chaotic cooking, good times, mystery ingredients, the whole grocer

Marginal Way Memories

Driving towards Elm Street, down Marginal Way, the gaping hole in the former Whole Grocer building caught my eye and, slightly my breath. To the left of the front of the building, where the shadow of it’s old sign seems burned into the paint, sat a small sign reading “Future New Site of WalGreens,” or something like that, that made me sink a bit further. A back hoe stood just feet from where I believe I truly became some semblance of a cook.

“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right…”– ‘Scarlet Begonias’–Grateful Dead.

I was interviewed and hired there on 4/20/0something. It had to be a good sign, right? I had spent the past few months working under the table for a friend as they gave into alcohol and a bit of insanity and ran their restaurant into the ground. I left being owed a bunch of money and feeling the burn that inevitably comes when you work for a friend. The only reason I subjected myself to their insanity was because I had royally screwed up at my first cooking job, something I still beat myself up over, and had no income. Then I found myself on Marginal, which was not where I thought I should be going with my career, but I was in the midst of a lot of life reevaluating and a paycheck was needed to hold off moving back to NY.

It turned out to be pretty fucking awesome. It was basically rule free. There were needs: vegan muffins, vegan cookies, two soups, two hot dishes, sandwiches and deli items. Mostly all vegan. Every day was playing a bit of (the original) Iron Chef, the mystery ingredients you’d have to create with wouldn’t be revealed until a box of produce or grocery items were culled and left. Dandelion Greens? Quinoa? Seitan? Huh? So, long before I was roasting pork bellies and failing miserably at pickling a cow’s tongue, I was a vegan and, sometimes, raw cook. And, honestly, it made me the cook I am now.

Being able to cook and, more importantly, adapt to completely unknown ingredients forced my hand to learn more about the food I ate and had to handle. Most days were filled with 1/2 portabella mushrooms, various chards, root veg and some type of soy fermented products. The muffins were filled with Safflower oil and Strawberry Hill maple syrup. Sometimes you would be able to transfer items from the grocery shelves for your recipes and other times you were forced to simply use their extras: like 20 containers of coconut oil. But, as time changed and we were allowed to cook exactly what and how we wanted, vegan found itself balanced out with dishes filled with Caldwell Farms meat and cookies began to be made with butter and eggs.

And before the last of the shelving was sold off, I had cooked around 300 different recipes in my time there. It’s easy to remember this because before I left I took every recipe/ingredient card I had written and put out with the dishes I had cooked. Someday I’ll have the Mrs. do something artsy with them but, for now, they sit as sentimental tokens of a tour spent in a kitchen that I got to have fun and be creative in everyday. It is time that I would be hard pressed to forget.

So, here’s to what was–my horribly inartistic handwriting and all:

Vegan and Veg… I think the NYC style came from a recipe I found searching around for a cheese-less pesto. After so many years, I forget where the names came from.

Rasta Fries were completely ripped off from Bomber’s Burrito’s in Albany, NY. I don’t think more than half of the amount I made ever made it to the shelves.

My favorite cookie and my favorite hot dish to make when the ingredients were available.

blueberries, Local foods, mmmm..pie

Blueberry Cream Pie

For about the past five years, when the first of the seasons blueberries hit the market, I’ve made a blueberry cream pie. And, as it happened to be this year, the Mrs.’s family was up from Florida and her seven year old nephew loves dessert.
It’s a fairly simple recipe and the only little adjustments I made were to use mascarpone for half of the sour cream and add a bit of oats to the crumb topping.

Blueberry Cream Pie

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1 unbaked pastry shell 9″

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons chopped pecan or walnuts

Combine sour cream, flour, sugar, vanilla, salt and egg; beat 5 minutes at medium speed of mixer or till smooth. Fold in blueberries.

Pour filling into pastry shell;

bake at 400ºF for 25 minutes.

Remove from oven. Combine the flour, butter and chopped nuts, stirring well.

Bake 10 more minutes.

Chill before serving.

Serves 8.

Blueberry on Foodista

cheese plate, jasper hill farms, moses sleeper, vermont shepard, winnemere

What To Eat When It’s 99 Degrees Outside..

Bread and Cheese…

From the bloomy rind down:

Moses Sleeper: New pasteurized cow’s milk from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont. So the story goes: Moses Sleeper was the companion of Constant Bliss (another gorgeous bloomy rind from JHF) and both were killed together on Bayley Hazen Road (3 for 3 on JHF cheeses). It’s a great story for a cheese and, until now, Constant had definitely received more attention but my choice between the two is Moses. It’s runny beyond belief and that’s my preferred texture in triple cremes–so much so that we splayed it open and scooped out the gooey insides. The firmer Constant Bliss just doesn’t have that and loses by default. And while Moses has the slightest bit of a white mushroom flavor to it, it’s the slight salt and full fat that reel me in.

Queso del Ivernia: For 17 years Major Farm, located in Vermont, has been winning awards for their cheeses. Wait, correct that: They’ve been winning awards for one cheese, the gold standard of sheep’s milk cheeses in the US, Vermont Shepherd. This year, they’ve released this blend of cow and sheep’s milk, getting the cow’s milk from a local farmer. The name means “winter cheese,” and it lives up to that in it’s heartiness. Slightly creamier than the Shepherd, it shares the same nutty, grassy paste and slightly chalky texture(it’s a good thing). There’s a saltiness to it found in cheeses associated with winter like Gruyere, Comte and, my favorite: Rolf Beeler Appenzeller. Perhaps this is what the love child of those two cheeses would taste like?

Winnemere: It’s actually kind of sad to write about Winne as it’s season just came to an end–though I’m sure you can find some around at the Cheese Iron and/or Whole Foods. I’ve been enamoured with this cheese since the moment I tried it at Evangeline a couple of years ago. It was paired with Buckwheat honey and marcona almonds (I believe) and when I took my first bite, so began a love affair with washed rind cheeses.

