about a year’s worth of mustard

Another in my series of simple recipes with lots of variation  – a basic spicy, grainy, beer-based mustard that is versatile in all sorts of ways. Hot dogs and sausages, corned beefs sandwiches, encrusted fish, soft pretzels, salad dressing. You name it. Play with the seasonings and alter to your tastes or the final application.

the sum of its parts - a whole lot of mustard

the sum of its parts - a whole lot of mustard

The gist of the recipe is this – put everything in a jar, let it sit for 2 days to soften the mustard seeds, then blend for several minutes to the desired consistency.

This recipe’s going to make about 3 cups of mustard, so consider making a 1/2 or 1/3 batch. But, this stuff survives the passage of time quite nicely. Keep in mind, in the first couple of days, this will be pretty intensely spicy and, well, mustardy. After a couple of days it’ll mellow out.

hibernating for a couple of days

hibernating for a couple of days

My variation for this batch were an old bottle of Bell’s HopSlam – an intense imperial IPA that comes around only once a year, smoked salt, and a few dashes of cayenne. I used about 2/3 brown mustard seeds, and 1/3 yellow. And half the vinegar was cider vinegar for some sweetness and the other half was red wine.

Spicy Mustard

  • 12 oz. beer (whatever you’ve got, dark is good but not a necessity)
  • 1 c. vinegar (red wine, white wine, cider, again, whatever, just not balsamic)
  • 1 1/2 c. mustard seeds (brown and/or yellow)
  • 1 1/4 tbsp. salt
  • up to 2 tsp. of any other seasonings (think spicy like clove, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper)
  1. place all ingredients in a quart-sized jar, cover, and leave to sit on counter for at least a couple of days to soften mustard seeds
  2. after 2 days, blend with hand bender or food processor for several minutes till you achieve the consistency you want – go smooth or leave it grainy

makes 3c. of mustard

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My Fakesgiving

Thanksgiving’s always been my favorite holiday, when the foci are food, football, family, and friends. Because of some good planning, some years I get to celebrate Thanksgiving multiple times, as is the case this year. Sunday would be the first for the season – a Fakesgiving, as it were, joined by some of our best friends (and some of the best cooks we know.) I give you a story rife with challenges, but long on success.

the impressive spread (and chefs)

the impressive spread (and chefs)

Not one to shy away from cooking challenges, I took it upon myself, as one of the hosts for this year’s Fakesgiving, to my first whole turkey. No practice run. No nets. Do or die. Obviously, I would smoke it. As I am oft to do, I consulted by main smoking resources – Charcuterie and the Virtual Weber Bullet for the best approach. After some runs around town – including a short-term relationship with a cheap-o self-basting bird from the local Giant, I ended up with fresh, free range turkey from the local Whole Foods.

this 15 pounder barely fit in the smoker

this 15 pounder barely fit in the smoker

Next up was putting this bird in a salty brine. After struggling to fit this 15 pounder into a 2 ½ gallon Ziploc, there was only one remaining option for vessels large enough to hold the bird. So, it was into the cooler with 2 gallons of brine  and 8 pounds (equal to another gallon of water.) The brine was pretty much as Ruhlman prescribed, except I tuned down the salt since most of the other brine recipes I read had about ⅓ less salt than his. And so she sat in the basement, in water and ice for about 30 hours, from Friday night to Saturday night.

the long soak

the long soak

One more important lesson to learn. Trying to find charcoal when it’s not summer is a challenge. Sure, you could be 4 pound bag of lighter fluid injected briquettes for 10 bucks, but I was not going to settle. After visiting 4 or 5 different supermarkets, I ended up driving to my nearest Lowe’s where they had a near endless supply of 16 pounds of the old standby, Kingsford, for 8 dollars a bag. I got two, just in case the smoking itch arose during the dead of winter.

Sunday morning, I fired up the bullet and took it to places I never took it before. Usually, “smoking”  (or barbecue) happens around 200°-250° Fahrenheit. All recipes I looked out suggested getting your smoker up to the 325°-350° range. Sounds simple enough, but it turned out not to be. The first difference was to not put water in the water pan (water in the pan helps hold the lower temperature.) Instead I lined the empty pan with foil (which would then catch any drippings that would go into the gravy.) The rest of the next 2 or so hours was spent regulating temperature. And it wasn’t easy to keep that thing so hot. I was seemingly constantly feeding it with fresh briquettes, wood (cherry, maple, and pecan), and opening vents to get it hot enough. I actually never it got it to hold at 350°. It spent most of the time closer to 300°. I was nervous this would dry out the bird (lower temp, meaning longer cooking time) but hopefully the brine would save me. After about 2 hours, I decided to check it’s internal temperatures for the first time. And wouldn’t you know it? It was only about 10 degrees from done. In the next 30 minutes, it coasted right up to 160° in the breast, 175° in the thigh.

perfect

perfect

When I pulled it out, it was a thing of beauty. Just perfect looking. It took maybe an hour for me to give in and say, “F’ it, I’m carving this up,” using the excuse that it would heat up more easily for our guests, if I cut it up beforehand. And, you know what? I nailed it. This turkey was seasoned, cooked, and tasted just perfect. Tasty, smokey, and moist. Despite the uphill battle, in the end, it all seemed so easy and so rewarding.

