The number of times I have gone to Europe.
The number of meals I have eaten which included beef tongue.
The number of times I have truly fallen in love.
The number of years I have attended the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC 2014).
The number of years I have written this Blog.
One special, overwhelming, fulfilling, challenging, and inspirational year!
One year ago today, Pete was sitting in our dining room, asking me what I wanted this to look like. One day before, I had no idea what I was about to get into let alone know what it should look like (other than the header, which Pete designed for me earlier). I would not have ever gotten past the thought of a space to write down my ideas about food without first, the journals that my husband Tom bought me, ritually, each time I filled one up, or second, without Pete saying, “Hey, do you want me to come over and just help you do this thing?”. I can’t thank them enough!
And big thanks to all of you that actually read what I write. A bigger thanks to those that actually leave comments and/or follow my blog (Simon, you were my first follower, thanks!). Most of all I am just happy to have a place that I can escape to and write for a few minutes, or an hour, or a day. One! Without that time, I feel lost. Without that writing, I would not have connected to all of the people that I have met through this blog. I am so glad to have “met” each of you. I wish I could meet you all in person, have you to dinner, or share a glass of wine over a leisurely lunch. But we can pretend (unless you actually come over, then we can do some serious eating!).
I leave you with this, a dinner that we shared last night with my Mom and her opposite-sex-partner, John (very much part of the family too), before their departure back to Alaska (after fixing numerous household things in need of repair). One trip, one meal, one year, is never enough (but they will be back for a special birthday in a month, I will keep writing for another year and I will attend, for my second time, the International Food Bloggers Conference, September 18-20, 2015, you too can register here).
One Summer down, Fall is back in the air, and this is the meal that we shared… and for Mom, my recipe for the pork belly + canteloupe sauce. One course is never enough. We had five. A good number too, but too much to write. This is about, One (recipe).
A Fall Dinner for Mom and John 9/27/14
To start – Nibbles with cocktails
Fresh shrimp spring rolls with dipping sauces (nuac chom + nectarine sauce (nectarine sauce recipe to come in another post))
Fried shoyu tofu sticks + golden cow’s milk cheese & everything crackers (for the nibbler (ironically not me, my Mom))
Roast beet + raw zucchini and mint stack with miso sauce and pickled ginger
True cod with corn, wild mushrooms, baby bok choy and shoyu corn broth
*Pork belly + scallop, massaged kale, cantaloupe sauce
Fig, apple and ricotta galette with carmel cashew-milk ice cream
Berry galette with Elleno’s lemon curd yogurt
*Pork belly + scallop, massaged kale, cantaloupe sauce
Serves 4-6 people
It is best to get the pork belly with the skin on if you can; this time I did not but I prefer it that way (it keeps the fat from turning very black). I learned the method of cooking pork belly from Tom Collicio’s book, “Think Like a Chef” and have experimented with many different cooking flavors, modifications ever since. The pork belly is braised in a broth that then becomes the base of the sauce for the true cod (above) which I also used to flavor the beets, zucchini and fried tofu sticks.
The cantaloupe sauce helps cut the richness of the pork and the saltiness of the shoyu braise. It smells of pumpkin as it cooks, and looks like butterscotch when done. I make this sauce every Fall. It is wonderful served with a meal of cranberry beans, pork loin and prosciutto, plus could easily be used to sauce everything from fish to fois gras. Because I was pairing this with a shoyu-based braise, I changed out the typical Chardonnay in the sauce for sake, but either would work fine. You can freeze leftovers in a Ziploc freezer bag or freezer-safe container. Both the pork and the sauce can be made a day or two in advance, which makes it great for entertaining.
The kale was an afterthought because I felt we needed something green, I had some in the fridge, plus I felt it would lend a perfect balance of texture and flavor to the rest of the dish. My favorite way to eat kale is a simple massage of olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice. No cooking required; the heat from the pork and the sauce are all the heat that is needed.
INGREDIENTS (for the pork belly)
2 lbs pork belly, skin on if you can
Salt and pepper
1 celery stick, diced
3/4 cup onion, chopped
2 TB chopped garlic
3/4 cup corn broth
1/2 cup shoyu (I used Ohsawa organic Nama Shoyu. Quality does make a difference but feel free to substitute for a soy sauce instead. Please note that it might be saltier so do adjust according to taste.
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
INGREDIENTS (for the cantaloupe sauce)
1 cup chopped onion (or shallot)
1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb (or a few fennel stems and fronds from the garden, chopped as I did this time; I had no fennel bulb)
1 TB butter for sauteing (or use olive oil)
3 TB L’Estornell Grenache varietal red wine vinegar (or another good quality red wine vinegar) (more as needed to season)
1 cup sake (or chardonnay)
2 to 2 1/2 cups large diced, peeled cantaloupe
A handful of fresh basil (optional)
1 TB red currant jelly (I forgot it last night but it does help to thicken the sauce)
1 TB demi-glace
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 cup heavy cream
Sea salt to taste
INGREDIENTS (to finish and serve)
Kale (approximately 1 leaf per person), rinsed, dried and stem removed
Olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice to taste
Fresh, dry-packed sea scallops (1 per person)
Olive oil, a knob of butter, sea salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice
Fennel fronds and flower for garnish (optional)
PREP & COOK (the pork)
Season the pork with sea salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees
In a hot pan, brown the pork, skin (or fat) side down (this might take 10-15 minutes over medium heat). No oil is needed as there is plenty of fat that will come out of the pork. Drain it off periodically if it splatters too much. You will want to reserve about 1-2 TB for cooking the vegetables. Transfer the pork to a plate.
