Monday, May 28, 2012

Glazed Strawberries

(Cross posted from Green Roof Growers)

Thanks to ngmpix for the photo.
I made these the other day, a recipe/technique from Jacques Pepin, and walked around the neighborhood giving them away.  The contrast between the thin hard candy shell and the ripe strawberry makes for a terrific treat.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 to 8 drops lemon juice or 1/2 tsp creme of tarter mixed in 1 tsp of cold water
  • 1 pound ripe strawberries (conventional are full of pesticides, so try to buy organic)

Oil a tray very lightly. If the strawberries are not clean, wash them gently and dry them thoroughly.

To glaze the berries: Put sugar and cool water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until a candy thermometer registers between 310°F and 320°F degrees, the 'hard-crack' stage.  This will be about 15 minutes after the mixture comes to a boil.  To check the temp without a candy thermometer dip a teaspoon in the mixture, lift it and dip in a glass of cold water right away. If the mixture sets hard on the spoon, it's at the hard-crack stage.

An unlined copper pan--and who doesn't have one of those laying around--tends to prevent sugar from crystallizing. If (!) unavailable, add 6 to 8 drops of lemon juice/creme of tartar mixture to the syrup when it is almost cooked to prevent crystallization.

Tip the pan to the side to get the syrup deep enough to dip strawberries, one at a time, into the hot syrup, coating about a third to half of each berry.

Set the coated berries on the oiled tray. The sugar will harden around them in 10-15 minutes. Set aside until serving time.


Use ripe strawberries, preferably with stems so you can hold them easily as you dip them into the hot, liquid sugar. Be sure the berries are dry so they do not splatter, and proceed carefully.

Use the melted sugar right away to ensure the shell of sugar crusted around the berries will be thin. The hot sugar will partially cook the ripe berries. Within 15 to 20 minutes, the berries will release some juice, which will begin to melt the shell of sugar; so try not to glaze more than 1 hour before serving.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eating a Pig

[Originally posted on Green Roof Growers.]

On January 28th, I butchered half a pig from Slagel Farms in front of a few people. Six different cooks used almost all of that pig to create this menu over the following two Sundays. Anna of Turning Fork Supper Club pulled it all together. [Part 1 has the butchering info/photos.]
My original idea of turning The Spectacle in on itself to end up with something more honest fell a bit short; setting aside what I wanted, on its own terms, I couldn't have asked for anything more from my adventure with a pig.
A few pictures from the two dinners--

From dinner number two:

We were very happy with how it all turned out and I'd encourage any of our readers to give it a try.

Some numbers.

From the 94 pound half pig we made -
  • 25 appetizer portions of testa
  • 25 appetizer portions of pork terrine with tenderloin inlay
  • 40 appetizer portions of sausage
  • 40 appetizer portions of rillettes
  • 25 servings of rib pasta sauce
  • 5 pound cured shoulder roast - 10 servings
  • 15 pound house cured ham - 30 servings
  • 18 pounds porchetta (belly wrapped around loin, stuffed with fennel) - 30+ servings
  • 1 pound cracklings
  • 16 quarts gelatinous pork stock
  • 10 pounds cotechino sausage (need some more pork shoulder for this) - will serve 15-20
Only the shoulder roast and the cotechino sausage weren't served at one of the two meals.

The ingredients cost roughly $450, with the pig accounting for a little less than half of that. I'm guessing that it took about 150 hours to put it all together.

More photos in the slide shows.

Dinner #1 -

Dinner #2 -

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Butchering a Pig

[Originally posted at Green Roof Growers on 2.5.10]

Eight days ago, Art and I picked up half of a 190-pound pig from Mado Restaurant, where it had been dropped off by the Slagel Farm delivery truck. Soon it was lying on a table in my living room, and shortly after that people began showing up. They came to watch me butcher the pig for the two subsequent Sunday dinners we were holding with some new friends.

[All pics by H2. A previous post that traces the path from rooftop gardening to pig butchering can be found here.]

We started out with the conceit that every part of the (half) animal would make it onto our plates. The menu derived from that decision informed how I cut up the pig.

First I broke the carcass down into its primal cuts: Shoulder, saddle, and ham. From there I cut it into the pieces that would be used by the cooks: Hock, trotter, leaf lard, fat back, boneless saddle for porchetta, coppa, deboned shoulder for sausage, backbone and ribs.

As I was doing this I answered questions from the group. They had all come to learn how to do it themselves, or were just curious how a pig became meat. In either case, in a few days they'd be eating what I was cutting up.

Here's the slideshow of the entire butchering process.

The first dinner was a success, and a great deal of that was due to Anna at Turning Fork Supper Club. The second dinner is this Sunday. We have lots of good shots of food prep: terrines, testa, sausages, soup, porchetta, and plenty of pictures of people enjoying themselves. More on that in the next post.

