Green Garlic Won't Blow Your Head Off.

The concept of “garlic soup” sounds like it would ensure a vampire-free future for all who sampled it. But this isn’t necessarily the case, I learned, when this week’s haul from the farmer’s market included a few bunches of “spring garlic.” Spring garlic, sometimes referred to as green garlic or young garlic, is basically garlic, jr. The long, green stalks are picked before the bulb has a chance to fully form and develop the papery skin around each clove, so the whole thing is edible.

I’ve never cooked with spring garlic before, and while I’d read about it’s mildness compared to fully-grown garlic, the pungent, powerfully garlicky aroma was a little disconcerting. I had an appointment with my trainer early the next morning and the last thing I wanted to do was show up with the essence of garlic emanating from my pores.

I needed the advice of an expert. And when it comes to produce, it doesn’t get much more expert than Alice Waters, the luminary of the seasonal cooking movement. Unfortunately, I don’t have Alice’s cell number, but her book, “Chez Panisse Vegetables,” is no shabby second. She suggests showcasing green garlic by pureeing it in a soup, with potatoes. She assured me that it's not powerful enough to blow our heads off (although she didn't quite put it that way.) Coincidentally, the Amateur Gourmet recently made the same recipe and wasn’t too impressed. But the recipe sounded so lovely and I had the ingredients in the house so I made it anyway. Although it turned out that I didn’t have all the ingredients in the house.

I only had 32oz. of the 48oz. (or 1.5 quarts) of chicken broth the recipe requires. I hate to make changes to a recipe before I’ve tried it as written. But, I hate more to leave the apartment on a breezy Sunday evening at 6:30pm, when I’ve got the music going and I can conceivably get dinner done in time to sit on the roof and watch the sunset. So substitutions were made, white wine was used, and the result was wonderful. Creamy, but not too rich. Mild but still garlicky, without garlic’s spicy bite. And perfect, served alongside Zucchini Basil Muffins and an early summer sunset. And my head? Still intact.

Green Garlic Soup

Based on Alice Water’s recipe from “Chez Panisse Vegetables”

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
24 young garlic plants, 1/2 inch in diameter at the root end, white part only (8 oz.), halved lengthwise
¾ cup water

1lb., 6 oz. small, new potatoes, peeled and quartered

32 oz. chicken broth
16 oz. white wine

½ cup heavy cream

1 ½ tsp. salt

2 – 2½ tsp. white wine vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a 6-quart non-corroding pot. Add the garlic and ¼ cup of the water. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly, and cook for 15 minutes.

2. Add the potatoes and remaining ½ cup water. Cook at a simmer for 20 minutes. Add the broth and the wine, cover the pot, and allow to bubble gently for another 20 minutes.

3. Using a hand-blender, puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the cream and salt. Add the vinegar, 1 teaspoon at a time, tasting the soup after each addition before you add the next. (Some vinegars may be strongly flavored than others.)

4. Pass the puree through a medium-fine sieve into warm bowls. Grind black pepper generously over each portion and serve.


I could never get over-baconed.

But if I give Nick one more pork-centric plate, he’s going to hurl it at my head (after eating everything on it, of course.) So, in the interest of avoiding damage to both my Calvin Klein dinnerware and my cerebral cortex, I prepared a light, baconless dinner that included savory zucchini basil muffins. I found the original recipe on Chowhound, when I was in search of a use for the most recent additions to my crisper, a trio of dark green zucchini.

Zucchini requires a little duplicity on my part, since Nick isn’t a big fan. I am, so I insist upon cooking with it, avoiding things that showcase it, like tians and ratatouilles, and tending towards the slightly more demure. And it doesn’t get much more demure than muffins.

I’ve wanted to make a savory muffin, something that could be an ideal sidekick for summer soups and salads. I made a few minor tweaks to the recipe, subbing 1/2 whole-wheat flour, adding some dry mustard for a mini kick (a kick-lette, if you will), and upping the all-important cheese quotient. The zucchini-ness is subtle enough not to put off Nick, and present enough to satisfy my zucchini fix. The basil is a nice addition, and I think it would work well with thyme too. And you know what it would be even better with? Bacon.

