Posts Tagged ‘guanciale’

Market Meals June

New This Week

I’m a fairly industrious person by nature.

Yesterday morning for instance, I baked a loaf of banana bread and prepped a batch of pizza dough before I’d even left for work at 7:30.  That was in addition to the usual girliness of getting ready, packing lunch and tending to the animals (plus rousing the Everyman) that I normally do every day.

Since it was Tuesday I knew there’d be a farmer’s market opportunity when I got home, and for whatever reason I had grilled pizza on my mind.  This article from last week probably has something to do with it, plus the days are (slowly) getting warmer and that always makes me want to crack open the open air grill.  So, I whipped up a batch of dough before departing, figuring I’d work out the fine details whilst at the market and be ready to go once I returned.

When I got to the market (which now comes equipped with it’s own website) it turned out the universe had slightly different plans.  No doubt I’m usually one of the last people there since I’m coming from Mississauga during rush hour, but there was still half an hour until the market was supposed to close, but no veggies were in sight.  In fact, a few of the vendors were already gone, and others were in the process of packing up to go.  Just like that, visions of grilled asparagus pizza that had danced through my head went foop!  I wandered around the remaining stalls somewhat dejectedly, now unsure of what to make for dinner.  Then I came across the Millbank Creamery stand with it’s stacks of cheese and local Amish butter.  I grabbed a pound of butter and a chunk of mozzarella cheese and decided not to abandon the pizza plan just yet.  I stopped to see friendly Seth at Forbes to see if I could rustle up anything pizza-worthy, but all that was left were jars of preserves and dried nuts, seeds and berries, so I picked up a bottle of Labrador tea vinegar and carried on.  Seth says Labrador tea is beguilingly spicy, so I figure this vinegar might be the salad sprinkle of choice come summer.  As I headed down the path to leave, I passed The Local Cafe stand that foils me every time (since the market opened I’ve been trying to scrounge a yummy quick bread that the Everyman loves, but by the time I get there they’re always long gone).  Today was no different so I kept moving, but out of the corner of my eye I spied something on the Evelyn’s Crackers table; a lone bag of red fife wheat.  Eyes darting quickly around to ensure no one else had noticed it, I hied my way to the table and handed over the dough.  What a wonderful and unexpected prize.  I was almost upset that I’d already made pizza dough because I love red fife (really all hard flours; our standard is a hard unbleached wheat that comes flecked with it’s bran by the giant sack from Bob).  With that I began the short jaunt to home and started pondering what would make a good pizza.

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Market Meals May

New This Week

I went to the market again this evening (as I do most Tuesdays once May rolls around) in search of my friend Seth from Forbes Wild Foods. I was hoping he’d have more dried elderflowers since I burned through them rather quickly over the weekend.  Unfortunately that was not in the cards today, though he did promise me a bag for next week’s market.  As a consolation prize I helped myself to some of his other tasty edibles; maple syrup, more ramps and some garlic scapes, with not an inkling of what I would do with any of them.

One of the things I love about market days is not planning out what’s for dinner.  I’ll arrive at the market and let what’s fresh and in season inspire me towards inner deliciousness.  This evening I prepared our second real market meal of the season, a sparkling green pasta with flecks of rosy guanciale.

Seasoning The Pan With Garlic Scapes

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Strange And Delicious

Raw Ingredients

On Saturday afternoon I began to wrack my brain for something nomlicious to have for dinner.

I’d been to Terroni earlier in the day to procure a jar of pepperoncini for ‘nduja after grinding all 4 bags of dried chillies came up short.  As an educational aside, grinding that many chillies in a mini prep can be hazardous to your health because the fiery dust will get lodged in your nose and lungs.  The preserved pepperoncini were intensely spicy and salty, and surprisingly delicious all on their own.  Once the initial blast of heat wore off, they had a wonderful lingering finish.  I wanted to incorporate this interesting new condiment into our evening meal, but was drawing a blank on how to do so.

Being a somewhat rainy spring day, and also owing to the Everyman not feeling entirely top notch, a tart seemed to be the perfect compromise of a meal.  Several flavor combinations were considered but rejected once I realized that pepperoncini would completely drown out anything else.  I wanted to use a bit of guanciale, because you can’t really go wrong with pork fat of any description, so I built the flavor profile around that.  Next I contemplated a medley of potatoes and pears that I originally envisioned as some form of pave but in the end became small chunks.  To round it all out I added some sliced leeks and rosemary, sauteed in a pan and stuffed it into pre-made puff pastry shells.

