Archive for the ‘pork’ Category

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

 

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. However, nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. (Morton’s Kosher salt, for example, is heavier than Diamond Crystal.) I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be makin’ the bacon, I combine this dry cure with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry rub
1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a gooey brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, you’ll be able to tell the pork belly has cured because it feels firm. Wash the brine off the meat well with cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the belly in the fridge for an hour or so and it will develop a tackiness to the touch. This is a thin layer of proteins known as a pelicle, and it helps the smoke stick to the meat.

Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I place the pork belly in my digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Smoked bacon!

 

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

Sometimes the best ideas come from out of nowhere.

I had 5 lbs. of beautiful St. Louis-style heritage Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta) pork ribs thawing in the fridge, and I knew I wanted to create a new sauce or glaze with them, but I was feeling less than inspired. Our food-loving friends, Don and Johanna, showed up at our door with a gift they bought in Maine, at a shop called LeRoux Kitchen. It was a bottle of maple balsamic vinegar. It smelled wonderful…and tasted even better! I knew I had what I was looking for.

I used a smoker to make these ribs, but if you don’t have one (or just don’t want to bother with one), the ribs are just as awesome when baked in the oven.

You can easily make your own maple balsamic vinegar by combining a 1/2 cup of balsamic (not the super-expensive kind, but the $9-a-bottle kind) with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Add more or less maple to taste.

Yup…my smoker…she’s been used a few times!

I use an electric digital smoker made by Masterbuilt. I like the fact that I can set the temperature and time, and not have to constantly watch it. It has a side chute where I can add smoking chips when I want, and the results are consistent. I suppose some grilling fanatics might say I’m cheating, but a digital smoker allows me to live a life, hang out with my family, do some yard work. I don’t have time to babysit.

I chose to smoke my ribs for about 4 hours in the smoker, lightly seasoning them first with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, adding hickory chips to the smoker only once to give them a “light smoke.”

Although I always use a water bath in my smoker, the ribs still come out visibly dry, so I like to brush them with a glaze, wrap them in foil and finish the cooking process in the oven. The glaze flavors the meat and also adds a little steam that tenderizes it.

Brushing with glaze, then wrapping in foil.

5 lbs. pork ribs (I get St. Louis-style Berkshire pork)
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 cup water
1/2 cup maple balsamic vinegar (OR 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon maple syrup)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I like Franks’ Red Hot)

Prepare the ribs by removing the inedible skin on the back of the rack. The easiest way to do this is to cut a little “tab” of skin, then pull it with your fingers. Holding the skin with a dry paper towel will help your grip. I cut the racks in half to fit my smoker.

Season the ribs lightly with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt on both sides and place them into a 225-degree smoker (or oven, if you don’t have a smoker) for 3 hours, smoking lightly with hickory wood. (Skip the hickory if you’re using the oven.)

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water, maple balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, and cayenne pepper sauce. Stir well, and let it come to a boil. Let it reduce by half, leaving it still watery. Set it aside.

After 3 hours, remove the ribs from the smoker (or oven), placing them on a sheet of aluminum foil. (I use Reynold’s Non-Stick Foil, since the glaze will be sticky.) Brush both sides of the ribs with half of the glaze, and place the ribs meat-side-up on the foil before sealing the it around the ribs. Place the aluminum foil packets on a baking sheet, then into a pre-heated 250-degree oven (or back in the smoker.).

Remove the ribs from the oven or smoker after 1 hour. Open the foil packets so that the ribs are now exposed. Brush the top of the ribs one more time, then put the foil back over the top and cook for 1 hour more.

I love these ribs. They’re one of the the first cookbook recipes I ever tried, and still one of my favorites. In fact, I just made them last night!
I like making these because they don’t require hours on the grill. They’re gooey, sweet and absolutely delicious!
 image
¾ cup soy sauce
 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork ribs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
Mix the soy sauce and the hoisin in a bowl, and set aside. These are the marinade ingredients.
If the ribs are large, cut them into individual pieces. If smaller, cluster 2 or 3 ribs together. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
Place the ribs on a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil or with a rack and coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the ribs on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.
While the ribs are baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot that will hold all the ribs: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.
When the ribs have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until the rib meat is tender.
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Be sure to reduce the heat as the sauce thickens or the sugars in the honey will burn! When the ribs are sticky and gooey, they’re ready.
Substituting grapefruit for the lemon works really well, too!

