September 2014

roast chicken

This past week, we had a wonderful opportunity through Eatwell Farm, our CSA farm, to cook three very special chickens. The chickens are a heritage breed, Black Australorp, and were raised in the open air on pasture for the past four months at their farm as part of a sustainable poultry project they’ve been developing at the farm. The birds were harvested the very same morning they were dropped off with me. I know for a fact that I’ve never had the chance to cook a chicken as fresh or as humanely raised as these beauties, and the experience was delicious from start to finish.

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In the United States, and especially in big cities, we’re incredibly distanced from where our food comes from. Our meat comes butchered, pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped, even if we’re shopping at quality markets. It’s very easy to forget that meat comes from animals, animals who gave their life so that we could take pleasure in eating them. It’s a convenient system, but I find, even as a person who thinks about food a lot, I often forget this incredibly important fact.

And so it was exciting, and intimidating, to be handed three large birds with head and feet still attached on Friday afternoon. They were impressive and a bit scary with their black talons sticking eight inches out of a plastic bag. But what I did not expect when I signed up to test cooking a few chickens was how differently I’d feel about the birds because of this simple change in butchering style.

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My emotional connection to sitting down for a meal is very strong, but I’ve never experienced that type of connection with a piece of raw meat before now. Sure I’ve appreciated a steak for it’s perfect marble, but holding that chicken’s head in my hand, examining it’s long, lean legs, I felt an entirely new appreciation for the creature and for the effort that went into raising it. Because it was undeniable that the bird I was planning to cook was a very real animal, cooking it was even more meaningful. I could begin to grasp the sacredness this exchange. That awareness is something that we don’t often experience with city living, and I’m grateful for it. Being more thoughtful and emotionally engaged is always a good thing, especially regarding something we do every single day—eat.

Now, what you really want to know—how did that handsome bird taste? The skin was phenomenal. Thicker and fattier than a typical store-bought chicken, which meant it crisped up into perfect chicken cracklins! I could have eaten the whole birds worth on my own. The meat was far more complex than a conventional bird, even the breasts had a ton of flavor. The thighs and legs were not as tender, but I liked that, evidence that the bird used it’s muscles like it was meant to. Our friend Josh thought the chicken tasted wild, and meant that in the most complimentary way possible. Thanks to these chickens, we had two very special meals, and I’d jump at the chance to cook more of these wonderful birds.

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Roast Chicken with Butter, Piment d’Ville and Lemon
1 whole chicken
kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Piment d’Ville (or other mildly spicy and flavorful pepper, piment d’espelette, paprika, ancho chili)
1 lemon

A note on my butchering before we begin, I roasted these birds the same way on two separate occasions. One I brought over to our friends place, and not knowing the size of their oven, I cut off part of the legs and butterflied the chicken. These were tall chickens! The other I roasted at home and left completely intact, using tinfoil to keep the bird upright. I must say quite enjoyed the presentation!

One day before you plan to cook your chicken, sprinkle it liberally with salt. I like to use about 1 teaspoon per pound, as the wonderful Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café recommends (and if anyone knows a roast chicken, it’s Zuni). Salting early allows the salt to really permeate the meat and keeps it very moist after cooking.

Preheat your oven to 400° F. Place your chicken in the center of a large roasting pan. After about 25 minutes, baste your bird with the fat that has rendered out. Tilt the pan, and just spoon the fat over the whole chicken. After about 35 minutes, check the it and baste it again, this time with a little melted butter. My bird was done after about 40 minutes, but be sure to check yours for doneness. The internal temperature should be 160° F.

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Remove the chicken from the oven, and sprinkle it with the Piment d’Ville, or whatever pepper is your favorite. Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. Carve the chicken, taking care to put a piece of crispy skin with each piece of meat. Pour the remaining melted butter over the carved chicken pieces and sprinkle with lemon juice.

-Emily

Ps. Coming up next with our final chicken—coq au vin!

churros with whiskey sauce and peach compote

Tonight I’m sitting at my kitchen table waiting for Jordan to come home from school and waiting for my oven to preheat. The sound of a neighbor’s Billy Holiday record is wafting in through the open window, the smell of cooking tomato sauce along with it. I can hear the occasional clink of a spoon against a pot when the noise of traffic pauses in time to the lights. Every 20 minutes or so the robotic voice of a bus drones “2 Clement to Presidio Avenue” as it pulls away from the curb, then the Billy Holiday drifts back in.churros-2

We’re back into our usual school rhythm, Jordan teaching and working in the lab,  and working at the record store on his days off from school. It’s busy, and we don’t see as much of each other as we’d like, but it’s also familiar, more or less the pace of life since we moved here. It’s strange to feel the changing of the seasons so specifically when the temperature always seems to hover around 65°, but here we are, entering into our fourth fall in San Francisco. I’m feeling pretty good about this one.

This dessert is a perfect transition between summer and fall. You’ve got the last of summer’s peaches, paired with the warm comfort of cinnamon and whiskey. Plus fried dough. Fried dough is always in season. Churros are deceptively simple to make, far easier than doughnuts in my first-timers opinion, but they push all the same delicious buttons. Churros are no longer relegated to carnival treat in this house. So here’s to end of one season and the start of another, I’ll toast you with a churro, or three.

