Monday, October 29, 2012

This is a (really great) Cookbook

This is a short post...just want to share this cookbook filled with recipes for real food - seasonal stuff, not too fancy or complicated. It's by Eli and Max Sussman and I love it. 

I've had it a few weeks now and so far, I've cured bacon and made grilled flank steak, roasted squash and jalapeño coleslaw. Can't wait to make the roasted corn soup, grilled peach salad and panzanella next summer. (...and tons of other stuff like spicy aioli, orzo salad, roasted leg of lamb, Korean short ribs, grilled whole fish, homemade pasta....)

If you like approachable, simple food - get this cookbook!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Makin' Bacon

I'm completely fascinated by chefs that cook 'nose to tail' style - using every part of the animal - like kidneys, brain, feet and more. One of the most front and center of these chefs is Chris Cosentino. Often as his restaurant Incanto in San Francisco, he'll offer a plate called "Odds and Ends" making amazing dishes out of what many chefs toss. Some say gnarly, I say let's try it. If you're an Instagram user, follow Chris - he's fun. He also founded the artisan salumi company, Boccalone, and they make the most amazing salami and other tasty salted pig parts. I love the orange and fennel. The head salume (the guy who actually makes all of this art), Stephen Pocock is a Baltimorean and a very cool guy. He also runs his own business called Damn Fine Bacon, which keeps Bay Area bacon enthusiasts quite happy.

So, yes...I'm a fairly adventurous eater now, but I was kind of a picky eater as a child. Being the youngest of six (five older brothers) I learned to eat what I was offered...and to grab it pretty darn quick. As I started to cook somewhat seriously in these last few years, I began to try my hand at what I guess I'd call "projects" like preserving food and making things like bread, cheese, pasta and more. Then, when I saw a recipe for curing bacon in Max & Eli Sussman's (awesome) new cookbook, I decided that bacon was next. And, by the way, I've made several things out of the cookbook (the flank steak is awesome and easy) and I love it. Very approachable, good stuff. Highly recommend this cookbook.

First question was where to go to get the 5lbs of pork belly. I immediately thought of the Green Onion Market in Hamilton, which also happens to be run by Bill DeBloom, a 'kid' I grew up with in Kingsville. Ha, kid...we're in our mid-40s now! Bill runs the place with one of Baltimore's own nose to tail guys, Winston Blick of Clementine. These fine folks have been curing their own meats and creating some of the most creative and delicious charcuterie around town longer than most B'more restaurants. They also sell their own housemade charcuterie to many local restaurants, too. I have to say that the word charcuterie - basically, the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, pâtés, etc, primarily from pork - sounds so fancy and foreign at first. But it's really not. It's a simple thing with a fancy pants name...and to me, it's just beautiful. 

Other good spots I like to visit for charcuterie? Bluegrass in Federal Hill and The Wine Market in Locust Point. So flipping good. Look at this little number from The Wine Market. (sigh.)

Back to the bacon. First, the pork belly was from local pigs raised at Zahradka Farm, a local farm that Clementine works with all the time for the restaurant, market and also a very popular local meat CSA. So, Winston was excited to share their own pig with me, the eager student. I followed a New York Times recipe by John Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, co-authors of Charcuterie. (I want that book - hint, hint...) It was very clear and easy to follow. Basically, you choose your flavors, rub them onto the pork belly and then put it in a zip-loc bag in the fridge, turning it over daily. Then, at the end of 7-8 days, you simply cook it in the over on 200 for 90 minutes. You can also use a smoker, but well, I don't have a smoker and I can't imagine I will be getting one anytime soon.

For the recipes and techniques, I also consulted the Sussmans' cookbook. The only modification I made was to skip one ingredient - pink Himalayan sea salt. It makes the bacon pinkish in color - similar to bacon you'd buy in the store - but it also contains nitrates and Winston said I could definitely skip it at home. He said my bacon would look sort of grey until I cooked it - and he was right, of course. I made one savory bacon rubbed with fresh herbs and garlic and one sweeter kind with brown sugar and coffee. 

This weekend I used my bacon as a garnish in my grits and in my butternut squash soup - so, so good. 

What kinds of cooking projects do you like to do? Are you a pasta pro? A bread baker? Or maybe you're a cheese whiz? (Sorry, that was too easy...) Which end results do you think are worth the time and effort? I feel like bacon is something I will do at home over and over. Really super easy.

There is always more to learn. Onward!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Risotto is your friend

I'd always been told that making risotto is a bear. All that stirring, stirring, stirring. Blah, blah, blah. How do you know when it's done??  But thanks to the wonderful folks at America's Test Kitchen, I've found that it's not that hard. Risotto actually is your friend.

I've written about this show before, but it is well worth repeating: America's Test Kitchen is like no other cooking show. These talented cooks prepare recipes over and over and over, modifying them along the way in order to find the best way to make just about anything. If you like to cook (and learn) and you've not watched this show on public television - and its sister show, Cook's Country - get on it! They also review products and cooking tools on each episode, which I find especially helpful. Host Chris Kimball is adorable, nerdy and fun, so that's a plus, too.

Last year, I bought their MAMMOTH cookbook, which lists all of the recipes from the last ten years of the show, plus a shopping guide (ie: what's the best hot sauce, cheese grater, chef's knife) and also a great conversion and equivalencies guide. I've made a bunch of things from the cookbook - the best so far being mushroom risotto, oven fried chicken and beef stew. Yummm.

I highly recommend becoming a member on their website. I'm a member of Cooks Illustrated online, which is part of the same group of cooking sites. You can try a FREE 14-day trial membership, then if you want to continue after two weeks, it's about $30 for the year. This gives you access to their excellent recipes and videos.

Okay, so back to their fabulous mushroom risotto recipe. So good. I wanted to just eat it out of the dutch oven...but, alas, we got out the plates. Also, I've shared two other risotto recipes I've made over and over.

It's getting cold out. Time for some comfort food!

Need a little more help?
Risotto tips from the kitchn
Risotto 'how to' video
Even MORE tips!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Oh, for the love of figs


They always seemed a little too exotic for me. Fancy pants. I didn't grow up eating things like figs - we were more of a steak and potatoes kind of family. But the older and wiser (cough, cough...giggle...yep, I said wiser...) I get, the more I want to try new things. So, when I discovered fig paste, I was intrigued. It was on a cheese plate at The Wine Market with Manchego cheese, honey, toasted baguette slices with olive oil, sea salt and was the best flavor combo. So simple and perfect! I was in love. Soon, there I was...buying fresh figs at Trader Joe's. I found a recipe for fig paste online and made a pint of the sweet and savory goodness. Shared it with some friends and it was a hit, so I thought I had to make it again. But this time, I went a little crazy. I filled many, many  jars of it...and this time, PRESERVED it! (Feeling so domestic, hon.)

I recently posted about's so much fun. Here are a few helpful references on both figs and canning:

Successful home canning

Hot water bath canning
Bon Appetit fig recipes and tips
The fig and the wasp

And, some photos of the canning process.

Also, check out this great sandwich - fig, prosciutto, Fontina. Oh em geeee.

Fig tart goodness

Some flavors that love to be with figs:

Cheese (everything from goat to blue...)
Crème fraîche

And, because it was there on the curb calling my name, I bought a fig tree at Whole Foods and it has a great sunny spot in the backyard. It's three years old now and bore teeny tiny fruit this year...can't wait for next year! The fig tree makes me really happy. 

Feed your soul. My soul likes figs.