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Archive for the ‘Meat’ 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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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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Not having been raised by wolves or in a barn, I was brought up to be polite and not to discuss sex, politics or religion in formal company.  I usually fail miserably at this, but I will maintain decorum here insofar as I will not delve into a religious discussion on this blog, except for noting that, when it comes to holiday feasts, I am completely ecumenical and all-embracing.  I’ve never met a celebratory dinner, whatever the religious or secular occasion, that I didn’t like.

So it is that my Lovely Vegetarian Wife and I were invited to a friend’s house for an absolutely fantastic Easter dinner, which ended with our Gracious Hostess shoving our arms full of leftovers to take home.  (I hope our Gracious Hostess realizes that there is no surer way to forge a lifelong pact of friendship with me than to insist upon my taking home a container full of Easter ham.)  So it is that I found myself on the Monday after Easter in the same position that many of you probably found yourselves:  with a whole lot of ham, and so little time.

Best get cracking early, I figured, so I went to one of my “go-to” dishes, a breakfast sandwich that I’ve been making since I was an overly ambitious and absolutely clueless teenage cook.  This is one dish I got right, though:  With a little sweetness to balance the ham, and a little cheese to make the whole thing a tad more decadent than it needs to be, this is a fantastic way to greet the morning, the spring and the post-Lenten world.

  • 1 English muffin or biscuit, sliced in half, or 2 slices of toast
  • 1 T butter or olive oil
  • 3 oz. leftover cooked ham, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 oz. grated Cheddar cheese
  • a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, or a spoonful of brown sugar (I used some buckwheat honey that we recently splurged on, and it is wild, wild stuff:  dark, funky and barnyard-y—highly recommended)

Make sure the English muffin, biscuit or toast is ready to go (i.e., toast the English muffin, slice the biscuit, etc.).

Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  When it is melted and sizzling, add the ham and saute for about 3 minutes until it is brown around the edges.  Crack the egg right on top of the ham.  The beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t matter if the egg stays whole or gets scrambled:  You haven’t even had your coffee yet, and it’s too early to worry about such things.  Add the cheese and honey right on top of the ham and egg.

Cover the pan until the egg white sets, about 30-60 seconds.  Scoop the ham-egg mixture onto the waiting muffin/biscuit/toast; add lots of freshly ground black pepper.  Attempt to eat it like a sandwich until you make a complete mess of things.  Revert to a knife and fork, or keep trying:  It’s breakfast.  Nobody’s watching.

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Polenta is one of those things that make me feel like I’m missing something.  I’ll whip up some polenta in 30 minutes or less and really enjoy what I end up with, but to hear people talk about making polenta, you’d think that it was an alchemical problem on the magnitude of turning lead into gold.  (Molly Wizenberg eloquently discusses polenta’s intimidating reputation in her March 6th posting.)

At the risk of offending those of Italian origin (and those from the American South as well), because polenta, grits, whatever—we’re talking about cornmeal mush, something that involves precisely two ingredients:  cornmeal and water.  I’ll let other people argue about white cornmeal vs. yellow, stone-ground vs. not.  I’m just going to make some cornmeal mush.

I suppose the big challenge is keeping the cornmeal from sticking to the pot and scorching.  For me, using a double boiler takes care of this problem; if you don’t have a double boiler, you could cook the polenta in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water.  Otherwise, you can just use a nice, heavy saucepan (enameled cast iron would be ideal) and keep the heat as low as it can go.  (If the cornmeal sticks to the pot, just eat the polenta that doesn’t stick.  And then soak the pan in hot soapy water.)

Besides cornmeal and water, the only other essential ingredient is salt.  This basic vegan polenta is good enough to eat as is, but it is certainly a blank canvas just asking to be built upon (if I may mix my metaphors).  Black pepper and herbs (fresh or dried) make a lot of sense, as does good olive oil.  For those who eat dairy, butter and cheese are great; you could even make the polenta with milk instead of water, stir in some crème fraîche or mascarpone, top with sour cream…

This recipe also illustrates nicely the way in which I can satiate my militant carnivory while making something for my Lovely Vegetarian Wife.  A few slices of pan-fried Italian sausage really work with the polenta and the bitter greens; I can add them at my pleasure to this otherwise vegetarian dish.

Really Fancy Polenta:

  • 3/4 c medium-ground cornmeal (all I know is you don’t want the real fine stuff that you’d use for, say, breading catfish)
  • 1 t dried thyme
  • 1 T honey or maple syrup (I like how the sweetness sets off the bitterness of the broccoli rabe)
  • 1 T butter
  • 1/2 c grated cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano or other cheese

Broccoli Rabe (actually, when I made this the other day, I had “kale rabe” from the farmer’s market—basically, baby kale.  Cool, huh?):

  • olive oil, as needed for sauteing
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, kale rabe or kale, washed, trimmed and chopped into bite-size pieces
  • pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 drizzle of balsamic or sherry vinegar

Put 4 c of water in the top part of a double boiler.  Bring to a boil.  Over another burner, put an inch of water in the bottom part of the double boiler.  Bring to a boil.

