Monday, November 12, 2012

Roasted Pig's Head Tacos

'Pig's head' isn't a euphemism for anything, folks, so if you're squeamish - look away, close the browser, etc. etc.
But first, here's a shot of the tasty result.  Yummy, moist pork tacos made with homemade corn tortillas and topped with some homemade tomatillo salsa and curtido.  Actually, just the one on the right is pork - the one on the left was some chicken tossed with a homemade chipotle salsa.  (But the porky pork pork was the highlight, believe you me.)

I've worked with pig's head before, and it was a slightly traumatic experience.  That time it had come skinned, and the big old eyeballs staring at me as I tried to work with it were almost more than I could handle.  That was a very strange year....  nothing came to me like I ordered and all the cuts of meat were skinned, which is pretty useless if you want to cure hams.  Anyway, I doublechecked all this stuff with my farmer this year (Cochrane Family Farms in Upper Stewiacke) and he assured me that all meat would come skin-on.  Because... skinning pigs is dumb.

I should perhaps pause to explain just why I ask for the head when I get a side of pork from my farmer, lest I give the impression of being some kind of extreme meat aficionado.  See, most folks don't want these 'gross bits' like the head and the offal with the rest of their meat and so they generally get thrown out.  A head does take up a lot of space - ours was around 16 pounds - so it's pretty understandable that they can't all be stored, and small producers have a hard time selling these to anybody.  So they're discarded.  But in the past decade or so that I've been more involved with my food and where it comes from, it's become important to me to recognize that animals I eat were once living, breathing animals - and nothing does this quite like a head.  To throw this last reminder away seems like a physical and moral waste. 

Anyway - this was the first summer where I actually got my pork cut exactly the way I had requested. (Thanks, Frank!)  I had also wanted all the meat unfrozen so I could deal with it immediately, and it was - aside from the head.  At the time I had been planning to make guanciale from the jowls, but was actually quite glad that I couldn't really deal with it since I had enough work to do, and I focused on making bacon, ham, paté, and cutting the the rest of the pig up into manageable cuts.

So into the freezer went the head, and there it stayed until last week.  I ordered 50 lbs of grassfed beef from Ironwood Farm, (the same place we've bought our CSA share for the past two years) and we had to pick it up this weekend.  The pig head taking up valuable space at the bottom of the freezer had to get dealt with in order to make room for all the beef.

Look at that rakish grin!

I'm still in school these days, and November isn't a great time to start time-intensive food projects, so fancy pants jowl-curing or making head cheese was not going to happen.  I decided to just roast up the damn thing and see what happened.  Once it was thawed out, I took a good look at it for the first time.

First things first.  Pig needed a shave.

No more goatee!

It looked like he'd (she?) been scalded to remove most of the hair,  but his little goatee was missed.  I read on the interwebs that you could also use a blow torch for this part, and had actually arranged to borrow one from a friend, but I forgot to pick it up.  I first tried shaving him with a crappy disposable razor, but it wasn't up to the job, and I ended up doing most of it with a sharp boning knife.  

When he was all shaved up, I stuck him in the roaster, covered his nose and ears, and roasted him at around 290 degrees for the next 7 or 8 hours.  When it finally came out of the oven, the internal temp was around 190 - so I knew it would be coming out pretty much like pulled pork.  But.... how was I going to get through that impenetrable hide to get to the meat?

Um, this is how.  After letting it rest for 20 minutes or so, I cracked open its mouth to get at the meat at the back of the jaw.  Kind of gross, but quite effective.  There really is not very much meat on a head - most of it is jaw muscles or tongue, and this allowed us to get at it without wading through all the fat. 

We were pretty thorough with the picking out all the good chunks of meat off the bones, and this plate was all there was - probably 2 pounds of cooked meat from a 16 pound head.  We also peeled the tongue and  cut it up as well.  I'm not the hugest tongue fan, but this was actually pretty nice.

The meat was RICH but with a nice clean, pork roast flavour - my super-tart lime tomatillo salsa was a perfect balance for the rich meat, and the heavy corn tortillas provided a good, solid base to the whole production.  I'd definitely do this again.
(Oh - and the leathery ears and the rest of the skin went to a friend's dog where he'll be happily chewing for the next year!)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Hasenpfeffer Anyone?

Please enjoy a guest post, provided for your reading pleasure by Jenny Harms. 