The rest of the items I prepared for the meal were cider vinegar braised mustard greens with speck and prosciutto (recipe below,) smoked almonds (that had to be enriched with some smoked salt to actually get any smoke flavor in them), and smoke-roasted potatoes (that kind of just tasted like potatoes from a campfire.) Lastly, was the gravy.

The gravy started a couple days earlier when I made a makeshift stock comprised of the neck and butt of the turkey and some vegetable scraps (leeks, carrots, and parsnips) from the bag of scraps in the freezer for just this purpose. Again, with some help from Ruhlman, I started with a roux of some of the turkey fat from the stock, some butter, some onion, and 5 tablespoons of flour. Then whisked in a quart of my stock and added a handful of quartered mushrooms. When the turkey was done, I poured some of the drippings from the smoker, and the gravy was complete.

As expected, our dinner guests rounded out the rest of the meal just as boldly as I had. Our table literally could not accommodate everything we had, which meant the coffee table had to double as a buffet station for the things that wouldn’t fit. A killer Thai-influenced sweet potato soup, a from-scratch green bean casserole, buttery and cheesy mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts with grapes, sausage prune and kale stuffing, pumpkin cheesecake, pecan pie, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

And because I waited too long to find a cheap plane ticket to see my family, I’ll find solace in the leftovers that crowd the fridge and will feed me for at least the next week.

In addition to all of the leftovers, I’ve also now got a large ziploc (yes, the same bags the whole bird wouldn’t fit in) full of bones and assorted scraps – the makings of what I can only imagine will be some amazing smoked turkey stock.

A couple of basic recipes, so you can try to throw some of this together for your Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Basic Smoked Turkey

(lovingly adapted from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie)

2 gallons water
3 cups kosher salt
3 oz pink salt (curing salt with nitrite)
¾ cup sugar
5-10 garlic cloves
2-3 bay leaves
4 tbsp black peppercorns
large handful of assorted herbs (I used tarragon, thyme, and rosemary)

1 gallon (about 8#) ice
15# turkey

  1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large pot and heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Let chill overnight.
  2. Put turkey in a cooler and pour over the brine and add the ice. Let the turkey soak in the brine for 24-48 hours. (If you’ve got another large vessel and space in the refrigerator, feel free to replace the 1 gallon of ice with water and you can brine in the fridge.)
  3. Remove turkey from brine and leave uncovered in the refrigerator for 6-12 hours.
  4. Remove turkey from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  5. Get your smoker up to 350°
  6. Smoke / roast for 2-3 hours until internal temperature of the breast hits 160° and the thigh 175°
  7. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Cider vinegar braised mustard greens

2-3 oz of smoked or cured pork product, diced (prosciutto, speck, bacon all work)
3-5 cloves of garlic
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of mustard greens, chopped (substitute kale or collards)
¼ c. cider vinegar
¼ c. water

  1. In a large pot on medium low, render the pork (about 8-10 minutes)
  2. Add the garlic and red pepper and saute for about a minute
  3. Add the greens, vinegar, and water.
  4. Cover the pot and braised the greens until they tender (about 45-60 minutes)

notables and edibles from Amsterdam and Brussels

Earlier this month, I spent a delightful week over in Europe – 3 full days in Amsterdam, 3 in Brussels. While I’ll have fond memories of all of the sights we took in, as always, it’s what I stuffed my face with that I’ll likely remember most. So, here’s the rundown of much of the sustenance we enjoyed throughout the week.

After a red-eye flight, a short train ride, an even shorter tram ride, and a little bit of walk (not to mention about 36 sleepless hours), we found ourselves at Noordermarkt – an open-air market featuring endless produce, baked items, cheese, charcuterie, and flea market-type vendors. Despite being all sorts of discombobulated with the time shift and sleeplessness, we soldiered forth to round up a great little breakfast of a couple of different breads (that served as breakfast for the next couple of days, too.)

Bread with ham, cheese, and zucchine

Bread with ham, cheese, and zucchini

One thing worth noting. Make reservations for dinner in Amsterdam. At least on Saturday. We walked seemingly endlessly looking for a place that could accomodate. After being nixed from all of our top choices, we found solace in a cozy little Italian place that I enjoyed quite a bit, while my companion’s lasagne could’ve been a lot warmer.

