6 – Pork

We’re just coming out of the stretch of what I like to call “roasting weather”, wherein I adore the comforting smells and radiating warmth of cranking on the oven. This week’s recipe capitalizes on those aromatic smells I like so much, what with its flavors of sauteed onion, roasted apple, and a sweet and tangy maple glaze. The pork isn’t bad, either!

This roast is an excellent opportunity to showcase the types of meats available through my friends at ButcherBox, who contributed the pork sirloin you see in this picture. Pork is one of those meats I have a hard time buying at my local grocery store, since the conditions in which conventional pigs are raised is usually far from ideal. Moreover, it is often difficult to find farmers who raise happy, healthy pigs, since the price of conventionally-raised pork is so cheap that it can discourage farmers from raising animals they know will cost much more at the market. ButcherBox does all that work for us, by sourcing responsibly-raised pork from heritage breeds who are free of antibiotics, ractopamine, and hormones; I also appreciate the fact that they curate their monthly meat boxes, combining familiar and new cuts, which keeps me in a creative mood while in the kitchen.

Today’s recipe looks (and sounds) fancy, but it’s not far from many of my other dry-roast recipes: bring the pork to temperature at a moderately low heat (225F), then add onions, apple, and glaze, and finally finish everything off in a very hot (500F) oven for that perfect external texture.

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To truly understand the beauty of Erdäpfelsuppe, I’m going to run you through a quick language lesson. When Columbus first encountered the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean in the late 15th century, they presented him with the sweet potato–batata in the Taíno language–which he first brought to Europe. But on subsequent trips, explorers returned with the white potato, first cultivated in the Andes mountains–papa in the Quechuan language–and people started confusing the two. In truth, it was a little unfair to introduce two very similar tubers, with similar names, to unsuspecting Europeans. This confusion endures today; the Spanish word patata, and English potato, are the result of compounding both batata and papa.

But as the potato traveled across the continent, filling the bellies of hungry Europeans along the way, people perceived the vegetable differently. For example, the Italians first supposed that the potato looked a lot like a truffle–tartufolo–and the sentiment spread to Eastern Europe (examples include the German kartoffel and the Russian картофель).

Personally, I think the French had the most elegant interpretation. Although they first went the truffle route, with the word cartoufle, they eventually switched to pomme de terre (“earth apple”). You see, the concept of earth apples isn’t new – the phrase had been used throughout history for various vegetables, including cucumbers and melons, as documented in Old High German, Old English, and Middle Dutch. And the French weren’t the only one to make this connection, because the word Erdapfel appears in Switzerland, Austria, and Southern Germany–all used to describe potatoes.

So in reality, today’s Erdäpfelsuppe is not really different from the more famous German Potato Soup (Kartoffelsuppe), but it’s an excellent moment to highlight the connection that many of us shares at the dinner table…no matter which name we use.

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As I mentioned in last week’s recipe for Skillet-Roasted Winter Vegetables, I recently had quite an adventure photographing a couple dishes in the middle of a Florida storm. This week’s recipe for Center-Cut Pork Rib Roast is the last dish I photographed during that session, and I was lucky enough to get a pretty good shot of the meal. In hindsight, a tripod would have helped stabilize the photo above, but I’m so used to shooting by hand that I didn’t think of it in time.

Today’s cooking method will work for most bone-in cuts of meat; try it with beef prime rib or roast. The key is to cook the meat at a low temperature (250F) so that the center reaches an ideal temperature without overcooking the outer layers, then to finish it off in a searing-hot oven after a brief period of rest. The timing works out perfectly, as you can rest the roast while you crank up the oven heat – I’m a big fan of this type of efficiency.

Another reason I like this roast is that it is the counterpoint to my popular Eye of Round Roast recipe (which celebrated its five-year birthday earlier this month). The older recipe starts at a high heat, then finishes the roast at a very low heat; while both methods consistently result in tender roasts, I also like the sense of control that comes with searing the roast at the end, as in today’s recipe.

