There's nothing quite like homemade pork rinds.
When I’m making a ham based soup or stock, one of my favorite ingredients are a few good smoked ham hocks. They add all the flavor and depth I look for, and I love to eat the small bits of ham off the bone when I’m done with them–some do make it in the soup. I would even eat some of the smoky caramely skin. But I always feel like more could be done with this skin.
So, I thought–how about some smoky pork rinds as a garnish for the split pea soup I was working on?
Pork rinds as a garnish for split pea soup--smoky flavor; crisp, crackly texture--yum.
Even though I don’t eat them very often, pork rinds are a favorite of mine. No flavorings, just plain, salty pork rinds. I remember my grandmother making them when she got pork skin from the local butcher. Doesn’t get any better than that.
Pork rinds are easy to make. They get more puffy when using fresh pork skin, but, I’m using the cooked “hydrated” skin from the ham hocks this time.
It’s important to clean the back (inside) of the skin. Gently scrape it with a knife. Drying the skin helps them get puffier. I put them in the oven at 200 degrees F for and hour and then I turned the oven off and left them there for another hour. You can do this ahead of time, even the day before. Then I fried them. Oil should be at 350 F and this part happens very quickly. As they hit the oil they start to puff up, like popcorn, and as soon as they stop puffing up you should remove them from the oil. Sprinkle with salt and let them rest for a few minutes and the pork rinds are ready!
Here I have the pork rind cut into strips, and I'm drying it a bit before frying.
Here are the pork rinds in the fryer. Don't cook them any more than necessary: when they've stopped puffing up then they're done.
a delicious meal: duck confit and potatoes cooked in duck fat
Duck season is over, but it seems like duck is everywhere–on sale at the grocery store, in recipes in foodie magazines… maybe it’s because Duck Dynasty is so popular, but for whatever reason duck is more readily available to the everyday cook.
Duck has always been part of a good game menu. To many people the classic preparation of duck confit has become a sort of sacrosanct ritual. Like these traditionalists, I take confit very seriously–a recipe that both preserves and develops flavor is a beautiful thing–but I don’t think you need to make the preparation overly complicated.
Confit intimidates people because the cooking time is long, and the risk is that you could end up with a dry or greasy bird. At home I use a “quick” method that perhaps breaks some traditional rules, but has always given me good results.
I start by breaking down the bird. I remove the wings, thighs and legs (in one piece) and the breast, also in one piece. I keep the bone in the wings, thighs and legs, but debone the breast. I save the ribcage in the freezer to make stock at a later time.
Then I season the meat with thyme, garlic, lemon zest, juniper berries, salt and black pepper. Sometimes I even use a little rosemary and savory. Duck is very flavorful–you could just season it with salt and black pepper and not be disappointed. If you season it the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight, it’s even better.
Keep in mind that the whole cooking time is about 6 hours.
I start the cooking process by putting the duck pieces skin down in a sauté pan and rendering some fat, about a tablespoon, at medium heat. After I have a little more fat than I need in the pan, I use it to coat the bottom of a baking dish and turn the duck to give it a little color. Then I place the duck in the baking dish skin side up. I deglaze the sauté pan with a little white wine–sherry wine works well also–and pour the juices over the duck. And it’s ready for the oven at 200 F for 5 hours and 30 minutes.
Now, let me make sure you understand, with this preparation everything will be fully cooked. Still very moist, but well done. If you want your breast to be cooked medium-rare, this is the wrong method.
After 5 hours and 30 minutes, I take the duck out of the oven and pour all the fat into the large sauté pan where I will cook my potatoes.
Then I increase the oven temperature to 400 F and put the duck back in to crisp up the skin while I cook the potatoes in the duck fat.
I hope you’ll give duck a chance. It’s worth it.
season the duck with thyme, garlic, lemon zest, juniper berries, salt and black pepper
Put the duck pieces skin down in a sauté pan and cook at medium heat until you render a tablespoon or so of fat. Use this to coat the baking pan.
turn the pieces over to brown both sides
move the duck pieces into a baking dish, and deglaze the pan with white wine or cooking sherry
pour the pan juices over the duck pieces in the baking dish
Ahhh, what could be better than potatoes cooked in duck fat!
If you plan to cook an entire deer at once, you'd better have a lot of stockpots. And maybe a hotel pan, too.