Zucchini Basil Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.

2 cups shredded zucchini
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 Tbsp. minced basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Toss shredded zucchini with 1/4 tsp. salt and set in a colander in the sink to drain.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup muffin tin, or use my favorite, Pam with Flour.

3. In a large bowl, beat eggs and then stir in milk and oil.

4. Combine flour, sugars, baking powder, mustard, and remaining salt with a whisk, to aerate.

5. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture and mix, just until flour is moistened (batter won’t be completely smooth). Gently mix in zucchini and basil. Fill greased muffin cups about 3/4 full and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.


It's not gonna kill you.

I’m still annoyed at Natasha Chen because in the 9th grade, she pinched her nose and said “Ewwwww, that’s gross,” as I unwrapped my tuna sandwich. I was affronted, deep down to my still-socially-awkward-13-year old core. I wasn’t affronted in defense of tuna, because no one likes everything, and that’s ok, but calling someone else’s food gross is just plain rude.

I decided then and there that I would never, could never, call anyone else’s food “gross.” It would not only be rude, but it would mean I was closing myself off from what could turn out to be at best, a potentially delicious experience or at worst, a good story. This was, no doubt, the foundation of all of my equal-opportunity-eater bravado, although I will reluctantly admit, when poked with something sharp, that my very American palette means that I approach some things with a few ounces of trepidation. And some things aren't even trepidation-worthy; I'll never eat insects, no matter how fabulous the dipping sauce. But if someone else chooses to, then I can respect that. Because Natasha Chen probably wouldn't.

And when I recently dragged Nick off to deepest Brooklyn for dim sum, Natasha Chen's words still lurked in the dark recesses of my brain pan. In the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown, where nary a word of English is spoken, we found the place we were looking for. After a minor kerfuffle (centered mostly around the fact that neither Nick nor I speak Cantonese), we were sitting at a huge round table, with a Chinese family. We set about pointing and choosing and devouring filmy shrimp dumplings and sticky rice studded with sausage and deep-fried sesame seed balls full of sweet red bean paste. We chomped our way through baked buns overflowing with roast pork and scallion tinged pork shiu-mai. And then, as so often happens at the end of a meal, we were full.

But it all looked so good. Just one more. A cart approached us, with plates of beef wrapped in thick rice noodles and covered in a sweet soy sauce. Yes, please. And a final steaming plate was plunked down in front of us. That’s when I spotted the chicken feet poking out of the noodles.

Now chicken feet are standard fare in China and at authentic Chinese restaurants all over the world. The Chinese family we were seated with gobbled them up by the plateful, even their two-year old happily gnawed away. Asian civilization has survived for millenia, chomping their way through chicken feet aplenty.

But I was having a hard time with this. I reasoned with myself: chicken feet are not what I ordered, so I shouldn’t be expected to eat them. They’re just not something I grew up with. No one will notice if I (the only white girl in the entire establishment) discreetly slide them under the table cloth. Or maybe I can get Nick to create a diversion and I can toss them in my handbag.

The 2-year old across the table eyed me warily. She knew I was, pardon the expression, chicken. I just couldn’t wimp out; it was wrong, it was rude, and Natasha Chen’s words rang in my ears, in that tinny way that voices from past do in movies. I couldn't take responsibility if this kid across the table grew up and thought it was ok to call someone’s tuna sandwich “gross”.

So I ate the chicken feet.

And I survived. There was practically no meat on them and they’re very bony, but the sauce was pretty good. No harm, no foul. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t eat them all, but I was very proud of myself for being open minded. And you know what? They're really not gross at all, once you get past your preconceived chicken foot notions. They taste like chicken.

As we paid the bill and headed out of the restaurant, something struck me: Natasha Chen came from a Chinese family. Do they eat chicken feet? Does she eat them too? Or does she just wrinkle her nose and called them “gross”?


