home-made delectable strawberry rhubarb pie in the tastiest crust in the world. So, I'm willing to admit I was wrong. Isn't that big of me? That's right: wrong, wrong, wrong. It's not hard, or time-consuming, and that divine taste and flaky texture just can't be had any other way.

Now, what I gather from all of the pie crust lore I've been collecting, is that pie crust makers are hard-core in their loyalty to certain fats. There's the butter camp; butter makes a flaky crust, where the layers separate out like mica shards. And of course, butter has that, for lack of a better descriptor, "buttery" taste. Then there are the shortening folks. Shortening also makes flakes; shortening proponents say they are better flakes than butter. Ahem. In a word, trans-fats. "Trans-fats" are created when liquid vegetable oil is forced to bond with extra hydrogen atoms, which transforms them into solid shortening. When they enter your body, the hydrogen atoms seek out the good fat and make it go bad. Yes, there are organic shortening alternatives (Spectrum makes one from Palm Oil, which is naturally solid at room temperature) but my experiments with it have yielded somewhat tough results. Shortening is therefore easily knocked off the list, in my opinion. And of course, there is the lard camp; lard makes a tender, yielding crust, with a savory back-note. This can be a lovely contrast with say, apple pie, or as a complement to a quiche. Which to choose, which to choose; butter or lard? Ah, but then there is the happy compromise - half lard, half butter! Flakes + tender + both flavors = yum.

There are a few technical considerations when blending two fats; butter is much harder than lard; lard is very soft; it becomes almost liquid at room temperature. Both ingredients should be cold when you use them to keep gluten from forming. Gluten is the protein in wheat which bonds into chains when they are exposed to warmth + smooshing; these bonds are desirable in bread and pizza, but makes for a tough pie crust. To deal with this, here are two simple methods; either cut in the butter first, followed by the lard, (my idea) OR, follow the advice in James McNair's Pie Cookbook; soften both fats, blend them together, and then chill them before you use them.

This is adapted from James McNair's recipe; there are many, many fine recipes out there. I don't have a favorite so far; the important thing is to use the best ingredients and follow the basic guidelines.

Basic Pie Crust

Makes 1 double or 2 single crusts. (If you're making a single crust pie, you can make both, and freeze one for later!)

I. Standard Version

3 cups all-purpose, organic unbleached flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp organic granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold, organic, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cold lard
1/2 cup or more ice water 
1/4 cup or more ice water
1/4 cup iced vodka

Follow universal steps below for all recipes.

II. Whole Grain, Low Carbohydrate Variations

1 1/2 cups Spelt Flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

OR: 3 cups Spelt Flour,  OR:3 cups whole wheat pastry flour, OR any combination of the two!

1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar or xylitol
1/2 cup cold, organic, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cold lard
1/2 cup ice water
1/4 cup or more ice water
1/4 cup iced vodka

(If you are using a food processor, the fats should be in small pieces and frozen. However, made it both ways, I have to say doing it by hand produces a MUCH more pleasing texture.)

1. Measure the flour using the "spoon and sweep" method; use a spoon to fill the cup, then scrape off the excess with a knife. This ensures the right proportion of flour is measured. This technique comes from "The Bakers' Dozen Cookbook;" I use this method for all baking, but it's especially important for pie crust making.

2. In a medium sized bowl with a nice, smooth, flattish bottom, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Mix well with a fork or whisk.

3. Prepare your ice water by putting water and several ice cubes in a cup or bowl.

4. Add the small hunks of cold butter individually to the bowl of flour, and use your fork to toss them into the flour. Using a pastry cutter (some people use 2 knives or their hands; I like my pastry cutter just fine) cut the butter into the flour, occasionally scraping the gathered hunks of butter and dough off the blades of the cutter with the fork, and occasionally tossing the ingredients to keep them evenly distributed. Do this until the bits of butter are about pea-sized; don't overwork the dough, or it will form gluten bonds and get tough!

5. Now add the cold lard, adding spoonfuls and tossing them into the flour mixture with your fork or spoon. Cut the lard into the dough; it is much softer, and therefore easier and quicker to cut in than the cold butter! Follow the same instructions as for the butter, but now you want the final pieces to be more like coarse breadcrumbs.

6. One tablespoonful at a time, sprinkle in the ice water. After each addition, stir and toss the flour mixture with your fork, until it makes a shaggy dough that is beginning to stick heavily to the fork. If you are using the vodka, add the ice water first, then the vodka to finish. You may use a little less than the whole amount of liquid, or a little more. Squeeze a little hunk together to see if it just barely holds. If not, add a little more liquid. If it's coming together nicely, lay two large pieces of waxed or parchment paper on your work surface, gather up the dough into a nice smooth ball with your hands, divide it into two even balls, and place on the paper. If it sticks to your hands a lot, you have added a little too much water. No biggie; just sprinkle a little extra flour on the paper and over the dough balls, and make a nice smooth ball. Using the paper, smoosh the balls into flat, smooth disks. Try not to handle the dough too much, either with your tools or your hands.

