Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Whole Hog: Corn Muffins

When I was growing up, my mother had an empty coffee can which she kept on the stove; into it would go the bacon-fat drippings. I don't remember eating that much bacon, frankly, but somehow the can always seemed to have plenty in it. As hard as it is to believe now that she is such an enthusiast of oat bran and flax seed meal, my mother would use those drippings to cook with and flavor different dishes. When I was really little we had only one car, which my Daddy would take to work. If my mother ran out of something as she was cooking - oh, well. Canned goods therefore figured prominently in her cooking. The two things I most remember her using the bacon fat to flavor were canned green beans, (which though khaki colored, salty and soft from the canning process, I remember as delicious) and corn bread.

Although my mother no longer saves bacon drippings, I do. I have a little glass container in the refrigerator, and I use it for corn bread, and occasionally when I sautée vegetables for pea soup and the like. Of course, I don't use it that often; most of my cooking is done with olive oil, but a couple of spoonfuls of drippings in the right place can bring so much flavor.

In my last posting I promised I would provide a recipe for corn bread to go with the Hoppin' John. The recipe I am including here (which is both a Whole Hog recipe and goes with one, too) is a classic from the fine New England cookbook Fannie Farmer. Fannie Farmer ran a cooking school in Boston, and was a pioneer in the standardization of recipes. This cookbook, which was most recently revised by Marion Cunningham, rivals The Joy of Cooking as a useful all-purpose cookbook. (Of course, it lacks instructions for skinning a squirrel, but still...) My Grammie Staples had what I believe was the first edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, which my mother will forever regret throwing away when it became tatty. Some of the recipes I share most frequently with friends are excellent standards from this book, and I'm sure I will be sharing the Banana Nut Bread and Indian Pudding recipes with you all at some point.

This recipe comes together so quickly; while your dish is finishing off, you can grease the pan and mix the batter in 5-10 minutes, then throw them into the oven for 15 minutes. When your dish is done, you'll have hot, tasty muffins to go with it. If you don't have a ton of people at the table, and exercise even a modicum of self-control, you'll even have a few left over for breakfast. If you do, heat them up in the toaster oven and cut them open, slather with sweet butter and honey or jam. They are best served HOT.

But first, a word about corn meal: Corn is one of the foodstuffs on the marketplace most likely to be GMO - "genetically modified organisms." According to a US government survey, 80-86% of all corn planted between 2000 and 2009 was from genetically modified seed. Organic foods, however, are not GMO. If you wish to avoid GMO's in your food, please be sure to seek out organically grown corn meal.

Fannie Farmer's Corn Bread

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 TB melted bacon fat (or non-transfat shortening, if you must)

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Grease a muffin pan. Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Melt the bacon fat in a small glass or ceramic bowl in the microwave. When it is liquid, beat in the egg with a fork until it is well blended; this keeps the bacon fat from congealing again. Now mix the milk into the egg mixture, and pour the liquids into the corn/flour mix. Stir with the fork or a wooden spoon until well-blended, then fill the muffin cups half-way, scraping the last of the batter with a spatula. You will have just enough to make 12 muffins. Now pop the pan in the oven and bake until the tops are just turning golden, about 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edge of each muffin, and pop them out into a basket or bowl lined with a towel to keep them warm. Serve hot with butter.

These muffins are great not only with Hoppin' John, but also corn chowder, chili con carne, and soups, and also make delicious sweet or savory sandwiches.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Whole Hog: Starting the New Year Right with Hoppin' John

As a native Bay Stater, daughter of a 15th generation Yankee father and a German immigrant mother, black-eyed peas did not figure prominently in my food experience. In fact, it was not until an accidental delivery of frozen hog jowls that I gave them much thought at all.

After finding the perfect recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara alla Romana, which calls for the cured but unsmoked Italian bacon called guanciale, (ooh, do you sense a future post coming on?) I ordered some from the Niman Ranch website. But what arrived was raw, frozen hog jowls - 20 pounds of them! When the nice customer service rep arranged to send me the missing guanciale, she declined to take back the (rapidly thawing) package of raw jowls. I seasoned them, Joel smoked them on the Weber, and I began asking around. What do you do with a windfall of smoked hog jowls?

That's when I learned from our neighbors, Betty and Jimmy, about Hoppin' John, a dish of black-eyed peas, stewed with smoked pork and served over rice. Betty and Jimmy are southern transplants, where eating this dish on New Year's Eve or Day is said to bring you good luck. Although you can make it with ham hocks, salt pork, or slab bacon, smoked hog jowls is traditional in Alabama, where Betty and Jimmy grew up. More recently, I learned from my friend Nina, who grew up in North Carolina, that you really need to eat this dish with stewed greens, because that will bring you "folding money" in the new year.

