Posts Tagged With: bacon

Happy New Year!

I know it’s been a while, and a food blogging comeback isn’t necessarily in my list of New Year’s resolutions (though I do hope to keep up a little better in 2013)….but Micah and I just enjoyed a fabulous New Year’s feast that I absolutely had to share with you!

A customary meal on January 1st includes cornbread, collard greens, black-eyed peas, rice, and some sort of pork, with the idea that all of these foods will bring you good luck, wealth, and prosperity in the coming year.

Micah and I certainly would love to have a nice, lucky 2013…but y’all should also know by now that we have a hard time playing by the rules. 🙂

So, here’s what we enjoyed for our not-so-traditional New Year’s feast:

New Year's tacos!

New Year’s tacos!

Pork belly tacos on corn tortillas with black-eyed pea hummus and collard greens, plus some buttery basmati rice seasoned with smoked paprika, sweet onions, and crispy crumbled bacon.

To answer the most important question: yes, this tasted just as delicious as it looks!

I know I haven’t been around much lately and I miss you all terribly!–but I promise, we’re still cooking up a storm, and I do plan to pop into the food blogging world every now and then to see what you’re up to, too. 🙂

Here’s wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and delicious 2013!

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we are the big bad wolf (or, what we did with the pig that didn’t get away)

So, a while back, I pretty much swore to you guys that Micah and I wouldn’t be buying another pig head.

I lied.

Oops.

Here’s the thing:

Micah really, really loves curing him some pig meat.

He most recently made bacon from a pretty slab of pork belly, but one of his favorite and most frequent curing projects is guanciale, a salty and porky cured Italian hog jowl that tastes kind of like bacon on steroids.

And lately, we’ve been having trouble finding hog jowls from any of our usual sources. None in the Athens Locally Grown listings, none in the Moonshine Meats farm store.

It’s like every recently slaughtered pig within a 100-mile radius is mysteriously without cheeks.

We’re almost out of bacon, so the situation was getting urgent. Dire, even.

Micah emailed Eric at ALG, and he suggested that Micah contact Greendale Farm–who turned out to also be sold out of hog jowls.

But they did have whole heads.

So, guys, it was an accident, but yes…we did end up with another massive pig head in our refrigerator.

I’ll spare your gag reflexes and forgo the photo of the whole big ol’ head staring at you…but I do have to share the impressive amount of pantry staples one head will yield.

First, the jowls:

in about two and a half more weeks, we’ll be in hog heaven with this cheeky, streaky bacon

And here’s the rest of the haul:

look at that army of freezer jars…..

So, what exactly is all this stuff?

Well, here’s what one pig head will very generously give you:

  • about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds delicious home-cured hog jowl bacon
  • 3 gallons + 2 cups pork stock (freeze in 1- to 2-cup portions for easy additions to soups, stews, and sauces)
  • 1 cup lard (makes a great cooking fat, especially for brunch and Southern fixins)
  • about 1 pound pig skin trimmings (perfect for seasoning beans, greens, and soups)
  • about 2 pounds pulled pork meat (which we used to make some fantastic barbecue sandwiches)
  • 1 pork tongue (I have no idea what Micah plans to do with this, but it’s in our freezer…I’ll keep you posted!)

Micah spent pretty much a whole day prepping all this stuff, but now we’ve got a freezer and refrigerator full of delicious pork products that cost us next to nothing.

Was it worth it?

Yep, I do believe it was.

And, because I’m sure some of you are wondering:

No, we did NOT make any headcheese with this hog head. We picked the meat off of the skull, but we left all that weird cartilaginous stuff out of our harvest.

I swear, we’ll never make headcheese again.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t swear. I haven’t been too good at keeping promises lately. 🙂

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a perfect 30th birthday, and a perfect field pea soup

I love a good birthday cake, especially the carrot cake we got from Big City Bread for my 30th birthday party a couple of weeks ago:

thanks to Micah’s mom for the candles and to my friend Alice for the lovely photo!

The folks at Big City were super nice, by the way, and offered to let me sample several tasty cakes before picking one. But when they sliced me off that first little sliver of this cream-cheese-and-carrot decadence, that was all the convincing I needed.

I received some very thoughtful presents, too.

The best gift, of course, was a fantastic gathering of friends and family at our house for my birthday party, complete with food and booze and some cheesy 80s music to commemorate the decade of my birth.

