Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chef's Retreat

Recently I was a joyful participant in a Chef's Retreat organized by Chef Rosemary Rutland. We spent the weekend savoring good food and friends. Thank you Rosemary for organizing such a fabulous weekend. While most of us were from the Atlanta area, the prize for the farthest traveled goes to Mia Andrew Atkin who traveled from Toronto, ON with second place going to Ellen Grant of Savannah.

On Friday afternoon we met at the Dekalb Farmers Market and spent a couple of hours wheeling our carts up and down the isles. The market has a phenomenal dried spice isle, which is where I spent most of my time. My list of desired spices was about as long as my arm! And the spices are very inexpensive compared to other retail grocers. We also purchased the ingredients that would be needed for our cooking class later that evening. I get there infrequently so am always in awe of the fresh produce, cheeses, breads, fish, and other meats they have, not to mention the incredible variety of dried and canned foods that are a pantheon of flavors from around the world.

From the market we moved on to Cook's Warehouse in Decatur for a wonderful demonstration by renowned Chef Virginia Willis. Virginia is a true southern lady, gracious and entertaining and is passionate not only about food but preserving southern recipes. Bon Appetit, Y'all  Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking was Virginia's first cook book. Recipes such as Meme's Creamed Corn, Fried Catfish Fingers with Country Remoulade, and Aunt Louise's Red Velvet Cake fill the pages. True southern food. On this evening we were treated to samplings from Virginia's upcoming cook book Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: Recipes and Recollections of a Southern Culinary Journey. We began with a three pork pate, moved to a warm lentil salad with shallot vinaigrette, followed by Poulet au Grand-Mere (Grandmother's Chicken) and Savory Monkey Bread, finally finishing with absolutely the best chocolate cake I have ever put in my mouth, Claire's Dark Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting. We all needed to be rolled out of there after that! Keep an eye out for Virginia's book. It will be well worth the wait!

Saturday morning we gathered in the kitchen of Chef Rosemary Rutland where she shared Easy Desserts for the Personal Chef. We were thrilled to pick up tips from a real live pastry chef!  True to the name, all of the desserts that Chef Rosemary prepared were truly easy. I especially liked the Chocolate Pot de Creme as it is a no cook recipe. It is so deliciously rich that you will only be able to eat a small amount. That's why shot glasses make the perfect vessel.

We also learned a quicker way to make a White Russian Tirmisu while not taking a single thing away from the flavor. (Hint...lady fingers and a squeeze bottle!) A Rustic Fruit Tart rounded out the trio of desserts. This is a beautiful free form tart that even the a kitchen novice can make perfectly. Rosemary made it with apples and cranberries, which made for a beautiful presentation. After a lunch of burgers, made by Rosemary's husband Tracy (Thanks Tracy!), we savored the trio of desserts. Yum! Thank goodness their house in on a hill as we were all rolling down the drive to get to our cars!

After a much needed nap, we gathered at Cook's Warehouse in Brookhaven for Taste Club Shiraz led my Chef Nancy Waldeck. Chef Nancy took the group through 12 Sharaz wines from around the world. She paired the wines with foods that enhanced their character.

Alas come Saturday morning I was not able to join the group one last time for a Champagne brunch. From all accounts the food that each chef prepared was superb. What a fitting way to close a wonderful weekend of food, fun, and friends.
When's the next retreat?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bacon Part 2

In my last post I shared with you how I ended up with a slab of pork belly and how you take it from belly to bacon. Well the past weekend I moved onto step two of the process.

Step two is simple. Wipe the excess seasonings and garlic from the belly and then wrap it tightly in cheese cloth. Tie with butcher's twine and hang in a 41 F or cooler refrigerator for four to eight weeks. Then wait! The longer it hangs the better it will taste.

Oh, the waiting is going to be tough!


Monday, September 13, 2010


What do you do if someone just happens to give you a slab of pork belly? You make bacon of course! 

Last Friday evening 100 food bloggers were treated to  food demos and samplings at The Viking Cooking School in Atlanta. In one kitchen they made turkey pot stickers. On the showroom floor they were treated to a pasta making demo with a taste of basil pasta with wild mushroom ragout and a trio of desserts. In the store's second kitchen, local celebrity Chef Kevin Rathbun was serving up grilled bacon and watermelon skewers and pork belly tacos. I had the opportunity to assist Chef Rathbun and at the end of the evening, take home the bacon...well pork belly.

Chef Rathbun was all about the bacon. He shared his recipe for taking a piece of pork belly and transforming it into a beautiful piece of bacon. He had a piece of belly that he rubbed with the curing spices to demonstrate the simplicity of the process. It's really not difficult and if you have a refrigerator large enough to hang the pork belly for four to eight weeks then you are in business!

When the evening ended I was helping Chef Rathbun gather his materials and I asked him if he would like me to wrap the belly that he prepared up so that he could take it with him. He replied no that it would probably be forgotten in his car overnight so why didn't I take it. So take it I did! 

