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How to make an stuffed acorn or butternut squash from scratch

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I love it when the weather starts to turn, and the evening fare starts to shift to heartier more savory meals.  One of our favorites are stuffed winter squashes.  In our neck of the woods, acorn and butternut squash are plentiful and inexpensive.  Talking to friends, I was kind of surprised to learn that these squashes are a little daunting to a lot of folks, so I thought I’d share my approach to what is realistically a 40-minute meal, start-to-finish.  You can alter the ingredients based on what you have on-hand, and/or make in advance and refrigerate or freeze for a quick, easy meal later.

Quick, easy stuffed squash. These are acorn and butternuts, stuffed with a sage-infused millet, kale and pear stuffing.

I didn’t think to photograph this meal step-by step, but it’s straightforward to describe, and pretty easy to reverse-engineer just by looking at the finished product.  My version is vegetarian and gluten-free (omit cheese and butter for vegan version).  But you can alter all the inputs – I used millet as stuffing base, but it could have just as easily been rice, or wheat berries, or other grain of your choosing.  Tonight I put pears in my stuffing, but you could omit, or use apples, or dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, etc).  Likewise, I had kale in the house, but any green would be equally good.  Read my recipe and feel free to modify or substitute liberally.  If you want meat, add some cooked crumbled sausage to the stuffing mix prior to baking.

Acorn and Butternut Squash, Stuffed with Sage-infused Millet, kale and pear

1 Acorn squash, halved, seeds scooped out
1 Butternut squash, halved, seeds scooped out (cut off area above hollowed out bowl and use in other dishes)
1 cup millet (uncooked)
1 Medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
2 pears, chopped
1 tbsp dried sage, or several fresh sages leaves, minced
1-2 tbsp butter (omit for vegan)
1-2 tbsp oil (olive oil, canola, etc)
1/2 cup grated semi-hard or hard cheese (omit for vegan)
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the squash cut side down on a large plate with enough of a lip to add a bit of water (submerge squashes a couple millimeters).  Cover plate and squashes tightly with plastic wrap.  Microwave them for 5 minutes to steam them.  Alternatively, you could steam the squashes in the traditional way, which would take about 15-20 minutes.

Cook the millet, covered, in 3 cups water with sage and salt to taste.  At a low simmer, millet takes about 25 minutes.  All the water should be absorbed, but if not, drain excess.

Saute the onion in a bit of oil and/or butter.  When nearly translucent, add the kale and pear, stir till wilted, about 2 minutes.

Mix the cooked millet with kale mixture.  Add a TBSP butter and stir till melted.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff the grain mixture into the squashes, and top with cheese.  bake in a 375F convection oven or under broiler until cheese is lightly browned.  Serve hot, or save for later.  these will keep for a week in the fridge, or months in the freezer.

Cost analysis:

Squashes were $1 each at farmers’ market.  Millet about $0.25.  Onion and kale $0.25.  Pear $0.50.  Cheese $0.75.  Butter $0.25.  Sage $0.10.  EVOO $0.15.  Total $4.25.  Made (4) servings = $1.07 per serving.

How to make turkey soup from scratch – and can it!

November 26, 2011 3 comments

Our Thanksgiving bird was, once again, wonderful.  We go to a lot of trouble to buy a high-quality bird (a Bourbon Red in our case), from a farmer we know.  And we pay a lot, compared to that insipid supermarket stuff they call turkey – $87 for a 12 lb bird, to be precise.

I get as as much as I can out of that bird.  It’s not just the money, either – it’s a matter of respect for resources.  And one of the ways we stretch the use is to start a big pot of turkey soup while we’re cleaning up from dinner.  Literally, I’ll break up the roasted carcass into a soup pot, add water, put the pot on a small hob and lowest flame, and start a simmer that will last nearly 24 hours.  Here’s the pictorial.

Here's our bird out of a two-day buttermilk marinade. 12 lbs or thereabouts.