Rabbit stewed in Hard Cider
At the request of Ms Planet Borscht, I intended to share my first experience in cooking rabbit six months ago. But to be honest, the resulting bland chicken soup-esque stew à la Mother England left everything to be desired. I will admit, I am not the best at recipe selection. Somehow, I thought a nice traditional English Hare Stew would be spicy and bright. That was so not the result.  Notice the over-boiled celery and carrots, swimming in a greasy broth seething with onions, and anemic, somewhat over-cooked legs of rabbit. Pan frying the left-overs in chilis was the only way to save it. Even though jointing the rabbit was a thrilling squeamish adventure, I had no urge to commit the tale to the interweb. The up side: I am now an ardent fan of Magners Irish Cider.

  But, time has passed, the memories have faded, and I am expecting an alarming amount of pork to fill my freezer in the next couple of weeks. The second rabbit's time had come. I assembled my tools, reviewed Jamie Oliver's excellent how-to on jointing a rabbit, and queued up some à propos butchering music.

 I was not feeling as squeamish with the jointing this time, and in the end I think it went rather well. I even found the tiny hip joints and separated them neatly.

And then my favourite part - chopping the saddle into neat sections with my handy specialized banging stick.

Jointing my varmint only took half the time as the first one - likely because the carcass was completely thawed. These are my tidy cuts back to front: two belly flaps, saddle chopped in four, two haunches and two shoulders.

 After rubbing the pieces with cognac-infused dijon mustard, it was time to take advantage of the sunny, 8 degree day. I went for a brisk, snowy and sunny bike ride at Bird's Hill. Hard to believe this time last week it was 24 degrees, and I was getting a sunburn on the river in my kayak.

Right, back to business.  Cooking the rabbit. After a momentary panic trying to locate the corkscrew for the deglazing wine, I had the butter melted, and tossed the parts in the pot.

Wine used: Château des Charmes - an unoaked chardonnay. I think I understand now why they are usually oaked.

rabbit browning in butter

My bouquet garni - French tarragon and thyme fresh from my yard despite the recent snowstorm

This recipe - Lapin à la moutard - plays to my strengths with directions like ''sear until very crispy''. Check out the bunny bacon front and centre. 

The result - juicy, flavourful rabbit with a robust colour. The tureen of  sauce is the odd part for me. I stirred in crème fraiche as directed, but I may have had too much liquid left in the pot because there was all this extra sauce I wasn't sure about. The recipe ends with a mysterious ''stir in crème fraiche and parsley''. Full stop. No ''pour reserved sauce over rabbit and serve''. I sort of got the impression that  it would coat the fabulous rabbit with none to spare. It doesn't really matter though, because I am a convert!  Rabbit is a new favourite. Maybe I should learn how to make it confit!


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Look, I don't eat meat ALL the time....

So, I'm a student now. And I still don't like spending money on crappy restaurant food (good restaurant food is another thing completely, although it is non-existent on campus).

My week-day schedule has been pretty crazy this term and it's taken a lot of planning to make sure I pack meals to eat between classes at school. I've scoped out all the public microwaves on campus, but sometimes it's nice to be able to nibble on your lunch while doing your studying in the library, (in one of the food approved areas, of course!)
I've been making this whole grain salad a lot this winter - it's yummy, it's filling, and I don't have to worry about keeping it refrigerated.

Plus - with this lunch, the campus vegans don't give me the stink-eye.

This is one of those salads where you don't really need a recipe, and I make it a little differently each time. Here's the basic idea, though:

1/2 cup wheat berries
1/2 cup of barley
1/2 cup of quinoa
1/2 cup of bulgar wheat
...or whatever grains, legumes or beans you have on hand.
I like wheat berries because they have a great chewy texture, but you need to soak them overnight before you cook them, and the cook time can be a good 40 minutes or so. Quinoa, barley and bulgar wheat take the same time to cook, so I mix them together in a pot with 3 cups of water, and cook for about 20 minutes.
Once your cooked grains have cooled, add some shredded carrots, minced onion, finely chopped kale or brussels sprouts. When I have some pickled peppers or capers, they taste pretty good in here too. I like my salad pretty heavy on the grains, so I usually use 1/2 a red onion, one carrot, and a few big leaves of kale.
I make a really strongly flavoured vinaigrette for this salad, and let the salad kind of marinate in it for a day or two. The salad keeps tasting better every day!

Mustardy Vinaigrette
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste.

This is a general idea only - like I said, it's more of a basic idea than a recipe.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Reason #387: Why preserving food is so awesome…

Reason #387: …Because you will fall down on your knees, weeping with pleasure, from the taste of last season’s tomatoes when early spring finally arrives. Your canned salsa will give you hope that summer will appear once again.

Ok, this is a little melodramatic… but homemade salsa does help when it comes time to eating leftovers. This afternoon I was looking at a pretty empty fridge – some leftover baked beans, eggs, sprouts, and the usual condiments – and inspiration hit!

