30 January 2010

sneak peek: last night's project

new year, new me?

OK, we can now jump forward to 2010. It's resolution time, which I have to admit, I've almost never been able to fully stick with for the entire year. I'm not alone, and thankfully as a result, don't feel as bad about it.

Notice I said almost never stick with it -- last year was that exception :) And probably one of the most important resolutions I've ever made, helping me be much healthier and happier - but not in terms of calorie counts and logged time at the gym.

This year, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and focus on the more traditional notion of being healthier -- changing eating habits, detoxing, and exercising more. A group of friends and I have signed up for the annual MIT getfit challenge, and I'm trying my damndest to swap in some healthier subs for old routines.

And I have to say, it hasn't been so terrible. Here's a few highlights from the first few weeks.

First things first, I have a new favorite snack ... Kale chips.

They're incredibly easy to make, a superfood, and honest-to-god a super sneaky way to eat an entire plate of big, leafy greens without really knowing. Think of these more as a vehicle for getting seasoning into your system.

I first saw these over at Steamy Kitchen, where Jaden recommends washing, making sure they are dry dry (otherwise they'll steam), drizzling a little bit of olive oil on and baking at 350 until they're shatteringly crisp. Note -- do NOT add seasoning until after they bake. Once they're crisp like chips, take out, sprinkle with salt and some red pepper flakes. And enjoy. :) They're irresistible, really, and kale remains one of THE cheapest things in the produce department. I dare you to find me something that's as cheap by volume. Yes, that's a challenge.

Then there was the homemade granola experiment, finally utilizing all of the half used packs of oats in my cupboard and the Kossen farm honey, which is just divine. I added pecans, some leftover walnuts and pistachios, wheat germ, flax seed, dried cranberries, and some candied ginger, pouring the honey, brown sugar and butter mixture over the dry mix and baking. Ever so delicious with some greek yogurt and fresh berry sauce as a parfait ...

And then on to roasted cauliflower with blue cheese vinaigrette. Sounds like a strange combo, but really, it's ever so tasty, and nice on the hips (making room for things like, operation homemade pasta, coming soon on TTK). The nuttiness of the cauliflower is wonderful in this dish. And it's a quick side / lunch.

a very new england thanksgiving

Yes, I know ... it's almost February. Let's just say the last few months have been a bit zany in TTK, from mega tests that leave me wanting an entire bottle of scotch, travel, more holidays, work, etc ... To be honest, it was a blur of friends, boxes, suitcases, and modes of transportation.

So entertain me while I flip the calendar back to Nov. 2009 for a minute. You still there? Great. Glad you stayed.

This past Thanksgiving I offered to host - and cook - the beast of a Thanksgiving feast here in my Boston apartment for my family. Quite an undertaking, but all in all, what I love to do. My parents and older brother made the trek from Chicago and Rochester, and I spent the week prepping for the feast. The week started off with pork rillettes (part 1, part 2, part 3) - my special appetizer for the family, and lots of trips to various grocery stores and food markets. Needless to say, grocery shopping in a city without a car forces you to get creative, and accept that it may take a taxi or muscle man Randy Savage to get your ingredients to your apartment and into a 4th floor walk up.

Anywho, on to the good stuff -- the food.

Here's the big meals menu // cue drumroll, please.

- Pork rillettes - appetizer
- Green beans with a lemon vinaigrette and toasted walnuts
- my famous bacon braised brussel sprouts for the non-believers
- Sausage, butternut squash and kale stuffing
- Sour cream and rosemary mashed potatoes
- 19.5 lb turkey - brined with allspice berries, candied ginger, stock, and apple cider
- Cider sage gravy, with fresh giblet stock
- Homemade cranberry sauce with rum ;)
- Apple pie with cheddar crust
- Pumpkin cobbler with candied pecans

Outside of a minor hiccup involving a sharp knife and my left pointer finger, the meal all hit the table at the same time, stress was easily washed down with wine and gravy, and the feat was over. Next time, maybe not so ambitious ... or perhaps a larger house. :)

Here are some photos from the delicious day ... and I do mean, delicious. I'll gladly pat myself on the back for that. And as always, nothing beats being surrounded with family, even if that's a bit hair brained. It's what they're there for, and I'll eternally be thankful for them.

First there was the pie, adapted from the Gourmet recipe...

Which makes the most beautiful crust ... and reminds me of my Grandfather, who always had a slice of sharp white cheddar with his apple pie. Grandpa, this one's for you ...

Then Tom the turkey, which Michael so nicely carved after his lessons from the Food Network ...

The stuffing, made by browning sausage, then adding butternut squash, leeks, kale and some stock, and a mix of foccacia and pumpernickle bread. Put into a pan, drizzle with some stock, and top with some fresh Pecorino / sharp cheese, and bake. This ... was straight aces. And ... it's absolutely beautiful. So I like colorful food, that's not a crime. ;)

On to the brussel sprouts ... which oddly enough are requested in our family. With this preparation, they will soon be in your household too. First, render the fat from a few pieces of bacon, remove when crispy - you'll be using it later. Halve the sprouts and sear cut side down in the pan, making sure they have a good color to bring out the nutty flavor. Once they have a good color, add stock to the pan, cover and cook until the sprouts are practically falling apart. Remove from stock, serve with crumbled bacon on top. WIN. (no really, WIN.)

And then there was the cobbler, recipe compliments of my friend Abe. I could eat this every day and live a very happy, very overweight life. My mother pretty vehemently dislikes pumpkin pie, yet she loved this. Take that. High five! :) Based off of this recipe, though I highly recommend using about 2 cups of pecan goodness. You can thank me later.

pork rillettes ... (the long overdue)

Picking up where we left off about 2 months ago (life gets busy, you understand) ...

Let's relive some Thanksgiving deliciousness all over again, shall we?

Let me jog your memory a little. It was mid-November, slightly cool here in New England, and a certain TTK cook had secured a 10lb block of pork belly leaving her as giddy as a school girl with a crush. She had chopped the meat, adding it with some garlic cloves and water to the stove, and rendered all the fat out. Then into the refrigerator it went. And then ... we wait.

And wait.

Well, if you're me, you slept.

After 8-12 hours in the fridge, the fat will have gelled a bit at the top. Poke a hole through the fat and strain the rest of the water out of the mixture. I found pressing down on it with wax paper really did the trick. Note - this is a sticky mess of pork fat ... wear gloves, and really ... use the wax paper :)

Once all the water is out, the fun begins. Start creaming the meat with your glove-covered fingers (this isn't just sticky, but cold - 12 hours in the fridge remember? Make sure you don't lose feeling in your fingers). There will be some grizzly pieces of pork back, considering how you're not crisping that up to make crackle (mmm CRACKLE. ::drool::) Anywho. Use your judgement. You want this to be toothsome, but not chewy. Once you've hand shredded the meat, mix with that beautiful fat. (For those health nuts, you may not want to be a part of this process. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.)

You'll want to season it with a heckuva lot of salt and a bit of pepper. The taste will settle over you chill it for another 8 hours, but don't be shy.

After it chills, I recommend serving it with either crusts of bread or water crackers, with some chunky whole grain mustard, reduced balsamic (both to cut the fat), and gherkins on the side (or cornichons. I have a soft spot for gherkins though.) I also served with some thin slices of sweet honeydew. Once it was taste tested by the ever so lovely, open science enthusiast and foodie friend CP who happened to be in town, I knew it was set to go.

Voila. You just got all french with yer bad self.