7. Wrap up the disks in the paper, then put them into a plastic bag and put them into the refrigerator. Let it "relax" in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. This loosens up the gluten bonds that have formed, and firms up the fats before you roll them. If you chill it for longer, you may need to let it warm up for a little while before you roll it; otherwise it will crack when you try to roll it - very frustrating!

NOTES FROM CHRISTINE: Flour Choices - Whole grains are full of wonderful nutrients and fiber, and are more evenly metabolized by those with metabolic/blood sugar issues. Any of these combinations are delicious; here are the considerations when choosing your flour. Why choose Spelt? Spelt is fine grained and light, with a lovely, tender texture. Some people with gluten issues can tolerate it better than regular wheat. Why Whole Wheat Pastry Flour? Whole wheat pastry flour is lighter than all purpose whole wheat flour, lower in gluten (the protein that makes bread get chewy) and makes a flakier crust. It's also easier to find than spelt. The blend gives you the best of all possible worlds. Water: the spelt flour absorbs less water than the whole wheat flour; be more sparing when you add the ice water.  Vodka gives you the moisture you need to hold the dough together, but it evaporates more readily than water, giving the pie crust a much more tender and delicious texture - well worth it - I really recommend this technique!

Spelt is available in natural food stores and in well-stocked grocery stores.

Next up: Pie!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lard. Yes, that's right, LARD.

If you read my earlier post called "The Whole Hog, Around the Pig in 80 Ways" you know how much healthier pig fat (from a sustainably, humanely raised pig, of course) is for you than most of us have been led to believe. Lard is a wonderful ingredient which has been much maligned. If the animal has been raised on a healthy diet, and the fat has not been hydrogenated, it actually has a much healthier profile than you might expect.

Somehow, we all got sold a bill of goods a few decades back; that lard was unhealthy and "it was so much healthier for us to use vegetable shortening." Vegetable shortening, where liquid vegetable oil has hydrogen added to it to make it solid at room temperature, is what we now call TRANS FAT - a truly evil substance, which seeks out good fat in the body, bonds it with its rogue hydrogen atoms, and turns good fat bad. I am sorry to report that the blocks of pure white lard (aka manteca) you find on the shelves of grocery stores have also been hydrogenated to make them shelf-stable. This is NOT the lard I'm talking about today.

Sausage king Bruce Aidells wrote eloquently on the subject in his Complete Book of Pork; "The saturated fat in lard contains about one third of stearic acid,, which may have a beneficial effect on cholesterol, and it helps to relax blood vessels. Lard, which is 40% unsaturated, belongs in the high oleic group, which has a similar lipid profile to olive oil..."

Now, as you know, I bought not one, but TWO whole pigs this year. (From Mary Pettis Sarley of Napa; After they cut, smoked, ground, cured and wrapped the meat for us at Bud's in Penngrove, I was left with many packages of frozen fat. I have given a few of them away, but I still have many more left. For some unknown reason, I have never been given any of the "leaf fat" the pure white substance that cushions the kidneys and has little or no connective tissue binding it together. What I have are squares of fat from under the skin, bound together with a web of connective tissue. To get the fat into a more useful state, you must "render" it. Rendering consists of cutting the fat into smaller pieces, then cooking it a low temperature in the oven until the fat and connective tissue separate, and the water evaporates. It takes very little effort, and when you are done, you have a wonderful fat to use in pie crusts, biscuits, frying, and the like - anywhere you would use shortening. You also get "cracklings;" little, crispy bacon-bit kind of things that perk up your corn bread in a very tasty way, or are yummy garnishing a salad.

Let's get right to it, shall we? We'll render some lard, and then later on, I'll give you some good pie crust recipes.

Rendering Lard

6 pounds pork back fat, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Makes about 3 quarts

1. Preheat oven to 300 F
2. Put the cubed fat in a large pot or Dutch oven, making sure it's no more than 1/2 full. Slip it into the oven and bake until the fat begins to melt. Stir the mixture and continue to stir every 45 minutes until the cracklings brown and float to the top. It may take up to 4 hours to render the lard. Strain the lard through clean cheese cloth into a clean container, squeezing the liquid out of the solids, and ladle it into canning jars. When the jars have cooled, cover them and refrigerate. Lard will keep in the refrigerator for 6 months. If you wish to keep it longer (I do) cool it well, then put it into a container which can be frozen. It will keep for a long time in the freezer.
3. You can season the cracklings with salt with cayenne, five spice powder, paprika, black pepper, or the spice mix of your choice. I did not the first time, but I sure will next time!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara

I have made, and eaten, so many different versions of this dish over the years; with bacon, with pancetta, (cured, unsmoked bacon) with guanciale (cured, unsmoked hog jowl) with cream, sans cream, with and without onion, with or without wine..... They have all been delicious, and I have enjoyed them all. However, this particular recipe, which I cut out of Gourmet magazine a few years ago, (and which is published in the Gourmet Cookbook, which I so often tout) outshines all the versions I've tried. All of the flavors are beautifully balanced; rich - but not too rich. Creamy eggs, salty bacon, the use of both Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano cheese, with plenty of fresh ground black pepper to liven the tastebuds... An added bonus is that this version re-heats pretty well, whereas those with heavy cream seem to always separate in a most unattractive fashion. (It is still best when fresh, however.)

