tamarind pork

threading the skewers 

Despite what the weather keeps telling us, it really is summer now, and therefore grilling season. Even if it’s raining, darn it. At least the sun came out for a few minutes while Jon was grilling these Vietnamese tamarind pork skewers – just long enough for us to eat our dinner outside, before getting cold and going back in. Yay, June.

pickled zucchini

pickled vegetables

We had gotten a pork roast out the freezer a few days ahead, but hadn’t quite decided what direction to go with it. Jon pulled out all of our meat cookbooks and finally settled on a Bruce Aidells marinade with tamarind, fish sauce and shallot. He also made the included recipe for pickled shredded zucchini, and since we had a bag of radishes and some carrots on hand, he pickled those as well. All I had to do when I got home from work was cook up some rice noodles.

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last week's grilling

building the fire

Before our current spate of wet, blustery weather descended upon us, we had some really nice days. We made the most of them by grilling.

shrimp skewers

mint julep


One day we did shrimp. Jon did them his favorite way, grilled with a bit of sugar and tossed with warm lemon-garlic butter over the coals. We had some leftover asparagus from the previous day’s cooking class, so I warmed it up and stirred it into instant couscous, which made a perfect bed for the shrimp in its buttery sauce. Mint juleps accompanied this dinner. It felt like summer.

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lima beans

Christmas limas

I’ve been eager to get to work with some of the beans I picked up at the Rancho Gordo booth in San Francisco, and I finally got my chance this week. I decided to start with the ones I was most curious about: the Christmas limas, which the packaging claims taste of chestnuts. Plus they’re all kinds of pretty.

Rancho Gordo beans

I picked a recipe out of my newly acquired copy of Heirloom Beans, for Christmas limas with cabbage and pork chops. I did my new favorite brine soak, but otherwise followed the recipe fairly closely. The beans cook in an aromatic broth of bacon, garlic, bay and ancho chile, and Savoy cabbage is wilted in with them at the last moment. The pork chops are very straightforwardly seared, then finished in the oven (we thought about hauling out the grill but ran out of time that day).

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belly of the pig

pork belly

When we ordered our first (half) pig, we debated getting some of it cured by the butcher. In the end, partly because I am cheap frugal, we decided to get it all fresh, hams and side and all. I had been thinking we would cure some ourselves, but I’m beginning to suspect we’ll have eaten it all by the time I get serious about it. Oh, well, there’s always another pig.

But in the meantime, we have these nice big roasts of side pork, otherwise known as pork belly, the cut that is usually made into bacon. We’ve eaten it in restaurants a number of times, but this would be my first time cooking it. I decided to play it safe and make red-cooked pork belly, a classic Chinese preparation.

We’ve tried to get fresh pork belly before, at a local meat shop, but to my dismay they had already sliced it like bacon, even though it wasn’t cured. This time things worked out better, as you can see in the top picture. Isn’t that a beautiful piece of meat?

braising liquid

For my braising liquid, I used a combination of Molly Stevens’ recipe and our own “glazed gingery ribs” recipe. I combined chicken stock, water, brown sugar, red chile flakes, star anise, ginger, scallions and soy sauce in a Dutch oven and brought it to a simmer.

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better as leftovers

pork sliders

We have been braising fiends this year, and we’ve begun to make inroads on some of our larger roasts, which means leftovers. Of course, the great thing about braised meat is that it’s better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to really meld and settle in. Last weekend we pulled out a pork arm roast and braised it on a bed of cabbage, onion, and sauerkraut flavored with paprika, caraway and beer. It was pleasant enough the first night, but lunch the next day was when it really shone.

