green chile posole

IMG_9582My efforts to cook down the freezer continue, and soupily.  I am off to pick up the beef today, and am proud to announce I managed to clear about half the space, so I should be fine.  A major part of the square footage was taken up by what I thought was a half of a pig’s head (nope, a whole; surprise!) from my butchery class with Camas Davis.  I also found a jowl and a cheek, as one does.

Because the head was so big, I roasted it and stripped it for tacos (cabeza), then added the leftover bits to pork stock for a wonderful green chile posole with the other parts I had uncovered in my latest archaeological dig.

Posole!  If you haven’t tried it, it’s wonderful.  I used up a bag of homemade posole (nixtamalized) corn, made last year, the last of my peppers from the two potted plants I had maintained until the frost, the last of the green tomatoes, some roasted anchos I found in the freezer, a big handful of oregano and tarragon still hanging on in the garden, and that wonderfully rich, gelatinous cabeza meat and some pork shoulder. The cabeza really added so much to the broth, and I recommend it if you should have a head in your freezer.  No questions asked.

If you’re making it, here are a few more tips: I threw in a handful of local cornmeal to slightly thicken the broth, and simmered everything for 30 minutes or so, adding a lemon and some powdered ancho pepper and garlic powder near the end of cooking. Perfect winter meal, all local, but with a taste of warm sunny skies.

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lekvar: roasted prune plum paste

IMG_8718Forgive me, I wish I had eaten the prune plums, but I had to make lekvar (prune paste) instead.  Lekvar is easy but takes a long time.  If you start with actual dried prunes, it’s much faster, but I was gifted 25 pounds or so windfall fruit from the Friendly Fruit Tree Project to process, so the first step was roasting the fruit to remove liquid and concentrate the sugars.

IMG_8701Once the fruit had been picked over, cleaned, and roasted overnight, I squeezed out the pits and cooked down the puree even longer.  Once it had significantly reduced in size, I milled out the skins and remaining stems, even catching a few errant pits.

IMG_8755If you can, mill on a coarse screen and a fine screen for a silky texture.

Then I added sugar at a 1.5:1 ratio, a cup of sugar for every 1 and a half cups of puree.  This yields a product that isn’t very sweet, but still provides a jam-like feel. And added the juice of a lemon to acidify the mix.  Some people add lemon or orange zest at this point.

IMG_8767I cooked the lekvar down for several more hours, carefully monitoring the bottom of the pan, which is very susceptible to burning.  The stuff thickened and reduced by about a third before I decided it was ready.  And then voilà!  Dark, mysterious prune plum paste for fall.  It can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen, as it’s a bit too thick to be processed safely.

IMG_8732One can use lekvar in so many wonderful ways: to stuff dumplings, fill cookies and Hamantaschen, spread on cheese or cheese crackers, or this, a wondrous creation from the Friuli region of Italy, inspired by Fred Plotkin’s recipe in La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region.  Sguazeto sauce is used on roasted pork, but it makes a nice sticky barbecue sauce, too, for pork chops or a small shoulder roast.  It usually starts with prunes, but prune paste works like a dream.

Sguazeto for Roasted Pork

    • 2 heaping teaspoons pine nuts
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 2 tablespoons. olive oil
    • 1/4 cup lekvar (or, if you don’t have lekvar, substitute 3 Brooks prunes, chopped and plumped up with some wine for 30 minutes, then mashed)
    • 2 tablespoons chicken stock
    • 1 tablespoon. white wine vinegar

Roast the pine nuts and cumin seeds on a medium-high burner until fragrant.  Combine the pine nuts and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, then mix with honey and olive oil. Heat mixture with lekvar, chicken stock, and vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes or so until flavors combine.

Roast or grill your meat as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with sguazeto just prior to serving, or brush some on in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.

 

 

duck duck pig

IMG_4986Thinking about bodies, and the soft flesh and puzzle of bones that enable us to stand, walk, smile, bend, wave hello, and say goodbye.