Sunday night had us tucking into a gluttonous Indonesian feast that is actually more Dutch in tradition than Indonesian. Rijsttafel is a gigantic meal of various small servings of many Indonesian dishes. We settled on one that had about 12 different plates from Kantjil & de Tijger. The highlights were most of the vegetable dishes, especially a cold salad of cucumber and mango.

Moments before digging into our rijsttafel

Moments before digging into our rijsttafel

Some 45 minutes later

Some 45 minutes later

de Kas at night

de Kas at night

For our last night in Amsterdam, we had thankfully planned ahead and made reservations at de Kas – a restaurant embracing locavore culture. In addition to the produce they grow in the greenhouse in which the dining room is housed, they’ve got their own farm about an hour outside of the city, as well as relationships with many producers of produce and livestock and seafood in the area. Before we were even handed menus, we were presented with a small round rustic bread loaf, basil oil for dipping, marinated giant green olives, bright and fresh tasting pickled zucchini, and glasses of champagne with edible flowers in them. Next up was a round of three different starters served family-style. The best dish of the night was the heavily smoked salmon served with beets – both cooked and shaved raw – and hazelnuts and dressed with a lemon dressing. This course also had an eggs benedict-type of preparation and a grilled skirt steak with mushrooms. The most underwhelming course was the entree that followed – a tuna steak with mashed potatoes. The tuna was not cooked quite properly resulting in some dry spots. But the atmosphere and the rest of the meal more than made up for the lapse. For dessert, we split a cheese plate of various French and Dutch cheeses and a vanilla panna cotta with a violet sorbet. Delicious and beautifully presented.

smoked salmon and beets at de Kas

smoked salmon and beets at de Kas

Panna cotta at de Kas

Panna cotta at de Kas

From the crowded busy streets and restaurants of Amsterdam, we headed off to quieter, more tame Brussels. It’s worth noting our indulgence on the train ride between the two cities. Biscuit cookies with chocolate hazelnut spread, though the cookies were overshadowed by the power combo of Sweet Chili Bugles paired with Schweppes Bitter Lemon soda.

on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels

on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels

While Amsterdam for us was all about grandeur, our meals in Brussels were far more relaxed and spontaneous, quite possibly due to the copious amounts of Belgian beer that accompanied most meals.

Lambic pitcher

Lambic pitcher

For our first night, we found a great little hard-to-find place in an alleyway called A La Becasse that specializes in Gueuze (and other) lambics served in clay pitchers – a wildly fermented drink that is more like a cider than a beer. The menu offered basic open-faced sandwiches or tartines (we got a ham one and gouda one, and in true foreigner style, combined them to make a single sandwich.)  And besides basic plates of cheese, salami, and wursts, they also offer lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, and spaghetti with ham and gouda. We would see similar menus in other pubs we visited.

Ham and cheese tartines

Ham and cheese tartines

We visited another pub, the Poechenellekelder, where I ordered lambic faro by the half liter and dined on French and Belgian cheeses and pate campagne and more pickles and cocktail onions.

Cheese plate at Poechenellekelder

Cheese plate at Poechenellekelder

At another place, we had the obligatory serving of mussels, that were just, frankly ok. Though the broth was wickedly good.

Can't believe I ate the whole pot

Can't believe I ate the whole pot

Throughout the city you’ll find Liege waffles on just about every corner and even the occasional little waffle-iron equipped truck. These are like super-Belgian waffles. They’re denser and chewier and crusted in crystallized sugar. And served piping hot and fresh. They offer all sorts of toppings, but, really, they can’t be beat just straight up. Our favorite was a truck we found just outside the Atomium.

Anticipating those Liege waffles

Anticipating those Liege waffles

And while the waffles were hard to beat, easily the best meal we had was a lunch near Ste Catherine’s at Noordzee (Mer du Nord.) A stall out on the street that sells fresh fish, but also will cook it up right in front of you. The menu changes everyday, based solely on what’s fresh and on hand. It was late in the afternoon, so there were a few things that had come and gone through their makeshift kitchen, but we were more than satisfied with the fried shrimp, seared scallops, and unbelievably plump and juicy mussels.

seafood lunch al fresco at Noordzee

seafood lunch al fresco at Noordzee

Oh, and how could I forget the Belgian chocolates? We staged our own tasting crawl, and while we didn’t find anything that was bad, we did find some that were substantially better than others.  By far our favorite was Elisabeth whose truffles, mint chocolates (with the taste of fresh mint), and candy that was made of their handmade nougat, something crunchy, and covered in chocolate that was so good we took home a whole bunch.