Three hours later, heat has worked its alchemy. Once dinner is over, I remove all the meat from the carcass and save for sandwiches, pot pie, etc. But I retain the carcass, too. While we're cleaning up, our tradition is to start making soup. Simply break up the carcass and put it in a soup pot full of water. Put it on a small hob, with a low flame, and start a simmer that will last about 18 hours.

Here's the stock after an 18 hour simmer. I did not add any meat - that's all what comes off the carcass (and there's more, as you'll see in the next photo.

Here are the bones pulled out of the stock pot. There is nothing left of them. In case you're wondering, these bones weigh 641 grams, or about 1.5 lbs of the 12 lb turkey weight. The pink plate is full of bits of skin and such that will go to the dogs (250 grams). So of a 12 lb bird, we're looking at 1.5 lb bones, 0.5 lb dog scraps, so that leaves about 10 lbs of usable turkey.

Here are the vegetables we'll add. The stalks are retained from bok choy we steamed last week. It's every bit as good as celery, and we have it around, why not use it? We also added lots of root veg which are on season now - rutabaga, carrot, turnip and Jerusalem artichoke (not pictured).

Here's the veg chopped. Add it to the soup, simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Ladle soup into sterilized jars (half solids, half broth), leaving 1" head space. Close jars tightly.

Put the jars in a pressure canner, add a few inches of water, and take it to 15 PSI.

Process at 15 PSI for 1 hour.

Yields about 20 servings of soup.

One awesome quart jar of soup for the pantry.

Note that you need lots of headspace – 1 inch, no kidding, if you want to assure all jars seal (one in this batch did not).

Costing notes:  This turkey yielded about 30 individual meals, which is fairly unheard of for a bird this small.  Total cost, then, is $2.90 per serving (that does not include dog food).  The trick is to not waste any. We hope this post helps you do that.

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How to make pancetta… starting with a five-hundred-year-old pig

November 21, 2011 2 comments

OK, the pig itself was not 500 years old.  But my pancetta project started 5 centuries ago, give or take.

Pancetta, for the uninitiated, is an Italian version of “bacon”.  It starts with a pork belly, but unlike American bacon, it is salt-cured (along with garlic, pepper and other spices), not smoked.    Pancetta is typically cubed and rendered to provide flavor for any number of dishes, and to my taste is more enjoyable than American bacon, mainly because it tastes more “porky”.

Ossabaws at Cane Creek Farm, the place we bought our breeding stock.

Before I became determined to make pancetta, I became infatuated with a hog.  Not just any hog, an Ossabaw Island hog.  These pigs are descendants of the legendary Iberica swine, and were deposited by the Spaniards on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, in the 1500’s.  As an isolated, feral herd, they are now the most genetically  pure European swine on the planet.  These are not your ordinary industrial hogs.

Fortunately for me (who lacks a farm), I have a friend as crazy as I am.  Bruce is the fourth generation on his Hillsborough, NC farm, and he agreed to raise a some Ossabaws.  We bought some gilts from Cane Creek Farm in Snowcamp, NC, later found a boar from another farmer, and soon enough we had piglets.  Bruce’s young son took care of the piglets, and in October we harvested the pig that was subject of this post.

While our piglets were bulking up, a couple of food bloggers created the Charcutapalooza Challenge.  The gist of it is that they proposed one charcuterie challenge per month, and dangled a big prize for the person who completed all the projects in an exemplary way.  They managed to get Michael Ruhlman, author of the amazing book Charcuterie, to be a consultant to the project.  As soon as I saw the project I knew I needed to be involved.

Sadly, however, I’ve only had time for one challenge – duck prosciutto – till now.  I posted on that one several months ago.  In some ways, knowing that I can’t compete for the prize was liberating.  I am now free to focus on my art, the way I want to.  And I thought that it would be pretty unusual for anyone to make Ossabaw pancetta, let alone from a pig they’ve grown.  In addition, I decided I would do the hog processing myself.  Here’s the photo tutorial.

