Thursday, February 18, 2010

VDay 2010: Braised Pork, Purple Potatoes, and a Winter Salad

I will take any excuse to cook a celebratory meal, so we spent our Valentine's Day in, cooking together.  The meal was a collaboration in concept and execution, and we were both more than satisfied with the result.  Since the pork finishes in the slow cooker and the salad is thrown together at the end, there's very little hands-on time, and plenty of payoff.

The sauce is tangy and rich, and it complements the pork beautifully, as it is usually on the lean side.  I got the cut, which I believe is a shoulder piece, from my pork lady (read about her here, including another braised pork recipe.) at a twice-monthly winter market, along with the purple potatoes and chocolate.  It was very easy to throw together, so I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.  The husband requested tomatillos and we immediately thought their tangy flavor would work well, given that so many barbecue sauces rely on vinegar for balance.

Braised Pork v2

Start with a piece of pork that was well-loved on a farm less then 30 miles from your house.  Make sure it has good marbling, too, like this:

It's pretty tough to go wrong from here.  Here's what I did:

Cover the pork with salt and pepper, then it hard on all sides.  Get it nice and crusty and brown.

Remove the meat and set it aside.  In the same pan, brown some veggies.  I used leeks, carrots, onions, and tomatillos.  

I just bought these little prep bowls, which are fantastic because they can be pinched to pour the contents easily.

Transfer the meat to a plate.  Drop in your chopped vegetables and cook until they're a little brown.  

Add your vegetables to a slow cooker, or transfer them to a plate to return to your dutch oven later.  Add the roast on top.  Meanwhile, in the dutch oven, melt a tablespoon or two of butter and sprinkle with flour.  Whisk together until well combined, then cook for 1-2 minutes.  

Whisk in 4-6 cups water or stock.

Cook until it starts to thicken, and season well with salt and pepper.  You want just enough to come halfway up the side of the pork, so the volume will depend on the size of your roast and your cooker's capacity.  

Cover and let it do it's thing for as long as you can.  We did seven hours.  Ten would have been better.

45 minutes before you're ready to eat, scrub up some gorgeous purple potatoes from a local farmer.  


Cut them up into one inch cubes and roast them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and any herb you like.  Throw some minced garlic on near the end so it doesn't burn.

Let the meat rest while you strain and reduce your stock on the stove until it's thick, around 20 minutes.  Pull it off heat and add a tablespoon or two of butter and whisk to thicken more.

Serve the pork over the potatoes

with a baguette, local soft cheese, and your raspberry preserves

And a salad made with 
  • arugula 
  • orange segments 
  • sliced fennel
  • pink lady apples
  • a vinaigrette made with raspberry preserves, orange and meyer lemon juice, and a little mustard.  

This dinner was a beautiful combinations of textures and flavors, especially since it was followed by these:

Things are slowly starting to melt out there, and although we're expecting more snow in the short term, I am reminding myself that spring is not far off, and I'm celebrating by ordering seeds.

Until next time, try to keep warm and soak up those extra minutes of sunlight!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

French Chocolate Macarons, featuring my new Digital Scale

Good evening!

This Sunday, like most, meant some quality time in the kitchen for me.  I've had an itch to make French macarons, like so many, and finally decided to give it a try.  These bit-sized confections involve various kitchen tricks, including working with egg whites, chocolate, and piping bags.  As more home cooks are finally trying to replicate the popular boutique dessert on a small scale, macarons have gotten quite a reputation on the internet for being tricky. I decided today was the day and set out looking for a well reviewed forumula.

I found a different recipe for every website I went to, so I decided to start with one from the trusted Dave Lebovitz.  While I didn't end up with the picture-perfect macarons I'd dreamed of, they were delicious, which is what it's all about, right?  There are a few things I'd like to change next time in an effort to reach that ideal, but these are certainly worth a try.  His recipe, my photos and commentary.

You'll get to see my awesome new kitchen scale in action!  It's this one from OXO, and it's fantastic.  It reads in both US and metric, has the necessary tare function, an illuminated display, AND the panel detaches so it can accommodate large bowls.  I love it.  I'm finally seeing just how much my measurements vary when I use volume instead of weight.

French Chocolate Macarons

100 gr (1 c) powdered sugar
50 gr (1/2 c) almonds, toasted then ground
25 gr (3 tbsp) good cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
65 gr (5 tbsp) granulated sugar

After I weighed the ground almonds, I hit that zero button and then weighed the powdered sugar.  In the meantime, have the egg whites whipping to soft peaks.

Combine these and the cocoa powder in a food processor and mix.  (Next time I make these, I'll blend these further.)

Add this mix to the egg whites.  Fold in.  (Next time, I will mix them more. I think I quit before all the ingredients were thoroughly mixed.)

Scoop this (I used a soft bowl scraper to mix and scrape this out and it was perfect for the job. Truly a dollar well spent) into a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip.

Pipe onto parchment paper in one inch disks, leaving one inch between cookies.  Many people have mentioned having trouble getting the cookies off the paper, but I had no trouble.  (Next time I will use a wet finger to smooth the tops of these, in the hopes that the tops would be smooth and not cracked.)

Bake at 350 for 16 minutes.  Let cool completely before removing from the pans.

Chocolate Filling

Bring to a boil

1/2 c cream 
2 tbsp corn syrup 

Remove from heat and add

120 gr (4 oz.) dark chocolate chips 

Let sit one minute, then stir.  Then add

1 tbsp butter, chopped up

Stir until melted.  Cool completely before spreading between the cookies.

These are quite sweet, and are very good with milk or coffee.  I wish that I'd gotten the "feet" at the base of each cookie, and they are pretty chewy in the center.  That said, they have an excellent crunch and the filling is a great contrast in texture. 

I look forward to making these again and tweaking the things that I mentioned above.  

Is there a recipe that you find intimidating?  The internet, for all its faults, can make almost every recipe accessible to home cooks.  

Until next time, enjoy the snow if you've got it, and the sun if you don't!

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