When traveling, I always have mixed feelings about relying on guidebooks for restaurant and bar suggestions. On the one hand, when you’re in a strange city and have no idea where to go, you might not want to spend limited funds taking a chance on a place that could be a dud. On the other hand, you might miss out on the opportunity to discover something wonderful that you wouldn’t have come upon if you were blindly following a book’s suggestions. Not to mention that guidebook-endorsed restaurants are often full of all the other tourists who bought the same book!
In Seville, as it happens, we came upon a microscopic bar (you can see pretty much the whole place in the top photo!) that we later learned was listed in our Lonely Planet. Happily, its charm was in no way diminished as a result of its having been recognized in print, and it ended up being one of our favorite bars of the entire trip. Bar Àlvaro, in the Calle Mateos Gago, is a quirky family-owned bar open since 1904 (as was conveyed to us in chalk; see photo). Its current owner is Àlvaro Peregil (translation: Oliver Parsley, hehe), who is hands down the most enthusiastic bartender I have ever seen on either side of the Atlantic. He presides over his domain with an infectious energy that makes you feel as if you’re privy to an impromptu celebration for no other reason than that it’s great to be alive. Tall for a Spaniard, he dominates the postage-stamp-sized space with his booming voice and animated gestures, taking orders one minute and grabbing a rhythm stick the next to demonstrate his percussive prowess. We knew instantly that this was our kind of place, and settled in for some drinks and tapas. Continue reading
I may be accused of chutzpah for labeling this post “Charcutepalooza”, but so be it. Last month’s posting deadline (April 15) breezed past without fanfare like I wish this cold, rainy spring weather would, and although I had the hot-smoking challenge in the back of my mind all month, I had no specific plan as to how or when to execute it. So when my friend Todd invited a few of us over and said he was firing up his smoker, right after Molly and I had just bought a whole fresh lake trout (scored at Eastern Market for $1.99 a pound!), it seemed like kismet.
Because the trout was going to be in the fridge for a few days before the get-together, I salted and sugared it (no measuring, I just threw on what I thought was an appropriate amount). I had already used my share of the steaks, which I braised in a Thai red curry coconut milk concoction, so I had my half of the fillet left to smoke. Molly went the opposite route, saving her steaks for the smoker. Despite my lackadaisical approach, I did attempt to create a pellicle by placing the uncovered fish on a rack in the fridge the morning of the party. (I mention this as a pathetic bit of evidence that I actually sort of “did” the challenge…) Continue reading
It seems as though charcuterie has officially reached an apotheosis- the food world has been incessantly abuzz of late about all things cured, smoked, salted and brined (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others). Although several adventurous food bloggers like Matt Wright and Hank Shaw have been dabbling in meat curing for some time now, things recently reached a fever pitch in the blogging world and on Twitter with the advent of Charcutepalooza, a challenge in which a different type of curing technique is explored each month.
I missed the first challenge, duck prosciutto, but was told that I could “make it up” at a later date (as I write this, the duck is hanging in my basement pantry). The second challenge was something that my friend Kim has been making for a while now, home-cured bacon. I decided to go for it, so I hit up the Bucu family’s stand at Eastern Market and had this gentleman hack me off a 5-lb piece of pork belly.
The cure was simple- just salt, pepper, aromatics and pink (curing) salt, rubbed on the belly and left to work its magic for a week. The belly was then rinsed, patted dry and put in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temp of 150°. This stage was the only “problem” I had with the recipe- it stated to cook for 90 minutes or a temp of 150°, and it took me over 2 hours to reach that temperature, unless my thermometer is really off. But I figured it was better to err on the side of overcooking than undercooking.
As Charcuterie guru Michael Ruhlman suggested in his blog post on bacon, I went ahead and fried up a small piece as soon as it was done (well, after I removed the skin… I’m a pretty die-hard meat lover, but seeing nipples on my bacon was a little freaky). It was saltier than commercial bacon, but I figured that might have been due to it being an end piece.