On the eggs: - use the BEST quality eggs you can find; truly free-range chickens have access to fresh vegetables and bugs, and their eggs have a bright orange-colored yolk, an unbeatable flavor, and a richness not found in the others. This dish has very simple, straight-forward flavors, and the eggs really shine. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons to get organic, free-range eggs from a farmer you can trust. Flavor and appearance, of course. Then there's YOUR health - "factory farm" raised chickens are crammed in so tight in incredibly small crates that they can't turn around, and salmonella is easily spread. Then, of course, there's the chickens' health - see above. It's just plain wrong to keep animals in these horrible conditions just so we can save a buck a dozen. You can buy great eggs at the farmer's market, or you can befriend a neighbor who is raising them; it's all the rage in Berkeley. Maybe you can trade them some bacon or home-made sausage from your sustainable stash!

On the bacon: the recipe calls for guanciale, which can be purchased from specialty places like Fatted Calf. However, any good quality bacon or pancetta will do. Of course, you know that any pork product needs to be from a sustainably raised pig, right?

On the pepper:
it's really worth your while to grind it fresh.

On the pan:
Have I mentioned how much I looooove my iron skillets? They hold the heat beautifully, add great color to foods, and when well-seasoned, can cook anything - even eggs - without sticking. The key is to heat the pan up well, with a small amount of fat, BEFORE adding the eggs. I have tossed out all my non-sticks; yuck. For this dish, I use the Big Boy - 12" of black beauty! Amazingly, you can get a really nice quality, pre-seasoned "Emeril Legassi" pan at Bed Bath and Beyond for about $20. Of course, another large, flat-bottomed skillet will do.

On the timing:
The timing on this is important; you want the pasta to finish cooking just as the other ingredients are ready. If one pan is getting ahead of the other, turn it down and let the other one catch up. I have laid out the steps carefully here with this timing in mind.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

From Gourmet Magazine

Serves 4 as a main course
Active time: 40 minutes. Start to finish 40 minutes

1 pound spaghetti or linguine (I prefer linguine)
5 oz guanciale or pancetta (or bacon) cut into 1/4" dice
1 finely chopped medium onion
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 large eggs - best quality
1 1/2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano Cheese (3/4 cup)
3/4 oz finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp coarsely ground fresh black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

1. Set your salted pasta water on the stove to boil over high heat; if it comes to a boil too soon, keep it covered and turn the heat down to medium - you can always bring it back up to the boil quickly. (Some people think the salt is optional - they are MISTAKEN IN THEIR MINDS.)

2. While the water boils, chop the bacon and put it in the frying pan on medium heat.

3. While the bacon cooks, chop the onion. As soon as the bacon fat begins to render, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 10 minutes.

4. While the bacon and onion cook, grate the cheeses and grind the pepper. (Weighing the cheese is a more accurate way to measure it, especially since using the micro-plane - which I adore - grates so finely that the volume is thrown off.) Combine the eggs, cheeses, pepper, and 1/4 tsp of salt in a small bowl.

5. By now, the pasta water should be boiling. If it's not, turn the heat down (or even off) on the bacon/onion pan until the water comes to the boil. If you've turned the pasta water down, now is the time to crank the heat and bring it back to a rolling boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir well.

6. If you have turned down the heat on the bacon/onion mixture, you can return it to medium-low. Add the wine to the bacon and boil it until it is reduced by half. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the pasta, stirring it occasionally. Again, if the wine reaches its desired state before the pasta is ready to drain, reduce the heat.

7. When the pasta is al dente, drain it well in a colander, and add it to the bacon/onion mixture. Using tongs, toss the pasta with the mixture over moderate heat until well coated.

8. Turn off the heat source (remove from heat if using an electric stove) and add the egg/cheese mixture. Use a spatula to get all the good stuff out of the bowl! Using the tongs, toss the pasta with the egg mixture until it is well coated and distributed. The eggs will cook a little and the cheese will melt a little and, in short, it will be delicious.

Wine Match: This is one place where a buttery/oaky malolactic fermented Chardonnay does the trick; it cuts through the richness of the dish, cleansing the tongue to enjoy the next creamy bite.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Vanilla Ice Cream

Friends recently whisked me away for cocktails at the Claremont Resort to celebrate a certain momentous birthday event. Dear friends, sunset over the San Francisco Bay, the twinkling lights of Berkeley and Oakland and the Bay Bridges spread out below us, cocktails and some fabulous marrow, bacon and onion marmalade on toast and really good garlic fries in a paper cone... Sigh. It was lovely.

