Queens of the Dairy

Once upon a time, there was a cow named Greely.

She was a beautiful Jersey the color of a new teddy bear.  She had eyes the size of fresh peaches, with eyelashes as long as a bright blue crayon.

Greely lived on a small farm.  But she hadn’t always lived there.

She was born and grew up at a small dairy farmstead called the Chapel Hill Creamery.  The farm is surrounded by green pastures where the cows graze.  Greely and twenty-nine other Jerseys lived quiet lives set to the rhythm of nature; where each cow has a name and a special human friend that makes sure all their needs are met.  The milk from those cows is turned into many different kinds of delicious cheese.

For a cow, it’s a very happy world.

Greely was treated well at her new home, but sometimes she missed the other cows.

One day, a trailer arrived at the cow’s new home.  They unloaded a cow and brought her to Greely’s pasture.  The two bovines saw each other and charged over the field toward each other.

The new cow was Amy, Greely’s best friend from the dairy!  The Jersey girls nuzzled one another, ecstatic to be together again. 

 The cows lived happily ever after, and Greely was never lonely again.

(This is a true story.)

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Turnip Gratin with Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove Cheese

Recipe from Chapel Hill Creamery

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic

2.5 lbs. turnips, about 9 medium

1 tsp. dried dill

½ pound Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove cheese

1 cup cream

1 cup coarse bread crumbs

1 Tbs. melted butter

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Melt butter in a skillet and add bread crumbs, stirring to coat. Set aside.

Rub shallow 8×12 pyrex pan with cut garlic. Butter the pan.

Slice turnips as thinly as possible by hand or on a mandolin. Trim rind on the Hickory Grove and cut into thin slices.

Make three layers of turnips, adding salt, pepper, and some dill to each layer.

Cover with cheese, pour cream over and sprinkle on the bread crumbs.  Cook at 400 degrees uncovered for 40–45 minutes until turnips are cooked through.

Hickory Grove Cheese Straws

Ingredients:

1 stick plus 6 tablespoons butter (14 tablespoons), room temperature

3 cups Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove cheese, shredded

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less to taste

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Preparation:

Put butter and cheese into food processor. Add the flour, salt, cayenne, and Worcestershire. Cover and blend until dough just starts to come together in clumps. Place dough on a floured surface and knead it just until it holds together—Don’t overwork it.  It will develop the gluten and make the final product tough and rubbery.  Divide dough into four equal portions and roll into logs about 8-10 inches long.

Chill logs for at least one hour or freeze up to 2 months and then cut into bite-size slices (about ¼-inch wide). If you don’t want to make all the dough at once, it will last in the fridge for about two weeks or freezer for three months.

Sprinkle the top of each with some flaky sea salt.  For extra special treats, place a lightly toasted pecan half on each, after salting.

Bake in preheated 300° oven for 15 minutes and then spin cooking sheet 180° and bake 15 minutes more.  At this point, without opening oven, turn off heat and let cheese straws sit inside hot oven for 45 minutes.

Remove and let cool.

Makes about 6 to 8 dozen.

What’s In That Jar?

Everybody (except maybe germophobes) loves a buffet and potlucks. 

There’s nothing like lining up and filling your plate with roast beef, egg rolls, broccoli casserole, French fries & gravy, and two or three taquitos.

But it’s not a very cohesive meal.  The only thing it says it that you probably eat too many carbs, and OMG, would a green salad kill you?

It’s the culinary equivalent of pajamas and a tiara.

You could go with a little black dress in the form of a single dish meal; soup, salad or Cap’n Crunch.  But honestly, as much as I love an LBD, humans need variety.

That is why, in chef-driven restaurants, the plates are carefully curated for gestalt.  The kitchen has worked hard and experimented, and each plate is designed with an eye to cohesive, collaberative,  texture, taste, and aroma.

The dinner I made the other night was designed so the flavors repeated and echoed each other, like a well-styled outfit in lush fabrics.  Recently I was visiting Trader Joe’s and noticed in the freezer section they carry this fire-roasted corn with all the flavors of elote, the delicious Mexican street corn. 

At home I had a new bag of orzo and some pork chops.  Then I remembered I had two Joe’s jars, and decided to make some Tex/Mex, a perfectly styled designer outfit for dinner.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Elote Pasta

1 cup orzo

1 bag Trader Joe’s Mexican-Style Roasted Corn

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

¼ cup chives, green onions, or Chinese chives, sliced thinly

Make orzo according to package instructions—make sure the cooking water is very salty.  Reserve 1 cup pasta water and set aside.

