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Archive for the ‘Carnivorous’ Category

Yes.  Yes.  Sweet Jesus, yes.

makes your twelve closest friends’ day

  • 1/3 c popcorn
  • 4 strips of high-quality, thick-cut bacon
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary
  • 3 T butter
  • 1/2 c maple syrup

Get some corn poppin’.  Meanwhile, put a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Chop the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the skillet.  Cook slowly to render the bacon fat and crisp the bacon without burning, about 10-15 minutes.  (I prefer my bacon with a little bit of chew left in it, but suit yourself.)  When the bacon is ready, drain off all but a tablespoon or so of the bacon fat (you can use it for another purpose, if you like); keep the bacon pieces in the skillet.  Roughly chop the rosemary leaves and add them along with the butter to the skillet.  (The rosemary really ties the sweet and savory elements of this dish together.  It’s magic, that rosemary.)  

Here comes the fun part:  Add the maple syrup to the bacon mixture and turn the heat up to medium.  Cook until the maple syrup is hot and bubbly and starting to reduce, about 5 minutes.

Toss the maple-bacon mixture with the popcorn; the popcorn will shrivel in agony under the hot syrup.  It’s fun to watch.  Toss the popcorn, adding salt to taste.  Serve as soon as it’s cool enough to eat, and see how many non-bacon-eaters are converted by this caramel corn of the gods.

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When you’ve had all the turkey-cranberry sandwiches and reheated mashed potatoes that you can stand, it’s time to make croquettes with the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Croquettes are essentially breaded and deep-fried anythings.  Usually, these anythings include bechamel sauce as a binder.  The key, then, to post-Thanksgiving croquettes is to make a big ol’ batch of rather thick bechamel and to mix it with any and all of the leftover Thanksgiving vegetables and/or turkey.  The recipe for the Rather Thick Bechamel:

  • 1/2 c olive oil and/or butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3 c milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • nutmeg for grating

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil (and melt the butter, if using) over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour to make a roux.  Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, to cook some of the rawness out of the flour, about 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in about 1/2 c of the milk until smooth, then whisk in the rest of the milk.  Reduce the heat to low and add the bay leaf.  Peel and smash the garlic cloves and toss them in as well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes; the bechamel should feel like thick cream.  Grate in a little nutmeg and some black pepper; add salt to taste.  Remove and discard the bay leaf and allow the bechamel to cool.  It should set up like that paste you remember eating in kindergarten.

This year, by food-processing the bechamel with an equal amount of filling, I made turkey croquettes; sweet potato and almond croquettes; and mushroom, arugula and Fontina croquettes.  (Don’t overprocess the croquette batter:  You want the filling to have some texture, hence the almonds mixed with the sweet potatoes.)  I also made potato croquettes with leftover mashed potatoes, but I didn’t add any bechamel to this:  I just stirred in an egg and a handful of flour to give the potatoes some more structure.

At this point, if you’ve gone through all of these steps, you’ve done plenty of the work for the day.  You could put the croquette batters in the fridge (or freezer) and wait until later before assembling the croquettes.  However, if you’re ready to press on…

Create a frying station like you see in the picture above.  Get out three medium mixing bowls and a large baking sheet; line the baking sheet with parchment paper.  In the first mixing bowl, add several handfuls of flour; stir in some Seasoning Salt.  In the second bowl, crack two eggs and stir them together.  In the third bowl, add a bunch of bread crumbs.  Take a spoonful of croquette batter (vegetarian croquettes first, please).  Drop the batter into the flour; toss it around to coat, and try to work it into roughly a dumpling shape.  Put the croquette in the egg and toss to coat.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the croquette to the bread crumbs; toss to coat completely.  Place the croquette on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining croquettes.

