I was looking through my dad’s folder of handwritten recipes for the Coq au Vin he used to make, my choice for Valentine’s Day dinner, when I found another–Greek Pork Stew. It sounded like the perfect thing for a cold winter night and something that would freeze well for next week when I’m on a cheese-making course in Lynden and my husband is here; I thought it would be nice to have a few alternatives to his usual home-alone peanut butter toast. Until a few years ago, I thought pork was the worst of all meat–a pale, dry, tasteless lump. And then came exposure to farm-raised pigs and I understood; that crate-free life foraging in the sun and fresh air isn’t just more humane, it makes for pork that is rich, slightly red in color and full of fat and flavor.
Greek Pork Stew
1 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder, cubed
4 or 5 T olive oil
1/2 lb. small white onions, peeled and left whole
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, cut into pieces in the can with kitchen shears
1 1/2 cups red wine
2 bay leaves
zest of one lemon (remove strips with a vegetable peeler)
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 T chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper
Brown the pork in olive oil in a dutch oven, working in a couple of batches. Remove and set aside. Add the onions and garlic and cook gently, adding a little water to keep from burning, for about 5 minutes, covered. Remove cover, add back the pork and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and place the lid on, but not tightly, so that some of the liquid can escape. Simmer for about 2 or 3 hours or until the pork is very tender. Remove pork and onions with a slotted spoon and set aside. Raise heat on stove and simmer liquid until thickened. Return pork and onions to pot and stir to heat through. Serve with roasted potatoes or with orzo.
As promised in the last post, the recipe for what was my dad’s birthday pie and my choice for a dessert that’s really worth the calories. What makes this so irresistible is the contrasting textures and flavors: gingersnap crust, a dense layer of dark chocolate, a fluffy rum-infused custard, a thin layer of unsweetened whipped cream, and the crunch of toasted almonds.
Black Bottom Pie
Make pie several hours or the day before serving to allow time for the filling to set. Just before serving, spread whipped cream topping over pie and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
1 C fine gingersnap crumbs
3 T melted butter
2 C whole milk
1 C sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3 eggs, separated
1/4 C cold water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 envelope gelatin
2 T rum
3/4 C toasted slivered blanched almonds
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
8 oz. whipping cream
Blend gingersnaps with melted butter and press firmly into 9-inch pie pan. Bake in 350′F oven 8-10 min. Cool. Scald milk in top of double boiler over hot water. Blend together 1/2 C sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir into hot milk. Cook and stir until thickened. Beat egg yolks lightly. Stir slowly into hot mixture. Cook and stir until thickened. Melt chocolate over hot water. Stir 1 1/4 C of the custard and the vanilla into the chocolate and beat until smooth. Turn into gingersnap crust. Chill. Soften gelatin in cold water and dissolve in remaining hot custard. Cool until mixture begins to jell. Stir in rum and 1/2 of the almonds. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Gradually beat in remaining 1/2 C sugar. Whip 1/2 C of cream until stiff. Fold meringue and cream into thickened custard. Heap over chocolate layer. Chill until firm. At serving time, whip remaining 1/2 C cream and spread over pie. Sprinkle with almonds.
For those who read my book Hungry, these are some of the frat boys I wrote about with enormous affection. Corey and Blair, on the right, now live in San Francisco, Blair working for the corporate office of Safeway and Corey in law school. Matt and Gene on the left found jobs here in Seattle. All four of them, along with a good number of other guys I cooked for in the Alpha Sig house over six years, represent the best of that often maligned fraternity world, and we had them over for dinner Friday night, Corey and Blair having driven up for the Superbowl. My last year cooking for a frat house was “a horror show” as I described it to these guys, and by the time my book was published, I’d quit in a spectacularly bad way and had to smile and talk nice about the house I’d walked out on. You can see me slowly falling apart in the last 20 or so postings on the blog Hungry Boys, the work that led to the book. But these guys were part of the good times, the funny times, and they reminded me that the story is always complicated, not all good, but not all bad either.
What we ate:
Dungeness Crab Beignets (adapted from a recipe from La Petite Grocery in New Orleans)
Caramelized Onion Dip (caramelized onions, roasted garlic, creme fraiche, dill, salt and pepper)
Grilled Ribeye Steaks
Sweet Potato Hash (with red potatoes, sweet peppers, poblano pepper, onions, garlic, mushrooms)
Black Bottom Pie (recipe in HUNGRY and to follow in next posting)
I think a lot of people who say they can’t or don’t want to cook from scratch are really more overwhelmed by having to think of what to cook; this is why I don’t think it’s more recipes that people need, it’s more inspiration. For me, that inspiration often stems from one ingredient, in this case the 365 brand of whole wheat spaghetti from Whole Foods, which I’ve been wanting to try since I read it has none of the rancid walnut flavor of most whole wheat pastas. I already had marinara sauce, made with last summer’s tomatoes; keeping stuff like this in the freezer, along with a well-stocked dry pantry, puts you a long way towards a good home-cooked meal. With half the menu set, I just needed a brief stop at the store: I set out intending to buy Italian sausages, but decided on wild tuna steaks instead. Then I went for a green vegetable, thinking broccoli until I saw kale on sale (and I don’t care how much of a joke this has become, I love it so much I have to stop myself from chewing a raw stalk in the checkout line). Since I was going with tuna, I thought I’d add capers (already at home) and black olives to the sauce. That’s it, a simple Mediterranean pasta dinner to brighten up a gray day, no cookbook necessary.