Belgian chocolates

Belgian chocolates

Parsnip soup (or any cold weather vegetable, for that matter)

One of my favorite things to cook and eat is soup. In cold months, it’s hot soups made of root vegetables, in the warmer months it’s cold soups with ingredients like tomatoes or peas. A lunch of soup and crusty bread is just about one of the most satisfying meals ever. And I’ve found that the soup actually improves after a day or two in the refrigerator.

Parsnip soup garnished with crispy red onions

Parsnip soup garnished with crispy red onions

Most Saturdays particularly in the fall or winter, after a morning visit to the local farmer’s market, I put a pot on for the day’s lunch. Whether it’s winter squash, sweet potato, or carrot, this basic recipe suits them all and is rife with possibilities for variation and experimentation. Vary the main ingredient with any root vegetable or squash. Vary the herb selection. Thyme is always a good choice, but so aren’t sage and rosemary (but use either sparingly) or bay or chives or parsley. Add heartier herbs at the beginning; softer herbs at the end. The recipe below doesn’t have much in the way of spices, but you can use all sorts of spices from cayenne or paprika to ginger or cinnamon depending on what you want in the end. How about Spicy Sweet Potato with cayenne and cinnamon and coriander?

Use stock. Use water. Or, as I did here, use a combination. Lastly, consider an interesting garnish. Some crunchy contrast to the smooth, blended soup is always nice. Crackers, croutons, or crispy, sauteed vegetables like your main ingredient, or mushrooms, or shallots all provide some contrast in texture.

This time out there were some good looking parsnips at the market, so it seemed like an obvious choice, as it is one of my favorites. My not-so-secret (and completely optional) ingredient here is some serrano ham (courtesy of Cheesetique, by way of a 99¢ “serrano butt”.) You can use bacon or some other smoked pork product in its place, or just leave it out entirely.

Note there’s no cream or dairy in this recipe. That doesn’t mean it isn’t creamy. The potatoes are the key. Their starch helps thicken and smooth out the soup. But, by all means, leave them out and add some cream or milk or yogurt at the end instead.

As with all of my recipes, seasoning throughout the process with salt and pepper is implied.

'Snips and onions sautéing away

'Snips and onions sautéing away

Parsnip soup

  • 1 1/2 # parsnip, diced
  • 2 c. onion, diced
  • 1/2 # potatoes, diced
  • 4-5 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tbsp. chives, chopped
  • 3 sprigs of tarragon
  • 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 2-3 c. chicken stock
  • 2-3 c. water
  • 2-3 tbsp. serrano ham, sliced thinly (optional)
  1. Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and add the ham, butter, and onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the diced parsnips, and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft.
  2. Add the water, stock, thyme, and potatoes, and turn the heat to high to bring just to a boil. The liquid should cover all of the vegetables by about 1/4″ – 1/2″ depending on the size of your pot.
  3. Once the soup has reached a boil, turn the heat down to low or medium-low until it is barely simmering.
  4. Simmer the soup for at least an hour, maybe even two. I use a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of the pot to cover, but you can achieve the same effect by partially covering the pot to allow some evaporation, slowly.
  5. After your soup has simmmered for a while, add the chives and tarragon, and blend with a hand-blender.
The parchment lid

The parchment lid

Gnudi, the new day after Valentine’s Day tradition

Let’s say you’ve got a yearly tradition of making ravioli with your sweetheart every Valentine’s Day. And let’s say that tradition usually involves making more ravioli than any couple could eat in one night as well as even more of an excess of the filling. And, finally let’s just say that while always delicious, you’re looking for a change of pace from the baked pasta with leftover ricotta filling. Well, if all of this applies to you, I’ve got a new alternative for you. Gnudi.

Huh?, you say? In Italian, it’s a derivative of naked. In reality, it’s basically a ricotta-based gnocchi. It’s pretty simple if you’ve already got the leftovers from filling ravioli or a lasagne.

This year’s Valentine’s Day ravioli featured a filling of broccoli rabe, ricotta, eggs, and lemon zest (served with an arugula pesto, alongside a tiny wild boar roast.) The day after, I simply added a little flour to the mixture (about 1/2 c. flour to the 1 c. of filling,) let that sit for a couple of hours, then rolled out little dumplings and boiled them gently for about 6 minutes.

The result was light, fluffy, almost matzo ball-like, but tasting very much of the main ingredients of the filling. I served this with a simple tomato sauce and penne. It was so good and easy, this is likely to become a new tradition in its own right.