Again, at this point, you could call it a day and freeze the croquettes until tomorrow, or until next Thanksgiving.  If you’ve gone too far now to turn back, pour an inch of oil into a cast-iron skillet and place it over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmery, CAREFULLY place five or six croquettes in the oil, starting at the back of the skillet.  When they’re golden brown on the bottom, after 2-3 minutes, carefully flip the croquettes and cook on the second side, about 1-2 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet; you can keep the croquettes warm in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest.  Serve hot on a bed of greens with leftover cranberry sauce (preferably homemade cranberry-orange relish).

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Pan-Seared Turkey Liver

This one’s just for the Militant Carnivores.

It’s two days until Thanksgiving.  You’ve put the turkey in a stockpot full of maple brine.  You’ve taken the giblets and added them to the contents of your chicken stock bag and are roasting them in a Dutch oven, along with garlic, onions, carrots and celery, until they’re nice and browned so that you can make a big batch of turkey stock.

And you’re left with the turkey liver.  You know it can’t go into the stock pot, as it will make the stock bitter.  And there’s certainly not enough of it to make into a separate dish to put on the Thanksgiving table.  What to do?

Stop feeling guilty, that’s what.  This one’s for you—just for you.  Toss it in a hot cast-iron skillet, sear it for about 45 seconds per side, drizzle it with a little vinegar, add a grind of pepper and a pinch of flaky salt, and eat it with some toast or crackers.  Pour yourself a glass of chilled red wine.  You’ve been working hard.  You’ve earned a little chef’s treat.  Enjoy.

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I’m not proud of this.

In my defense, let me just say that I never would have done this of my own accord.  Karma, however, had other ideas:  No sooner had I written about the absurdities of bacon-infused vodka than a friend asked if I could prepare a batch of bacon-infused bourbon for a weekend trip we were planning to take with some college buddies.  The moral, it turns out, is never to say never.

I could continue my defense by pointing out that bacon actually plays very well with the vanilla and maple notes of bourbon, but I would just be rationalizing at that point.  The truth is that I took this request as a challenge and responded to it thus:

“Eww.  <pause>  That’s really gross.  <pause>  OK, let’s do it.”

serves a dozen college buddies

  • 1 lb. really good bacon
  • 1 750-ml bottle of really bad bourbon

Place the bacon on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.  Place the bacon in the oven and turn the heat to 400 degrees.  (If you start the bacon in a cold oven, it stays flat.  I don’t know why this is, but this is one case where you don’t want to preheat the oven.)  Bake, flipping the bacon over occasionally, until the bacon is brown and crisp on the edges and most of the fat has rendered, about 20 minutes.  Reserve the bacon for another use (such as breakfast).

Strain all of the rendered bacon fat through a sieve into a large wide-mouthed jar that can hold at least a quart of liquid.  Pour all of the bourbon into the jar.  Put the lid on the jar and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds.  Let the bacon fat-bourbon mixture sit at room temperature for a few hours; every once in a while, give the jar a good shake.  Refrigerate the jar overnight.

The next day, use a spoon to remove any solidified fat from the top of the bourbon.  Put a funnel in the top of the empty bourbon bottle.  Put a coffee filter inside of a sieve and put the sieve in the funnel.  Slowly pour the baconourbon into the sieve, letting the filter strain out all of the fat.  You should end up with a bottle full of thoroughly de-greased liquor.

At this point, you can drink the baconourbon, but you may find (as we did) that it’s just not bacon-y enough:  Our batch tasted smoky with a faint meatiness that was familiar but not really recognizable as bacon.  In other words, we had basically made something that tasted like cheap Scotch.  We decided to hit the baconourbon with another round of bacon a week later (we wanted to wait for Sunday brunch, after all).  The second infusion of bacon fat made the bourbon profoundly, but not unpleasantly, bacon-y.