I love this photo from our October trip to Italy for something it captures that all the sunny photos of breathtaking views and divine dinners do not; the peace I felt in just being. We went to Naples, Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii, and Rome to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday, but I was also desperate to get away from the constant pressure to sell my book, doing things that weren’t natural for me like public speaking and posting daily inane comments on Facebook and Twitter because that, apparently, is what you have to do these days. And something else came of that trip besides leaving the laptop and the phone and the sales statistics behind; we realized how full and authentic our ten days felt, when ten days can go by at home and you don’t even notice. And we decided we wanted to live a more full and authentic life back home. ”Be careful about going to Italy,” my husband quipped to my mom a few weeks later, “because you might return to buy a farm.”
I realize I’m getting a little ahead of myself (we haven’t even closed on our farm property, let alone started building a home there) but I’ve started looking intently at design magazines and antique stores for farm-themed inspiration. I drove to Snohomish today, the little town an hour north of Seattle that’s known for it’s heavy concentration of junk (sorry, vintage) stores and was actually surprised by how many really interesting farm objects I stumbled across. ”What do you suppose a ‘hog scraper’ is for?” I texted my husband with this photo, expecting the flippant response I got a few seconds later, “looks like you use it to plug up the hog.” But then he posted two more comments: ”They are used for scraping the bristles off a hog after you’ve killed it.” And then, “You can order a sticking knife and then a skinning knife and you’ll be all set to be a one-woman hog slaughterer.” I know my husband, a hardware architect for Microsoft, has been boning up on agriculture in his spare time, but I still had to read these lines twice to be sure it was from the same person with a Masters in electrical engineering.
That Green Day song with the refrain “live without warning” came to mind when I saw this this sign on the road that leads to Skokomish Farms. We went to meet some of the other owners, to talk about plans for the year and to see the 8 new calfs, and we brought a picnic because the attorney in the group had suggested we gather on their homesite where they were clearing blackberry bushes and building a bonfire. We met first at the farm office and as we started to walk to the picnic site, Mali, the co-developer of this little community, stopped and asked if she should bring some wine. This is probably the exact moment when I was sure we were joining the right club. Washington state is blessed with a number of small organic farms, so we’re considering unique products to distinguish ourselves, which I thought meant planting hazelnut trees instead of apples or pears, and sheep’s milk cheese instead of the more common goat’s; wasabi and ginseng had never crossed my mind until yesterday.
In November, my husband Phil announced that he was determined to lose 20 lbs. in 20 weeks. Since we already eat a healthy diet (by which I mean real food, cooked from scratch, not fat-free cheese and diet soda), this meant increasing our exercise from 40 minutes a day to 60 (okay, 50 in my case) and greatly reducing simple sugars from bread, pasta, and crackers. So something like these garlic flatbreads are a rare treat; I pulled the recipe from About.com, a site I usually avoid finding it packed with what I call “cream of mushroom soup cuisine,” but this is really great and easy, with one substitution–real fat instead of shortening, which is one of the worst ever food creations. (I was thrilled when, after years of defiantly slathering my toast with real butter instead of margarine, I read I’d been right all along). Tucked inside is some chicken with middle eastern spices, lettuce, red onion and some yogurt mixed with cucumber and dill. Every time I’m at Costco, I buy those 3-packs of organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs, slice the meat and season it with whatever I feel in the mood for, and freeze it in 3 portions, ready to be thawed overnight, grilled and tossed into a sandwich like this. And because I had extra cucumber and dill, I put some in a mason jar and topped it with vodka along with some red pepper flakes for cocktails. White bread and martinis; it’s Friday.
There’s a river that runs through Skokomish Farms, separating half of the lots from the main road, so that to get there the first time we visited, we had to literally drive through the rushing water in Alann’s truck. ”Well this is different,” I thought as we made the crossing past dead and dying salmon at the end of their spawning season. The plan is to build a bridge, not a simple matter since you can’t just build a bridge; there are construction permits and public comment periods and months of waiting in the dark, and without official approval, we couldn’t close on our 40 acres. That changed today, so now we have an actual closing date in late February. When I looked back at this photo that I took the day we walked the property line, it reminded me of an image from a movie of Oklahoma homesteaders literally staking their ground. With the newness (some might say craziness) of what we’re trying to do here, that’s precisely how I feel.
Anyone who’s seen the documentary Food, Inc. will remember this guy, Joel Salatin, as the Virginia farmer killing chickens in the fresh open air on his property (a big FU to the USDA) as he cheerfully railed against the government. It was great. It was that movie more than anything that changed the way I think about food and while Joel’s part in it is fairly small, it’s powerful, so I was quick to get tickets to see him speak when he came to the University of Washington a couple of years ago. Joel is a character, extremely opinionated about certain subjects and more than one person walked out during his tirade against the education system, but he’s also deeply principled and his stewardship of his land and the animals on it is affecting. This photo of him appeared in an article in the New York Times a week ago and a few days later, there was a story about Cargill planting an industrial hog farm in a pristine Arkansas valley, 2,500 pigs crammed in a factory with giant feces “lagoons” threatening the health and safety of the community. It irritated me that the article was titled “Farm vs. Scenery” as if the two can’t possibly co-exist. In case there’s any doubt, we at Skokomish Farms are adopting the methods of Salatin and not Cargill.