Make corn according to instructions on package.  When finished, pour cooked pasta into pan with corn.  Gently stir until everything’s mixed and coated.  Pour in the pasta cooking water until the sauce is silky and not dry looking.

Serve in skillet garnished with chives and the cheese packet from the corn.  Serves 4.

Sandy Mexican Pork Chops

*I call these sandy because after baking the crumbs take on a sandy texture—not like the beach, but like a buttery, crumbly shortbread cookie.  If you like your spice with a side of heat, add some cayanne into the flour or hot sauce into the buttermilk to taste.  If you put it into the crumbs it will burn.

4 boneless pork loin chops, about ¾ inch thick

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s chile lime seasoning blend

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups fat-free buttermilk

About 60 Captain’s Wafers crackers (1 ½ sleeves), ground to fine crumbs in food processor

2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagle Sesame seasoning blend

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place crushed crackers and everything bagel seasoning in a 9X13 pan in a 350° oven.  Toast until golden—10-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour into a shallow dish.

Preheat oven to 425°.  Put 1 tablespoon oil in bottom of the same pan you used to toast the cracker crumbs.

Coat the meat with a three-part dredge:

In a large plastic bag, mix flour, chile lime, and salt.  Set aside.

Pour buttermilk in a shallow dish.

Line up bag and the pans with buttermilk and crumbs in a culinary assembly line.

One at a time, coat meat in flour, then buttermilk, then crumbs.  As you finish, set in oiled pan.  Drizzle coated chops with remaining oil.

Bake for ten minutes, spin pan 180°, and bake ten more.  When the internal temp is between 140° and 145°, remove from oven and let sit, lightly covered with foil, for five minutes.

In a Pickle

“Are you gonna eat that?”

There’s always a pickle.  For where two or three are gathered together in delis of any name, there is a pickle in the midst of them.

And for some reason, there is always a pickle lover, and a pickle disdainer.

In our family, I’m a lover.

There is a bar-restaurant in Durham called Alley 26.  One of the reasons why I love it so much is they have wonderful, interesting small plates.  They have something called Butter & Salt, which is literally salted butter, a few radish slices, and some sliced French bread.  It’s the perfect example of treating simple ingredients with respect and in doing so, elevating the dish.

One of their dishes is a pickle plate.  It’s five or six different pickled items.  They do the pickling in house, so they’re fresh, delicious, and unusual.  My two favorites are cherries and pineapple.

The pineapple is pickled with jalapeño but there’s no heat.  You just get the super fruity flavor of the chile, which is the perfect foil to the sweet acid of the pineapple.  I was drinking rum, so I forgot to ask about the recipe, so I offer you my best approximation of the dish.    

Last summer, a friend gave me some green tomatoes.  I fried them, but he kept giving them to me, so I decided to pickle some.  I’d never pickled anything before, but I thought, “What the hey!”.

They turned out bright and sour and garlicky.  And to me, the best part was how gorgeous they were in the jar.  I kept looking at them thinking, “I made that!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

These pickles come from the website Garden Betty. 

1 pound green slicing tomatoes (or 1 & 1/2 pounds green cherry tomatoes)

2 teaspoons dill seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

4 garlic cloves, peeled

Cut larger (slicing) tomatoes into 1/2-inch wedges, and cut smaller (cherry or grape) tomatoes in half.

Brine

1 cup white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt

In a small saucepan, bring all of the brine ingredients to a boil and stir until the salt is dissolved. Remove the brine from heat.

Fill a hot, clean quart jar with the pickling spice mix of your choice. Pack the jar tightly with the tomatoes.

Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes, covering them completely and leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Stick a chopstick or “bubbling” tool into the jar and move it around to release any trapped air bubbles.

Wipe the rim clean, seal with a lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Jalapeño Pickled Pineapple

1 pineapple, cut into bite-size chunks, don’t use the hard rind part

3 cups apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

½ teaspoon pink peppercorns

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 jalapeño

2 quart jars

Prepare the jalapeño

Cut the top and end off the jalapeño.  Cut it in half length-wise and cut each piece in half again, so that you have four long strips.  Discard all the seeds.  Carefully, using a paring knife, shave off all the vein, so that all you have left is bright green flesh.