Yes, yes–I know, the season for large meals and eating is over. Well, maybe for some. Not for this guy! And to keep the season going, how about we cook an entire deer? Maybe a little bigger than a turkey or a ham but sure to head you in the right direction for a great feast.
I’m really not joking and I’m not the first one to do this either. I cooked all the meat from the deer all at once. I had cooked a whole goat previously, but given the abundance of deer in western Pennsylvania, I really wanted to give this a try with venison. I have been thinking of this since I moved here and I finally got an opportunity over the holidays.
Many cultures have employed this same practice of cooking the whole animal as part of a preservation method. Duck confit is a good example. The duck is fully cooked and preserved, making it juicy and concentrating all its flavor. A similar process is used for sheep and goats (or was used, I should say; with refrigeration the process has changed somewhat). The goat meat was marinated in wine and spices, cooked, and poured into clay crocks or jars. The fat would rise to the top and seal the containers. Stored in a cold cellar, the meat could last a long time.
The venison is a much leaner meat, so there was less fat to create this seal, but I wasn’t too concerned since the meat would end up in my cooler and freezer.
I started with a medium-size doe. I broke it down, diced it into 2 inch cubes and marinated it in red wine (12 bottles) seasoned with tomato paste, garlic, onions, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, parsley, and red and black pepper. The venison marinated overnight and then in the morning I poured it into multiple stockpots and cooked it for 4 to 6 hours.
It made a very tender and flavorful roast. We ate some for dinner that night, and the rest I poured into mason jars and stored in my freezer. Now all I have to do is thaw it, add a starch and veggies, and I have a great meal done in no time.
Whisking together the marinade of wine and seasonings. I didn't have a conventional kitchen container that was big enough to hold all the meat and marinade at once, so I used a big igloo cooler. A wine cooler... ha ha!
The final result was very tender meat and a lot of wine-enriched juice.
polovorones, traditional Spanish powder cookies
For anyone who enjoys a little baking, making holiday treats is one of the best traditions of this time of the year. Making that special cookie or sweet for our loved ones can be very fulfilling and fun. But it can also be tricky: lots of people I know have special dietary requirements, so sometimes I have to consider gluten-free or vegan options as well as allergy issues when I’m choosing a recipe.
A Christmas favorite of mine from Spain (of course!) can be vegan, with just a few minor ingredient adjustments. A traditional cookie, “polvorones” get their name from their fragile, powdery consistency (“polvo” means “powder” in Spanish). Versions made with lard (“manteca”) are called “mantecados,” but this traditional recipe calls for olive oil, so these cookies would be called polvorones. For these cookies, you only need a few ingredients, just flour, olive oil, sugar, cinnamon, sesame seeds, and lemon zest.
In Spain, these cookies are usually made a little thicker, but I decided to go thinner for the American version.
2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon mixed together
- sesame seeds to taste (about 1/4 cup)
First of all you must bake the flour to dry it–probably something that you have never done before. For this you’re going to place the flour in a sheet pan and put it in the oven at 300° for 25 minutes. Let it cool down completely before moving on.
Mix the sugar, olive oil and lemon zest until smooth and creamy.
Then add the flour slowly, just until is mixed in. Don’t overwork it. And that is it–your dough is complete!
You can let it rest in the fridge for a few minutes or work with it very quickly, while the dough is cold. As the dough gets warm, it becomes soft and hard to work with.
Roll out the dough to a half-inch thickness and using a cookie cutter, cut the dough in all kinds of fun shapes and put it on a baking tray. Mix sesame seeds with cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle thickly on top of the cookies. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 400°. Watch them carefully to be sure they don’t get too dark. How long you bake them depends on the thickness of the cookie. Let them cool down on the tray. You won’t be able to pick them up until they have cooled down.
This can be a delicate and very tasty Christmas addition to your cookie tray.
toasting the flour
polvorones call for just a few ingredients
Mix just until combined--don't overwork the dough!
Here you see the consistency of the polvorone cookie dough.
Choosing which cookie cutter shapes to use is part of the fun. Cut quickly--try to keep the dough as cool as possible and work it as little as possible.
Polvorone cookies on the baking sheet. You can top with sesame seeds alone, with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, or with a mixture of all three!
