Growing Big, Fat Mung Bean Sprouts

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Mung bean sprouts ready for teaming up with Pho (head over to LovingPho.com to fuel your Pho obsession–>look at their perfect sprouts!).

I have an addiction to Pho soup. And a good stir fry. A big part of that obsession is the addition of nutty, crunchy mung bean sprouts. They add a cool crunch to Pho and texture to stir fry. Not to mention flavor to salads and sandwiches. On many, many (many!) occasions I’ve scored a few handfuls from the market only to find them slimy and wilted a day or two later. Sad face.

All sorts of sprouts are full of nutrition. Some grains, when sprouted, lose the substances that cause reactions for some people. Some may tolerate ‘bread’ made from sprouted wheat and some tolerate the sprouts of wheat, or wheat grass, but do not tolerate wheat itself. Whether for nutrition, taste, or avoiding food reactions, sprouts are worth checking out. Thankfully the are cheap and super easy to germinate with a few simple steps. With the ease of this method, you can have mung sprouts around non-stop!

Mung Bean Sprouts

  • Dried mung beans (may be found in supermarket specialty sections, Asian markets, or ordered online)
  • Colander or bamboo steamer
  • Damp paper towels

First, the volume of dried bean generally equates to (3) times the amount of beans. For example, 0.5 cup or so of beans will produce about 1.5 cups of sprouts. Once you get the hang of sprouting beans and how quickly you use them you can start a batch every couple of days to keep yourself in a good supply. Second, rinse your beans. Rinse again. Keep rinsing until the water is clear. Mung beans, like all dried beans, are subject to dust and debris. Now, down to business.

After rinsing your beans well, place them in a bowl and cover by a couple of inches with cool water. The beans will double in size, so plan your bowl size accordingly. Allow the beans to soak for 8-12 hours. After soaking, drain the beans, and rinse again with cool water.

Now, grab your colander. Take two sheets of paper towel, folded against one another, and dampen (dampening under the faucet and squeezing excess water out works well). Lay one bunch of damp towel in the bottom of the colander or steamer and smooth it out. Spread a single layer of soaked beans on top of the paper towel. Cover this with another pair of damp paper towels, smooth, and spread another single layer of beans. Repeat until you run out of beans. Place a pair of damp paper towels on top of the last layer of beans so they don’t dry out. Place a loose-fitting plate or lid over the top of the last layer to add a little weight but still allow a little airflow. I’ve found a little weight helps to grow a thicker shoot. You can leave your little bundle on the counter or place it in a cold oven to get it out of the way (just don’t forget about it!).

Aaaaaand now you wait. After about a day, you will have tiny sprouts.

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Look at those little guys! They taste good, and a little more sweet, at this stage.

After day two, when the sprouts really get going, place a heavy object on top of your bundle. I tend to use a saute pan.  Again, this encourages a thick shoot.  Continue to check daily for growth and water needs. Assure your paper towels are damp. My paper towels tend to stay damp for 4 days however, if yours should feel dry use a kitchen sink sprayer or water bottle to spray the edges of the paper towels, allowing the water to seep inward and dampen the interior. I try to avoid getting water on the top of the growing sprouts so as to avoid mold or other growth problems. After 3-4 days you’ll have 2-3 inch, thick sprouts!

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They shoots are ready! You can see the roots growing through the paper towels, almost all beans are sprouted, and the sprouts have reached a good thickness. They are less sweet at this stage and taste nutty.

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These guys are ready to go!

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Simply peep the sprouts off of the paper towels and into a bowl for removing the hulls and soaking. You can use tea towels or bar towels instead of paper towels, just know they will be discolored and you have to spend a little more time cleaning roots out of the towels prior to washing and re-using.

When your sprouts have reached your desired size, peel them away from the paper towels and place in a bowlful of cool water. Gently agitate the sprouts to remove bean hulls. Some hulls will float to the top where you may skim them off while other sink to the bottom. You can easily avoid those by taking care when removing the sprouts from the water.

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Soaking the sprouts to remove the green hulls. Some float to the top and can be skimmed off.

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After skimming off the hulls that float, you’ll find some sink to the bottom. Just use care when removing the sprouts and you can leave the hulls behind in the bowl.

Once you’ve removed the hulls, soak the sprouts once more in cool water for about five minutes to assure they are well hydrated and plump.

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Hydrated, plump, thick bean sprouts. So tasty! Be aware that you will likely not produce the gigantic sprouts your may find in markets–often those are the result of being grown with chemicals and gases. Homegrown is the way to go!

Drain your sprouts well. Spread your sprouts in a single layer on towels and allow to air dry a bit. Store in the refrigerator in a large Ziploc bag with a paper towel or two in the bottom to absorb moisture (change the towel when it becomes more than damp). They will keep for 3 to 5 days. Enjoy in soup, stir fry, on salad, or as an addition to sandwiches.