From my sweet, sweet husband: a clean house, two four-packs of my very favorite fancy beers (Wild Heaven Invocation and Ode to Mercy), lots of yummy birthday pizza from Transmetropolitan (including the best combo ever, bacon + artichoke hearts), and a classy date at Five and Ten the night after my birthday.

Money from the folks (always appreciated), a lovely bottle of Malbec from Dave and Kim, hand-drawn pictures and a birthday card from my niece Lilly, and a gift certificate to Avid Bookshop (yay!) from her uncle Jason.

From Eric and Jinny, a bottle of chamomile grappa (perfect for sipping after a swanky date-night dinner), and from my good friend Amy, a very pretty tea set with a mint-green teapot, two mugs, and packages of green tea and cookies.

Scratch-off lottery tickets (not winners–oh well!) and cute sticky notes from some school pals, plus a pretty handmade necklace from my fourth grade Froggy Friend!

I’ve got a pretty dang sweet crew of friends and family, if I do say so myself! What a perfect birthday.

So imagine my surprise when I returned to school the following Monday to find one more present waiting for me on my desk, a pink gift bag from my friend Leigh, with a note that read: “I’ve picked some field peas from my garden (purple-hull/crowder). If anyone knows what to do with these, it’s you! :)”

My birthday had already been wonderful, which made these pretty peas the proverbial icing on the cake:

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but I think this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, ever

I spent last Saturday morning sipping coffee, baking muffins, and shelling those pretty little peas:

they’re lovely without their shells, too

Then it was time to come up with a recipe. I winged it, as usual, having never made soup with fresh field peas before, and let me tell you guys–the results were nothing short of spectacular.

not the prettiest photo I’ve ever posted, but I think you still might be able to tell that this soup was
packed with veggies, full of flavor, and perfect with a hunk of toasted homemade sourdough

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup diced bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 6-8 big cabbage leaves, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup freshly shelled field peas
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked, if you have it)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 cups stock or broth (I used pork)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the bacon in a big saucepan over medium heat and cook until it starts to crisp and the fat has rendered out.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and carrots, and saute for about 5 minutes or until they start to get tender.
  • Stir in the cabbage, field peas, marjoram, paprika, and lemon zest. Mix until everything’s coated with the bacon fat and seasonings. (At this point, things are going to smell really, really good.)
  • Pour in the stock or broth, add the vinegar and bay leaves, and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until until the peas are cooked through and the veggies are falling-apart tender.

This hearty soup makes a meal for 2 or 3 with sourdough toast, buttermilk biscuits, or hunks of warm homemade cornbread.

Make the portions a little smaller and you’ll have the perfect starter for a Southern-style feast of summer veggies and crispy fried chicken.

And when you slurp up your first spoonful of this savory soup, you’ll swear it must be your birthday (even if it’s not).

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bacon, pecan, & chocolate chunk muffins

What do you get when you cross crispy, pan-fried, home-cured bacon with locally harvested pecans and sweet, creamy milk chocolate?

Muffins, of course!

I don’t know if you guys have missed my muffins for Monday posts, but I sure have missed making muffins!

Where have all my muffins been?

Well, here’s the thing. Since I’m a teacher, I have summers off. And during the summer, I don’t usually drag myself out of bed in time for much of a breakfast besides a big, strong cup of (possibly spiked) coffee. And Micah is perfectly happy smearing jam on some homemade whole-wheat sourdough or topping a bowl of creamy Greek yogurt with some sweet summer blueberries.

So, when I’m on vacation, the muffin recipes go on vacation, too.

But school has started back (with a vengeance–I’m crazy busy and kind of exhausted!)–so the muffins are back, too.

I wasn’t sure what yummy mix-ins I wanted to put in this week’s batch, but Micah suggested the perfect ingredient: bacon.

A quick scan of the cupboard revealed a container of pecan halves and a bar of milk chocolate.

Thus, this recipe was born.

And despite being full of bacon and chocolate, these muffins really aren’t that bad for you. Thanks to the whole wheat flour, they’ve got a little bit of fiber. Pecans, bacon, and Greek yogurt add protein. And using fat-free yogurt and no added oil or butter makes these relatively low in both fat and calories.