It’s December and gardening season is well over here in Pennsylvania. But the collard greens and lettuce in my garden are still going. And for a chilly fall day like today, a bowl of creamy collard greens sounds pretty good to me.
Creamy green soup and a grilled cheese sandwich--a perfect cold weather lunch!
It’s always good to have a few “recipe-free” dishes as part of your repertoire. And this creamy soup is one of those. When I cook this dish, I don’t work from a recipe, nor am I really sure what ingredients I’m going to use. I only know that I have the greens, and whatever’s available in my kitchen on that given day will suggest the other ingredients I’ll use. An open-ended recipe like this gives you the freedom to add different spices depending on what you feel like eating. If you feel like an Indian-inspired dish, you could lean towards the curry spices. But on this occasion I stayed pretty mellow with the flavors.
I picked a large amount of collard greens from the garden to begin. You can use other greens like spinach if you don’t have collard greens. After I washed them and gave them a quick blanch, they were ready as my foundation for the recipe.
I sautéed a diced onion until it was translucent. I added a diced potato to the onion to give the soup a little extra body, but you might not even need this ingredient if you add a little extra cream towards the end.
I mixed the greens into the onion and potato and covered them all with vegetable stock. Then just simmered until the potato was soft. I mixed in a little goat cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. This is where you could add sour cream or just plain heavy cream to thicken the soup. And add any other spice you would like.
Blend until it’s very smooth. If it’s a little too thick you can add a little milk or heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to suit your taste. And there you have it. A bowl of this soup and a grilled cheese sandwich makes for a great meal.
The soup starts out with blanched greens: collard greens, spinach, or whatever greens you have.
Sauté a diced onion until it becomes translucent. If you like, you can add a diced potato, too. This will help thicken the soup.
Cover the ingredients with vegetable stock and simmer
The soup has simmered long enough when the potatoes are soft
I opted to add goat cheese for flavor and texture
Now you can really express yourself and give personality to the soup with your choice of spices. You could use Indian spices to evoke Palak Paneer, or go for a milder mix of nutmeg, salt, and pepper like I did.
After you add your choice of spices, it's time to blend. This soup is one of many, many dishes that showcases one of my favorite kitchen tools, the immersion mixer.
Look at that brilliant green color. Packed with flavor and all the nutrients of fresh ingredients, minimally cooked and taken straight to the table. Mmm, my mouth is watering just looking at this! What is homier than freshly made soup from your own garden greens?
I was surprised to find this wild pear tree near a parking lot. Could these be asian pears?
Every fall I have a lot of fun with my urban foraging. Maybe chestnuts, quince fruit or figs. I always manage to find some delicious treasures. This year I found something new for me. A wild pear. Or at least that’s what we think they are.
They taste like a bitter Asian pear. And I couldn’t wait to do something with them. Just very quickly I peeled and chopped a few and cooked them down with some cinnamon, sugar and lemon peel. A simple preparation for a pear compote. I can tell you that you don’t want to eat too much of this by itself: it’s strong flavored and tart. But it’s an excellent addition to a cheese platter.
I didn’t know of too many people who would know what this fruit was. So I talked to Tom Patterson from Wild Purveyors about them. He was equally excited and I brought him some, as well as some of the pear compote. He loved them. We ate some of the compote with cheese. Tom suggested Hummingbird cheese from Doe Run Dairy in Chester County. It was a delicious combination. He traded me some wild pears that he had–larger and smoother than the ones I found–and the rest of the cheese for my wild pears and compote.
I think I’m going to have to go get some more. I have a few other preparations I want to do with these pears. Hopefully I’ll find more.
A good haul of wild pears on my kitchen counter
I started with a big pile of pears, but after peeling and cleaning I had almost more scraps than edible fruit.
My favorite hard drinks are ones that some people consider “girly” drinks–or maybe worse, “old man” drinks–like a glass of bitters or an old fashioned. Hopefully people who saw Ryan Gosling mix an old fashioned in “Crazy Stupid Love” will treat this drink with a little more respect. But whether they do or not, I’ll still enjoy it.