I find this method so much easier than trying to get big sprouts in a jar. It’s easy to keep a batch of some sort of sprout going. Once  you get used to containers lying about in your kitchen, you might find you even venture into growing your own microgreens , brewing kombucha, or fermenting tasty snacks!

Head straight to LovingPho.com for tips on using your bean sprouts in Pho and all you need to know about Pho!

 

Cream of Celery Soup…An Exercise in Better Uses for Celery.

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Celery…conjuring memories of low-fat diets since the 1980’s. Relegated to the crudite platter.

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Ahhh…FANCY ants on a log. You can do better celery. You can do better. (Pic snagged from Pinterest).

Such a sad existence. Now, I’m not telling you to spearhead some sort of Celery Festival equipped with it’s own Celery Queen riding astride a large green float and waving wistfully to the crowd. What I am saying is you should give celery a second try…just not in the form you’re familiar with. Paired with some really good butter and a whole lotta cream your ol’ standby celery can go from the dark, lonely corners of the vegetable bin to something pretty fabulous. I stumbled upon cream of celery soup (no, not the red-and-white canned kind) when I was trying to use up a couple of bunches of celery that were going nowhere fast. It was chilly at the time and a big ol’ bowl of soup sounded pretty delightful. Peering into my generally packed-to-the-hilt fridge, I found a motley crew of a stick of butter, a pint of cream, our sad celery, and some chicken stock.  With a serious case of the lazies, I donned my kitchen apron over my PJs and got to work.  A little saute with some bits of onion in a few tablespoons of butter, simmered in chicken stock, pureed, and topped off with cream—winner! Best news is it is packed with nutrients and no flour is required to thicken the soup (feel free to roll with a classic roux, but I really prefer it without). The good portion of fat keeps you full too (ahem–not to mention it tastes ah-mazing!). Tonight this little beauty serves as a starter to our pre-hurricaine dinner. No better time to clear out the far reaches of the fridge!

Cream of Celery Soup

  • 2 bunches of celery (about 350g)
  • 1/2 small onion (about 50g)
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 0.5 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • peppercorn melange to taste (black pepper works well too)

Roughly chop the celery and onions while melting the butter in a large saute pan. After the butter is finished foaming, place the celery and onions in and saute until beginning to soften. Add 1.5 cups of chicken stock and the bay leaf and simmer until all bits are cooked through and soft. Remove the bay leaf, remove the pan from the heat, and cool a bit. Process until smooth in a heavy duty blender (like a Vitamix!). Return the soup to your pan and slowly stir in the heavy cream. Add a small amount of water or cook off a little liquid to perfect the consistency (since we didn’t use a roux as a thickener). Adjust seasonings.

You can certainly strain the small bits of celery fiber through a fine strainer (like a bouillon strainer or fine chinois cap), but most of the time I prefer to leave them in for a little heft. A super smooth, strained soup does however, make a nice accoutrement to a fine dinner. Add a drizzle of chive or parsley oil for an added punch of flavor and a little color. And just like that, your sad and lonely celery becomes a star!

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Cauliflower Faux Fried Rice

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So. Yeah. This cauliflower craze. It’s a love and hate thing. I love that I can eat some of my favorite evil comfort foods without furthering the heart disease caused by my love-affair with The Pig. Often healthful recipes meant to mimic comfort foods are almost universally straight up disastrous.  Or maybe I’m just THAT much in love with all that is intent on shortening my life on this planet?  That means I’ve tried  a lot of utterly disappointing faux recipes involving cauliflower. Failures include recipes that still taste like cauliflower, those that are too soggy, ones that fall apart, and ones that are too dry or have no flavor,  and on and on AND ON. After a lot of trialing, I was finally able to conjure up some stir fried rice that comes really, really (I mean really!) close to the real deal. Indeed, this stuff was so good that it instantly transported me to eating fried rice as a child in the old international food court that used to sit off of N. Market Street.  When I make this, I make a vat and eat it all week. It’s seriously that addicting.

The keys to whipping up some of this delicious faux fried rice include pre-cooking the ‘rice’, squeezing the liquid out of the cauliflower rice, getting a little caramelization on the rice, and adding some flavorful ingredients. The caramelization/drying step takes a little bit of time, but no longer than cooking a pot of rice and busting out a wok. Also, feel free to get a little freaky and throw in whatever ingredients you like best–just like fried rice, this little gem is forgiving.  Be prepared to fall in love with something that is actually good for you!