Hoppin' John is a dish which originated in the African-American community, with former slaves. The origin of the name "Hoppin' John" is quite obscure; many legends abound involving one-legged men named John, enthusiastic diners hopping to the table and the like, but the most compelling explanation I have come across involves the Haitian Creole word pois à pigeons (pigeon peas.)

There are many recipes out there, from the very simple to the not-quite-as-simple, and I have found all the different versions I have made to be tasty. However, this year's version, using part of a meaty smoked jowl from our pig, along with leftover ham and a ham-bone from last year's pig, was the tastiest I've made yet. The recipe has plenty of room to improvise, so please fee free.

Hoppin' John

(It goes without saying - although here I am saying it! - that as many of these ingredients should be organic as possible.)

1 lb (2 1/2 cups) black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 large bay leaf
1 small dried hot red chile, or 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
A ham bone - if you have one, ham removed and reserved
2-4 oz smoked hog jowl, chopped into 1/4" dice, or bacon
2 medium onions, chopped
4+ cloves garlic, minced (it's hard to add too much)
2-4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2-4 stalks celery, diced
Leftover ham, if you have it, chopped into nice chunks
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and salt to taste
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 TB Hot sauce
Cayenne to taste

(If you don't have any leftover ham or a bone, a nice big smoked ham hock brings a lot to the party. Many food-centric towns have meat artistes who are dedicated to sustainably raised meats; Fatted Calf of Napa sells at Berkeley and SF farmer's markets, e.g. Ask around.)

Serve with: cooked rice, a nice vinegary hot sauce (like Tobasco), collard, mustard or turnip greens, or kale, cooked separately.

Oh, and hot corn bread with butter! (I guess that needs to be the next post....)

A note on the rice: in general, I am a brown rice enthusiast. However, for this recipe, we splurged and had white rice, which has a much more neutral flavor. And you're already getting a ton of fiber from the peas...

If time permits, begin soaking your black-eyed peas the night before, or first thing in the morning, in water to cover by two inches. Or, use the quick-soak method: cover with two inches of water in a five or six quart, heavy stock pot, bring to a boil, boil for two minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let sit for an hour.

(If you will be using a ham hock, be aware that they take longer to cook than the peas do. You'll need to start cooking the hock separately in water 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you start cooking the peas, and then use the broth as your soup base. Then let them cool, remove and chop the meat, and discard the skin, bones and cartilage. Drain your peas, and add the broth and meat to the pot of peas, and begin following from the next steps.)

When your peas are ready to go, drain them (for sure if you are following the hock recipe, optionally if you are not.) Then cover them with water, and add the bay leaf, pepper, and ham bone if you have it. Bring it to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer while you work on the other ingredients. If things get too dry, add a little more water.

Heat up a good sized frying pan over medium heat (cast iron is the best; throw away that toxic non-stick stuff!) and add your chopped hog jowl or bacon. When it's getting all nice and golden and rendering up some nice fat, add the onions and saute, stirring often, until they begin to get a little golden, too. Now add the carrots and celery and garlic, and do the same for them. Make sure they don't burn! Sprinkle on some salt to taste. When everything is beginning to turn a nice color and get tender, scrape the whole thing into your peas, and stir well. Now simmer it all until the peas are tender and the flavors are beginning to meld. Now would be a good time to add your chopped leftover ham, and the two sauces, and then let it all heat up and the flavors meld some more. Now taste it; does it need more salt, pepper, a shake or two of cayenne? Is it a little too thick? Add some water. Too thin? Take out a cup or so of the peas and mash them with the back of a fork, then add them back to the pot. When it's all just the way you like, take out the bay leaf and the ham bone - save it for your favorite dog - put a serving of rice in everyone's bowl, then a nice big helping of the black-eyed peas. When I made this on New Year's Day, everyone loved it, from my father in-law, who gave it his highest compliment: "I might not need to add any salt to this!" to our daughter, who ate the leftovers at every possible meal until it was gone.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Whole Hog: Around the Pig in 80 Ways

"Someone defined eternity as a ham and two people" wrote Irma Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking. I'm sure that this quote, and its history, date to the days before freezers and the ability to subdivide meat, because this is emphatically not how I've ever felt about ham, or any other part of the pig. A versatile and delicious meat, the only things that have ever stopped me from enjoying pork in every form are ethics and health. Happily, I have found solutions to both problems.