[Updated 2.10.10, Part 2 is here.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eating a Pig's Head: Testa

[Originally posted 12.10.09 at Green Roof Growers.]

There are plenty of reasons not to cook a pig's head; I only eat meat a couple times a month, and with so many other disembodied parts of the animal available, it's easy to avoid.

Most of us don't want to be reminded that meat comes from animals. Grocery chains don't display animal heads in their meat cases, judging that sales would drop after they made explicit the connection between pork chop and pig snout. How to square this with the fact that people have been eating heads as long as we've been eating meat?

Before I walk you through this, a Public Service ad: If you're eating the pork chop I think you should eat the head. Though I've eaten pork my whole life, I've only cooked one head; I'm glad I did. So now, with all the zeal of the recently converted, I hope that after reading this post you'll do the same.

[I'd like to note that there are no graphic slaughter pictures in this post. There is a picture of a cooked pigs head further down the page. At the very end there is an embedded slide show that contains 4 pictures of the head as it came to me from the slaughterhouse.]


After watching a pig butchering demo given by Rob at Mado Restaurant in Chicago, I decided to make testa/headcheese. Mado's supplier, Slagel Family Farms, sells ethically raised and slaughtered pork. Better still they'll deliver it "free" to Mado, only a quarter mile from my house. You can find like-minded farmers near you by searching EatWild.

I've never cooked a pig's head before. Once I decided to butcher and use every part of the pig, figuring out how to use the head was the next big step.

Cookbooks and websites cover it in some detail, though none of them prepared me for the shock of opening the cardboard box I picked up at Mado. There's nothing I can say, or show you, that could get the rawness across. It's one of those things you'll have to experience yourself.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to prepare the head:
A careful deboning of the head prior to cooking gives you a single sheet of meat that you can roll up in cheesecloth and braise. Once it's finished cooking, re-wrap it in fresh cheesecloth and hang in the fridge overnight to firm up.

From there you have a couple of options:

One is to slice very thin cross sections and arrange them on a plate to serve as an appetizer, as you would prosciutto or other cured meat.

Another is to cut the roll in 1" slices, moisten with dijon mustard, coat in bread crumbs and then sauté in oil until crispy.

Chris Consentino has six short youtube videos showing what else you can do with a pig's head. Knowing that it's possible to eat poached and then sautéd brains with scrambled eggs is enough for me right now. I don't need to try it. Maybe down the road.
Mike Gebert made a terrific video featuring Mado's testa. You can pick up some useful hints from it; even if you have no intention of making testa its worth watching.

Sky Full of Bacon 04: A Head's Tale from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.


With all this in mind, I came up with a plan. I combined the recipes of Paul Bertolli, Michael Ruhlman and Rob Levitt of Mado. (Someone thinking along the same lines posted his recipe here.) After simmering the head with a couple of trotters, aromatics, herbs and spices for 3 hours, the meat falls off the bone and the poaching liquid has absorbed not only the gelatin from the pig parts, but all of the flavor as well.

You shred the meat and dice the cooked tongue, yielding about 2 pounds of meat. These morsels are drizzled with reduced stock and then chilled overnight in terrine pans or improvised molds.

Below are the two slightly different types of testa I made, ready to be served. In order to form a compact roll, I had to squeeze the air out, that in turn forced out almost all the stock out as well. The stock was poured on top of the meat in the smaller rectangular terrines, filling the voids nicely.

It is very rich, and packed with flavor. The word "headcheese" has all sorts of horrible connotations. What I made has no negatives: No unpalatable textures or tastes. It is delicious.
The pig's head and two trotters cost $20. From that I was able to make testa (serving about 15 appetizer portions), a half pound of cracklings from the skin, 7 quarts of intensely flavored gelatinous stock, and a half pound of rendered pork fat.
Click through this slide show to see the entire process. Photos #3-6 show what the pig's head looks like straight from the slaughterhouse. I hope after the initial discomfort of viewing the pictures wears off you'll go back and look at them again. I know I have.

Monday, January 11, 2010

From Guy Debord to Butchering a Pig

[Originally posted 11.29.09 at Green Roof Growers.]

I'm an unlikely pig butcher.

When I was 11, each student in my class was given a pig fetus to dissect. It made me queasy, for a long while I felt a twinge of nausea every time pork was on my plate. Skip ahead a few decades--for the past couple of years I haven't eaten much meat for some fairly common reasons.
Believe it or not, this is loosely connected to our rooftop vegetable project. Skeptics can skip ahead to the end of this post for the link.
[Also, I'd like to note there are no graphic slaughter pictures anywhere in this post. That was done beforehand, at the processing plant owned by the farmer. However, if you click through on the embedded slide show--it's innocuous cover photo is of a sunflower--you'll see pictures of an already dead half pig being cut up. Nothing bloody, but they can be a little startling.]