It all starts with a hog. Bruce wisely talked me into letting him take the hog to be killed, scalded, and halved. The harvesting itself isn't such a big job, but the scalding is. So this half hog is how I took delivery of the pig. Note the beautiful fat on this pig, including the leaf lard in the viscera.

Here's the mid-section of the hog after I liberated the ham and shoulder. Since this isn'a post about how to butcher a hog, I'll focus just on the task of separating the belly that we'll turn into pancetta. Note that you don't need a lot of heavy cutting equipment to butcher an animal - a sharpening steel, a good boning knife, and a bone saw will do the job.

We start by separating the loin from the belly. We'll separate out the tenderloin, then turn the loin itself into three roasts.

We isolate the belly by removing the ribs. I also trimmed off a lot of the excess fat (which I retained for more lard). This belly is now ready for curing.

Bruce was enthusiatic to have me turn his half of the hog into pancetta, too, hence there are two bellies here. Bruce's is a little oddly shaped because he was a little more aggressive about separating the ham from the loin. The glasses contain the curing spice mixture specified by Ruhlman: Instacure #1, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme and crushed juniper berries. Ruhlman also calls for brown sugar, which I forgot. But I was very happy with the outcome, and would probably omit sugar on the future, too.

Here are the bellies with the curing rub on them. From here they went into a giant Ziploc, and into my reach-in to cure for a while. Ruhlman said a week, but I let them go for three weeks, just because I didn't have time to take them out sooner. I did take them out once or twice for overhauling (rubbing the spices into the meat).

After three weeks in the reach-in, the meat was ready to roll and cure. First step was to rinse off the spice mixture, and trim them to an appropriate size for rolling.

Pretty simple now... cut, and roll tightly. You could add extra seasoning now, but I didn't.

Now tie the roll TIGHT. If you don't know how to tie a roast, see this video: http://video.about.com/homecooking/Tie-a-Roast.htm

Once they're all tied, hang them in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Ideal conditions are 50-60F and 50-60% RH. Because pancetta is cooked, hanging to cure can be an inexact science.

Because the weather in NC is highly variable (and warm for several days at a time), I built a simple curing chamber out of a dorm fridge. Basically I hijacked the controls and added humidification capability. It needs dehumidification, too. Next project.

After two weeks of curing, they were ready to slice and store. The vinegar was used to wipe off small bits of chalky white mold. I checked them every few days while curing and wiped off small mold spots when they popped up (which they did, because of the high humidity while I was curing). White mold is no problem. Green and black mold is the stuff you worry about, and I didn;t see any of that.

Here it is, all sliced up, ready to package. Beautiful, isn't it?

Couldn't resist a close-up.

Vacuum seal and store for 6 months, easy.

Now that you see how to make the pancetta, let’s do something with it: pasta carbonara.

Cube a wheel or two of that pancetta.

Render it.

Cook some pasta. Yes, I was lazy and used boxed pasta. Sue me. Be sure to reserve a little of the water from boiling the pasta (maybe 1/2 - 1 cup), you'll need it later.

Get some other stuff ready: a big hunk of butter (1/8-1/4 lb), a big mound of hard cheese (2 cups pecorino romano), a couple eggs, and wine (optional, for drinking, not cooking).

Heat a big pan in the oven while the pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, throw the butter in the hot pan to melt.

Add the pasta, cheese, and eggs to the hot pan with butter. Yes, one of my eggs was a double-yolker. Bonus.

Mix well, adding a little retained pasta water till consistency is correct. Normally I would have added pancetta in same step, but I have one vegetarian in the house, so I mix it up veg and plate hers first.

Add the pancetta, mix well.

Plate and enjoy!

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Slow Food USA $5 Challenge

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Slow Food USA laid down the gauntlet: Prepare a slow food meal from whole foods, for less than $5 per serving.  At $5, these meals are less expensive than fast food, and support the ideals and the budget many of us have for feeding our families.  I’ve been looking forward to posting a meal for a few weeks now.