Place the vinegar, sugar, lime juice, peppercorns and kosher salt into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Put half of the pineapple into each jar.  Place two strips of jalapeño in each, sliding them down along the outside of the pineapple, against the glass.

Pour the vinegar mixture over the top of each jar, allow ½ inch headspace. The vinegar should barely cover the fruit.

This’ll Put Some Starch In Your Bloomers

I’ve never been a girl for double starches.

With very few exceptions (mainly relating to those freewheeling, chaotic, tradition-dictated holiday meals),  double starch is a bad idea. 

What even is potato pizza?  It’s as ridiculous as pineapple pizza.

But really, there’s a reason why we don’t have mashed potatoes with our grits, or tater tots on our sandwiches, or noodles and rice.

Chicken and dumplings over mashed potatoes.
Completely unnecessary.

But.

Many Middle-Eastern cultures enjoy a side dish of rice with short pieces of pasta in it.  And, there’s a nifty little San Francisco treat that Petey and I and make from scratch now.

The other day I had a starchy epiphany.

I was inventorying my pasta supplies.

I discovered I had about three bags of a Mexican pasta that’s sold in all the grocery stores; La Moderna.  The bags I had were fideo, angel hair pasta about 1 ½ inches long.  It costs between thirty-three and fifty cents a bag.

So I thought the next time we needed a starch, I’d do a rice/fideo combo, like Rice-A-Roni, and the Lebanese dish.

I made it to go with a pot of field peas with snaps and chicken.  It was really good—Petey had seconds, which is the best endorsement of any experimental dish.

We had a ton left, and while I cleaned up the kitchen, I tasted the roni-rice by itself.  The toasting and butter it was cooked in gave it big flavor, even by itself. 

So here’s the thing.

It’s cheap and easy.  It’s tasty with a variety of partners.  And, it can become a new player in a very tired, overdone list of starches.

I’ve gotta say, those San Franciscans aren’t messing around when they call it a treat.

I wonder what that might be…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Roni-Rice™

1 cup long-grain, Basmati, or Jasmine rice

1 cup fideo

2 tablespoons butter, divided

4 cups water

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cracked pepper

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Heat a large skillet and add 1 tablespoon of butter.  When it has melted and gets a little foamy, add the rice, then sprinkle ½ the salt and pepper.  Add thyme.  Stir to combine.

Be very gentle with the rice, if you are too abrupt, the rice will break up and you will have a gruel-like texture which is not appealing.

Stirring occasionally (and gently), let rice toast and brown (about 8 minutes).  When lightly browned and aromatic, pour from skillet to a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven.

Repeat with the fideo, omitting thyme (5 minutes).  The fideo will burn quickly, so watch it carefully and gently toss often.

When both are toasted, add the water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Cover and turn to medium-low.  Cook for 15-17 minutes or until the water has cooked in, and the rice and noodles are completely cooked through.

Recover pot and let sit, undisturbed for 10-15 minutes.

Fluff gently with a large fork and serve.  Serves 6.  Serve it with something like,

Brown Butter Bechamel with Spinach and Shallots

After the roni-rice has finished cooking, add 1 5ounce bag of fresh baby spinach.  It will wilt and can then be mixed in before service.

Bechamel

½ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups 2% milk

½ cup skim milk

15 passes of a fresh nutmeg on a grater

Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter.  Let it cook until it turns brown and nutty (5 minutes).  Stir in flour and when it’s homogeneous, slowly pour in dairy.  Whisk continuously until it comes to a gentle boil.  Remove from heat.  Either mix in roni-rice or spoon over each serving.

Sammiches and Salad

If someone came up and tried to sell me the moon, I’d laugh in their face.

If they slapped a “Going out of business” sign on it, I’d ask him if he took American Express.

For somebody who’s normally pretty level-headed and even suspicious with their money, I just can not say no to a going out of business sale.  When my neighborhood Rite-Aid had their closing sale, I spent the GDP of Liechtenstein there. 

Why I bought an America Greatest Hits CD, I’ll never know.  And I’ll have enough sunscreen to last until the actual sun flickers out.

You may have heard that the gourmet/organic grocery store, Earth Fare will be closing at the end of the month.  And because I raised my child right, the other night, The Kid and I made a visit to the location near our house.

The grocery items, the stuff with a long shelf life, was only 10% off so far.  But the perishable meat, produce and dairy was 30%.

