Saturday, January 31, 2009

great article in Star Tribune about local food trends

In case you missed it, earlier this month the Star Tribune's Nancy Ngo published a great article on food trends for 2009. Among other more trivial bits, such as speculation about Peru becoming the next hip food culture for Americans, the article does highlight some key trends related to home cooking and eating sustainably.

For several authorities, it's a deliberate, unapologetic return to home cooking. In its January issue, Food & Wine magazine names home cooking as the biggest food trend of the year, with an emphasis on retooled comfort food classics, entertaining on a budget and "exotic" recipes made easy.

The National Restaurant Association calls it philosophy-driven choices, this continuing trend toward "green" eating in its many permutations. And the chefs expect to see much more of it. In fact, local produce ranked No. 1 in the What's Hot survey. Nine in 10 chefs said demand for locally grown menu items would increase, along with demand for sustainable seafood, organic produce and free-range meats.

Friday, January 30, 2009

saucisson update: going to wait a few more days

I went down to the cellar last night to check on the salumi and I think they still need some more time. We're well past the three week mark, but when I squeeze them there's still a little too much resistance on the thicker parts. I'll check again on Sunday - be prepared.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

cabbage soup deserves more respect

When was the last time you ate a bowl of cabbage soup that wasn't borscht? Let's face it: green cabbage isn't sexy. Radicchio is cool because it's small and pretty, and you don't have to say the word cabbage when discussing it. Napa cabbage is a touch more sophisticated because it reminds one of verdant green valleys of vineyards. But ubiquitous green cabbage, my friends, often evokes images of damp medieval huts and grubby serfs, or the funky humid smell that often accompanies over-cooked, mushy renditions of cabbage that misrepresent the beauty and utility of this particular vegetable.

Cabbage soup, in particular, can be extra stinky, so it is often avoided to prevent its unique odors from permeating your house, children, and belongings.

Forget what you just read and try the soup recipe below. It smells great and demonstrates the many reasons one should respect and cherish the simplicity of green/white cabbage, such as:

  1. It tastes great when prepared properly, whether cooked as soup, braised as a side dish, shredded for a salad (think coleslaw), or cured as sauerkraut;
  2. Cabbage is perhaps one of the cheapest vegetables available (often selling for 99 cents per pound or less!);
  3. It stores very well in the refrigerator - I harvested the cabbage for the soup in the picture from my garden in early November and didn't eat them until January - they were simply wrapped in plastic in my crisper);
  4. Cabbage is one of the few local vegetables that is available midwinter in Minnesota and other northern states.
This recipe serves 6 as first course or 4 as a main dish.


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large green or white cabbage, cored and sliced very thin
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 3 large potatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 thick slices of fresh pork belly (or 1 cup cubed bacon or ham)
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat 5 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy dutch oven or soup pot. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until softened but not colored. Add the white wine, potatoes, onions, and nutmeg and pour in enough water to cover. Add the pork and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until the meat is tender.
  2. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, unti it is just beginning to color. If necessary, reheat the soup over low heat to keep hot.
  4. Serve hot in bowls with a swirl of cream and the garlic chips. If using pork belly, place one piece in each bowl or upon a piece of toasted bread. If using ham or bacon, divide evenly among each bowl.
This is a very hearty soup that easily works as dinner with some good bread and a big beer or glass of dry white wine.

Note: I adapted this recipe from Pork & Sons, which I wrote about earlier this week.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pork & Sons: a superb cookbook and tribute to the noble pig

For Christmas my wife granted me a copy of Pork & Sons by Stephane Reynaud, a third generation "pork devotee" and butcher/charcutier. If you haven't heard about this book, it is a whimsical French cookbook that also documents the fascinating world of artisanal hog farming, butchering, and charcuterie in France through words and photography. First published in French in 2005, it has been available in English since 2007.

Aside from containing some truly authentic recipes for rural French food (each of which contains pork in some form, of course), this book reinforces the notion that eating meat in an ethical, sustainable fashion does, in fact, assert and celebrate the inherent dignity of animals raised for food. It also exposes, in a succinct and beatiful fashion, the quiet reverence French farmers, butchers, and charcutiers have for the animals they raise, process, and eat. Something most Americans have either forgotten or never known.

"It is fortunate that the standardization of flavor in today's food industry has not yet reached the Ardeche region, where tradition mounts a good defense."

So far I have only cooked one recipe from the book, a delicious take on cabbage soup, but I am anxious to try many more. I'll post the cabbage soup recipe this week, as further proof that you should own this book.

saucisson update: nearly cured!

