Monday, September 28, 2009

Suckling Pig

A few months ago, sometime in late June, my friend Irene called me one evening. She had this wacky idea to cook a suckling pig. Her original thought was to cook it for the 4th of July party that she and her husband throw each year. Just two problems, one, we have too many vegetarian friends that attend their 4th of July Party (we thought they might take offense to dinner having a face). Secondly, she thought their house might be a little small to accommodate that kind of meal.

We both whipped out our calendars to find a date that would work for both of us. With our travel and some of our intended guests travel, the first date that we could come up with was Sept. 26. So we set that as our date and set to planning.

The first order of business was finding our suckling pig. This turned out to be more difficult than I imagined. After asking the butchers at the grocery stores I frequent, and making calls to a couple of butcher shops that I have used in the past, I ended up finding a source on the Internet that would ship it frozen overnight. Meet Stanley.

The next order of business was menu planning. We wanted to keep our side dishes fairly simple so that the suckling pig would be the star of the show. We had quite a bit of discussion about what to fill our piggy with. We thought bread stuffing would be too heavy (and unnecessary given the rest of the menu), then we considered simply filling the cavity with aromatics (apples, onions and herbs). Then I stumbled on a recipe for stuffing that used a heavy dose of caramelized onion along with bread. We decided to use this idea (just without the bread).

Here's the menu we came up with:


Cherry Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Skewers

Salami Toscano, Soppressetta, Olives and Grilled Vegetables
Italian Plums, Melon and Dried Apricots

Main Course:
Suckling Pig with Caramelized Onion, Figs and Sage

Smoke Roasted Potatoes (from Steven Raichlen's "How to Grill")

Grilled Corn

Greens and Herbs with Peaches, Fresh Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Honey-Lime Vinaigrette


Well, we didn't really come up with dessert and one of our friends volunteered to bring peach cobbler, so we said yes, please.

We started cooking on Friday (well actually, Irene started on Thursday by making a brine). We put piggy in the brine in a cooler outside and then started on the filling.

Here's the ingredients for the filling:

6 or so tablespoons bacon fat (butter would have been good here too, but since we were rendering bacon to top the potatoes, we decided to use the fat for the filling)

9 red onions
, sliced
5 clove garlic, minced
2 cups white wine (my wine guy recommended a Riesling that worked very well)
1/4 cup fresh sage, minced
1 pint fresh figs, chopped

We started by cooking the bacon over medium heat. Once it was nice and crispy we took it out of the pan (leaving the fat) and then added all of the onion and a heavy sprinkle of kosher salt. Once the onions were soft, we added the garlic, letting it cook for about 30 seconds, then added the wine. We left this to simmer for a couple of hours (which smelled divine). Once the wine had all cooked away, we stirred in the sage and figs and let it cook for just a few minutes more.

Now this was good. I could have eaten an entire bowl of this filling all by itself. We left it to sit until it was cool and then stuck it in the fridge overnight. Then Irene went home and we both went to bed.

Irene came back the next day in the afternoon. We took Stanley out of the brine, patted him dry, then stuffed him, trussed him and rubbed him with olive oil. Then we covered his ears with foil (so they wouldn't burn) and propped open his mouth with foil (so we could put a fig in there later).

We followed the cooking instructions from the Joy of Cooking cookbook. They said to start cooking with 30 minutes at 450 degrees, then to reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 2 to 2 1/2 hours more, basting every 20 minutes. We basted with a combination of butter, some more of the Riesling that we used in the filling and maple syrup.

So, you saw that part where it should have taken 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees, well Stanley was done a full hour before he should have been. Of course nothing else was ready, so we decided the best course of action was to just turn off the oven and let him rest in there.

Finally, it was time. We took Stanley out of the oven, gingerly lifted him to the platter, them sliced him up. I love this picture above on the right with our boy Jones staring down Stanley.

