Gratitude and Pork Belly.

If what you’re doing on New Year’s Eve is any indication of how your upcoming year is going to go, then I will be well-fed in 2010. I had several friends over to bring in the new year, and, well, we were surrounded by a boatload of food.


Lucky for me, my friends – new and old – brought excellent food to complement the  meal, making the evening a communal event. Terra & Joe brought homemade smoked salmon and almonds. Alex brought a delicate angel food cake with brandy-kissed pears. Michelle showed up with the most beautiful cranberry cheesecake I’ve ever seen. Nathan made salsa. And Michael brought a feast: pomegranate and rosemary themed cocktails, handmade rolls, a pomegranate and spinach salad and Baseball Boy’s favorite of the evening: pears with prosciutto and bleu cheese.

When I was planning out my portion of the meal, the main dish and sides, my first instinct was to go seasonal. Without my weekly CSA to guide me through the crops of Ohio, nothing really seemed “seasonal,” so I decided to go to my cookbooks to find a theme for the dinner. I pulled a few recipes (pork, gravy and a cabbage dish) from the December section of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, as well as a carrot dish from Sarah Raven’s In Season. Meat, cabbage and root vegetables seemed like a good base for the meal. I think that I overcooked the pork (making the gravy all the more essential), but the cabbage – spiked with juniper berries and citrus juices – made up for my mistake. And the carrots were lovely; anything cooked in butter is lovely in my book.

I knew I needed a vegetarian option, for the main course, so I decided to supplement with a mushroom lasagna from Gourmet recommended by Maya. This may have been the winner of the dinner. Several people announced it as their favorite, and it was easy enough to make that I’ll definitely do it again. (An entire layer of this dish was nothing but unadulterated whipped cream. Yum.)

And then there was the pork belly. When the guys in the meat department mentioned they had some in the back room, I purchased four pounds of the stuff as an impulse buy as I shopped for the dinner. And no, I didn’t forget that I had pork planned as the main course.

I used this recipe to prepare the belly, chosen from the several dozen recipes that Maya sent my way as I was prepping for the dinner Wednesday evening. By choosing an Asian-themed preparation style, I pretty much gave up any overarching theme for the dinner. The result, however, was delicious. Though next time – and there will be a next time – I will find stronger flavors to complement the meat. (I ended up supplementing the pork belly, jasmine rice and green onions with a little bit of soy sauce.)

Desserts, of course, were aplenty, with Taryn’s offering of Pistacia Vera macarons and goodies to join the aforementioned angel food cake and cheesecake.

After dinner, we lounged around, playing games and trading resolutions. There were a few familiar-sounding ones such as “I resolve to run more.” My favorite, I think, came from Taryn, who said, “This year, I resolve to be more grateful.”

Gratitude. And pork belly. If I can keep both of these things around, 2010 looks to be a good year.

Pork Roast with Onion and Marsala Gravy
adapted from The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater, by Nigel Slater

The original recipe called for leg of pork. Not wanting to deal with bone-in pork, and hoping to save a little money by skipping boneless pork tenderloin, I went with a plain old pork roast, and added the gravy from the recipe.

8 lbs. pork roast
salt and pepper
olive oil
water

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Brown all sides of the pork roast in a stove top skillet with olive oil over medium heat. Pat all sides with salt and pepper. Place the roast in an ovensafe pot with a lid. Add enough water to go halfway up the side of the roast. Cover tightly and cook for 6 to 7 hours, until the pork is soft and falling apart.

For the gravy

3 medium onions
2 TB. olive oil
2 TB. flour
2 glasses dry Marsala
3 cups stock or water (I used beef stock)
1 1/4 teas. English mustard powder
1 TB. grain mustard

Peel the onions, slice them in half and then into thick segments. Leave them to cook with the olive oil in a heavy-based pan over a low heat, giving them the occasional stir so they do not burn. You want to end up with onions that re utterly soft, golden and translucent. Tender enough to squash between finger and thumb. You can expect this to take a good thirty minutes.

