pork


Every so often, I like to go treasure-hunting.

In my freezer.

Without fail, I would find some package of meat I had forgotten about hiding way back in the corner, by the little box of baking soda and the bigger box of delicious Melona bars. My last round of treasure hunting unearthed a neatly-wrapped, butcher-paper-encased package of ‘fresh side pork’…Huh?

It turns out that fresh side pork is basically the same cut of meat as bacon, except that it’s fresh and not cured. Not wanting to wait another week before eating it (that’s the amount of time it would take to make bacon), Nathan and I quickly decided on the #2 best use of fresh pork belly: buta no kakuni. We had it at a Japanese izakaya months before and ever since, I’ve been talking about trying to make it at home. Yup, just call me a copycat. Meow.

I will warn you now that this is not a recipe for warm days since you will be heating up your kitchen for multiple hours to make a hearty, belly-warming stew. But on a cold, rainy night, there is nothing better than snuggling up with such a bowl of porky goodness. Plus, your whole house will smell insanely delicious for the rest of the night, so much so that your kitty (if you happen to have one) will go absolutely bonkers.

PS: Another post to come about those miso-glazed eggplants you see in the background above.

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Back when I used to live in San Antonio (yes, in Texas), the small Mexican restaurants in town would serve homemade menudo during brunch hours on the weekends. Once my family discovered this soup, it quickly became a weekend favorite. After all, what is not to love about a rich, spicy, warming soup of hominy and beef tripe? At the time, though, I had no idea that menudo is supposedly a great cure for hangovers … which begs the question: did my parents sneak out to some fun parties while my younger self was sleeping soundly??

Although I do have a soft spot for menudo, I’m also not prepared to mess with cooking tripe at home, so I’ve been searching for alternatives. Then one day, at a little Yucatecan restaurant, I discovered pozole, a hearty, warming, green soup full of hominy and chicken. A while later, Nathan and I randomly stopped into a different little Mexican restaurant for lunch and there was pozole on the menu there too! But theirs was a different version, a rich, spicy, red soup full of hominy and pork (menudo-esque, if you will), and that’s the one we’ve been obsessing over ever since.

After some research, we learned that there are many different regional versions of pozole, roughly categorized into the three colors of the Mexican flag: green (verde), red (rojo), and white (blanco). For our beloved rojo, we eventually dug up two different recipes: one from Señor Bayless himself and one posted on Chowhound. Being the most indecisive people in the world, we couldn’t choose so ended up using parts of both of them. In a moment of insanity, we also decided to double the recipe and ended up with way more pozole than we could handle or even store. But then, that’s when you can count on your sister, friends (like Ben and Erin), and neighbors for backup, right?

You know, with Thanksgiving only days away, you might actually hear your leftover turkey bones and meat whispering ‘pozole’ to you on Friday morning (but not in a creepy way). I know if I do, you just might find me back at the stove again working on another giant cauldron of pozole, a green turkey one this time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pork and Leek Dumplings

It’s been a while since I’ve waxed poetic (at least here) about how much I love dumplings. When I really get going, I have been known to declare that dumplings are the snacks of the gods, are so awesome that nearly every culture has developed some version of them and quite possibly, the food item that will eventually bring about world peace. But I will spare you.

Finding that suddenly I have much more free time than I have in the past months, I decided it was time to stock up the freezer with a menagerie of dumplings again. This time, I restricted myself to only two varieties: a trusty pork and ginger filling from Ming Tsai and a new-to-me pork and leek filling from a recent cookbook acquisition, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s gorgeous Beyond the Great Wall. I ended up modifying their dumpling recipe slightly by adding an egg to the filling to help it bind better and by scaling up, since I always make dumplings in big batches for freezing.

Now that I own two of their books, I can officially say that I love this couple of cookbook authors. Their books are more like travel diaries interspersed with recipes and with plenty of beautiful photography, which happen to be three things I love…well, in addition to dumplings, of course.

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Cochinita Pibil

Shame on me… waiting until the last possible day to make sure December 2008 is not entirely void of entries! But wait, don’t get mad — I have a gift for you! Yes! Think of it as a holiday treat! Made just for you! …Are you ready for it?

*Drum roll*

I present to you, hot off the press, the shiny and new Index of Recipes page!

Ok ok, so I lied a bit about making it just for you, because really, I also wrote it for me. I was getting mighty tired of flipping back through the archives, page by page, to find some recipe I remember posting a while ago. But that’s because this blog has been around for over a year (!!) now – can you believe it??

