Pork with peaches

After read the post on Gammon with Roast Peaches on Mrs Portly’s Kitchen and practically drooling on my keyboard; since I didn’t have any serious ham at the time, I tried it with pork confit; it was really good! Peach season is here now, and I do want to try some with country ham before good peaches disappear for another year.

I suspect that my variation of this may end up on my cast iron griddle, rather than the grill because I’m such a wuss about the heat and humidity here, but I’m sure it will be good!

Country ham

Black pepper is underappreciated!

Black pepper is about as ubiquitous as any spice can possibly be.  It would probably be hard to find a kitchen without it.  Sometimes is preground (yuck) and doesn’t really have much except enough heat to make you sneeze.  It’s something many probably pick up in the grocery store without thinking about it.  But, black pepper is black pepper is black pepper is not true.  It is often added as kind of an afterthought amongst other spices and herbs.

Whole Special Extra Bold Indian Black PeppercornsI’ve always been picky about my black pepper–my favorite is from Penzeys.  I’ve been mail-ordering it from there for ages–and have kept on even with the local store since I’ve got my established list of herbs and spices there.

If you peruse the list of black peppers from Penzeys, you’ll find quite a selection:  India Tellicherry, India Malabar (both excellent) and then there’s the Special Extra Bold Indian Black Peppercorns.  True more expensive than either of the others, but worth every penny more.

However, as much as I liked black pepper (over eggs, in mashed potatoes, with strawberries, balsamic, and black pepper), I didn’t really appreciate black pepper as the main seasoning until I made fårikål.  The seasoning is black pepper!  Lots of whole black peppercorns that cook right with the cabbage and the lamb. And should get eaten rather than picked out; after the long cooking they still have some tooth but are soft enough to eat easily and the flavor is just amazing.

Black pepper is worth exploring as something other than an add-on to other herbs and spices.  It should always be bought whole rather than ground or cracked.  While you can spend a small fortune of a pepper mill, you can also get a reasonably inexpensive one.  It will open a whole new world of flavor.  The highly recommended mill from America’s Test Kitchen was from Cole and Mason, and surprisingly, very reasonably priced.

Another tasty dish featuring lots of black pepper that you should make once you have some really good black whole peppercorns to go with you pepper mill is cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta).  But do try it with good ripe strawberries, too.  Or on a lusciously ripe muskmelon or watermelon.

A son gôut!

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Autumn delight: quinces

Now I really feel as if fall is here!  I found quinces in the market!  You don’t often see them (they appear in late fall (just before frost), but when you find them, you just have to

quinces on tree

from elderflower orchards

do something with them.  One of the things to do with them is to let them sit around in your fruit bowl and simply perfume the room.

Although they are considered by most to be inedible uncooked, they are wonderful to cook with.  Simply poaching them turns them a lovely rosy shade, and makes them absolutely luscious. Or there is membrillo (quince paste) which is lovely with cheese–particularly manchego

Here is a favorite recipe from David Lebovitz.  I’ve included the recipe below, but you really should read the additional information from his blog.

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Poached Quinces

(From David Lebovitz’s living the sweet life in paris)

Quince are not usually raised commercially so you won’t find many picture-perfect specimens. Expect a few bruises and scrapes, but avoid fruits with soft, dark spots. Like pears, quince ripen from the inside out, so later in the season, you might find fruit that’s past its prime when you cut them open. I look for firm quinces and lift them to my nose; if they have a nice fragrance, there’s a good chance they’re good candidates for poaching.

Some recipes advise soaking the peeled quince slices in lemon-tinged water to avoid browning. I’ve never done that, but instead, I simply slip them into the warm poaching liquid and any trace of discoloration soon disappears. Of course, this recipe can be halved, or increased.

7 cups (1.75l) water
1 cup (200g) sugar
1/2 cup (150g) honey
1 lemon (preferably unsprayed), cut in half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

6 large, or 8 medium, quince

1. Mix the water, sugar, honey, lemon and vanilla bean in a large non-reactive pot and turn it on to medium-to-high heat. You can add any additional spices or seasonings, as indicated above, if you wish.

2. While the liquid is heating, quarter, peel, and remove the cores of the quince. Make sure to removed anything tough for fibrous, being very careful with the knife. (The intrepid can wear one of these.)