Given that the challenge date falls on Saturday, there was no question how I was going to approach my challenge. Saturday is farmers’ market day for our small business, and we would be covering two markets, Western Wake Farmers’ Market and The Saturday Market.  Our family MO is we split up to cover these venues, and each of us does a little shopping, with no consultation with the others (except to make sure we don’t duplicate items) – this way everybody gets to have something that they wanted during the upcoming week.  Sometimes we have meal ideas when we buy, other times the ingredients just speak to us.  I was simply going to work with whatever we brought home today, with no preconceived notion about what to prepare.

Today turned out to be a banner day for fresh food.  It’s change of season, so our market bags were overflowing with loot: first-push mustard greens, Sungold cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, pears, whole chicken and chicken livers, fall asparagus, flounder and swordfish, eggs, queso fresco, butter beans, okra, and a few things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  In the end, two things spoke to me: fall asparagus, because I have never before encountered it (the vendor told me that when asparagus plants become very mature, they produce a little in the fall, in addition to the usual spring harvest), and the swordfish steaks, because we don’t really enjoy frozen seafood, so our habit is to eat seafood starting Saturday evening and keep eating it every night until we finish what we bought on Saturday (so weekends are usually fish nights, as is Monday about half the time).

The final dish wound up being Homemade Pappardelle Pasta in Brown Butter Lemon Cream Sauce, with Lemon-Caper Swordfish Steaks and Autumn Asparagus and Sweet Red Peppers.

After a long, raw day at rainy farmers’ markets, we were all in the mood for a more hearty meal than the summer fare we’ve enjoyed till now.  My thoughts turned to pasta.  While I have no moral objection to boxed pasta, after a long week I needed the kind of therapy that comes from making pasta from scratch.  And while I love making pasta dough, I lose patience with tedious preparations on Saturday nights, since I usually don’t start making dinner till after 5 PM.  Pappardelle noodles are lazy man’s noodles: rich and delicious, but quick and easy to make: literally 5 minutes to prepare dough, and about 10 minutes to roll and cut after the dough has rested for a half hour.

I also don’t want to fuss with sauce after working all day, so a brown butter sage lemon cream sauce was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s a simple, delicious way to dress pasta in no time flat.

Swordfish steaks were a last minute addition to my market basket from Not Lin of Locals Seafood, after I realized the the single whole fish he reserved for me was not going to be enough to feed four people well.  We had a quick negotiation about them, a calculus that involves the exchange of market goods and cash in varying amounts each week.  I’ve adjusted my meal cost calculations to account for the true street price of the ingredients I used, however, so you can rest assured that you can reproduce my meal for the amounts I quote.

The star of my meal, however, was fall asparagus.  Gertrude’s Garden Gems had this unusual offering, and it could not be passed up, or passed over this evening.  Asparagus is a spring treat with a short season, and having it in the fall was an extraordinary treat. I decided to pair it with peppers from Redbud Farm.

Here’s the photo blog on how to pull the meal together:

Make a basic pasta dough by combining 3 cups of flour, 2 tsp salt and 3 eggs. Knead by hand or with a machine until you achieve a compliant ball that isn't sticky. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water - add them one TBSP at a time till the dough comes together. If you add too much water, don't panic, just dust in a little more flour to compensate. When the dough is kneaded, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour.

Cut off hunks of dough a little bigger than a golf ball, and roll them on a well-floured surface (or with a pasta machine) till they are a few millimeters thick. Cut noodles about 3/4" wide.

While the pasta dough is resting, marinate the swordfish in lemon juice (the juice of half a lemon). You can add some white wine, too, if you like.

Here are the noodles, asparagus and peppers. Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (about the bottom inch or two) and blanch for about a minute, then shock in cold water. You'll reheat them in the pasta water immediately before serving. Cut the peppers in a coarse dice.