The nose it gives off is yeasty and prominent and, honestly, can get down right overpowering if ripened long enough. But, the paste that’s waiting inside is unmatched in my opinion. There’s a smokiness, like molasses, to this cheese that defies everything my taste buds have known outside of Vacheron. Yet, it’s not overwhelming or smothers the true flavor in the cheese. It finds it’s place on your taste buds and settles down nicely.

It also pairs nicely with some local Wild Blueberry Jam.

Cheese Tray on Foodista

fun with avocados, lots of pork, pickling, pork belly dreams, pork belly tacos

Pork Belly Tacos with Guacamole and Pickled Red Onion

After spending the past month moving, unpacking and settling in, spending forever cleaning our old shit hole (if we have to go to court with our landlord over the security deposit I’m going to completely tell the story of that place here)…what better way to spend my first real day off than cooking for 7 hours straight?
I think, by the end of this post, you’ll understand why it was all worth it.

Onions completed.

Chile, garlic, citrus spice rub for pork with a bit of cinnamon.

Grilled pineapple ready to be minced for the Guac.

Inner workings of the guac: tomato, jicama, toasted cumin, mint, cilantro, lemon and lime juice.

Roasted Pork Belly

1 Pork Belly – 2-2.5lbs
Salt – Kosher
Black Pepper – Fresh ground

Prepare the pork belly: Preheat your oven to 425°. Dry the belly throughly with paper towel, this will help crisp the skin. Score the belly with a sharp knife in a diagonal pattern about 1/2″ apart. Scoring the belly allows seasoning to penetrate the meat and helps to keep the skin flat when roasting. Season the bellies aggressively, to taste, with salt and pepper. Rub the salt and pepper into the scores, making sure no areas are missed.

Roasting: Roast the belly on a wire rack over a sheet tray, so it doesn’t sit in it’s own fat when roasting. Make sure to place the belly fat side up, so its fully exposed to the heat of the oven. You can also place the belly on a bed of cut vegetables, like onions, celery and carrots when roasting to keep the pork off the bottom of the pan. Start the pork at 425° for 45 minutes uncovered, then reduce the oven to 350° and roast for 2 hours. Starting at a high temperature will give a jump start to the crisping process, lowering the oven assures the pork won’t over brown.

Note: Some bellies are fattier than others. To keep a smoke free kitchen, check the belly after 30-40 minutes and pour off the excess fat from the pan. Feel free to do this as many times as needed.

Out of the oven: Remove the pork from the oven once crispy and tender. Most importantly, let the beautifully golden brown pork belly rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing. Once rested slice thickly and enjoy!

Chili Garlic Rub
Here’s a quick and easy rub to put on the pork belly before roasting to add even more flavor.

5-6 Dried Cascabel Chiles – A mild, slightly sweet dried chile
5-6 Fresh Garlic Cloves – Peeled
1tsb Black Pepper – Fresh ground
2tsp Salt – Kosher
Zest of 1 Lemon

Make the Rub: Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Pulse the ingredients until a thick paste is formed. Rub the paste on the raw pork belly before roasting.

Roasting: Follow instructions as posted above.

Zuni Cafe Pickled Red Onions

4 cups distilled white vinegar
Scant 2 cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces
4 whole cloves
2 pinches ground allspice
1 small dried chile, broken in half if you prefer a spicier pickle
2 bay leaves
About 20 black peppercorns
1 ½ lb. red onions

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, chile, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat.

While the brine is heating, peel and trim the onions. Slice them into rings about 3/8 inch thick. Separate each slice into its individual rings, discarding any thin, leathery outer rings.

When the brine mixture boils, add about 1/3 of the onion rings and stir them under. They will turn hot pink almost immediately. As soon as the brine begins to simmer around the edges, about 20 seconds, stir them under again, and then remove the pot from the heat. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon, tongs, or a spider, and spread them on a platter or rimmed baking sheet to cool. They should still be firm. Repeat with the remaining onions, in two batches.

Once the onions have cooled—you can slip them into the fridge to speed them along—repeat the entire process, again in three batches, two more times, always adding the onions to boiling brine, retrieving them promptly when the brine begins to simmer again, and cooling them completely. [If you are cooling your onions in the fridge, this will not take as long as you think. It’s not so bad.] After the third round of blanching, thoroughly chill the brine. Transfer the onions and brine into jars: we used two quart-size Mason jars, which were each about two-thirds full. The most important thing is that the onions be in a container that allows them to remain submerged in the brine. Store in the refrigerator.

Age the pickles for at least a day before serving. They’re very good after 24 hours, but the flavors will have melded more harmoniously after 48. From there out, it’s delicious all the way.

The Guac was inspired by a brief happening upon the Drive-ins, Diners and Dives–or whatever it’s called on FoodTv–and his visit to Momocho in Cleveland. While I’m not a fan of the host of the show, I was drawn in by the chef’s combinations in his guacs(like smoked trout, goat cheese and crab meat). I however, went a simpler route and chose his combo of pineapple, jicama, chile and mint. I also added toasted cumin seed and, because my plants are no where near ready, I had to buy a few tomatoes. It was a small setback in my goal to NOT buy any this summer, but I just can’t have guacamole without them.

Overall, they were simply the best tacos I have made to date–even better than these— and it was definitely the BEST pork belly I’ve made as I didn’t manage to f up in one way or another. The skin had great cracklin to it and the citrus and chile in the rub really came through. The belly was perfectly drippy with fat and juices and wasn’t too bad a few hours later when I cut off a few more strips and enjoyed them straight up.

Pork Belly Tacos with Guacamole and Pickled Red Onion on Foodista