Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend Potato Salad

I never like potato salad.

It was this thick, amorphous substance people bought at the grocery store to serve at barbecue dinners, picnics, and potlucks. It usually involved either over cooked or under cooked potatoes, tons of mayonnaise, and very little flavor. Plus, everyone had a story about getting sick from warm potato salad. I thought, why bother?

Then, I started traveling a lot for work and eating at a variety of restaurants. I finally tried good, homemade potato salad. The kind where you can taste the potatoes, but the dressing just makes the whole thing better. Also, it had bacon. I had to recreate this.

After a couple of attempts I think we got it. Original recipe alert!

Guanciale Potato Salad

Makes enough for 8-10 servings as a side (we make it for parties)

12 medium to small red potatoes (in a pinch any waxy potato would do), scrubbed well
1/8 cup diced guanciale (cured-pork jowl) or bacon or pancetta, optional (if you swing that way)
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup real mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
1 teaspoon oregano, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 red onion, finely diced
sea salt
black pepper (freshly grated is preferred)

1. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Salt the water and potatoes generously and bring the water to a boil. Boil potatoes for about 30 minutes or until when poked with a knife the knife enter easily, but with a little resistance. Basically, they will be too hard to mash, but cooked all of the way through.

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet fry the diced guanciale (or whatever) over medium heat until it is crispy. Remove the meat to a paper towel to drain. Reserve 2 tablespoons of pork fat if you can. This sounds gross, but it is a really good idea. Trust me. Allow the fat and guanciale to cool to room temperature.

To make the dressing:
3. Combine the mayo, sour cream, and cooled guanciale fat in a small bowl and whisk until they are mixed.

Add the oregano, chives, mustard, and vinegar. Now add the cooled guanciale and red onion. Taste the dressing and season it with salt and pepper to taste. Be generous! The potatoes need salt to make them tasty. This is also the time when you should add more of any of the ingredients. If you really like mustard, add more etc. The world is your oyster. The potato is your blank canvas.

4. After the potatoes are cooked, drain out the water and let the potatoes cool a little. Now chop them into bite sized chunks and put them in a big bowl.

5. Add the seasoned dressing to the potatoes and mix gently until all of the potato chunks are covered.

This should keep for a couple of days, but ours never lasts that long.

This recipe is not diet friendly. It is a bit of a pain to make. I promise you, if you bring this to a party you will be a hero. People ask us about this dish months later.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Freeze Dried Haddock: An Endorsement

We have a cat named Max. I try to refrain from talking about him too much on this blog, because my irrational love of this fuzzy mammal starts to make me sound like a crazy cat lady. Plus, this is supposed to be a food/archaeology blog. I will start this blog post by clarifying a few things. Yes, Max is incredibly spoiled. No, we only have one cat, he does not eat at the table with us. I promise he has no clothing and I try to avoid anthropomorphizing him.

Believe it or not this blog post is about food (sort of).

At a very, fancy, very ridiculous pet store in Chapel Hill, we discovered Max's favorite treat. This is something I need to tell other cat owners about as a public service. Firstly, I need to make a point of saying we do not make a habit of frequenting this ridiculous yuppie pet store. Max has plenty of toys and he eats a regular mainstream(ish) cat food. We first went in there when Max was a small kitten and I was feeling empowered by my ability to finally buy cat stuff (I wanted this kitten for a long while before I obtained him).

Wow, look at that kitten

Now we mostly just go there to get this product. It is called Simple Catch for Cats and it is a giant bag of dried haddock chunks.

As far as I can tell, these chunks of fish have not been processed much at all. Just caught off the Icelandic coast and dried. Then packed up for my fuzz to enjoy. Warning, they smell like fishy grossness and handling requires hand washing.

A piece of haddock, an incredibly hard picture to take. I am fending off the cat with one hand.

Before you judge me too harshly for feeding my cat wild caught Icelandic haddock, know this is a sometimes food for him and a bag lasts a very long time. When you read this illustrated reaction to the treat being offered you will understand why we do it.

Note: Max is normally a fairly aloof creature who deigns to allow us to occasionally worship him. Crazy abandon is reserved for haddock treats only.

Max getting haddock fillets:
1.) The bag rustles and no matter where Max is in the house he hears this and is able to tell the haddock is on the move. He does not react like this from the movement of any other plastic bag, including is other (less desirable) treats. Max immediately comes running meowing intensely.