Potato, Pear And Leek Tart

The pepperoncini was still on my mind, so I grabbed a few Paris toasts, smeared them with the flaming paste and topped them with small knobs of caciocavallo.  A brief blast of heat from the oven and I had perfect fiery-cheesy croutons to top off my salad.  And the verdict?  I liked it, the Everyman liked it, but next time I’d probably cut down on the pear a tad and cook the potatoes further before stuffing them into pastry.  Recipe proportions have been adequately adjusted to reflect those preferences. (more…)

Return Of The Ramps (Once Again!)

Close Up Prior To The Oven

Last night the Everyman and I embarked on a new road map to deliciousness.

After pickling ramp stalks on Sunday night, I was left with a gigantic colander full of wild leek leaves, with nary a plan in my head.  Following some careful consideration (for all of about 30 seconds) it occurred to me that a warm spring tart might be in order.  I’d tried to procure a lump of puff pastry whilst at Cheese Boutique, envisioning a wild leek puff pastry adventure, but once they were cleaned and the leaves separated, it seemed to me that I did not have enough to make both.  Difficult decisions had to be made, and the pickled ramps won.  Still left with a rather large bundle of tulip-ish leaves, I started to consider my options.

Tart Filling

A quick taste was all it took to decide that a wilted preparation similar to spinach or kale was all that was required.  The leaves were sautéed in nothing more than butter, coffee olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  After allowing them to cool a bit, I popped a few vol au vent shells into the oven to puff.  Next, several small lardons of guanciale were finely diced and set aside.  Then a few small rings of pickled red onion were plucked from their mason jar.  Once the pastry was ready, the tops were popped off, the sautéed greens placed on the bottom, followed by guanciale nuggets, red onion slivers and grated parmagiano.  For a brief moment I considered adding some finely chopped preserved lemon peel, but on second thought decided against it.  Back into the oven they went to crispen the shells and slightly toast the cheese.

The tarts were a hit, with the Everyman especially.  Part of that is probably due to his love of puffed, buttery pastry (a la crescent rolls), but at the end of the meal when he commented that wild leeks were awesome, I knew for sure that I’d won him over.  I may mourn the fact that I did not get a chance to get all the ramps I wanted or deserved, but I will always remember this meal for it’s delicious simplicity.  And that will remind me to stock up doubly so in order to make it again next year.
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Guanciale – The Magical Mystery Meat

Shortly after the guanciale finished curing, it occurred that I had 5 lbs of cured meat sitting in my freezer (and I’m not even going to mention all the various sausages I have in there too).

Only a family of 2, (even with the meat maniac Everyman) I realized that it was going to take an awfully long time to burn through that much guanciale unless 1) I started giving chunks of it away (but really, do you know how strangely people look at you when you offer them homemade cured meats?) or 2) I started coming up with other ways to use it than just out of hand, on a burger or on antipasto platters.  Even though one of our cats loves to nom on prosciutto, I’d already ruled out the idea of sharing it with them after our vet told us that (the non-prosciutto-eater) our cat was obese.  Somehow feeding them snacks composed primarily of pork fat just didn’t strike me as a good idea…

If you travel around the foodie blogosphere, then you know that combining bacon with sweet things has become one of the haute new trends in food.  I have no doubt that this has been going on for some time (I mean, how long has Vosges been making that Mo’ Bacon bar?) but the trend has only recently started to gain traction in Toronto.  This article from Toronto Life’s website not only pointed me in the right direction for finding Vosges in Toronto, but also highlighted all the fun things retailers and chefs here are doing with bacon.

Now I’ll confess to owning a bacon-only cookbook (aptly titled Bacon) but it was purchased as a gift for the Everyman several years ago and (like most things I buy him) has never been used.  I too own Jennifer McLaren’s book Fat and I find the idea of Baconnaise revolting.  I already love the Mo’ Bacon bar, but bacon salt, while intriguing, just wasn’t turning my crank.  I may yet revisit that some other time, when I dust off the old box of flavoured salts I acquired.  I don’t need bacon bubble gum, and it’s too early still for bacon ice cream.  I’m undecided on bacon cupcakes and I don’t think I’d care for the candied variety.  That left some bacon toffee.  But instead of making it with bacon, I’d be making it with guanciale (the Roman bacon)!  I felt equal parts of promise and disgust, but I had nothing to lose except a chunk of guanciale so I dived right in.