We drank a toast to Stanley then dug in. So good. As Irene said "Stanley was tender and O so delicious." As the chefs, Irene and I decided that we deserved the tasty bits. As we had consumed plenty of Manhattans, we were adventurous enough to each try an eyeball (which I liked) and then the husband dared me to try brains. Well, now I can say I've tried brains and I never have to do it again. We saved the best for last, one cheek for me and one for Irene. Yum, yum, YUM!

I can say, with Irene's prompting I may have gone my entire life without making this meal. So for that I must thank her. This was truly a night and a meal to remember.

Special thanks to Ken Broman,
the husband, and whoever picked up my camera and used it on Saturday. This post would have been lacking without you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's in the Box?

1 bunch Red Beets
1 bunch Orange Carrots

.75 pound Fresh Coco Rubico Snap Beans
1 pound Red Bell Peppers

3 Tomatoes
.4 pound Button Mushrooms

4 White Sweet Corn

3 Mixed Baby Lettuce Heads

2 White Flesh Peaches
4 Nectarines

1 Farmer's Choice Of Melons

.85 pound Italian Prunes

The lettuce, peaches and a couple of the nectarines as well as the melon, some of the prunes and maybe the corn are all being used for a feast my friend and I are making this weekend. Lots of pictures will be coming.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roasted Beet Salad

It always confuses me that my picky-eater husband loves beets. I cannot tell you how many clients I have interviewed that turn up their noses at beets. It is one of the more widely hated vegetables. Yet, the husband loves them.

However, one of my clients does like beets. In fact she grows them. Last week I plucked a few from her garden and made this salad for her. I decided the husband would like it to, so I made it for him (and me, I like beets too) as well.

Here's the ingredients:

4-8 beets (try to make sure they are similar in size)
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
2 ounces blue cheese (I like Point Reyes the best, but they didn't have any at the store so I tried this instead, it was good)
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
a sprinkle of chives

To start I set the oven to 450 degrees. Next I trimmed the root and stem off of each beet, then wrapped each one in foil (some of the beets I had were small so I wrapped 2-3 of them together so they were closer in size to the larger ones).

I popped these into the oven for about 45 minutes (these beets were about golf ball size, smaller beets will take less time to cook, larger beets will take more). When they were tender, I took them out of the oven and set them aside to cool for a few minutes. Once they were cool enough to touch, I donned some rubber gloves (a very important step if you don't want bright red hands for three days) and then rubbed each of them with paper towels to remove the skins.

Next I chopped each of the beets into half-inch pieces then drizzled them with oil and vinegar (putting the oil and vinegar on the beets while they are still a little warm helps the beets to absorb the liquid a little as they cool). Next I put the cutting board into the fridge until the beets were cool.

I put the beets on the plate then sprinkled them with the cheese, pecans and chives.

Pretty, no? But how does it taste? Delicious. The sweetness of the beets plays off the saltiness of the cheese and the tang of the vinegar and the nuts add a lovely crunch. If you are one of the many self-proclaimed beet haters, I encourage you to try this dish (or if you are a beet lover, take this to your next potluck and see if you can make any converts).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Roasted Zucchini Soup

A couple of years ago I spent a week participating in the Farm Culinary 101 program at Quillisascut Farm School in Eastern Washington. The first night that we were there, the chef on staff prepared a delicious meal that started with courgette soup. At the time, I didn't have a clue what a courgette was, all I knew was that I was eating some of the best soup that I have ever tasted. When I returned home, I looked up courgette to find that it is the British term for zucchini (duh).

I set out to create my own version of this delicious soup. Over the last couple of years I have refined my recipe into the version that I make today. The additional step of roasting the squash seems to be the real key to making this soup really shine.

This summer this recipe has come in especially handy. Two of my three weekly clients have been growing their own vegetables this year. If you've ever grown your own zucchini, you know that at some point you are going to be swimming in zucchini (and there is only so much zucchini bread that one person can make). This soup tastes great and freezes nicely (it's a nice little blast of summer flavors in December or January).

