Tuesday, May 18, 2010

There are flowers on the plate!

The vegetables love this miserable rainy spring we are having here. It's a shame I'm not a vegetable (yet?). The fava beans, sugar peas, heirloom tomatoes, and all the herbs and flowers are doing great.

The duck leg confit that I did this week shares the plate with baby carrots, asparagus, fingerling potatoes (Finn and Russian Banana), all sauteed in the duck fat, and nasturtium leaves and flowers.

Yes, you can eat the flowers. Just wash them well. They add a lot of color and some spicy flavor. Taste somewhat like watercress.

Other flowers good to eat are:

  • Chive flowers - taste similar to chives but milder, beautiful purple color in salads

  • Pansies - don't taste like much; mostly for decoration
  • Zuccini flower - fry, stuff and braise, or just add fresh for color in salads

  • Rosemary and thyme - cute and flavorful; use to garnish dishes that are flavored with rosemary and thyme leaves

  • Marigold - add to salads

  • Artichokes - you know

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cured braised pork shoulder

This is an unhurried preparation. It takes five days to brine the pork, then it rests to distribute the seasoning for another day, then you braise it low and slow all afternoon, and then finish it in the oven. It’s totally worth it, so melting tender, including the tasty skin, the meat is beautifully rosy pink from the brine, and so flavorful. And it actually takes very little of the cook’s time – it mostly brines and cooks itself.

I started on Monday with a pork shoulder picnic, skin on, bone in. Made the brine with the curing mixture of 8 parts kosher salt, 4 parts sugar, and 1 part InstaCure #1 that I mix by weight and use as needed. Steeped the herbs and spices in the brine, let it cool. When I grow up, I will have a special needle for injecting brine into hams. Professionals have it. I don’t. So I just poked the pork with a bamboo skewer to allow the brine to penetrate the meat a little better, covered the pork with brine, and left it, covered, in the fridge, till Friday. Drained, washed, and dried the pork, reserving the herbs.

On Saturday afternoon I tied up the pork, added the reserved herbs, a leek, a couple of celery stalks, 4 garlic cloves, and some 1/2 cup water, and simmered it VERY SLOWLY for about four hours. Parboiled the fingerling potatoes, got the car from the mechanic, went to the farmers market to get tomatoes and fava beans, shelled the beans, and went for a hike in the hills while it was cooking.

Just before dinner, I removed the pork from the braising liquid, put it together with the potatoes in a roasting pan, basted both pork and the potatoes with the braising liquid, and popped into a hot oven for about 15 minutes, just enough to add some color and crust.
Took out of the oven, sliced, served with roasted potatoes and a salad of heirloom tomatoes and fava beans.

Cured braised pork shoulder

1 pork shoulder picnic, with bone and skin, about 3.5 lb

For the brine:
6 cups water
¾ cup curing mix (1 part pink salt, 4 parts sugar, 8 parts kosher salt by weight)
5 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs sage
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
5 juniper berries

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Quick grilled pizza with artichokes and asparagus

This pizza takes advantage of the fine seasonal vegetables, whatever you have on hand (I had goat cheese and bacon), and a sunny arternoon perfect for grilling. Can be easily done on a week day, after work.

I got this elegant oval non-stick griddle that is too thin and burns everything, so my pizza came out charred on one side. Next time I'll use a pizza stone, it'll cook it more evenly.

For the dough (makes two):
1 cup bread flour + more for dusting
1 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup warm water

Mix flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add olive oil and water, mix with a fork to combine, then dust your hands with flour and knead the dough for 5 minutes, dusting your hands as needed to avoid sticking. Form the dough into a ball, cover with a towel, and leave to rest for about 30 minutes (it doesn't have to raise).

Meanwhile have a glass of wine in the sunshine.

Divide the dough in halves. Refrigerate one half for future use.

For the filling:
3 small artichokes, trimmed and halved
4 slices of bacon
2 oz goat cheese
6 young asparagus spears
1 ripe tomato, sliced
1 Tsp olive oil
salt, pepper

Boil water in a medium pan. Add the artichoke halves, reduce heat to low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Heat the gas grill to medium. Place the griddle on the grill, add bacon slices, brown on both sides, remove to a plate covered with a paper towel. Turn up the heat to high. The target tempereture is 500 degrees.

Pour the fat off the griddle and wipe with a paper towel. Roll out the dough and spread on the griddle. Scatter the crumbled cheese, bacon slices, asparagus spears, artichoke halves, and tomato slices on top. Season with salt and peper, drizzle olive oil over the pizza. Place on the hot grill. Cover and cook until the crust is cooked through and charred on the edges, 7-9 minutes.

Wine: 2006 Walnut Block Pinot Noir, Marlborough

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunny day, whole fish

I was having a car problem on Sunday, and while I was waiting for my car to be repaired, R. took me to the farmers market, and there I saw the fish. I looked at the Thai snapper, it looked at me, and we were at agreement that it's a good day to grill a whole fish.

It's a good idea to grill a fish with the scales on - the scales don't stick to the grill, and when it's ready you just lift and discard the skin with the scales. but this time the fishmonger had scaled the fish before I had a chance to say anything. All right, there are other ways to protect my fish from sticking, like a lot of oil, or a grilling basket, or placing herbs between the grill and the fish.

To keep the Thai theme, I put kaffir lime leaves and slices of Meyer lemon inside the fish and also tied them to the outside. Brushed with grapeseed oil and grilled over indirect heat for about 15 minutes, turning (very carefully) once.
Served with grilled asparagus and frisee and heirloom tomato salad.

2007 Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir, since the fish is from New Zealand too. I would eat it with a Sav. Blank, but R. likes a red wine even with fish, and the light silky Pinot worked just fine.