Broccoli Rabe and lemon Gnudi

Broccoli Rabe and lemon Gnudi

the Kaiseki tasting at Sushi Taro

I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for two things that, at times, seem diametrically opposed. A many-course tasting menu and a deal. It was with luck and the assistance of one of the recent entrants to the group-buying site Village Vines that I ended up the opportunity for both. Kind of. Somehow, I’ve ended up with a bunch of free credit on Village Vines which can be used towards 30% discounts at a number of top-notch restaurants around DC. The 30% more or less covers your tax and tip. You just have to make a reservation through their site, and keep in mind some of the places have time and day restrictions (as did Sushi Taro) and some other stipulations, but nothing too overwhelming.

With some credit about to expire, I opted to make a reservation at Sushi Taro, where I could use my discount toward one of their tasting menus. First a word about Sushi Taro. A couple of years ago, this was the no-brainer go-to sushi and yakitori place in DC where the a la carte menu was ample. The prices were reasonable and the sushi and grilled offerings were best-in-the-city excellent. Since then they’ve remodeled which resulted in less seating and higher prices and a smaller a la carte menu and the addition of several higher priced tasting menus. Well, to be honest, this was infuriating and disappointing. Our favorite sushi place, just got more expensive and more exclusive. This is no longer the weeknight sushi place it once was. Since the remodel, we’d only been back twice before — for restaurant week lunch and dinner that were quite great and actually, a relative bargain. But with 30% discount in hand, it was time to take on the big guys, the Kaiseki tasting menu. To be fair, while our trips back to Sushi Taro are less frequent as a result of all of these changes, it is still the best sushi and Japanese restaurant in town. But, just not an everyday kind of place. (For that distinction, check out Kushi.) And, so without, further ado, I give you the play-by-play of the 10 courses that made up this tasting menu (the sushi tasting was 11 courses and featured several more courses of sushi and sashimi.)

signature dish

sesame seed tofu with sea urchin in dashi broth

sesame seed tofu with sea urchin in dashi broth

Right out of the gate, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The tofu was soft and delicately flavored and perfumed with the dashi. The sea urchin, tofu, and dashi all together were just so perfect. And ever since another many-course dinner (that time 21 courses!) at Volt, I’ve been won over by sea urchin.

zensai

bamboo shoot, lotus root mochi, and crispy asparagus

bamboo shoot, lotus root mochi, and crispy asparagus

Very interesting flavors. The bamboo shoot tasting of wood and earth, the lotus root mochi with a surprise taste-explosion on in the inside. Again, served with a very flavorful dashi.

winter dish

small delights of winter - smoked salmon and dried roe

small delights of winter - smoked salmon and dried roe

The delicately smoked and cured salmon and the pickled daikon was great. The dried fish roe on top was salty and chewy, but not a flavor I enjoyed all that much, admittedly.

sashimi

fatty tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, prawn, and sardine sashimi

fatty tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, prawn, and sardine sashimi

This was a knock-out course of sashimi. All of it very tasty. I ate it in a clockwise fashion, starting with the fatty tuna at 12 o’clock. Even the raw shrimp was great, which made me a little squeamish, but upon eating it, I was converted.

soup

Ozoh-ni New Year traditional mochi & duck soup with prawn ball

Ozoh-ni New Year traditional mochi & duck soup with prawn ball

Another one of my favorite courses. The broth was just plain delicious. The 2 slices of duck and prawn ball were a bonus, and the mochi, perhaps, unnecessary. But, man, that broth was good.

hassun

Osechi assortment of traditional new year ingredients

Osechi assortment of traditional new year ingredients

This is the point where I realized I was only about halfway through, and if I had any chance of enjoying the last few courses, I had to start choosing wisely. To be honest, while this course was quaint in its presentation and intent, there wasn’t a lot on the plate that I actually liked that much, except the cooked spanish mackerel which was real good. I ended up eating only about half of everything except the mackerel. From the left you’ve got burdock root with sesame paste, salmon roe, lotus root with mustard, two things I’m forgetting now, steamed prawn, and cooked spanish mackerel.

fukiyose

simmered winter vegetables

simmered winter vegetables

A cute little plate with not a lot happening on it. Nice nonetheless. A little more bamboo shoot, prawn, some pea pods, a sphere of squash, and some tourneed potato.

sushi

For some reason I failed to snap a photo of this course. The waitress provided a list of about 12 options from which I was to pick three. All of them were quite interesting, and I had a little bit of a hard time narrowing it down, but I ultimately opted for house-grilled freshwater eel, uni (sea urchin), and zuke soy marinated tuna. Each of these were splendid, the tuna and eel especially.