First, ethically raised animals are widely available for purchase directly from ranchers. The rancher from whom I purchase my pork and lamb, Mary Pettis-Sarley of Napa, sells 1/2 pigs and whole lambs, as well as beef cows and other farm products. She hires a person to perform their harvest in a humane way, and then small, local butcher shops will cut the meat to your specifications, smoke as much as you like, and then package and freeze it all in nice little bundles. A half of a pig or a whole lamb can comfortably fit in a regular sized freezer compartment of a refrigerator, and finding friends who'd like to share an animal is easy. No one I know has ever regretted buying too much; I have however heard and expressed many a regret about not purchasing more!

As to health, pig fat has been much maligned. If the animal has been raised on a healthy diet, and the fat has not been hydrogenated, the fat actually has a much healthier profile than you might expect. Here's what sausage king Bruce Aidells has to say 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..."

Here is what Mary Pettis-Sarley ( has to say about how she raises her pigs:

"They are Duroc, by breed.... Spotty is their Mom and Arnold is their Dad (your group.) They go out to pasture and eat greens, sleep on a straw bed in the barn and are fed fines (the finer particles from the mill), that I make slop with. Then they eat extra goat milk and whey when I am making cheese, and extra produce from the garden. I grow them Kale, which they love, and now they are eating pumpkins from the garden. They live as a family group, and 'spoon' with each other, which I love. I know two things... where the saying 'pigs in a blanket' comes from - it is just how they sleep, all lined up. And, where the saying 'I waited for you just like one hog waits for another' which they NEVER do....

Before this storm, I moved the younger group up to the top barn, which is drier for them, and makes more room for the goats in the lower barn. It took about half hour to move up to the top barn - we went the slow and interesting way - around the lake, twice, with them lazily grazing the taller grass all along the way. It was a delightful walk, with pigs and dogs strolling along."

If you are interested in finding sustainably farmed meats in your area, a quick google of "meat CSA" (CSA stands for "community supported agriculture," a way of paying the farmer directly for a share of her crop) turns up entries all over the country.

This year I bought 3/4 of a pig, my largest share ever, and I will be chronicling my cook's journey through all of the pig packages from my stash, calling it, of course "The Whole Hog." My friend Ondine, who bought the other quarter of the pig, will contribute pieces about her share, as well. In addition to the superior flavor and all the benefits of buying directly from the rancher, from ethical and environmental, to health and social justice, I love the adventure of figuring out how to cook the cut that I have, instead of cherry-picking at the meat counter and getting the same cut over and over.

Next time: Starting the year right with Hoppin' John; black-eyed peas cooked with smoked hog jowl.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Korean-Style Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce

"Mom, the truth is I don't really like tofu," said our nine year old politely, as I served her some for dinner. "It just doesn't taste like much." Honey, I am so with you on that. However, Ruth Reichl (editor of the late Gourmet) waxed so poetic about this recipe.... how her Dad would have said the same thing, but that this was so good, once he'd had a bite he would have lost all self-control... So, I saved the recipe; but there was just one obstacle - where was I going to get Korean hot red pepper flakes?

With all of the Japanese-American groceries in town, I thought I might score some there, but no dice. With all of the Mexican groceries within walking distance, I knew I had good access to lots of different chiles, but what kind were they, exactly? I googled the stuff on-line; I couldn't find anything about what kind of chiles they were, just that they were a darker red color, had fewer seeds, and weren't as spicy as the classic stuff you shake on pizza. Okay. With the nearest Korean grocer in in downtown Oakland or the outer Richmond district of San Francisco, I decided to pick a few seeds out of my generic red pepper flakes, (leaving very little else!) and mix in some Ancho chile powder - Voila! 20 minutes later, we all ate it for dinner. It was indeed delicious, and even the nine year-old liked it. In fact, it was so delicious that I decided it was worth the trip to go buy some Korean hot red pepper flakes.

The Koreana Plaza in the 2300 block of Telegraph in Oakland was quite an adventure; a bakery, deli, green-grocer, meat counter, and fish counter (three kinds of mackerel!) jars of kimchee so big you could use them to bathe your pets in afterward - there must be some serious kimchee enthusiasts out there.... At last I found the pepper; not near the black pepper as you might expect - no, the red pepper was in the special kimchee ingredients aisle, and therefore came in big, bigger, and biggest bags. It took a little while to sort out which ones were hot and which not, which fine and which flakes, but eventually I found a special little tag in English on the back, and now I am the proud owner of the smallest quantity I could purchase; one pound of "Kimchee Hot Pepper." This is good news for my Berkeley friends; when you decide to make this recipe, (which you really should) I will happily share some with you!

