Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter Fake-y-que

This is certainly the winter of snow. What this does mean of course, are snow days. I am fortunate enough to actually get snow days, and I promise I’ll try not to rub it in. But, I have had some free time on my hands which means I have been baking/cooking more than usual. (Joe’s had it pretty good, let’s put it that way.) After a couple rounds of bread, a cake and an apple gallette I was in the mood for a savory, hearty treat, and this past weekend’s below zero temperatures reiterated that feeling.
Plus, the football games on Sunday just gave me the extra nudge I needed to make a gigantic dinner. Well, I decided that I could fudge a little indoor BBQ this weekend to remind me of warmer days. And the results weren’t too bad. I guess it can’t really be BBQ since there is no smoking of the meat involved, but it is slow cooked and when some homemade barbeque sauce is poured over it, I think it totally still counts.
I followed the basic tenants of traditional barbeque but adapted them to the work in the oven without a smoker. I know you can get indoor smokers, but in the interest of our upstairs neighbors, I opted not to try and actually smoke anything. So the basic steps were, make a dry spice rub, rub it on meat, sear the meat, braise meat, shred meat, douse with sauce.
In braising the meat, I took a ‘less is more’ approach – not in time; no that was about 5 hours, but in flavors. Since most barbequed meats are basted with some kind of mop sauce, I thought I could let it cook in the mop sauce instead. And letting it slowly cook for 5 hours was easy, plus as a bonus the kitchen was nice and warm for the entire afternoon.
Once I took the meat out and shredded it, I poured the remaining braising liquid back over the whole mess, and let people add their own barbeque sauce. But the true test of the pork was from my 20 month old neighbor, who would walk into the kitchen every minute or so and say “Pork?” in her tiny high pitched little voice. I would find a bite sized piece and hold it out to her like a little bird, pop it in her mouth and she’d walk away. Since she kept coming back, I assumed the pork had to be good – and it was.
So the next time you are in the deep winter doldrums, host your own fake-y-que. Or if you find yourself in a snow day with 5 plus hours to kill, try this recipe out.

Braised BBQ Pork
You can use your favorite spice rub, or make your own. Choose flavors that you prefer, but be sure to include a little heat, and if you have it, a little smoke flavor. I used a smoked paprika, but any smoked spice will do. I also made a bbq sauce, but again you can use store-bought if you’d like.

For the Rub
1 (3-4) pound pork butt
1 Tb salt
1 Tb ground pepper
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (or 2 tsp. red pepper flakes)
1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
½ tsp. dried rosemary
2 tsp. dried onion flakes
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. ground mustard
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika

For the Braise
1 small onion, sliced
1 Tb olive oil
1/3 c apple cider vinegar
1 c water
1 bay leaf

For the spice rub, combine all the spices together in a little bowl. Rub mixture all over pork and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. You can let it sit longer to really develop the flavors in the refrigerator also.

Preheat the oven to 300°. In the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven, sauté the onions in the oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Next, brown the pork on all sides. Some of the spice mixture will come off and stick to the bottom of the pan, that’s ok. Remove the pork to a plate and set aside.

Next, deglaze the pan with the apple cider vinegar, scraping up all of the brown bits. Place pork back in pot as well as any liquid on the plate. Add water and bay leaf, the water should come up about an inch and a half on the pork. Bring this to a boil, then cover and place in oven. Cook for about 5 hours.

The pork should be smaller in size and incredibly tender. Remove pork and place on a cutting board. With two forks, pull the meat apart to get shredded chunks. Pour onions and sauce over meat after you have finished shredding.

To serve, place meat on a roll, top with BBQ sauce and coleslaw (optional) and enjoy!

(If you want to make your own BBQ sauce, there is again, a basic recipe you can tinker with. Sauté some finely diced onion in a little oil. Next add in apple cider vinegar, mustard, ketchup and brown sugar. If the sauce is a little sweet add some Worcestershire sauce, simmer and serve.