What to do with this stuff, then, besides take it to frat parties or make your friends drink it on a dare?  The mastermind behind this whole concoction, my friend, Dr. Mixologist, whipped up a batch of a surprisingly balanced and quaffable cocktail that he likes to call “Part of This Complete Breakfast”.  His recipe follows:

  • ~1/3 oz maple syrup
  • ~1/3 oz lemon juice
  • 2.5 oz bacon bourbon
  • 1.5 oz apple juice
  • 1 egg white
  • splash soda (helps create a nice foam on top)

Dr. Mixologist continues, “What I do is first combine the lemon and maple syrup with the bourbon to both dissolve the maple syrup and so I can test the sweet/sour balance, then add the rest of the ingredients with plenty of ice in a shaker and shake the hell out of it to fully mix the egg.  Finally strain over ice into a coupe glass and serve.”

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My mother-in-law recently gave me Seven Fires, an encomium to grilling over live fire by the Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann.  Seven Fires passes the crucial test of any cookbook:  It makes me want to cook.  Particularly, this book makes me want to cook an entire cow over a bonfire by a secluded lake in Patagonia, but, barring that, it makes me want to grill anything, anywhere.

So, the recent World Cup match between Argentina and Germany seemed like the perfect pretext for starting a fire at 7:00 AM and testing Mallmann’s infectiously presented philosophy that everything tastes better when grilled.

Since we don’t happen to own a grill (or a TV, for that matter), and since we are already in the habit of exploiting the generosity of our good friends, The Bearded Quaker and Nurse Lanois, we decided to host the game at their place.  They seemed a little taken aback when I showed up at their house the night before for the pre-game slumber party armed with clarified butter, crêpe batter and a dozen sausages, but, good friends that they are, they have learned to roll with my various eccentricities.

I figured that if I could grill panqueques, savory crêpes to be filled with dulce de leche, I could grill anything.  While I was out there, I might as well throw some sausages on the fire; there was no Argentine chorizo to be found, but some German bratwurst seemed like a noble and diplomatic concession to the opponent.  (My Lovely Vegetarian Wife is also of Polish heritage, so some kielbasa had to find its way on to the menu as well.  She would have been bitterly disappointed without it, I am sure.)  To round out this menu, I had been dying to try Mallmann’s recipe for burnt oranges with rosemary, a dish that he strongly urged should only be prepared outside due to the prodigious amounts of smoke it was sure to create.

Cooking, like all crafts, can be an act of self-discovery when it calls upon our resources and ingenuity to their fullest extent.  There were many uncertainties about my plans for an asado para desayuno (including whether my in-laws would disown me for coining absurd Spanish phrases like that):  Would I be able to fire up a grill at 6:30 in the morning?  For that matter, could I even wake up at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday?  Would I be able to adjust the coals sufficiently under a cast-iron skillet to control its heat?  Could I do this while also grilling sausages?  And would anybody else be awake to make me a cup of coffee??

The answer to all of those questions was “Yes”.  The crêpes cooked almost instantly and got gorgeous crispy edges; the oranges were sweet, jammy, nicely charred and herbal from the rosemary; the sausage was sausage (i.e., the single greatest food known to humanity).

The game, alas, did not go nearly as well as the breakfast.  According to my wife, we have banished this game from our collective memory.  It is not to be spoken of.

We drowned our sorrows with mimosas.

Panqueques con Dulce de Leche

serves a dozen hungry soccer fans

  • 1 1/2 c butter (Don’t worry—you’re not going to eat all of it.)
  • 3 c flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 c water
  • 2 c milk

Make the panqueque batter and the clarified butter the night before, or at least 1 hour in advance:  Melt all of the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Combine 1/2 c of the melted butter, the flour, eggs, water, milk and a hefty pinch of salt in a blender; blend on high speed until thoroughly mixed.  Refrigerate.

Finish clarifying the butter:  Skim off and discard any foam from the top of the butter.  Carefully pour off and reserve the melted butterfat, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the pan behind.  Discard the milk solids.  Refrigerate the clarified butter; it will solidify in the fridge.  If you want to melt it before using it, simply microwave for about 20 seconds.