Just a brief post to let you know that I checked on my saucissons last night and I believe the smallest of the three is nearly cured, with the others shortly behind. As I wrote on Wednesday, the inside of the saucisson was still raw when I sliced one of them (they also felt a little squishy when squeezed). It is still way too friggin' cold and dry, which has kept my basement humidity levels way below the optimum 60-70% range, but it appears the saucissons are drying all the way through without rotting. Tomorrow represents the 21st day of curing, which falls within the timeline recommended by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman, so I'm planning to perform a slice test midweek - just to be safe...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

saucisson update: on the operating table

I just could not wait any longer. As I wrote on Sunday, the saucissons reached the 35% mark for overall weight loss. This was good and bad news, as it means they might be dry enough to eat, but they also reached that weight in only 14 days (rather than 18-21 per the traditional curing instructions). I have four saucissons hanging, so I decided to slice one to determine their dryness and edibility. They were a little squishy when I squeezed them, which indicated that they may still be a little raw on the interior, but there's only one way to find out. Upon slicing the end off one of them, it was clear that the interior was a little raw. It's very subtle, but in the photograph you can see a slight color variation between the outer third (crimson) and the inside (orange). The good news is that it doesn't appear to be spoiled - it smells like salami.

I hung this one back up to dry for another week. Stay tuned...

Monday, January 19, 2009

edible twin cities: the locovore's local publication

In case you haven't seen it yet, Edible Twin Cities is a newer quarterly publication dedicated to "celebrating the abundance of local foods, season by season" in the region. Printed copies are available for free at many coffee shops, grocery stores, and other business, but you can also have it delivered to your door for $28.00 per year.

So far I've only looked at one issue, but it seems like something any locovore would enjoy reading.

From the website:

Our mission is to transform the way residents of the greater Twin Cities area shop for, cook, eat, and appreciate the food that is grown in our region. Through our publications and website, we connect consumers with local growers, retailers, chefs, and food artisans, enabling those relationships to grow and thrive in mutually beneficial, healthy and economically viable ways. Edible Twin Cities is for those who are interested in:

Learning more about what's available in the greater Twin Cities area in terms of restaurants, farmers' markets, food events and festivals; informative and entertaining books to read and wonderful products to try.
Eating delicious, well-prepared seasonal foods
Getting to know the people who grow, produce, cook and sell those foods

Sunday, January 18, 2009

saucisson update: 244 grams, 35% shrinkage :)

14 days have passed since I first hung these babies out to dry. Can you believe it? I'll bet you've been dying to know. If you read my last saucisson update (and chances are, you didn't), you would know that last week I was somewhat concerned about the rate at which my saucissons secs have been drying. I'm still battling some serious humidity issues, which were compounded by some antarctic temps in MN during the past couple of weeks (as low as -22 F with practically no humidity). Also, the week was very busy for me, so I wasn't able to weigh them until today. I'm glad I did. In my last post (seven days ago), I explained that one of the saucissons weighed 285 grams - today it weighed 244 grams, only 41 grams less. This means that it now weighs approximately 35% less than it did on day one. Not bad.

The recipe said the total curing time should take 18-21 days, I'm going to hold out for a few more days before slicing - just to be safe. Cross your fingers...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

god has given us a reason to visit New Brighton: Barley John's Brew Pub

I have a feeling this may be the only blog post I write about the staid grid work of county roads, strip malls, and crusty suburbia that is New Brighton, MN. OK, there are two reasons to visit this city: 1) buy some kickin' frames at the truly exceptional Spectacle Shoppe (caution: website is brutal); and 2) drink some tasty microbrews and eat at Barley John's Brew Pub. Set one foot inside this small, cozy nook of a bar/restaurant and the effects are not unlike that of entering a worm hole, or a tear in the space time continuum. Here are the facts:

  1. I'm there right now. They have a solid wifi connection and a sturdy pine bar, which I'm using to craft this post.
  2. I'm drinking their seasonal Schwarzbier, a traditional, German-style black lager. It will change your life, and give you good reason to reconsider your outlook on New Brighton.
  3. You can buy growlers.
  4. They have good food. I just polished off a stuffed, roasted portobella mushroom appetizer (half price @ $4.00 during happy hour) and my pizza is in the oven. They serve palette-bending personal-sized pizzas here, including quality ingredients atop a homemade, cracker crust.
  5. They have at least 5 of their own beers on tap at any time, and a host of purposefully chosen "guest taps," such as Tripel Karmeliet and Three Philosophers.
  6. The staff are friendly, and they wear cool black shirts and ties. They also have tatoos and earrings, which makes them tuff.
Here's a map of how to get there. I'll be here until by battery dies, or longer if the barman has an extra outlet.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

saucisson update: 285 grams and shrinking :(

So exactly one week has passed since I first hung my first four saucissons secs to dry-cure in the basement. To track my products' progress, I decided to weigh them weekly to determine doneness - a fully cured sausage will lose about 30% of its weight over the course of several weeks (the number of which is dependent on the sausage's size, and the humidity and temperature of the space in which it hangs).