Makin’ Bacon, The Epilogue

I love iPhoto. Nick downloaded all the bacon snaps from his highly advanced digital camera and they went scurrying into iPhoto, the way a good little digital photo should. And then we watched a slideshow of the entire bacon-makin’ process set to “Bizarre Love Triangle”. I’ll tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a slow-motion slide show of your home-cured pork product set to British alternative/dance music sensations, New Order. It was very beautiful and touching. Much better than “Cats.” This is clearly how Jimmy Dean got inspired to build his multi-million dollar breakfast meat empire.

And thinking about it, it is kind of a Bizarre Love Triangle, between me and Nick and the Bacon. He didn't realize he married the Crazy Bacon Lady. Sunday afternoon saw my home-cured goodness put to use in Spaghetti Amatriciana, Marcella Hazan style. Future bacon related plans include [but not limited to] bacon vinaigrette, an assortment of bacon-infused chowders, and bacon brownies. Yes, I said bacon brownies.

A few years ago, I had the most amazing dessert at Blackbird in Chicago: a chocolate semi-freddo, with a waffle, and bacon pieces. The semi-freddo and the waffle were tasty, but add a little piece of bacon to and it turned into an absolutely sublime experience. A recipe for bacon brittle has a host of shocked cooks hoarding their porcine confection from family and friends. And now, there's a bacon candy bar (although word on the street is that its not bacon-y enough). There’s something good happening here. It makes sense, because isn't everything improved by a touch of bacon?

Scallops? Yummy, but wrap them in bacon and they’re fabulous. Sprinkle bits of bacon on fresh vegetables, potatoes, or salad, and its always a winner. Fry up some bacon as you’re starting a stew or a soup and the smokiness just takes the whole thing to a new level. And I know it’s so 1973 dinner party, but dates stuffed with almonds (or blue cheese) and wrapped in crispy bacon makes for a stellar snack, to which, I suspect, even Escoffier would gleefully surrender his fastidious French taste buds (Escoffier was a big pig proponent). So why should dessert be exempt from the Bacon Makes Everything Better rule?


Makin’ Bacon, Part Deux

Shit. Shit. Shit. I screwed up the bacon. I was supposed to remove it from the cure on Saturday, but it still felt a little squishy. And if it feels squishy, my trusty recipe instructs, leave it for another day or two. So, I did.

I took it out of the curing liquid, rinsed it off, and roasted it for a couple of hours in a very low oven. The whole apartment got this really mouthwatering, bacon-y aroma. When I pulled it out of the oven, errant peppercorns clung to the glistening fat and the meat was gorgeously pink. I sampled a snippet and the first thing that hit me was the extreme saltiness. Barely edible saltiness. I’ve-ruined-the-bacon-and-will-have-to-write-about-it-and-everyone-will-know saltiness. I’ll-be-excommunicated-from-the-church-of-the-pig saltiness. Happily, the flavor hiding under all that salt is amazing. If you can overlook the tear-inducing saltiness, this bacon kicks the pork butt of every store bought bacon ever, in the history of bacon. But overlooking tear-inducing saltiness isn’t exactly a concession most people can make, even my oh-so-supportive husband. Even me.

Fortunately, the two wise men who wrote the trusty recipe suspected that it would someday fall into my inexpert clutches and include instructions for blanching it in simmering water to remove extreme saltiness. So, cursing all the while, I brought a pot of water to a simmer, and sliced the over-brined bacon into thick slices. I plunged them in, fingers crossed, hopes high, knowing it probably wouldn't work, knowing I'd probably be stuck with 3lbs of bacon-shaped sodium chloride.

But it worked.

Nick and I had absolutely delicious BLTs for lunch, with unctuous, meaty slabs of bacon hanging out. You can see the best bite, right there in the middle. I didn't miss the smokiness I've always associated with bacon. And now that it's no longer a salt-lick, the slightly garlicky, peppery, porky goodness is in the spotlight. It doesn't shrink when you cook it and the outside crisps up beautifully. The Famous Food Writer that inspired my Bacon Bender said I'd never go back to the watery, shrinking store-bought stuff again. I suspected the FFW would be right, but the extent of the FFW right-ness was surprising.