It’d been a while since I made toffee, but the process is surprisingly easy, and easier still if you happen to have a candy thermometer lying around.  The main thing you need to remember is that no matter how ooey, gooey delicious that caramelized sugar might look, do not try to taste a bit of it with your tongue or on your finger.  Caramelized sugar is a few degrees away from molten, and if you get it on yourself, only bad things will happen.  Instead, just be patient and wait a few more minutes before sampling the finished product.

It turned out quite good, but (as I often do), I thought it would be greatly improved by the addition of chocolate.  I finally had an occasion to test out the mini chocolate dipper/melter that my mother in law bought me for Christmas a few years ago, though I’m sure the very idea of what I was making would repulse her to no end.  After chipping off a chunk of the 1 lb dark bar of Callebaut in the freezer (another Christmas gift from my m-i-l) I set to work melting and dipping guanciale toffee.  It was a messy (and delicious) job, but someone had to do it.  I kept half the batch of toffee unadulterated, and went whole hog with the other.  Please understand, this is not a treat for the faint of heart.  In a few more hours once the chocolate has set, I’m sure I’ll be a very happy foodie, though.
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Condimentality

Front Row: Grainy Mustard And Red Onion, Back Row: Barbecue Sauce And Lemon Pickle (The Difference Is Indistinguishable)

The culinary hiatus I’ve been on has not only been a boon for clearing my head and reinvigorating my desire to cook, but also a wellspring of inspiration.

In the past, my condiment focus has been primarily on jams or the occasional gherkin pickle, but this last week of photograzing and foodgawking has inspired me to broaden my topping horizons.  Ever since I bought Small Batch Preserving several years ago, I’ve yearned to try some of the more exotic preserves, relishes and sauces hidden within it’s food-stained pages, but I’ve been too busy cooking the things I regularly need to properly experiment with anything new.  Until now…

Our last meal at The Black Hoof encouraged me to give mustard a second chance, and this weekend I finally decided, why not?  Two of my favourite things (which means little considering everything I’ve tried on their menu instantly becomes a favorite) are the mustard seed crusted horse bresaola and the grainy mustard served with lamb headcheese.  After the Everyman and I both raved about the delicacy of that mustard (and accompanying headcheese), it became apparent that I needed to pump out some crunchy piquancy of my own.  A recipe I found on Saveur provided a decent base, but as always, I had to make changes.  The biggest difference was that I did not have the requisite Guinness, so I subbed in another stout (that the Everyman assured me would be similar enough) called Sinha, from Sri Lanka.  Swirling the whole thing together like a strange, lentil-coloured slurry, the concoction still wasn’t so much appealing as it was vaguely intriguing.  I wondered what effect the beer would have on the flavour, having recently fallen in love with a plate of homemade dark chocolate Guinness cupcakes, even though I despise beer.  I still haven’t warmed up to that Guinness cheddar the Everyman’s always raving about, but that’s an entirely different story altogether.  After a few days of soaking on a sunny counter to soften the seeds and meld the flavours, I’ll be able to see what this mustard business is all about.  The first taste is already earmarked for a roasted chunk of pork belly, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Never content to do things in anything resembling a reasonable quantity, I didn’t stop at one condiment; oh no, not I.  I had to be the maniacal, greedy, overachieving condiment queen who turned out 4 separate items on a Saturday afternoon.  After the mustard was bedded down and tucked in to a bowl sheathed in plastic, I turned my attention to the next item, a basil balsamic barbecue sauce.  The culinary voice prodding me to make this sauce also happened to be that wily piece of pork belly I’d been planning to roast for dinner.  I initially hadn’t realized that the mustard was a multi-day process, and assumed it would be ready for me to use by dinner.  Being that wasn’t the case, I needed a backup plan; which is where this barbecue sauce came in.  After simmering it on the stove for about 20 minutes, a small dip confirmed that I’d never had anything quite like it.  It was tangy and tart, a little astringent, but with a sweet note and a nice, floral basil finish.  I knew then that this would make a killer glaze for the pork during the last half hour of roasting, adhering to it like a deep, burnished lacquer.  Though happy with the end result, I still felt unsatisfied.  There had to be more for me to tinker with than this.

Which is how I ended up pickling red onions slivers, one of the most beautiful vegetables to work with.  The opalescent amethyst rings glittered when the sun hit the canning jar, waiting for their swim in the briny, vinegar bath.  The blue-green-grey of the rosemary fronds provided a lovely sprinkling of vivid contrast.  An error in calculation meant that I had twice as much vinegar as I needed, and no good reason to make more, but the realization did not occur until after I’d already packed and sealed my jar.  In a few days I imagine I’m going to have some mighty strong pickled onions that will most likely require a slight dilution.  What they’ll be destined for, I’m not entirely sure, but they might not be bad with that aforementioned pork belly – after all, those sweet and sour pickled shallots sung with the pork belly I made on Valentine’s Day.

