Saturday, October 2, 2010

El Puerco de Oro: Jamon Iberico de Bellota - Pastoral review

For all of my supposed food-lovingness, this place had the ability to sticker shock me - and I am a serious Whole Foods apologist, so impressing me with scary gourmand prices takes some doing. Here's how it went down....

So, I was at home, watching No Reservations in Spain - not that one one, but the other one. I know this is surprising. Anyways...

So Anthony Bourdain and this Spanish dude were sitting in some chiaroscuroly lit scene, grubbing and singing the praises of this ham that still had a fucking hoof attached to it! I mean, damn! Just a big ass hoof just ON there and they were slicing off pieces, cramming it in their mouths and rolling their eyes back in swine-induced ecstasy.
And I was like:
If I'm ever in Spain, Ima gonna get me some of that.

Then, the next day, after roaming the loop hungry for a while, I ended up smack in front of this place.

Beautiful little shop with a great collection of cheeses and meats and wines. The sandwich menu sound goods and has the potential to be super duper incredibly awesome, but are kind of inconsistent in the end product - heavy on the bread, light on the meat and cheese, a little dry. But they're pretty good and I ate mine all gone.

After my sandwiches, I perused their cases, as I am likely to do in such situations and then...

Then - I see this ham - no hoofs or anything, but it still drew me to it. It was just a really pretty piece of meat, dark and purpleyish and just...same Bourdain-looking ham.
And I was all:
Ima gonna get me some of that.

So I asked for a few slices, just like three or four since I'd just eaten and just wanted a taste. And the chick was like - You want like three or four slices of this one?, kind of worried sounding and odd and I was like yes, is that okay, and she was like yeah, that's okay, with a funny look and I was like, to myself, maybe I should get more? Like am I wasting her time with my bullshit baby sized order or something? And so then I also got a couple of slices of some duck salami, because that sounded like some impressive foodie bullshit that I could cop to having experienced and shit, if ever I'm at such a dinner party or what have you where such foodie testifying may be required.

So then she rings up my four thin slices of ham and three circles of duck salami and it comes to almost $20. Four pieces of ham, mind you, almost paper thin, and three pieces of salami, about the size of a quarter each. And then she was like - oh, wait, that's not the right price, and I was like - pssht, girl, obviously! And then she was like, that will be more like $18 and the soundtrack that follows me around in life was like Everybody Ha-yates Tina...waaaaaamp waaaaaamp.... (Tragic! TRAGIC!!)

It was $119 a pound. Turned out it was jamon iberico de bellota - free range spanish pigs that spend their whole lives grazing only on acorns.

It was musty, nutty, earthy, almost cheesy with a complexity I was almost baffled by. And it melted in my mouth. I mean, I know that people say that things melted in their mouths all the time, but I've never really had that happen, except with like meringues and Pop Rocks. It felt like it almost dissolved. If that is ham, what in the fuck have I been "experiencing" my whole life?

Was it worth it? Yes, and probably even more so than my kind of just-okay sandwich. I loved being surprised, both by something I can't buy many places in this country.

I will have to restrain myself, pretty much forever, from coming to Pastoral with cracky urges and buying the fixins for a $100 sandwich - hell, we haven't even gotten to cheeses.

But I think it still would have been better with the hoof.

Pastoral 53 E Lake StChicago, IL 60601(312) 658-1250

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pork Pork Chile Chili: I won $100 bucks with this baby!

Yay! My first food contest winner. Maybe I need to get a truck and take this show on the road...

I've had to rework this recipe so that you can make one normal sized "big" pot (like a 6-quarter) - I made mine in a gigantic (like 5 gallon) pot that is about the size of 3 or 4 regular pots, so my exact exact recipe wouldn't work for most people, but this should be very very close - I'm a firm believer in inexact recipes and making cooking your own anyway, so feel free to experiment. Also it's very easy to make as a very low fat vegan recipe by just leaving out the meat. My inspiration was to do something in between a pozole and a Southwestern styled green chile stew - Enjoy!

PORK PORK CHILE CHILI with bacon and avocado cream topping

1 can garbanzo beans
1 can cannellini beans
1 can great northern beans (feel free to use dry beans instead of canned - just use 1 lb total and just use a mixture of several different types of white beans and cook before using them for the chili)
1 1/2 lbs ground pork
1 pack bacon
1 large can (probably 28oz or something) hominy
1 bulb garlic
1 bottle light colored Mexican beer (I used Corona)
1 small can green enchilada sauce
1 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
4 4oz cans Hatch fire roasted green chiles, chopped
2 pounds fresh tomatillos
1 small jalapeno pepper
3 green tomatoes
1 large white onion
2 yellow onions
some fresh chives (I don't know...some...)
some Italian parsley (yeah, some...not like a lot, you know...)
4 shallots
1 bunch green onions
1 heaping tbsp chili powder
1 bay leaf
olive oil
black pepper
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
1 large avocado

Chop all of the onions, about 2/3 of the garlic, shallots and chives and cook with about 2 tbsps of olive oil over medium high heat in what will be the main chili pot.