All I want to do is eat handfuls of this seriously ass-kicking bacon, bacon worthy of entry into Competitive Bacon Championships. Bacon that I made. Is it rude not to share?


Recipe Test Drive

(This entry concludes Mint Week. But just because Mint Week is drawing to a close, we shouldn’t forget the refreshing thrills we’ve shared this week. Cue Air Supply music.)

I love vegetables. I could easily be a vegetarian. Except that meat is really tasty. I believe that if we weren’t meant to eat animals, they wouldn’t be so delicious. But one of the things I love about vegetables is that self-satisfied feeling I get when I’ve eaten them, since they’re good for me. Oddly, a strip steak doesn’t inspire the same look-at-me-fighting-the-cancer-causing-carcinogens pride.

At the top of my “Vegetables I Luv" list is sugar snaps; I was smitten with their alliteration, but it’s their scrumptiously sweet crisposity that stole my heart. I suspect vegetables wouldn’t have such a bad rap with the under-fives if parents started with these babies. They don’t need a lot of tarting up in order to show off; they shine whether steamed, sautéed, or tossed oh-so-casually into pasta, risotto, stir fries, or salads.

So, given my extreme fondness for the sugar snap in all forms, I couldn’t resist last week’s recipe in New York Magazine: Pichet Ong’s Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Parmesan, Almond Puree, and Mint (of course). This Pichet Ong fellow is a pastry chef who just opened up a place of his own here in N to the Y-C, which includes some savory foods in addition to his collection of much ballyhooed desserts. I'd like to try the place, since I enjoy much ballyhooed desserts, but until then I'd get a little Pichet sampler via this recipe.

The Verdict
The snap pea salad itself is excellent and it doesn’t require any Advanced Culinary Skills. The sugar snaps are blanched before being tossed with a lemony vinaigrette and some chopped mint. They’re served atop an almond puree and given a light sprinkling of parmesan. The resulting salad is fresh and moreish. Since the ingredients are so simple and light, it’s easy to piggishly power through the whole salad yourself, guilt-free (I do not recommend doing this, as the husband will be annoyed and you will have to watch a lot of soccer to make up for the indiscretion.)

The almond puree sounds more high-falutin’ than it actually is; simmer sliced almonds in milk until they’re soft, whiz it all around with a hand blender, and Bob’s your uncle. The puree is easy to make and totally superfluous. The flavor is very subtle, and by subtle I mean completely bland. At first, I thought maybe I’d futz around with the puree for a dinner party, since “almond puree” sounds so very professional-chef, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was gilding the proverbial lily. The sugar snap salad doesn’t need a puree. It doesn’t elevate it or add layers of flavor. It just gives you more utensils to wash. So, unless Pichet plans on popping over to Best Bite Manor to do the dishes, I'm chucking the puree.

A puree-free version of the salad easily earns a place in the weeknight rotation; it’s an appealing celebration of springtime goodness, the kind of thing that makes you think these vegetarian people might not be so off the mark. But I can’t shake the feeling that it might just be a teensy-weensy bit better with some bacon. Just like everything else.


We Should Send Fava Beans to Afghanistan

(Mint Week Continues. It’s taking me longer to get through all this mint than I thought it was, so we’re either going to have to turn this into Mint Month or just start chugging mojitos. Vote here.)

When it comes to homeland security, I think we can all take a lesson from fava beans. Those bad boys are safeguarded by not one, but two hearty layers of defense. Layer one is a spongy, 6” pod, which you have to tear open to get at the beans, usually between 4 and 6 per pod. Layer two is a waxy skin, traversable only by a good blanching in some boiling water, after which the beans need a little coaxing to slither out. These cousins of the much-maligned lima bean are a really pretty bright green with a creamy, mild flavor. Since they’re only available for a few weeks in the spring, fresh favas are quite a treat.

But are they worth the work? You buy a pound of fava beans and you de-pod and blanch and shell and wind up with a fraction of that. And the last thing I want to do when I get home from another stressful day writing ads that will never be produced, is to start wrestling with my vegetables. Lord knows I have enough vegetable-related tension in my life. Could I have my beans and eat them too? Could I come up with a more stupid last sentence for this paragraph?