So I won’t feel guilty at all about devouring one of these tasty pastries for breakfast every morning this week. 🙂

a little bit o’ bacon in every bite

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
  • 1 1.55 ounce milk chocolate bar, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F and prepare a 12-cup muffin pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the milk and yogurt.
  • Stir the dry ingredients into the wet stuff, then fold in the bacon, chocolate, and nuts just until everything’s incorporated.
  • Divide your batter among your 12 muffin cups. If you’re not scared of raw eggs (I’m not), then feel free to lick your spoon clean of all batter remnants, which will taste just a little sweet and just a little salty (just like these muffins will be very soon).
  • Bake the muffins for 13-15 minutes or until they’re golden brown and spring back a little if you press the tops.
  • Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature.

These yummy treats are fluffy and full of flavor, with just a hint of salty bacon and a touch of crunch from the chopped pecans, punctuated with little pockets of sweet, creamy chocolate.

I might add a bit more bacon next time, but these are fantastic just the way they are.

In fact, I have to tell y’all that while Micah pretty much always enjoys my muffins, he does usually prefer to slather them with a little bit of butter–but he said that this batch doesn’t need any. 🙂

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not-so-quick lunch – 6.29.12 – a tasty salad (and why I shouldn’t tempt fate)

Some foods just don’t make sense.

Some are oxymorons, like jumbo shrimp.

Others are food products that don’t exist in nature, like fat-free cheese, meatless chicken nuggets, and non-dairy creamer.

And then there are foods that flat-out laugh in the face of the laws of science: baked Alaska, fried ice cream, fried mozzarella sticks, Paula Deen’s deep-fried butter balls.

How do you heat something that’s supposed to melt–a substance that should barely survive room temperature, much less a 400-degree oven or a vat of bubbling oil–and end up with a cooked item that retains its shape like a solid rather than oozing like the liquid it rightfully should be?

I’ve never trusted myself to cook any of these nature-defying treats because, frankly, I have a hard enough time avoiding kitchen disasters when I follow recipes that do make sense.

The more I cook, the better I succeed at averting catastrophe, but some rules just weren’t meant to be broken.

At least, not by a klutz like me.

I’ve dropped entire pans of cookies on the floor; turned out many a busted Bundt cake or pan of crumbled cornbread; shredded wooden spoons with the whirring blades of my blender; burned my hands, arms, and face–yes, my face–making mashed potatoes.

Kitchens are minefields, and it’s a wonder I haven’t yet blown off my legs.

Over the years, I’ve come to terms with my kitchen clumsiness, often taking extra precautions to compensate for being accident-prone.

I make Micah pick up heavy things like Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets.

I stand on stepstools instead of tiptoes to reach glass items on high shelves.

And I tend not to cook things like baked Alaska or fried cheese because, really, why push my luck?

So when the folks at Putney Farm shared gorgeous photos of a salad topped with golden brown and crispy baked goat cheese,

  1. I should have stopped before even reading the recipe.
  2. I should have definitely not commented on their post about how intimidated I am by science-defying baked cheeses, which only invited an encouraging reply from the friendly folk at Putney Farm.
  3. I should have absolutely not let the thought cross my mind that we happened to have goat cheese in the refrigerator and panko bread crumbs in the pantry.
  4. And, once instilled with ingredient excitement and a false sense of security, I should have without a doubt NOT attempted to bake that goat cheese myself.

Especially while also juggling a salad spinner full of greens, a pile of tomatoes and pickled beets to slice, a vinaigrette to whisk, a cast-iron skillet of bacon to crisp and pecans to toast and peaches to roast.

But I did read the recipe, did comment on it, did receive warm encouragement, did scan the contents of my kitchen for the needed ingredients, did bake my own goat cheese in the midst of all my other salad prep.

I tempted fate.

And when you test the kitchen gods, you’d better be prepared to deal with the consequence.

The consequence should’ve been a golden brown and crispy disc of firm but gooey cheese, solid enough to pick up and place atop my crisp, cool salad, but baked just enough to ooze creamy goodness into every green bite. A delicious trophy rewarding my culinary bravery.

Instead, my consequence was a searing hot baking sheet flowing with a lava-like lake of breadcrumb-speckled, melted, messy goat cheese.

My cheese didn’t defy the laws of science.

It followed them precisely.

Not pretty.

But damn it, I wanted goat cheese on my salad, and I hadn’t endured that harrowing trial just to scrape my cheesy clustercuss into the trash.

Instead, I scraped that gooey, gloppy puddle together into two misshapen globs and slapped ’em onto our salads anyway.

It wasn’t pretty, but we ate it.