For mine, I didn’t use any sugar but I did use some pomegranate concentrate I had, as well as lemon juice and oyster sauce, I let it simmer for about an hour and then let it cool before serving. So get creative, and if all else fails, keep your favorite sauce in the pantry.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bakery

When Joe and I were living in California, I worked at a bakery. I believe that I have mentioned that here before, but never directly referenced the bakery. It’s funny actually, when we were making our way across the country I must have mentioned to Joe that it might be nice to work at a bakery. You see, I had read some book about a woman who leaves her job, heads to a new state and works as a bread baker. The book wasn’t that good, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of working in a bakery.
Getting settled in CA was a pretty big obstacle for me; terrible neighborhood, no money, no job, no internet but lots of cockroaches. Sounds dreamy doesn’t it? But we made it through, fairly unscathed and now I have some fun stories about it – so that makes it all worthwhile.

After getting the gas turned on in the apartment, the next most important thing was finding a job. In applying for jobs, I scoured newspaper ads, and walked to the public library to wait with the other colorful residents of Long Beach for internet access an hour at a time. This forced me to streamline my applications and made me a wizard at blocking out the loud mutterings of a homeless man that always seemed to need the internet at the same time as me.
Before I got the job at the bakery, I had applied to a company that sells items to prison commissaries (travel to prisons included) and an internet dating site (which asked me if I would be able to lie to people in order to convince them to continue paying for the program). I got neither of these jobs, thank goodness. But when I looked online and saw a bakery sales person position open, I jumped at the chance.
Rossmoor Pastries is in Signal Hill, and has been going strong for over 20 years. After I interviewed, one of the owners of the bakery told me that as soon as she saw me she knew I belonged at the bakery. Now, don’t get me wrong I had some ups and downs there, but overall it was a wonderful (and tasty) experience. I sampled my way through endless pastries, goodies, and pant sizes all while making friends and becoming part of the Rossmoor family.

But onto the point of this post (before I get too nostalgic): Breakfast Bread. Breakfast Bread was a recipe unique to Rossmoor Pastries and one of the few things that was healthy. Now when I say healthy I’m not talking about convincing yourself that a slice of carrot cake is healthy, I mean it is full of fiber and protein healthy.
The owners of Rossmoor Pastries are both very active and health conscious. We went on walks up Signal Hill’s hill, kick boxed in a park and generally had a very good time. Both owners love to bike and Charlie was featured in Bicycling Magazine back in 2009. This recipe comes from that magazine article, and I can tell you that it is very similar to the original. But if you happen to be in the Long Beach area, I highly recommend stopping by Rossmoor Pastries for a quick treat, and this breakfast bread. And maybe you can say ‘hi’ to my bakery family for me.

German Breakfast Bread
As adapted from Bicycling Magazine July 2009
The original recipe calls for spelt granola – I could not find spelt granola. So I used whole spelt kernels, which don’t really soften in the bread. I would suggest grinding the spelt kernels up a bit with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor. To serve this, slice it thin (it is dense and heavy), toast, and spread with cream cheese or a nut butter for a filling breakfast. Or spread with butter or nutella for a snack you can still feel good about.

1 c warm water (100°-110°F)
2 Tb honey
2 Tb olive oil
1 package dry yeast
2 c spelt flour, divided
¾ c white whole wheat flour, divided
1 ½ tsp salt
½ c spelt kernels, crushed
½ c raisins

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine water, honey, oil and yeast. Mix gently until the yeast dissolves, about 1 minute. Then add in 1 cup of the spelt flour, ½ c of the whole wheat flour, and the salt, mix for 3-4 minutes. It will be a very soft mixture. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm draft free place for about 30 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.

Next, with a dough hook, add in the remaining flours and spelt kernels, mix until thoroughly combined and the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more whole wheat flour as necessary. At the very end of mixing, toss in the raisins and mix to combine. (If you do not have an electric mixer with a dough hook, this can be done by hand on a floured board.)

Form dough into a loaf-shape and place in a loaf pan. Cover again with the damp kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350°.

Bake the bread until golden brown, 30-40 minutes.

