Roasted Five Spice Pork Belly

I’ll warn you now, Vegetarians, please look away!  This one is sincerely not for you!

Two Thanksgivings ago, I added 4 star anise to the turkey brining liquid.  As it turns out, although everyone loved it, I found it to be overpoweringly strong.  But, when I brined the turkey last year, I used one star anise, and it was a subtle addition.  I loved it, and no one even noticed the flavor, except for me.  So when I had cleared up last year, the day after the big feast, I still had that flavor in the back of my head (and on my tongue), so I decided that I would make the Chinese Five Spice Pork that I had made before and really loved!

My one thing I really recommend you do is to make this powder fresh.  It makes all the difference, and you can control the amount of salt that goes into it.  So this is a two recipe entry!  First, the spice powder.  You can buy it in the store much more readily these days, but why not try and make your own?  You’ll always know how fresh it is and as I said, you know exactly what’s in it.  My version of it is actually 6 things, fennel seed, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns (nothing like regular pepper corns, and highly recommended to get), cloves, and star anise.  Because I use this as a marinade of sorts, I also add Kosher salt to the mix.  It helps the meat absorb the flavors more easily.  I also would salt it anyway, and adding it to the grinder helps you get a finer powder. By the way, fennel seeds are a much overlooked spice.  Their little fat, green seeds are quite delicious, and are a great digestive aid.  Indians chew them after meals to help them digest and give their breath a sweet smell after all the garlic!

The ingredients are easy, but I take one additional step, before I grind it all up, I toast everything briefly in a dry hot pan.  It’s just a little extra step that I think makes the flavors really pop.

Five Spice Powder

6 cloves
2 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp Szechuan pepper corns
1 cinnamon stick, crushed or shattered
1 tsp kosher salt

Place all the ingredients, with the exception of the salt, in a dry pan on high, and carefully rattle the pan so the spice mixture moves around in it.  Once you begin to smell the spices, take the pan off the heat and place the spices onto a cold plate, or even a pepper towel, and let it cool off.  Once it’s cool, pop everything into a spice or coffee grinder and add the salt, then process it until it is a fine brown powder.  There should be no lumps or shards of anything.  It will make plenty of spice for many uses, I particularly like to use it in stir fry dishes.  Store it in a jar with a tight fitting lid, or a plastic zip lock bag in a coo dry place.  A note about the Szechuan peppercorns, you may not find them everywhere, but they are available at Chinese or Asian markets now.  If you don’t live near anything like that, you can order them or buy them from Dean & Deluca here or here.  They are an odd flower bud, that will, if eaten straight, make your tongue tingly and a bit numb, but they are a super addition to this spice powder.

And now on to the roasted pork:

Five Spice Roasted Pork Belly

2 lb pork belly, skin on if you can find it

2 tablespoons shao hsing wine, or if you can’t find it, mirin

2 tbsp five spice powder

1 teaspoon of salt, if you are using prepared five spice

If you’re able to get skin on pork belly, pierce the skin all over with sharp skewers, or the tip of a small sharp knife.  Don’t pierce through to the meat, just the skin.  Place the pork in a plastic zip bag, and add the wine or mirin.  Make sure the entire piece of meat is covered with the liquid, and massage it in if you can, especially to the scored skin, or the fat.  Then add the five spice powder to the bag and mash it around so all the nooks and crannies are coated in it.  When it’s all covered, secure the bag, and sit it in the fridge for an hour, or up to 12 hours.  With the fresh spice powder, the flavor really is intense, so I don’t leave it in the bag for more than a few hours.  It’s up to you and how much time you have.

Once the meat has marinated, take it out of the fridge and let it rest in the kitchen counter while you prepare the oven and roasting pan.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I usually roast this in a square glass dish, and place a roasting rack in it.  When the oven is preheated, place the meat on the rack, pour a cup of water into the base of the dish, being careful not to wet the meat, and roast it for 1 hour.  Watch carefully to be sure there isn’t any burning.   If it does start to brown too much, lightly tent the meat.  After the 60 minutes, remove it from the oven and let it rest of 10 minutes or so.  Serve this sliced with some rice and sautéed veggies.

Delish!  And again, sorry vegetarians, this one was too good not to blog!