3. As you peel and prepare the quince quarters, slip each one into the simmering liquid. Once they’re all done, cover the pot with a round of parchment paper with a walnut-sized hole cut in the center and place it on top.

4. Simmer the quince (do not boil) for at least an hour, until the quince are cooked through.

Cooking time will vary, depending on the quince. They’re done when they are cooked through, which you can verify by piercing one with the tip of a sharp paring knife. It’s not unusual for them to take up to 2 hours, or more.

Serve warm, or at room temperature. To store, pour the quince and their liquid into a storage container and refrigerate for up to one week.

You can also use these poached quince to make my Quince tarte Tatin.

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Thank you, David Lebovitz!  Wonderful recipes on this website.  It’s a go-to for desserts.

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Just have to share this duck recipe!

I love duck breasts–it’s a great way to have duck when you are trying to do single-serving cooking since the breasts are readily available frozen from the supermarket. There are some in my freezer now, and one of my favorite citrus fruits is a lovely blood orange.

I was just perusing the WordPress and my FaceBook updates and saw this recipe for “Duck and Orange Salad with Duck Crackling”  from Mrs Portly’s Kitchen.  The pictures came very close to having me drooling all over by keyboard–such perfectly cooked duck and that jewel-like blood orange gel!

I’ve never tried cooking duck breasts without the skin–but that would make it much simpler than searing them with the skin on but this looks like it would be well worth every bit of effort. And the crackling–yum!

I think I saw blood oranges at The Fresh Market last time I was there!

Gremolata

A simple, quick way to add some kick and freshness to lots of dishes: gremolata.  It’s an Italian classic served with osso buco, but can be used with almost any grilled, roasted, or even boiled meats, fish, or with vegetables. It’s especially delightful in the winter when food is a bit heavier and lacks that spring and summer freshness. Great taste, and it is so simple and quick.

It’s one of those things you don’t really need a recipe for. It’s just lemon zest, parsley, and garlic. Here is a nice post from The Kitchn that should give you all the information you need to whip up this condiment.

Once you’ve got this basic condiment down, you’ll find lots of uses for it, and here are some variations for different dishes.

So many variations!

A son goût.

Fresh Fig Ice Cream (Gelato di Fichi)

I just have to pass along this post from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog. I love figs, love ice cream, and this is easy. I’ll be anticipating the fig season next year, though we have brown Turkey figs here, rather than the deep purple ones.

Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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Fresh figs have to be imported and because they are quite perishable they are not often of a great quality, but sometimes some nice figs are available in the Netherlands. A nice way to use them is to make ice cream. I’ve used a recipe from SeriousEats that uses lemon zest and lemon juice to enhance the flavor, and it was very nice indeed. The recipe is quite easy as nog eggs are involved. Here’s what I did…

Ingredients

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Makes about 750 ml (3 cups)

900 grams (2 lbs) fresh figs, plus additional figs for garnish (optional)

1 untreated lemon

150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar

250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream

Preparation

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Wash and dry the figs and remove the tough stem.

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Chop the figs.

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Put the figs in a saucepan with 125 ml (1/2 cup) of water.

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Add the grated zest of a lemon.

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Bring to a boil, stirring…

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Grocery shopping for one

Do you think about advertising while you’re grocery shopping?  Most likely not! I know that I don’t–but I try to do “perimeter” shopping, making a foray into the center of the store only for specific items–like drain cleaner, paper towels, or dish detergent.  Where I shop, the immediate thing from the entrance is produce (with a big display of locally grown goods), which leads to the meat and fish/seafood counters; a left turn there takes me past the dairy, and refrigerated juices; another left leads me to frozen goods. If I take a right turn at the butcher/fish/seafood counter, I find myself at a counter of prepared fruits and melons (usually in big quantities that are too much for one).  Next in line is the bakery and then the delicatessen.  Continuing through those, I end up at the Asian food bar,  the rotisserie chickens and other prepared meats, and the salad bar.  My usual trek through the grocery store most often involves only a quick dash to the dairy case, then meat and deli. I don’t see a lot of processed food on this circuit. I’d never really given much thought to whether or not my shopping was being manipulated by sales-motivated display methods.  The links below contain some information about store layout and methods used to induce us to buy “stuff”–things that we did not come into the store to purchase: impulse purchases.

