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Corned tongue and Queen Alexandra’s Sandwiches

< Queen Alexandra's Sandwiches

A couple years ago, my then-boss gave me a very thoughtful gift: A vintage 1958 edition of the Gourmet Cookbook, Volume II. To this day I occasionally like to sit down and flip through it, enjoy the quaint little illustrations that separate recipes and inhale the musky aroma of the quinquagenarian pages. The book is mostly text, but it is peppered throughout with occasional color plates to highlight certain recipes.

As one might expect, there’s quite a lot of old-school fare in there, harkening to the deep French roots of continental cuisine so much in vogue at the time. The recipes are amusing enough as it is, but the presentation as well as the preparation is really a snapshot of retro food in the most over-the-top sense; in fact, there’s an entire section dedicated to aspics. To wit: Langue de bouche à la Rochefort, beef tongue poised like a ski slope on a mound of rice, then coated in four layers chaud-froid and decorated with filigree-like slices of truffle. 

Langue de boeuf à la Rochefort

Yummy. 

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Duck prosciutto: Charcutepalooza month one

Duck prosciutto

After last year's relatively easily-gotten success making guanciale, I've been fairly obsessed with the idea of dabbling deeper into charcuterie. I mean, if it's as easy as salting, hanging and waiting, what's not to love? And so, as the winter cool descended upon us, I began to fantasize about setting up a more serious curing chamber in our basement, looking at different options, developing madcap ideas about how to hack something together that would serve the purpose. 

And then, Cathy Barrow from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and Kim Foster of The Yummy Mummy hatched a genius plan: Charcutepalooza! A charcuterie project for each month during the year 2011, all inspired by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's book "Charcuterie." It was like a sign from the heavens, a booming voice in my ear encouraging me to embrace the art of curing meat. And it was good. 

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Lambchops with minted cucumber

Somewhat recently, we went in with two other couples and invested in a lamb from Stemple Creek in Marin County. It's a great way to get farm-direct protein from a sustainable, grass-fed facility. It's also economical; our third of the…

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Guanciale and spaghetti all’amatriciana

Homemade guanciale ©DPaul Brown

“You wouldn’t be interested in hog jowls, would you?”

It’s the sort of question that stops you in your tracks. There I was, at the Noe Valley Farmers Market, chatting up the good fellas at the Prather Ranch stand, when one of them popped that question. When my eyebrow went up, he went on to say that a local restaurant had ordered them, but decided they didn’t need them upon delivery. The jowls were now taking up valuable space in their freezer cart, and he had no intention of bringing them back at the end of the day. He offered them to me for two dollars a pound. And just like that, they were mine.

As I sauntered into the house, DPaul asked how the market was. “I got hog jowls!” I squealed, to which he replied with a nonplussed, “oh?” The unspoken reply, I suspect, was “but did you pick up anything we can make for dinner?”

Sure, we could have rendered them then and there, made some chicharrones, but that would be a terrible waste, for hog jowls are the source of one of the most precious and coveted cured pork products: Guanciale. Like pancetta, guanciale (pron. gwan-CHA-leh) is an unsmoked bacon, but it’s got a richer flavor and tends to have a higher fat-to-meat ratio. It’s what’s most traditionally used in the classic Italian dishes pasta alla carbonara and bucatini all’amatriciana. But, it’s relatively rare here in the states, so when you order these dishes, you’re more likely getting it with pancetta — or, criminally, American bacon.

And so I knew I wanted to make guanciale with my lovely pig face fat, but I wasn’t really prepared to undertake that project in the moment. The jowls went into the freezer, and stayed there for a few weeks while I got things in order.

Among the resources I found on how to cure guanciale was one from a veritable master of salumi, Mario Batali. The technique was simple enough: Create a rub of salt and sugar, with pepper and thyme. Coat the jowls, let rest in the fridge for a week, then tie and hang them in a cool, dry place for a few weeks. Luckily, we have a basement that manages to stay under the recommended 60ºF during these cool winter months.

Having never cured meat before, I was both fascinated and trepidacious. Would I botulize both us and our friends with my lovingly cured guanciale? I then came across an excellently written account of one other man’s guanciale-making expedition, and took comfort in knowing that he survived to tell his story. 

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Not made of stone

Azorean stewed pork ©DPaul Brown

So yeah, I had surgery.