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This month marks my six-year anniversary of food blogging. My mind reels when I think of how much of myself is embedded in this website, in its 400+ recipes.

To be honest, running this site has its ups and downs. Sometimes there’s no better feeling than the flurry that comes with creating a new recipe–the smells and tastes during development, the colors that enliven my photography sessions, the relief that comes from editing terrible first drafts. But there are other sessions where I walk away disheartened, feeling like I’m simply treading water; stuck in the space between better moments.

It’s times like these that I typically revert to old dishes, to prove to myself that I’m making progress in pursuit of that perfect recipe post. Case in point is this week’s recipe for Smothered Pork Chops, a revision of my initial recipe, from over five years ago. The old post horrifies me, especially that first picture – it doesn’t even look like food! But at the same time, a part of me treasures its presence, as a testament to progress.

So, cheers to six years of tasty food. I can’t wait to see how my recipes look in another six. Thanks for sticking around!

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Paella is one of my favorite dishes to prepare at home – like fried rice or risotto, it’s an excellent way to clean out the vegetable bin. Moreover, it’s one of my favorite examples how the judicious use of white rice can in fact be very health-promoting; while rice gets a bum rap for being fairly devoid of nutrients, I think it’s just fine in the context of the broth, seafood, and vegetables used in this recipe.

This dish was a standout recipe in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and here’s what I wrote about it:

Paella is a dish from Valencia, along Spain’s eastern coast. Rice was a product of Moorish influence and was a staple in Spain by the 15th century. Paella developed over the years as people began to add combinations of meats and vegetables. While water vole was one of the first meats used in paella, today’s Valencian paella includes rabbit, chicken, snails, and beans; seafood paella is equally popular and is considered a traditional dish along the Valencian coast.

Using an appropriate type of rice is important, as many varieties were specially bred to absorb liquid without losing texture. Calasparra and bomba rices are preferred and are available from gourmet food suppliers and online. Arborio, a common risotto rice, fares pretty well. In a pinch, plain calrose rice will get the job done. Paella is best made over an open flame and is traditionally prepared outdoors.

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As I mentioned in my Chicken in Champagne Sauce recipe earlier this year, I draw inspiration from many sources – online research, reader requests, or from friends. Today’s recipe is inspired by a reader’s recent tip, left in a comment from the Nakkikastike (Finnish Hot Dogs in Sauce) recipe I shared a couple years back.

Like Nakkikastike, Tirripaisti is a staple Finnish comfort food – not quite haute cuisine, but something to warm the belly in all the right ways. In researching the recipe, I found there were two general methods to prepare this dish in Finland; some simply season the pork belly and fry it up as you would bacon, while others insist the pork should be sauteed with onion, then simmered in water to make a sort of gravy. I’ve provided recipes for each preparation – they’re both super easy.

In most cases, Tirripaisti is served with boiled and mashed potatoes (or sometimes boiled turnips) and a vegetable of some kind – like pickled beets or roasted veggies.

If you have any recipe development requests, I’m all ears – feel free to leave them in the comments below. Bear in mind that between this site and my two cookbooks, I’ve covered over 600 recipes, so chances are I’ve already tackled many that you’re looking for! Here are the recipe lists for The Ancestral Table and Paleo Takeout.

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Mee Kati (หมี่กะทิ) is a noodle dish that is popular in Thailand (and some parts of Laos); thin rice noodles are steeped in coconut milk, giving them a creamy flavor that is distinct from their more popular cousins, Pad Thai and Pad See Ew.

Mee Kati is often sold by street vendors, where they use food coloring to give the noodles a pink hue. It’s a very unique visual experience, but one we’re going to forgo in this recipe (feel free to add about 1/2 tsp beet powder to the coconut milk broth in step #3 if you’re up for it).