And it was good.

well, okay, the salad was pretty…but the goat cheese was not

What’s in it:

  • 4 ounces goat cheese (use something kind of firm, NOT Humboldt fog  this is where I went wrong)
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • a handful of your favorite herbs
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3-4 cups salad greens
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup halved pecans
  • 2 small peaches, quartered
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup pickled beets, sliced into slivers
  • a quick vinaigrette (2 teaspoons brown mustard, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil, salt & pepper to taste)

Step-by-step:

  • Cut or mold your goat cheese into discs. Sprinkle the discs with herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and let marinate while you preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Dredge the discs of cheese in the breadcrumbs to lightly coat them on all sides, arrange them on the pan, and bake for about 6 minutes. Pray your cheese doesn’t spread like frosting all over your pan. 🙂
  • Meanwhile, heat the bacon in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Cook it until it’s nice and crispy, then remove the bacon to cool–but leave all that tasty bacon fat in the pan.
  • Add the pecans to the skillet and cook ’em in the bacon grease until they start to smell warm and toasty–just a few minutes–then scoop out the pecans and add the peach quarters, cut sides down.
  • By this time, your cheese should be out of the oven. That’s good, because now it’s time to put your skillet o’ peaches into that 400°F oven and roast the fruit for about 10 minutes while you assemble your salad.
  • Divide your greens between two really big plates. Artfully decorate the greens with tomatoes and beets. Crumble one slice of bacon over each salad, then sprinkle on some toasted pecans.
  • Whisk together your vinaigrette if you haven’t already, then drizzle it over the salads.
  • Top your salads with warm peaches and your (hopefully lovely) baked goat cheese crouton.

What this salad wasn’t: easy to make, stress-free, boring.

What it was: a tasty mix of hot and cold, crispy and gooey, sweet and salty, light and hearty. Delicious, and pretty perfect for a summertime lunch.

Even if it was a disaster.

you know how people turn their Christmas trees to “the good side”?
yeah, same with a sloppy mess of a baked goat cheese salad.

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project in progress, 6.10.12 – Micah’s home-cured bacon, part 2

Shame on me.

Micah and I have been enjoying his home-cured bacon for a few weeks now, and I haven’t even updated you on the progress.

My most humble apologies!

Quick recap:

Micah cured a pork belly to make homemade bacon. When it was curing, it looked like this:

pork belly curing in salt, sugar, and lots of garden-grown rosemary

For this step, Micah for the most part referenced a very detailed article from Oregon Live. Other sources for the curing part of the process include this recipe from Saveur and Michael Ruhlman’s recipe (because Ruhlman, author of a book called Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, is pretty much The Man when it comes to curing meats).

No pink salt (Insta Cure No. 1/sodium nitrite) was used in our curing process because a) it was listed as “optional”; b) we didn’t have any; and c) added nitrates/nitrites are chemicals we try to mostly avoid.

Micah also left out the juniper berries because, well, where on earth do you buy juniper berries, anyway? So extra bay leaves and rosemary took the place of those.

Our slab of pork belly cured in the salt/sugar/seasoning mixture for about a week, during which time it was flipped and rotated occasionally and released a fair amount of moisture. Then, Micah cleaned off the cure and it was time for smoking.

Micah wanted to cold-smoke the bacon rather than hot-smoking it (which would have cooked it instead of leaving it raw). Of course, we don’t own any kind of fancy smoking appliances, so (as usual) we improvised:

Micah’s DIY cold smoker, constructed from everyday household items

Micah got the idea for this from the LA Weekly blog and (again, for the most part) followed their instructions, subbing an aluminum beer can for the tin can that they suggested.

To make your own cold smoker, you need….

  • a soldering iron (preferably one that’s never been soldered with before–we picked up a cheapie from the hardware store for about $15)
  • a large roasting pan
  • a wire rack
  • a tin or aluminum can, with the top almost completely removed so it makes kind of a flip-top lid
  • wood chips
  • ice packs
  • foil

You can see in the picture basically how all this is put together. The wood chips are inside the PBR can, and the soldering iron rests inside of that where it heats the wood to create smoke, but no fire–pretty cool! Once you’ve got your roasting pan smoker set up, you just put whatever food item you would like to smoke onto the rack, turn on the soldering iron, and cover the whole rig with aluminum foil to keep the smoke in.