The first time I broke down a duck, I marveled at the difference between its structure and that of a chicken: the longer body, slenderer breasts, little drums.  This time, at Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective‘s duck and pig butchery classes in Eugene last weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about the structures we share with the pig.  No, not in the sense that I could never eat an animal with a face or a clavicle or whathaveyou, but rather this unshakeable feeling of being part of the universe, a community of matter.  I can’t get over the metaphysical sense, lately, strangely, insistently, of the impermeability of bodies, of all things, and the wheel of fortune that spins these molecules into personhood, those into livestock, and yet others into mosquito netting or Prada clutches or a turnip or cat’s breath or frost. Why don’t we all just dissolve into the ether?

No, I haven’t been taking more drugs.  Thanks for asking.

Ever more firmly I believe I can’t eat meat without knowing more about how the process works, but my awe and respect for the workings of a creature, our very distinct matter, is kind of overtaking me right now.  I’ve spent an entire year completely (and utterly nonconsensually) focused on broken bodies and death, on dissolution and transformation, so to take part in the slow, careful, respectful craft of turning life into food is quite profound and healing for me.  Meat, somehow, even more so.

We broke down a pig and a half, totaling about 400 lbs. of meat, and a duck apiece, then we learned how to make some cured products, including bacon, rillettes, and duck liver mousse and prosciutto.

IMG_3547IMG_5029 The classes were wonderful, made even better by the gorgeous facility and commercial kitchen at Sprout! where the Springfield farmers market takes place on Fridays.  We were able to take home the meat we broke down, which added yet more value. The Master Food Preservers helped with the class prep and clean-up, and we had a great group of farmers, restaurateurs, home cooks, and teachers who eagerly participated.  Although someone confessed that she was initially nervous about sharing a table with me at the duck class, I laid that to rest quickly with my slow hands and jerky knife skills.  (Any mystique I might have held as a food guru was soon dashed as my knife slipped around a joint, the duck popped, and I sent a bowl of curing spiced salt flying across the room.)

Not only does one learn how the body works, and that you can actually do most of the butchery with a big knife and a small knife (and a hacksaw for the rest), but Camas teaches about cuts that we don’t really use commercially in the U.S.  I’m now on a campaign against loins.  No, sorry, the religious right shouldn’t get too excited — it’s a campaign against the soft, mild cuts that privilege the loin parts of the pig.  I’ve always been a big fan of the shoulder, but now I see even more possibilities for flavorful cuts of pig meat, thanks to the class.

Now I’m hungry.  Check out the full set of photos for both classes on my Facebook page.  If you’re local, you might want to follow me on Facebook while you’re there — I accept all friend requests and post local events and happenings there much more frequently than I do on the blog, which has more of a national readership.

And by all means, take one of Camas’ classes. She promised to come back to Eugene, and we promise to love it when she does!

a pisgah sight of palestine, or the parable of the pig

Joyce’s Ulysses is layered with Biblical motifs, one of my favorite being the messianic hope of a new day.  (I bet you didn’t know someone wrote her Master’s thesis on this very topic, didya?)  There’s an ongoing theme of being thwarted at the last minute before arriving in paradise, like poor old Moses who led the Israelites all the way to the promised land of Palestine, only to die after spying it from atop Mt. Pisgah.

The moral of that story is the darkest hour is before the dawn.

The moral of this story is FIX YOUR DAMN EQUIPMENT, ACTION RENT-ALL, BEFORE RENTING IT OUT TO PEOPLE IN THE FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY WHO ARE JONESIN’ FOR SOME PIG ON A SPECIAL DAY.

Our friends had 80 pounds of pig to smoke yesterday, and we had our own Pisgah sight of paradise.  They found the rotisserie broken and something weird about the heating innards.

They did their best, being experienced smokemen, and so we waited, and drank, and reveled, and waited, and watched, and hoped, and sniffed, and shivered, and waited, and drank, and waited, and drank some more, and our mouths watered, and we talked about the glorious moment in which we’d open the smoker and all god’s glory would come tumbling out and we would sup from the milkiest honeyed pig you might possibly see.  Buddha would jump the wall, the Imam would faint, and vegans everywhere would come gaily skipping up into the South Hills at the smell of the Pig Piper’s porcine perfume.

But alas, it was not to be. No pig that night.  Rumor has it that the pig was still cooking into the early hours of the morning.