Preheat oven to 375.

Essentially the base of the sauce begins with caramelized onions, so while you make and prepare all of the other ingredients, you will be constantly stirring the onions and then adding each new vegetable to this mixture and continuing to stir it over medium heat. Whenever it seems to not stir easily or not have enough moisture, hit it with a shot or so of beer, being sure to also stir up any browned bits in the pot with the beer.

Lay your bacon and the jalapeno pepper out on a cookie sheet and cook til crisp, about 10-20 minutes - keep an eye on it. Pour all bacon grease from the pan into a separate skillet. Reserve bacon. Chop and de-seed pepper and add to onion mixture.

Add ground pork and the rest of the garlic to skillet and cook in the bacon grease until cooked through. Add one can of the green chiles, a shot or so of the beer and a cup of water to the skillet and let the meat braise over medium heat.

Chop the green tomatoes and the tomatillos and add them to the onion mixture. Add green chiles to the onion mixture. Add hominy, spices and enchilada sauce to the onion mixture.Add all of the pork mixture to the onion mixture.

Use remaining beer to deglaze the pork pan - over medium heat just pour the beer in there (add a little water to the beer bottle if you need a little more) and then basically stir and scoop up all of the little porky bits left in there.

Add all of that liquid to the chili pot. Continue to stir and cook as the chili thickens as desired.

Chop up/crumble all of the bacon.

For the avocado cream mixture - mash avocado and mix into the yogurt. Whip until fluffy.

Top chili with the bacon and avocado cream.

Enjoy! You the comfort of your own home...don't even think of trying to come at me at some random chili cookoff all Bobby Flay Throwdown style...seriously....

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Maybe my best creation EVA: Mojito Carrots

Okay - listen - this stuff is good. Seriously, seriously good. It's at least the best carrot recipe you ever had and at most: The Best Thing You Have Ever Put Into Your Mouth. Or, you know, something in between...

Here was my thinking:

I want to make some carrots...some glazed carrots....I need to use up that butter rum glazed carrots....I should make mojitos....mmmm...mojitos....oooh, I have mint, too!....OMG! I should make mojito carrots!! Done. And done gloriously - seriously - MAKE THIS!! (unfortunately my drasted camera is still on the fritz, hence the crappy photo - don't let this stop you!!)


4 pounds raw carrots

about three or four mint branches (stalks? thingies?)

1 stick of unsalted butter

about 4 shots of dark rum

about a cup of brown sugar

Kosher salt to finish

Slice the carrots diagonally and boil in salted water for about 45 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Turn on medium heat. Chop the mint leaves and throw those in there. Throw the whole stick of butter in there. Add the sugar and the rum. Stir and toss to coat as the butter melts - about 10 or 15 minutes. Turn the heat up a little until the mixture bubbles and looks caramely.

Pour into serving bowl and sprinkle with salt. Serve hot.

Enjoy it and be happy to be alive, baby!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Vinegary Stove-top Pot Roast

Because pot roast is super fatty and needs some acid to balance it out, but also because I didn't have any beer or wine on hand and had to improvise...

The result was a very Italian-like taste. I'd already made mashed potatoes to go with it, but I think it would be outstanding with a creamy parmesan polenta (I might even make some to go with the leftovers now...).

1 3-4 pound cross rib roast or other pot roasty type roast
1 white onion
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
a bunch of fresh chives
3 stalks celery
2 orange bell peppers
2 cans of diced fire roasted tomatoes
4 carrots
about a pound of crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste (the kind that comes in a tube)
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp coriander
2 bay leaves
about 2 cups or so of water or broth
oil or fat for browning (I used bacon grease)
salt and black pepper

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown all sides of the meat in oil or grease. Take meat out of the pot and set aside on a large plate.

Add all vegetables except for the cans of tomatoes to the now meaty oil and saute until soft. Add all other ingredients except for the water.

Add the roast back into the pot. Add enough water or broth to make sure the meat is submerged in liquid. Bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Cook that way for at least 4 hours, or until the meat easily falls apart with a fork and the house smells really good. For about the last hour or so, turn the heat up to medium high and cook uncovered to ensure all excess liquid cooks off.

You can then either tear all of the meat apart with a fork or serve as a whole roast.

