Breaking News: Pork Belly Confit Tastes REALLY Good

When I was thirteen years old, I cooked dinner for my parents.  I had just discovered my mom’s cache of early 60s cookbooks in the basement,  where they had been collecting mold for 20-odd years. I presume these were wedding gifts, offered to a woman who was only marginally enthused about setting up housekeeping with anyone, let alone my dad.

I should also mention that my parents waited ten years to have me. Looking back on my adolescence, this fact explains much but excuses nothing.  It wasn’t so much a decline in energy or parental interest, the problem was a bit more subtle.   I wasn’t even able to understand or cope with it until it was too late.  The problem was cultural: that specific ten years placed them on the other side of the generation gap – distinguishing them from the classic boomer parents most of my friends seemed to have. Come to think of it, we never went to the neighborhood block parties, our folks were always terribly suspicious of our friends’ parents, never quite comfortable with the cultural touchstones the era (It’s difficult to communicate someone who never listened to rock and roll or ever saw Star Wars.) and, most critical to this meal,  never quite able to understand their two kids’ desperation to simply walk their own unconventional, independent path.

So back to this meal. Chicken flavored Rice-a-Roni, Jello instant pudding, and the piece d’ resistance, a soup, consisting of reconstituted bullion cubes and microwaved chicken tenders, served in a hollowed out watermelon.  Inspiration for the latter derived from this book called “The ABCs of Chinese Cookng,” an otherwise forgettable collection of MSG, cornstarch slurries, unspeakable rice shortcuts.  But I saw the watermelon image and felt like one of those people who gaze upon a picture of the Arctic and know… right then… that they would have to one day attempt it.

Epic. And I choose that word carefully, because the final audacious course was remembered, discussed, and eventually celebrated in family lore for years.  Sadly, pictures did not commemorate the event, but the illustration above should give you an idea.

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Too Much Whining, Not Enough Dining

This is twice now.

It started a month ago.  The first bout was more annoying than debilitating: headachey, weak, not sleeping well. In other words, and let’s be honest, sick enough to whine but not really compromised enough to call in to work.

Unfortunately, this proved to be nothing more than the… forgive the term… dry run.

What seemed like low-grade nausea by last Friday Morning turned into excruciating stomach pain by the evening, and I spent the next five days basically tethered to my oubliette. I couldn’t sleep, could barely eat, and I spent a couple of long afternoons drafting tentative agreements with whatever foul deity was in a position to relieve my agony in exchange for my soul.

But you know what I can’t stand, even more than being sick?

Using my chicken broth.  Especially for something so pedestrian as actual chicken soup.
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Bacon Toffee

Let’s go over the rules:

You will not scoff at the idea of bacon toffee.

You will not consider, as an alternative, a low-fat toffee, a vegan toffee or a seitan toffee. I did not grab you by the mouse hand and force you to read my bacon blog.

You will not question yourself, hesitate, or dither while meez-en-placing your bacon toffee. Like Doctor Strangelove, there is no recall code.

You will not use bacon toffee as a promise, or the withholding of bacon toffee as a threat. Barter is perfectly acceptable.

You will not make bacon toffee for someone for whom you have an unrequited crush. He/she is unworthy and will break your heart. We both know that he or she is going to call Hershey Bar as soon as the candy cools. This is the way of nature. Just be smug and continue to stir.

You will not pause in the middle of making bacon toffee in order to cook yourself another strip of bacon. This means you, Mathews. Although truth be told I wouldn’t blame you.

You will not pause to reflect upon the following irony: Bacon Toffee is cooked to what candymakers call the “hard crack” stage. There will be plenty of time to think about this later when you are in the corner, twitching uncontrollably and ready to sell your TV for a dolla.

You will simply make bacon toffee.
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How to Salvage a Week

It is 9.01.  I just got home from work.

Not a banner day.  I woke up with a headache. I erred grievously in the discharge of my work responsibilities and my boss shot me one of those “I had such high hopes for you, Jeff,” looks that I am all-to used-to. I spilled lunch on my good shirt, was late leaving, and the bus driver made fun of me on the way home.  And most critically, it’s already late-evening, Which means I have about three hours before I have to strap on a breathe-rite strip, set my alarm, crawl into bed and start this disco party all over again.

Which means that if I do not choose dinner VERY carefully, the entire week is jacked up.

So. Radish batons are out. Nor do not want a salad with baby greens. I do not want dolmas.  I do not want millet porridge with green-tea infused semifreddo. I do not  want something prepared “en papillote,” or a big bowl of strawberries or anything that is remotely complicated or difficult or fussy.

I want a Croque Señior.

This sandwich is basically a play on the French “Croque Monsieur,” which is a grilled ham and cheese.  Here, we change the cheese, replace the ham with Mexican Chorizo, and add salsa.

This, my friends, is a life-changing sandwich.  The bread manages to hold on to the strong flavors without overly weakening their impact, the crunch of the crust perfectly balances the richness of the interior, and the comfort level has a brightness to it that seems to remind you that tomorrow is going to be okay.

How to make one:

Two slices of bread. If you are me, it will be homemade- with a crispy crust, tender crumb, with what honey snobs would call a “suggestion of basswood,” and just enough whole wheat flour to give it some tooth.