They had these adorable little sweet Italian sausage patties.  I bought six of them, and decided we’d have sliders.  Over in the bakery department, I found six slider-sized pretzel buns.

Then I had to decide how to dress them.  Because they’re made with pork that looks pretty fatty, I didn’t want to add to the richness with cheese or mayo. 

The Kid and I discussed it and came up with a plan.

This is my chow chow of choice. I picked up the last jar from Big Lots.

We’d toast the pretzel buns, then give them a light schmear of roasted garlic mustard.  Then, on top a small dollop of chow chow.  Chow chow is a sweet/sour relish with cabbage, green tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar.  It’s the perfect foil to the rich, fatty sausage, and robust enough to stand up to the mustard.

For a side, we decided on my mom’s pasta salad.  It’s made with old-fashioned ranch dressing and brightly colored broccoli and immensely delicious Cherub baby tomatoes (honest, really try to use these, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and BJ’s all carry them).

The grocery item prices at Earth Fare will be descending.  And, I’ll go back.  I’ve got my eye on about six different jellies, and thirty-five candy bars…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Roasted Garlic Mustard

1 cup spicy brown mustard

1 head roasted garlic (recipe below)

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon malt vinegar

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Prepare garlic-Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut a head of garlic in half horizontally.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of dry thyme.

Wrap very well with foil and bake for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Scrape or squeeze meat from the peel.

Place into a small bowl and mash into a paste.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until completely mixed through.  Cover and refrigerate for up to seven days.

Gramma’s Broccoli Pasta Salad

1 packet Original Hidden Valley Ranch (the buttermilk recipe) Dressing Mix

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup fat-free buttermilk

1 pound rotelle pasta, cooked according to directions, drained and cooled

1 head broccoli, steamed until tender-crisp and cooled

2 cups Cherub baby tomatoes, sliced in half length-wise

½ cup thinly sliced green onions or Chinese chives

Salt & pepper

Directions:

Make dressing 2-3 hours in advance and refrigerate to let flavors develop.

To prepare: put all the ingredients except dressing into large bowl and season.

Stir in dressing a little at a time until everything’s fully coated and just a little moister than you’d like the finished product (the pasta will absorb dressing, and the tomatoes will release some of their liquid).

Let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before service.

Serves 6-8.

Pizza La La

Remember when you were in school and the best two words that could be spoken or heard were, “pizza party”?

Yeah, it didn’t move me. The trouble is that red sauce. 

I was raised on it.  My mom was famous for her all-day, slow-cooked spaghettie sauce.  When my friends ate dinner with us and spaghetti was on the menu, they were lost.  They spent the rest of their lives chasing that red, garlic-scented dragon. 

For me though, after seventeen or eighteen gallons of it, the bloom was definitely off the pasta rose.  I’m just not a fan.

But, as you may know, Gentle Reader, I am first in line for bread.  And made well, pizza crust is a glorious celebration of yeast and gluten.  I make foccacia with my sourdough starter and use it as pizza crust.  My toppings of choice are marsalla onion jam, shatteringly crispy shards of bacon, and fresh mozzerella or goat cheese—no red sauce.

Nope.

Turns out my pizza dressing is a very close cousin to the French pissaladière, except I use bacon instead of anchovies (Bacon rather than little smelly fish? Duh.).

This focaccia is a yeast, rather than sourdough version that The Kid makes all the time.  It’s an adaptaion from a recipe that comes from the website, Serious Eats.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Cast Iron Pissaladière-ish

Ingredients

3 & ¼ cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ cups minus 1 tablespoon water

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

5 slices bacon, cooked crisp and broken into large shards

¼ cup deeply caramelized onions

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

Coarse sea salt freshly cracked pepper

Combine flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and water in large bowl. Mix with hands or wooden spoon until no dry flour remains. The bowl should be 4 to 6 times the volume of dough for rising.

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, making sure edges are well-sealed, then let rest on countertop for 8-24 hours. Dough should rise dramatically and fill bowl.

Sprinkle top of dough lightly with flour, then transfer to lightly-floured work surface. Form into ball by holding it with well-floured hands and tucking dough underneath itself, rotating until it forms tight ball.

Pour half of oil in bottom of large cast iron skillet. Transfer dough to pan, turn to coat in oil, and position seam-side-down. Using flat palm, press dough around skillet, flattening it slightly and spreading oil around entire bottom and edges of pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let dough stand at room temperature 2 hours. After first hour, preheat oven to 550°F.