Hopping on the spring artichoke bandwagon

I  have read several articles in the last few days about artichokes, in particular in the New York Times, but also in some of the blogs I read.  I’ll give the links to them at the end of this post.  My favorite is from my darling Mark Bittman, who did a great video about how to peel and slice and artichoke, and made it look super easy, which of course it is!  You can view the video and the accompanying article here,  But, I am going to share a seriously simple, very tasty, and easily customizable recipe.  I do encourage you to look at the video attached to figure out how to pare an artichoke, or I can give you the real basics here.

Artichokes are actually the flower of the artichoke plant, which is a thistle.  The “choke” at the heart of it is actually the flower, and when it blooms, it looks like this:



Isn’t that beautiful?  I especially love the little snails clinging to the one in this photo.  It reminds me of my Grandfather Lambert’s “snail zoo” which I got to “view” when I was small and visited his house in Ireland.  He had what I have to assume was an old wooden egg crate, since my Grandmother had raised chickens for years, and in each of the egg holders, there was a tiny snail.  He told me it was his snail zoo, and I of course believed him!  I remember my cousin Michael being very excited to show me this little snail farm, but I realize now he was in on the secret, my grandfather was fooling 8 year old me with!  I can only imagine Grandpa gathering all 2 dozen snails and putting them in this egg crate for me to just find.  Such a sweet memory of the both of them, both have passed now, Michael way too soon, sadly.

So, back to the recipe!  Artichokes are a labor intensive bunch.  They’re very tough in their older phase, and you have to do a fair deal of prep to cook them. The very young small ones you find this time of year are so tender, you can wash and quarter them and deep fry, or sauté without much other prep, choke and all.  

My big secret is acidulated water.  Which really just means water with acid in it, usually citrus juice or vinegar. It stops the cut surfaces from getting black.  I usually put the acid in the water, then use the cut, juiced citrus to rub the cut surface of the artichoke before I plop the whole lot in the water.  My other secret is to remember, green is pretty, but undesirable, and white or cream is desirable.  Now, if you decide to cook this baby whole, the prep is much easier.  You use a very sharp knife, and cut straight across the lower third of the globe.  When I say this I mean the third you should have left includes the stem.  Once you make this cut, you can trim the sharp edges of the remaining green outer leaves with a sharp scissor, and that’s about it.  You can steam it for about 30 – 40 minutes until a knife is easily instead into the bottom is easily inserted and removed.  Once they have cooled it enough to easily handle, you can use a spoon to gently maneuver between the innermost leaves and the heart, and leaver the choke out, scraping the flower heart gently away.  You can eat them with vinaigrette, or the California style, mayonnaise, scraping the leaves with your teeth.

This recipe requires slightly more work.  You do the cut into the lower third, but with a paring knife, you then peel the green carefully away, until you have nothing left but the choke and the heart.  I usually cut this in half, and then use the paring knife scrape and cut out the choke and dip the whole thing in the acidulated water until you’ve pared them all.  Once you do that, you can then slice them up and once again dip them into the acidulated water again.  

While the slices are sitting there waiting for you, combine 1 cup cold water, 1 cup acid (white wine vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, lime juice or last resort would be white vinegar) in a non-reactive pot.  I have added fresh lime leaves, fresh basil, sliced garlic, red paper flakes, oregano, a little salt and a great deal of freshly ground pepper.  Add the drained slices of artichoke, and on medium heat, bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 – 35 minutes, the slices will still be tender, but still whitish.  At this point, I usually cool the slices in the liquid and either bottle or freeze it.  I use the slices in salads, pretty much everything.  Tonight I made pizza.  The nice thing about this recipe is it’s virtually calorie free, but high in protein.  Who woulda thunk it?

Enjoy, and as usual, let me know what you think, and what you make with this recipe!

(Edit: Here are a few of the links I mentioned above:

Warm potato salad with artichokes and herb dressing


Spring, Spring, Spring!!