Back in July, right around the time of the main BlogHer conference in Chicago (which, luckily, I stayed home for), I began having abdominal and urinary tract pain. Thinking I had some kind of infection, rare though UTCs are for men, I made an appointment to see the doctor, who suggested I might be passing stones.

NaBloPoMoThis should have come as no surprise. I had a kidney stone attack in 1987, back when I was in high school, and have always known that this day would come. Yet somehow, when the obvious signs were there, I didn’t recognize them.

That night, the pain that had until then been merely a nuisance began to escalate until I was a blubbering mess, shuffling around the house trying to walk the pain away. We ended up in the emergency room. A CT scan confirmed a not insignificant stone in my right ureter … and a boulder of a stone still in the kidney.

Long story short, over the ensuing three months, I endured lengthy waits between urology appointments until treatment could be indicated and scheduled. In the meantime, I referred to it as the Stone of Damocles, a weighty concern that hung figuratively over my head. Ultimately, Dr. Stoller at UCSF had me scheduled for percutaneous nephrostolithotomy (PCNL), where they go into the kidney via a small incision with a tube and break the stone down with lasers. It’s considered minor surgery, but believe me when I say there is no such thing. But, I am better now, free of both pain and stones. For now.

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Burgoo, Classic Kentucky Stew

Burgoo, classic Kentucky stew

Why is it that so many of the world’s tastiest foods are the least photogenic?

I grappled with this when writing about ropa vieja, molha … heck, even those rich-as-the-dickens mini Hot Browns are a tetch hard to make look as appetizing on camera as they are in life. It’s not like I deliberately go out of my way to make my beleaguered, talented photographer husband’s life more difficult. Brown food is good food, I guess.

Case in point: Burgoo. This most quintessentially Kentuckian dish delivers in the delicious department, but boy howdy is it brown.

Burgoo’s Kentucky roots are fairly universally credited to French chef Gus Jaubert of Lexington, KY, who served the stew to General John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate Raiders. Clearly, this is designed to be a dish of great proportions — to be made in quantities literally enough to feed an army. James T. Looney assumed the mantle of “the Burgoo King” and, according to The Kentucky Encyclopedia, had this recipe for 1,200 gallons of the stew:

…Lean meat (not game), fat hens, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, tomato puree, carrots, and corn, seasoned with red pepper and salt and his secret sauce…

That’s a fairly tame estimation of the ingredients. In A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections, Jean Anderson found anecdotal information that Jaubert’s original recipe contained blackbirds; more rustic versions allegedly contained mostly squirrel; and perhaps more alarmingly even heard tell of a “mysterious ingredient” that married the flavors together — a black snake that would fall into the stew during the dark of night.

Living as we do in a major modern metropolis, blackbirds and squirrel (not to mention black snake) are surprisingly difficult to source. Not wanting to disappoint, we resorted to the most readily available locally sourced ingredients we could find. There is, after all, no shortage of pigeons and rats on the streets of San Francisco.

Or, we could buy some chicken and pork.

Fact is, modern versions of burgoo are quite tame indeed. The recipe we used as our base, from Anderson’s book, is nothing more than chicken, pork, peas, corn, beans and salt and pepper. That’s it, though it doesn’t suffer from a dash of hot sauce.

And served with a hot biscuit fresh from the oven and a nice arugula-strawberry salad, it transforms from soldier rations to a satisfying brunch entrée.

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Mini Hot Browns

Mini Hot Browns

Happy Derby Day, y’all!

Like most non-veg*ans, I like bacon. A lot. Certainly at least as much as the next guy. But like some others, I am a bit over the baconization of the foodie Internets. Bacon is strong mojo. Like a psychedelic drug, it should be used with great care and respect. You can’t just use bacon for bacon’s sake. Mark my words, the day the Bacon Explosion exploded all over the web was the day bacon jumped the shark.

But bacon still has and will forever have its time and place. It is, after all, one of the high holy trinity that is B, L and T. It is also a seminal ingredient in the most quintessential Kentuckian sandwich, the Hot Brown.

This open-faced sandwich, created by chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1928, is not diet food. By modern standards, the Hot Brown’s combination of bread, turkey, cheese sauce and bacon is a total hot mess. But hey, all things in moderation, right? If you miniaturize them down to passed hors d’oeuvre size, each wee morsel is just a palpitation compared to the full-on heart stopper of a whole one.

And yes, they do taste just a little better when you’re wearing your big ol’ floppy Holly Golightly hat and a sundress, washed down with a mint julep. But doesn’t everything?

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