Stir in the flour and let it cook for a few minutes. Now pour in the Marsala and the stock or water, stirring into a thin sauce. Season with salt and black pepper and the mustard powder and leave to simmer gently for a good twenty minutes, then stir in the grain mustard and continue simmering for a further give. Serve or leave to cool. Can be made a day in advance.

Cabbage with Orange and Juniper
from The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater, by Nigel Slater

serves 6

1 medium onion
1 TB. peanut oil (I used olive oil)
1 small red cabbage
2 celery stalks
1 apple
the juice of an orange
the juice of a lemon
1 shot white wine vinegar
12 juniper berries

Peel and finely slice the onion, then let it soften in the oil in a heavy casserole set over a medium heat. Shred the cabbage quite finely; the strips need to be about the width of your little finger. Cut the celery thinly. When the onion has softened, turn the heat up a little, then add the celery and cabbage. Shir. Core and chop the apple and add it to the pan.

Mix the citrus juices together, then add a dash of vinegar. Crush the juniper berries (I used a hammer) and add them to the juices, then, just as the cabbage is starting to wilt, stir the mixture into the casserole. There should be much sizzling and spluttering. Season the cabbage lightly with salt and cover tightly with a lid. Turn down to a simmer and cook for ten to fifteen minutes, until the cabbage is tender. Check the seasoning and serve.

Vichy Carrots
from In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruit, by Sarah Raven

serves 6

2 lbs. carrots
4 TB. butter
pinch of salt and pepper
1 teas. sugar
chopped parsley
juice of 1 lemon

Peel the carrots and slice them. Put them in a saucepan with the butter, alt, pepper and sugar. Just cover with cold water and let them boil until the water has evaporated and they are tender and glazed. Stir in masses of chopped parsley and the lemon juice to taste.

Mushroom Lasagne
from Gourmet, December 2008

1/2 oz dried porcini (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/4 cups boiling-hot water
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb white mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 tablespoons medium-dry Sherry, divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 lb grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 cup), divided
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
12 Barilla no-boil lasagne noodles (from 1 box)

Soak porcini in hot water 15 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve (lined with a paper towel if liquid appears gritty) into a small bowl, pressing on porcini. Reserve liquid and rinse porcini to remove any grit, then chop.

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in upper third. Cook garlic in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring, until pale golden, about 1 minute. Stir in onion and 1/4 tsp salt and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove lid and increase heat to medium-high. Add sliced mushrooms and 1/4 tsp salt and sauté until softened and juicy, about 5 minutes. Add porcini, soy sauce, and 1/4 cup Sherry and cook, stirring, until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Add flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add reserved porcini liquid and milk, whisking. Bring to a boil, whisking, then simmer, whisking frequently, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp Sherry, nutmeg, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 cup cheese, and mushroom mixture.

Spread about 1 1/3 cups sauce over bottom of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagne noodles. Repeat layering sauce and noodles 3 more times, using up sauce and ending with noodles.

Beat cream in a bowl until it holds soft peaks, then spread over noodles. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake, uncovered, until golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

Japanese Braised Pork Belly
from Justhungry.com

About 450g / 1 lb pork belly
2 TB. sugar
1 piece of leek (about 6 inches / 15 cm long or so. You can use the green part too.)
1 large piece of fresh ginger
1 star anise
3 TB. soy sauce
2 TB. sake
2 cups water

Cut the pork into cubes about 1 inch / 2cm or so square. If the skin is still on, leave it on. Heat up a large pot with a heavy bottom. Sauté the pork belly cubes, without any added fat (you don’t need it…) until browned.

When the meat is browned, scrape it to one side and put the sugar in the fat that’s accumulated on the bottom, and stir around until it’s a bit caramelized. Stir and toss so the meat gets coated by the sugar.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a simmer and lower the heat. Put a lid on and let it simmer gently for about 3 hours, turning occasionally.

To serve, dredge the pieces carefully out of the very oily cooking liquid, and peel of the thick layer of fat that’s on the skin side of the meat. Drizzle a little bit of the cooking liquid over the cubes.

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