Serve over something hot and starchy and creamy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bacon Tostadas. Yep, that's what she said.

So, yeah...I made some bacon tostadas.

This was a very good idea, you know, if I do say so myself.

A real mix of high end and low end and leftover stuff, all fabulously mixed up together:

I used some lovely super thick bulk bacon and made itin the oven, in what I have found to really be the simplest way ever to make bacon - 375 degrees with the strips laid out on a cookie sheet for about 15-25 minutes or so.

Drain the bacon grease into a skillet with some canola oil for the tostadas.
I used blue corn organic tortillas from Whole Foods - fry on both sides until crisp, but try to leave that glorious soft spot in the center where it stays chewy (I fricking love that).

I microwaved a cheap can of refried beans (vegetarian, of course - maybe I should have called this the hypocrite tostada....)

And then put it all together - I just broke the bacon strips kind of in half and chunked them on there. And I used this as an opportunity to use up my bounty of takeout taco leftover condiment stuff (because a lot of that usually ends up in our trash and I HATE throwing stuff, especially GOOD stuff, away)- some luscious whole grilled spring onions from Los Comales in Pilsen, shredded lettuce, tomato, green salsas, sour cream and a mild cheddar cheese.

Oh my. Just perfect. The bacon was think and really meaty, the grease in the frying oil gave the tortilla a great smokiness and the coolness of everything else...mmmm...awesome....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Warm & Orange: Beta Sweet Potato Hash's cold as...December... outside and I can't afford one of those fancified sun lamps to ward off my near certainly coming seasonal affective disorder....

Solution: Something warm and buttery tasting with lots of colorful veggies co-mingling with breakfast sausages and maple syrup. Breakfast at night, baby!


1 big ol giant sweet potato or two or three little one
I bosc pear (I saved it from going bad! Another victory against trash!
3 carrots
3 garlic cloves
1 yellow onion
1 lb crimini mushrooms
2 yellow bell peppers
2 orange bell peppers
1 package breakfast sausage (I used Applegate Farms Chicken & Sage Breakfast links)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
like a jigger or two of beer

Now, pretty much any way you combine all of these items together, it's probably going to taste good, but here's how I did it:

Boil the whole, unpeeled sweet potato and the whole unpeeled carrots in a large pot of salted water for about 30 minutes or so, or until you're done chopping up all of the other stuff.
Chop up everything else into good sized chunks. Throw the sausages in there whole and smash em around with the spatula a bit. Dump spices on top, pour olive oil on it all, cover with a lid and let cook for about 20 or 30 minutes or so, or until everything cooks down and gets kind of mushy. When it starts to stick to the bottom a bit or gets super hot/not enough moisture/etc, throw in a couple shakes of beer and let cook on medium covered for a little bit more.

Take the sweet potato and carrots out of the boiling water and peel the peel off of the potato. Chop into chunks. Slice carrots and add both to the other pot. Stir it all up and let cook cover for a little while longer, or until it looks hashy.

I served it with buttery scrambled eggs with chives and cream cheese. This was a great idea. I am awesome! I feel warm and alive for at least a moment! Yay! The end.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rethinking Trash: Greens stems in bacon grease

A friend and I were having a conversation the other day, the gist of which was this:
If our collective grandmas and great-grandmas could look into our kitchens and see the stuff we throw away and the stuff we buy, they would roll around in their graves, or at the very least be really, really confused.

We (you know it's not just me) throw away meat bones and vegetable tops and then turn around and buy stock and broth from a box? Toss bacon grease in the trash and then buy some kind of aerosol grease in a spray can to grease a pan? And then what - buy an anti-pollution t-shirt? Yeah, we deserve to be mocked...

So, "Liberated from the Trash" experiment number 1 - the stems left over after cooking mustard, collard and turnip greens plus bacon grease...

I had already used the leaves and some of the stems for my greens (which turned out horribly, by the way - somehow dirty and gritty - eeewww...the whole thing had to sadly be tossed - obviously something I hate, as I am currently telling you, in this post, right this moment, to eat your trash - I digress...), but I usually don't like to use the stems too much, because I find them too...stemmy.

I kept them long and sauteed them with a minced garlic clove in some leftover bacon grease. They smelled fragrant and rich, like a sum of all of the pieces. They looked kind of like asparagus.

I tried to eat them first after only a very light saute - fail. Way too fibrous to actually chew and eat. So, basically, you have to cook the hell out of them. Really fry them until they wither and shrivel and kind of end up looking like crispy sauteed scallions - for like an hour or so over medium high heat. And then they taste tasty. But they were way too greasy and after a while, a bunch of them still ended up in the trash....

But the idea still lives on! Vive la trash!