Here's Chef Rathbun's recipe for turning pork belly into bacon.

For a 2 pound skinless pork belly

28 grams kosher salt
2   grams Instacure salt (pink)
25 grams red wine
5   grams white peppercorns
5   grams green peppercorns
5   grams black peppercorns, toasted and crushed
20 grams minced garlic
5   grams Szechuan peppercorns, toasted and crushed
5  grams chili flakes

Method of production for cure

1.  Weigh all ingredients careful, Be especially careful to weigh the pink salt.
2.  Toast the white, green black, and Szechuan peppercorns until aromatic. Crush with pack of a pan to coarse consistency.
3.  Mix salt and Instacure pink salt. Combine cracked peppercorns with salt, minced garlic, red wine, and chili flakes. The final consistency should be a "slushy salt."
4. Rub the cure aggressively over all areas of the pork belly. Place in a non-reactive plastic container. Refrigerate.
5.  Refrigerate on the run for five days. Each day take the belly out of the container and pour off any excess liquid. Place the belly back inthe container on the opposite side that it was resting previously.
6. On the fifth day remove the belly from the rub, wipe off large chunks of garlic and pepper corns. Cover with cheesecloth and hang in a well ventilated refrigerated area (41 F or lower).
7.  Allow belly to hang for minimum of four weeks and as long as eight. Flavor will intensify as your patience allows it to do so. The belly should be firm to the touch when removed from hanging.

As I opened the container to turn the belly (I'm on day three of the process), the aromas just about knocked me down! Absolutely divine!  I'm looking forward to the hanging part to the process; however, I'm not sure that my second refrigerator will ever smell the same afterwards!

I'll post updates as the curing process goes forth.

Visit Chef Rathbun's web site for info on his restaurants and for several of his delicious recipes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Welcome to America

My husband, Regis, is  into genealogy and tracing his families roots. He loves to do research and has had great success. Recently I asked him if he has found any relatives that came to the United States via Ellis Island. He has not; nor has any of my family been identified as having done so.

This made me recall a visit that we made to Ellis Island many years ago. It was incredible. I could almost feel the millions of people who passed through the doors, their hopes and dreams, their fears of the unknown, the happiness of new opportunities mixed with the sadness of leaving loved ones, frustration due to language barriers and the uncertainty that they would even be allowed to enter. To travel in Steerage Class must have been horrific. The overcrowded conditions, minimal facilities, poor food, and being allowed on the deck for only a brief time daily. Perhaps some wished that they had never left home.

Interestingly,  Ellis Island was first called Kioshk, meaning Gull Island, by Native Americans in the 1600's. It was a 3.3 acre sandbank surrounded  by oyster beds. Later known as one of the Oyster Islands, the island became a favorite fishing spot for the dutch. The island changed hands several time until it was purchased by the Federal Government for $10,000 in 1808. It was not used as an immigration site until January 1, 1892 when Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland, arrived. Ellis Island closed on November 29, 1954, having processed over 12 million immigrants.

Those traveling in Steerage-Class were provided with little to eat except lukewarm soups, black bread, boiled potatoes, herring, or stringy beef. In the early years of Ellis Island, the food was not much better. Corruption became rampant and the detained immigrants were generally served stewed prunes over dried bread. Often there was no cutlery and sanitary conditions were minimal if at all.

As time went on, the corruption was brought under control and conditions improved. The food was better and the facilities were better maintained. Kosher and ethnic meals were provided, which both solved and created problems. An immigrant appearing at the wrong seating might be exposed to unfamiliar foods. White bread was thought to be cake and bananas were a complete enigma!

Most immigrants were not detained and were destined for points beyond New York City. Provisions were available for the trip, boxes of food, fifty cents for a small one and one dollar for a large one. The contents of each box were printed on the sides, with corresponding prices, in several languages: two pounds of bread, eight cents; one pound cervelat sausage, twenty-two cents; five sandwiches, twenty cents; four pies, twenty cents; two boxes of cake, twenty cents; oranges or apples, ten cents.

Mealtimes were one of the few times that the detained immigrants were reunited with family members. The enormity of their decision to come to America probably struck home when they sat down to eat and did not know what they were eating, or how they were to eat it. No doubt they were quite anxious to recreate the comforting smells and tastes of the foods they had left behind.

The only memento I purchased from our visit was a cookbook, The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook. Not only a cookbook, it tells stories of those whose recipes these are.  It is rich with history and brings to life the recipes and people who came to America. Truly, a cookbook that should be in every kitchen.

Here are a sampling of the recipes. They are typed just as they are printed in the cookbook.

Little Grandma's Anisschnitte (Germany)

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 lemon (rind and juice)
2 teaspoons anise seed
6 egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Beat egg white stiff, slowly add sugar, then yolk, keep beating and add juice and grated rind. Then add flour, anise seed, and baking powder. Grease and flour a 16" x 10" pan. Spread dough evenly and bake 15 - 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut unto bars and toast in oven at 350 degrees until slightly golden.