When the 4 c of water come to a boil, put the top part of the double boiler over the bottom part and place over low heat.  (You want to keep the water in the bottom part of the double boiler at a low simmer.)  Add a generous pinch of salt to the 4 c of water (hereafter known as “the cooking water”).  Drizzle the cornmeal into the cooking water with one hand while whisking with the other.  (It’s not as hard as it sounds.)  When all of the cornmeal is incorporated, whisk thoroughly so that the polenta doesn’t clump together.  Cover.  You may now walk away from the polenta.  It will be OK.  Go check Facebook for half an hour.

Once you’ve checked all your friends’ status updates, you’ll find that the polenta looks like this:

Congratulations.  The “hard” part is over.  Stir in any of the remaining polenta ingredients, if you wish:  They are all optional.   Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the polenta and remove the double boiler from the heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the broccoli rabe (if you’re making sausage, you can do that now, too):  Heat the olive oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the broccoli rabe.

Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper; saute over medium-high heat until the rabe has wilted and started to brown in spots.  Add the cayenne and vinegar; stir to incorporate.  Remove from the heat.

Put some polenta in a bowl.  Top with the broccoli rabe (and sausage slices, if so desired).  Serve immediately, preferably with a glass of red wine.

For my Lovely Vegetarian Wife:

For me:

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Cheeseburger

Wait a minute, I hear you say.  Cheeseburgers aren’t vegetarian.

Right you are, I reply.  Sometimes my Lovely Vegetarian Wife works late bringing home the… well, not the bacon, but some sort of local, crunchy, organic foodstuff, certainly.  On such nights, the Inner Carnivore needs to cut loose, and there’s no better way to do so than to pursue the Holy Grail of Carnivory:  the Perfect Cheeseburger.

Spoiler alert:  This recipe isn’t for the Perfect Cheeseburger.

But that’s because the Perfect Cheeseburger, like all idealized creations, is ever-elusive, as tantalizingly close as your next door neighbor’s charcoal grill and as constantly receding as the sun setting on the horizon on a perfect summer evening.  We aspire to it, we strive to be worthy of it, and though our efforts to attain it will, invariably, fall short, we are better people for the struggle and, more importantly, happier eaters.

Okay.  Enough neo-Platonic tomfoolery.  This is a cooking blog, after all.  I decided to try a few new techniques here to see if I could make any headway on my quest.

First, I ground my own meat.  (I mean, do *you* know where that ground beef in the grocery store has been??)  I decided to start with 12 ounces of chuck (for two burgers), frozen for a few hours for ease of cutting; I cut this into rough chunks…

…and pulsed it a few times in the food processor with a couple hefty pinches of salt and a few big grinds of pepper.

Yum.

I pulsed the meat until it was coarsely ground.  Meanwhile (and this is crazy technique #2), I preheated the oven to 300 degrees.  Yes, the oven.  Because after I formed the beef into nice inch-thick patties, I put them on a rack over a baking sheet and baked them for twenty minutes.

Why did I do this?  Have I taken leave of my senses?  The burgers emerged from the oven looking like Death warmed over, if Death turns out to be gray and mottled and vaguely mucilaginous in appearance.  What in the world was I thinking?

Not to bog everything down in a bunch of chemistry lessons (mostly because I haven’t the faintest idea what is taking place here, chemically speaking), but I’ve read some accounts of cooks reversing the usual procedure of searing a steak first and then finishing it in the oven.  The problem is that the steak can’t brown and form a nice crust until all of the moisture on its surface evaporates and the meat rises to a certain temperature.  When you put a cold steak on a hot pan, it takes several minutes for this to happen; meanwhile, the inside of the steak starts to cook and turns gray and livery.  If you heat up the steak slowly in a low oven, though, it not only cooks more evenly throughout (and doesn’t turn gray), but the surface also dries out so that a quick sear at the end suffices to give it a nice brown crust.  I’ve done this a couple times with thick steaks (rib-eyes and porterhouses) to reasonably good success.

Why not try it with a hamburger?

So I did, and I took my gray, mottled, Death-like burgers and put them on a preheated cast-iron skillet for 2 minutes a side, putting sauteed onions and thinly sliced cheddar cheese on after I flipped them (I also covered them after flipping to help the cheese to melt).  They seared beautifully.  The gray mottled surface was replaced by a gorgeous brown sheen.  When nestled between two slices of bread, it looked like this:

The Perfect Cheeseburger?  The Platonic Idea of meat sandwiches?

No, but not bad for a Carnivore’s Night In.  And a helluva lot better than Wendy’s.

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