I took the leftover beans and added some garlic-chili paste, and mashed them up a bit. I spread this on some warm corn tortilla, and topped it with some scrambled eggs, salsa, and sprouts.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Planet Haddock? Planet Lobster? Planet Fiddlehead?

The planet borscht took a bit of a slowdown and has found itself in a new setting. It's time for the planet to start turning again...

This time, there's some scallops next to the farmer sausage. Double the goodness.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Andalucian Eats

Spain has been a foodie destination for years. Some of the most exciting chefs in the world have been coming out of Madrid and Barcelona, exploring the outer reaches of molecular gastronomy with flavour infused foams and gases on their ironic food. Here's a quote by Ferran Adria about his food from his iconic restaurant, El Bulli just outside Barcelona:
"Decontextualisation, irony, spectacle and performance are completely legitimate, as long as they are not superficial but respond to, or are closely bound up with, a process of gastronomic reflection."
This concept, while interesting, has nothing to do with the food from Southern Spain, which is where we spent a week last spring. Food in Andalucia is very simple, very straightforward ,very traditional. And very lovely.

Our first meal in Spain was at a cafe across from the bus station in Alicante.

We had just arrived on a cheap flight from Germany (about 75 Euros for the two of us!) and had about two and a half hours to get from the airport located outside the city to the bus station downtown, where we would then hopefully be able to buy tickets to go to Granada, a four hour drive away. We took a transit bus from the airport which dropped us in downtown Alicante where we had a stressful time with our luggage on the steep cobblestone streets. We finally found the station, bought our tickets and still had an hour or so to find lunch.

This plate of tiny little fried sardines made everything better. We were now definitely back on holiday. I'm still a little unclear as to whether or not the heads were supposed to be eaten - Jeff ate his, but I left mine on my plate. The guys at the restaurant found us entertaining and gave us some complimentary cafe con leche at the end of the meal. All the stress melted away and everything seemed fun again. We caught our bus, had a lovely drive through the Sierra Mountains, and arrived in Granada without a hitch.

In Granada, we ate some more fried fish, or Pesca Frita, although we decided not to eat the head of this particular fishy monster.

A comment about eating in Spain - the food rhythm is very different from North America. They tend to have small breakfasts, huge lunches, and then EVERYTHING closes between 3:30 and 7:30. The streets are deserted, the windows of the restaurants are usually shuttered and there are few signs of life on the streets, apart from the other confused tourists. This particular meal was consumed in a completely empty restaurant - one of the few that we found open at 6:00. After we ordered our food our waiter went to the kitchen and soon we heard a woman yelling at him in an exasperated manner - I have a feeling she thought it would be another hour or two before she'd have to go back to work. Oops! I promise that the next time we'll train our stomachs to eat when the rest of the country eats.

Our favourite pesca frita experience was served in Tarifa a few days later. There were so many things on this plate - clams, shrimp, sardines, squid, chunks of cod and a few things we couldn't quite identify which were extremely tasty nonetheless. There were some roundish things (in the middle of the photo underneath the calimari) that were particularly tasty and particularly bewildering - they tasted like some kind of crab, or seafood pate of some kind in some kind of casing, mild and lemony. Underneath the breading there were tiny little veins running over the surface which made them look kind of like kidneys. We asked the waitress what they were in our broken Spanglish and she said something that sounded like huevos, which means eggs.

I thought I had misheard her but later we saw the same things in a tapas bar (pictured on the left) and confirmed that they were, in fact, marinated fish egg sacs. Cooked caviar! We also ate a lot of boquerones, tiny little anchovy fillets marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil served with bread, (pictured on the right).

When we weren't in the mood for fish, jamon was definitely the way to go. These giant legs of air-cured, pressed ham were hanging in almost every bar we entered. In the picture above, we were in a bar in Granada where tapas are complimentary with a drink, and we got a few thick slices with some almonds and olives. One thing about this salty food - it gets you to drink more!

At breakfast, we'd try to find a churro stand where we got these amazing hot, unglazed spiral doughnuts that you'd dip in thick hot chocolate.

Piping hot!

Our best and worst meals in Spain were in the same city, about 8 hours apart on the second last day of our trip. We arrived in Cadiz quite hungry, and found a nearby restaurant in the square near our pension. The 'menu del dia' which included an appetizer, main, and dessert was really cheap, so we went for it. This soup pictured above was supposed to be chickpea stew. Sure, there were chickpeas, but there was a lot of gelatinous tripe and thick rinds of fat as well in a bland, greasy broth. Gross. I couldn't finish it. Jeff had a seafood soup that was just as bland and had almost no fish in it at all. How disappointing. Our second last day, and the food was awful!