Faux Fried Rice (Cauliflower Fried Rice)

  • 1 head cauliflower, riced, steamed, and squeezed free of liquid
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup of frozen green peas
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 4 ounces of ham (or pork, or chicken, or shrimp)
  • 2 tsp Sesame oil
  • 1 TBSP Ponzu sauce (in the ‘international’ section of your grocery store or make some)
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1 TBSP rice seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • scallions for garnish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Rice, steam, and squeeze the fluid out of your cauliflower like the technique used in our cauliflower crackers and cauliflower tater tots. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread your cauliflower mixture in a thin layer. Cook until lightly browned a slightly dried a bit.  This step adds flavor, decreases the familiar cauliflower flavor, and helps the ‘rice’ grains stay separated when adding the other ingredients (don’t skip it!). Cool your cauliflower rice on the pan. Break up any clumps and set aside.  Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add your carrots and saute until beginning to soften. Add your onions and saute until translucent. Add your peas and saute until just heated through. Remove all vegetables from pan. Place the ham in your pan and cook until edges are browned. Remove the ham from the pan and add to the vegetables. Assure the pan is adequately lubricated with oil. Add your whisked eggs and scramble, leaving them in bits about half the size of your pinkie finger (any smaller and you lose their texture and flavor amongst everything else). When you are done scrambling your eggs, return the ham and vegetables to the pan. Add your cauliflower ‘rice’. Add 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 TBSP ponzu sauce, 1 TBSP soy sauce or liquid aminos, 1/4 tsp white pepper, and 1 TBSP rice seasoning. Stir gently to incorporate the ingredients and heat the cauliflower rice through. Serve and enjoy tremendously! If you’re in the mood to wrestle with a little food guilt, serve your healthy fried rice with Shanghai Red Cooked Pork Belly or Chinese Red Cooked Beef. Grilled chicken or shrimp would be a great pairing too. You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

Cauliflower Tater Tots

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Everybody loves a tater tot. Eh-vreh-body.

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Tater tots and ligers. Both favorites.

A place The Hubbs and I hit up a few times a year has straight up ol’ skool tater tots and ketchup. Before going there, I had not indulged in a tater tot in about 20 years. And then, just like that, I was totally obsessed. For obvious health reasons, being obsessed with tater tots is not a good thing. So, I set out to make a healthy alternative.  A good place to start for carb-bread substitutes is cauliflower.  Man, I was pleasantly surprised! A little snappy sauce and they’re a perfect guilty pleasure packed with nutrients. AND they’re baked. You’re welcome!

Cauliflower Tater Tots

  • 1 head of Cauliflower, riced, and squeezed of it’s liquid
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup of sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 TBSP almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • salt to taste

Prepare a baking sheet with a parchment sheet that has been lightly sprayed with high-heat cooking oil or cooking spray. Rice, steam, cool, and de-juice your cauliflower like the technique used in our cauliflower crackers.

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Cut your head of cauliflower into florets

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Next up…the Cauliflower is ‘riced’ and steamed. Doing so allows us to get the most moisture out of the cauliflower when you give it the big squeeze.

Next, add the eggs, cheese, almond flour, onion powder, white pepper, and salt.

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Throw in all of the other ingredients and mix well.

Mix the ingredients well. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Using the space where your hand meets your fingers, form your cauli tots by gently squeezing and rolling a small amount of the mixture while lightly tapping down the ends to create the familiar barrel shape. Place your tots on the parchment, leaving a bit of space between each one. When all of your tots are lined up, spray the tops lightly with high-heat cooking oil or cooking spray.

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Your tots are ready to pop into the oven. Having tots without the guilt and carbs is so worth the wait!

Pop your tots in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until browned on the bottom. Roll each tot a quarter of a roll and cook 5 or so minutes until the new bottom is browned. Repeat the quarter-turn roll and cook another 5 minutes or so until the bottom is browned. Repeat the roll one last time to make sure all sides are browned and crisp.

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Ermagahhhhd. Tots! Even Napoleon Dynamite would stuff these into his pants pockets!

I’m a big fan of serving these tots with a mayo-ketchup-horseradish sauce. After all, if the tots are all full of goodness you can get a little cray cray with your condiments!

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Eat them up!

Cured Egg Yolks

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So, I’ve decided to conquer the yardbird. It seems I tend to tackle certain foods or techniques every season. Three was the season of shortribs and braising (and waist expansion). The season of learning how to master my smoker. The season of soups. The season of the barbecue. I really tend to avoid chicken. It is just so much work. And I usually love the skin or sauce more than the actual chicken. But I’ve decided I will conquer that yardbird (Yaahdburhd if you’re into the correct southern pronunciation)! To get going, but not ruin my day, I decided to start where the chicken started…the egg. Don’t worry, I’ll move on to the whole chicken later, but we’re starting with something I already love. Now that we know why we’re tackling this egg, why cure it? Salt. Fat. Umami. Fun. Need I say more? And hey, if the Zombie Apocalypse hits, you’ll still be able to eat like a king!

Don’t go thinking I’m some kind of culinary genius. Salted, cured egg yolks have existed for a long time in the form of Bottarga. Bottarga is salt cured fish roe sacs. Don’t worry a bit, with shad roe season starting here, we’ll be making some of that too! I digress. Salted hen yolks have a slightly salty, fatty, magical flavor. They’re quick and easy to make and can totally transform pasta, salads, and soup. Just use a fine grater or micro planer to give your dishes a little dusting. I’m practically drooling thinking of a yukon gratin with sage and a little dusting of cured egg yolk.