Pan sear the peppers in some EVOO. Just a few minutes is enough. Retain the oil in the pan as the base of the cream sauce.

Pan sear the swordfish in EVOO and cook gently until cooked through to desired doneness. About 5 minutes per side was enough for these steaks. Meanwhile, get the sauce started by melting half a stick of butter in the pepper pan with the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and add about 1 TBSP dried sage.

Boil the pasta till al dente, about one minute or maybe two. It's fresh, so it needs hardly any cooking. Also, add capers and caper vinegar to fish (about a TBSP of each). Turn the cooked pasta out into the browned butter, and add about 4 ounces of half and half or heavy cream. Toss gently till noodles are coated and warmed, about 2 minutes.

Plate the meal as you like. This is one suggestion.

That’s all there is to it.  It was about 30 minutes of prep, 30 minutes of waiting for dough to rest, and maybe 10 or 15 minutes active cooking.

Here’s the costing:

 Total Cost Portions  Cost per Portion
Protein fish  $         13.50 4  $                         3.38
Capers  $           0.20 4  $                         0.05
Pasta flour  $           0.52 5  $                         0.10
eggs  $           1.14 5  $                         0.23
Sauce Butter  $           0.27 5  $                         0.05
Lemon  $           0.33 5  $                         0.07
Cream  $           0.28 5  $                         0.06
Veg Asparagus  $           1.75 4  $                         0.44
Peppers  $           1.00 4  $                         0.25
Marco Polo EVOO  $           0.25 5  $                         0.05
Salt  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Pepper  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Total per portion:  $                         4.69

We achieved the Slow Food criteria pretty easily, and had a luxurious meal for less than the cost of a fast food meal.  You can do it, too!

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How to make cioppino (fish stew) from whole fish

August 28, 2011 8 comments

Yesterday was perfect for soup, as we watched the rainy tail of hurricane Irene move north.

Earlier in the day my fishmonger, Not Lin, hooked me up with my usual weekly fix of whole fish.  (I call him Not Lin because after months of calling him Lin, his wife one day said to me “his name’s Not Lin”.  Actually, his name is Ryan, so you don’t have to call him Not Lin.)  Yes, sadly it’s gotten to the point where obtaining whole fish is a special-order proposition.  And that, in fact, is the reason for this post.

Because I don’t understand why people prefer to buy fish filets.  So much waste! So much expense!  And why?  It takes just minutes to filet a fish, and there are so many nice things you can do with fish heads and carcasses.  Even if you can’t use the heads and carcasses immediately, they freeze well, or make stock from them and freeze the stock.  (Funny aside: my daughter turned on the Food Network show Chopped after dinner last night, and one of the mystery basket ingredients were fish heads.  No kidding.  If any of the wanna-be chefs had ever worked with whole fish before in their lives, which apparently they had not, they may have made a respectable showing.  The judges had to select the one that was least bad, in my opinion.)

So I thought we would use this blog, whose point is to teach people how to deal with “difficult” ingredients and teach lost (among the average eater) techniques, to teach how to begin with a whole fish (OK, ours were gutted before we got them), and turn them into filets, fish stock, and a beautiful cioppino.  Cioppino is fish stew, usually credited to San Francisco fishermen of Italian descent.  Traditionally, it has a tomato base.  Making cioppino is kind of like making chili – there are lost of recipes out there, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it.  Following a recipe is likely to lead to frustration, because so many of them have exotic, or at least lots of diverse ingredients.  Who buys like 5 kinds of seafood in a single shopping trip?  Not me.  So feel free to adapt and use whatever YOU have on hand.

I started with three fresh fish from my local fishmonger, Locals Seafood. I have a standing order for three whole fish every week. I never know what they are going to be. This week it was Sheepshead (sort of like the lovechild of Snapper and Grouper), a Sea Trout (like a freshwater trout but not as delicate), and a flounder. Note my knife sharpener in the background - fileting fish is best accomplished with a very sharp, flexible knife.