sukiyaki

sukiyaki simmering away over a charcoal fire

sukiyaki simmering away over a charcoal fire

This is the reason I ordered the Kaiseki menu and not the sushi menu. I love sukiyaki. When I see it on a menu, I order it. Period. By this time, I was already quite full. But, I mustered up a second wind for this. And it didn’t disappoint (except I prefer the thin, clear cellophane noodles over the udon noodles used here.) The beef was wagyu and simmering away in the clay pot. Separate bowls were brought out containing the udon and a poached egg, both of which I slipped into the beefy bath in front of me. Rich and sweet, this sukiyaki did not disappoint. (and still a day later, it hit the spot, since I couldn’t possibly finish it that night, and took the rest home.)

udon and poached egg for sukiyaki

udon and poached egg for sukiyaki

dessert

kokuto coffee ice cream

kokuto coffee ice cream

Once again proving the axiom that “there’s always room for ice cream,” I opted for the coffee ice cream choice for desert. Very delicious, and I probably ate a little too much of it. But I’m glad I did. A nice way to end an all around great meal.

Sushi Taro
1503 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

http://www.sushitaro.com/

Slow Cooker Pork Belly Confit

Some people’s holiday wishes are about fancy new cars or expensive vacations or ipods or video games. Mine tend to be far simpler. They usually involve pork, and it’s usually cooked for a long time.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I opened a Hanukkah gift — a crock pot. It pretty quickly conjured up one image. Confit. Confit of something. Anything. Then I started thinking about pork belly. Pork Belly anything. And thus, the vision was complete. I turned to my seemingly most often referred to cookbook, Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, and sure enough, there’s a recipe for pork belly confit which is actually borrowed from Jim Drohman.

The prep work started Wednesday afternoon when I placed an order at my local butcher, Let’s Meat on the Ave, here in Del Ray, for a crazy amount of locally raised pork belly. Half would go in the crock pot for confit, the other half in the freezer for bacon futures.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked up the belly, threw together the simple cure (which included such sweet and spicy ingredients as clove, cinnamon, and allspice,) and put the belly and cure in the refrigerator to cure for the next day.

all the cure ingredients

all the cure ingredients

And Friday night is when I deviated from the original recipe. Drohman’s and Ruhlman’s  version has you putting this in a 250° oven with rendered pork fat. Lacking sufficient lard and wanting to put my slow cooker to the test, I put my pork pieces in the slow cooker and topped it off with olive oil. 2 hours on the high setting, 2 hours on low setting. (Or, you could do 6-8 hours on low, if you wanted to leave it unattended.) Then I let this cool overnight. And, finally Saturday night, pulled out two portions and crisped them up in a saute pan.

cured belly ready for the slow cooker

cured belly ready for the slow cooker

More than a week had passed since the first inception, and preparation and anticipation lasted 4 days. But here I was with a crisped up confitted pork belly which I served with a reduction of apple cider, cider vinegar, and the last of the New Year’s Eve champagne from the night before. And, boy, was the wait worth it. Tender, but still meaty, and not greasy in the least. The remaining pork fat that didn’t render off was soft and pillowy, and the meat itself was deliciously spicy  from the cure. Six more portions left to sit in the fat/oil in the fridge for another day. Now, I’m thinking cassoulet for at least a couple of them…

crispy pork belly at last (with glazed carrots, parsnips, and turnips)

crispy pork belly at last (with glazed carrots, parsnips, and turnips)

Slow Cooker Pork Belly Confit

(from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book, and slightly adapted for a smaller yield and available ingredients)

  • 10 grams ground black pepper
  • 3 grams ground cinnamon
  • 1 gram ground cloves
  • 1/2 gram ground allspice
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 25 grams kosher salt
  • 3 grams pink salt (curing salt that includes sodium nitrite)
  • 3 lbs. fresh pork belly, cut into eight 6oz. portions (about 1″x2″)
  • white wine (I used a gewurztraminer I had on hand)
  • olive oil or rendered pork or duck fat
  1. Mix the first 8 ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Toss the belly pieces in the bowl with the cure.
  3. Place all of the belly pieces in an airtight container, cover with white wine. Let sit for a day, day and a half.
  4. After the pork has cured, remove the pieces and wipe off any excess cure.
  5. Place in your slow cooker and cover completely with oil or rendered fat.
  6. You can set your slow cooker to low and cook for 6-8 hours. Or run it on high for 2 hours, and then low for 2 more hours.
  7. After the all of the total cooking time, remove the pork and rendered fat or oil to cool. Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
  8. When ready to serve, crisp each piece in a hot pan. You shouldn’t need to add an oil to the pan.
  9. The remaining pieces should keep in the oil in the refrigerator for several months.

… with tacos from Taqueria El Charrito Caminante

Despite living within walking distance of about 5 places where I can get tacos, I almost always prefer to take the 10 minute drive down to Washington Blvd. in Arlington, when I get a hankering for tacos.