According to the recipe, a smaller link should cure over the course of 18-21 days, meaning it should weight approximately 30% less than it did prior to hanging. I was a little concerned to see that my sausages have nearly lost this amount after only 7 days. The sausage pictured above weighed 380 grams one week ago, and it now weighs 285 grams - 25%. I had a feeling this might happen, as I haven't been able to raise the humidity in the room high enough. With help from a small cool mist humidfier, I was able to bring it up to 55-60%, but it should really be between 60-70% for best results. The biggest risk in this scenario is that the exterior of the sausage may dry/harden too soon, which could trap moisture inside the link, causing it to spoil. To add insult to injury, there's really no way to tell if a saucisson has spoiled without cutting into it.

Given these stats, I'll likely cut into one of these sometime this week, since the 30% mark will arrive soon. I'm already researching a better humidifier. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

want to read more about traditional dry-curing?

While looking through a folder of old recipes and and other junk, I found a printed copy of a great article on dry-curing that appeared in the New York Times in May of 2006 (and now that they offer their complete archives, free of charge, I can pass along the link). Entitled, "Dry Cured Sausages: Kissed by Air, Never by Fire," the article documents how this traditional method of food preservation is fading away in the US, particularly due to increasingly restrictive FDA regulations. From the article:

"I would rather go out of business, like all those other guys, than ruin my product by freezing it or cooking it or irradiating it," Mr. Buzzio said.

In case you missed it, my last post details my first foray into dry-curing - the sausages are aging in my basement at the moment.

Monday, January 5, 2009

the gamble: hang $25 of organic pork in your basement

As you might recall, I professed my love of charcuterie to the blogosphere back in June, with a post about making fresh bratwurst for my daughter's first birthday party. Since that first experiment with DIY sausage making, I knew it would simply be a matter of time before I ventured into the realm of dry-curing raw pork, traditional style. I don't have the space to go into great detail on the subject, but it's a fairly simple process with a few, very consequential, nuances. You grind some pork, mix it with some salt and others seasonings, stuff it in casings, and hang it somewhere for anywhere from a few days to six months or more. The nuances are few but critical: absolute cleanliness in all aspects of preparation, the pork has to remain cold during each step of assembly (to retain the right texture), and the dry-curing area must be 60 degrees F with about 60-70% humidity. If it works, a harmless white mold will grow on the exterior of the sausage, which prevents the growth of harmful microbes and contributes to the end result's distinctive flavor. Cool!

I embarked on my first dry-curing effort - a traditional French "saucisson sec" - over the holidays, when I had some extra time to prepare a decent curing area and procure the right ingredients. I've posted the recipe below. Anyone interested in at least learning about these ancient foods should buy one of my favorite books: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. In addition to compiling an exhaustive collection of great recipes, they offer detailed descriptions of the required techniques, safety precautions, and equipment.

I took the above photo tonight, after hanging my saucissons to dry in an unfinished corner of my basement. I'm using a humidifier to keep the right amount of moisture in the air (Minnesota has very dry winters). Theoretically, they won't be ready to eat for at least 3 weeks, so I'll try to post an update and photo each week to track their progress.


  • 4.5 lbs organic boneless pork shoulder, diced (only boutique hog will work here)
  • 8 ounces pork belly or back fat, diced
  • 3 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp curing salt (which contains sodium nitrite, to prevent botulism growth)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 12 feet hog casings or 3 feet of hog middles, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed
  • Grind the pork and fat through the large die into a bowl set in ice.
  • Combine the meat with the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on the lowest speed until the ingredients are evenly combined, about 1 minute.
  • Stuff the mixture into the casings and twist into 12-inch links. Prick the casings all over with a sterile pin or needle to remove any air pockets and facilitate drying.
  • Hang the sausage (ideally at 60 degrees F with 60-70% humidity) until it feels completely stiff throughout and/or it has lost 30 percent of its weight, 18-20 days for links, a month or more for large sausages.