There are more than a few people who celebrate the joys of nose-to-tail eating by reading about it, travel the world in search of the latest taste sensation, or who fetishize a peasant cooking technique in their expensively renovated kitchens. In response to a world where the "social relationships between people are mediated by images", I've done some of those things--and more--looking for a way out.

One of the reasons I stopped eating meat was because I felt something was missing. On display in the meat case of my local market are the disembodied pieces of a gruesome process. Unsaid, ultimately only hinted at, is the (probable) suffering and death of an animal. My decision to use every part of a conscientiously raised and slaughtered pig that I butcher is, in part, a reaction to that.


Like I said, I don't eat much meat. In spite of that this is a useful skill, one that I hope will be taken up by other amateurs like myself.

Here are a series of photos I took of a recent pig butchering demo given by Rob Levitt of Chicago's Mado Restaurant. They are offering charcuterie classes early next year and I'd urge anyone with the slightest interest to get on their email list. They'll fill up fast.

It's important to know something about basic pig anatomy before beginning. Helpful skeletal charts can be found here. Because that site is run by a Canadian butcher, the individual cuts of meat are different than those usually found in American markets.

A few good books for the amateur butcher are Jane Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie, and Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand.


Knowing all this, now what? One option is to buy a half pig from Mado's supplier, Slagel Family Farms, and butcher it ourselves. We're thinking of hosting an informal meal for 20 people featuring some lesser known, though delicious, pork dishes--testa and porchetta--early next year.

Before breaking the pig into parts, you should know how you want to use them. From half of a 180 pound York-Duroc crossbred pig, my amateur butcher's eye estimates the yield would be:
20-22 servings of porchetta made from the saddle, which is basically the deboned middle third of the pig. You take the loin (not the tenderloin!)--think of the center of a pork chop, now extend that circle into a 24 inch long cylinder--wrapped in the attached belly (same as uncured bacon) like a jelly roll. Inside the roll are garlic, herbs, and spices. Truss the whole thing up and roast. Cut in 1 inch slices to serve. Mario Batali's Simple Italian Cooking has a recipe that comes close.

Pork terrine - Testa or fromage de tete de porc/headcheese (ugh, what a name). Sounds hideous, tastes great. Uses the feet, head, tongue. Maybe use the tenderloin as an inlay. Makes 24 half-inch thick appetizer slices.

1 ham, weighing approx 12 lbs. Two ways of prepping. One is to brine it for a week and then roast it. Or you can make a salt cured prosciutto/dried country ham. That takes at least 4 months. Either way it'll serve 8-12 people.

~ 3 pounds coppa. A dried pork product similar to prosciutto but made with the top of the shoulder.

~ 7 lbs shoulder. Includes the hock. What's left after the coppa is removed. Can slow roast the rest, or make sausage.

~ 5 lbs ribs. Make bbq ribs or freeze to use later. Once thawed, a possibility is to slow roast them in a stock made from the backbone, to which you add tomatoes, herbs, and wine. Pull the meat bones off when tender and add back to the rich liquid to make pasta sauce for 12-15 people.

~ 1 lb tenderloin.

~ 3 lbs "flank steak". Make fajitas, tacos, or sausage.

~ 2 lbs fatback. Add to sausage.

~ 1 lb leaf lard. Add to rillettes or sausage

~ 3 lbs misc. scraps. Slow roast them with some of the backbone stock. When tender, shred them with paddle mixer, top with rendered fatback. You have rillettes--great on bread.

~ 2 lbs pork sirloin roast

~ 15 by 20 inch piece of pig skin, good for cracklings or to flavor cassoulet
That's a lot of pork.

This isn't being done to make money, We're trying to figure out how to cover our out of pocket costs while learning, sharing, and having a good time. The first thought was to serve the porchetta and testa at our dinner. The cured pork products might feature in later gatherings, while the frozen parts could be shared with the group.

We've been talking to a woman (Hi Anna!) who puts on (informal, low cost, ambitious) supper club dinners, trying to figure out the details. We like the idea, though some of the press makes them sound like people I don't want to be around.

[Updated 12.02.09, It's On. For two consecutive Sundays (January 24th 31st and Feb 7th.) in early 2010, we'll get together with 20 relative strangers and serve an entire (half) pig. Anna came up with a great menu based on some of the ideas in this blog post. We're butchering the pig on Wed, Jan 20th Thursday, Jan 28th in front of a small group. Email Anna at Turning Fork Supper Club for more details and to rsvp.]

