Friday, April 22, 2011

Things I (and sometimes we) Have Made

I have been home for the past couple of weeks. We have been creating all kinds of crazy things. This post is a show and tell of sorts.


Derek bought me a Kindle as an early birthday present. Well friends, I know my birthday is not until July. I am going to be traveling constantly for the next month and change (I mean it, 5 weeks and 4 states) and he feels bad for me. This way I will need to carry one slender electronic device and the stacks of books can stay at home where they are more comfortable. It also means I will not have to purchase books from Walmart (or "the great satan") when I run out on the road. Small towns of America do not have real bookstores and the Walmart book section sucks.

So I promptly made my self a Kindle case from scrap fabric I had laying around. I know, I know, I am a cross between Martha Stewart and MacGyver. The prettiness and cheapness make me incredibly happy.


The teasers do not lie, we bought ourselves a meat grinder and sausage stuffer. Then we made green chile sausage. We got our pig from our favorite local farm, then we ground it up, and stuffed it. Unfortunately, I only have a few pictures. True to stereotype sausage making is messy and not really conducive to camera holding. It is also a surprisingly phallic process. I am not sure what I imagined ground pork being shoved into casing to look like, but the reality was even funnier that what you could imagine.

It also took us about four hours to complete our task. Not something I would recommend starting at 6:00 pm on a Tuesday night. Expecting to have sausage for dinner was a poor poor idea (I would like to thank Carrburritos for preventing sausage mutiny or extreme hunger).

It was my wonderful friend Cheryl's birthday and I made her a cake. The cake was relatively unremarkable except I decorated it. Now when you look at the pictures remember, I have never done anything like this with frosting and I am incredibly proud of my work, then you can laugh. It looks pretty funny, but I am damn proud. Uhhh, I am also sorry the colors are so awful here. It was dark that night and we have yellow walls, which makes everything white look yellow night...
Damn proud.

Derek went ABD
Derek went ABD two weeks ago. We have been celebrating ever since. Now, for those unfamiliar with graduate student lexicon that stands for "all but dissertation". This is an important rite of passage in a doctoral students life. It means he has passed his comprehensive exams, defended his dissertation prospectus, and finished his coursework (technically he has a few papers to write, but who fails that?). Life is good.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guanciale Parmesan Biscuits

Sorry that break was really long, I have been busy with stuff.

Another use for guanciale, right... that is what I promised.

Guanciale can often be substituted for bacon, it is just a little richer and maybe should be applied with a lighter hand. Because we are in love with breakfast, we invented these one sunny Saturday morning to use some tasty jowl and be a vehicle for some farmer's market eggs.

Guanciale Parmesan Biscuits

1/8 to 1/4 cup diced guanciale
1/3 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 tablespoons, cold unsalted, butter cut into large pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

2. Cook the guanciale in an oven safe frying pan, until it is crisp (we use a cast iron pan). Remove the guanciale from the pan and reserve the fat. I know, this is gross, but delicious.

3. Whisk the dry ingredients with the parmesean and the guanciale.

4. Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry blender until the crumbs are the size of bread crumbs. I never really know what this looks like, but just sort of make it up. It starts to look more like coarse bread crumbs when my arm gets tired. Strange, huh?

5. Add all of the buttermilk and stir it in with a rubber spatula until all of the ingredients are moist. We use this buttermilk from a local dairy, it is really thick and creamy. The best I have ever used.

Then use your hand to gather the dough into a ball and knead it gently along the side of the bowl until the dough is in one ball. Do not over knead it, or it will be tough and gross.

6. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter or knife to cut out the biscuits. Ball up the edges and roll them out again, etc. Do not overwork!

6. Place the biscuits on the non-stick skillet (the one with the guanciale fat). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Eat immediately, preferably with an egg on top.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What do I do with Guanciale?

If you were intrigued by my post about Guanciale (cured pork jowl), the natural question you might ask is, now what do you do with that stuff?

At first, we had no idea. Mostly we made the guanciale because our normal meat farmers did not have any pork belly (for bacon) and we were up for a new adventure. We had no idea what one might use the stuff for. We knew from our research that it is traditionally used as the base for pasta sauces or in lieu of pancetta in spaghetti carbonara. We honestly do not eat those two things too often, so some non-Italian uses were needed.