The day Micah smoked his bacon, he had the smoker going pretty much all day, changing the woodchips out about every hour or two. Our whole house and porch and yard were enveloped in an intoxicating aura of porky smoke, which was fabulous. Even our hair and our clothes smelled like bacon. And I have to admit, while I always find Micah attractive, somehow he’s extra sexy when he’s bacon-scented. 🙂

When the bacon was done smoking late that evening, it looked like this:

just look at that smoky golden glow….

And it smelled incredible.

Since the whole slab was about three pounds, Micah cut it into six 8-ounce hunks, and we froze all but one of them.

Then, finally, it was time to try the bacon!

Micah sliced it nice and thick.  This is what it looked like raw:

nice ‘n’ streaky

And then we cooked it up good and crispy in a cast-iron skillet:

<insert drool here>

The verdict?

Amazing.

This bacon tastes like bacon squared, perfectly smoky and porky and delicious. The only change Micah said he will make next time (oh, yes, there will be a next time!) is to cure the bacon for a slightly shorter amount of time, maybe 4-5 days instead of a week, as this batch is almost, but not quite, on the verge of being too salty.

I think we’ve devoured half of this batch of bacon in just a few short weeks, enjoying it on burgers and sandwiches, with eggs and toast for breakfast, and crumbled over a bed of tangy, spicy collard greens:

served with black-eyed peas, summer squash, and cornbread, naturally

Not only has this project sold us on curing our own bacon from now on, but it has also inspired us to branch out into other curing and smoking experiments–I am itching to try making our own smoked salmon!

In the meantime, we’ve still got a pound and a half of beautiful home-cured, home-smoked pork belly in our freezer, and I can’t imagine it will last much longer.

After all, everything’s better with bacon. 🙂

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quick lunch extravaganza – when life gives you bread, make sandwiches

Our house has been infested.

With fleas, earlier in the summer, and lately with some very persistent ants.

But, mostly, with bread.

It started when I overbought buns for a cookout a few weeks ago. Micah was smoking a pork picnic roast and grilling burgers for almost 20 people, so I cleaned out the Daily Groceries bakery case and brought home enough buns for everyone to have two.

My calculations didn’t account for folks going bread-less, which many of them did (in order, I’m sure, to consume more of the delicious meats and veggies on the table).

So after the cookout, we still had about twenty buns leftover, but only enough uneaten burgers and barbecue for about half that.

Oops.

We would’ve frozen the extra bread, but our freezer was already getting out of hand.

Which meant that, after the extra pork and beef were gone, we still needed to eat eight more buns, because of course I just couldn’t bring myself to waste them.

Four buns became vehicles for our delicious berbere-spiced sloppy joes disorderly josephs.

A couple of onion rolls were transformed into savory French toast sandwiches with tarragon and some of Micah’s crispy home-cured bacon.

the roundest French toast I’ve ever made

Step-by step:

  • Cook a few slices of bacon and set it aside, but leave the grease in the pan.
  • Whisk together one egg with a little milk, salt, pepper, and dried tarragon.
  • Batter the buns in the egg mixture.
  • Cook in the bacon grease over medium heat until browned and crispy.
  • Layer on a plate with bacon and top with a drizzle of maple syrup.

This French toast was not only quick and easy, but also a tasty way to repurpose those extra onion rolls. They soaked up the egg-and-milk batter beautifully, creating a fluffy, moist French toast that paired perfectly with the salty crunch of the bacon.

And when we finally got down to the last two bits of our booming bounty of buns, we made these:

toasted sorta-caprese sandwich….gooey and melty….yum…

This sandwich was also laughably simple, but so tasty.

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Split two sandwich buns and brush the insides of both halves with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  • Add a few thick pieces of cheese (we used Edam) and some sliced tomatoes (we used a handful of halved sungold cherries).
  • Close the sandwiches and wrap them in foil.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the sandwiches are nice and warm and the cheese has melted.
  • Add a big handful of fresh basil to each sandwich and enjoy!

The same day that we ate these delicious sandwiches, my friend Jackie brought me a jar of her generations-old sourdough starter, with instructions to feed the starter the next day and then bake with it the day after that.

I dutifully followed Jackie’s feeding instructions (minus the potato flakes/potato water), and that jar of yeasty goodness responded by giving me three large loaves of lovely bread:

fresh out of the oven, fluffy, and delicious

I’m very excited to have a sourdough starter and a fantastic recipe now–but dang, we ended up with so much bread! Fortunately, I was able to share this stuff with two of my best friends, so Micah and I only had one big loaf left to eat ourselves.