Well my Blog Friends, it’s been a while, yet again!  Easter has come and gone (I owe you some recipe’s there), so has Memorial Day, and here we are in June!  As with everyone’s lives, quite a bit has happened in the interim… I have been home to NY twice, once alone for my nephew Chris’ communion and again with Tim for my niece, Elsa’s communion.  Book end trips for May.  It was lovely weather and so wonderful to see the entire clan twice in just a few weeks!  A real treat!  Seven (and a half) nieces and nephews, that’s a lot of kids running around at once!
What does Spring mean to you?  With me, it means the garden and fresh peas, fresh vegetables and my beloved peonies and lilacs.  I am completely in love with big blowsy peonies (see my pic from last years crop above), and I have a bunch of them planted in our small garden.  My ultimate goal is to have a very English overgrown garden, but after 4 years of working on it, I have an overgrown garden with many weeds, some crazy rudibeckia, and an overabundance of mint, but also some beloved plantings.  Some of them I put in myself, some were there before I lived in Tim’s house.  All of them I love, although I did pull out and give away the majority of the day lilies… they’re not my cup of tea.  This year I added bachelors buttons, some iris, a huge pink and yellow flowered honeysuckle and, finally, some herbs and tomato’s!  Even with Tim’s intense dislike of tomato, I bought some very hardy Hungarian tomato’s and planted them in pots.  We shall see how that comes along.  I also planted basil, lemon thyme and two types of sage, purple and golden.  I am not a huge fan of sage, but you can’t beat a simple pasta tossed with browned butter and fried sage leaves, so there you go!
Now, I did mention peas just a bit ago, and although it’s a bit too early this year for the fresh kind, I can’t sing the praises of frozen peas enough.  And, in the long run, they’re very versatile all year ‘round, not to mention delicious!  So, when I was at a loose end this week, I decided to make a frozen pea soup.  It’s wonderful hot, but also can be delicious and refreshing as a cold soup.  I also added in some cubes of browned queso fresco, which I just happened to have a block of from Costco (I know, I know… no judgments’, please!)  I was thrilled and Tim wanted it two nights in a row, so it must have been good!  I am giving you the basic idea below, but you can certainly change up the spices, or leave them out entirely… it’s all up to you!

Spiced Up Spring Pea Soup

2 tablespoons of good olive oil (or as an alternative, I used garlic oil to punch up the flavor)
1 medium onion chopped
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Good grinding of fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground chervil (use parsley if you don’t have chervil)
1 teaspoon dried ground basil
1 tablespoon dried ground cumin (or 1 teaspoon whole cumin bashed around)
1 teaspoon hot paprika or any hot chili powder (it’s optional and totally to your taste)
3 – 4 cloves of fresh garlic sliced
2 bags of frozen peas (believe me, it’s MUCH easier to do this with frozen)
4 cups of good quality, low sodium vegetable stock (or no meat chicken stock or water)
1 cup of water set aside to thin if necessary
1 block of queso fresco (or halloumi would be great here!)
Heat the oil in a large soup pot, with a heavy bottom.  Add the onion and salt on medium heat and cook until transparent and soft (about 7 minutes), stir as much as possible so they don’t brown and stick.  Add in the remaining spices and cook for a minute or two until well mixed and you can smell the spice mixture.  Allow to cook for a few minutes.  Add in the garlic and frozen peas and stir to coat.  You don’t want the garlic to fry, just to cook.  Add in the stock or water, stir well to combine, and cook, uncovered for about 10 – 15 min, until you see the soup start to boil and the peas are bright green and cooked.  At this point take it off the heat and taste it.  It should be flavorful, and you should definitely taste the sweetness of the peas in the broth.  Adjust the seasoning as you would like.  After it has cooled for a few minutes, use and immersion blender to puree the soup.  It’s up to you if you want it chunky or completely pureed smooth, but remember that if you’re chilling it, smoother is much better (or at least it is to me.)  After the soup is pureed, return it to the heat and let it simmer for a while.  Use the additional water to thin this if it’s too thick for your palate.  Don’t overcook this, unless you love mushy peas….. enough said.  Serve in bowls with the cheesy garnish.
To serve, I flash fried some cubes of queso fresco, the trick to that is a dry non-stick pan.  Place the cubes in a hot pan, have your tongs ready, as soon as you see it looking “melted” on the side touching the pan, grip them tightly with the tongs and turn them over.  The tight grip is key to the browned bottom releasing and turning over…  Let them brown on the other side for another minute and immediately place them in your bowl of green soup.  It’s delicious, and a nice change to bread cubes.  Another idea would be browned cubes of polenta… YUM!