Start by slicing perpendicular to the torso, from behind the gill up to the spine - almost like you're going to cut the head off, but not so deep (cut until you encounter the resistance of the spine). If you've never done this before, you need to know that fish are generally fileted one side at a time, so you're going to work on one side, obtain one filet, then repeat on the other side. Note also that my fish were gutted and scaled before I got them. It's unlikely you'll ever encounter a fish for sale that hasn't been gutted, because that's necessary just after catching. If your fish isn't scaled, search this blog for a post called "Best fish scaler ever" to see how to scale a fish.

Now repeat that 1st cut, but across the tail.

Now slice along the back, keeping the knife edge as close to the bony middle as possible. It will be more obvious in the next photo. Slice from the 1st cut you made along the head, all the way down to the 2nd slice across the tail.

Now filet the fish by continuing to cut away the filet from the carcass. Work your way from head to tail, slicing down an inch or two at a time, then go back to the head and start again. repeat until you have fileted the fish.

Another angle on the fileting process. Pile of pin bones from previous fish on edge of cutting board (read next photo caption).

Some types of fish (like Sheepshead, and Salmon), have bones called pin bones that need to be removed. You can feel them by running your finger along the filet - they will prick you like a pin. Get yourself a pair of pliers - I have stainless pin bone pliers, but regular needlenose, or even a pair of kitchen scissors would do the trick. Just grab each pin bone you find and yank it out. Some of the flesh will come along with it. One of the fileting photos above has a pile of pin bones on the edge of the cutting board for reference.

Here are the beautiful filets of three fish. You can use them however you like, and they will freeze well, too. We'll use the Sheepshead and Sea Trout tonight in the cioppino, and we'll save the Flounder for tomorrow night. This took me about 5 minutes, literally. Now granted, I have a lot of practice. It might take you 15 minutes. But the price of these filets would have been about $45. I paid $30 for the whole fish. Is it really worth an extra $15 to you to save 15 minutes? If you make more than a dollar a minute in your spare time, I'd like to join your MLM. And, you would be robbed of the fish carcasses and heads which will make the lovely fish stock we need for the cioppino, and it would cheat the dogs out of about a pound or two of food (see later pics). No, pre-cut anything is a mystery to me.

Now take the carcasses, and cut them into pieces that will fit into your stock pot. A knife or a pair of kitchen shears will do the job.

Into the pot with all of the carcasses.

Add a few quarts of water to the carcasses, as well as whatever soup herbs you like and have around. In this case, I threw in some bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme branches. Simmer the mixture for a couple hours, stirring once in a while. I like my strainer pot because it makes it easy to separate the fish parts from the stock later, but a collander will do the job just as well after the fact.

Here's the finished stock, before straining.

Here are the fish carcasses. We'll turn this into dog food later.

Here's the strained stock. The straining basket in the pot does most of the work, but I still poured it through a finer strainer to catch any small chuncks that got through the post strainer, which is quite coarse. We'll need about 1.5 liters for the cioppino (that measuring cup is 1 liter).

Now to start the cioppino. Saute some aromatic veg and a can of tomato paste until soft and well mixed. In this case I used onions, peppers, and garlic because it's what I had around. All together, it was probably 2 cups of veg. Once the veg is soft, add a quart (or 28 oz can) of crushed tomatoes, and about 1.5 liters of the fish stock. I forgot to photograph that step.

Once you have the aromatics, tomatoes and fish stock simmering, add some seasonings. Now don't be too dogmatic about this - whatever you like and hav is just fine. In my case, I added about 1 TBSP smoked salt, 1 TBSP smoked paprika, the zest of a lemon, a couple teaspoons of dried oregano, a pinch of saffron threads, and a big pinch of dried lemongrass.

I added a couple pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced, because I happened to have them and the skins were starting to turn green. I pan fry them first before adding to soup, as it improves the texture. Add them to the soup only after the soup has simmered for at least an hour, because you don't want the taters to overcook. Add them about 15 minutes before you want to serve, because that's all the longer they'll take to cook.