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Churros with Whiskey Sauce and Peach Compote
For the churros, adapted from The Other Side of the Tortilla
1 1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a dash of ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 liter of neutral, high heat oil (safflower, sunflower, canola)

To dust the churros
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Bring water, butter, brown sugar and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Remove the water mixture from the heat and add in the flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the vanilla and stir again. Then add the eggs, one by one, mixing well after each addition. It will be a brief, but strenuous arm workout. Let the dough cool a bit.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, heavy pot, like a dutch oven. Put it over medium low heat and let the oil come up to temperature, about 350 F.  Line a baking sheet with paper towels and top with a cooling rack. Mix the sugar and cinnamon mixture to coat and put that in a large, shallow dish.

When the dough has cooled slightly, spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with the star tip. The star tip is what gives churros their adorable shape. I usually put my pastry bag in a tall glass and then can more easily fill it with two hands. This is a sticky dough, but it comes out of the pastry bag just fine.

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Before you pipe in a whole churro, test the oil temperature by squeezing out a 1″ piece. If the oil is ready, the churro should immediately start to bubble vigorously and float to the top. If not, wait a while for the oil to come up to temperature. If your oil isn’t hot, you’ll get soggy, greasy churros, which would be a tragedy.

Pipe a few churros into the pot. I found the easiest way to handsome churros was cut the churro from the pastry bag with a knife after I had piped about 4 inches of dough. Don’t crowd them. They will take about 3 – 4 minutes per side to become a deep golden brown. Remove them from the oil and let drain on the rack. After they’ve cooled slightly, lightly toss them in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Serve churros immediately, or let cool completely on the rack. To reheat, warm them for 5 – 7 minutes in a 350° F oven. They’re best the first day, but not too shabby on the second if you somehow have leftovers.

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For the whiskey sauce, from the ever lovely Katie Norton
1 cup sugar
1/2 c butter (8 tablespoons, 1 stick)
1 egg, beaten
2 oz burbon whiskey

In a heavy bottomed pot, cream the butter with the sugar over medium low heat. When the sugar is almost dissolved and butter is melted, add in the beaten egg. Whisk to incorporate and then whisk constantly for one minute, until the sauce comes together and has a creamy consistency. Remove from the heat and whisk in the bourbon. This sauce is good on just about anything.

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For the peach compote
2 peaches, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons brown sugar
small pinch of salt
1/2 lemon, juiced

In a heavy bottomed pot, add the peaches and brown sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the fruit is quite soft. Remove from the heat and purée. I used an immersion blender. Add the lemon juice and blend just a bit more to incorporate. Store in the fridge if you have leftovers.

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-Emily

fiesta peppers

This is a recipe from my mama—the type of recipe you that’s told to you over the phone because it’s a little of this, a little of that, a little of whatever you’ve got in the fridge. It’s perfect for the end of summer when your pepper plants are exploding with fruit, or your CSA has blessed you with a cornucopia of them. The flavors are vaguely Mexican and it’s quick to throw together, especially if you have a tupperware of leftover rice languishing in your fridge (or, alternatively, a rice cooker with a timer).

Fiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always PorkFiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always Pork

It’s also the type of dish that’s great for a party because you can make the whole thing in advance. All that’s left to do once you’ve got a house full of friends is taking a hot dish out of the oven and setting it on the table. It isn’t the most picturesque of dishes when all said and done, but you can’t go wrong with the flavor combinations—the curse of the casserole. We made it for our dinner club last Thursday, and it’s more than fair to say everyone left full and happy. There isn’t really anything better than sitting down at a table filled with people you love, eating some solid, soul-warming food, and cracking a lot of jokes.

Fiesta Peppers, adapted from my mother’s recipe, serves 8 
1 onion, diced
2 fresh chorizo sausages, removed from their casings (skip the sausage and this can be made vegetarian. Jordan made these sausages, no wondering I’m marrying him!)
1 can of black beans, drained
2 cups white rice, cooked (1 cup uncooked, this is a great way to use up leftover rice)
1/4 -1/2 cup sour cream (our addition, I’m sure my mother would skip it, but it does help everything stick together a bit better)
1 cup mild cheese, grated (we used a mixture of monterey jack and cheddar)
6-10 mild peppers, cut in half with seeds removed (bell pepper, poblano, any sweet pepper will do)
1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce (we used 2 bottles of Trader Joe’s enchilada sauce – it’s good and makes this dish even easier to pull together)
salt and pepper
Tapatío hot sauce
lime for serving

Preheat your oven to 350° F. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the chorizo in a bit of oil. When the chorizo is starting to brown, add the diced onion and cook a few minutes more. Put the chorizo onion mixture in a large bowl. Add the rice, black beans, sour cream and 1/2 cup of cheese, and mix to combine. Season with salt, pepper and a dash or two of Tapatío.
Fiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always PorkFiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always PorkFiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always Pork

Lightly oil two oven-safe baking dishes (I filled one 9″x11″ and one 8″ round). Stuff the peppers with the sausage mixture and arrange them in the dish. Cover with enchilada sauce and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake 25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and cheese has melted. Serve with lime, plus whatever other fixings you like—sour cream, guacamole, salsa, you know the drill.

Fiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always PorkFiesta Peppers | The Answer is Always Pork

-Emily

Ps. Eatwell Farm’s offer to our readers to try their CSA Farm Share subscription at a discount still stands! New Eatwell Farm subscribers can use the code: ALWAYSPORK to get their first 4 box subscription for just $99. $20 a week for perfect produce, like the sexy peppers and watermelon pictured above? You can’t go wrong!

daily toast

There’s a really sweet breakfast spot in our neighborhood called Farm Table. They run the whole thing out of a space no larger than a San Francisco studio apartment, which for those who don’t know this reality personally, means there’s about 40 square feet of kitchen real estate. Still, they manage turn out some seriously tasty breakfast treats, along with solid cups of coffee just about every morning.

Their “Daily Toast” is my favorite dish. It starts with slightly salty slice of focaccia bread, topped with a generous spread of sweetened mascarpone, seasonal fruit and a sprinkling of pistachios. It’s a simple, stunning combination. Inspired after stopping by for breakfast a while back, I wanted to see if I could do it any justice at home. Turns out, I can, which means you can too. The Daily Toast actually comes together in 15 minutes, if you don’t go full on crazyperson and make focaccia from scratch (ahem).

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There’s a pretty interesting trend sweeping San Francisco, and I’m sure other cities too, of artisanal toast. Like the cupcake and donut before it, toast has been transformed from a boring, at-home-breakfast to a fancy, indie coffee shop specialty complete with from-scratch breads and snazzy toppings. I don’t scoff because I happen to really like toast—more than cupcakes anyway—and I know making a good loaf of bread is dang hard, but the trend bears mentioning. The word is that it all stems from a coffee shop in the Outer Sunset, Trouble Coffee. I’ve had their cinnamon toast on many occasions, it’s delicious, and worth every penny. Not much beats the warm comfort of cinnamon toast as it mixes with the salty breeze off the Pacific, blanket of fog surrounding you, softly whining greyhound at your side. But, Daily Toast sure makes a decent effort, and you should absolutely give it a shot.

Daily Toast
Several slices of plain focaccia bread (I made mine from scratch, but you can often find focaccia at the grocery store. I think they use Acme Bread at Farm Table)
1 cup mascarpone
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 dash of cinnamon and nutmeg
1 cup berries, washed, dried and sliced if needed (We used a combination of strawberries and raspberries, but you could really use any berry or stonefruit. Supremed citrus would also be wonderful in winter)
1/4 cup pistachios

For the toast
In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and spices. Beat to combine. Taste for sweetness, it should be just a tad sweet. Wash, dry and slice the berries.

Cut a piece of focaccia about 3 inches by four inches. Cut in half as if you were making a sandwich and spread each half generously with the mascarpone. Top with berries and sprinkle with pistachios. Enjoy!

Daily Toast | The Answer is Always Pork

For the focaccia, from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
5 cups (22.5 oz) bread flour
2 teaspoons (0.5 oz) salt
2 teaspoons (0.22 oz) instant yeast
6 tablespoons (3 oz) olive oil
2 cups (16 oz) water, at room temperature
olive oil and sea salt for drizzling

Stir together flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the oil and water and mix with the paddle attachment on low speed, until the ingredients start to come together into a wet, sticky ball. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5-7 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be smooth, sticky and clear the sides of the bowl.

Sprinkle your counter with a light dusting of flour. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the counter. Dust the top liberally with flour and pat into a rectangle. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough into a rectangle twice its original size. Fold the dough letter style; fold one side into the middle and then fold the other side over that. Dust with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Once again, stretch the dough into a rectangle, fold it letter style, dust with flour and let rest for another 30 minutes. Allow the dough to ferment on the counter for one hour.

Line a 17″ x 11″ baking pan (I used a rimmed baking sheet) with parchment. Sprinkle some olive oil on the pan and coat your hands with some. Transfer the dough from the counter onto the baking dish, taking care to maintain its rectangular shape. Using your finger tips, press the dough into a rectangle about 1/2″ thick.  Drizzle with some oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Daily Toast | The Answer is Always Pork

Remove the pan from the fridge three hours before baking. Drizzle olive oil over the surface and dimple the bread by poking it with your finger tips. Cover the pan again with plastic wrap and let proof for 3 hours, until the dough doubles in size, about 1″ high.

Preheat your oven to 500° F and put a rack in the middle. Uncover the dough, and sprinkle with sea salt. Put the dough in the oven on the middle rack and lower the temperature to 450° F.  Bake 10 minutes, then rotate the pan 180° and bake for another 10 minutes. When the bread is golden brown, remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. The internal temperature of the bread should be 200° F. Let cool 20 minutes before slicing and assembling.

Daily Toast | The Answer is Always Pork Daily Toast | The Answer is Always Pork

-Emily