Monday, January 31, 2011

Charcutepalooza: Duck Prosciutto

I promise, I have had a lot going on besides Charcutepalooza. But dangit, Charcutepalooza is the fun one of all my current projects! And finally today we got to enjoy its benefits.

The duck prosciutto was ready last week, but we were busy and only had time to try a little nibble. Our duck breasts had quite a bit of fat on them, which wasn't so good to eat straight, but I learned I could trim it off and use it to give an amazing richness to a pot of beans. Beyond that, we wrapped up the duck prosciutto and stashed it in the freezer for a better day.

Today was that day, and I decided that if you can't have a fancy appetizer for breakfast sometimes, then you aren't really living. I've always seen pork prosciutto served in thin slices wrapped around chunks of melon... and I got to thinking that the sweeter acidity of a mango would go nicely with our juniper-cured duck prosciutto.

The great thing about having frozen the prosciutto: It was easier to slice it very thin. And by the time I had the mango peeled and cubed, those thin slivers of duck had thawed out. So I just wrapped them up and plonked them on a pretty dish, and we nibbled our mango-prosciutto bites with our fingers over the newspaper. I had coffee because I'm a junkie, but Keith had his with peppermint tea, and in retrospect I bet that was really lovely with the fruit and duck.

So that's project one of Charcutepalooza, and I still have plenty of home-cured duck prosciutto in the freezer. (I'm thinking I need to chunk some of it up in the spring and make a pasta dish with duck prosciutto and the first little green peas from my garden.) Next up is homemade bacon, and I was out pricing pork belly for that today.

It's funny how cooking expands your horizons. Five years ago, I was in Hollywood experimenting with new produce from the Sunday farmers' market at Sunset and Vine. Three years ago, I was new in Portland and beginning to try my Grandmother's old freezing rituals and planning my garden. Two years ago, my dabbling interest in canning took off into an ever-growing epic that now consumes my summers and allows me to go Christmas shopping in my own pantry. One year ago, I started making cheese. And now that I've nailed down the science and craft of freezing and canning, my preservation inclinations are coming to include charcuterie. Not bad for a former-vegetarian urbanite.

And I find the more I learn, the less I know, and I like it that way. This way I always get to keep on learning! Now, on to that pork belly...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Duck Prosciutto!

Pressed for time at the moment, but I had to share a pic. My home-cured duck breast prosciutto is ready to eat! We tried a little bite - it's delicious. Later in the week I have several recipes I'd like to try, but I'm sure at some point we'll just have it with a little cheese and fruit for a light supper.

On to the next charcuterie project soon, which will be homemade BACON. Eep!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Husband Rules.

So I have this small, ugly kitchen that we're slowly working on. I have a decent-sized cookbook collection and they were all piled on a small table at the end of the kitchen, until we got a new huge dining table to put there. The cookbooks have been shuffled around to various spaces in other rooms and were resting on a bar table in the parlor when Keith, listless with cabin fever, decided he could build a shelf for them.

Without any prompting whatsoever by me - I was dealing with the pile of cookbooks in the parlor without any problems, though I knew it wasn't a permanent place - the other night Keith set up shop in the garage and began to tinker. Before I knew what he was doing, he had fashioned a shelf that would fit under the cabinets of my open walk-in pantry, and would mount to the walls and bottoms of the cabinets so that I'd still have plenty of room on the counter beneath.

In the time it takes me to make dinner, he'd installed it, fastened molding to hold it in place, sanded and spackled where necessary, and begun to paint it.

The next morning it got another couple coats of paint, and we let it dry for the rest of the day.

Keith did all of this by himself for about $5 in scrap wood and assorted supplies he found in the garage. The paint was the same paint we'd used on the kitchen walls. I had nothing to do with this project whatsoever, and I'm amazed at Keith's skills here. Just for purposes of comparison, here's what the kitchen looked like when we moved in.

Here's what it looks like now. Still not great, but better!

And here's my new shelf, which we loaded with my cookbook collection this morning. Keith had thought I'd have loads of extra space after the cookbooks were in. He underestimated my years of cookbook lust.

I love this guy even more than cookbooks.

You know it's fresh and organic when...

Farmers' markets are mostly closed this time of year, so we get our produce from a nonprofit cooperative grocery, People's Co-Op. Besides free yoga, excellent prices on bulk goods, and other benefits, we love this place because everything in the store is all-natural and organic.

One of the quirks to eating the way we do is that sometimes a funny thing happens. You go to the store and get your groceries - in January, that includes a lot of kale, an incredibly nutritious green that is sweetest and most delicious during the coldest weather - and stick it in the fridge when you get home. A couple days later, you're starting to cook and you pull out some kale, only to discover that somebody else got a head start on your dinner.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar went right on eating kale in the bowl we keep for vegetable scraps, and then once the bowl was full, he went out with those veggie scraps to the chickens. Snack and be snacked!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Crustless Quiche

I cleaned out the fridge the other day and had some leftovers to use up - a bunch of wilting chard, two little strips of salted duck meat that I had to trim off when making prosciutto, heels of cheeses, etc. My first thought was quiche (it usually is), but with health, weight loss, and time concerns, I didn't want to make a crust for it. Thank heaven for crustless quiche.