The answer was a salad that was half fresh fava beans, half frozen peas. Frozen peas aren’t as toothsome and tasty as fresh peas, but after breaking down the favas' tight security barriers, I wasn’t about to get started shelling peas. We’d be eating dinner around breakfast time.

We had this light, springy salad alongside Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce and some of Sullivan Street bakery’s amazing bread, drizzled with olive oil and toasted under the broiler. It was light, flavorful and totally mintelicious. Only forty more pounds of mint to go.

Fava Beans, Peas, Mint, and Feta
Serves 2

1 lb. fresh fava beans
1 cup frozen peas, don’t thaw
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint, chopped
½ lemon
1 ½ Tbsp. Extra virgin olive Oil
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Put a medium sized pot of water on to boil and the shell the fava beans. Have a bowl of ice water standing by, to plunge the blanched beans in, to stop them cooking. Plunk the favas into the boiling water for about a minute, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon and get ‘em into the ice water. Do the same with the frozen peas, also for about a minute.

2. Drain the favas and the peas and toss them in a medium sized bowl with the mint, the cheese, the juice from ½ lemon, and the olive oil. Toss it all together.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste, and more lemon juice or olive oil, if you taste it and think it needs it.


In Defense of Mint

(Bacon Update: The bacon is ready for action, but I haven’t had a chance to do anything with it yet. Will post on that as soon as I have a chance to use it. This work thing keeps getting in the way of my culinary adventures. Hhmph. In the meantime, lets get minty…)

If I were mint, I’d be pissed. Mint may be the most underappreciated of all the herbs. It’s been reduced to a breath-freshening artificial flavor that shows up in candy canes and wintergreen bubble gum, bearing only a passing resemblance to its actual namesake. Restaurants seem to use mint mainly as a dessert garnish or in cocktails. Granted, there are summer rolls and Babbo’s Mint Love Letters, but it too often gets stuck playing Jan to attention-hungry basil’s Marcia. Why aren’t home cooks embracing the minty fresh goodness?

Poor mint. Poor unloved misunderstood mint.

Its high time someone stood up for mint, gave it the savory-food respect it deserves, made mint cool again. My mission is pretty clear. So, in tribute to all that mint has done for us, from the breath freshening to the garnishing and beyond, I’m designating this week Mint Week. (Confession: I admit I’m only doing this because I have a ton of fresh mint at home that needs to be used before it starts getting slimy. If I had a ton of Funyuns at home that needed using up, this entire week would be Funyun Week.) Maybe the Discovery Channel will replace Shark Week, with Mint Week. It's so much more civilized.

First stop? Roasted Lamb with Mint Sauce. I am firmly in the anti-jarred mint sauce camp. It’s not that difficult to chuck a handful of ingredients in a food processor or blender and anyone that tells you otherwise is probably a jarred mint-sauce salesman. I started with Mark Bittman’s Mint Pesto from “How to Cook Everything” and wound up adding more mint, easing up on the oil, and replacing the pine nuts with toasted almonds (because that’s what was in the Nut Cupboard).

The result was more saucy that pesto-y. It’s a fresh tasting, spring-y addition that really punched up the leg of lamb I had marinated in cumin and pomegranate molasses. And it was just the right amount of mint-y, mint-y in a savory food way, not in a curiously strong way. All in all, a proper salute to what mint is meant to be.

Mint Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 cups loosely packed mint leaves, rinsed and dried
1 medium clove garlic
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Toast the almonds in a dry skillet, until just fragrant.

2. Put the almonds, the mint, the garlic, the lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the oil in a food processor or blender and pulse until blended.

3. With food processor or blender on, stream in the remaining oil, until a creamy sauce forms, scraping down sides of the work bowl occasionally.

4. Use immediately or freeze for up to a month.


Two Days to Bacon!

My bacon related eagerness hasn't waned. We only have two more days before we get to experience the Joy that is Homemade Bacon. In the meantime, I wrote some poetry in tribute to my future breakfast meat:

Three Haikus for New Bacon

I open the fridge
Your pink, piggy goodness taunts.
Are you bacon yet?