I cast my mind back to when I had last been at the Claremont.... Waaaaay back when I was in my twenties, I met Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream for brunch at the Claremont. This was when there actually was a real Ben and a real Jerry at Ben & Jerry's, (before British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever gobbled them up in 2000) and I had written them a fan letter offering my acting services to do an ad for them, because I really loved their ice cream. Ben called me up at my thankless secretarial job at PaineWebber (which was gobbled up by Swiss Bank UBS in 2000) and invited me out. I have no idea why, really. We had brunch - and that was that. I never heard from him again.

Also way back in the day, I bought a Ben & Jerry's ice cream cookbook, along with a Donvier hand crank ice cream maker, at the San Francisco Whole Earth Access store (also long defunct.) It's been over twenty years, and I still use that little hand crank ice cream maker; it consists of a metal tub with some special freezable goo sandwiched between the insulated layers. You freeze the cylinder overnight, mix up your ice cream base and chill it, pour the ice cream base into the cylinder, and then stir it with a special dasher and handle every few minutes for about 20 minutes. No salt, no electricity, very little effort, and voilà - a quart of the best ice cream. I still also use the Ben and Jerry's cookbook.

Although it's been about twenty-five years since I met Ben for brunch at the Claremont, and so many things from that time of my life are defunct - including my acting career - I am happy to still be here, and putting my ice cream making skills to good use for my lovely daughter.

For Johanna's tenth birthday party, I used the B&J recipe for French Vanilla Ice Cream. Naturally, I modified the recipe; in the 1980's, people didn't hesitate to use raw eggs in ice cream. Even though I use organic eggs from the farmer's market, I take the extra step to cook the egg custard base for the ice cream. Here is the recipe, including my changes.

French Vanilla Ice Cream

Adapted from Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book

1 cup organic whole milk
3/4 cups organic sugar
2 large organic, free range eggs
2 cups organic heavy cream
2 tsp organic vanilla extract

1. Put the cup of whole milk and the 3/4 cup of sugar into the top of a double boiler. Put the boiler directly on top of the heat (not into the bottom part of the double boiler.) Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved and the milk is scalded. (Do not boil the milk.)

2. In a medium-sized heat proof bowl, whisk the eggs until well mixed. Gradually pour the scalded milk and sugar into the eggs, stirring constantly. (This keeps the eggs from cooking up into scrambled eggs - not what you want in your ice cream!)

3. Using a heat proof spatula, scrape the eggs-milk-sugar mix back into the top of the double boiler. Over - not in - hot water, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it has the consistency of a creamy sauce, coating the back of the wooden spoon, or wires of the whisk you are stirring with.

4. Turn off the heat, remove the top part of the double boiler from the hot water, and stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Let it cool, uncovered, then chill, covered, in the fridge until well-chilled.

5. Pour ice cream base into your prepared ice cream maker, and freeze, churning almost constantly. When it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream, you can add any special treats you like - chocolate shavings, etc. - and churn them in until well-mixed. Spoon/spatula the soft ice cream into other freezable containers, and freeze them until solid in your freezer. (If you leave it in the cylinder, it is hard to get it out!)

Serve alone, with the delectable fudge sauce, dulce de leche, or whatever your heart desires!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Delectable Hot Fudge Sauce (Without Corn Syrup): Make Your Own Sundaes

Our daughter, Johanna, turned ten this summer. She was clear on two things about her momentous birthday celebration: 1) it would be a slumber party with her closest friends, and 2) make your own ice cream sundaes would be the centerpiece. She didn't think we needed to plan any special games, activities or outings. However, being the true Berkeley girl that she is, the food was the most important part of the celebration.

By now, whether you know me virtually through my blog, or in the realm of reality, you will assume that, at the least, I would make the ice cream and the hot fudge sauce for this extravaganza. You will further assume that both of them would be organic. And, of course, you would be correct on both counts. I also made some delectable almost flour-less brownies from a Katharine Hepburn recipe, but really, they were unnecessary. The ice cream and the fudge sauce were the most important components.

I found a delicious-sounding recipe for the sauce in the Gourmet Cookbook. However, once again, it was marred by the inclusion of corn syrup in the recipe. Sigh. If you have read my other posts about corn, you will know that 81-86% of all the corn in America is grown from genetically modified seed. In addition, if you have read much of the food scoop that is out there from Michael Pollan, you will know that corn syrup is not considered a healthful food. Plus, there's the extraction process. Acids and enzymes to separate the starch from the sugars; doesn't that sound appetizing? And, no, I have never, never seen organic or non-GMO corn syrup on the market anywhere. However, I had learned from chef and food researcher Alton Brown that the fructose in corn syrup is useful in breaking the crystallization chain of cane sugar when making caramel and other candies; cane sugar just naturally wants to go back to being a crystal, and the fructose bonds with it and blocks the chain. Perhaps that is why the corn syrup was included in the fudge sauce recipe (although no explanation for its inclusion was offered.) What to do, what to do... I'd been wondering for some time if Agave nectar would be a good substitute, but hadn't heard any reliable reports on the matter. If it were a good substitute - well, hello pecan pie, homemade marshmallows, and homemade caramels! It IS fructose, after all.... I decided to risk messing up the batch of hot fudge sauce, and just go for it! I substituted the agave nectar for the corn syrup in the fudge sauce recipe, and....... Drum roll, please! The results? Yum.