It's good for you, it's delicious, and it's one of the easiest things you can make (especially in the field of pie). You can clean out your fridge and throw in whatever you have; even leftover broccoli would work. If you don't have time to caramelize the onions and your meat is already cooked (or you aren't using meat), just throw in some green onions or shallots. Quiche is so flexible!

serves 4

2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
½ cup meat of your choice, cut into small cubes (optional)
1 ¼ cup grated medium cheese (cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, etc.), divided
1 bunch spinach, chard, or kale (washed, dried, and chopped)
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp flour (wheat or gluten-free)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
½ tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
1 tsp paprika

Coat the inside of a pie plate or 9-10" casserole dish with 1 Tbsp butter, then spread ¼ cup cheese over the bottom. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter with olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it starts to soften. Add the meat and continue cooking about 5 minutes or until onions are light golden and beginning to caramelize, and meat is cooked. (If the meat's already cooked, wait until the onions are done and then just stir it in.)

Meanwhile, dump the greens into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the remaining 1 cup cheese, eggs, milk, flour, herbs, mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pulse a few more times until everything is blended. Pour in the caramelized onions and meat, along with the butter and olive oil they cooked in, and give it a quick pulse or two just to stir. Pour into the prepared pie plate or casserole and spread out evenly. (It won't look very pretty. That's okay.)

Sprinkle the Parmesan and paprika over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes or so (while you whip up a salad to go with it, perhaps) and cut into wedges for serving.

Charcutepalooza Kickoff: Duck Prosciutto!

This year I'm joining somewhere between 50-100 (depending on who I see on Twitter) in a project called Charcutepalooza: A Year of Charcuterie.

Charcuterie, for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is a French term for the art of meat preservation. It covers such time-honored processes as smoking, salting, and curing, resulting in everything from bacon to terrine to confit. Typically it involves pork (there goes that Jewish guilt again), but it doesn't always.

We're taking on a different meat preservation project every month to, as blogger Mrs. Wheelbarrow puts it, "celebrate the appropriate, thoughtful consumption of meat with a year long exploration of the age old craft of charcuterie."

This month our first project was duck breast prosciutto (an Italian term for ham). The recipe comes, as all our recipes will, from Mark Ruhlman's gorgeous book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.

Today's the day for everyone's prosciutto posts, but unfortunately mine isn't quite ready yet. The butcher was out of duck breasts (partially my fault, as we had duck breast for our Christmas dinner) and I had to wait while he ordered me one. Once I got it though, I was surprised by how easy the recipe was. I split the duck breast and buried the two halves in salt overnight...

...then I seasoned them with white pepper and spices. One of the breasts has been sprinkled with black smoked sea salt for a hint of smokey flavor, while the other I seasoned with juniper for an Oregonian twist. Keith helped me tie them up in cheesecloth, where they're now hanging in the garage.

It's been fun so far to follow everyone else participating. Twitter has been bursting with off-color jokes about hanging breasts, husbands protecting our breasts, etc.; a few gung-ho kitchen goddesses are finished already and have been sharing delicious stories of snacks and dinners based on their duck breast prosciutto.

Mine still has a few more days to hang, but so far the temperatures and humidity have been just right for it in the garage. I'm surprised meat preservation isn't more popular, if it's always this easy. Salt and time do all the work! And when I'm done, I'll have two pounds of lucious home-cured prosciutto to use in a thousand different ways.

I just checked out prices for good duck prosciutto and found it going for four times the price of my duck breasts and salt. Somehow, frugality and a renewed contact with thoughtful, time-honored preservation methods make the thought of this prosciutto even more delicious.

I can't wait to try it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

We Got Crabs.

That joke never gets old, does it?

I don't usually do shellfish as a general rule. I like it - well, some of it - but I've got this combination of Jewish obligation and Catholic guilt that makes me feel like I'm doing something perverted whenever I eat shrimp. So I steer clear and give in only when I know it's going to be worth it.

I knew it would be worth it at the farmers' market a few weeks ago. It was the week before Christmas, the last market of the season before they close up for three whole months, and the vendors were doing their best to unload whatever they had left. Keith and I had done our shopping and were trudging back to the car when we passed a couple of fishmongers who were advertising local Dungeness crabs for $3 a pound. We bought two huge fresh crabs for under $5.