To kick off your cured egg yolk addiction:

  • 1 container, about 2 inches high, 8 inches long, and 6 inches wide
  • 2 cups of Kosher salt
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4 egg yolks (freeze the whites in ice cube trays for later use, make a little Angel food cake, or make some cloud bread)

Thoroughly mix your salt and sugar and place a decent layer in the bottom of your container. Make four little nests in your mixture with the back of a spoon. Separate the whites and yolks. Place each yolk in its nest.

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Just look at that little golden globe of goodness!

Gently cover with the rest of the salt-sugar mixture. Place your lid and tuck into your fridge. Let sit for 1 week. After the week has passed, gently remove the yolks from your mixture. They will be slightly translucent and the firmness of a dried apricot.

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You can see the difference between fresh egg yolks going down for a little salt slumber and those that I’ve just dug out of their cozy cocoon.

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These little gems are like adult salty jelly beans!

Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

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Don’t be afraid of the cold water rinse. It’ll get rid of excess salt and the yolks won’t melt.

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Good morning sunshine!

Place in a dehydrator set at 145 degrees. Dehydrate for 3 hours or until firm.The yolks will continue to firm up as they cool. Grate, grate, grate away! They’ll last a month in a sealed container in the fridge, but I guarantee they won’t stick around that long!

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Serious goodness. I prefer the uber thin tendrils produced by a micro planer, but the slightly more dense shavings produced by a grater work well too and may stand up to robust dishes a little better. Either way, just get that goodness on there!

 

15 Real World Tips for Eating Rooter to Tooter

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For most of my adulthood, I shied away from liver with the extent of my interaction  consisting of picking at a fried chicken liver or two.  Even then, the livers were smothered in a sauce.  I’d like to blame my Dad (a.k.a. The Pirate) who so aptly described butcheries and food-packing plants, WHILE I was reading Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle‘, WHILE I was eating a hotdog. I was nine years old. I haven’t eaten a hotdog since.

Then, about 10 years ago I became more concerned about the source of my food and in visiting farms where my food was grown or raised, I actually met the pigs that became the bacon. And just like that, my belief in ‘rooter-to-tooter’ eating was born.  If an animal dies to sustain my life, I should at least try to be respectful and not waste their gift.  Over the last 10 years, I’ve opened my mindset and taught myself to eat all kinds of foods I wouldn’t have considered in the past:  liver, blood pudding, sweetbreads, tripe, knuckles, heart, marrow, tongue, and so much more.  I actually found other cultures do a very good job of using all of the bits of an animal and I learned in turn to appreciate the foods and cooking techniques of other cultures in the process.

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All the glory–from rooter to tooter! (Image from Baju BBQ Porknography)

I’m telling you, embracing rooter-to-tooter eating is all win, win, win. It’s not only ethical and tasty, but until everyone else figures out the unique experience of cooking with the odd bits, it is also pretty dang cheap.  In order to help you embrace the beauty (and fun!) of whole-animal use, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. Take one or two at a time and before you know it you’ll be in full swing.