 

It may be October, but it’s also #NationalPorkMonth! Time to get piggish!

Few slabs of meat are as amazing as a pork butt or shoulder, rubbed with a special dry rub, then slow-smoked for 8 hours (or more), pulled and slathered with amazing barbecue sauce. It takes time, but it’s not really that hard to do.

My electric smoker allows me to set the time and temp and walk away.

Here’s how I do it…

First, I get a hunka pork. The kind of pig I get matters to me, so I buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta), from a farm that raises them humanely. I’m willing to pay the extra bucks.

But going to a supermarket or butcher shop for pork is what most people do. The names of the cuts of meat can be a bit confusing. Despite its name, pork butt is not from the back-end of the pig.  (The term “butt” referred to the barrel the meat was stored in when the only method of preservation was salting the meat and storing it in barrels.)

The pork butt is actually the shoulder of the pig. The pork shoulder picnic is a lower cut of the same area. These cuts can also go by the names: Boston shoulder roast, Boston butt, Boston roast, shoulder butt, pork shoulder picnic, and shoulder-blade roast. Whatever the name, these are all nicely marbled hunks of meat that usually weigh in anywhere from 6 to 8 lbs, and are easy to find. Barbecue fanatics claim the bone-in pork butt is more flavorful, but boneless is all you can find, that’ll work, too.

Once I’ve got my slab of pork, I remove the skin if it has any. I want my pork rub to make contact directly with the meat, so I always remove the tough skin. No skin? No problem.

Now I need to season it. I’ve found that a simple rub is the best way to go for the sauce I’m going to use later.

After 8 hours in the smoker, the rub makes a crust on the meat that is just fantastic!

BASIC DRY RUB

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder

Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake it up to blend.

Once I’ve made the rub, I generously sprinkle it all over the pork, and rub it in really well. I have a digital smoker at home, which allows me to set the temperature to cook and smoke my pork butt. I place the pork butt on a rack, put a drip pan with water underneath it to catch the grease, and set the smoker for 250 degrees. I cook the pork at 250 for 8 tp 10 hours, depending on the size of the meat, adding hickory chips to the smoker every few hours. The marbled fat in the pork butt slowly melts over time and the pork becomes incredibly tender and flavorful.

I remove the pork butt from the smoker and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 20 minutes before pulling it apart with a couple of forks, or chopping it up with a cleaver.

While the pork is cooking and smoking, there’s plenty of time to make two other very important parts of this recipe: a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, and the cole slaw.

Slaw on the side or on the sandwich…up to you!

BARBECUE SAUCE

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool it to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for several weeks.

COLE SLAW

My unusual cole slaw recipe uses an interesting ingredient: pickle juice! Just a splash of juice from your favorite jar of pickles is all you need.

1 package of cole slaw veggies
splash of pickle juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more to taste)
teaspoon celery seed (not salt)
salt and pepper

There are no real specific measurements for cole slaw, because I’ve found that some people like it dry, others wet…some peppery, some not. Play around with it and make it your own. I prefer a more mayonnaise-y cole slaw, and usually err on the wet side.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover it with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, re-mix it, and taste for seasoning before using.

OK…time to make that sandwich!

You can either go Carolina style and place the cole slaw right on top of the pulled pork in the bun, or simply serve the slaw on the side. No rules!

Whether you go through all these steps yourself or not, it’s nice to appreciate a labor of love that is worth every bit of time and trouble invested in it.

I love pastrami. I love ribs. So why can’t the two get along? (Using my best announcer voice): Well now they can!!