Trio of tacos

Trio of tacos

Taqueria El Charrito Caminante is a store-front on the outskirts of Clarendon. The story goes that they used to have a taco truck, but opened up this brick-and-mortar joint several years ago. There’s not a lot of seating, just a short formica counter with a handful of stools, so most orders are carry-out. These guys do a steady business during the lunch hours (except on Tuesday, when they’re closed,) slinging tacos, burritos, pupusas, tortas, tamales, and a variety of mexican sodas (Jarritos and Inca Cola.)

I’ve been countless times and I’ve only ever gotten one thing. Tacos. If I lived within walking distance, I’d gladly jump around the menu, but since it’s only every couple of months that I end up going here, I really only want one thing. Tacos. For me, these are the prototype for a taco. So simple and pure. Two warm  soft corn tortillas, a modest amount of meat filling, radish and scallion, and some salsa verde. No cheese. No crispy shell (not that I don’t love a crunchy taco.) No lettuce or tomato. No nonsense. When I make tacos at home, this is what I’m trying to approximate. They offer a variety of fillings — pork, beef, chorizo, chicken, beef tongue, and goat. My usual order is  a trio of goat, pork,  and chorizo. And since this has become somewhat of an addiction/habit, I end up eating them in that order every single time. And wash it all down with a tamarind Jarritos. At $2 a taco and $1 for the soda, the bill runs $7, tax included.

Tamarindo Jarritos

Tamarindo Jarritos

The goat is slow-cooked and shredded. It’s not the least bit gamy, and occasionally a little greasy. Think shredded beef or lamb. The pork is similarly slow-cooked, probably shoulder, but the pieces are cubed, so they’re a little more substantial. Think carnitas. Lastly, the chorizo, my favorite (which is why I save it for last) is minced and, kind of greasy, but in the best possible way; the grease tasting of the spicy sausage. As bad as it sounds, think about the tacos you had at your school cafeteria texture-wise. I swear that’s a good thing. Each of these little guys are dressed with a simple radish and scallion salad and then a little of the spicy salsa verde. If I were ever challenged to some sort of eating competition, I would pick these. I’m pretty sure I could a thousand of them.

Taco de puerco

Taco de puerco

Whenever anyone suggests tacos, this is immediately where my mind goes. These warm little rolls of simplicity and tastiness.

over and over again

Perhaps this is the post you expected all along.

In the past, oh, four years or so, I’ve developed a pattern of suddenly discovering I’ve outgrown my entire wardrobe, then spending a month or two losing enough weight to get down to a healthier weight, and then spending the next 10-11 months stuffing my face until I can no longer fit in my pants again. The first time this happened was fairly extreme. I had managed to reach a weight and pant size that it took 2 months to lose about 30 pounds and 3 inches off my waist.  Subsequent years have not been so extreme, but are usually around 10-15 pounds in about a month. So, here I am in the middle of the cycle, trying to drop a few just so I don’t have to break out the fat pants.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on losing weight —  otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be stuck in this never-ending cycle, and I would just remain at my ideal weight — but I have developed a decent program that works for me. I’m not going to say it’ll work for you, but it should. The basic idea isn’t a new one, really. Eat less. Seriously, this is one of those tried and true methods that just works. Ok, I’ll add a little nuance to this.

You should eat less or fewer of the following:
  • calories
  • refined carbohydrates (i.e. flours and sugars and beer)
  • fat
  • meat and cheese (because they can be both high in calories and fat)

Also, not quite so obvious is that you should actually eat more often. When I was younger, I was a skinny little kid with the appetite of a prospective sumo wrestler. And yet, I continued to weigh the same throughout high school and most of college. The big difference between then and now (besides the long bike rides) is my metabolism. This is a key component to losing weight. If you’ve got a speedy metabolism, your body can whip through those calories in no time. One way to get your metabolism back up is to never be hungry. Your metabolism will eventually realize that it constantly needs to work to process all of that intake. If, on the other hand, you endure long periods of hunger, your metabolism becomes dormant, since there’s nothing for it to do. Important note though. Don’t just stuff yourself at every possibility. Rather, ration out your caloric allotment across several meals and snacks. Portion size is important here. Two other little tricks that have helped are that cayenne pepper and green tea can also help to increase your metabolism. Not sure of the science behind this, but that doesn’t keep me from putting cayenne pepper or hot sauce on just about everything.  Soups are also another great way to fill you up without a lot of calories.

So, to summarize, you should eat or drink more of the following:
  • often
  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans
  • nuts
  • soup
  • water (sometimes your hunger is really thirst)
  • cayenne pepper
  • green tea

One thing I’ve found really helpful is actually keeping a log of what you eat during the day. It really keeps you conscious of the effect that any given food can have on your weight loss goals. I use an app called Lose It which also has a web interface. They’ve got a huge and growing database of everything you could possibly imagine and allows you to enter in your own, as well as recipes that you can then portion out throughout the week without having to enter in each ingredient every single day. It also helps you determine the right number of calories you should consume to achieve your goals.