Next time (tomorrow!), I plan on tweaking the feeding and baking proportions of this recipe to yield just one or two loaves at a time, and I’m also excited to try using my sourdough starter to make other yummy baked goods like cinnamon rolls or pizza dough. If you want to make sourdough but don’t have any starter, ask around to some bakerly friends and you can probably find someone who has extra. Or, you can always make your own like my blogging buddy Stephanie did a while back. 🙂

Anyway, so right when Micah and I thought we’d found the light at the end of the starch tunnel, we now had another very large loaf of bread to eat.

So we did what any sane person would do in this situation.

We made more sandwiches.

bread + bacon + tomatoes + pesto

These sandwiches were salty and crunchy from the bacon, savory and spicy from the pesto, sweet and juicy from the tomatoes, and crispy and hearty from cooking in just a little bit of bacon grease. You could use your favorite pesto recipe or some store-bought pesto–or if you can hold out for one more post, you can use the parsley pistachio pesto we enjoyed (I’ll give you the recipe next time I write!).

Sourdough sandwiches, round two:

grilled cheese with pickled beets and fresh basil

The pickled beets and onions gave this tasty sandwich a fantastic tangy sweetness that played nicely with the spicy fresh basil, creamy Edam, and sharp cheddar.

We enjoyed crusty hunks of toasted bread with a few other meals throughout the week until finally, today, there was only one big two-sandwich hunk of bread left.

So today (no pictures of this one–sorry!), we sliced up that last hunk of bread and filled our sandwiches with pesto, bacon, and cheddar for a yummy concoction that went perfectly with the free potato salad we got with our weekly Earth Fare coupons on Sunday.

Why devote an entire blog post to this most humble of feasts, this I-don’t-know-what-to-eat-so-I-guess-I’m-stuck-with-sandwiches brown bag filler?

What’s so great about the lowly sandwich?

Sandwiches can be boring, can make you feel like you’re in a mindless, hopeless bread-filling rut.

But that’s not how I feel about sandwiches at all.

To me, a sandwich is a blank slate, a beautifully clean canvas.

If you stuff your sandwich bread with wilted iceberg lettuce and a sad, sad slice of processed ham, then of course it’s not going to be a masterpiece.

But if you let yourself think outside the lunchbox, you can turn plain old bread into a delicious work of art. 🙂

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project in progress – 6.3.12 – Micah’s home-cured bacon, part 1

in the beginning….

Micah has cured hog jowls to make guanciale many times, always with delicious results.

Once, Micah even butchered a whole pig’s head himself, slicing off two big, beautiful cheeks that yielded about three pounds of bacon, not to mention simmering the rest of the head for hours into several gallons of rich, porky stock…and then scraping the remains together into a loaf of headcheese, which we both discovered we really don’t like, at all.

Did you know that you really should shave or burn the hair off of a pig’s head before you cook with it? Neither did we, until we were faced with that hog’s stubbly mug.

And there’s something really unnerving about seeing a pig’s giant face every time you open the refrigerator.

Now, I’m not squeamish about where meat comes from, or, at least, where this meat came from. It didn’t bother me that our hog jowl bacon once had a face (in fact, was a face), because I know that this particular pig lived in squishy mud and green pastures before he so graciously gave his life up for us. No nasty feedlot, no cramped pen full of sewage, no yucky chemicals or drugs. He was surely as happy as a farm pig could be.

I’m not going to argue that any animal deserves to die, and I’m not going to evangelize about the marvels of meat to my vegetarian and vegan friends. All of us must make choices we are comfortable with. I am comfortable with eating animals if they have been treated humanely, respected, honored for what they provide us.

This pig, unlike any other pig I’ve eaten, ever, had a face that I got to see, had features I can still picture. He was scraggly with coarse, short hair. His ears curled and flopped just a tad, right where they came to a point. His snout looked perfectly suited for rooting, and proud of it, too. He smirked. His eyes were closed, but his tongue stuck out of his mouth just a little. What a joker.

As much as we enjoyed the guanciale and the stock, Micah declared he’d never buy another pig’s head after that.

Until a week or two ago.

“You know what we oughtta get?” he inquired, in the midst of a conversation about how we have too much food in our freezer. “Another pig head.”

I’ll let Micah handle that on his own if he wants, and of course I’ll be happy to help him enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Except the headcheese. Unless maybe we find another, better recipe…

In any case, we don’t have room in our fridge right now to store a whole pig head or to cure a pair of hog jowls.