My almost bacon
Must suspect his tasty fate.
He sits by the eggs.

Despite ad campaigns,
My bacon has a first name.
Not Oscar Meyer.


The asparagus is stressing me out.

Am I the only person who suffers from Extreme Vegetable Panic? I’m always seduced by bushel after peck of the fabulous farm-fresh vegetables at the greenmarket on Saturdays. I load up the fridge with (season permitting) snap peas and ramps and strawberries and leeks and corn and tomatoes and rhubarb and kale and just-picked baby lettuces, delighted at how well we’ll be eating during the week. And then comes the week.

On Monday, I go to work and there’s some sort of major crisis. We’re gonna lose the account! The client meeting is tomorrow! If we don’t have a new campaign in the next six minutes, the planets gonna blow! Tuesday and Wednesday are much the same and my produce starts to wilt or rot or dry out or whatever form of slow death is appropriate to its genus. By Thursday, I’m desperate to leave work before midnight so I can shell and sauté my fava beans and toss them with fresh goat cheese and mint before midnight. Sometimes I’m successful. Other times, I have no choice but to throw away their sad little corpses.

This is my weekly routine. And I’m not capable of ignoring the lovely, fresh things at the farmer’s market, because they’re always flaunting their lovely freshness at me. I’m terrified of joining a CSA, because I’m sure every week would end with a major vegetable-induced meltdown.

This week’s victim? Asparagus. One pound. But I wasn’t letting this one go down without a fight. I left work at 9:15. Walked in the door at 10:09 and, with barely a smooch on Nick’s cheek, set about stemming and blanching it and making a Spaghetti Carbonara to mix the bright, green stalks into. We ate at a quarter to 11. By that time, I was too tired to even eat that much and I collapsed into bed shortly thereafter. But I slept well, because this week I won the battle against my Extreme Vegetable Panic. Next week’s another story, though.

Spaghetti & Asparagus Alla Carbonara
Serves 4

1 lb. fresh asparagus
1 lb. spaghetti.
1/3 lb. bacon, diced
1 clove of garlic, smashed
4 eggs
1 ½ cups fresh grated parmeggiano reggiano
Lots of fresh black pepper

1. Set a large pot of water a-boilin’ on the stove. Add lots of salt, once it comes to a boil.

2. Snap the ends off the asparagus; if you bend the stalk, the woody part will snap off naturally at exactly the point where you should be eating it. The fresher the asparagus, the more you’ll get to eat of it. (Now, can you see why I was freaking out?!). Cut the stalks into 1” pieces and plunk it into the boiling water until it’s just barely tender, not more than 3 minutes. Scoop it out with a slotted spoon and get it right into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

3. Get the spaghetti going in the same boiling water you blanched your asparagus in.

4. Put the diced bacon in a skillet and cook on medium. When some of the fat has been rendered out, add the garlic clove, moving it around occasionally, until the bacon is nice and crispy. Discard the garlic.

5. Break the eggs into a large bowl. Add the cheese and whisk it all together.

6. Drain the spaghetti and add it to the eggs, tossing quickly so the egg coats the pasta. Don’t worry about salmonella.

7. Add the bacon, the bacon drippings, and the asparagus. Toss, toss, toss. Season with lots of black pepper and some salt, if necessary. Serve with extra parmeggiano reggiano.


Makin' Bacon, Part I

When I first told Nick that I planned on making bacon, he was baffled. “You can’t make it. It already exists. You just take it off the pig and put it in the pan.” While I’d like to mock my darling husband for his precious naivete, frankly, I thought exactly the same thing before I discovered that one could actually cure ones bacon by ones self in ones home, if one so desired.

Recently, I had the excellent good fortune of chewing the fat with a Famous Food Writer (more on that in future posts), and I was warbling on endlessly about my fondness for all things pig, especially bacon. FFW suggested I cure my own bacon, explaining that not only was it a cinch, but the bacon would be far superior to anything I could buy. FFW explained that I didn’t need a smoker, smoke is sort of a secondary flavor to the fatty, porky goodness; basically, all you really need are some easily accessible ingredients: a chunky piece of fresh pork belly, a bunch of salt, some sugar, and a week.