We made up for it the same evening. Cadiz was kind of creepy during the dead hours of the afternoon, but everything came alive at night and was so beautiful. We found this little cafe down a little alley and shared this plate of pulpo. Lying on a bed of thinly sliced boiled potatoes, the octopus was tenderly cooked and topped with grainy mustard and olive oil. It was the most unexpected, rustic treatment of seafood I think I've ever had, and definitely was one of the best due to the freshness of the octopus.

After thinking about our culinary experiences in Southern Spain it's even more interesting that Spanish chefs are at the vanguard of the cutting-edge food world. The molecular gastronomists treat food as performance art and their four hour long tasting menus of 25 mouthful-size courses are meant to meant to confuse and inspire. This is so different than the food we experienced - everything was so connected to place, so connected to simple flavours rooted in the food's texture. Perhaps this simple food was the inspiration to explore the essence of pure flavour on a higher level. Whatever the connection, I dearly hope I'll get to experience it again.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Victuals of the Lowlands

I'm a lazy blogger. I have a full year's worth of food stories and photos that I just haven't gotten the kick in the pants to get them posted.

Ach, du lieber.

Without further ado, here are my tales of ...
Food of the Netherlands!

Last spring we went to Europe to celebrate Jeff's graduation and to visit some relatives. We landed in Amsterdam where we spent a week with my cousin Freek and the rest of the family acting as hosts and tour guides.

The most typically Dutch food I can think of has got to be fresh herring. When I was a teenager my uncle Peter tried to get me to eat herring and I absolutely refused since I was a pathetic wuss with a fearful palate.
This trip - I couldn't get enough of this stuff. So lovely. For a euro or two you could get a few chunks of raw herring covered in raw onions at little vendors on the street. Tasty, even though it did leave you with pretty skanky breath.

FYI, Eating it on the street with a toothpick is a good idea. Taking it on the train and eating it in a closed compartment is a BAD idea. Live and learn, people.

Another typical Dutch eating experience - Indonesian Rijstaffel.
Dutch food is very simple, but they've held on to yummy things from their colonial history like the Rijstaffel, which is a huge selection of little dishes of curries and stirfies and crazy spiced hard boiled eggs and other delicious things.
This is celebration food - the occasion here was my cousin Christa's 30th birthday. It was so great to get to share this day with the family!

One of the funnest discoveries was on a chilly day in Rotterdam. We were walking down the street and saw a guy outside a little restaurant with this giant cast-iron grill with little indentations. About 40 seconds after pouring the batter, he flipped them over with a fork to cook the other side. Another 40 seconds, and he would whip them out of the grill onto a waiting plate which would then be covered in slices of butter and mounds of icing sugar. They were like hot little puffy, eggy pancakes. Poffertjes! So good!

Not too much explanation required here - this is a piece of bread covered in butter and chocolate sprinkles. For some reason, chocolate sprinkles or hagelslag is a standard bread topping often eaten at breakfast. I remember being VERY impressed with this as a 10 year old visiting the Netherlands for the first time... It was like having Easter paska every day. Jeff liked it too.

And the best is saved for last....


Pudding in a carton. Lots of flavours. Good for breakfast, good for dessert. Enough said.

Treats from the Teutons

... Otherwise known as food from Germany.

After leaving the Netherlands, we headed over to my lovely cousin Lina's place near Stuttgart in Germany where we spent a few days visiting her family and exploring the old Schwabische towns and castles. Lina fed us incredibly well at her place, but apparently I actually showed some restraint in keeping my camera in its bag instead of introducing it to her family's dinner table.

This post reflects our eating on one particular day visiting the town of Bietigheim-Bissingen close to Lina's place.

Breakfasts were amazing in Germany. There were always mounds of meats, cured sausage, cheese, breads... I would normally consider these dinner food but they were a yummy way to start the day.
The top photo was Jeff's brekky - four different cheeses and four different meats. I think he also got some eggs - hardboiled, maybe. My breakfast consisted of mounds of prosciutto with sliced tomatoes smothered in pesto topped off with mini bocconcini balls. There was also a basket of assorted breads on the table with a half dozen different types of breads. This was also the kind of thing that Lina served us at home -this wasn't just a restaurant experience.

After several hours of walking around and exploring the town on very full stomachs, it started pouring rain. Although we still weren't too hungry after the enormous breakfast, we popped into this place called Brauerei zum Rossknecht.
(wanna see the menu?

Jeff had schnitzel, I had the kasespaetzel and the micro-bier. We shared the salad.