After 2 hours, dough should mostly fill skillet up to edge. Use fingertips to press it around until it fills every corner, popping any large bubbles that appear. Lift up one edge of the dough to let air bubbles underneath escape and repeat, moving around the dough until there are no air bubbles left underneath and it’s evenly spread around skillet. Spread onions and bacon over surface of dough, dot with cheese, and press down with fingertips to embed slightly. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until top’s golden brown and bubbly and bottom’s golden brown and crisp when you lift with spatula, 16-24 minutes. Using a thin spatula, loosen focaccia and peek underneath. If bottom is not as crisp as desired, place pan on burner and cook over medium heat, moving pan around to cook evenly until crisp, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, allow to cool slightly, slice, and serve. Leftovers can be reheated on rack at 300°.

On The Side

Today, Gentle Reader, I have for you three recipes for easy delicious vegetable dishes.

Another trio you may have heard of: the Matthews Family Band.

Two of them are from my mother.  And, the other one would horrify her.  I think we should start with that one.

It’s roasted broccoli.  The reason why it would send chills down her spine is because you want this broccoli to get very crispy and take on some serious color.  I’m talking burnt sienna from the Crayola box.

This was the big box when I was a kid. Apparently there is a box with 120 crayolas now.

The browning of food occurs because of the Maillard reaction, and it’s a good, tasty, desirable thing.  But to my mom, anything darker than light tan is dreadfully, irretrievably, burned.  You have no idea how many innocent, yet mid-brown Parker House rolls I have seen discarded, never having lived out their delicious, yeasty, destiny.

To my mom, these are burned beyond redemption.

You can do a version of this in the skillet, but it can go from brown and crispy to inedibly scorched in a blink.  Oven roasting goes a little slower, which almost eliminates the charcoal result  (although if you fail to set a timer and forget about it, that is totally on you, Gentle Reader).

The second dish is slow-cooked string beans with salt pork.  The trick here is to make like Mom.  You start with fresh beans, cook them low and slow (but not too slow), and take them off heat when there is still a little bit of structural integrity left.  I cannot state strongly enough how much you do not want mush.  Think al dente.

Try and get a little more color on it than this. Brown means flavor and sweetness.

And finally, fried squash.  Here the big secret is to, Leave.It.Alone.  When the liquid has cooked out it becomes fragile.  And you not only want m to minimize breakage, you want everything to pick up a little color (just light caramel, Mom, I promise).  That’s also why my fat of choice is butter, unlike my mother’s vegetable oil.

Louis-Camille Maillard.

If you’re Maillard averse Gentle Reader, I feel your pain, but urge you in the strongest possible fashion, to cook past your comfort zone, at least once.  If you hate it, you never have to do it again.

But, you might just love it…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Roasted Broccoli

2 heads broccoli, cut into large florets

¼ cup vegetable oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Place a large, rimmed baking sheet inside oven and set to 450°.  Let oven heat for 20 minutes to get pan really hot.

Place broccoli into large bowl, drizzle oil over and add large pinches of salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.

Spread broccoli out onto pan in single layer.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip florets and bake 10-15 more or until there is lots of browning and crisping, and stems are tender-crisp.  Serves 4-6.

Mom’s String Beans

2 pounds string beans, cleaned but left whole

5 slices of salt pork

Big pinch of Salt & pepper to taste

Put everything in large pot with a tight lid.  Add enough water to cover.  Cook on very low (2-3) for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally and adding water to keep veg covered.

Check for seasoning and  serve.  8-10 servings.

Fried Squash

3 pounds yellow squash, cut into ¼ inch rounds

1 large yellow onion, cut into half-moons

¼ cup butter

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon pepper

Place everything into large skillet.  Cover and cook 8 minutes on medium-low.  Remove lid and give a gentle stir.  Turn up to medium and cook until the liquid has totally cooked out.

Cook until veg starts to lightly caramelize, turn over with spatula and cook until there’s color on the bottom side.  Do this once more or until there’s plenty of light browning throughout dish.

Check for seasoning and serve.  Serves 4-6.

Little Pot of Porky Joy

North Carolina is a piggy state.  Our pork processing industry is the nation’s third-largest, generating almost a billion and a half dollars a year.

But where Tar Heels really shine, is in the preparation and consumption of it.  I can explain in four little words.

