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On Saturday night we had “fake Valentine’s Day” here at our house. We had company last weekend and Robert and I spent a good part of the week bickering, so we designated Saturday for a nice dinner together. I decided to do my pork belly experiment because, hey, we love pig fat. It was a reasonably successful attempt, but not exactly right. I have to work on it a little more. Any dish that comes to me in a dream deserves a few attempts at perfection.

If you recall from my last post, I dreamed about pork belly that was braised in pear eau de vie. I did find the eau de vie, but wow, it was pricey. The one kind that was a true dry style was $43 a bottle. I just couldn’t do it. I ended up buying a bottle of sweet pear liqueur made in Portland. It was also expensive, but it came in smaller bottles and looked like something I would want to drink if nothing else. Braising in this costly liquid was out so I had to come up with another plan. I ended up browning the meat and some aromatic vegetables and then cooking it in a combination of chicken broth and white wine. I stuck the whole thing in the oven at 350 degrees and cooked it for about 3 1/2 hours.

raw pork belly

ready to go into the oven

When it came out it was falling apart and had given up a lot of the fat.  I removed the meat and strained the cooking juices into my gravy separator to get out most of the fat. I added some pear cider to the juices and then reduced them to a syrupy sauce.  I cut the meat into four pieces and rolled them around in the sauce and put them back in the oven at 425 degrees to crisp up.  I think that the meat would have benefited greatly from a 24 hour brining or a dry rub, something to cure it a little bit.  I think some salt, sugar, cloves and black pepper would make a really good dry rub for this meat.  But anyhow…

I decided to serve the pork with blue cheese polenta, kale with shallots and toasted hazelnuts, and roasted pears.  The roasted pears were maybe the best part of the dinner and also the most dangerous.  I cut them into quarters and brushed them with a healthy amount (I guess I should say a not-so-healthy amount) of melted butter.  I stuck them in the oven at 425 with the pork to cook.  They weren’t browning a much as I wanted, so when the pork was done I put them under the broiler.  I also poured in some of my tasty pear liqueur.  This is when things got exciting.  I was busy, stirring polenta, checking the greens, just the general puttering that goes on just before you sit down to eat, when I heard a WHOOSH! in the oven and the door banged open and then shut again.  I looked in and there were big blue flames.  Lots of big blue flames.  I hadn’t even thought that the alcohol in the liqueur could catch fire from the broiler, but it did.  It was a lucky mistake though, the pears were divine and I didn’t even singe my eyebrows off.  Here’s the final product:

Fake Valentine's Dinner

All in all I give it a 7.8.  I put too much blue cheese in the polenta, and I will try a few other things with the pork next time.   But it’s worth trying again (and again).  Pork belly is just uncured bacon after all.

Side note: Sunday night I made a tasty carbonara pasta with the leftover pork.  Eggs, cheese, belly of pig, a few cherry tomatoes and some fresh basil.  Easy and pretty darn good.

Coming soon…Pork Belly

I know, I know, three posts in one day, it’s lunacy around here.

I just wanted to get you thinking about pork belly.  I have had two, yes two, dreams about pork belly in the last week.  One involved a complicated preparation where I braised the pork in eau de vie made from pears (is there such a thing?) and then roasted it “until crisp and browned” (that’s what I was saying in the dream) and glazed it with and apple cider syrup.  Sounds pretty good, but what do you serve that with?  Any suggestions?

When I get around to trying it out I will let you know how it is.  Hooray for food dreams.

One Benefit of Marriage

I had a realization tonight: If it wasn’t for my husband I wouldn’t eat nearly as well. Since I do about 98.4% of the cooking dinner in this house it hasn’t ever occurred to me, but it’s true. Robert is out this evening for some much needed relaxation. I was making dinner for Lola and myself and I found that I didn’t have the energy to turn our simple meal of salmon, baked potatoes and green beans into anything other than basic food. I thought ‘Oh, some chopped green onions and crumbled blue cheese would be good on these potatoes’ and ‘I should make a little sauce for this fish’ and ‘Mmm, some toasted almonds and sauted shallots would taste great on these beans’ but I didn’t do any of it. Lola likes good food, but she also likes simple food, and I wasn’t willing to go to the work just for myself. I am willing, happy, drawn to do it almost every night, because I am in love. I had the sad thought tonight that if, God forbid and knock on wood, I am ever a single parent I will lose all that comes with a partnership, and also my ability to cook in detail oriented way on a Tuesday night. This relationship has taught me to cook more than any class or book ever could because I have the desire to please someone. Thank you Robert, you are powerful motivation.