This kasespaetzel was basically a high-end version of mac and cheese - lots of green onions and ham, topped with loads of carmelized onions and sooooo cheesy. Just thinking about it is making me drool. Even though I wasn't too hungry after the breakfast we had eaten, I still ate every single bite of this stuff.
This food is RICH food. I think I may have felt like dying later in the evening... a glutton's life is not always a comfortable one.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Manitoba Quinoa

As I was perusing the offerings of my favourite plant and seed store last spring, I discovered some seed packages for Cherry Vanilla Quinoa.

Quinoa seeds! How preposterous! I want some!

Somehow I assumed that quinoa would be an exotic warm weather plant like everything else that's tasty in the world, but it was first domesticated up in the alpine plains of the Andes. It doesn't like weather much above 30 degrees and it prefers cooler nights. It's actually currently being grown commercially in Saskatchewan, so I figured it should do just fine in downtown Winnipeg.

I had planted a bunch of new things in this part of the garden so I wasn't sure which plants were weeds and which were my seedlings. The arugula was spindly, the frisee was non-existent for the first week or so and all I could see where I planted my quinoa was pigweed. On the other hand the spinach was gorgeous due to the colder weather.

After a little investigation online I found out that quinoa does, in fact, look exactly like pigweed which made it a little difficult to separate the good stuff from the bad stuff at first - but it kept getting taller and taller and taller...

This clump of greenness shows the garden at the end of August. At this point the tallest quinoa plant was about 5 foot 7 or so - definitely taller than me. Officially this stuff isn't supposed to grow this tall, but it seemed as though our weird weather last summer made it shoot straight up instead of staying shorter and producing big seed heads.

The plants started drying up mid-September, so I cut off the seed heads and left them to dry in a big vase on my kitchen table for the next few weeks.

Once they were dry, I had to figure out some way of removing the seeds from the chaff.

I thought of using screens, or of using a fan to blow away the undesirable stuff, but the seeds are just so small that I had to think of something else to try.

I started out by rubbing the seed clusters into a big bowl, and then painstakingly hand-picked all the green stuff out of the bowl. Because the flowers hadn't developed that well, there was a lot of fluffy stuff that kind of looked like it should have contained a seed but hadn't matured properly. After a bit of experimenting I found out that this fluffy stuff FLOATED.

So a routine developed... Add water to bowl, swish around vigourously, whisk away the stuff that floats to the top. Inspect the removed portion for errant seeds. Repeat.
I must have rinsed out that damn blue bowl a dozen times....
The good thing about this technique was that home-grown quinoa requires vigourous rinsing since it grows with a bitter coating which is usually already removed in commercially available stuff.

After all the rinsing, the quinoa was left to dry on a cookie sheet in my dining room. After about a week it was totally dry and it went into the jar pictured at the top of this post.
All this work created one cup of quinoa. ONE CUP!
How do you honour ONE MEASLY CUP of home-grown quinoa?

By making quinoa salad with oranges, mint and sun-dried black olives for all your friends at a potluck, that's how. I hope they enjoyed it.

More on growing quinoa in Canada:

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy New Year!

It's not really New Year's without portzelky.

After getting burnt out by a very Christmas season this year, I knew I had to take it easy on New Year's Eve. No parties, no fireworks, just staying at home and watching DVDs. (Run, Lola, Run and SCTV Christmas specials, for those who are interested) My plan was to do a lot of NOTHING.
However, my plans of decadent laziness were thwarted when a friend mentioned on Facebook that very afternoon that her mom had just brought her some Portzelky. I was immediately motivated to get going on a nice big batch, since MY mother was recovering in bed from back surgery and needed ME to bring HER some portzelky! Or perhaps I just wanted to eat some yummy dough deep fried in lard and then covered in sugar. (...And then could gather brownie points by bringing the leftovers to mom's the next morning!)

Portzelky are basically raisin fritters that are topped with copious amounts of icing sugar. The Dutch call them Oliebollen, my sister-in-law from Montreal said they were like tiny little Dutchies. Whatever you want to call them, they're YUMMY, and the Mennonites of Manitoba like to eat them on New Year's Day.

I used a yeast dough that was very hard to scoop up and even harder to place in the hot fat without splattering. I used lard for frying, which I don't think I've used before for these, but I think it worked out really well. I've never had such an easy time maintaining temperature on my crappy stove. These things can be a little tricky because if you have it too hot, the outside will get burnt while the inside will still be gooey. This time, all was golden.

I think the sticky dough is part of the magic of the misshapen ball - I think if these looked pretty, they'd somehow lose most of their charm. They're SUPPOSED to look irregular and misshapen.

Top warm portzelky with icing sugar with more on the side for dipping, and you've got yourself a fine way to start the new year.