2.) The bag opens and the intensity of meowing increases. Max immediately begins jumping and attempting to decrease his distance from the bag.

3.) A treat is removed and Max jumps to obtain the treat.

Note the look of intensity

4.) Rather than immediately eating the treat in an exposed position, Max takes the precious fish away to somewhere safe and munches happily.

Cat thought "I am so exposed up here, must retreat to lower ground"
So much safer down here... (from what, we may never know)

5.) Max returns to either the human or the bag (if the human has been so stupid as to leave the bag accessible) to attempt to obtain more. He has been known to attempt bag capture. Presumably he is trying to take the bag somewhere safe where he can work out the problem of opening it in peace.

See the cat in the right of this picture, he is waiting for me to let down my guard so he can carry off his prize.

6.) Human must hide the bag, preferably in an airtight container. Max is not very intelligent, but he is just smart enough to find it and feast.

This all sounds funny, and I assure you Derek and I find it really amusing, but to Max haddock is no game. It is a serious procurement of food and it is wonderful to watch.

That is why all cat owners must find out how to get this. If you live in the Chapel Hill area, Phydeaux, by the Whole Foods carries it. If you have a dog, I believe the product is also marketed to dogs. I cannot vouch for the canine reaction. I can say, I gave some of this stuff to a friend for his cat and Orange Peel was also smitten.

Oh by the way, in case anyone read this, then thinks this is the kind of blog where people might pay me to hawk products, it isn't. I am not entirely sure anyone reads my nonsense. But in case someone does this was not sponsored, I just love watching my fuzz go crazy and think every cat owner should have that chance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Portland, OR and Home

I grew up in Oregon, in a suburb right outside of Portland. This was a time when Portland was not the cool urban mecca for lefties, hipsters, foodies, and you know "those people." I was a pretty normal suburban kid, I loved food even then as a kid. Portland had good food, but it was hardly the movement food is today. The shiny condos of downtown were just a gleam in some developers eye. The area known as "The Pearl" was a scary warehouse neighborhood where you had to be careful not to get your bike tires caught in defunct railroad tracks. You get the idea.

The Pearl district today.

When I was old enough, I used to take the train into the big city with my friends and go on elaborate eating tours. We were poor, so we avoided the fancy places. We knew where to get the best pizza, cookies, and chocolate. After eating, we would go to foreign and art house movies and feel smart (this is how pretentious a teenager can be). We preferred french movies with nudity or American movies that did not make any sense. If you can't follow the plot the movie is really really smart.
View of Portland from my parents shiny condo.

Now I go home to visit my parents and they have moved into one of those gleaming condos, food carts have taken over the city. Everything is local, everyone eats organic, and Portland is a haven for hipsters. I am not sure I make sense, but the city has changed, I promise. Change is not always bad. My parents love their condo. I love the new Portland food scene. Eating local and pesticide free is good for the planet.

Anyway, here are some pictures Portland and stuff. Hi Mom, Dad, and Jeff, it was fun to see you!
Jeff walking to meet us at the light rail.

The Historic (and present) Reservoir

Mossy Stairs.

Family out hiking on some more crazy stairs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gone back west...

Last weekend Derek and I were in the Pacific Northwest visiting my parents. Now we are currently in Ellensburg, WA to help our dear friends Micah and Emily get married!

We having tons of fun.

Okay, I have no pictures on me right now and I have no time to put together a post about all of the amazing fun we are having. I promise I will. Next week. It will include pictures of cooking, eating, drinking, partying, marrying, and beautiful western scenery.

Can I have a moment to mourn my home turf? I miss you Portland, I miss you so much. I mean Carrboro is awesome and all... but home is always a fun place to visit.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Canning! Strawberry Preserves!

I went back to South Carolina last week. Now my epic April/May/June has begun. I am going to be home for a total of 5 days for the next 5 weeks. When I am not at home I am going to cultural centers like Cookeville, TN and Lancaster, SC. Jealous, anyone?

After five days in South Carolina, I came home for a wonderful weekend with my husband. We went to the farmers market, saw friends, drank beer, and did laundry.

It is strawberry season down here and for about 4 weeks (maybe more) strawberries are cheap, plentiful, and delicious. I was sitting in my depressing hotel room this week thinking about strawberries and summer produce generally. I want strawberry season to last all year. Of course, I had my laptop on my lap and started perusing Amazon for ideas about using our produce. I had an eureka moment. Aha! I need to learn to can. After much debate about book quality and recipes, I bought a book. It is called Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Lisa Krissoff.