In the past couple weeks, we have eaten the bacon on its own and incorporated it into several dishes such as Cuban-style black beans and this venison & porcini ragú. Since it’s not smoked, it’s a great stand-in for pancetta. I also made the French bistro classic frisée aux lardons, a salad composed of bitter frisée (a green in the endive family) tossed with vinaigrette, fried cubes of unsmoked bacon (lardons), and topped with a poached egg. There are versions that don’t use the egg, but to my mind it’s the best part, and really makes it a meal. The store Marvin went to didn’t have frisée so we had to use curly endive (possibly the same plant but more mature?), but it was a suitable stand-in. The salad with a glass of Beaujolais and a nibble of Roquefort was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.
Frisée aux Lardons
serves two; recipe can be multiplied to serve more
2 small heads of frisée, washed, cored and torn into pieces
3 Tbs sherry vinegar or good quality red wine vinegar
about 3 oz. unsmoked slab bacon, cut into ½-inch batons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 Tbs olive oil as needed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
optional if you have on hand: 1 Tbs minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil or chives
Notes: This salad is great with homemade croutons if you’re so inclined. Add them when you toss the salad so they absorb a bit of the dressing. Also, oil & vinegar amounts are a starting point and will vary according to your volume of salad and how lightly or heavily dressed you like things. Please adjust as needed! Last but not least, although I encourage you all to cure your own bacon now that I know how easy it is, you can substitute cut-up strips of regular bacon and have a less traditional but still delicious salad.
Wash and spin-dry the frisée and place in a bowl large enough to toss. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the lardons; drain. Heat a small skillet and fry the lardons over medium heat until they begin to brown and render some of their fat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze any brown bits from the skillet. Remove from heat. Whisk in olive oil to taste until the dressing tastes balanced (this will depend how much fat was rendered from the lardons). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill a medium-sized pan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer. While waiting for the water, toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and tweak as needed with additional oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Distribute onto two plates or shallow bowls. (A note here for people like myself with ADD tendencies: poached eggs wait for no one, so make sure to have the table, drinks etc. ready when you put the eggs in.) Poach the eggs for four minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks remain runny. Retrieve the eggs with a slotted spoon, gently shaking off as much water as possible. Place an egg on each salad and garnish with the herbs, if using. Serve immediately.
In Detroit’s Eastern Market, there is a restaurant called Russell Street Deli, a space twice as tall as it is wide, with about 8 tables where people sit communal-style, elbow to elbow. They come faithfully for lunch to indulge in classic deli treats like corned beef on rye, or vegetarian delights such as the roasted vegetable sandwich. On Saturdays, the line for breakfast (with specials culled from the market’s seasonal offerings) winds out the door and spills onto the sidewalk. In addition to their above-par sandwiches and omelettes, Russell Street is particularly known for its wonderful soups. I should know, because years ago I worked there for several months, first at the soup station, and later as a waitress. Back then, a cup of soup often stood in for breakfast, and provided fuel for the frantic pace of busy lunch shifts.
The soups are typically made vegetarian or vegan, with the option of meat for those who want it, so they are appreciated by all. One of the soups, Black-Eyed Pea with Collard Greens (with or without ham), was a combination that I had never tried before working there, but has since become a favorite and something I make at home fairly regularly. I do make the non-veggie version more often at home, but I’ll give the recipe both ways. (Recipe is my approximation and does not reflect the actual restaurant recipe, although to my taste buds I have come pretty darn close.) Given the recent spate of warm weather here, I hesitated to post this, thinking no one would give a hoot about soup at this point (and apparently I’m not alone in thinking this could be the last soup of the season), but then I remembered that this is Michigan, and for all we know it could be snowing or sleeting tomorrow and a hot bowl of soup could be just the thing.
I served this with cornmeal drop biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, and they were wonderful for sopping up the broth. I never thought I’d be the type to whip up biscuits for a weeknight supper, but these were super easy and fast (I cheated and used the processor instead of cutting in the butter by hand). We also ate the biscuits as part of dessert, with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, as a rustic sort of substitute for shortcake.