Guanciale is not the United State's most common cured meat product (shocker, I know). I have rarely seen it for sale commercially at super specialty stores. Therefore, I had never had the occasion to taste any recipes using it and internet searches based on the ingredient yielded vast quantities of traditional Italian pasta dishes. Delicious I am sure, but we have a whole jowl to consume. That is a lot of pasta sauce.

Our finished jowl has this amazing nutty, rich meat flavor. It is pretty salty. The texture is comparable to proscuitto, but the flavor is pretty distinctive. It is not the sort of thing you can snack on with cheese and crackers. A little goes a long way.

The first thing we made was a salad and then we moved onto some guanciale parmesan biscuits.

Guanciale Beet Salad

1 beet
about 1/4 cup (or to taste) greek feta , crumbled*
about 6 thin slices of guanciale (you could use bacon too)
2-3 slice stale bread
mixed salad greens**, washed and dried
good tasting olive oil
good tasting balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano (or whatever you have growing), chopped
freshly ground pepper

1. Wash, dry and trim the beet. Double wrap it in aluminum foil and put it in the oven at 450 degrees for about one hour or until it is soft. We usually do a bunch of beets at once and eat them for awhile. Remove the beet from the oven, let it cool and peel off the tough outer skin (it should come right off). Slice the beet and chop it into bite size pieces. Set aside.

2. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan at about medium heat. Cut the stale bread into about 1 inch square cubes. Add the bread to the oil and stir to coat toasting the bread until it is a dark brown color (but not burnt). Remove the bread from the pan and allow it to cool.

3. Put the pan back on the stove. Add the thin slices of guanciale to the pan and fry them until they are crispy. Discard the fat (I know, sad) and crumble the guanciale. Set it aside.

4. Chop the salad greens into your preferred size. Put these greens into a large salad bowl. Top the greens with the cooled croutons, crumbled feta, diced beets and crumbled guanciale.

5. In a small bowl (I use a pyrex measuring cup), pour a couple of tablespoons of vinegar, whisk in the salt, pepper, and oregano. Slowly pour in about 1/8 cup olive oil in a steady stream, whisking it while you pour (I usually just eyeball this until it looks right amount).

6. Toss the dressing with the salad. Eat immediately, wilting salads are not so tasty.
*I studied abroad in Greece. I do not believe that most products sold in American grocery stores and made with cow's milk deserve the name feta. Feta should be made with sheep or goat milk and packed in brine. Please do not buy the pre-crumbled stuff. Do me a favor. Please.

**We get our lettuce from the farmers market and the bags usually include red leaf, green leaf, butter lettuce, arugula, and more. It is my favorite way to buy lettuce because it includes variety but we do not have half a head of each kind rotting in our fridge. I also find that the farmers market lettuce is more flavorful, tender, and lasts longer than the packaged supermarket lettuce mixes. At our farmers market (Carrboro, NC), salad mixes are available year-round.

Ok, this post is already really long. Biscuits coming up after these messages.

What, no messages?

Well, just take a break then.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunny Pretzel Sunday

I was fully intending to write a post today about all of the wonderful stuff we have made with our guanciale. I will still write that post, but as Derek and I sat down to lunch the internet went out. This unleashed a fortuitous chain of events. Because the internet was gone we could not watch Futurama on Netflix Instant Watch (we are working our way through the seasons). Derek suggested that instead we watch some old episodes of Alton Brown's Good Eats he has on DVD. He queued up the pretzel episode and we sat down with our lunch.

Approximately a half an hour later I had to make pretzels. Derek revealed that he already wanted to make pretzels and this was all part of an underhanded manipulation of my taste buds. He did not take out the internet (which was out throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill), but everything else was planned. Somehow I did not mind.

I am not going to retype Alton Brown's recipe because you can get it here. The recipe is perfect. They were incredibly easy and about three hours later we poured ourselves beers and sat on the back porch with some spicy mustard for dipping our warm fresh pretzels.

In case you are curious the beer pictured is De Koninck a Belgian amber ale and my current favorite beer.

Now I know I do not need to go to Bavaria for my pretzel fix. Cheers to an excellent Sunday afternoon!

Teaser: We ordered a meat grinder, homemade sausage here we come!