Here's the recipe, with my mods:

Hot Fudge Sauce

adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

1/4 cup unsweetened organic cocoa powder (I quite like Trader Joe's brand)
1/3 cup packed organic dark brown sugar
1/2 cup organic agave nectar
2/3 cup organic heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
6 ounces good quality organic bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (Yep, T.J.'s again)
2 TB unsalted organic butter, cut into 1/2 TB
1 tsp organic vanilla

Stir together the cocoa powder, brown sugar, agave nectar, cream, salt, and half of the the chocolate in a 1 1/2 - 2 quart heavy saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until chocolate is melted. Cook mixture at a a low boil, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, add remaining chocolate, butter and vanilla and stir until smooth. Cool slightly before serving.

Note from Christine: I have now made two batches of this sauce. I just performed, ahem, quality control checks. With refrigeration, this lasts several months.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

True North Niçoise Salad

We just got back from a truly wonderful trip to Alaska; at long last we visited our friends Chris and Lynne in Anchorage and saw why they have made this spectacular state their home. Chris and Lynne, you may recall from an earlier post, helped re-christen the unfortunately named "pickled black-eyed peas" (which are now known to us as "Crack-eyed Peas") while we were on a trip to Joshua Tree earlier in the year. They then introduced the peas as the "official recovery food for the Harvard Cross-country ski team." They are travel companions made in heaven, and we knew we were destined to have some fun on this trip!

One of the interesting things about being in a place where it stays light all the time (it turns dark grey from about 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. in Alaska in the summertime, otherwise, it's all daylight, all the time) is that you are energized to do a lot more stuff than you normally would. Here is how we kicked off the trip: Arrived Friday night pretty darned close to midnight, and yes, it was still pretty light out. Our excellent friends picked us up and drove us back to their house. Joel organized his biking gear and installed his own pedals on a borrowed racing bike. At about 6:00 the next morning, friends collected him and the bike and drove him many miles out into the wilderness, where he competed in the fifty mile event of the Fireweed 400. After the rest of us arrived to cheer him on to victory (he came in second) we all donned crampons and climbed the Matanuska glacier. Chris and Lynne are such hardcore adventurers that they had enough crampons to accommodate themselves, Joel, me, Johanna, and Johanna's BFF, Katy, who had joined us on the trip. After a dinner overlooking the glacier at the Longrifle Lodge, surrounded by multiple examples of local taxidermy, we drove the long way home, and slept very well, despite the ever-present light. The next day: repeat, with variations!

Being insanely active for 17 hours a day means that once again, creativity must come into play when planning dinner. On day 2, while Lynne worked a 13 hour shift at the neonatal intensive care unit, the rest of us went for a walk in a nature reserve, had a quick lunch, then went walking on the mudflats at the Turnagain Arm - until Joel lost a boot to the quivering muck. From there, we went for a hike in the mountains... Are you sensing a pattern here? Coming home from the third hike of the day, I knew that I really must plan a good - and fast - dinner; Lynne deserved something delicious and a big glass of wine when she came home from work.

Fortunately, one of the culinary tricks I have up my sleeve is Salade Niçoise, a hearty French composed salad, comprised of greens dressed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, surrounded by little piles of other tasty dressed vegetables, olives, hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced sweet red onion, and topped with a generous hunk of best quality conserved tuna in olive oil. Typically, the vegetables include small, tender green beans, the little waxy potatoes called fingerlings, ripe tomatoes, and some small, sweet beets. However, when pressed for time or ingredients, you can go with just the salad greens, tuna, eggs, olives, and sliced red onion. The different components are harmonious with each other, while keeping things new and interesting in flavor and texture so that the palate never tires. A loaf of good French bread, a good bottle of wine, and life is looking fine.

And what luck! A co-worker of Chris' had given them several gorgeous jars of home-conserved salmon, some smoked, some plain. What a delicious variation on a classic theme!

When we are home, we like to serve the salad with a nice dry French or Spanish rose; sadly, the only pink thing we could find at the local Safeway was white Zinfandel - not an acceptable substitute. However, the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay we were able to get went down very well with the salad.

I love this salad, and all of its variations. The salmon version was so good, it got me fantasizing about trying to set up some bartering with Chris' co-worker.... or maybe catching and smoking and canning my own salmon.... So, by special request from Lynne, here is my version of Salade Niçoise.