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Culmination

This weekend marks the end of a ridiculously long waiting period (for me anyways, because I have 0 patience).

After approximately 6 weeks (that felt like 6 months) of hanging in my broom closet, my guanciale is supposedly done.  I started curing these cheeks during the earlier part of February, but it’s been one of those projects I thought would never end.  I chose to prepare a traditional version, seasoned with black peppercorns and thyme, as well as my own experimental version, riddled with various chili flakes and peppers.  In spite of my gross lack of patience, for all intents and purposes the guanciales look pretty decent for a first effort.  They’re stiff, yet pliable, with (thankfully) no perceptible smell.  I plan to lop off a hunk and use it to make dinner later tonight.  I’ve been told the best use for this stuff besides eating out of hand is in pasta alla amatriciana.  I suppose we’ll soon find out.  If I’m able to post about the results tomorrow, you’ll know it turned out to be safe ;)

On another foodish front, I’ve also inched closer towards wheaty perfection.  Arising relatively early (for a weekend) to enter the kitchen, I was able to pump out the loaf recipe before lunchtime.  There was such a marked difference in taste that the Everyman and I managed to devour an entire baton between the two of us in less than 10 minutes flat.  A conversation we had late last night about various preserves cluttering my sun room reminded us both to enjoy the baguette with a coating of jam.  Delightful!  From my point of view I’m definitely moving in the right direction.  Today’s loaf had a much chewier crust and airier holes, and the ideal salty and almost pungent fermented taste that I so love in fine french bread.  I think the ticket to my success has been getting the right ratio of levain in the dough.  Since the specific recipe I’ve been using doesn’t even call for levain, I’ve been sort of “winging” it these last few weeks.  While last week’s bread tasted good, it did not achieve much height or crumb structure, which I attributed to an overabundance of levain (I used half the jar I had).  This week’s loaves rose better, got darker and retained a good mixture of holey chambers and I believe the reasons are twofold.  Firstly, I drastically scaled back the levain, only using approximately 1/4 cup.  The second thing I attempted was a suggestion from my friendly-fighting blog neighbour.  On reading about the challenges I’d been having with my loaves, he suggested a slight modification to my methods.  Instead of throwing ice cubes in for steam as soon as the bread goes in, he recommended adding them towards the end, so that the bread has enough time to rise before the crust starts hardening over.  And you know what?  It worked.  Even better than I was expecting it to, too.

Overall it’s been a pretty productive and delicious weekend.  I have several other projects on the go right now that I’ll discuss in a later blog, but suffice it to say, there is plenty afoot.

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Bits And Pieces, Odds And Ends

I’ve got a lot of concurrent projects on the go right now, so instead of wracking my brain to come up with enough time and material to write 5 or 6 posts, I’ve decided to aggregate my updates into one smaller post.

Firstly, I finally managed to get my shit together garden-wise and inventory what’s growing in the basement.  I was able to determine what I needed to replant, and what had not been planted at all.  By the time I went to bed last night, all tomatoes had been started or were already sprouted (with the exception of the Sungolds) and the artichokes, celery root and chili peppers were planted too.  Hopefully I still have enough time to get them to seedling stage before it’s time to go outside.  I even managed to give West Coast Seeds a call to find out what was going on with my Sungold tomatoes and Ambition shallots; it’s been almost a month and a half since I ordered my seeds from them.  Turns out that my back order was just shipped on Tuesday (finally), so any day now I should be able to plant the rest.  I definitely feel like a weight has been lifted now that the majority of it is done.  All I have to do now is wait for warmer weather and pick up my kiddie pool, hanger bags and strawberry vines and let the nature handle the rest.

On the baking front, I’ve been nurturing the Bride of Frankenstein for several weeks now, and her progress has been quite promising.  Now that I only need to feed her once or twice a week it’s been much easier to manage.  I imagine she must’ve attained some depth during that time, so I am eagerly awaiting this weekend for another chance to make bread.  I also broke one of my ironclad kitchen rules and am anticipating the results of that decision.  Recently while reading Local Breads, I came across a list of somewhat essential tools for successful bread-making.  Typically I shun single-use kitchen gadgets because I hate clutter and have already completely filled our decently-sized kitchen with stuff.  Yesterday I caved and ordered myself a baguette pan and bench scraper from Golda’s Kitchen.  I can make a case for the many uses of a bench scraper, but the baguette pan as far as I can tell has one purpose only; alleviating my laziness.  You see, one of the techniques that my book recommends is “couching” your loaves while they proof and bake in order to obtain the correct size and structure.  The manual way to do this is to create an accordion out of parchment paper and then slip it between the loaves so that they are supported on each side.  While it rises, you slip a few kitchen towels under the folds to further support the dough.  This is not only time-consuming but annoying, so I bought a pan shaped for the purpose instead.  I intend to make lots of baguettes from now on, so rationalizing the cost/benefit was slightly easier.  I just don’t know where I’m going to be able to store it since I’m completely out of room.  I made myself feel better by not also purchasing a banneton and proofing box; two other things I wanted but don’t have room for.  D’oh!