I had made a batch of buttermilk-caraway dinner rolls (from our go-to baking book for such things, Mary’s Bread Basket and Soup Kettle), which were wonderful eaten hot out of the pan with butter, but were also delightful split, toasted, spread with mustard, and turned into little pork-and-cabbage sliders. A pile of cornichons and a glass of Pacific Rim Riesling completed a rather dreamy lunch.

pork and cabbage noodles

And because we made a truly enormous amount, I had those sliders again yesterday (maybe today, too). And for dinner last night, I threw together this interesting noodle dish. Some fresh shredded cabbage, sauteed in olive oil until well browned, tossed with some of the leftover braised pork, and mixed with cooked gemelli pasta and doused with Frank’s hot sauce. It came out well, with a sort of spicy Asian-fusiony sort of effect. I liked it.

spicy red sauce

tomato-pepper-chipotle sauce

Here’s a lovely sauce to make you feel like it’s summer again, even though it may be more than a little snowy outside. Oven-roasted tomatoes and peppers, pureed with chipotles and spices, then simmered with onion until thick, make for a spicy rich sauce redolent of the flavors of late summer. Using the sauce to braise country-style pork ribs makes for some fabulous winter tacos.

country style pork ribs

We’ve just started to get into the half pig we bought recently. The chops we started with were fantastic, pan-seared and coated with a cider reduction. More recently I tried braising some blade steaks in a sauce of vinegar, mustard and beer, which was eye-rollingly good but one of the ugliest plates I’ve ever produced (the braised green cabbage on the side didn’t help matters). These ribs came somewhere in between, and while I didn’t get any pictures of the shredded pork tacos, trust me that they were extremely successful as well. However, don’t feel that you need to use this sauce with pork – it would be great used for enchiladas, or on eggs, or stirred into a pot of beans, or anywhere that could use a shot of spicy tomato goodness.

roasted tomatoes and peppers

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cooking class: Chinese food

cooking classcooking class

Last week at Gretchen’s we helped out with a class on Chinese cooking. Presented by Huiming Hsiao, the daughter of Taiwanese restauranteurs, the food was heavy on the pork, light on the vegetables, and extremely yummy. I’m hardly going to complain about too much pork. Besides, there was also chicken and shrimp.

cooking class

cooking class

Most of the food was served at once, but we started the guests off with a curried chicken skewer. Huiming brought the boneless chicken thighs pre-marinated in a lively blend of star anise, Sichuan pepper and curry, and all we had to do was skewer them and stick them in the oven.

cooking class

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pork vindaloo


white lilac

It’s been a fragrant week around here.

First, I was walking home for lunch, and was waylaid by a neighbor who was engaged in cutting down several large white lilac bushes that had been attempting to take down some powerlines behind her house. The lilacs were in full bloom, and she insisted on cutting me a large bouquet to take home before they wilted on the downed shrub. I put them on the kitchen table, and every time the evening sun hits them the room fills with the scent of lilac.


Then, of course, the daphne odora is in bloom by the front porch steps. It’s old for a daphne, and beginning to list alarmingly to starboard (I may have to attempt some pruning this year), but when it blooms the smell is an astonishing sugary explosion, drowning out all other scents within a fifteen foot radius.

And finally, we made pork vindaloo. The house smelled wonderful for days.

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quick carnitas


Eating at home for the last week has been based around a really lovely pork roast. It all started Wednesday morning, when I mashed several garlic cloves in a mortar with lots of salt and pepper, then rubbed it all over a pork shoulder and let it all get friendly in the refrigerator for the rest of the day.

Jon stuck the pork in the oven before I got home, and by dinnertime it was just right: almost-pink and juicy, with the garlic just beginning to burn on the sides of the pan. We ate it in slices over some truly addictive buttermilk mashed potatoes (from Judy Rodger’s Zuni cookbook) with shredded Brussels sprouts. That was pretty good. But on Thursday, we were thinking tacos.

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You could, of course, make traditional Parsi kebabs. If you’re feeling more casual, you can simplify the technique and make Parsiburgers. More casual yet is Parsi meatloaf. I recommend it.

meatloaf ingredients

The flavors of this meatloaf are bold and sparkling: fresh ginger, green chiles (seeds and all), cilantro and mint, all jumping out of a simple meat-and-potatoes framework. It’s spicy enough to make you want some salad or a beer, and complex enough to eat without any condiments or sauce (if you want).

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