Some usual Thai suspects are on hand in this recipe, to include limes, chiles, shrimp paste, and tamarind–but a more uncommon addition is soybean paste; either red miso paste or Korean doenjang will work nicely.

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You know, I really thought I was done with soup for a while. The weather has been nice and warm down here in the Florida panhandle, balmy in just the right way – never so cold that a light jacket won’t do the trick, and never too hot for pants. But then last week I visited my old stomping grounds in Maryland, and the weather was distinctly cooler; in other words, it was soup weather.

Garbure is a peasant’s soup originally from the Aquitaine (southwest) region of France; its defining ingredients include cabbage, meat (typically ham or duck), and seasonal vegetables like beans or peas. The consistency of the soup varies – some are nice and thick thanks to copious beans or chunks of bread (a good Garbure, I’ve read, should allow to spoon to stick up on its own), while others let cabbage provide the soup’s body.

My recipe takes cues from the second idea of Garbure, partly because I don’t typically cook with beans or chunks of delicious French bread (yep, there are definitely drawbacks to a Paleo-minded lifestyle), but also because I really enjoy cabbage soup.

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Currywurst is a popular German dish, and a staple of fast-food eating in the country. Its influence is so far-reaching that the dish is even served at McDonald’s, and is almost always accompanied by its own iconic fork (I used a spork in my photo, a fair alternative).

Currywurst was first served in the 1950s, in Berlin, as an object of Western influence; ketchup was introduced from the UK following World War II, and later paired with sausages, fries, and curry powder – the basic elements of Currywurst.

For today’s recipe, we’ll make a quick tomato sauce, subtly spiced, and serve it with your choice of sausage — anything from bratwurst to hot dogs will work. Before we build the sauce, be sure to get some potatoes in the oven, as they’re the most time-consuming element of this dead-simple recipe.

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Gumbo is a stew of Louisiana origin, dating back as far as the 18th century. As with Jambalaya, there are two popular versions of gumbo, Creole and Cajun; generally, the former includes tomatoes, while the latter omits them. It can be made with all sorts of meats, from chicken, to rabbit, to nutria, to oysters; today, we’re going to make one with shrimp and andouille sausage.

There are several ways to prepare gumbo, many of them influenced by how you thicken the stew. Most methods today include a French-inspired flour roux, while others use okra or filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) – or combination – as a thickener. I’ve found that mochiko (sweet rice flour) makes the best gluten-free roux for gumbo, with plain white rice flour coming in second – but on their own, they’re not quite enough to thicken the gumbo to what I’d like (I tried simply adding more flour, but it overtook the dish’s texture and flavor). In the end, a combination of rice flour roux and okra worked best, as the roux dampened okra’s sliminess, and adding a bit of optional gumbo filé powder at the end gave the stew a perfect earthiness, befitting a warm Southern kitchen.

Gumbo is often characterized by its dark roux, made by stirring the roux over an open flame for up to an hour, right until it’s at the threshold of being burnt. I’ve found that a rice flour roux tends to burn too quickly when compared to a traditional wheat flour roux, so my solution is pretty simple: roast the flour in the oven to a golden brown before turning it into a roux. This also gives you some time to multitask, and simmer up a quick shellfish broth using shrimp shells and clam juice, while the flour browns.

The origin of the word “gumbo” is a bit of a mystery. It’s commonly thought that it is either derived from the Choctaw word for filé powder (kombo), since the spice came from similar Native stews from the region, or the Bantu word for okra (ki ngombo) – as the vegetable was introduced to the area via the West African slave trade. Regardless of its origin, gumbo is a perfect example of the cultural melting pot that eventually came to exemplify Louisiana cuisine, with its French, Native, and African influences.

Finally, I would like to note that this isn’t a weeknight-friendly meal (unless, of course, you have a weeknight off, or you’re unemployed). But that’s the beauty of gumbo – when you spend a couple hours pouring yourself into a cooking project, a bit of your soul joins the dish.

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