  1. Stock is the gateway food. Making really, really good stock (or consomme) is a great way to use the lesser-used bits of the animal. Collagen gives great stock or consomme that satisfying mouthfeel or body. Bones, joints, feet, and tendons release their collagen when braised. You’ll be more comfortable and confident once you get used to seeking out the weird bits, handling them, and successfully producing stock. Then it’s on to other uses! Don’t forget you can save bones from a roasted chicken, ham, or otherwise in the freezer and use them in your stocks too.
  2. Braise or stew ‘a mess’ of greens or beans. Every time I cook collards or field peas of any type, I start by braising some ‘weird bits’ meat until it is falling off of the bone and the water is transformed into a flavorful liquid. Great cuts for this are ham hocks, smoked neck bones, smoked pork cheek, or pig feet. My preference is for neck bones as they become tender quickly and impart tons of flavor. Make sure to pull the meat and throw it back in at the end.
  3. Learn how to braise.  Most of the tough, connective-tissue laden meats are turned into silky, soft meat clouds when braised low-and-slow in a slightly acidic, flavorful liquid (think tomato paste, wine, vinegar, or citrus additions). You won’t regret it.
  4. Bacon and cracklin’. Make use of the pork belly (not stomach, but belly meat) by making bacon. Bacon can, of course, be eaten straight away but it can also be made into pork candy or bacon jam. Use up pork skin by making cracklings.
  5. Learn how to make sausage. Natural sausage casings are made from thoroughly cleaned animal intestines. Varying types of sausages use different parts of the small and large intestines of different animals.  For example, cow bung is used to make bologna. Small sausages might use sheep casings which are a bit smaller than pig casings. Now you know.
  6. Eat marrow. Marrow is nutrient dense. It’s also delicious. Ask your butcher for marrow bones, soak the bones in salty water for a bit to clear out impurities and blood, rinse, and roast until the marrow is soft. Then get in touch with your inner caveman and use a butter knife to pick out the marrow. You should absolutely look like a monkey trying to get termites out of a nest with a stick. You may even growl at whoever is brave enough to be elbow deep in marrow bones you.  If you can’t plop it in your mouth, spread it on toast.  The fat that gathers in the pan during roasting can also be used in cooking (umm, hello best grilled cheese of your life! Bone Marrow Bread Pudding anyone?).
  7. Get friendly with pate or mousse. Pate and mousse mix fat in the form of eggs and cream with liver and often aromatics such as caramelized onions and cognac. If the taste of liver turns you off, know that the fat tempers the fumigating minerality of the liver. Serve with sweet and pungent items and the liver flavor will be almost completely tempered. My favorite pairing is with a tart cherry compote in a bit of a rosemary and Madeira base, quality Dijon-style or grain mustard, and buttered and toasted baguette rounds.
  8. Get a bowl of Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup. Not only is it delicious, but it can be ordered with tripe (stomach). The tripe is generally cut into very thin strips that are cooked until tender and practically disappear among the noodles. I’d bet if you didn’t know they were there, you wouldn’t notice them!
  9. Learn how to make a civet. A civet is essentially stew thickened with animal blood. This technique is centuries old and is used around the world. If you don’t have access to fresh blood (i.e. you didn’t kill and dress the animal), you can use a bit of liver blended with heavy cream as your thickener. Either way, you’re making use of animal parts that would otherwise be discarded. I made Rabbit Civet with this recipe from Hunter Angler Gardner Cook as an inspiration and it was incredibly delicious.
  10. Embrace hogshead or head cheese.  This gem is actually made by braising the head of the hog in order to soften up the meat (um, pig cheeks anyone?) so it can be picked from the bone. The braising also releases collagen. The pulled meat is placed into a dish with some of the collagen-rich liquid, chilled until firm, and then sliced. Yes, it’s pretty much the meat version of tomato aspic. I make a version with aromatic vegetables, pork shoulder, pig feet, and pig knuckles since it’s almost impossible to find pig heads.
  11. Embrace blood pudding/sausage. Blood pudding is merely sausage made from fat (all sausage has fat), some blood from the same animal, and a binder such as oatmeal or rice depending on the region from which the sausage hails. Everyone has always talked so poorly about blood sausage that I never even tried it. I vehemently snubbed it actually. Then I had a couple of glasses of wine at the Glass Onion and gave it a whirl (after all, Chris Stewart seems to be seriously good at offal cooking, so I couldn’t go wrong). It tasted like an adult version of Salisbury steak. Yep, hooked.
  12. Use caul fat. Caul fat is essentially the greater omentum of certain animals. It is most often wrapped around other meats to hold them together during cooking. It can also be used to surround pate. Some sausages make use of the caul fat as a casing.
  13. Love your organs: I know, I know. Organ meat. That’s why this one is listed after you’ve tried a few of the above. Don’t knock organ meat, though. It can be incredible if prepared correctly (and disastrous if not). For example, Tacos La Lingua (beef tongue) have some of the most tender meat I’ve ever eaten. Barbecued beef heart in the yakitori style is divine (go try some at Myles and Jun Yakitori!). I dream of sweetbreads prepared in the French manner (thymus and/or pancreas; St. Jack in Portland, OR made a delightful tarte with grilled sweetbreads, whipped butternut squash, caramelized onions, and Gruyere).
  14. Strip your pig (ears, tails, feet): Ears and tails can be fried. I’ve had thin slices of ear, fried, and served on a simple salad with buttermilk dressing (thank you again Glass Onion). Feet (and knuckles) can be braised until the tender meat falls off of the bone. Pair it up with some homemade sauerkraut for a real treat.
  15. Chitlins. I still haven’t mastered this one. I swear I’m trying. Maybe hitting up the SC Chitlin’ Strut will help?  They can be braised or fried. All recipes welcomed!

Now go forth with confidence and curiosity into the world of odd and weird bits. Do you already have a favorite rooter-to-tooter recipe?  Feel free to share in the comments.  Up next..how to track down those weird bits so you can fully experience the rooter-to-tooter lifestyle.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

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What comes to mind when you think of a work-related celebration? Yep. Veggie trays. BBQ Meatballs. Ranch dip. Before you start getting angry, I love those things too and they all have their appropriate day in the sun. However, I had something else in mind entirely to mark my transition from the chaotic environs of healthcare management to full-time academia. Flaky buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy. It’s not something I eat all of the time (once or twice a year?), so it would be a real treat to make some French press coffee, pop open a buttery biscuit, ladle on some down home goodness, and saddle up next to my buddies to enjoy the deliciousness in full-mouthed silence.