Last Friday my wife and I went out for a drink after work. I think it might be the first time we’ve gone out for a drink since our daughters were born. We met at BRGR. My wife tried a gimlet made with Boyd and Blair local vodka, but of course I ordered an old fashioned. The woman tending bar made a great version of this classic drink. And a funny thing: she crushed the fruit. Most of the time people just put the cherry on top as a decoration, but she crushed it a little. And it was great. Not a complete reinterpretation of a classic, but a good application of the bartender’s craft. Good application of craft is one of my favorite things.
If you’re going out for a drink this weekend, I hope it’s a good one. As for me, I look forward to my next adult beverage. Maybe next year.
Herbs and scallions gathered from the garden in October. They are on my cutting board, about to become a part of Sunday's roasted chicken dinner.
Anybody who knows me knows how much I love to garden. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll be building a big, beautiful greenhouse, but until then my gardening is a very seasonal thing. Like most gardeners at this time of year, I am putting my garden to bed–clearing out the plants that have reached the end of the growing season, putting down a layer of horse manure (many thanks to Chuck, my coworker who keeps horses!), and so on. Getting ready for winter.
But just because it’s October and we’ve had our first frost, that doesn’t mean that the harvest is finished. I am still picking lots of fresh food for our table. This weekend we’ve eaten soup from fresh greens. I picked scallions and herbs for roasted chicken. And we’re still getting good lettuce for salad.
In the summer you get a lot of produce from the garden, but you work a lot for it, too–watering, weeding, and fighting pests. The fall is much less labor intensive. When you get meals from the garden at this time of year, you almost feel like you’re getting away with something!
I actually wish I had planted more root vegetables to extend the fall harvest. I planted a few beets, but I’m not sure if they’ll be ready to eat before wintertime.
Below are a few photos of the produce from my garden in the past couple of weeks. Is anybody else still harvesting? What are your favorite fall crops?
Not all the tomatoes ripened before the frost, but you can still make good use of them in relish, soup base, or even fried green tomatoes.
These are collard greens. I like to plant them in the garden every year. This is probably the most I've ever planted, and they have been a great addition to our meals this year.
Ahh, the smell of herbs, garlic, and tomatoes!
Despite the lack of rain and the high temperatures, this was a great year for our vegetable garden. We had plenty of collard greens, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, and a lot of tomatoes.
I’m always worried about creature damage to the garden–deer, rabbits and other such visitors. But it was very minor this year. We only noticed a few green beans that were chewed by rabbits. I can imagine those bunnies reclining in the garden, green beans dangling above their heads, while they nibbled them from the bottom up. I think–or hope–that we actually ate more than the bunnies did.
Fresh garden herbs and oil in the mortar
In keeping with my philosophy of preserving the harvest, I roasted many tomatoes and dried some, too. And of course we enjoyed many fresh from the vine.
Roasting tomatoes is a very simple process, and also allows me to use fresh herbs from the garden: marjoram, oregano and thyme.
To the herbs, I added a little garlic, olive oil, salt and black pepper, and this is really all that you need.
Pour this over your tomato halves and roast them in the oven at 325 F for about two hours.
Yes, it takes a little time, but it makes the house smell amazing and you can use roasted tomatoes in so many ways–it’s really worth it.
As soon as the tomatoes were ready, I immediately used some of them to make Italian meatloaf. Delicious!
I hope all of you who had a garden this year enjoyed a great harvest. And if you don’t have a garden, hopefully you were able to find some great produce from your local farmers.
Dressing the halved tomatoes with herbs and oil
Pulling the roasted tomatoes out of the oven
Fresh roasted tomatoes on the meatloaf
Tokyo turnips served with fish for our family dinner
Yes, yes–more about my garden.
I am really enjoying my garden this year. So far it has been great and not a lot of damage from the usual visitors.
This season I’ve tried something new. Ok, maybe not so new–turnips are turnips, right? But these are Tokyo turnips.
I’ve always liked turnip greens, but truth be told, I don’t care much for the root. These Tokyo turnips are a bit different from the turnips I’m used to. The flavor is sweeter with a hint of cauliflower. Now, this revives my interest in turnips.
Roasting turnips is one of my favorite methods of cooking them. It enhances the sweet flavor. They were a great addition to tonight’s dinner alongside this fish with mango salsa.
Try some Tokyo turnips and tell me what you think.
Picking Tokyo turnips from my garden. (I'm not wearing fishnet stockings; that's a net to keep the birds out. Really!)