Lastly, it should go without saying that exercise is key, but since this is a food blog, and I’m no exercise guru, I’ll leave that to others.

Over the years, I’ve developed some decent recipes that abide by the above rules that I go to all of the time whether I’m trying to lose weight or not. And, actually, before I mention any of those, I’ll reveal a dirty little secret about what I have for breakfast when I’m trying to lose weight. About 10 baby carrots and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. It ain’t pretty, but damn effective, and honestly, the carrots are merely a necessary delivery mechanism for the peanut butter. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to ever start their day off this way. But it honestly satisfies me, and is often the meal I look forward to the most, since it’s just short of just using a spoon. Now, some worthwhile recipes to help you achieve those New Year’s resolutions that are bound to appear come January the first.

chickpea or White Bean salad

makes 2 servings, about 300 calories each

  • 1 15 oz. can of chick peas or white beans
  • 1/4 c. onion, diced
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 c. radishes or bell pepper, diced
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • chopped herbs
  • salt to taste
  1. Put everything in a bowl.

pea soup

makes 4 servings, about 100 calories each

  • 1/2 c. onion, diced
  • 1 16 oz. bag of frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • chopped mint
  • 3 c. water
  • salt to taste
  1. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Put in the onions and let them soften. Takes about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Pour in the water,  add the peas, and turn the heat to high.
  4. Simmer away for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the mint. Then blend with an immersion or regular blender.

Pretty Spicy chili

makes 6 servings, about 500 calories each

  • 1 lb. ground pork, beef, chicken, or turkey (or just omit)
  • 2 15 oz. cans of kidney, pinto, or black beans (in any combination)
  • 1 c. onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1  sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 poblano peppers
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers, diced (optional)
  • 3 15oz. cans of diced tomatoes (Muir Glen has a lot of interesting varieties, some with green chiles, for instance)
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. cayenne (to taste)
  • salt to taste
  1. Roast the poblano peppers either over gas burners or under the broiler. Once completely charred, put in a covered bowl and set aside to cool. Once cooled, peel away the charred skin and dice, discarding the seeds.
  2. In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the meat if you’re using it over medium high heat. Once browned, set the meat aside and discard most or all of the grease.
  3. Turn the heat to medium and add the onions, bell pepper, chipotles, and jalapeno to soften. After a few minutes add the spices.
  4. Add the remaining ingedients, as well as the meat and poblanos, and simmer away for 20 minutes until the mixture is fairly thick.

huevos rancheros with “Refried” Beans

“refried” beans

makes 3 servings, about 150 calories each

  • 1/4 c. onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1/2 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto or black beans
  • 1/4 t. cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), or any other spicy spices (optional)
  • water
  • salt to taste
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the diced onion and jalapeno. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices.
  2. Drain the can of beans and add to the pan.
  3. Add water to cover the beans, and turn heat to high. Boil vigourously until the beans soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. With a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the beans until you get something that looks, well, like refried beans. They should have some chunks, but also be fairly smooth.
Huevos Rancheros

makes 3 servings, about 300 calories each

  • 1/2 c. onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 t. cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), or any other spicy spices (optional)
  • 6 eggs
  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the sliced onion and jalapeno. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices.
  2. Add the can of tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes until a lot of the liquid is evaporated.
  3. Transfer the sauce to a large saute pan with a cover over medium heat.
  4. Crack the eggs and add them one-by-one into the sauce. You’ll be poaching the eggs in the sauce, so just crack them onto the surface. Don’t stir them in.
  5. Cover the pan and cook for about 7 minutes or until your eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve with the refried beans.

with tiny pickled green tomatoes

There will likely be no more ripe tomatoes this year. At least not any from around here. The days are shorter, the nights are colder, and it’s only a matter of time before the squirrels or other local rodents devour what remains of a patio garden past its prime.

We’ve established I love pickles. When I think of preserving, it’s the first preparation I turn to instead of just simple canning or jamming. I’ve covered what to do with the remaining herbs and peppers. The last thing are the little cherry tomatoes that didn’t make to full ripeness in time.

Tiny unripe green cherry tomatoes

Tiny unripe green cherry tomatoes

I pulled of the remaining couple of handfuls of tiny green tomatoes, mixed up a simple brine of half water, half white vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, a tablespoon of salt, and a teaspoon of some pickling spice from the Ruhlman Charcuterie book (that I used earlier in the year to make corned beef.) And that’s it.

The tiniest pickled green tomatoes you'll ever see

The tiniest pickled green tomatoes you'll ever see