I had been wondering why the recipe is so specific that you not use silken tofu. Meanwhile, my friend Kim was wondering why soft, not firm tofu. The first time I made the dish, I used firm tofu, which I had on hand, to excellent results. Last night I conducted an experiment; side by side, I cooked "soft, silken texture" tofu and "firm, silken" tofu. The "silken" textured tofu does not open up and absorb the sauce. Therefore, you have a piece of neutral tofu sitting in/under a pool of salty sauce; I can not consider this desirable. CONCLUSION: Use firm if you can't find soft organic tofu, but don't use silken.

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce
(Yes, it's from Gourmet Magazine again.)

Serves 2-3 as a main course, with rice

1 14 -18 oz package soft - not silken - tofu
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped scallion (green onion)
2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted, then crushed with the side of a heavy knife
3 TB soy sauce
1 TB Asian sesame oil
1 tsp coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sugar

Carefully rinse the tofu, then cover it with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat. (I am unclear why it needs rinsing - I just drained it and then covered it in water.)

Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with the rest of the sauce ingredients.

Just before serving, carefully lift tofu out of the water with a large spatula (a fish spatula works great) and drain on a clean tea cloth (or paper towels). Gently pat dry, then transfer to a serving dish. Spoon some sauce over the tofu and serve immediately, with remaining sauce on the side.

Tofu can be kept warm in the water bath for up to 4 hours. The sauce cam be made up to one day in advance; warm it up to room temperature before serving. (Why bother making it in advance? It takes 3 minutes to make!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Char Siu (Chinese Barbecued Boneless Pork)

I love barbecued pork. I have a special fondness for Chinese barbecued pork, which combines savory porkiness with sweet, caramelized, crispy bits. Our daughter, Johanna, especially loves the dim sum char siu bao; baked barbecued pork buns, which she requests specially whenever she knows I'll be near the dim sum shops of Clement Street in San Francisco. Unfortunately, this is one of the guiltiest pleasures I can think of. Knowing, as I do, that pigs are very smart animals, and how horribly mistreated the vast majority of commercially raised animals are, I cannot feel right buying even a morsel of the treats available on Clement Street. Surely these inexpensive snacks are made using the cheapest of commodity animals. In addition, what goes into the marinade? Red food coloring for sure. How about high fructose corn syrup and MSG? And the buns, with their pure white dough; what else lies within their pure, snowy, fiber and nutrient-free surface; perhaps some trans-fats?

Well, since I happen to have 3/4 of a sustainably raised pig in my freezer, I decided to make some myself! I found a number of interesting sounding recipes, and decided to combine a few, while following the technique laid out in the Gourmet Magazine Cookbook for the roasting. The results: transcendent! And not really much work at all, I might add. After cutting the meat into strips and marinating it for 24 hours in a simple to assemble sauce, I laid the strips on a cookie rack over a roasting pan with a little water in the bottom, and alternately roasted, basted, and turned the meat for about an hour. AND, I have a bunch of leftovers, which I will make into packets and freeze, as this is an outstanding flavoring agent; a little goes a long way. Last night we had pork fried rice. Oh boy.

Here is the recipe, with instructions.

Char Siu (Chinese Barbecued Pork)

1 @4 pound boneless pork Boston butt/shoulder roast, cut into strips 4 inches wide
3/4 cup hoisin sauce (I found organic at Berkeley Bowl!)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine (Chinese or sake)
2 TB honey
2 TB brown sugar
1 TB finely chopped ginger
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 TB toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp five spice powder

Stir the ingredients well to combine in a bowl deep enough to hold everything, then fully cover the pork in the sauce. Marinate for 24 hours, periodically turning to ensure that all the meat has equal access.

Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Fill a 9"x13" roasting pan with 1/2" of water. Place a cookie rack over the top. Remove meat from marinade, reserving the marinade. Arrange the strips of meat 1" apart on top of the rack, and roast for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the remaining marinade in a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil. It may appear curdled. Using a brush (I have a silicone small pastry brush from Le Creuset - it's great. It cleans up beautifully; no more yucky residue!) brush marinade over all exposed surfaces of the meat, and then roast for another 10 minutes. Generously brush the surfaces with the marinade again, and turn the meat over. Baste the other side, and roast for 10 minutes more. Again baste the surfaces and roast them for another 10 minutes. By now, the marinade should be pretty much gone. Go ahead and use it up! Now increase the temperature to 400 F, and roast for 10-15 minutes more, until it caramelizes on the corners and turns a rich mahogany color. Take it out of the oven, remove the meat from the roasting pan (you can lift the whole rack) and place it on a cutting board. Tent it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. During this time, the internal temperature will rise 10-15 degrees more.