This soup is best made when the zucchini are little so the seeds are small and the skin is tender. If, though, your zucchini got away from you and ended up really big, once you have cut them in half you can simply scrape out the seeds, then once the zucchini are roasted, scrape the flesh out of the tough skin and discard the skin.

Here's the ingredients:

2.5 pounds zucchini (or any other summer squash)
1 Walla Walla Sweet onion (other onions work well here too, but a sweet onion make it extra delicious)
3-4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/2 cup cream (totally optional but it gives the soup a nice mouth feel)
olive oil
salt and pepper

To start I preheated the oven to 450 degrees. I also lined a sheet pan with aluminum foil (because I'm lazy and it make clean-up a snap). Next I cut the ends off of each of the zucchini and then cut them in half lengthwise. I arranged these on the sheet pan and drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper. Then I julienned the onion, spread it over the cut zucchini and drizzled with a bit more olive oil and salt and pepper.

I popped the pan into the oven. Forty minutes later the onions were slightly caramelized and the zucchini were roasted through.

I put the whole mix into a stock pot added the cream and enough stock to almost cover the veggies (you can always add more stock later, and I did, but if you add to much at this point the soup can get too thin).

Next I took the stick blender to it.

Keep going...

And...done. At this point I checked for seasoning and added just a little more stock so the soup was a good consistency.

Yum. A client favorite and a chef favorite. This made a lot of soup, about eight cups in all. I stashed a bunch of the soup in the freezer for quick meals come winter (and had a bit of it for lunch). The roasted sweet onion really makes this soup sing (but it really is good with regular onions too). I can hardly wait for winter when I pop this out of the freezer.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stone-Fruit Clafouti

Recently, while perusing one of my favorite blogs, Serious Eats, I came across a photo of something called a clafouti. Having heard only vaguely about clafoutis, I decided to do a little searching to find out just what it was.

What I found was that it sounded like a delicious cross between a custard and a pancake that could be made with just about any seasonal fruit you could imagine. Writers would go on and on about what a delicious treat a clafouti could be, most adding that it is best served warm but a slice served cold out of the fridge for breakfast was equally good.

When it came time to make something for a recent potluck my thoughts turned to clafouti. This, I thought, would be a great use of some of the lovely stone fruit that I have been getting in my CSA box.

From my research it seemed that clafoutis all contain the same basic things, some kind of fruit (cherries are most traditional), eggs, flour and dairy, but there seemed to be quite a bit of variation in ratios and flavoring.

I started with a recipe from Orangette and then shaped it to my liking. Here's the ingredients:

3 Santa Rosa Plums, cut into eighths
2 Flavor Grenade Pluots, cut into eighths (I know there are three in the picture, but it only took five pieces of fruit to fill the bottom of the pie dish)
3 eggs

1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup creme fraiche
3/8 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup rose syrup

I started by heating the toaster oven to 350 degrees (no need to heat up the big oven on a warm day). Next I lightly buttered a 9-inch pie plate, the added all of my fruit, skin side down.

Next I whisked together the eggs, sugar and salt for about a minute, until they turned from yellow to pale yellow (this was the hardest part, I hate whisking). I added the rest of my ingredients and continued whisking for another minute or so, until there were no lumps remaining and the batter was light and fluffy. Then I poured this over the pears and popped it into the toaster oven.

Forty minutes later I checked the clafouti. It was all puffed up (and set) in the middle and the edges were nicely browned. I opened the toaster oven door and let the gorgeous smells waft into the living room while we finished dinner.

How was it? Well, I thought it turned out very nicely. Still warm from the oven, it had a nice contrast of the tart fruit and the slightly sweet custard with just a hint of the rose syrup showing through. My potluck guests seemed to enjoy it as well. I won't get to try it out cold from the fridge though (since my guests ate the whole thing). I guess I'll have to make another one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What's in the box?

