The Butter To Eat It With

rich kidsWhen the rich and famous are interviewed, very often they say the best thing about fame is the people they meet.

In the past, my response has always been just one word, “Hooey!”

Pu-leez! truck moneyTrucks full of money?  Oh no.

Designers competing to clothe and shoe you?  No sir.

People treating you like you’re a god, and a dating pool chock full of uber-attractive, interesting individuals?  Anything but that!beautiful datingBut people?  Yeah, sure.

Then I started writing about food and such for public consumption.  Ralph Lauren and Zak Posen aren’t yet arm wrestling for my attentions, but through my columns I meet amazing people every single day.  So now I must apologize for my earlier disbelief and the resulting impatience with celebrities.

Anyway; meeting people.costco lineJust about five years ago, I was in line at Costco, and met the sweetest couple, Victoria and Jefe.  They were Puerto Ricans and wonderful cooks of the island’s cuisine.  I went to their house for a cooking lesson for the column, and we became friends.dalaiThey very much remind me of my parents, whose own generosity is legendary.  Once they took me under their wing and decided to be my Caribbean God Parents, they went all in.  We meet for coffees and I almost have to wrestle Jefe to let me pay once in a while.  Every holiday that rolls around I have an adorable greeting note and gif in my email.  They shower me with tons of homemade Puerto Rican foods and extravagant gifts.crazy browniesSo, as often as I can, I make food gifts for them.  They’ve had my famous five-chocolate brownies, my brown butter chocolate chips cookies, and my mom’s magically addictive Christmas cookies.

Last week, we met and I brought them a loaf of my sourdough bread.  To go along with it, I made them Chinese five-spice honey butter.5 spice butterIt’s what is known as a compound butter.  It can be one of your most versatile ingredients in the kitchen.  The butter I made for Jefe and Victoria can be used on toast.  But it would also go great on carrots, sweet potatoes, anything with warm sweetish flavors.  Schmear it all over a ham biscuit.lots of butterI’ll give you the recipe for the butter.  But what I’d like to have happen is for your imagination to be inspired.  Use the butter on something new.  Even something as simple as tweaking the proportions of the recipe I give you.  Get in your kitchen and mad scientist some new butters.

Five-Spice Honey Butterfive spice butter

1 cup butter, softened.

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Put everything into bowl of a mixer with whisk attachment.  Whisk until smooth (3-4 minutes), scraping down sides to make sure everything’s mixed.  Check for flavor and add more honey, spice, or salt if needed.

Turn butter out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and roll it up.  Spin the roll holding the ends of the plastic until it’s tight and tube-shaped. Refrigerate until chilled and set.  Makes 1 ¼ cup.A compound butter is kind of like Meryl Streep—very versatile.  Butter is the vessel and the flavor can be anything.  It can be sweet, savory, or straddle the line between.

A Mexican butter with lime juice and zest, cilantro, and chili powder.  Toasted chopped pecans, apricot jam and cinnamon.  Nutmeg, lemon zest, thyme, and gray sea salt.  Champagne, vanilla extract, and crushed, freeze-dried strawberries.thyme butterTake these butter ideas and run with them.  Use the flavors that you and your family love.  Then put the butter on all kinds of interesting foods.

Play with your food.play food

Thanks for your time.

A very special episode

Petey's plate

The finished dish.

Originally published in the Herald Sun 10/19/2011

October 11, 1:15PM-Okay, here’s the deal. You guys are on a real-time journey with me. Right now, in my oven, is the object and subject of this column. Last night I took a package of meat from the freezer that I wasn’t sure I would ever use. Hog jowls.
Ever heard of guanciale (gwon-choll-ay), a trendy Italian ingrediant? That’s hog jowls. Seen pork cheeks on Iron Chef? Hog Jowls.
It’s a traditional country food. The muscle is tough and fatty, with lots of collagen. Cooked correctly, it’s supposed to be a rich, unctuous meat, like ox tales, brisket, or NC Barbecue.
But yes, it does come from the face of the pig.
The meat I had looked like really thick, meaty slices of bacon, with a strip of skin on one side. They were smoked for flavor, but not cooked at all.
I decided I would slow cook them into carnitas (slow cooked spiced, shreddy pork) from the Mexican flavors I had in my pantry. That’s the other part of the challenge. I will be making this dish with only items that are already in my house.
First I browned the meat in Old Blue. I seasoned the slices, trimmed off the skin and threw the scraps back. When the slices were crusty and brown, I pulled them and put sliced onions and halved garlic cloves into the fat. From there I made a very mock mole sauce for a braise
I put them in the oven covered at 275 degrees. That’s where they are right now.
More to come.
2:00PM-I just checked it. It’s been in about an hour and feels very tender. It went back in for thirty more minutes.
Experimenting here, folks.
More soon.
2:45PM– I took the meat from the braise. It was falling apart tender. I chopped it up, crisped it in the same pot, and then put in the cooked rice, chicken stock, some chopped green olives, and the cheese. When the mixture had cooled and firmed up a little, I folded in three stiffly beaten egg whites to lighten the filling.
5:00PM-I put together the burritos and set them in the fridge to chill, so they hold their shape better while cooking.
6:15 PM-I will wrap this up after we eat. But I have an update. Petey picked up some salad greens for dinner. It will be a nice fresh compliment to the substantial and hearty puerco pocket.
I’ll let y’all know how it all turned out soon.
7:30PM-I succumbed to temptation and fried them chimi-style, drizzled a little sauce on them sprinkled a little grated colby-jack, and put them under a low broiler. I will photograph the results-good or bad.
8:45PM-Dinner’s over. Two words-O.M.G.
Thanks for your time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fresh out of the oven from the cheese melting portion of the program.

My Pantry Very, Very Mock Mole for Hog Jowls
Your pantry and mole may differ greatly
3/4 cup La Victoria mild Green salsa (mole traditionally has tons of chiles, this sauce replaced fresh and/or dried chiles)
1 tablespoons Bitter Orange Adobo
2 packets Safron Sazon
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
juice and zest of two limes
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup small pimento stuffed olives
1 tablespoon olive brine
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
tiny pinch of both cayenne and red pepper flakes
1 cup sherry
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
small yellow onion rough slice
5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
After browning meat, remove and add onion and garlic. When the onion starts to soften, add all the ingredients up to the sherry. Lower heat and stir. When the mixture gets tight and caramelized, pour in sherry and scrape all the stuff stuck to the bottom. When the sherry has almost completely reduced, add chicken stock. Return meat to pot, cover and bake low and slow.