Skin the filets in preparation of going into the soup. This step isn't mandatory if you like fish skins (I do, my family doesn't). Start from the tail, and with your fileting knife cut the filet free from the skin. Should take about 20 seconds per filet.

Coarsely cut the filets. This is the filets of the Sheepshead and the Sea Trout.

Add the filets to the simmering pot. they will cook through in about 5 minutes. Stir gently once or twice while they are cooking.

Finished dish! Enjoy!

After dinner, separate the meat from bones of the carcasses you boiled, and cook the skins in a little extra stock. Chop them up for the dogs. No waste!

Now for a little costing analysis.

The fish were $30.  They made 8 portions of cioppino, and 4 portions of flounder filets. $30/12 portions = $2.50 per portion.  And that doesn’t account for the dog food I got out of it, or the extra fish stock I froze.

The cioppino used probably $3 worth of aromatics, $2 worth of potatoes, and let’s say $1 for tomato paste and herbs.  The tomatoes we canned; I used one jar, and we get about 9 jars out of a $25 box of tomatoes, so that jar was worth $2.77.  Total for ingredients exclusing fish is 3+2+1+2.77=6.77, divided by 8 portions is $0.84.

Add $0.84+$2.50 = $3.34 per portion.  You can’t buy a fast food meal for that amount.

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The world’s best pork chop biscuit, from scratch

The World's Best Porkchop Biscuit. Seriously. Lousy photo. Awesome biscuit.

My work on this planet may be just about done.

After a dinner of the Best Porkchops Ever (from heirloom pigs we selected, crossed with a farmer’s hybrid boar from friend farmer Tim, grown with love by our friend Bruce at his farm), I asked daughter Courtney what she would like for school lunch tomorrow.

Answer: pork chop biscuit.

Be still my heart.

So I set about making biscuits.  Only to have Southern grandma-channeling daughter Emily hop up to coach me on my biscuit prep skills.  Because this girl can make her some biscuits.

And together, we made the World’s Best Porkchop Biscuit.  I have eaten me some porkchop biscuits in my time, including the famous ones at the NC State Fair.  And I am not exaggerating, this is the best ever.

And it dawned on me, how many of you have never had a porkchop biscuit that didn’t come from Hardee’s?  Or Biscuitville. Whatever.  This is another one of those foods that is crazy-easy to make, and everyone loves.  So here’s how to do it:

Biscuits (Alton Brown’s recipe, it’s the best):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter (or a little bigger), being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that’s life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

For the porkchop:

Obtain the highest quality porkchop you can find.  A thick one, at least 3/4″.   None of that boneless crap, either.
Brush it with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper (I like smoked salt for this).
Grill it till about 155F.  Just a little pink inside.  Yes, it’s safe.
Remove bone and excess fat. Slice it about 3/8″ thick (probably in half).  Cut such that it fits on the biscuit.

Place porkchop slices on biscuit and prepare for the magic to happen.  A little pat of butter on the biscuit first won’t kill you.  Quickly.

Try it paired with a nice of of Nicaragua El Limoncillo Pacamara Peaberry from Muddy Dog Roasting Company.

How to manage a big ham in three easy steps

March 21, 2011 2 comments

Do you like ham?  Really, really, good ham?  I’m guessing you do.

When’s the last time you made one?  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Why is that?  Because they’re freakin’ huge, I’m guessing.  It takes all bloody day to cook one, and a small army to eat one.  Not to mention that, mainly because of their large size, they’re expensive.  And even if the thought of cooking the damn thing doesn’t intimidate you, the thought of wasting some expensive meat just might.  Am I right?  If you’re like most home cooks, I’ve hit at least one of your hot buttons with that list.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because some time in the past, there was a great invention.  It’s called a knife.