Luckily, we had grill-roasted spicy green beans and tandoori chicken, rather ingeniously marinated in salmon-colored yogurt in a big beverage cooler.  I have to get myself one of those for brining turkeys.  I brought along some lacto-fermented hot sauce and pickled cherries for the pig.  Needless to say, these were NOT CONSUMED WITH SMOKY, STICKY, FALLING-OFF-THE-BONE PORCULESCENCE, ACTION RENT-ALL.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say we had a triple-grill weekend with many friends and meats, and new horizons of vegetable possibilities for the barbie, as well.  And if you missed our show full of great alternative grilling tips from Eugene restaurant chefs on last Sunday’s Food for Thought on KLCC radio show because you were struggling with your own smoker, it’s available in .mp3 here.

What did you end up grilling, Eugeniuses?

baked beans made fancy, sort of

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while now, and now that it’s finally breaking 80 degrees for a glorious July 4 weekend, it seems like a perfect idea to turn on your oven for four hours.  Yeah, sorry.

But if you’re yearning for a better class of baked beans, baked beans with a difference that are simple as turning on the oven, read on.  And what better for your Independence Day BBQ?

Growing up, we didn’t eat many pulses since my Mom doesn’t like them.  But one thing we did eat was pork-n-beans straight from the can (thanks to my Dad).  I liked the sweetness and the mushy, starchy texture of the beans.  They often came with a funny, rubbery piece of fat in them that was as intriguing as it was unpleasant.  I always ended up with the fat piece, somehow.  I’d ponder it while I ate: is that the pork? Why doesn’t it have any meat on it? These beans don’t taste like pork.  Is that real pork or fake?

These are not the questions one should be asking while eating food.  And they won’t be questions you’ll be asking when you make this recipe.

I recently bought a sweet little flame-colored vintage Descoware cocotte, thinking it would be perfect for cooking à deux, as I do.  Turns out it’s a perfect bean-baking pot when you don’t want enough beans to fuel a party.

And I also happened to have some Ayers Creek-grown tarbais beans, a glossy, large white dried bean used in the winters in France for cassoulet.

I had molasses and extra-smoked (he’d say over-smoked, but I disagree) bacon from my friend Del’s smokehouse operation out at Laughing Stock Farm.

A perfect storm for baked beans.

The tarbais hold up beautifully with long cooking, and they were meatier than the regular navy beans we’re used to in Heinz’s cans.  Finally, I had a pork-n-beans that was less about the sweet tomatoey sauce and pork fat than the beans themselves — toothsome, dense, creamy beans.

You’ll need to soak the beans for a few hours or overnight, so start now.  This recipe is much smaller than the usual baked beans recipe, calling only for a cup of beans, so you’ll have to use a small dutch oven or lidded casserole.  Feel free to double the recipe, but cooking times may need to be longer.  Another option is to cook the beans in your slow-cooker, then reduce the sauce in the oven.  I haven’t done this because my slow-cooker is too large for such as small amount.

Note: in Eugene, you can buy tarbais at Provisions.  Lonesome Whistle has slightly greenish flageolets and yellow arikara beans that would be excellent.  Also consider steuben beans, or similar yellow-eyes or soldier beans, all of which are classified as an early American bean used for baked beans.

Baked Heirloom Beans with Pork and Molasses

Serves 4 as a side dish

  • 1 cup dried large white beans (tarbais, flageolet, Great Northern, navy, yellow-eyes)
  • 1 piece whole very smokey, thick-cut bacon, chopped finely (vegetarians may want to use liquid smoke, I suppose)
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard (optional — I like the crunch of the seeds)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of ketchup (optional — I use my homemade stuff for another layer of flavor)
  • salt to taste (try 1 teaspoon first)

Soak beans for several hours or overnight in water to cover.  Preheat the oven to 325.  Brown chopped bacon and onion until onion is golden brown; drain excess fat and place in your dutch oven or other oven-safe casserole.  Drain beans, and add to dutch oven and cover.  Add rest of ingredients to pot, then add enough water to cover the beans by about two inches.

Place in oven and cook until beans are tender, about 3 hours, depending on how old the beans are.  This year’s crop will take significantly less time.