Chorizo. Three ounces. Mexican. Preferably Local, from one of the many Mexican Markets your city is lucky to have.  Removed from the casing, broken up into blueberry-sized pieces, and cooked in a cast-iron skillet until just done. Save the rendered fat.

Salsa. You don’t need much.

White cheese. Monterrey Jack is good, Queso Chihuahua is better.  The Mexican cheese blend at IGA is fine if you are in the mood to start a fight with your bagger but lack the animal protein necessary to effectuate any real aggression.

Butter, 2T.  One T should be softened:

(Tip about butter. If you need to quickly soften butter, use your bench scraper to flatten, scrape, and reflatten your butter a few times.  You’re basically introducing air into it, which helps it spread)

(Bonus Tip: You should totally have a bench scraper. They’re like 2 bucks at IKEA and are great for pressing garlic, gathering slack bread dough, cutting shortening into small chunks for a pie crust, or just picking up veggies from a cutting board.  Not to mention the butter thing)

Honor System: I know that you all know how to make a grilled cheese, but let me point out a couple of things:

1. Use plenty of fat in the pan.  You basically want to fry the bottom surface of the sandwich.  If done correctly, frying, in and of itself, is NOT a high-fat cooking method.  I refuse to get all Mister Wizard about grilled cheese, but the key to frying involves minimizing the temperature drop once food is introduced to the pan, if the temp drops too much, your food will get greasy.

2. Smashing is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged.  Remember, you’re trying to melt the cheese before burning the crust.

3. Remember whose blog this is.  Add the melted chorizo fat to the other tablespoon of butter in your cooking pan, and mix thoroughly before introducing the bread.

It isn’t easy being me.  But at least there are good sandwiches.  I’m going to bed now.

This is Who I Am

I was going to write about smoothies this week but it just seems easier to write about pork belly.

Now, even I can’t be “The Bacon Guy” every day.   I’ve worked hard these past seven months or so to change my eating habits, making sure I have plenty of fruit in the morning and trying to center my evening meals around vegetables and whole grains.  I’ve developed a strange affinity for turnip greens and no longer grimace when unsweetened iced tea crosses the threshold of my mouth and I really, really think the world would be a better place if we were all a little bit thoughtful about what we ate.

Okay… I get it.

But at some point we have to take stock and remember who we are. Yes, I still eat bacon. Yes, this is still a blog about pork products. Yes, I still think about ways to adding bacon to popcorn and toffee and yes I still grunt primally when I smell it from eight miles away, and yes I would fight man three times my size in an alley in the seedy back alleys of Barcelona for the last piece of perfectly seasoned chorizo (I would totally frikkin win, too) and yes, I want to lurk in the trees like Rambo and pounce upon wild boar with my knife and build an elaborate necklace out of its rib bones and yes, I want to smear myself in pig fat and run through the streets singing “alouette” at the top of my lungs.

But I’d settle for some pork belly.

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A Recipe. Sort of.

I am not a very spontaneous person.

But sometimes seeds are planted.  Ideas can lodge themselves in the throat like a sliver of popcorn and remain there until you spend every ounce of your energy bringing the Thing into reality.  This is what happened to me a couple of nights ago.

I haven’t been sleeping.  But in between my typical dream vignettes of loosing my teeth and my being roused at 4am by a phone call and trying to speak into the end of my stick deodorant on my nightstand (I am an extremely heavy sleeper) – I saw it.  A tomato tart.


So this was my thought process for the remainder of Tuesday:
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Great Big Bowl of Crack

Stop what you are doing.  Just stop.  Turn off the computer and proceed immediately into the kitchen and make this.  Right now. Baring that, proceed to Jeff’s place. Break in if you have to (if you can get past the Cat Lady on the front porch who will leer at you, you should be able to get inside) and use all necessary force to pry these crunchy, salty, cinammoneous (?) caramel-ey sweet little things out of my gooey, sandy, coma-induced fingers.

I suppose I should back up.
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Because I Can’t Let Fried Dough Claim Another Victim

Hunger has its own logic, doesn’t it?  I don’t mean the everyday pangs one becomes accustomed to after a long day in the cubicle, the kind easily remedied by a few bites of fruit or the occasional order of cheese fries.  I mean… HUNGER.  The sort of desperate and carnal weakness that overpowers your entire body.  It moves at times all the way from the searing pain along your temples to the feet that can barely move – the sort of creeping desperate, agony where your soul is in panic mode but your body cannot rescue you. 

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A Man, A Plan, A Paella Pan

I’m still weak in the knees.

This isn’t sated, or full, or even satisfied or happy – this is one of those moments where you’ve spent hours with your eyes glued to the back of your skull and your jaw slack from what you’ve just felt – and all of your favorite smells and tastes have just shouted to you in a mysterious language you only at this moment understand.   And you realize, right then, when you’re done sitting in the dark corner licking the unctuous charred bits from the edge of your plate or trying to fish those last grains of rice from the tines of your fork even though you’ve already finished dessert – that THIS this is the meal against which all future versions will be Judged and Found Wanting.

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