Yes, believe it or not, you can cut that bad boy down.  Cook part of it (and I’ll teach you a quicker way to cook it than the all day bake your momma and grandma taught you.  Not blindingly fast, mind you, but you can be eating ham in two hours).  Freeze the rest to cook another day.  Yes, I know that momma never cut her ham down before cooking.  Grandma would find it unthinkable.  And because momma and grandma didn’t do it, it probably hasn’t occurred to you.  That’s where I come in.  I started this blog to teach people how to tackle real food that is viewed as difficult.  Unruly.  And a big-ass ham fits that description.

The ham I’m about to tackle came from one of our Ossabaw hogs, grown by my good friend Bruce and his young son in Orange County, North Carolina.  This ham is a city-cured ham, meaning it’s processed with smoked and sugar, and not salted and cured as a country ham would be.  City cured hams require cooking.  This one was processed at Acre Station in Pinetown, North Carolina, and ultimately weighed in at just over 13 pounds.  We were feeding six people tonight, and I wanted leftovers for sandwiches, so I decided I was going to cook half this ham, and break the other half in two to freeze for later.  here’s the pictoral.

We start with a large ham. It was previously frozen. Yes, it can be re-frozen. "What about germs?", you ask. Don't do anything stupid and you'll be fine. Thaw it in the fridge, and as soon as it's thawed, deal with it (this guy was actually still slightly frozen in the center when I cut it up). When you deal with it, do so quickly, this shouldn't take more than about 10 minutes, seriously. Then rewrap what's gonna be refrozen, and freeze it. And clean your hands, your boards, your knives in advance. You'll be fine. And if you die, I'll admit I was wrong.

Step 1 - debone the ham. This is simple, really. Locate the bone at the top of the ham, and at the bottom. Find the smallest distance from edge to bone and make that your incision point. Cut along the bone, then make small cuts along the bone itself, working your way around the bone till it's free. Depending on your ham, you may have just a shank, or (as in this case) you may have part of the pelvic bone, too. Just find the bones with your kinfe and cut them free, keeping the cuts small and as close to the bone as possible. Save the bone for flavoring stocks and such (it can be refrozen, too).

Step 2 - cut the ham down into the pieces you want to cook or save. I've cut this ham in half lengthwise. I want to cook half now, and split the other half for later use. You can see I was starting to cook - my green stems are on the cutting board. I keep the stems from most greens and use them as you might use celery. They are cheaper, more flavorful, and last for months in the fridge once the leaves are stripped.

Step 2, continued - here's the other half, split in two. Each of these pieces was a hair over three pounds, perfect for a single, small family meal. I vacuumed sealed these right away and put them back into the deep freeze.

Step 3 - now cook the ham. momma and grandma did an all day slow bake, I know. Forget that. We're going to braise this bad boy, French-style. Saute some aromatic veg (onion, green stalks, etc., whatever you have) in some oil and butter till just soft (5 minutes). Add some herbs and spices - a bay leaf, half a dozen whole peppercorns, a couple whole cloves, and a few thyme braches are what I used tonight. Place the ham on top the veg. Add about 3 cups of white wine, and 3 cups of water, stock, or apple juice. Bring to a simmer. Cover and slide into a pre-heated 325F oven.

Step 3, continued. Set oven temp so that covered pan just simmers (probably 300-325F). Baste the ham (spoon some juice over it) every 20 minutes. Cook until internal temp is 160F, about 2 hours, maybe quicker depending on size (this guy was 6 lbs and took about 1 hr 50 min to get to temp. And yes, I need a bigger, better Dutch oven. If you are a cookware manufacturer, send me one and I'll make sure it shows up on lots of pictures on the internet.

Here's the finished ham. Delicious. Literally, it was 1 hour and 55 minutes from the time I took the wrapped ham from the fridge until I was eating ham off that plate. And the other two 3-pounders had already started to refreeze by that time. There is no excuse not to eat ham more often.

There, wasn’t that relatively quick and easy?  Don’t let large cuts intimidate you, they are just as good broken down and cooked in smaller portions.