I’ve seen a few recipes that use pastrami ingredients on foods other than pastrami and I thought it could work with pork ribs as well. I was right. And for these ribs, you don’t need a smoker. They bake in the oven, then get finished under a broiler for that tasty char that you always look for in a grilled rib.

There’s a 2-step process to making these ribs. First, you combine the rub ingredients and let the ribs hang out in the fridge overnight. Then you bake them and broil them the next day, brushing a special sauce on them.

I prefer St. Louis-style ribs because they cook more evenly and have lots of meat. I prefer a heritage breed like Berkshire pork (also known as kurobuta) because of it has fantastic flavor, “good” fat, and is humanely raised.

Time to get ribbin’…

 

1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
2 racks St. Louis-style pork spare ribs (about 5 lbs.), preferably Berkshire pork

To make the rub, combine the black pepper, coriander, brown sugar, mustard powder, paprika and cayenne in a bowl. Mix well. To grind larger amounts of pepper and other spices, I use a small coffee grinder that I keep just for spices. It does the job quickly and easily.

My spice grinder.

 

Cut the racks of ribs into halves, removing the skin on the back of the ribs that can make it tough. Brush both sides of the ribs with the white vinegar, and then season with the salt. Pat the ribs with the spice rub, and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for at least an hour. Overnight is better.

Vinegar, salt and then the spice rub.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 325. Transfer the ribs to a large roasting pan, or you can use the rimmed baking sheet. Place the ribs fatty side up, and add 1/2 cup of water to the pan. Cover the ribs with aluminum foil and bake them for about 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the ribs from the oven and let them sit at room temperature, still covered by the foil, for about 30 minutes.

Out of the oven and ready to be brushed with sauce.

 

1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoon soy sauce

In a small bowl, combine the Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, honey and soy sauce. If the honey’s very thick, I place the glass jar (no lid) in the microwave for a few seconds to make it flow better. (Don’t do this if it’s in a plastic container, and don’t microwave for too long–honey will foam up and make a big mess!)

Pre-heat a broiler.

 

Brushing the ribs with the sauce.

 

Take the foil off the ribs and brush them with the sauce. Then place the ribs under the broiler until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Slice into individual ribs or devour a slab at a time!

Charred and delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

Sausage is something most home cooks don’t even try because of the amount of work it needs: grinding the meat with that perfect fat-to-lean ratio…keeping everything on ice…buying a sausage stuffing machine and the casings to go with it.

It’s a big hassle, requiring some special equipment and a lot of time. And the clean-up is a pain.

Here’s a ridiculously easy method I discovered that allows me to slap together some very tasty sausage in just minutes. I prefer to use ground pastured Berkshire pork for this, because it’s humanely raised and absolutely full of flavor. But any good quality ground pork will do. I’ve found that most ground pork is already pretty fatty: usually a 70/30 ratio…and that’s perfect for this recipe. (By the way, if you don’t eat pork, I would venture a guess and say that 70/30 beef would work just as well with this recipe.)

If you’re watching calories, like I am, you know that fat is the biggest killer. But you’ll find that a well-cooked sausage patty renders out a lot of fat, and if you go one step further and really give it a squeeze between paper towels after cooking, you’ll find that 1 gram of cooked ground pork = about 2 calories. Compare that to bacon, where the fat doesn’t render out as quickly: 1 gram of bacon = 5 calories. All that porky sausage goodness for fewer calories! It’s not diet food, but hey…

 

Delicious homemade sausage.

 

 

1 lb. ground pork (the best quality you can get)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 egg

 

I like to combine the salt, pepper, sage, rosemary and thyme in a bowl first, mixing them together well. That way, when I’m seasoning the pork, it’s all evenly distributed.

 

All the seasonings mixed together.

 

Combine the pork, the seasonings and the egg in a bowl and mix well. Place the bowl in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to let the meat rest. Overnight is even better. (Do it the night before, and you’ve got it all ready to cook the next morning with your eggs!)

 

The sausage mix has rested overnight. Time to cook!