Eastern NC Barbecue.

Short of Puerto Rico, nobody even comes close to the wondrous things we can do with a pig.  It’s a mystical art that reaches back through the centuries.  The Taíno people, an indigenous population who lived, among other places, Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico invented barbacoa, the slow cooking of wild boar upon wooden frames. 

There are stories that pirates in the Caribbean took up this cooking method.  Because of the state’s unique position jutting far out into the Atlantic and the cause of many a ship’s doom, there was quite a population of those same pirates that eventually, whether by choice or by shipwreck, came to call NC home.

Did they bring along the idea of barbacoa with them, which then was passed along to the rural population who had access to whole, freshly slaughtered hogs?

With this heritage, residents of the Old North State have eaten pork in many delicious forms.  Barbecue, sausages of all types, and has anyone ever been to a Southern funeral where there were no ham biscuits?

I think there’s a state law mandating piles of them must be at the get-together after any good North Carolinian is laid to rest.

Pigs were domesticated first in Europe and Asia.  In France, they invented a rich unctuous dish that’s naturally preserved.  It’s a dish that is unfamiliar to many people in this state but has a lot in common with our own porky sensibilities.

It’s slowly cooked, using pork shoulder, a cut that needs time to coax out its flavor and texture.  It’s rich, using the fat as well as the meat.  The fat also preserves it by getting poured into a layer on top and hardening, which serves as a barrier to sick-making microbes.

It’s called pork rillettes (re-yets).  And it’s the easiest fancy French food you’ll ever be lucky enough to put into your own pork hole.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pork Rillettes

2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound pork belly, skin removed, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup brandy

1 ½ cups chicken stock

12-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

10 peppercorns, cracked

10 juniper berries, crushed

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

5 bay leaves

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt to taste

Heat oven to 250°.

Place everything except salt and vinegar into large heavy pot with a lid.  Cover, and place inside oven.

Cook 2 ½ hours, then have a peek.  You’re looking for the stock and brandy to be cooked out, and the meat to be completely soft and falling apart.  If the stock hasn’t cooked out, uncover and cook for thirty more minutes.

When pork is sitting in fat only, remove from oven.  Discard bay leaves and thyme twigs.

Pour into colander or sieve, catching and keeping the fat.  Place pork and solids into stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix on low until meat is almost a paste.  Add ¼ cup of the reserved fat and mix on low until fully combined.

Divide into 8 small jars or ramekins.  Gently press smooth to remove any air pockets.  Top each with a spoonful of reserved fat.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks if fat cap is undisturbed.  Once the cap’s been broken, you have five days.

Spread on toasts or crackers, or place a dollop on chicken breasts, steak, fish, or roasted veg.  

A Letter From Grandma Karen

Something happens when you walk your dog every day on the same streets.

You make friends.

Two of those friends; Stacy and his wife Melody, gave me a bag of some of the cookies that Mel had brought home from her family cookie swap.  Each and every one was delicious.

So, of course, I asked for recipes.    

Yesterday, Mel gave me a turquoise blue envelope.  Inside was six pages of paper from her Grandma Karen, including the recipes for three cookies. 

 Gentle Reader, this week’s essay are excerpts of the letter she wrote, her peanut butter cookie recipe and her snickerdoodle recipe (possibly the best snickerdoodle I’ve ever eaten).

What follows is in her own words and her own recipes.

“I have made cookies, breads, cakes, candy, etc for friends and neighbors, the sick, and to welcome a new neighbor to the neighborhood for most of my life, and I wanted to share this with my children and grandchildren.

I tried to think of something we could all do and have some quality time together.  We all like to cook and bake.  I decided it might be fun to get together at Christmas time and make cookies.  I called my daughter and granddaughters, and they agreed.

This will be our 5th year.  I hosted the first one.  I bought each one a Santa hat and a Christmas wine glass.  Bought non-alcoholic sparkling juice cocktail, red and white.  Other small gifts were Christmas aprons, reindeer headdresses, etc. 

We take turns hosting.

Here’s how it works: Each of us has to make at least a dozen cookies of each recipe we make so each person goes home with the same amount of the assortment of cookies.

PS-I dress up like Mrs. Santa Claus to deliver my goodies.”

*debbie here again: Coming from decades of my mom’s Christmas cookie frosting parties, I have a few thoughts about Grandma Karen’s much younger tradition. 