Makes 1 loaf.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Folklife Folklove

As I have mentioned before, my love of cooking really took hold when I was studying abroad in Germany. And if I was bit by the cooking bug then, it really turned parasitic on me my junior year of college. I was living with friends in a gorgeous 4 floor row house in the Foggy Bottom district of Washington D.C. and I had no job, no boyfriend and I definitely didn’t study in the library with the rest of my housemates every night. Which boils down to a lot of free time. So I began to cook. A lot.
When the opportunity to get an internship for the summer as part of a requirement for my degree arose, I applied to a couple of different places. And in this instance, having an advisor who half-assed it most of the time really paid off. A quick phone call over to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and I was in. I received a call back about my application a few days later (which is lightning speed for D.C.). The woman on the other end of the line said she noticed that I put cooking as an interest of mine on the application. I said yes, that I enjoyed cooking. She went on to explain that at the CFCH’s annual Folklife Festival, there are always a couple of cooking demonstration areas, and that she was looking for an assistant to help coordinate the cooking tents.
Now, let me go into some more detail about this Folklife Festival. For all of you who know me, I will commonly place both hands over my heart and whistfully say ‘oh Folklife: Folklove’ and get a dreamy faraway look in my eyes. The Folklife Festival is a giant festival on the national mall every summer sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. They feature different countries and areas of cultures around the world. It’s like one giant, living, breathing, museum on the mall surrounded by museums and landmarks.

Needless to say, I said yes, and agreed to be the unpaid intern for the summer. I have many, many stories about working for the Folklife Festival and if you ask me, I will be happy to share them all with you at some point. For now, my favorite one is as follows:
I was moving items from our office down to the festival site one day and needed to return some cookbooks to the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library on the way. Not thinking about it, I picked up the books, and the bag of kitchen utensils and started walking. I had my credentials making me an official ‘employee’ of the Smithsonian Institution, so I felt pretty confident about my venture.

The public libraries in D.C. have metal detectors in the foyer and all people entering need to be scanned. I looked into my brown paper grocery bag and realized that the utensils I was carrying were strictly knives. Big knives, little knives, serrated knives etc. but only knives. Undeterred, I approached the security guard and said, “Listen, this is a bag of knives. Can I just leave this here, while I return some books?”
“No.” she replied looking at me as though I was an absolute lunatic. I paused and stared at her for a little bit (not helping my case, I realize in hindsight) and then thought better of arguing with her and returned to the office. Apparently, you cannot bring a bag of knives with you into a public library.

Anyways, that summer I worked almost exclusively in the Scottish Kitchen demonstration tent. I met some wonderful people, had tons of laughs, very little sleep and an incredible time. I learned quite a few different dishes and really started to come into my own as a cook. The following recipe is one of the items that I cooked a few times in that kitchen and then in my own after the festival had ended.
Lamb Casserole
as adapted from Sue Lawrence’s Scottish Kitchen

I made this recipe for my extended family while on vacation on the Jersey Shore. This was the first time I had offered to cook for everyone, and my rule was that I was only cooking certain things for dinner – and everyone was going to eat it, no excuses. So no red pepper strips for this cousin and no cucumber slices for that cousin. It was Lamb Casserole or nothing. Surprisingly enough there were no tears, and everything got eaten.

This recipe is easy to make and tastes really fantastic. The original recipe calls for a layer of sliced black pudding to be placed around the outside edge and baked. If you like black pudding and have access to it, I highly recommend it. But if not, the recipe will taste superb without it.

2 Tb Olive oil, divided
2 Tb butter
1 ½ lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into cubes (or lamb stew meat)
1 Tb flour
1 onion, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sprigs rosemary
2/3 c. red wine
2/3c. beef stock

Preheat oven to 325°. Place flour and a dash of salt and pepper into a Ziploc bag, add in lamb cubes, then shake the bag to coat the lamb evenly. Shake off any excess flour.