Project guanciale has been coming along nicely too.  Every time I peek in, they’re slightly smaller than the time before.  I am continually amazed by how much of the marinade coating  has adhered during the curing phase.  The only things I’m not quite sure about is whether I’m supposed to rinse it off before serving and if I should’ve removed the “rind” before marinating.  Until this past weekend all the guanciale I purchased came pre-sliced.  While we were at the Cheese Boutique obtaining cottage provisions, we managed to score a hunk of guanciale; it just had to be sliced at home.  Whenever we go there I leave the meat to the Everyman and I tackle the cheeses, so he bought the chunk (which I later realized was a bad idea considering how much I have hanging at home).  Ah well.  They’ll be plenty of meat at our house!

The majority of our food comes from an organic grocery delivery service called The Clean Food Connection.  In the summertime they provide us with a fresh, local farmshare from Zephyr Organics and in the winter we leave most things to chance with something they call a vegpak.  A vegpak is a bundled order of fruits and vegetables that comes in several different sizes, and is assembled based on what’s in stock at the store that week and a list of our preferences.  Year-round our grocery deliveries are a sort of culinary roulette; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.  Our vegpak last night included a handful of lemons, which were hastily thrown in my chalice (current housing for a glut of multicoloured citrus).  Staring at the lemons and lamenting how to use them, the Everyman came up with the perfect solution; lemon curd!  I still have half a jar left from the last time I made my version of the lemon/lavender/white chocolate Black Hoof dessert, but I really don’t think you can ever have too much.  Kudos to the Everyman for a brilliant suggestion!  I’ll be curding it up while the bread bakes this weekend.

Making it two for two, the Everyman also had another fantastic idea that I can’t believe he heard about before I did.  While perusing Cowbell’s website, he noticed that they will be participating in Ontario’s first Outstanding In The Field dinner.  If you’re not familiar with Outstanding In The Field, I suggest you check it out.  It’s a roving, open-air dining experience that pairs farmers, chefs and the dining public for a not-to-be-missed culinary adventure.  I purchased their cookbook last year and was captivated by it, but never realized that they organized dinners in Canada as well.  Apparently they’ve done some in BC to great success, but this will be the first Ontario event.  It’s sort of Stadtlander-esque, but on a grander scale, as dinners can include as many as 200 guests.  The Everyman and I have decided that we’re going to go, so I now have something else that’s fun to look forward to this summer (aside from his birthday).  Plus, it’s being held at Dingo Farms so I bet there’ll be cows to hug too!  If you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited.  Now I just have to find somewhere to stay in Bradford that isn’t a B&B.

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The Tequila Effect And Various Other Stories…

What a weekend this has been.

I had my first in-car driving lesson, during which I was eternally traumatized (because I almost hit a police car).  I then spent the afternoon at a dealership with the Everyman test driving and sitting in cars.  All roads led to cars on Saturday, it seemed.

When I woke up this morning, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and set up my hanging meat cave.  If you’ve been reading, you already know that I’ve been putting this off for the last 4 or 5 days.  What was supposed to salt cure for 5 to 7 days actually ended up soaking for 12.  I’m pretty sure this won’t have any ill effects, except perhaps resulting in a slightly stronger flavor.  Considering that various curing recipes I consulted prior to undertaking this endeavor couldn’t even reach a consensus on the duration of any step, I’m not overly concerned.  The hanging’s been causing me greater grief.  My original thought was the broom closet, but after examining it this morning, I started to worry that it was much too small.  There was also the short-lived plan to hang them in the coat closet, which was dashed when the Everyman declared he’d probably never put his coats in there again afterward.  It became apparent that the broom closet would have to do, despite its shortcomings.  I cleared it out and thoroughly wiped down all the walls, setting down aluminum foil on the bottom to catch any errant leftover brine.  Next, I removed the freezer bags of liquid and jowls from the fridge, gave them a good massage ‘n’ shake and popped one open.  Removing jowl from bag, I noticed it was stiff (as the recipe said it would be) and that quite a lot of briny liquid had seeped out during the last 12 days.  I let as much of the liquid drain off as I could, then set the jowl in a bowl and cut a gargantuan length of twine.  I’ve never been all that good at trussing, and today it was proven even further.  I’m sure that someone who knew what they were doing could have used a third of the twine that I did, but all that mattered to me was that I managed to get it to hang vertically.  Using a handy folding cooling rack strapped to several closet hooks, I was able to suspend meat via twine strung through the rack.  It was big and sturdy enough to hang both jowls simultaneously and far enough away from each other that I shouldn’t have to worry about cross-contamination of flavors.  I can say quite honestly that I’m both proud and embarrassed of my homemade setup.  Proud, because it was quite MacGyver of me.  Embarrassed because it’s incredibly ghetto.  But, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating… so come 3 weeks from now, we’ll just see, won’t we?