Black-Eyed Pea & Collard Green Soup à la Russell Street Deli
1 lb dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
2 bunches collard greens, washed, stems removed and cut into 1-inch ribbons (you want about a pound after they’re all trimmed)
3 small or 2 medium cooking onions, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large celery stalk, diced small (not crucial, but I had some in the fridge)
3-4 quarts veggie stock, chicken stock or water+ ham hock (see notes)
salt & pepper to taste
optional: 2 cups diced ham
Notes: I made this just after Easter to use up some leftover Easter ham, but again, the veggie version is a worthwhile (and of course healthier) alternative. If you’re not vegetarian, but just don’t want to buy ham, I’d suggest using chicken stock for the cooking liquid. If you’re using the ham, I suggest using water plus a ham hock as the cooking liquid, but the other stocks would work fine too. The total amount of liquid you’ll need will depend on a couple factors, such as how dry your beans are and how low a simmer you can maintain. As for seasonings, the amount of salt you add will depend on your choice of stock, so just start tasting towards the end of cooking and add as needed.
Directions: Heat the bay leaf and stock or water + ham hock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a stockpot or Dutch oven, sweat the onions and celery in a little vegetable oil, adding the garlic a few minutes in. When they begin to soften, add the beans and simmering liquid. As the beans cook, if you are using the ham hock, you may need to skim the surface occasionally to remove any scum. (I know, at this point the vegetarians are either laughing at us or going “ewww, scum?”…) Cook uncovered at a gentle simmer, stirring from time to time, until the beans are nearly fully cooked. If the liquid gets too low at any point, top it off with a little water or stock- you want the beans to be covered at all times, and the end result should be brothy, not overly thick.
When the beans are almost done, remove the ham hock and bay leaf, then raise the heat slightly and add the diced ham and collard greens. Simmer until greens are fully wilted and tender, about 10-15 minutes. (Collards can take a longer cooking, if you prefer to put them in earlier; just make sure not to overcook your beans.) Check for salt and pepper, adding as needed, and serve. I love to season this soup with a dash of Frank’s Red Hot and/or a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar.
Man, I feel like Rachel Ray about to post this… ACK! I promise not to use the words “yummo” or “sammie” though (and please feel free to shoot me if I ever do).
Last night I didn’t get home until 9PM- I had worked late and then gone to get groceries afterwards. I needed something fast for dinner and somewhat on the lighter side, since I was eating so late. I had bought some Niman Ranch bacon (pretty much the only bacon I’ll buy anymore after reading this article in Rolling Stone) and a couple bags of greens, and had some little grape tomatoes on hand, so I thought “BLT”- only I didn’t want to eat all that bread. So I took two pieces of bacon, cut them into small pieces and fried them up while I made a mayo-based vinaigrette dressing. I then tossed the dressing with some baby spinach and wild arugula, drained the bacon bits on a paper towel and sprinkled those over the top with the tomatoes. I ate it with a small piece of toast, and it was a perfect meal. I’m sure this idea of BLT salad has been done before, but I so enjoyed my take on it that I thought I’d share anyway. The fact that the main ingredient is leafy greens makes it miles healthier than a BLT sandwich, but yet all the classic flavors are still there. I would actually venture to say that at least to my taste buds, this was much tastier than a BLT sandwich, but then I’m a big salad and greens fan. You could even cut back on the bacon and use only 1 slice, or three slices between two salads.
For the dressing, I didn’t measure, but I’ll try to approximate for you. You won’t usually find me putting mayo in my salad dressings- I usually prefer a “clean”-tasting vinaigrette- but I wanted to approximate that classic BLT flavor, and mayo is pretty integral to that. I made a large-ish individual salad, so adjust amounts if you’re cooking for two, or if you want smaller side salads. In the bowl in which you’re going to toss your greens, put a blob of mayo (about 1 tbs) and a much smaller blob of dijon mustard (maybe 1/2 tsp) and whisk together. Add a small amount of olive oil, about 1/2 to 1 tsp, and stir that in too. Whisk in some red wine vinegar, about 2 tsp. Season with a little salt (not too much- don’t forget your bacon will add salt) and freshly ground pepper. Taste for acidity- I like mine on the acidic side because it cuts through the richness of the bacon, but add a smidge more olive oil (or mayo) if it seems too tart. Toss in your greens (feel free to substitute other types of greens- the spinach-arugula mixture was pretty darn good though) and top with the bacon and tomato. This will make enough to dress a good-sized dinner salad for one. I plated mine for photo purposes; otherwise I would have saved a dish and just eaten it straight out of the bowl!