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 Amazon.com 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!

Three years, and so much water under the bridge!

So I logged into WordPress a few weeks ago, and there was a little icon in the upper right hand side of the screen that looked like an award.  It reminded me that I have been blogging on WordPress for 3 years!  Happy Anniversary to me!  It also means I have been blogging for 5 years!  It seems like a much longer period of time than it feels like!  I have tried hard to make the commitment to write as much as possible, but when it’s a food blog, I do tend to let real life get in the way, which means my work, our family, the Hubby and generic stuff.  I read the blogs of people I feel I am getting to know, connections that are tenuous, and not real, but at least keep me in the mind that I should be writing more and more, not less and less.  My mind runs away sometimes, and writing would be a helpful way to keep it centered.  Do any of my blogging friends feel the same way?

As usual, this break in the blogging has been necessary due to life stepping in.  It’s been an interesting and challenging few months.  On March 7th, the Hubby had a lumbar laminectomy and was out of commission for six weeks.  I was prepared for it, but when the time actually came, I realized that I am pretty alone out here.  He wasn’t able to do much for the first week or so, and so I took the first two weeks off, the Hubby’s brother helped me get him home, and came by to check on us, which I am so grateful for, and my Mom came out which was truly wonderful for us both!  I started thinking though, we’re pretty alone here in Michiagn, in the sense of an emergency.  What would I do if something really catastrophic happened?  Have any of you ever thought, what if civilization as we know it came to an end and something in the vein of “The Road” took it’s place?  How would you survive?  In my mind, I always thought I would some how make it back to New York, but in reality it’s unlikely that would happen.  Too far, how do we eat/sleep/travel along the way?  It’s a daunting, kind of paranoid scenario.  It also crosses my mind that when I am elderly, I’ll be alone too, or the Hubby and I will be alone.  It’s a scary thought!  How many of you have ever pondered that?

It’s the thoughts of the future and the unknown that make me so grateful for our family and my husband.  They’re great people, that love me tons, and there are many people that don’t have that in their life.  SO, I am super lucky!  And I love to cook for them, and so we come to this episode’s recipe.  it’s something very simple, so delicious and family oriented, that I can’t believe it took me so long to make it for the Hubby, in vegetarian fashion of course.

Most of the time Hubby was laid up, I heated up convenience foods, but I also made and bought him ice cream, and cookies and pretzel treats, all to keep him happy.  In anticipation of being laid up for 6 weeks, before he went under the knife, Hubby bought a very large bag of lentils, which he loves.  When I finally had some time to cook, I thought about making them the way I normally do them, the French way, beautiful green grey Puys lentils, a bottle of red wine, diced onion and garlic, long slow cook, but I had gotten tired of that. I also had a cabbage around that never made it into St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  Enter Mark Bittman and his wonderful iPhone app “How to Cook EVERYTHING Vegetarian” and VOILA! I stumbled upon lentil and rice stuffed cabbage rolls.  And we were off!

Bittman suggests just rice, lentils and onion.  I had a great deal of greens and other vegetables left from the Door to Door Organics box delivery we get, so I decided to pump this up pretty hard.  We had some carrots, a ton of onion, garlic, some broccoli rabe and some organic pear tomatoes.  Of course, being the pantry supply maniac that I am, I also had dried herbs, Indian spices, nuts, and all manner of packet flavoring.

Living in Hamtramck, MI, also known as Poletown (thank you Chrysler) anything Polish is pretty standard, and stuffed cabbage rolls are called golubki (which is pronounced golumki).  A few years ago, I helped a friend do her version of them and a semi-hilarious scene (for me, not for her) ensued where her in-sink disposal broke and landed all the greasy, cabbagy, smelly things that should have gone down the drain in the cabinet under her sink.  I recall much swearing and name calling of the person that had fixed said disposal.  With this version, there isn’t any meat, so the grease is cut down to a minimum.  And of course, when I was cooking I forgot to take photos.  I am sure you will forgive me, considering how awful my photo’s usually are!  

This recipe is fairly fool proof, and if you are not dextrous enough to get the rolling right, you can always just layer them like a casserole.  But, softening the cabbage in water first is essential.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan Cabbage Rolls (adapted from Mark Bittmen)

1/2 cup uncooked lentils

1/2 cup uncooked rice (normal long grain white)

2 cups water (or vegetarian no or low sodium stock)

pinch of salt & pepper

Large soup pot, full of boiling salted water (water should taste a little of the salt)

8 – 10 cabbage leaves, stem removed (white cabbage works best but Savoy might be nice)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion chopped finely

3 garlic cloves pressed or chopped finely

8 – 10 mushrooms chopped

2 carrots finely chopped

1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned (if fresh remove the seeds and pulp, leaving only the skin and flesh)

1 medium bunch of broccoli rabe finely sliced (and/or kale, or spinach)

1 14 oz can low sodium tomato juice (or vegetable juice, like V8)

 

In a heavy bottomed pan that has a tight fitted lid, bring the 2 cups of water, salt & pepper to a boil.  Stir in the lentils and rice, stir to evenly distribute, and bring back to the boil.  Lower the heat down to a simmer and cover tightly.  Let cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until all the water has absorbed.  Once it’s done, set it aside, still covered. 

In the meantime bring the large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare a very large bowl with an ice bath.  Blanch the cabbage leaves 2 – 3 at a time, until they’re softened but not falling apart, about 3 minutes each.  Remove from the boiling water and plunge into the ice bath.  Make sure they’re completely covered in the cold water, and continue the process until all the cabbage leaves are processed.  Set the whole bowl and cabbage aside until you’re ready to stuff.

In a saucepan, sauté the onion, garlic and carrots in the olive oil.  Cover and lower the heat so they cook and the onions start to get brown but don’t burn, about 4 minutes.  Once they’re soft, add the mushrooms, cook string occasionally for another 3 – 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms soften.  Add the greens, and sauté until they start to wilt then, add the tomatoes, stir well and cover.  Cook for 7 – 10 minutes, string occasionally until it is heated through and the tomatoes thicken.  Remove from the heat and stir the mixture into the rice and lentils.  Set aside to cool.  At this point, when it’s still hot, I usually add some dried herbs, really to taste, or you can be traditional and use parsley, marjoram and dried chive.

Preheat your oven to 350°

You’re ready to start rolling and stuffing.  Drain the cabbage well.  If you have a salad spinner, place them gently in it and spin, the key here is to keep them as whole as possible but to dry them really well.  If not a salad spinner, use tea towels or paper towels and gently dry them off, and stack them until you’re ready for them.  On a flat surface lay a leaf cupped side up, with the cut end where the core was facing you.  Take about 1/4 cup of the stuffing and place it 1/3 of the way into the cup from the but end.  Fold the cut end over the filling, and fold in the 2 sides to form a kind of envelope with the open end facing away from you.  Roll the filling end of the package over the leaf until the open end is on the bottom of the packet.  It should look like a very fat stuffed grape leaf.  Place the packet, open end side down, in a square baking dish.  Continue to stuff and roll the others placing them in the baking dish.  One they’re all tucked into the dish, pour over the tomato or vegetable juice, until they’re covered.  You may not use all of it.

Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, until they’re bubbly and beginning to brown.  Let them cool to room temperature and serve.

ENJOY! 

 

 

 

 

 

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/magazine/i-heart-artichokes.html?ref=dining.  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:

220px-Artichaut2

 

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/health/baked-orzo-with-artichokes-and-peas-recipes-for-health.html?src=recg

Warm potato salad with artichokes and herb dressing

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/health/farfalle-with-artichokes-peas-favas-and-onions-recipes-for-health.html?src=recg)

 

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!