Moving back to other matters, the Everyman had agreed several weeks ago to take me out for  dinner to either celebrate (or commiserate) my first driving lesson.  As it turns out, commiseration was required.  We tried to stop by The Black Hoof around 10:30 last night, but the place was absolutely packed and the non-chef owner suggested going to a local bar and having them call us once a table opened up.  Neither the Everyman or I was in the mood to wait for our food or a table, so we gave our most sincere apologies and headed home.  A quick stop at the store for gathering provisions and 10 minutes later the Everyman’s delicious grilled cheese was in my hands instead.  Not exactly what I’d been hoping for at the time, but a boon of a completely different kind.  He really does make the best grilled cheese’ in the world!

Flash forward to this afternoon, and the decision to return to The Black Hoof as soon as it opened to secure a table and some calm before the storm.  We weren’t far off either.  Arriving only 30 minutes after opening, there was but a table of 3 in the back, and several people lining the bar.  I don’t think I’d ever seen it so empty before, and it was quite nice that the volume was still at a conversible decibel.  As we sat down, we both noticed that the menu had several subtle changes, a few new additions and some deletions.  New to the menu were St Johns bone marrow, testina and lentils and a duck confit sandwich.  Dearly departed were the duck confit puff and pork merguez.  Before we left home we’d both vowed to be slightly more sensible than on previous visits, and not eat until bloatation.  Having perused a menu devoid of several of our favorites (even though I knew whatever we ordered would be amazing), I optimistically believed that would be possible.

We started our culinary adventure with a large charcuterie platter and basket of Thuet bread.  No matter my personal opinion of him, Thuet does turn out some really scrumptious crumbs.  The platter was large, and arrived with the customary side of pickled vegetables.  There should definitely be more of those on the plate, especially the cauliflower and onions.  Mmm!  Our platter ran the gamut from mild to wild, and included a fois and goji berry pate, translucent slices of lonzino, meaty beef and dill salami, creamy pork rillettes, slivers of mildish horse braesoala, something that I remember as cappicola and the Everyman remembers as pork shoulder, a smoked venison and cherry salami, smooth rabbit and parsley terrine, silken duck mousse, several rounds of lacy saucisson and small chunks of smoky chorizo.  Now that’s a mouthful; both literally and figuratively!  I’m never disappointed with the meats here; each has a unique flavor and voice all its own.  While I may favor some more than others (the fois goji, duck mousse, horse and cappicola), there never seems to be anything on the plate that I feel I wouldn’t eat it again.  He’s just that good at what he does.  It really is a testament to his skill level too, because whenever the Everyman and I prepare antipasti or charcuterie platters (depending on your cultural leanings) he usually camps out firmly on the meat side, and I meander over to cheeses.  Every time we’ve had Hoof charcuterie though, I tend to match the Everyman bite for bite.  It also doesn’t hurt that the ones I like less, he usually likes more, and vice versa; though we did have a polite stare down over the last of the fois goji.  We feasted like kings, and by the time it was all over, I felt as if I was 75% of the way towards stuffed, which was a drag because I still had another dish coming.  It was at that precise moment that I inquired whether the Everyman still felt it was such a good idea to have ordered the cassoulet.  He said he was fine, so I thought nothing more of it.  I may have also commented that the Everyman was lucky that I planned to marry him some day, otherwise I would have gotten down on one hoof (ha ha) and proposed (to the chef).  Being the Everyman, he at first assumed I was talking about the nerd specimen that had just arrived one table over, with a date who looked 15 years his junior.  Um, not quite.