True North Salade Niçoise

Serves 2 for Dinner

Serve with a good quality French bread

For Salad:

1/2 pound or so of fresh, best quality salad greens
2 hardboiled eggs (see below for never fail instructions)
1/2 of a small sweet red onion, sliced as thinly as possible
2 medium fresh, ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges (if in season. If not, leave out.)
1 - 7 oz jar or can best quality tuna in olive oil, such as A's Do Mar, or best quality canned salmon, or fresh tuna or salmon, pan-fried, baked, broiled, poached, or grilled

Niçoise olives for garnish
Fresh ground black pepper for garnish

Optional: boiled waxy potatoes, such as fingerlings, green beans, roasted or boiled small red beets

For Dressing:

1 TB best quality red or white wine vinegar
1 TB Dijon mustard
2 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
2 large pinches sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
5 TB best quality extra virgin olive oil

To hard boil the eggs:

Put the eggs in a small, heavy saucepan, and cover them with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat, boil for 1 minute, then turn off heat, cover the pan, and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove the eggs from the hot water and plunge them into an ice bath. This technique results in PERFECT hard-boiled eggs, with beautifully yellow, solid yokes. The ice water plunge stops the cooking and helps the shell release from the eggs. When the eggs have cooled, gently crack the shells and peel them. Slice them in half.

While the eggs are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk all of the ingredients together in a large salad bowl until the dressing is emulsified. Remove a few spoonfuls to reserve for dressing the eggs and other vegetables. (If you will also be making the optional potatoes, etc. you will need more dressing. Reserve more dressing, and dress each different vegetable separately.)

When all of the ingredients are ready, whisk the salad dressing again in the bowl, and toss the greens in the dressing, adding enough so that the greens are well, but not over dressed. Plate all of the greens on two large dinner plates. Place an egg around the greens on each plate, along with the tomato wedges and about 10 olives. Scatter the greens with the red onion. Place the tuna on top of the greens. Spoon the reserved dressing onto the eggs. Grind a generous helping of black pepper over all, and serve with bread and a nice glass of wine.

Note: French bread will taste fresh from the oven if you heat it briefly in a low temperature oven. We keep a supply of Acme baguettes in our freezer, and reheat them for a few minutes at 200 degrees F in our toaster oven. Delightful!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Walnut Liqueur

A couple of weeks ago I was standing in line at our outstanding grocery store, West Berkeley Bowl, paying for my stuff. "Nosy-parker" that I am, I glanced back at the stuff the man in line behind me was piling up onto the counter; bottle after bottle of French wine. I am frequently asked at the check-out counter if I am planning a big party, or if I am a caterer. Naw, we just enjoy wine with our dinner, and we HATE to run low on any varietals; Joel starts getting nervous when he does inventory and finds that there's only one bottle left in a certain category. So I took great pleasure in seeing someone else buy a nice healthy supply, and naturally, when I noticed that all the bottles consisted of only two different labels, I had a feeling there might be a hot wine tip in the offing! I made inquiries; yes, they were pretty good, and a decent price ($8.99 a bottle) but, he said "we will be using them to make walnut liqueur, so the taste is not so important."

Wow. "You're making Vin de Noix?" I said with surprise and pleasure. Yes, friends, kismet had placed me in line right next to one of the few other people in town likely to be making walnut liqueur on the feast day of Jean Baptiste, and the Syrah and the accent clued me in that he was making the French Vin de Noix, rather than the Italian Nocino, or Croatian Orahovica. Because, of course, I make walnut liqueur in all three styles!

Well, you can imagine he was equally surprised that I understood right away what he was talking about. I asked if he was planning on picking the walnuts in Berkeley (no, they were going to Brentwood) and we discussed the fact that Brentwood walnuts should be ready earlier than those in Berkeley; I like to pick my Berkeley nuts on the fourth of July. And suddenly it came to me: this man probably had a family recipe, and perhaps he would share it!

Yes, and yes, to both questions; he was using a recette from his Tante. He took down my e-mail address in his iphone, and followed up with his recipes just days later, bless his heart.

A little background: Most European countries make some sort of liqueur out of green (English) walnuts; it is traditional to pick them on June 24th, which is the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Central Valley walnuts are ready a little earlier, and Berkeley walnuts a little later. The walnuts should be fully formed, but soft enough to pierce with a needle. When cut open, they are green all the way through, but with fully-formed, liquid-filled kernels. Interestingly, one uses the whole nut, outer skin and all. They have an intriguing, aromatic aroma.

The Neapolitan recipe shared with me by an Italian acquaintance, Sebastiano Scarampi, included this description on picking the walnuts: "Have young virgins pick, preferably in the morning of June 24th while still slightly covered by dew, as the dew of that particular night is considered magical and with beneficial medicinal powers."

Hmmm. Not only does Johanna prefer to sleep in, but it seems like the morning dew of Berkeley would NOT contain beneficial medicinal powers, so I think I will continue to pick mine during regular daylight hours the weekend of the fourth of July, from the top of an overturned bucket, and then wash them well.....

Vin de Noix

Recipes from Frederic Thouvenin

A la Jean-Claude Vallier

32 noix
1 L d’eau de vie
1 gousse de vanille ou 1/4 de citron

Macérer 2 mois
5 L de vin + 1 kg de sucre
remuer tous les matins pendant 10 jours
mettre en bouteilles

A la Christine

25 noix coupées en 4
1 L d’eau de vie
Mélanger pendant 8 jours
3 L de vin rouge
2 L de vin blanc
1 kg 1/2 de sucre
1 bâton de vanille
Ecorces de 6 oranges passées au four pendant 10min
Ajouter tout cela (éventuellement en enlevant les noix)
Laisser macérer pendant 45 jours.