Now. Some biscuits and gravy are terrible. Dense, dry biscuits paired with pasty, bland gravy makes no man happy. Others are just “meh”, tasting more of pepper than anything else. This joyous duo of recipes for laminated biscuits (what I like to term “The Criscuit”) and flavorful sausage gravy is the bees knees. Seriously, if you need a celebratory meal, really screwed up with the ol’ significant other, or are trying to impress your new beau, make.this.now.  Otherwise, use these laminated biscuits and sausage gravy to induce serious dead-as-a-doornail nappage in others when you need a little peace and quiet ’round the homestead. The resultant food coma makes for a lovely Sunday.

The ingredient list is small, so use quality ingredients. Also, a combination of whole milk and evaporated milk makes for a gravy that in no way resembles Elmer’s glue. No paste allowed! A browned roux and few spices kick up the flavor as well. Pair up a flaky, buttery biscuit with the gravy and you’ll take home the blue ribbon. I won’t bother with nutritional information. I mean, would you look at the nutritional information on cake? Now, go forth in celebration and joy with your biscuits and gravy!

 

For the Biscuits:

 

For the Gravy:

  • 2 pounds of high-quality breakfast sausage. I don’t use hot or sage, just normal sausage.
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 12 ounces of evaporated milk
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1/2 tsp dehydrated onion
  • 1/4 tsp cracked pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • pinch cracked peppercorn melange
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 shots (? 1/4 tsp) of Cholula hot sauce

Prepare biscuits up to a day ahead of time. If made ahead, they are better stored in a ziploc bag on the counter after completely cooled. Doing so keeps you from overheating refrigerated biscuits.

Brown the sausage over medium heat, breaking it into fairly large chunks.

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Here we go. It’s like those moments when you’re climbing the big hill on a monster roller coaster…anticipation!

Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a plate. Add the 2 TBSP of flour to the pan and cook until slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.

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Cook up the roux. You can use anywhere from blonde to chestnut.

Lower the pan temperature to medium-low and slowly whisk in the whole milk and evaporated milk. Whisk the mixture until smooth. Bring the gravy to a low simmer and cook until thickened and the gravy coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved sausage to the gravy and stir to combine.

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A match made in heaven.

Add the dehydrated onion, cracked pepper, white pepper, peppercorn melange, bay leaf, and Cholula. Continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes to meld the flavors.

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Man, that’s looking goooood.

If the gravy thickens too much (remember, no paste!), add water as needed. Prior to serving, salt to taste. Serve with Criscuits. Bask in the goodness.

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So good. The perfect little meal with good buddies!

 

White Onion Soup

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Search ‘onion soup recipes’ and you’ll find almost 6 million results…nearly all of them concerned with the French onion soup we’ve all grown to love. If the beefy, buttery, cheese-and-crouton soup is peasant food, then white onion soup is it’s long-lost, classy cousin. The two are in no way similar other than being soup and having a base of onions. The classic French onion soup calls for caramelized onions and beef broth while white onion soup calls for softened onions and cream. One is deep brown in color while the other is a pristine snow white palate. As far as flavor, white onion soup does taste of onions (obviously) but not overwhelmingly so while floral notes peak through a creamy, buttery base. It’s divine. And simple. Just a handful of ingredients are required to create a truly delightful bowl of soup. It’s a great meal on it’s own, paired with a salad, or as a starter for beef, lamb, and pork meals.  Along with cream of celery, it’s one of my ‘go to’ soups. Even if you’re not crazy about onions, give white onion soup a try (just get those tissues ready–it’s a pile of onion to cut!).

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I couldn’t help it!

White Onion Soup

  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 3 pounds of onions, sliced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  When the butter’s foam subsides, add the celery and cook until it begins to soften, a few minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook the onions until they are very soft, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.

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The onions need to be very soft, but don’t let them brown.

Do not let the onion brown. Add the chicken stock and process in small batches in a blender until smooth (if you are using a regular blender, this may take 2-4 minutes per batch). Return the soup to the pot and add white pepper and cream. Heat thoroughly. Add 2 TBSP of parmesean. Salt to taste.

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This soup is so good on it’s own that you don’t need many accouterments.  A little chive oil and peppercorn melange suits just fine. 

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Roasted walnut oil, roasted beets, and red onion jam fit nicely too. Golden crunchy potato strings or cheesy croutons and white truffle oil would work as well.

My favorite additions are a dotting of chive oil and a sprinkling of peppercorn melange. We’ve also tried walnut oil, roasted beets, and red onion jam.  I’m itching to try some crunchy potato strings or cheesy croutons and white truffle oil.

 

Nutrition per 8 oz. cup: Cal 212 kcal, Fat 15.1g, Sat Fat 9.7g, Chol 44.4mg, Carb 15.1g, Fiber 2.6g, Sugar 7.2g,  Protein 5.3g

Onions have higher levels of tryptophan, B vitamins and vitamins A and C, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. Onions are a prebiotic and are high in polyphenols, expecially flavanoids like quercetin.