FFW suggested I start by making pancetta, but once cured, it needs to be rolled and hung it in a cool, humid, sunless place to dry for two weeks. Unfortunately, while we have more than our fair share of humidity, our apartment in June tends less towards the cool and sunless and more to the hot and sweaty, so the Pancetta Project will have to wait until the fall. No biggie, though. I’m happy to start with bacon and work my way through the profusion of international pork curing techniques.

For the bacon, I’d also need a special kind of pink curing salt, which I ordered from Butcher & Packer, and a few extras if I wanted to give my home-cured bacon a nice, savory flavor: a few bay leaves, black peppercorns, and garlic cloves. I finally had my Bacon Makin’ mise-en-place assembled, so I dredged two 1 1/2 lb. pieces of fresh-from-the-pig pork belly in the dry cure and left it the fridge to become bacon. Easy as pork pie.

Now, to wait.

The waiting part takes a long time. I keep peeking in the fridge and poking the pork belly to see if it’s bacon yet. It’s not. It’s barely been 24 hours. It’s exuded a little bit of liquid, which it’s supposed to, but it won’t be bacon for at least another six days. I do have a secret fear that it's not going to turn into bacon at all, that I've somehow bungled the whole thing and it's just going to get all moldy and fuzzy and science experiment-y and I'll have to post a confession here about my ineptitude as a bacon maker. Jees, I hope that doesn't happen. In the meantime, I’ll just keep fantasizing about the carbonaras and lardons and quiche Lorraines my future holds. And poking the pork belly.

P.S. I’m not posting the recipe because I’m sure that would violate some heavy-duty copyright laws and, just as my pork belly baconifies, I’d be hauled off by the FBI (Federal Bacon Investigators) for questioning in a humid, sunless room (ironic in that it would be so very perfect for drying pancetta) and never get to try my own bacon. But, if you’re interested, the recipe can be found here.


Roving Kitchen Reporter, #2

Nick is not a picky eater. I am blessed that he’s happy with pretty much whatever concoctions I manage to whip up, as long as they don’t contain pickles (eggplant and polenta are his other edible adversaries, but we’ll save that showdown for another day.) But recently, I figured out that his pickle prejudice is limited to those made with cucumbers (maybe it’s the dill?). He’ll scarf down pickled onions, tomatoes, beets and any other brine-able vegetable. So last week at the farmer’s market, I stopped by the Rick’s Picks table and got a jar each of Phat Beets and GT 1000s.

Aside from the fact that Phat Beets would be a chow-tastically awesome rap name for me (can’t you just see me kickin’ it wit Kanye and Jay-Z? Awwww, yeah.), these babies are some good eatin’. They’re not your mother’s pickled beets. Well, they’re not my mother’s pickled beets, those old-school Jewish deli pickled beets that only had a faint beet-ness about them and no pickle-y punch. These pack a distinct tang, their sweet, little hot pink beet bodies soaking up loads of goodness from the rosemary tinged, vinegary brine. They were a nice addition to a goat cheese salad; I know goat cheese and beet salad is SO 2003, but just because something is on every menu in the world, it doesn’t mean it’s not longer delicious. Plus, the beet/goat cheese thing is a whole new world with such bad-ass beets.

If you’re going to spring for one thing from Rick’s, though, I have to heartily recommend the GT 1000s. These pickled curried green tomatoes float in a vaguely mustardy, totally flavorific juice. The curry flavor is pretty subtle, and they’re not spicy at all. We tried them on tuna sandwiches and turkey sandwiches, and I suspect they’d be an interesting foil to some super-sharp cheddar and buddy up nicely to a lamb-burger. I kind of want to put them on everything.

Rick and his picks have been around for a while, winning Pickle Awards, garnering Pickle Accolades, and dazzling the general Pickle press, but there’s nothing like tasting for yourself. It’s nice to know pickles could have such attitude. And maybe I'll even be able to con Nick into liking these.