A la Jean-Claude Vallier

32 Nuts
1 Liter of eau de vie, brandy, marc or vodka
1 vanilla bean or 1 / 4 lemon

Macerate 2 months
5 L of wine + 1 kg sugar
stir every morning for 10 days
to bottle

A la Christine

25 nuts cut into 4
1 L of eau de vie, brandy, marc or vodka
Let mix stand for 8 days

3 L of red wine
2 liters white wine
1 kg 1 / 2 sugar
1 vanilla bean
Peels of 6 oranges dried in the oven for 10min
Add all this, and let macerate for 45 days.

1. Pick the walnuts in late June when the walnuts are well formed, but can still be pierced with a needle. Place all of the ingredients in an 8 quart (8 liter) non-reactive container with a lid. of glass or ceramic. Store in a cool dark place for 6 to 8 weeks shaking occasionally.

2. Strain through cheesecloth into a bowl. Taste, and adjust the sugar if you want the drink to be sweeter. Bottle and store in a cool dark place until the cold weather. Some people store for 3 to 6 months before drinking, to allow the flavors to balance.


This recipe was shared with me by the Contessa Francesca Cinelli Stratton of the Tenuta Spannocchia

1 liter wine - red or white
20 green walnuts, quartered
1 - peel of lemon
8 - cloves
2 cm cinnamon stick
1 small spoon semi di carvi (caraway seeds)
1 cima (top of) di achillea mille foglie (common yarrow)

Put all together for 3 months in the sun.

Filter, and for every liter of liquid add 300-350 gr. alcool puro, and 300 gr of zucchero.

Christine's notes: This Nocino recipe really needs to mellow for at least 6 months before drinking, and improves with age.

(Croatian Walnut Liqueur)
This recipe comes from Jack Mariani, of the Mariani Nut Company in Winters, CA, who got it from his grandmother, Lukra Mariani.

8 whole unripe walnuts
1 quart vodka
4 lemon leaves
4  orange leaves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Wash and grind the whole walnuts, including the hulls.  Combine with the remaining ingredients in a glass or ceramic jar with a tightly fitting lid.  Let stand in the sun for 40 days and nights.  Strain, then decant into bottles.  This liqueur is good right away, but improves and mellows with age.

Notes on how to find walnuts: If you live in Berkeley, there are trees growing all over town; the squirrels are very good horticulturalists. If you spot one, ask if you can pick some in exchange for some liqueur! If you don't have easy access to them, many walnut growers in the Central Valley will pick and ship them to you on the appropriate day for super cheap.  As described above, in Europe you would pick the walnuts on June 24th, in hot climates like California's Central Valley, a little earlier.  In cool climates like the Bay Area, a little later.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hog Wild Whole Hog: The Biggest. Sausage Party. Ever.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little. But it was really, really, crazy big! Here's the story.....

Soon after I had yet again upped my pig-buying quantities from 1/2 to 3/4 of a pig (my friend Ondine took the other quarter,) I received an offer from my rancher friend Mary ( that I somehow just couldn't refuse. I had recently made the run up to Bud's Cut and Wrap facility in Penngrove, CA to pick up a Prius load of meat: a whole young pig and three whole lambs - (one for me, one for my friend Rebecca, one for my friend Heidi) and had crammed my share into my freezer. The freezer already contained some grass-fed organic beef from Mike and Sally Gales of Chileno beef in Petaluma..... well, that freezer really was very full. Then my friend Ondine and I held a pork sausage-making party with some of our pig in December, and I blogged about it here. (I also held a lamb sausage-making party with my friend Heidi, but I haven't written that one up yet!)

So, after I sent the link to Mary about the pig sausage party, she wrote back to me: her three sows were "going out of business;" she was going to raise three new piglets to be the next Mamas. The sows were too big and old to sell to her usual subscribers for chops and hams, but perfect for an enormous sausage-making venture. She could sell them to a meat-broker, but she hated to have the girls traumatized, and it was just too much meat for her and her husband, Chris. (Their boar was also ready to be replaced, but she thought he was too stinky to offer to anybody else; they were going to eat him themselves.) Was I interested?

Wow. For days I vacillated; I mean, it was nuts to even think about it, wasn't it? After all, I had just bought most of a good-sized pig! On the other hand - what an opportunity! Finally, I thought; I'm going to check in with Ondine. If she thinks it's nuts, I'll know it really is. However, if she thinks we should go for it - then, game on!

A word about Ondine; honey, as hard as it is for me to admit - she's foodier than me. And chances are, she's foodier than you, too. And I just love the way she inspires me on to new heights of food fanaticism. Suddenly, food fantasies of mine go from being crazy to being brilliant in one conversation. There's no way on earth I would have done what I wound up doing if Ondine hadn't agreed to be my porcine co-conspirator, my soul-food sister.

So, obviously, what she said was "Yes! Let's do it!!!!"