I was so excited about canning I downloaded a free canning ebook for my Kindle entitled, Every Step in Canning by Grace Viall Gray. I wanted to read about canning immediately, not in a couple of days when I was back in North Carolina. Because the book was free, I did not look at the description. I started reading the next day. My canning enthusiasm was boundless. Now I got a little suspicious about this book when I read that in addition to the normal canning equipment you will need "another kettle for water - if you haven't running water - for the 'cold dip.'" Huh, who doesn't have running water? After about twenty references to "housewives" and then this water thing, I checked the copyright date. It was published in 1919. I love public domain books!

Another piece of wisdom from Ms. Gray (incidentally, I bet she was a kick-ass housewife), "Test each rubber before you use it by pressing it firmly between the thumbs and forefingers, stretching it very slightly. It is seems soft and spongy discard it. All rubbers fit for canning should be firm, elastic, and should endure a stretching pull without breaking." Got to make sure your rubbers have no holes in them, bad things could happen. DO NOT USE OLD RUBBERS (you might get diseases)!

Okay, so when I got home my modern canning book had been delivered. We went through our weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box and the book. Mostly it is greens season, but we decided to make pickled radishes out of our radish selection. It is strawberry season so I had to make strawberry jam. Then Derek went through the book and found a strawberry lemon preserve, which meant we were making that. Derek has never met a lemon product he did not enjoy (well, as long as it is tart enough).

Some might say that two different types of canned products is too many for your first time. I say, that might be true, but it is produce season and time is a wasting. Plus, we promise to check all of our rubbers and practice safe canning (never gets old, I promise).

Strawberry Lemon Preserves
from Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Lisa Krissoff

Makes 5 half-pint jars

2 lemons
3 pounds rinsed and hulled strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar

1. Scrub lemons and quarter them (removing seeds). Slice the lemon quarters crosswise into 1/8 inch thick pieces. Layer the lemon slices, strawberries, and sugar into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day:
2. Heat up a large pot full of water (enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch) with a rack in the bottom and the jars sitting on the rack. We were to cheap to buy a fancy canning set with a special rack, so we just made a rack by tying together a bunch jar tops (see below). This was only moderately successful because the jars did not sit on the MacGyver rack very well. But it worked, you just can't put the jars on the bottom of the pan. Allow the jars to boil for 10 minutes, to sterilize.

3. Put the flat lids in a heat proof bowl.

4. Move the strawberry mixture with a 1/2 cup of water into a 6 to 8 quart non-reactive pan (we used our enameled cast iron). Bring it to a simmer, stirring it gently. Cook it for about five minutes. Then, place a colander over a bowl and pour the berry mixture into the colander. Return the juice to the pan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Stir this occasionally until the mixture reduces to about 1 1/2 cups. This will take about 15 minutes.

5. Add the strawberry mixture and any juices that have drained back to the syrup. Bring it to a simmer and stir the mixture frequently until the strawberries are glossy and tender, but still hold their shape. It took us about 20 minutes.

6. Skim off as much foam as you can, then remove the preserves from the heat and stir it gently to distribute the fruit into the liquid.

7. Ladle some of the boiling water into the flat lid bowl. Using a jar lifter (something we did buy), lift the jars out of the boiling water. Leave all of the water in the pot and place the jars on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.

8. Ladle the hot strawberry preserves into the jars (we used a special widemouthed funnel so we did not make a mess). Leave a 1/2 to 1/4 inch head space on the top of the jar. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rim of the jar free of any preserve debris.

9. Use a wooden (non-reactive) chop stick to poke out any air bubbles. Place a flat lid on each jar and a ring on top of the flat lid. Tighten the rings, making sure not to make them too tight. That is bad. Add the jars back to the water, making sure there is a 1 inch of water on top of the jar.

10. Bring the water to a boil and boil the jars for 5 minutes to process. Lift the jars out and place them on a towel. Now we you should hear little popping sounds. That is the jar sealing. After an hour push down on the center of the lid. If it can be pushed down it did not seal and should be refrigerated and eaten immediately.

11. Lick the pot now. It tastes like strawberry lemonade.

I had time to make pickled radishes and strawberry preserves, but I did not have time to blog about both of them. Maybe later, who knows?