Why?

Because Micah is already busy curing a pork belly to make regular old bacon. Of course, given the gorgeousness of this slab of meat (from our friends at Moonshine), not to mention the generous heaping of fresh rosemary from a friend’s garden, I feel pretty confident that this bacon will be anything but ordinary.

Micah’s been reading up on the process, including how to cold-smoke the meat after it cures, and I’ll share links to his resources plus more photos of the progress very soon.

Also, this means you can certainly expect to see some recipes featuring this lovely bacon once it matures.

Categories: links, musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

lazy brunch – 3.31.12 – bacon, mushrooms, and asparagus (with an egg)

I woke up at 5:30 this morning.

It’s Saturday.

I was not happy.

Unable to go back to sleep, I moped around for a little while…read another chapter in an almost-700-page novel for book club…

So good.
(image from indiebound.com)

…blogged about steak ‘n’ taters and my quite unexpected and probably undeserved Liebster Award…played around on Facebook…

…and then, at 10:30, I was finally drowsy enough to go back to sleep (right when Micah was awake enough to get out of bed). I did doze back off for a late-morning nap around 11:00…

…and I didn’t wake up again until after 1:00.

Oops.

So when I call this meal “lazy brunch,” I mean lazy in the loafingest sense of the word, because that’s the kind of day it’s been.

This is one of those gorgeous dishes that takes pretty much no time to put together, and besides salt and pepper, it’s only got four ingredients, but man, is it amazing.

Bacon + eggs + veggies = brunch heaven.

You also don’t need much time or equipment for this lazy brunch, because it’s made one fast-cooking component at a time in a single skillet. It seems too simple to be good, but don’t let that fool you. This stuff’s so amazing, you’ll want to go ahead and double the recipe.

What’s in it:

  • about 3 ounces, or 4 slices, bacon (we used Micah’s home-cured hog jowl guanciale)
  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch sticks
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms (we used shiitakes), cut into slivers
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to about 170-200°F and put two oven-proof bowls in to warm up.
  • Put your sliced bacon in a skillet and cook it on medium heat until it’s brown and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
  • You can pour off some of the bacon grease if you want (we didn’t, ’cause we love bacon).
  • Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Toss ’em around in the bacon fat and cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the mushrooms have softened.
  • Season the asparagus and mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. (They probably won’t need much salt since your bacon grease will already be salty, but I do like a good dash of freshly ground pepper.)
  • Divide the asparagus-and-mushroom mixture between your two oven-proof bowls. Stick ’em back in the oven to keep warm.
  • Crack the eggs into the skillet and cook them sunny-side-up until the whites are firm. (Or, cook them a little longer if you like your yolks done, which we don’t. :)) Sprinkle the eggs with a little bit of salt and pepper.
  • Get your bowls of veggies out of the oven. Top each bowl with an egg. Crumble the bacon over the top.
  • It’s done! Enjoy!

When you’re ready to eat, go ahead and crack those runny yolks, break up the whites, and stir the eggy goodness all around into your veggies and bacon. Like this:

Oh, boy...

Springy fresh asparagus, earthy mushrooms, salty-crispy bacon, gooey eggs…brunch magic. If you really want to kick this up a notch, serve it over some grits with a buttermilk biscuit on the side for a hearty, stick-to-your ribs brunch feast.

Gratuitous additional photo, just to make you drool on your keyboard a little bit more.

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

supper tonight – 3.19.12 – Caesar salad from scratch

Four days after the Ides of March probably isn’t the best time to eat Caesar salad.

Well, okay, Julius Caesar didn’t survive the Ides of March, but he also didn’t invent the Caesar salad–they say it was actually a dude named Caesar Cardini. But I like to think our Roman friend caught the soothsaying bug when he said “Let me have men about me that are fat,” because a salad like this definitely won’t give you “a lean and hungry look” like the backstabbing Cassius had.

Unless you look hungry ’cause you want more salty, gooey, delicious salad, of course.

Anyway, ever since we opened a tin of anchovies for salmoriglio during that fiasco of a date night, we’ve been thinking about how real, made-from-scratch Caesar dressing pretty much always includes these deliciously salty little fishies…and how we also had some leftover sourdough baguette from the party sandwiches that would make perfect croutons…and how some of Micah’s home-cured guanciale (hog jowl bacon) would be so good if we crisped it up and crumbled it on top….