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If At First You Don’t Succeed…

I wish there was a better word to properly articulate my level of frustration right now.  I don’t think sigh quite cuts it, linguistically speaking.

First off, Frankenstein died.  That would be my less than a week old levain.  See, I forgot to feed him a few times because the instructions were so involved that they stopped making sense.  Compounding it all, I couldn’t remember what day of the instructions I was on, so on days I was supposed to feed him I didn’t, and vice versa.  I suppose that once I rinse out his jar and decide to start over I’ll have to be attempt to be more organized.  Maybe even write down a schedule on the fridge or something.  Really, I just need to summarize all the paragraphs of nonsense that all amount to remove half a cup of dough base and stir in half a cup of flour and a quarter cup of water or, better still, do nothing.  The investment in time also slightly bothers me.  The idea that once the dough is fully activated I have to cultivate it just like a pet or a plant that could live for many years longer than I is both equally thrilling and suffocating.  It’s cool that what I’m doing now could directly affect bread I make 20 years from now, but in the very immediate future the time required to get it off the ground just makes it seem like too much to take care of.

Admitting to another of my failures, I haven’t yet hung my guanciale.  In order to buy myself a bit more time, at the last minute I opted to let it cure in the salt for 10 days total, instead of the regular 7.  Perhaps through some great miracle by the time Saturday rolls around I’ll have figured out where and how to hang these things.  I read a post online the other day about a charcutier who hung his guanciales in the window of his sun room.  It almost sounded like a good idea until you got to the addendum to the story that explains how light tends to make fat go rancid.  So far it seems the broom closet is still looking like the best option…

Unfortunately, the gardening front is not overly promising at the moment either.  Of the 30+ tomato seedlings I started in the basement a few weeks ago, about 2/3 germinated, which is great and around what I expected.  However, the toilet paper roll pots I used to start my seeds have all started to mold, and about half of the plants that did germinate are already starting to wilt and die out.  To get back on track I have to carve out some free time to catalog what’s still growing well to figure out what isn’t, and then replant that.  On top of that I still have to start all of the other plants that aren’t tomatoes that I’m planning on growing this year.  I have no clue when I’m going to have some free time to do that either, and considering that it’s March now, the pressure is on to start getting my shit together.

Overall, I feel extremely tired and disconsolate over this last round of perceived failures.  I have so much more I want to do, but no energy to accomplish my aims.  I’d badly like to go on a vacation, but can’t afford any of the places I’d want to go.

I’m sick and tired.  Of everything.

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100% Worn Out

I’m mentally and physically exhausted.

I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a few days.  We had a bit of a personal tragedy recently, and I’ve pretty much been subsisting on pudding, red velvet cupcakes and chocolate bonbons for the last week or so.  I’m convinced that a body can only exist on that kind of crap for so long before it just gives out altogether.

I have so many things to do that are all starting to close in on me.  The Everyman, as usual, is very little help in that regard.  I’m sure he means well, but he never does anything unless it’s implicitly requested.  He’s so wrapped up in his own little bubble most days that he just doesn’t even notice when things are dirty, toilet paper rolls are empty, or garbage needs to be taken out.  This ends up leaving me with very little time to myself.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I wish that for my birthday he’d gotten a maid service instead.  I’m not even sure that I want the kitten he offered anymore because it would just be one more thing to take care of.  The pets are all fun and games to him because he never gets involved in any of their maintenance.

This week alone I have to re-seed the failing seedlings (losers!), do some stupid DriveFit online training, start my driving lessons and feed my Frankenstein (heh, I think that’s actually an Alice Cooper song).  And tonight I also have to find somewhere in our house to hang my guanciale that is far enough away from the cats.  I’ve wracked my brain over that one for the last week and am still no closer to an answer.  The plan to hang in the basement got shelved after I remembered that the litterbox was also in the basement… ewww.  The coat closet also got axed because of a door that doesn’t latch.  The Everyman suggested hanging them over the cupboards in the kitchen, but there isn’t anything in the ceiling to hang them from.  That pretty much leaves either the broom closet or the sputtering old bar fridge that smells like feet on a good day anyway.  Not exactly great options either way.

Sigh.

I just really badly need a nap.

Until next time…

Necessity, The Mother Of Invention

It’s been a pretty busy week here in the Foodie kitchen.  Not only did I start on a couple of slabs of guanciale, but I also made another batch of beef jerky for the Everyman, and gathered together the makings for a sausage.  I’ve been attempting to create a levain again too, which I’ve nicknamed Frankenstein, in the hopes that it will get big and strong and delicious.  Lastly, I had a botched experiment in some bacon jam; I’m sure this is something I’ll come back to again at some point.

