I’ve been on a cooking-but-not-posting mini-vacation: my mother was visiting this past week, partly in celebration of her birthday, partly because we have not had a long visit in quite some time. D and I spent a bit of time prepping for her arrival which in hindsight is funny because while mom was here she was kind enough to paint our downstairs powder room: an onerous task as it is a tiny room that is all edging and angled ceiling corners. Our small living space was completely covered in dropcloths, paint samples, tools, the old medicine cabinet, and various and sundry debris. We impressed ourselves by only taking 24 hours to make a decision about the paint color, a deep warm gray with just a hint lavender called “Pewter.” One of the best things about painting a room is that it makes
you re-assess everything that goes back into it when you are done. You want the room to live up to the hard work and fresh image its projecting.
Cooking this past week as been a bit like that as well: reassessing old favorites and adding new elements to old standards. After all, they need to live up to Mom’s visit. I’d like to say that I been inspired to come up with new dishes on my own, but mostly I am cooking from favorite cookbooks and a stack of recipes Mom brought with her clipped from the Wall
Street Journal (originally I thought it was the NY Times, since that’s one of her favorite papers, but looks like she has taken to reading the WSJ). It’s quite an impressive group of chefs who inspired us: Andrea Reusing, Jaques Pepin, Dorie Greenspan, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Yotam Ottolenghi. Mom loves to eat seafood when she is here, and it wouldn’t be a visit without some NC barbecue as well. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve been eating the past two weeks:
Before mom arrived we were quite busy getting the house in order. Its a great excuse to do everything that has been put off all summer, including selling an old car parked in the driveway since March. Early in the week I cooked up Dorie Greenspan’s Pork a la Normande and served with a side of Lemon Steamed Spinach. The French Friday’s with Dorie group has not made the Normande dish yet, so I’ll hold off on a full review for now. Let’s just say that I thought it was a perfect combination of savory and sweet with its use of apples, mushrooms and a splash of apple brandy. I’ve made similar meals before with chicken, but “the other white meat” was better tasting in this dish.
During the week I cooked up a batch of Pork Belly Hot Pot: pork belly simmered for
hours in a rich Asian flavored stock. This is the ultimate comfort food for me – I was raised loving food with Asian flavors, and this has only intensified as I’ve grown older. My recipe comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Cookbook: not the most Asian of cooks, but the recipe is true to its origins. Hugh F-W uses it as an example of the ways that you can use “lesser” cuts of meat to make wonderful dishes as many cultures have been doing for millennia. In cooking, the pork belly meat heavily marbled with fat (this is the stuff after all that they use to make bacon after all) becomes silky soft and infused with ginger, soy sauce, star anise and green onion flavors. The BBC published it here and I’ve given you the American measurements below as well as my suggestions. Check the recipe link for exact instructions.
Apples, mushrooms, and soup: can you tell I’m ready for fall?
We lightened things up a bit by cooking one of my favorite meals the day after mom arrived: Jacques Pepin’s Pork Chops in a Zesty Sauce. This is from Fast Food My Way and his PBS TV show in which Pepin cooks up simple recipes he clearly enjoys eating at home. The recipes are all intended for quick meals – perfect for weeknight cooking, but impressive enough for guest who won’t know it only took you 30 minutes to put together. The Zesty Sauce combines ingredients that most of us have in the fridge, but might never think about using together (bottled chili sauce and A-1 steak sauce for example). I never get tired of this book: I thought the The Splendid Table published this recipe several years ago, but I cannot find it on the web so you’ll need to just get the book. Well worth it in my opinion.
Next up was Andrea Reusing’s Wild Shrimp and Peas with Fresh Curry Leaves and Coconut Rice. (Yep. I cooked and ate rice this week. It was quite the treat.) The shrimp
dish was flavorful and easy, fragrant with garam masala and coconut, and the crisped
curry leaves added both an interesting taste and texture. I stuck to the recipe with one small change: I had refined coconut oil on hand which doesn’t have the strong coconut flavor of the unrefined oil, but I wasn’t up for buying yet another jar of oil. The garam masala was a combination of store-bought (Whole Foods brand) and my Dad’s Kashmiri garam masala in which he substitutes ground dried Thai chilies for the Indian ones. In addition to elevating its ingredients in a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts fashion, Dad’s garam is wicked hot, and I was afraid to use an entire teaspoon. In hindsight, both the diners and the dish would have held up fine to the added heat.
Initially, I was a bit concerned about finding the curry leaves needed for the recipe; likely it would still taste good without them, but the dish has few ingredients, making each one more important. The Triangle area has a number of Indian groceries, including a new Around the World Market http://www.aroundtheworldnc.com/ located on Williams St between Apex and Holly Springs. The fresh foods section is fairly extensive, and there my mom and I found a pack of curry leaves for 99 cents; more than enough for the recipe. We also picked up some frozen peas, papadams, Ayurvedic soap and a pack of biscuits bearing mom’s name. Score.
Sunday lunch was Dorie Greenspan’s Deconstructed BLT Salad. During the week we ate some great chicken sausages flavored with roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Served with sides of sautéed peppers and onions as well as arugula dressed with vinaigrette, they made an easy meal. D made perfect omelets all week using spinach, feta, leftover chicken sausage, roasted peppers, tomatoes, bacon, and onions (not all those ingredients at once of course ;-). We tested out Backyard BBQ Pit on highway 55 near Highway 54 and US 40. A new favorite NC pork barbecue that is worth the drive. Next time, I’m trying out the brisket.
At this point in the week I developed a head cold. Bleh. Plans to make Yotam Ottolenghi’s Shellfish and Tomato Stew with Feta and Scallions were scrapped. (I’m hoping to make it
soon, however.) Mom also left a copy of Andrea Reusing’s Crispy Roast Chicken with Rhubarb and Fennel which I’m saving for early summer next year when rhubarb is back in season.
We topped the week off with Mom’s birthday dinner celebrated at Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill. It was one of the best meals we have had this year: hibiscus infused vodka and Thai basil cocktails, pork dumplings, crispy pork belly with pickled pumpkin, seafood hot pot (fragrant with lime leaves), beef pho, and miso glazed black cod. Dessert was a perfect soft chocolate cake with a scoop of roasted peanut ice cream.
It was a wonderful week and we are looking forward to cooking and eating more on Mom’s next visit.
Aromatic Pork Belly Hotpot (American Measurements)
3 lbs pork belly
6 cups chicken or pork stock
12 green onions
7 tablespoons light soy sauce
5 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
5 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 star anise pods
4 inch piece of fresh ginger
Pinch of dried chili flakes
See recipe link above for directions. Note that for my version I use tamari, which is a strong wheat free soy, so I cut back the amount to around 5 tablespoons. I use 1 tablespoon of Diabetisweet brown and a packet of sucralose rather than sugar. Additionally, I like the hot pot a bit more tart and often add more rice vinegar to suit my taste. We don’t generally eat noodles, but prefer the broth and pork belly simply served together.