2 bunch Red Beets
.5 pound Tomatillos
1 bunch Purple Carrots

1 Red Cabbage

1 Farmer's Choice Of Melons
4 Bi-Color Sweet Corn
2.5 pounds Farmer's Choice Of Summer Squash

3 Gala Apples
4 Yellow Peaches

6 Flavor Grenade Pluots

This week I decided to double up the squash (because I want to make squash soup) and the beets (because the husband loves beets)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Steak Tacos with Tomatillo and Mixed Pepper Salsa

It's been a few days since my last post. Work has been busy. Life has been busy. Luckily I'm going on vacation tomorrow. Viva Las Vegas!

I made this dish two weekends ago, on a day when I had lots of time to cook. The prep for the meal and the salsa making took place on Saturday, then I was left with a relatively easy meal to finish on Sunday.

I started with a marinade for the steak. I used skirt steak because I was in experimental mode and I haven't used skirt steak a lot. Flank steak or flat-iron steak would also work.

Here's the ingredients:

1 lime, juiced
2 Tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
4 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoon cumin
1 pound skirt steak cut across the grain into 1-inch strips

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

I combined all the marinade ingredients in a Ziploc bag, added the steak and tossed the bag in the fridge overnight.

Next I started on the salsa. I had a half-pound of tomatillos still stashed in the crisper from the box two weeks previous (along with three green bell peppers). The next box had three-quarters pound of hatch chilies. I decided to use all of these peppers in my salsa.

Here's the ingredients:

2 clove garlic
.5 pound tomatillos

2 pounds mixed chilies and green bell peppers (pick peppers based on how hot you want the salsa, mine was pretty mild)

1/2 onion, diced
1 lime juiced

fresh cilantro

I started by heating up the grill. When it was quite hot I added the chilies and green peppers and left them to char, turning them as each side of the pepper was blackened.

As soon as each pepper was charred on all sides I removed it to a bowl (and then covered the bowl so the peppers could steam).

Once the peppers had cooled a bit, I donned some rubber gloves (this is very important if you don't want to be in massive pain every time you touch your eyes for the next day) and peeled off the charred skin and removed the stems and seeds.

It is important that, no matter how much easier it would make the process, you not run the peppers under water. This removes too much of the charred, yummy taste. Once I was done, I chopped all the peppers.

Next I got out the food processor. I turned on the blades and tossed in the garlic while it was running (this helps to chop it up). Next I added the tomatillos and processed until the they were ground completely. I put this mixture into a bowl then added the onion, the chopped peppers, lime and a bit of salt.

At this point I set aside some of the salsa for the cilantro-hating husband, then added fresh cilantro to the rest. Then, this went into the fridge so the flavors could marry overnight.

When I was ready to eat the next day, I removed the steak from the marinade and threaded the strips onto several skewers, then grilled them over high heat.

In addition I grilled some green beans (then added a squeeze of lime) and made Cumin-Scented Rice Pilaf (white rice cooked with onion and a bit of cumin).

For the tacos, I set out warm corn tortillas, sour cream, diced avocado and the salsa (and the steak). That way, the husband and I could each put only what we wanted on our own tacos (he doesn't like avocado on his, I like my rice on the side, not in, the taco).

I loved, loved, loved this salsa. I usually like my salsa more towards the warm side, but, as this was quite mild, I was able to heap lots of it on my tacos, yum. The husband liked it too (but he didn't rave about it like me). However, on matters of salsa, I tend to discount his opinion a bit because, in general, he doesn't like salsa.

A couple of days later, I used the rest of the salsa to top scrambled eggs. Also delicious.

All in all the salsa took about 2 1/2 hours to make (the peppers took a long time to peel). Totally worth it for a special occasion, but a little for work than I like to spend on a weeknight meal. I'll make this again, but only when I've got time on my hands...