Before I launch right into a post I want to acknowledge the fact that I have been absent for quite some time. I have had a number of things floating around in my head that I’ve been wanting to write about but this has been a bit of a hard time for me. The holidays were crazy as they always are, but this year we were also trying to pass the final inspection on our new house before the end of the year (we slipped in just under the wire on December 28th though our house is still not ready to move into yet). When we came out on the other side of the madness I found I was pretty tired. By pretty tired I mean bone tired, exhausted to the core, and weary. I haven’t felt like myself, though I think a breakthrough is coming soon. I hope.

Tonight when I decided to sit down and write and I opened my wordpress page I saw that you amazing people have kept on checking in even though it has been what, two months since my last post? I was shocked. I know that I have a few dear and dedicated friends who would check regularly, but I didn’t realize that there are two dozen of you checking every day! Wow! Thank you. I will try to do a more consistant job, but I am going to warn you that one of my new years resolutions is to get rid of some of the guilt that I carry around with me like a forty pound hump on my back. I realized that one thing I can let go of guilt about is this site. If I don’t write for a while, no one will die. It’s my blog mantra.

I have a skinny husband. As a cook I feel ashamed of this. I do feed him, I really do, but he stays skinny. And recently he has lost some weight. It probably has something to do with how very hard he is working to get our new house finished, but in any case he can’t afford to lose weight. When he told me that he has had to punch a third new hole in his belt, just so his pants will stay up, I decided it was time to do something. So now I am on a mission to put some meat on his bony body and it’s pretty fun. I love thinking up ways to get more calories into something instead of less. The problem of course is that I do not need fattening up. I have been making Robert a special extra creamy Ovaltine drink every evening and even though I am not drinking it I can feel my body reacting like I am. It seems that the act of cooking up something decadent is the same as eating it. Not fair. (By the way, have you had Ovaltine lately? It’s pretty darn good. Especially if you make it with hazelnut milk instead of regular milk and you add a couple tablespoons of cream to your cup. But I’m not drinking it, I just had a sip, I swear.)

I made a great quiche the other night in my effort to plump Robert up. Quiche by nature is pretty rich so I don’t make it that often, but it sounded like a good thing for him to take in his lunch. And it sounded pretty good for dinner too. I have a recipe that came from a teacher I had in cooking school that calls for six eggs and a pint, yes a pint, of cream per nine inch quiche. It’s very good that way, oh yes, and great for a treat, but I usually use half milk and half cream and it’s perfectly acceptable. I put in some delicious leeks that I got from my friend Lauren who works at Wobbly Cart Farm, a few stray leaves of chard, and some good gruyere cheese. Here is the un-recipe.

Leek and Gruyere Quiche

1 recipe of pie dough (I like to use half whole wheat flour when making quiche, but it’s up to you.)

6 eggs

2 cups cream or a combination of cream and milk

a little freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper (white pepper is especially good here)

olive oil

2-3 leeks, depending on the size

a little fresh or dried thyme

1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Roll out your pie crust, put it in your dish and crimp the edge. I like to blind bake (pre-cook) my crust so that it is nice and crisp. Line the inside of the crust with parchment paper and put in a cup or so of dried beans and then bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Carefully lift out the parchment and beans and continue to bake it for another 10 minutes or until it starts to get brown. Make sure you keep an eye on the crust during the last part of the cooking to make sure it isn’t puffing up. If it does, just pat it down gently or poke a little hole in it with a fork.

While the crust is baking, clean and chop your leeks, the white and tender green parts. Saute them in a little oil and until they are tender and just starting to brown. If you have any chard around, you can slice up a few leaves and throw that into the leeks while they are cooking. Season to taste with salt and thyme.

Cooked leeks

Cooked leeks

Beat the eggs and cream together and season with salt, pepper and the grated nutmeg.

Egg mixture

Egg mixture

When your crust comes out of the oven, turn the heat up to 400 degrees. Layer the leeks and the grated cheese in the crust and pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle on any extra cheese.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 325 and continue to bake until the center of the quiche is set, about 20 minutes more. You can poke into the center with the tip of a knife to check on it.

Finished quiche

Oops! I forgot to take a picture before cutting into it!

Quiche is great any time of day but I especially like it for lunch with a simple salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. Though this is pretty rich, it is not unhealthful and winter is coming so a little fattening up is not a bad thing!

How long could you last?

The other night Robert asked me to imagine a scenario where we would be stranded at our house, like in a snow storm or some other kind of natural disaster. We wouldn’t be able to get out even to walk to the store or anything, but we would still have power. His question was, how long could we last? How much food do we have around here? How well could we eat? I have to admit that I really like thinking about this. I like to think of how I could best use the food I have, what I would run out of first, and how I could still make tasty and interesting meals without going to the store. Here is what would happen at my house.