 

In the morning, if you’re not sure if you’re going to like the pork the way you’ve seasoned it, simply grab a pinch of the  meat off and fry it in a pan to taste it. If you like what you have, fry away. If not, season the meat a little more before making the patties. These are your sausages, after all!

 

A 1/4 cup measure makes it easy to make equally-sized sausage patties.

 

I like to use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop out sausage patties. Once I’ve got them all made, I heat a pan over medium-high heat. No oil is necessary, because the pork has plenty of fat!

 

Once the patties are in the hot pan, I squish them down flat.

 

Once I’ve placed the patties in the hot pan, I squish them down with a spatula, and cook them on one side until it’s nice and crusty. Then I flip them, squish them down again, and continue cooking all until they’re golden brown on both sides. Remember: you’re starting with raw pork, so make sure it’s cooked all the way through.

 

They look like they’re done!

 

Delicious, and no casings to worry about. The patties freeze well, whether you freeze them raw or cook them a bit first. If you’re going to freeze them, place them on a sheet pan and pop that in the fridge for about an hour, until the patties are frozen solid. Then place them in a freezer bag or container. That way, the patties won’t stick to each other.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

When cooking them straight out of the freezer, I like to drop the frozen patties into a non-stick pan and I add just a touch of water. I put a lid over the pan and let it cook for just a minute, flipping the patties and cooking for a minute more, to thaw them out. Then I remove the lid off the pan, and let the patties cook all the way through. The water will evaporate, and the patties will have enough fat in them to cook without adding any more.

THREE-HOUR RIBS

Posted: June 9, 2020 in Food, pork
Tags: , , , , ,

Yes, this is a pork blog…but first, an introduction…

My diet continues, and one of the foods that I absolutely love and can eat quite often because of its low calorie/high protein combination is poke: basically a Hawaiian version of unconstructed sushi. I’ve developed a combination of flavors that I simply call my “Asian Mix,” and I’ve found that it not only works well in dishes with seafood like tuna and salmon, but also with meat. I recently marinated beef flap in my Asian Mix, then grilled it over hardwood…delicious!

 

One of many versions of poke I made with my Asian Mix: wild-caught Alaskan salmon with cucumber, avocado, onion, and sesame seeds.

 

So I said to myself: “Self! Why not pork?”

It just so happened that I had a rack of St Louis-cut Berkshire pork in my freezer, so I took it out to thaw. I peeled the skin that’s on the back of the ribs and tossed it out. I cut the rack in half, and then sprinkled the ribs ever-so-lightly with a little Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, a classic in barbecuing. I placed the ribs in a plastic container, and moved them to the fridge to rest overnight.

 

Berkshire (also known as kurobuta) pork ribs, lightly seasoned with Lawry’s.

 

The next day, I removed the ribs from the fridge, placed them on a sheet pan lined with non-stick foil, and placed the pan in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Once the sheet pan was in and the oven door was closed, I immediately lowered the temperature of the oven to 325. I let it cook for an hour.

After one hour, I poured off any fat that rendered from the pork, and flipped the ribs over. I put the sheet pan back in the oven, still at 325, for a second hour.

After hour two, I once again poured off any fat, and set the sheet pan down. I tore off a new piece of aluminum foil, placing it flat on the counter, and I placed one half-rack, bone-side up, on the foil. I brushed it with the Asian Mix. I flipped the half-rack over, and brushed the top side. Then I folded the foil tightly around the half-rack to create a packet as tightly sealed as I could get it.

 

Brushing the ribs with the asian Mix before wrapping it in foil and returning it to the oven for one more hour. Looks good already!

 

I did the same with the second half-rack.

I placed the two foil-wrapped half-racks back on the sheet pan and back in the 325-degree oven for one more hour.

After the third hour was up, I removed the sheet pan from the oven and let the ribs rest for 15 minutes before unwrapping the foil.

 

Beauty, eh?

 

Asian Mix (for 1 rack of ribs)

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

 

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

 

Just the right amount of heat from the chili garlic sauce. But feel free to add or reduce to your personal taste.