In 1-2 TB pork fat, cook the celery, onion and garlic until soft. This will take about 10 minutes more. Keep the heat low so as not to brown the vegetables.
Transfer the vegetables to a baking dish. Top with the pork belly, skin (or fat) side up.
Combine the shoyu, rice wine vinegar and water in a small bowl (or measuring glass). Pour enough of this mixture into the baking dish to come 1/2 to 3/4 the way up, but not cover the pork. You will likely still have some liquid left which will be added later.
Cook, uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Check on the liquid and add more if needed.
Cook an additional hour, checking occasionally to be sure it is not burning or running out of liquid. If it browns too much, you can cover it loosely with foil. Add the rest of the liquid (if any). You could use sake or water if needed.
3 hours is usually how long I leave my pork to cook. It should be quite tender (the degree of tenderness will depend on the thickness of the pork and the ratio of fat to meat). It will go back in the oven to finish later (if eating that night), or the next day (if doing in advance).
If you are doing this in advance, store the pork, in the baking pan with the liquid (and solids), covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
When you are ready to use (up to 8 hours in advance), transfer the pork to a plate. Pick off obvious pieces of fat that have solidified in the liquid. Strain the contents of the pan through a fine mesh strainer (or chinois) into a bowl and discard the solids. Separate the oil from the liquid as best you can. The liquid will likely be quite salty; this is okay. You should have about one cup of liquid. Dilute with more corn broth (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cup). Taste for flavor and adjust accordingly. It should be balanced in flavor now, not too salty, not too sweet.
Remove the skin from the pork (skip this step, obviously, if there was no skin to start). Cut the pork into 4-6 equal sized pieces. Score the fat. Put it back into a baking pan with the liquid. At this point, I went ahead and added a few tablespoons of that liquid to my sliced beets, zucchini and tofu. I “borrowed” more of the liquid when I went to cook my true cod.
In a 350-degree oven, cook (or re-warm) the pork until it is very tender and the fat is browned (but not burnt). If you did not have skin on the pork, the skin will burn easier so you should keep checking in on it’s progress. Allow 1/2 hour for this process but you can keep it in the oven for longer if you are serving other courses; just be sure to cover it or turn down the heat so as not to dry the pork out.
PREP & COOK (the cantaloupe sauce)
Heat a saute pan and melt a knob of butter. Add the onion and fennel. Cook until the onion is translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook a few minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the sake (or wine) and cantaloupe; continue simmering for approximately 20 minutes more or until the cantaloupe has softened and blended into the pan (another 20 minutes or so).
Strain the sauce through a chinois. The liquid should be thin and bright. You will likely have 1 1/2 cups.
Put the liquid back to the sauce pan (wiped clean). Add the basil (if using) and let steep for 1/2 an hour, no need to turn on the burner. Remove and squeeze liquid from basil, discard basil.
Add the jelly, cayenne, demi-glace and cream. Bring to a simmer and reduce until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, approximately 20 minutes (it will reduce by about 1/3). Set aside and re-heat when ready to use.
FINISH & SERVE
While the pork is warming in the oven, prepare the kale. Slice the leaves into pieces, drizzle over some olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and squeeze over a wedge of lemon. Gently massage the leaves to soften and distribute the flavors. I think I might have even spooned over a bit of the shoyu corn broth (optional). Set aside.
Rinse and pat dry the scallops (remove the muscle if it is still attached). Score the top side with a small cross-hatch cut. Season with salt and pepper. Be sure the scallop is completely dry before putting them in the pan to produce a nice seared top.
Re-heat the cantaloupe sauce. Check to be sure the pork is warmed through.
On individual plates, divide the kale. If using fennel fronds and flowers, put them artfully on the plates too.
Heat a saute pan until hot. Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil is heated (enough to easily move about the pan), add the scallops, scored side down. Do not touch them for at least 2 minutes.
When the scallops easily come away from the pan with a spatula without sticking, and they are nicely browned on the one side, throw in the knob of butter. It should melt quickly. Turn the scallops over. In the 30 seconds after you turn the scallops, place one piece of pork on each plate. Immediately squeeze in a lemon wedge and turn off the heat. The scallops should be soft to the touch still (not rubbery), seared on the exterior and soft in the middle.
Quickly spoon the cantaloupe sauce onto each plate and immediately remove the scallops from the pan and place one on each plate.