Using charcoal (or, even better, hardwood), build a hot fire.  Pile the coals to one side of the grill so that they reach up almost all the way to the grill rack.  Place a flat cast-iron griddle on the grill rack directly over the coals.  Cover the grill and allow the griddle to preheat for about 10 minutes.  (Alternately, simply heat up the griddle indoors over medium-high heat.)  When a drop of water evaporates instantly on the griddle, it is ready.

Stir up the pancake batter in case it has separated.  Put a tablespoon of the clarified butter on the griddle, spreading it around to coat the griddle evenly.  Ladle about 1/4 c of the batter onto the griddle, spreading it around with the ladle to form a thin layer over the whole griddle.   The panqueque will cook very quickly:  When the edges are brown and firm, flip the crêpe.  Cook for about 15 seconds more on the second side until the pancake is cooked through.

Transfer to a plate.  Put a heaping spoonful of dulce de leche on the panqueque and spread it around.  Roll up the pancake like a jelly roll.  Repeat with the remaining panqueques, adding more clarified butter to the griddle before each one.  Serve with…

Naranjas Quemadas con Romero (Burnt Oranges with Rosemary)

  • 6 oranges
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 sprig of rosemary

Preheat a cast-iron griddle for ten minutes over a hot wood or charcoal fire (or, if you have a stove with a powerful exhaust fan, heat the skillet over high heat).  Meanwhile, peel the oranges and slice them in half through their “equator”.   Place the sugar on a plate.  Strip the rosemary leaves from the sprig and add them to the sugar.  Press the oranges, cut side down, into the sugar.

When the griddle is hot (a drop of water will evaporate instantly), put four of the orange halves, cut side down, onto the griddle.  Add a little more of the rosemary-sugar mixture to the griddle between the oranges.  Cook the oranges over high heat without moving them until the edges brown and start to blacken.  Carefully flip the oranges and cook on the second side for 1-2 minutes more.  Serve along side panqueques con dulce de leche and grilled sausages for brunch, or with a little sweetened yogurt for dessert.

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If you ever have the great fortune to receive a piece of your friend’s homemade guanciale (cured hog jowls), this is what to do with it.

  • 4 oz. guanciale, pancetta or slab bacon, in one piece
  • 8 oz. penne rigate or other dried pasta (A confession:  I love mixing different types of pasta, a fondness born out of the reality that I always have a couple of ounces of one kind of pasta, a few ounces of another, but not enough of any one kind to make a meal.)
  • 1 c Tomato Sauce
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating (optional)
  • handful of basil or parsley for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.  Meanwhile, heat up a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add a glug of olive oil.  Cut the guanciale into 1/4-inch-thick pieces, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips.  (If the spirit moves you, rotate the strips and cut crosswise into perfect 1/4-inch dice.)  Add the guanciale to the olive oil and heat slowly over medium heat (turn down to medium-low if the guanciale browns too quickly).  The goal is to render the fat and then to brown the guanciale.

Meanwhile, when the pasta water comes to a boil, salt it liberally and then add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions.

Once the guanciale looks brown, slightly crispy and delicious, drain off most of the fat.  (I suppose one should reserve the rendered fat and use it for various other applications, but I never do:  Cooking potatoes in pork fat is not really conducive to the whole “cooking for one’s vegetarian wife” thing.  Plus, it’s hard for me to rationalize the gratuitous saturated fat.)  Add the tomato sauce and stir in with the guanciale. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is hot.  Stir in the red pepper flakes, if desired, and a liberal amount of black pepper.

When the pasta is done (or even a shade underdone), drain thoroughly and add to the saucepan.  Turn off the heat and stir the pasta to coat with the sauce.

Serve immediately (if you’ve planned ahead to pre-warm the pasta bowls, all the better) with grated cheese and/or chopped herbs, if desired.