Greek Chicken Pouloff (Greece)

1 stewing hen
1 large onion, diced
1 #2 can tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
   garlic, as desired
   salt & pepper, to taste

Add enough water to above to cook chicken until well done. Remove chicken. To liquid add 2/3 cup rice and enough liquid to cook rice. Remove chicken from bone and add to cooked rice mixture.

Biscuit de Reims (Belgium)
Birthday Cake

Take 9 eggs, weigh them and take same weight in sugar
Take 6 eggs, weigh them and take same wight in flour
Take 3 eggs, weigh them and take the same amount of butter

Beat the whites of 9 eggs still stiff. Fold in sugar. Then add the 9 egg yolks, well-beaten. Pour in flour gradually. Pout in melted butter. Start baking in slow oven - increase to moderate. It takes at least 1 hour to bake. A delicious cake!

Welcome to America!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

No thank you. I don't like pickles.

Last weekend I catered a birthday party for 10-year old twins. As I walked out to the pool area with a tray of sliders the vultures descended. Kids came from everywhere. Hands and arms where flying to try to get a slider when I heard the question, "Are there pickles on it?", to which I replied, "Yes."  The young guest then announced, "I don't like pickles." and  turned and walked away. Doesn't like pickles? Who has ever heard of a kids not liking pickles? And to my surprise he wasn't alone in the crowd of 40 kids!

I love pickles, especially dill. Bread and butter are okay, but there's nothing like a cold, crunchy dill pickle, especially on a peanut butter sandwich made on white Butterkrust bread.  I ate dill pickle and peanut butter sandwiches for most of my 12 years in public school. See, that was before the time of nifty insulated lunch pouches with ice packs and I wasn't a fan of a bologna sandwich made at 6 AM sitting in my locker until the noon lunch bell rang. My lunch buddies made the most awful faces each time I pulled out my sandwich and bit into it. I just couldn't convince them that it really tasted great. Finally one of our crowd, Billy Fletcher, decided to be brave and take a bite of my sandwich. To his surprise he liked it!

I went to college at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Atkins was a small town about 30 miles from Conway. The Atkins Pickle Comapny was the major industry in the town and was the source of the pickles that ended up on the menus of the local drive-ins as fried dill pickles. We made many a fried dill pickle run in those 4 years of college. There was nothing better. We were in heaven!

This got me to thinking about the origin of pickles. Thanks to the modern day encyclopedia called Google, I found some interesting tidbits.

  • The history of pickles stretches so far back into antiquity that no definite time has been established for their origin, but they are estimated to be over 4000 years old.
  • In 2,030 B.C. cucumbers native to India were brought to the Tigris Valley. There, they were first preserved and eaten as pickles.
  • Cucumbers are mentioned twice in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8) and history records their usage over 3000 years ago in Western Asia, ancient Egypt and Greece.
  • Cleopatra attributed a portion of her beauty to pickles.
  • The enjoyment of pickles spread far and wide through Europe. In the 13th century, pickles were served as a main dish at the famous Feast of King John.
  • Pickles were brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus, who is known to have grown them on the island of Haiti.
  • Pickles inspired Thomas Jefferson to write the following: "On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more omforting than a fine spices pickle, brought up trout-like form the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally's cellar." Now that must have been some recipe.
And of course there is the Christmas Pickle Legend.
(Yes, I know there are serveral versions of this legend, but I like this one.)

In Europe they have a pickle Christmas tree ornament. As the story goes, two boys were traveling home from boarding school for the holidays. They stopped as an inn where the evil inn keeper robbed them and stuffed them in a pickle barrel. That evening St. Nicholas also stopped at the inn. He rescued the boys, who were able to continue home. Through time, the custom of hanging a pickle as the last ornament on the tree developed. The first child to spot the partially hidden pickle on Christmas morning receives a special gift.

Yes, I do have a pickle Christmas ornament thanks to my friend Barb Curasi. Thanks. Barb!

While it isn't Aunt Sally's recipe here is my mother's Spicy Dill Pickles Recipe:

Mother's Spicy Dill Pickle Recipe
  • cucumbers
  • fresh dill
  • salt
  • red peppers
  • garlic
  • vinegar 
  • red pepper flakes
Put a sprig of dill in the bottom of quart jar. Pack cucumbers in jar. Place 1 clove garlic and 1 small red pepper in jar and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Put 2 tablespoons of salt in jar.

Make a brine: add one cup vinegar to three cups of water and bring to a boil. Pour solution over pickles.
Seal jar and place in a pan of boiling water. Be certain that the lids are covered with the water to ensure a good seal. When cucumbers begin to change from dark green to light green, remove from boiling water and cool. Let sit for a minimum of two weeks before using.

 And, for the record, we did make some sliders without pickles!