When we got home, we were busy with a lot of Christmas preparations, so we stuck the crabs in the freezer. A couple days ago, Keith was itching to cook them up, so he did. I was way too intimidated to do it myself - but no longer. It was quite easy, just a little messy but worth it. Last night we were at the grocery store and Keith found a tub of Dungeness crab meat for $25; he figures it contained about the same amount of meat as we got from these two crabs. We only had to work a little for it - but then, that was fun too, sitting down at the table to crack the legs and dig out the meat while nibbling little bites of risotto.

I made the risotto while Keith cooked the crabs. It's a pretty simple one, but I added the minced peel and some juice from my salt-preserved Meyer lemons, and I also stirred in some fresh parsley and a three-year aged parmesan Keith picked up in southern Oregon. I didn't have any good chicken stock to work with, and I complained that the risotto was bland before I added the lemon and parsley... but once they were in, wow! What a difference. It went great with the crab.

So well, in fact, that the next morning I combined the leftover risotto, leftover crab meat, and an egg, and then I melted the leftover clarified butter and fried up little crab-risotto patties for breakfast.

Sometimes guilty pleasures can be the very best kind.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Before I start laying out my plans for 2011, I have to share the last day of 2010. The morning of New Year's Eve found me selling pie again, as I whipped up some salted lavender caramel tarts for a friend who stopped by to pick them up for her family's New Year's dinner. It was a gorgeous day, if a frighteningly cold one - I don't think it got above freezing that day at all - and I wanted to get out, so Keith and I bundled our coats and scarves into the car and headed for Mt. Hood.

We didn't go all the way to the top of the mountain, since we had to chain up pretty early on. Three feet of fresh snow had recently fallen, and the sun was shining on a perfect New Year's Eve, so we parked as soon as we could to frolic in the thigh-deep snow.

I'm still Southern enough that snow REALLY excites me. I've traveled a lot and lived in a variety of places, but I've never lived in a snowy area, and even in Portland snow is a rarity. So the chance to get up to the mountain and see all the lovely firs in the glittering snow, well, that always makes for a pretty awesome day. We spent most of the afternoon snow tubing and had a fabulous time while getting in some exercise.

Once off the mountain, we made a spontaneous decision to drop by Lauro, our favorite special-occasion restaurant, for a fabulous dinner, and then we crossed the street to Pix Patisserie for dessert. We had a bottle of champagne someone had given us for Xmas, and the plan was to take it to the top of Mt. Tabor to toast the New Year under the trees while overlooking the Portland skyline, but it was about 20° F with a sharp biting wind, so we went on home to a warm crackling fire instead.

So now I'm finally getting a chance to sit down and have my New Year's assessment of the year before and year to come - well, I'm still in the middle of it, but it took me a couple days into the year to find the time to start! This year is already off to a busy beginning, and it's loaded with new projects.

I'm figuring out my sewing machine, for one thing; I've made some curtains and tote bags, and am currently working on a more complex project that was supposed to be a Christmas present for a friend but may wind up being a "friendship present" in another week or two. (Oops.) Once I finish this one, I'm going to make myself a couple of girly aprons and then ease myself into clothing (my ultimate goal) with a simple wrap skirt or two. So far sewing is a lot like cooking; my early blundering attempts are kind of cute in their incompetence, and I can tell this will be easy once I get in a lot more practice.

In other news, just to see how crazy I can make myself with project-juggling, I decided to go ahead with an idea I entertained over the summer. Over at my newest blog, Dinner With the World, I'll be documenting my attempt to learn more about my global neighbors and the unique variations of global cuisine as I cook a meal from every country in the world in one year. This should be a pretty interesting read, since I'll be juggling unfamiliar ingredients, a nominal commitment to kosher restrictions, and an effort to stick to seasonal Oregonian produce.

Oh yeah, and I'll also be juggling a business startup. After cultivating a dream of entrepreneurship for most of my life, it's finally time to make it happen. I'm currently saving up for a unique twist on Portland's food cart phenomenon, and have already begun selling my butter-flaky pies to friends and coworkers. By spring, I hope to be out there in the world, slinging pie to the masses. Learn more over at (website operable, but still under construction).

Meanwhile, I'll be participating in Charcutepalooza 2011, a multiblog project wherein we'll all revive the lost arts of meat preservation. It's a logical next step after slaughtering chickens last year (and we're actually raising meat birds for real this summer!), and an especially hilarious development for this former PETA member and 12-year vegetarian. We're tackling one meat project per month, with the first up being duck proscuitto. I checked out Michael Ruhlman's book on Charcuterie from the library and can't wait to get started!

I'm also hoping to revamp this blog a bit, improve my photography and rework the design, but that's going to have to wait a few more weeks at least. It also looks as though I may be cowriting a cookbook later in the year - stay tuned for more on that project.

And of course, novels and screenplays await completion, along with the mountain of books I still need to read.

With a to-do list like this one, who needs resolutions?