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It is highly regrettable that, in some circles, arugula has become a code word for effete yuppie snobbery.  Good, honest, salt-of-the-earth Americans apparently will eat romaine, Boston bibb and the occasional bunch of spinach, but, for reasons unknown, arugula seems to smack of elitism and pretension in a way that Swiss chard, say, doesn’t.

This is regrettable because arugula is nothing less than the greatest food on the planet.  That was not a misprint:  It is THE greatest food in the world.  I could eat arugula every day and never tire of it.  I’m sure it’s chock full of vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals and all sorts of things that will improve my blood pressure, peace of mind, inner harmony and credit history, but I could care less, to be frank.  I’m in it for the flavor.  Arugula just tastes great.  I crave it.  I crave it the way some people crave a seared medium-rare ribeye (which, as it just so happens, is the perfect accompaniment to an arugula salad).  I crave it the way some people crave bacon.

Speaking of bacon, I have a request for the United States of America:  Can we please chill out on the bacon, just a little bit?  Please?  Don’t get me wrong:  I love bacon as much as the next man.  The insistence of some restaurants to slip bacon into seemingly meatless dishes, however, makes it rather more difficult than it needs to be for me to have an enjoyable dinner out with my Lovely Vegetarian Wife.  Does that curried pumpkin soup really need a garnish of lardons?  Must the green tomatoes be fried in bacon fat?  And are you seriously offering a Bloody Mary made with bacon-infused vodka?

I have a sense that bacon has become many a poor cook’s crutch:  When in doubt, throw some bacon on it.  This does a disservice to many wonderful foods whose opportunity to shine is snuffed out by bacon’s overweening smokiness; conversely, when I feel like mainlining all of bacon’s saturated fat, sodium and nitrates, I want to get my money’s worth and put the bacon flavor front and center.  Rich, smoky, salty, meaty—bacon that tastes like bacon.  What could be more American than that?

One food that is assertive enough to stand up to and pair beautifully with bacon?  How did you guess that it’s arugula?  Now we’re back to our much improved version of the BLT:  the BAT, a sandwich that allows sweet, smoky bacon and spicy, peppery arugula to share the spotlight.  The one thing left to do for this sandwich is to upgrade the standard supermarket Cardboard Tomato.  A little roasting does the trick (since we’re baking the bacon, we can just roast the tomatoes right alongside), as does grinding the tomatoes with some almonds to make a quick pesto.

For a vegetarian, bacon-less sandwich, almost any grilled or roasted vegetable you want would pair beautifully with the arugula and tomato-almond pesto.  Cheese would also be a natural addition:  I can imagine a few slices of fresh mozzarella wedged amidst the arugula.  To compensate for the missing bacon’s smoky edge, I would add a little pimentón to the tomato-almond pesto (or just go whole hog, as it were, and use romesco).

  • 3 thick slices of good bacon
  • 1 handful of grape tomatoes
  • 1 sandwich roll or 2 slices of bread
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 handful of blanched slivered almonds
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1 handful of arugula

Place the bacon on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet.  Place the tomatoes in a separate baking dish.  Put the bacon and the tomatoes in the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees.  (Whenever baking bacon, start with a cold oven.  It stays straighter this way.)  Roast, stirring the tomatoes occasionally and flipping the bacon after about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked to death and the bacon is brown and crispy on the edges.

Slice the roll in half and toast it.  Rub the cut side of the bread with the garlic; discard the garlic clove (or, better yet, put it in your vegetable stock bag).

Add the tomatoes and almonds to the food processor along with enough olive oil to get the mixture moving.  Pulse a few times until the almonds are coarsely ground and a loose pesto is formed.  Add a few grinds of black pepper and perhaps a little salt (but, remember, you’re putting bacon on top of this).  Add a few tablespoons of this mixture to one side (or both sides!) of the roll.

Layer on the bacon and arugula.

Put the other half of the roll on top, smoosh the sandwich flat (you could even give it the panini treatment, if you want), cut in half diagonally and enjoy.

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