Heat 1 Tb of the oil in a large heavy bottomed dutch oven. Brown the lamb on all sides, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add remaining oil and the butter to the pot. Sauté onion, leek and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Return meat to the pot, and add rosemary, red wine and beef stock, bring to a boil. Cover the pot and place in oven. Bake for about 1 ½ hours. Then remove cover and bake an additional 30 minutes. If you have the sliced black pudding – layer it around the top of the casserole after 1 ½ hours and then bake for the last 30 minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Vegetarian Tonight

Oh the Holidays have come and gone. Some of us are feeling nostalgic, some worn out and some a little fatter then when we started. If the thought of another cookie, cake or drink makes you queasy; jump on the bandwagon. Joe and I, in our travels this holiday season, visited a few states, and ate and drank a lot. In the car ride back up to Maine, we decided we needed a little digestive break from all the food we had eaten in the last week; pounds (yes pounds) of bacon, heaps of cookies and piles of junk that we do not regularly consume.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of it. And to balance things out, Joe and I did manage to take some cold and icy walks around neighborhoods and orchards when possible. The addition of a blizzard on the East Coast allowed us to spend one morning shoveling, and one evening digging out a parking space in Astoria. So in my mind things almost worked out evenly. Or at least that’s what I am telling myself.

In order to get ourselves back on track we both agreed to a week of vegetarian meals. Well, I thought we had agreed to an entire week’s worth of meat free-whole grain-veggie loaded entrees to fill us up and clean us out. But I may have been one-sided in that conversation. I had visions of winter greens, tempeh, spelt and more floating through my head, while I’m pretty sure Joe had one meal of pasta without meat sauce floating through his.
Sunday night began our foray into meatless dining; fusilli from the Fairway Grocery in New York and an organic jarred pasta sauce that we tossed together quickly after six-plus hours in the car. Monday night we delved even deeper with mustard crusted tofu and gingered kale and sweet potatoes. Yes, this may have been too much for Joe. But I have made it before and I really love this dish. I may even share it with you here at some point. I did accidentally utter the word ‘vegan’ when preparing this meal and that, I think, was the tipping point for Joe.
So when I walked in last night with three giant leeks and a brocco-flower, Joe had a horrified look on his face. I told him I was going to make the Vegetarian Cassoulet he had enjoyed in the past. That look on his face softened a little, but returned full force when I told him I thought I would do a veggie-only stir fry the next night.
‘Vegetables only?!’
‘Well, yeah. We agreed to eat vegetarian all week.’
‘I thought we meant only a couple of nights.’
Apparently 4 nights in a row was too much for Joe. So I told him we could add in the Maine shrimp I just bought and he reluctantly agreed. This conversation, I believe, dulled his enthusiasm for last night’s perfectly respectable meal. The vegetarian cassoulet is very good, hearty, filling and flavorful, but never-the-less; meat-free. Had I made this in an ordinary week, free of vegetarian ideals, Joe would have loved it. And in fact, I have added in chopped ham if I am feeling sorry for Joe. But not last night. When I asked Joe if he liked it and said that I didn’t even notice there was no meat in it. Joe replied, ‘It’s good, but I still know there’s no meat in it.’ I’ll let you make up your own mind.

Vegetarian Cassoulet
As adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2008

This is an easy meal that stretches a long way with cheap ingredients (also handy after Holiday spending). I like to use a mixture of beans, but you can use all cannellini if you prefer. Plus, you get to put garlic breadcrumbs on the top of each serving, which may be the best part. I might start putting garlic breadcrumbs on my cereal.

¼ c. olive oil
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, chopped into ½” pieces
3 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and then cut into ½” pieces
2 large celery stalks, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1/2 “ pieces (see a pattern here?)
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves, garlic, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried parsley
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
3 cans beans (Cannellini, pinto and butterbeans is what I used), drained and rinsed
1 quart vegetable stock or water

Garlic Breadcrumbs
½ c. breadcrumbs from day old bread, or toasted bread that you make into crumbs
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 Tb. olive oil
Dried Parsley

For the Cassoulet:
Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add in all of the vegetables and cook about 5 minutes, until they are all heated through. Then add the thyme, parsley, cloves, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and continue cooking until some of the onions start to turn golden, about 15 minutes.

Next, add in the beans. Stir to combine, then pour in vegetable stock or water. Bring cassoulet to a simmer and cook, slightly uncovered for about 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

While the cassoulet simmers, prepare the garlic breadcrumbs. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine the crumbs with the olive oil and salt (to taste) and parsley (for looks) in a bowl. Spread the crumb mixture onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown and crunchy.

Just before serving, mash some of the beans with a fork on the back of your stirring spoon, to help thicken the stew. To serve, place cassoulet in individual bowls and top with garlic breadcrumbs.