Anyway, I hope your holiday treat was not a severe disappointment. If it makes you feel better, I’d send each of you a little stack of these ginger cookies I made for Christmas if I knew all your addresses (more about these cookies in a future post). But a brand new index page is almost as good, no?

For Christmas this year, Nathan and I went down to Santa Cruz and cooked up a Mexican feast for his family, who were kind enough to let us try out some new recipes on them. Check out this spread:

Feliz Navidad!
Feliz Navidad!

Not bad, right? We made some nopales (cactus) salad, fresh guacamole, mashed black beans, red chile rice, wilted greens with chipotle salsa, shredded chicken in red mole, and homemade tortillas. But the star of the whole dinner was the Cochinita Pibil, a Yucatecan slow-roasted pork shoulder wrapped in banana leaves. It was such a hit and so yummy that we proceeded to make it again for our friends Ben, Erin, and Greg a mere 3 days later. As you can imagine, a slow-roasted pork takes a bit of time to make but honestly, other than time, there’s very little effort involved. So there’s no need to be jealous of my very porky Christmas – because a very porky New Year’s is now within your reach.

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On this sunny Sunday, Nathan and I joined some friends (as well as the entire city of San Francisco, it seemed) in Golden Gate Park for some free live music, courtesy of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Really, how can we turn down a line-up of Bonnie Prince Billy, Iron & Wine, and Gogol Bordello? And of course, you must know by now that I would never even think of setting out for a day in the park without packing some rations. Due to lack of time, though, we decided to just walk through the Sunset and buy some Vietnamese sandwiches to snack on. Which then reminded me that I have delayed blogging about Banh Mi for far too long.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t discover the glories of Banh Mi until I started living on a grad student budget. Until I tasted my first Banh Mi, I would never have believed that a hearty, delicious lunch can be had for $3-$3.50 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now that my eyes have been opened, I’m totally obsessed and can seriously eat one of these every day and be happy as a kitty.

You might wonder with Banh Mi already so cheap, why would you even want to make your own? Well, because this cruel, cruel world has decided not to put Vietnamese sandwich shops anywhere near my school! So until the school’s cafe wises up, I either have to trek downtown every afternoon or to take more drastic measures and make Banh Mi at home.

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In order to get my sister and I to finish every single grain of rice in our bowls, my grandmother used to tell us that leaving rice grains would mean our future husbands would be ugly. “What do you mean ‘ugly’, grandma?” we asked. “Lots of pockmarks. Or freckles. Or both!” exclaimed my grandmother.

Unfortunately for my grandmother, marrying yucky boys was the last thing on our minds. So she quickly revised her strategy: not finishing all your rice would mean we would grow up with lots of freckles! Yikes! From then on, not one grain of rice was seen in anyone’s rice bowl. Funny thing is, little did she know that we would one day grow up and live in a country where people actually think freckles are cute!

(I hope I’m not giving anyone the impression that my grandmother was cruel because she was the sweetest and kindest woman. She just had a funny strategy of asking us to finish our dinner.)

Thanks to my grandmother’s efforts, the philosophy of not wasting food is now permanently etched in my brain. So, what does that have to do with flatbread? If you’ll remember (from what seems like ages ago), the creation of a certain sourdough starter (admit it, you thought I killed it already, didn’t you!) and its continual maintenance (ha! but I didn’t!) generate enough leftover starter that I can feel the onset of freckles just from thinking about dumping it in the trash.

What to do … what to do? Thanks to a recipe from breadtopia, slight modifications, and an expectation of something more like flatbread than a fluffy pizza, not one grain(?) of wheat will go to waste!

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Since our bacon-curing adventure gave us a beautiful chunk of homemade bacon, Nathan and I have started brainstorming all the different ways we can use it. As I mentioned before, our bacon turned out quite salty, so we can’t really eat slices of it for breakfast. But fear not, because as our friend Brian likes to say, everything tastes better with bacon!

For our first attempt, we wanted to use the bacon in a dish that still allowed it to be the star and not dress it up too much. The first thing out of my mouth was ‘pasta carbonara,’ one of my all-time favorite pasta dishes. This is another one of those pasta dishes that take as long to prepare as it does to cook the pasta, so that fulfilled our second goal: not having to wait too long before eating.

My carbonara usually involves a few more ingredients but this time, I opted for the simplest recipe possible for the sake of the bacon. Mario Batali comes to the rescue! His recipe talks about separating the egg yolk and egg white, so that you gently nestle the yolk on top after tossing the pasta with the egg whites. As much as I’m a big fan of seeing whole egg yolks on top of dishes, I actually prefer tossing the pasta with all of the eggs instead because it creates a creamier and clingier sauce.

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