Then ensued weeks of planning, discussion, and the like. How would we do it, where we would do it? Who should we invite? How many recipes, which ones to choose? What would our costs be, how much pork would we wind up with? (We received estimates that were all over the map - 150 pounds, 200 pounds, 300 pounds, 400 pounds, and in the end we didn't actually know how much there was until they were loading it into my friend Nina's station wagon; the final tally was on a slip of paper in one of multiple banana boxes full of ground pork in a walk-in freezer in Penngrove, and no, they wouldn't go into the freezer to check that piece of paper for me!)

There were some interesting twists and turns and drama along the way; we were under the impression that the pig wouldn't be ready for some weeks longer. Then came the word that it would be THAT week - we scrambled to finish our arrangements! Then came further complications; two pigs were despatched on that day, but one, (the pig formerly known as "Hanako") was found to have a serious internal injury; a ruptured bladder, probably suffered during birth. Unlike in the commercial meat industry, where that pig would most likely have been packaged up anyway, Mary couldn't in good conscience let anyone eat her; she was given a burial in a field. Ultimately, the other buyer kindly let us take all of "Rita" so that we could still hold our party. Instead, he will take the third remaining sow in the Fall. Thank you, kind stranger! Thank you, Mary!

So, what did we wind up with, and what did we do? It turns out that those big cardboard boxes held 300 pounds of ground pork, plus another fifty pounds or so of back fat. We had Bud's smoke 70 combined pounds of linguisa and Polish sausage, and friends bought shares of it. Several friends took shares of ground pork home to make sausage with later. And then 9 more friends - Nina and her twin sister Ann, Kim, Alison, Lisa, Brooks, Natalie, Ondine and Ruth, converged on my (not very big, old fashioned kitchen, which has literally 4 square feet of counter space!) on a Sunday to make 150 pounds of fresh sausage, using five different recipes, which I adapted to make in five pound increments. Phew. But in the end, everybody left with lots of absolutely delicious, top of the line, hand-made sausage. And maybe, just maybe, a little inspiration!

Here are our recipes, including the adjustments we made in seasonings at the party:

Italian-Style Sausage with Rosemary and Grappa

Adapted from Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
4.5 tsp kosher salt
3.5 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 3/4 tsp fennel pollen or ground fennel seed
2 TB finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 TB + 2 tsp minced garlic
1 third cup dry white wine
1 TB plus 1 tsp grappa

New York Style Spicy Hot Italian Sausage

Adapted from Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-20% is fat
3 TB + 1 tsp anise liqueur
3 TB + 1 tsp anise or fennel seeds
1 TB + 2 tsp minced garlic
1 TB + 2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 TB kosher salt
3.5 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2.5 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/3 cup water, as needed

Rancho Chorizo

Adapted from California Rancho Cooking
by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
1/4 cup minced garlic
2.5 TB dried oregano
2.5 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed very fine
2.5 TB sea salt
3/4 cups New Mexico or California chile powder
1/2 cup plus 2 TB paprika
1 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
5 TB port wine

French-style Fresh Garlic Sausage
Adapted from various on-line recipes

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
1 cup dry white wine
5 tsp salt
2 TB minced garlic
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cayenne
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 TB ground sage
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Yankee Sage Breakfast Sausage

Adapted from Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
3 TB ground dried sage
2 TB plus 1/2 tsp kosher salt
4.5 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 + 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried summer savory
1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/8 generously rounded tsp ground ginger
1 generous pinch ground cloves
1/3 cup water

A repeated note from me about fat content: commercial sausage contains from 30-50% fat. Don't submit to your internal Puritan's directive to use less than the 20-25% listed in these recipes! Most of the fat will cook out of the meat, where you can drain it away. If there is no fat, the other liquids will drain away and leave you with dry, tough, (well-seasoned) meat. Plus, if you have done the right thing, and purchased a good pig directly from a rancher instead of a cheap Con-Agra commodity pig, that fat is gooood eating, and much healthier for you than you might think. Follow this link to read more about why pig fat is a much maligned foodstuff, and about how my friend Mary raises her Duroc pigs:

In all cases, combine all of the dry seasonings together in one small bowl, and mix well. Combine all of the wet seasonings (including garlic) in another small bowl or cup. Put the meat in a very big, very clean bowl, and sprinkle with all of the dry and wet ingredients. Using your hands, (we used disposable food service gloves on our very clean hands) mix until all is well incorporated. You want everything to be well-combined, but, as with pie-crust, not worked to the point where the fat is melting. When you have reached that point, fry up a little patty and make sure you like the way the seasoning is balanced; all ten of us tasted, discussed, and reached somewhat of a consensus on the seasonings. This is a living document! You can make changes! Bear in mind that the flavors will meld and improve in a couple of days.

When everything is as you wish, package it up in the increment size most useful to you; I like patties of about 1/4 pound each. Much as I hate to use plastic, I like to use "Press 'n Seal" to make my little portions; it is a self-sticking plastic wrap which can be easily sub-divided. Then I put it in a well-labeled, heavy zip-style bag to protect against freezer burn. Freeze what you aren't going to eat that night right away. Now you have big bucks in your food bank, perfect for the nights when you can't think what to make!