When the beans are tender but not falling apart, raise heat to 350 and remove cover.  Taste liquid and adjust salt (it shouldn’t be too salty, as the liquid will be reducing, but shouldn’t be completely bland, either.)  The increased heat will boil away excess liquid to a syrup.  Watch the beans at this point so they don’t burn in the process.  Let cook for 30 minutes, then check in 15-minute intervals until the beans are a consistency you like.

dark days #13: choucroute feast

Retrogrouch and I dined on the dish I’ve been waiting all year to make, choucroute garnie, for this week’s Dark Days winter eating local challenge.  I’ve been saving my homemade sauerkraut and stocking up on sausages just for this day.  Choucroute garnie (garnished sauerkraut), an Alsatian specialty of baked pork and sausages served over a mound of Riesling-braised sauerkraut, is enjoyed in France on grey, rainy days just like the ones we’ve been having in Eugene.  With our local dry Riesling both in the pot and in the glass, what could be nicer?

This recipe is best, of course, if you make your own choucroute.  This particular batch was made with cabbage from Cinco Estrellas Farm in Junction City.  We used andouille sausage  from Sweet Briar Farm and peppered pancetta was from Biancalana pork growers out of Springfield.  The smoked pork loin chop, hrmm, were from somewhere I don’t recall — I think Long’s — and I’m willing to bet they’re local.

One of the nice things about this dish is the great flexibility in the meats served as the garnish.  You simply need a mix of smoked and mild pork.  I’ve made it with ham, a world of sausages, and even a small hunk of pork shoulder.  I most often use kielbasa because I’m Polish.  Maybe we should call it à la Polonaise?  Yes, maybe we should.

We ate the choucroute with some baked russet potatoes from Ladybug and mustard that was as French as the Marseillaise.

Choucroute Garnie à la Polonaise

Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

Serves 4 – 6, because someone at the table will surely have an agenbite of inwit and stop eating too soon

2 T. rendered duck or chicken fat
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 lbs. sauerkraut
10 juniper berries
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 c. dry Riesling (use one from the Willamette Valley or from Alsace, France)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp coriander
4 boiled yellow Finn or other waxy potatoes
1 kielbasa or other smoked pork sausage
4 mild sausages, such as boudin blanc or bratwurst, cooked
2 smoked pork loin chops or 4 slices of ham
4 slices of pancetta (or cured pork belly)

Preheat oven to 350.  Heat duck fat in a large pot.  Add the onion, and cook until translucent and slightly golden. Add the sauerkraut, juniper berries, garlic, wine, and spices. You might also add some freshly ground pepper.  Cover and bring to a simmer.

Add the pancetta and smoked chops or ham. Cover and bake in oven for about an hour to meld the flavors.

While the sauerkraut is cooking, boil water for potatoes and to heat up the already cooked mild sausage.  Peel potatoes, leaving them whole.  Boil until just fork-tender.  Remove the potatoes and heat the sausage in the cooking water, about 5 minutes, just before serving.

To serve the choucroute garnie, drain the sauerkraut, if necessary, and mound it in the center of a large serving platter. Arrange meats and boiled potatoes around the sauerkraut. Serve with a variety of mustards, including Dijon and whole-grain.

super deluxe choucroute extravaganza

We shared a wonderful, rustic fall meal at Marché last night: Alsatian choucroute garnie.  It’s not really a meal for the light of heart.  Basically, it’s a giant mound of wine-braised sauerkraut topped with smoked and cured chunks of unctuous pork, several kinds of sausages and potatoes, served with mustard.

I have to thank Marché for this special menu.  I wish they’d do more of these simple, humble family-style dinners.  The price was outstanding for the quality of the meal, and the food was quite good.  The restaurant offers monthly French regional dinners, also a good value, but this was a beast of altogether different proportions.

choucroute060954-1

I don’t know how restaurant-heavy food blogs manage such gorgeous photos of the dishes that are served to hungry foodies.  I could only manage this:

IMG_0925

And I think I have a perfectly good reason, too.  Let me explain:

IMG_0926

You see, I was dining with The Fastest Fork in the West.  By the time I finished taking these two pictures, he had demolished the boudin noir, Strausbourg, and knackworst-y frankfurter sausages, a pork knuckle, most of the pork (not rabbit, as the menu says) rillette, the quick-pickled vegetables, duck fat potatoes, duck confit, three kinds of mustard (dijon, a particularly wonderful grape must, and plum), and that entire bottle of Sweet Cheeks 2006 Dry Riesling.  I was lucky to escape with a piece of frankfurter, a chunk of pork belly, and my life.

Do other foodies have these problems, these dangers, these Odyssean trials?  I wonder.