It doesn’t sound like there’s an annual dance and arm wrestling over how many cookies we’re allowed to leave with.  I like that.

And although we eat Mexican food at Mom’s party, I gotta say, I feel strongly that we should definitely up the swag quotient at our own festivities.

The Matthews Family Band at the 2019 cookie frosting party.

And finally, I know this is mid-January, and Christmas is over with a capital “O”, but the reason you’re reading it this week is that I think a cookie swap is a terrific idea for a party any day of the year.

In 2020, let’s make a cookie swap the new book club.  Keep reading, but book clubs are tired.  Use Karen’s parties as a template, just swap out her sparkling juice for the real thing.

Then go home in an Uber.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup shortening (Crisco)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups flour

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cream sugars and shortening.  Add eggs, peanut butter, vanilla, flour, and baking soda.

Roll into balls, press with a fork.  Bake on parchment-covered cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes.

Snickerdoodles

½ cup shortening (Crisco)

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

2 ¾ cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Cinnamon-sugar for rolling

2 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°.

Mix shortening, butter, and eggs, thoroughly.  Blend flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt.  Mix with shortening/butter/sugar/eggs mixture.

Shape into 1-inch balls.  Roll into cinnamon/sugar.  Place 2-inches apart on parchment-covered baking sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes.  Makes about 6 dozen.

*While baking, these cookies will puff up, then flatten out.

For Everything, there was a (Southern) Season

In November of last year, it was announced that Southern Season, a Chapel Hill institution since 1975, and friend to generations of lovers of food would be closing.  It’s been a long slow demise which began with the 2011 sale of the titan to TC Capital Fund.

But in its heyday, it was a fairyland for anyone fascinated by all things.  It was a juggernaut; almost a culinary amusement park.

When The Kid was in elementary school, I worked at the Waldenbooks at University Mall for a few months.  Whenever I could, I’d run down to Southern Season, at the far end, and pick up lunch.

In the salad bar was a pasta salad that I loved, I bugged the chef, and he finally told me the secret was water, it becomes a dressing that somehow lightly coats the pasta with flavor.

Artichokes…nooooooooo!

When The Kid was in high school, and Petey worked weekend nights at Duke, we would make a Saturday supper pasta that contained many ingredients that the absent Petey loathed, or were his personal kryptonite.

When we had our infrequent E-ticket adventures at University Mall, we always stocked up with plenty of pappardelle for our feast at Southern Season.

Thanks for the memories, old friend, and thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Walden Books Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta rotelle, bow tie, or cavatapi, cooked according to directions, then drained and cooled—do not rinse)

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

Salt & pepper

Dressing

1 ½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Hottest tap water (have a ½ cup ready, but you won’t need it all)

1 cup Cherubs tomatoes sliced in half

1 bunch green onions, sliced thin

Salt & pepper

Whisk together mayo and vinegar.

A teaspoon at a time, whisk in water until the dressing is just a little thicker than bottled creamy salad dressing.  Stir in tomatoes and green onions.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, but no more than two.

Assembly

30 minutes before service: In large bowl, stir together pasta, peas, and dressing.  Start with a little dressing and continue adding until it is just a little too wet, it will tighten up, and as it does, coat the pasta.

*Salad pictured is a variation on the recipe.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and sit in a cool corner of the kitchen for 30 minutes before service.

Southern Season Krypto-night

1-approximately 16-ounce package of parpappardelle pasta

3 tablespoons salt

3 thick slices of pancetta

1-pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced uniformly

½ teaspoon dry thyme

1 bag or box frozen artichokes, thawed and halved

Many cloves of garlic, at least 8

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for service

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

Salt & pepper

Pasta water

Put a large pot of water on for the pasta.

In a large skillet, cook pancetta or bacon until it is completely rendered and crispy, remove from pan and set aside on paper towels.

Put mushrooms and artichokes in 1 tablespoon of the reserved fat.  Lower to medium-low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes to facilitate the vegetables to release their liquid. 

Uncover and turn up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until the veg has lightly browned.

Add garlic and lemon zest, cook just until the garlic starts thinking about browning.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer pasta to skillet, stirring in a spoonful of pasta water at a time until everything’s coated, but not saucy at all.

Take off heat, add lemon juice and stir in peas.  Serve in large shallow bowls with a healthy snow shower of Parm.

Makes 4-6 very hearty servings.