 

Ra-Ra-Ra-Ribs!

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The weather’s starting to cool here a bit and that means it ‘s the perfect, perfect time to set up camp on the back porch and break out all of the barbecuing toys.  And barbecuing toys mean ribs, ribs, and more ribs. Some associate ribs with the sweltering, surface-of-the-sun heat of mid summer, but I much prefer them when the weather starts to turn and football is in gear.  There’s no way to cook ribs quickly, so that lends itself to a few hours of watching football, having some bevvies, and hanging out. Just when everyone’s getting tired of chips and dips and their adult beverages are getting the better of their appetite control…enter the rack o’ ribs.  Started when everyone arrives for festivities, they finish up right when everyone is ready to chow down.

If you do a quick search of The Interwebs, there are hundreds of ways people swear by to get that juicy, tender, fall off the bone rack of ribs. I listened to none of those. Nope. I went straight to the source of the best ribs I’ve ever eaten. Dad. The Hubbs, the dogs, Pam and Dad and I hung out one afternoon and I decided it was time for the Pirate Incarnate to relinquish his secrets. I was terrified I’d mess them up (since we were all there for dinner!), but with the guiding hand of The Pirate Master I learned all I needed to know–and it was surprisingly simple.

It seems there are several keys to good ribs. A good rub. A good sear. A low and slow braise (aka the ‘Texas Crutch’). Time, time, and more time. A little patience (*hums Guns and Roses*). And a good sauce to finish ’em on the grill. It’s not hard and the reward is a tasty, tasty pile o’ meat. Win, win!

Ribs

Mmmmmmm. Riiiibs.

What you’ll need for some Homer Simpson, lip-smacking, finger-licking ribs:

  • (2) racks of pork ribs
  • Gas grill

For the rub:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup salt
  • 1 TBSP paprika
  • 1 TBSP dried celery
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried mustard powder
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper

For the Eastern North Carolina sauce: (This sauce is fully adjustable and not a science; Adjust to preferences)

  • 1.5 cups apple cider vinegar ( I use Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar)
  • Tomato paste (I use about 1 TBSP–but you may like more or less; Adjust to taste)
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar (use dark if you like a bit of molasses flavor)
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • For more heat, feel free to add hot pepper sauce, like Cholula Hot Sauce)

 Also:

  • Apple juice, apple cider, beer, or stock for braising (I’ve even used water in a pinch!)

 

Blend all rub ingredients in a food processor or in batches in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Rub generously into ribs. You should have enough to cover (2) racks of ribs. Let rest at least an hour, covered, on the counter to bring the temperature of the meat up to room temperature. If you’re a good planner, you can cover your rubbed ribs and let them chill in the fridge over night. Just make sure to bring the ribs up to room temp prior to cooking.

In the meantime, mix your sauce ingredients thoroughly and heat to simmering. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat, and cool.

After your ribs come to room temp, heat your grill to Hinges-of-Hades hot. Quickly sear the ribs, about 5 minutes per side. Turn your grill off. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

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Perfectly seared ribs

After searing the ribs, wrap each rack in a double layer of aluminum foil with a quarter cup or so of liquid (apple juice, apple cider, beer, or stock work well).

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See the bit of liquid at the edge of the ribs. You just need a bit to effectively braise the ribs.

Close the packets tightly, folding the edges neatly and tightly. You don’t want the steam to escape as we are essentially braising the ribs.

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See the neat, tidy folds that close the package? No wadding up of aluminum foil allowed. You don’t want steam to escape and you want to be able to get in and out of the packets quickly to test whether the ribs are tender.

Pop the packets into a preheated 325 degree oven and cook until the meat begins to pull away from the bone a bit and the meat is fork tender but not falling apart.

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Ribs after the crutch.

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See the meat pulling away from the bone? Yeah…that means melt in your mouth goodness.

 

 

When the meat is tender, about 2 hours, remove the packets from the oven at allow to sit (still wrapped) for 10-15 minutes. Heat your grill to approximately 400-500 degrees. When you grill is at temp, unwrap your ribs, and coat with sauce. You can use the North Carolina Vinegar sauce or a sauce of your choosing (Mustard sauce is a favorite in these parts and a good, smoky tomato-based sauce works well too). Place the ribs on the grill and cook 2-3 minutes per side, working only to achieve crusty bits, color, and caramelization of sauces as the ribs are already cooked at this point.

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Finish the ribs on the grill for sticky sauce that’s finger-lickin’ good. Eastern North Carolina sauce can be placed prior to the ribs going back on the grill and/or afterward.

Remove your ribs from the grill and allow to rest, loosely covered in aluminum foil, on the counter for 10 minutes. Create some elbow space and grab your brew.  I highly recommend an American Lager with BBQ (hello Pabst Blue Ribbon!). Trust me, it’s better than it sounds!  Commence to digging in!