Having taken another stab at this whole charcuterie thing, I decided it was high time I started dabbling in a sausage I could call my own

As I mentioned before, there was a delicious baco noir sausage I wanted to recreate.  The problem being that aside from the baco noir, I had no recollection of what what was in it.  However, I do quite enjoy baco noir, so I decided that it would be the base for my sausage too.  For some reason I was drawn to the idea of dried blueberries and fresh thyme leaves.  To round it out, I threw in some leftover shallot confit from the Valentine’s dinner I made.  Once combined, it turned a bright purple in the bowl, so I left it in the fridge to give the flavors a chance to mellow out for a day.

The next day I piped the whole purple mess into some casings.  And I have to say, I was quite proud of myself.  I didn’t break the casing once, and I turned out some evenly sized, quite professional looking sausages.  Only time will tell whether they taste as delicious as they look.  Their faint, violet hue is both charming and slightly disturbing; I just have to keep reminding myself that they are not spoiled meat.

For those who want it, I’ll post a copy of the recipe too.

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Mighty Cheeky

After work today I ambled over to The Healthy Butcher, eager to finally get my paws on a couple jowls for guanciale.  I say finally, even though the plan for this guanciale-making endeavor was only formulated several weeks ago.  What can I say…?  I’m an impatient foodie.

The various recipes I’d consulted led me to believe that a single jowl would weigh in at nothing larger than 1.5 pounds or so.  Working with that rough estimate, I asked the butcher to order in 2 for me.  I figured that would be safe because it would leave me a spare if I messed up the first (highly unlikely) or a second to play with at a later date once I got the base flavor down.  Well… when I got to the butcher I found out that they’d put aside about $50 worth of jowls for me.  At approximately $4.99 per pound, you can do that math and figure out how much meat I ended up with.  I’d ordered it in though, so I took the meat and figured that at the very least, I was now set for jowls for the next year or so.

Getting the meat home, I began unwrapping my prize.  Lo and behold it turned out that I actually had 4 jowls.  I opted to freeze one whole package for later, and make a double batch with the other package for now.  As one of my recipes suggested, I began picking over my jowls for any errant glands; apparently these need to be removed prior to curing.  I didn’t see anything that looked like glands, but there were several sections of small, bubblewrap-like pockets, so for safety’s sake I pared those back.  Once that was done, I started to mix together the curing concoction.  It’s a pretty simple ratio; just use equal parts of salt and sugar, and whatever fresh spices you want your meat to take on the flavors of.  I’ve heard talk of people also using something called pink salt; I’m not 100% sure what that is, but I know it contains nitrites, so it’s not going in my food.  Next, you massage the mix into the meat, pressing it well into both sides and all the edges.  Place the thoroughly coated meat into a large freezer bag with any leftover mixture, close it and put it in the refrigerator.  Let it rest for 5-7 days, and make sure to flip the bag daily to evenly distribute the cure.

Once I was done with the basic guanciale, (which in addition to the salt, sugar and peppercorns also contains thyme) I decided I wanted to get a bit crazy with the next one.  Instead of using thyme, I opted for a healthy pinch of several types of chili flakes.  Once mixed, patted and put away, I started to feel a bit dejected.  All of the anticipation and excitement of the last few weeks was over in less than 20 minutes.  The next 7 days will be relatively boring, and the 21 after that absolutely excruciating.  If everything goes well after that, I’ll have guanciale instead of a thriving bacteria population eager to kill us all.  Obviously I’m sure you can tell which one I’m hoping for.  During the next month I’ll continue to post periodic updates on Project Guanciale, and if it turns out, I may even post a few pictures.  In the meantime, here are some recipes for cures you can use, since people always tell me I need to write this shit down.  Um, no, I don’t, but I’ll humor you this once nonetheless.

And as an aside, I also finally got to the bottom of the Everyman’s squeamishness regarding guanciale.  When he took a peek at the butcher package today, he remarked incredulously to me, “Hey, this is pork?”  Well of course it is, and I thought he knew that.  It turns out that the first time we had guanciale was at Cowbell, on one of those mixed beef nose to tail plates that the chef loves so much.  The Everyman didn’t care for it then, and ever since had wrongly assumed that the guanciale I keep talking about was also made with cow cheeks.  Now that he realizes that I’m using pigs, I think he’s alot more receptive to the idea of Roman bacon.  Success!  Now all I have to do is make sure it tastes good… hmmm… maybe I should ask Grant from The Black Hoof for some tips…
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