(Damn. Now I’m kind of craving some more salad.)

This hankering actually set in sometime last week, but we had to wait for Thursday’s Athens Locally Grown pick-up to get our romaine lettuce, and then I kept forgetting that I needed to make some more mustard (which needs to sit in the fridge for a day before it’s ready to use). So, even though we’d been gazing longingly at the recipe with our sad puppy-dog eyes for almost a week, it was last night before we actually had everything we needed to craft the perfect Caesar salad:

(Can you tell I finally found my real camera? Canon Powershot A520, only 4 megapixels, but WAY better than my broken iPhone 3GS.)

We had a few mishaps along the way, like almost burning the croutons (you can see in the photo that they’re a tad on the brown side)…not to mention a few issues getting the mayonnaise base for the dressing to come together correctly (apparently, a common problem).

Side note: You might be thinking to yourself…but I thought Tanya hated mayonnaise? And I do. Passionately. With the heat of a thousand suns. But for whatever reason, I love Caesar salad. And you have to admit, once you get all the other flavors into that dressing, it really doesn’t taste like mayo at all.

Anyway, in the end, this salad tasted even more delicious than it looks, and we will definitely make it again.

What’s in it (the dressing):

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovies, minced (the recipe called for 2, but we were feeling adventurous)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used my own homemade–recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (but I bet apple cider vinegar would work well, too)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Mix together the garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a small bowl.
  • In a larger bowl, put your egg yolk and a tiny bit of olive oil. Whisk quickly (or use an electric handheld or stand mixer). As the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken, continue to slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you keep whisking. Add too much at once, and this stuff will never fluff up. We learned this the hard way.
  • Once the olive oil is completely incorporated, blend in the garlic and anchovy mixture, then the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
  • The recipe says this makes 2 cups, but for us it only ended up being a little more than one. Not sure why, but that just means we’ll need to make more soon!

Now that you’ve got some of this amazing dressing, here’s how we made the rest of the salad.

What’s in it (the whole shebang):

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup of that delicious Caesar dressing we just made
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3 big slices of bacon, cooked crispy, then crumbled
  • croutons (super easy! – cube some bread / toss with melted butter, salt, pepper, and minced garlic / bake on a sheet pan at 400°F until golden brown and crunchy)

Step-by-step:

  • Toss your lettuce and dressing together in a big bowl.
  • Split the dressed salad between two big plates for a meal (topped with protein of your choice, if you like!) or four small ones (as a side or starter).
  • Divide the cheese and crumbled bacon between your salads. Evenly, unless you’re looking for a fight. 🙂
  • Add croutons.
  • Enjoy!

And yes, you read correctly that the mustard I used in our Caesar dressing was homemade. I had no idea mustard was so easy to make until Micah and I won a copy of Vanessa Barrington’s awesome book from a drawing over at Punk Domestics:

image from indiebound.com

The cool thing about this book is that it includes recipes for all sorts of stuff I’d never thought to make from scratch: ketchup, tortillas, sauerkraut, kimchi, and the aforementioned mustard–and then it gives you different recipes for using all your delicious homemade fixins.

We haven’t attempted the ketchup yet. Micah did make the kimchi, subbing collard greens for the cabbage (pretty good). But the corn tortillas are yummy, the carrot and cabbage sauerkraut will rock your socks off, and the mustard…well, this is my fourth or fifth batch, if that tells you anything.

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup whole mustard seeds (mix of brown and yellow)
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) port wine
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Step-by-step:

  • Mix everything together in a glass or plastic bowl.
  • Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. (This lets your mustard seeds soften.)
  • The next day, put your mustard in a blender or food processor and start blending. Your liquid-y, grainy mixture will magically thicken and smooth out to a lovely, spreadable consistency.
  • Taste it. It’ll be pretty spicy! If it’s too spicy, you can blend in a little bit of water and/or a little more honey.
This is how I made my most recent batch, but basically, you just need 1/2 cup of mustard seeds, about 3/4 cup of liquid, and whatever other flavorings you want to add. I’ve used different boozes (port, sherry, madeira, cognac, bourbon), different vinegars (cider, balsalmic, rice wine, sherry), different sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, molasses)–and it has always turned out amazing.

DIY Delicious is one of my very favorite cookbooks, hands-down. And not just because it taught me how to make mustard like this:

Nice and brown and grainy and spicy, perfect with a beer-braised bratwurst--or in that delicious Caesar dressing.

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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