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links of hot Italian sausageMeat purchases are pretty easy–thanks to chops, steaks, and a butcher/fish counter that will cut to order; packages of  chicken parts, rather than whole birds, and house-made sausages that I can buy one or two at a time. Careful consideration of the dish that I want to make can allow alternative cuts of meet: beef shank instead of large chuck roast for post roast.

The real difficulties come in produce where things are sold bunched, bagged, or otherwise in quantities that don’t fit single-serving cooking. Some produce just grows in too large a quantity–heads of cauliflower, heads of cabbage or lettuce, a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts…waste just waiting to happen unless we make a serious effort to prevent it.

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One of the difficulties of cooking for one (or even two) is the produce that goes bad while waiting quietly in the refrigerator for you to do something with it.  I love peppers–and I like variety, but I simply cannot use a whole red and orange or yellow bell pepper before they begin to get a little mushy around the edges, no matter how carefully I store them.  So do I do without them?  Even  some ready-to-use packages that are available in the produce department are still more than I want. Buying more than I can use is like throwing money away–and it gets worse if you consider the amount of food waste by consumers after purchase, let alone the waste between harvest and the appearance in the supermarket.

My supermarket likely has something that will help with this dilemma:  a salad bar.

green on the salad barIf you’ve always thought of it as a place to make a salad with all sorts of veggies and trimmings, and pour salad dressing on it, top it with some croutons, and take it back to the office to eat  you need to look at the salad bar from a different perspective. Take a closer look at what’s available there to purchase by the pound–thinking about what you need for a meal, rather than making a salad.

As much as I love salads, packaged greens often go bad before I use all of them. My other objection to big prepared baby spinach on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)packages of greens is the lack of variety–I simply don’t want spinach as my greens for a whole week.  If your market has a salad bar, you can get single-servings of mesclun, spinach, and other greens from the salad bar. I can also get some that loose greens in the produce department–I’ll purchase that either place, depending on what my schedule is and how salad-crazy I am at the time. Since the salad bar usually has several kinds of greens out, I can have mixed salad greens without buying lots of each kind.

salad bar-broccoli-cauliflower IMG_6051I like cauliflower and broccoli too, but again a head of cauliflower is a bit much, so even at $3.99 a pound it is less wasteful and probably cheaper in the long run for me to buy what I need for a single meal from the salad bar–and I avoid having to do the prep myself–added benefit.

My most frequent purchase from the salad bar is bell pepper strips, for salads, and sometimes for seasonings.  If I need a lot, for example making the dandelion greens and sausages or  chicken with sweet peppers, I will either buy whole peppers, or use frozen ones since they are to be cooked.  The salad bar that I frequent usually has a variety of colors, so I can have that without red, yellow, orange, and green going bad in the fridge. (I prepared bell peppers on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I’m one of the people who will stand there and pick out the red, orange, and yellow and leave the green ones behind.)

I don’t buy tomatoes off the salad bar–I think that the refrigeration changes the texture of them, so I usually get grape/cherry tomatoes from the produce section. They seem to be one thing that I use easily before they get funky.

Onions and whole carrots keep well julienned carrots on the salad barenough that I buy those in the produce department most of the time and keep them in the fridge; but if I want  julienned carrots to make a quick serving for a meal or for a salad–I may just take the lazy way out and use the salad bar rather than the packaged ones in the produce department. That’s my idea of convenience food.

I don’t often by cucumbers from the salad bar since I prefer the English ones–and the salad bar usually features the American slicers so they are not worth the per pound price. Other things that may be purchased from the salad bar include sliced mushrooms, julienned radishes, or fresh mozzarella when you want just enough for one serving.

Another frustration of buying produce for one is fruit. As much as I like cantaloupe, honeydew, berries and other fruit, getting variety leads me to use the fruit side of the salad bar often. I can usually find assorted berries, mangoes, pineapple, and melons there.

Most of the items on the salad bar really aren’t that heavy–and considering that you have avoided the waste of unused produce, it seems to be a reasonable price.  Even some of the heavier items like melons, broccoli and cauliflower, are a bargain for me since it allows me to have variety in my meals and minimizes waste.

Not everything I want is on the salad bar, so the solo cook has to deal with more produce than you’re going to use quickly. What are the options?