According to Gourmet Cookbook, the flavor diminishes once the meat is cut, so you should only cut as much as you need at the time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Crack-Eyed Peas

Twenty-plus years ago, a group of friends and I performed a melodrama of our own creation in the long-defunct "Gold Rush Fair" in Novato. After a day of performing our show and walking around in the dust and heat in full costume, we would reward ourselves with a trip to a restaurant in Novato called "Santa Fe Mary's" - also long-defunct, it appears. Santa Fe Mary's served this outstandingly tasty dish of marinated white beans with tortilla chips. Memory is dim on what type of beans they were, just that I had a great deal of trouble controlling myself around them. I have long wondered how to reproduce that delicious dish.

Fast forward.... with the new year approaching, I looked through my Gourmet Magazine Cookbook (RIP, dear Gourmet Magazine. I will miss you.... Bon Appetit will never, never take your place....) But I digress. I was cross-referencing recipes for Hoppin' John, a classic southern dish of black-eyed peas and smoked hog jowls served on New Year's to assure good luck in the coming year. On the facing page was a recipe for something called "Pickled Black-Eyed Peas." Let us be frank, friends; that is a really lousy recipe title. Never-the-less, given my fond memories of the delights of the long-ago bean dish at Santa Fe Mary's, I read the recipe with growing optimism - "Could it be? I think it might..... It is! I think it is!"

Dear reader, I made the recipe, and it was as close to the beans of yesteryear as I could hope. Of course, it being January, the only sweet bell peppers available were from Mexico or Chile. This is just not an option for a locavore gal. Not to worry, finely diced celery is a fine sweet and crunchy substitute, even if it does not provide the desired color. Ahem. I practically ate the entire dish as I was testing it prior to the marination.

Knowing instantly that I had a permanent addition to my entertaining, pot-luck party going, and travel recipe line-up, I committed it to memory and brought the ingredients along on our trip to Joshua Tree with our friends from Alaska the following weekend. Their reactions mirrored our own; "recipe, please!" However, we were all in agreement that "Pickled Black-Eyed Peas" was one of the lamest recipe titles on record, and one that would have prevented any of us from making the recipe, had I not had my vivid memory of a cold beer, fresh tortilla chips, and too-small bowls of similar beans at Santa Fe Mary's long, long ago. "Mais ou sont les haricots d'antan?"

So, I present for your entertainment the newly christened recipe for "Crack-Eyed Peas."

Crack-Eyed Peas

(aka Pickled Black-Eyed Peas) Adapted from The Gourmet Magazine Cookbook: “Serve them on toasts or with grilled or roasted meats”

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch dice*
½ red bell pepper. “ “ “*
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup minced fresh chives
2 TB minced red onion
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak peas in cold water to cover by 2 inches, refrigerated, for at least 8 hours (or use quick soaking method; bring to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, then cover and let sit one hour.) Drain.

Transfer peas to a 3 quart saucepan, add water to cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer until just tender, about 20 minutes - but it might be sooner! Check on them frequently when you get to about the 15 minute mark. You really want them to be perfectly tender, NOT al dente. It's okay if they're a little over or undercooked, but perfectly tender is truly perfection. Drain.

Stir peas with remaining ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature - but I prefer them at room temperature - it really brings out the flavors.

*Notes from Christine: I used distilled white vinegar, and it was very tasty. As discussed, if the peppers are not in season, finely chopped celery is an excellent substitute. Also, test the seasonings; I like a little more vinegar, salt and oil than the recipe calls for.

p.s. Why would you bother making just one cup? Do yourself a favor; make at least twice the amount.


THIS JUST IN: "Crack-Eyed Peas" is slated to be "the Official Recovery Food of the Harvard Ski Team" at an upcoming race. Oh, the fame and the glory!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Family Dinner: And so I Begin

My dear, late, friend Ted and I used to alternately cook what we called "family dinners;" we would read recipes all week long and plan what we would make. One week it was at Ted's house - perhaps a Rick Bayless recipe made with the chorizo we had crafted together the week before, with some amazing dessert to follow. The next week it would be at our house, four doors down; perhaps pot-roast from our quarter of a cow (grass-fed, local, organic, natch) with spaetzle, with home-made liqueur afterwards. There were always great wines, perhaps some cocktails to start..... The "family" consisted of Ted, his BF Vernon, our friend Kim, my husband Joel, our daughter Johanna, and me. Occasionally, a lucky guest was invited in. Once in a while Kim or Vernon would host, but mostly it was the two of us. Ted kept talking about the blog we would start, and the regular newspaper column we would land, but then...... Well, no more Ted. So, in memory of Ted, I begin.