 

When my daughter hangs out with me, I always ask her what she wants me to cook for her, and there are a few “Dad” recipes that are her favorites. This is one of them, especially when we’ve got fresh asparagus growing like crazy in the garden right now. And as any parent will tell you, if your kid is craving a dish that has vegetables in it, count yourself lucky–and make it!!
If you don’t have fresh asparagus growing in the garden, not a problem. It works well with store-bought asparagus, too. Just make sure the stalks aren’t old looking and woody. That means they’ve been traveling a long distance from the field to your store…and that’s not good.
Prepping asparagus is easy, and you don’t need a knife to cut off the woody bottoms of the stalks. Simply bend the stalks at the bottom and they will naturally snap off at the right point.
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water salted and boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Sauté the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, sauté the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

Thinking a lot about my Mom these past few days…and, of course, I thought about the family favorites she would cook. If there’s one dish that my Mom made all the time but I didn’t appreciate until I got older, this is it. Stuffed cabbage, cabbage rolls, or balandėliai, as we say in Lithuanian, was a staple in our home and one of my Dad’s favorites. 

I had seen my Mom make these beauties so often in my childhood, I didn’t even need to check online recipes out for guidance. That doesn’t mean I make them exactly like Mom, but my version came out pretty good. I think she would’ve been proud.

 

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4 strips of bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. ground pastured pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large head cabbage
1 pint homemade chicken, beef or veal stock
750 g diced tomatoes (1 Pomi container)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion

Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry them until crisp. Finely chop the onion, and add it to the bacon and rendered fat in the pan, cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well, and remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and cooled bacon and onion mixture. Place it in the fridge to firm up.

Let a large pot of salted water come to a boil. Core the cabbage, leaving the leaves whole, and carefully immerse the head of cabbage into the hot water. Little by little, the outermost leaves of the cabbage will come off the head, and you can remove them with tongs, so you don’t burn yourself with the hot water. Set the leaves aside to cool, and continue doing this until you can no longer remove leaves from the remaining head of cabbage.

Remove the remaining head of cabbage from the hot water, and using your hands or a knife, break it into flat pieces. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the pieces. These will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning and sticking to the bottom.

Time to roll the stuffed cabbage. Take the meat out of the fridge. Lay a cabbage leaf flat on the counter, and add some of the meat mixture inside. Roll the cabbage around the meat, folding the sides in as you go, much like a burrito. You might need to slice away the thickest part of the leaf stem to make rolling easier. Lay the stuffed cabbage in the roasting pan on top of the leftover cabbage pieces. (Unlike Mom, I don’t use toothpicks to hold the stuffed cabbage rolls together.)

Continue stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves until you’ve got a pan full of them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

In a blender, food processor, or whisked in a bowl, combine the stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Pour this mixture over the top of the cabbage rolls in the roasting pan, covering them.

 

 

If you have leftover cabbage, you can place another layer of them on top. Otherwise, cover the roasting pan with foil and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook for an hour.

 

 

After an hour, remove the foil and cook further for another 45–60 minutes.

 

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Really delicious and an instant flashback to great memories of dinner at home….thanks to Mom.

 

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my daughter’s two favorite pasta dishes. When she couldn’t decide which one she wanted for dinner one night, I decided that she’d get both! (Yes, I spoil her rotten!)

 

 

The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This is now one of my go-to dishes when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time.

 

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken is bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. I get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought breadcrumbs from a can. I add flour to it to lighten it up.

If you’re on a gluten-free diet, simply use GF breadcrumbs and GF all-purpose flour in the same proportions.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set it aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

 

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, wrapping them individually and freezing until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

 

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. My Alfredo sauce is based on a recipe from the legendary Italian cookbook author, Marcella Hazan.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. (Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer.) Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

 

 

Turn the heat under the saucepan with the pasta on low, and add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, and a bit of pepper (no salt because there’s plenty in the guanciale and cheese.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

 

With or without chicken, it’s delicious!

 

 

Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.