If we had power to keep the refrigerator and freezer working we would be in good shape for quite a while. We have meat enough to support us for many weeks thanks to buying part of a grass fed cow last winter and the fact that I can’t pass up a sale on pork roast or whole chickens. So we are good there.

Vegetables would get to be a problem pretty quick. I don’t tend to keep many frozen vegetables on hand, maybe a couple packages of frozen peas or corn. I have all those artichokes that I roasted and froze, they would be a treat. I would run out of onions and garlic pretty quick and that would make it hard to cook a good meal. At the moment I have a lot of canned tomatoes, but after a week or so that would be the only vegetable matter we would have.

I don’t feel like I have a lot of starches and grains on hand, but after looking a little bit I discovered that I have more than I thought. I have full jars of rice and polenta, at least five packages of pasta, and lots of flour, though most of it is white and not whole wheat. I’ve also got a little of this and that, quinoa, cornmeal, farro, oatmeal, etc. I could make that work.

When Robert posed this question on Sunday night I was in desperate need of a trip to Costco, mainly because our fat supply was low. I always buy my olive oil and butter there. I went a couple of days ago though and I am up to my normal levels (thank God we didn’t get stranded here before that, it would have been awful!) I now have a gallon of olive oil and two and a half pounds of butter in the house. I worry a little about the butter. It would be one of the first things I run out of. I used to keep way more butter around, I would buy it four pounds at a time and always had at least that much socked away. But I have been trying to do less baking (actually I have been trying to do less eating and it helps if I do less baking) so I haven’t been going through butter at the same rate. I also try to only buy organic butter now and it gets pricey to buy that much all at once. So if we are stranded there will be butter rationing.

Great news! Even though we don’t have a lot of vegetables, we won’t get scurvy! You know that I’m a berry glutton, right? I have 17 gallon bags of frozen berries that I picked or bought over the summer. That stockpile is my pride and joy. That and the jam I made. Wow, do we ever have jam! I’m going to digress for a moment here to tell you about it. On my pantry shelf I have over 70 jars that I made this year. Most of those are little half cup jars, but still I have over three gallons all together. I made seven kinds this year, peach, strawberry, bing cherry, rainier cherry, golden raspberry, gooseberry, and dewberry. I also made pear butter and two kinds of conserves (apricot and Italian plum). I don’t even eat that much jam, but I love to make it and give it away at Christmas. Robert has learned that even though we have 70 jars he had better think long and hard before opening one.  I like to save the special jam, and what jam is special depends on a number of things, how many jars we have, how long it took me to pick or deal with the fruit, how much I like the jam, how many scratches or other injuries I sustained in the jam making process… It is a big decision for him, one not to be made without major consideration. OK, now back to surviving the disaster.

Sugar. I wouldn’t have bought the ten pound bag at Costco the other day if I hadn’t been thinking about this. But I realized that I only had a couple of pounds and if we are going to be stranded here we are going to need sugar! The brown sugar is a little low too, but we can get by with white.

If we could make it to the chicken house then we could get eggs, but if this disaster is so bad that we are stuck here for weeks the chickens might not be laying very well. I better not count on having many eggs.

Hmmm. I just started to think about things like salt, baking powder and spices. Interesting. The baking powder wouldn’t last all that long, but neither would the butter, so I might not need it. I have sour dough starter that I could use to leaven bread. I should buy salt before it gets too low. I’m good on spices.

I don’t have the most exciting selection of cheese on hand right now, but it could be worse. I have a bunch of shredded mozzarella in the freezer, a big log of cheddar, some Parmesan, and a little hunk of Point Reyes blue cheese. Also quite a bit of ricotta. I can work with that.

As far as drinks go, we have quite a bit of tea. Since we would run out of milk in a few days we wouldn’t be drinking nearly as much black tea, and we have lots of herb tea. Lola could drink Emergen-C, we have some of that. We would have to ration the wine, along with the butter. We have maybe fifteen bottles or so, but if we are going to be stuck here wine will be important. Maybe I should stock up.

So, in conclusion, here at our house the disaster would look like this: Lots of tomatoey beef dishes. Pot roast. Lasagna. Chicken and rice. Pasta with roasted artichokes. Pork roast with cheesey polenta. White bread with jam but no butter. Frozen berries. Tea with no milk. Berry crisps and cobblers. Homemade ravioli. Not enough wine. My guess is that we could go for a month or so before things got really dismal. Maybe longer.

If you made it all the way through this post you deserve an award. I am realizing that probably not many people out there are very interested in what food stores I have at my house. My fascination with surviving without help from the outside world probably comes partly from the connection to Little House on the Prairie that I wrote about a while ago. And a fear of being hungry. If you were able to stay interested through this long post (without even any pictures) then you must be as food obsessed as I am. So what about you?

What will you be eating when disaster (but not power outage) strikes?

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