**Note the conspicuous lack of plated pics. Taking time for plated pics was not an option. I had to get all up in it or there would have been none left!**

Shanghai Red Cooked Pork Belly

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I first fell in love with Chinese red cooking when I adapted a red cooked beef finger recipe. It was truly addicting. So much so that I ran, nay sprinted, many blocks, in flood water rains to procure the necessary items to make steamed bao buns.  During the treacherous drive home, my mind had a stroke of genius…if red cooking made beef that tasted like a magical gift from the heavens, what would it do for  my dear and longtime friend, Mr. Pork Belly. If the fatty beef fingers were delectable in the deeply satisfying red-cooked sauce, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Pork Belly would be absolutely divine. So, I sprinted again, through monsoon rains to our local Asian market for a couple of pounds of pork belly…and a cup of hot tea, a bowl of beef Pho, and a cruise around the store to pick up $100 bucks or so of stuff I absolutely needed (quail eggs, new chopsticks, wuyi oolong tea, sake, rice seasoning, etc.).

Like the beef recipe, most pork belly recipes called for blanching the meat prior to braising. Like the recipe for Chinese Red-cooked Beef, I opted to sear the meat to add to the depth of the final dish. I also wanted a bit of the ‘bark’ or crispier edges that searing provides. Again, bao buns were on my mind. Soft pillowy clouds wrapped around crispy, sticky, sweet and salty pork nuggets, all laced with spicy Kimchi. Yes. Please.

The ingredients are identical to my Chinese Red-cooked Beef recipe, but pork belly brings a whole new level of business to the game. Add Kimchi and you are all up in it. All I can say is ‘no leftovers’. What? Yep. No leftovers. I shouldn’t admit it, but we (proudly) took down 2, count them, 2 pounds of pork belly. It took a whole day, but we indeed did it (and made sure a hefty workout was on the books for the next day!). This stuff is like meat candy. You’re gonna want to get on this. Pronto.

Shanghai Pork Belly

  • 2 pounds of pork belly, skin on, in 1.5 to 2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried orange peel (you can substitute fresh zest if necessary)
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 red chilies, diced (or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1.5 cups water or pork or vegetable broth (no or low sodium); as much as needed for appropriate liquid level

Caramelize your sugar and make the Sherry-sugar sauce just like in the Chinese Red-cooked Beef recipe.  Next, brown those little nuggets of goodness, or pork belly cubes if you prefer to call them that (*frowns*). Remember, dry your pork nuggets thoroughly, make sure your oil is well heated, allow plenty of room between the nuggets, and allow the pan to come back to temp between batches.  Remove the nuggets and set aside on a plate.

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Remember to dry the pork thoroughly, heat your oil well, and leave enough room between pieces so they don’t steam instead of sear.

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Golden pork nuggets!

Drain most of the fat from pan.  I know, I know.  I usually display exaggerated disapproving facial expressions at those committing the crime of  ‘fat draining’, but sometimes there are exceptions.  More fat will render during cooking and all will be well. Trust me.  Now, reduce your heat to medium-low, add your dry spices to the pan, and heat them for about 1 minute. This allows the oils in the warmer spices to bloom.  Add your red pepper flakes here if you’re not using fresh chilies. Next, add the soy sauce or liquid aminos. Add the ginger, garlic, and peppers. Deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom with the edge of a wooden spoon. Once all the good bits are worked free from the bottom of the pan add the sugar-sherry mixture. Return your pork nuggets to the pan, placing them in evenly in one layer.

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Check out the beautiful mahogany-colored sauce. The scent of star anise, orange, cinnamon, and ginger will fill the house. Commence drooling.

The sugar-sherry liquid level should come up to about 1/2 the level of the top of the meat (we want to braise the meat, not stew it). Add water, pork stock, or chicken stock if needed to achieve the appropriate liquid level.  If you add stock, be sure it is no- or low-sodium as there is plenty of salt to be had otherwise. Bring the pork and liquid mixture to a simmer, place the lid, and tuck it away in your preheated oven. Cook until the meat is fork tender and the fat and connective tissue is dissolved, about 2-3 hours.

Remove the pork from the pan to a plate. Try really hard not to eat it right away. You will need to exercise extreme discipline at this point or perhaps try physical restraint. I am not ashamed to admit I failed (and earned a blister on the roof of my mouth to prove it!).  Remove your star anise from the pan liquid and boil the sauce until it is glossy and reduced to about a cup.

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Look. At. That.

Serve meat, drizzled with sauce, over rice or with your favorite steamed or sauteed vegetable. My preference is sticky, salty, sweet pork nuggets tucked into airy Bao Buns, nestled alongside spicy and sour Kimchi, and paired with lightly wilted bok choy.  None better. Broccoli, broccoli rabe, bok choy, kale, or spinach pair well too. Enjoy!

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Kimchi is the perfect partner.

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Eat it up. Shanghai pork and kimchi ride along perfectly in little puffy bao buns.