If you're looking for local producers of humanely raised meat, EatWild is a good resource. Finding one, like Slagel Farms, that does the slaughtering/processing on site was important to me. Here's another fascinating story of a family pig farmer slaughtering and butchering his own animals.

To cut down on delivery fees contact a local restaurant who uses a farmer you want to support and try to combine orders. In our case, because Slagel Farms delivers to Mado Restaurant weekly, we can get "free" delivery.

So how is this connected to growing vegetables on rooftops, the subject of this blog?

It's another way to make meaningful connections while sharing skills and eating well.

p.s. some more food for thought.

[Updated 12.10.09 - I made testa, using the pig's head. Read about it here.]

Friday, January 1, 2010

Lemons: Preserved and Candied

[Originally posted 11.09.09 at Green Roof Growers.]

What's the connection, if any, between rooftop gardening, my political droppings, and cooking? I'm guessing they feed off of each other in ways that don't need to be talked about here. Ultimately I find a kind of elegant beauty, a magic that isn't for sale, in cooking and growing food. I'm trying to apply that mojo to some of this world, so far with limited success.

When organic lemons went on sale at our local market, I decided to take on a couple of classic recipes: preserved lemons and candied lemon peel.

Making preserved lemons involves covering them with lemon juice--at least one lemon is juiced for every one that's preserved--so you're going to have a lot of leftover peel. This means it's a good idea to both preserve and candy around the same time. Rather than waste the rinds, just cut them off before you squeeze the juicing lemons, setting the pieces of rind aside to candy after you finish prepping the jar of preserved lemons. (You don't have to make candied peel. You can also zest--and freeze the result--the lemons before juicing.)

For the budget-minded, this is one of those things worth doing yourself. It'll cost you less than $2, and a little time and effort, to produce a preserved lemon. They sell for $7 apiece, plus shipping. The candied peel is $4/lb, in this case it's almost free.

What's all the fuss about? To use the copy from Zingerman's -
I’ve always liked the idea of preserved lemons. But I get stumped at the same place you probably do: what do you do with them? You can research recipes and get an idea but I wasn’t truly inspired until I ran into a friend who lived in North Africa.

“Oh! Preserved lemons! Can I have your jar? I love them in everything!”

Everything? Simple enough place to start.

I started trying what she suggested, adding them everywhere. Simply cut off a slice or two (return the rest of the lemon to the brine), dice and mix into your favorite sauces. Toss with salads. Garnish grilled meat. Add a slice to a martini. This is fun.

Preserved Lemons

I combined a couple of recipes: Mark Bittman's and 101 Cookbooks (she in turn copies Paula Wolfert).

The idea is to cover cut lemons with a mixture of salt, lemon juice, and spices and let this cure for at least 2 weeks. You end up with a salty, sour, and slightly sweet garnish that works with a wide variety of grains, vegetables, and stews. It's also great as a pizza topping.

After covering the lemons with juice, cover and shake the jar. Leave it out on the counter for 7 days, shaking once a day. Then put it in the refrigerator for at least 7 more days. Some recipes say shake it in the fridge, some not. It doesn't seem to make a difference.

This is a traditional North African process, and through trial and error became a way to store lemons long before refrigeration. I've read that the acidity in the lemons available to us could be different than those in traditional lemons, so there's a chance that mold might develop unless the finished product is refrigerated. Because of that, most recipes I've seen say to store the jar in the refrigerator.

Candied Lemon Peel

There are plenty of recipes online. This one isn't bad. Though it's for oranges, not lemons, the idea is the same. Keep a couple of things in mind.

It's a two step process.

First you boil the julienned peels in several changes of water.
The idea is to get rid of the bitterness, so taste after the third change and keep changing/boiling until it's gone. There shouldn't be any off flavors; it should just taste like bitter lemon. To get an idea of what you don't want, taste one after the first boil.
The second is to braise the mellowed peels in simple syrup:
I use 2 parts sugar and 1 part water in my simple syrup. I make enough to just cover the boiled peels, and cook at a low boil for 20 min or so in a sauce pot. The lemon rinds will become slightly translucent, absorbing the sugar (?), and then they're done. Drain them in sieve and let cool a bit. If you put the final dusting of dry sugar on when they're too hot, you'll just have a gooey mess. Lay them out on parchment to dry as per the recipe.

H2--thanks for all these great pics, btw--found out that candied lemon rinds are even tastier frozen. Curiosity has it's rewards!

More lemon preserving/candying pictures -

For more on cooking, check out my posts on making Chicken Ballotine and Grilled Vegetable Terrine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Grilled Vegetable Terrine

[I originally posted this at Green Roof Growers, on August 11, 2008. I think it belongs here too.]

Made of grilled vegetables, goat cheese, and vinaigrette, it's an elegant way to use what you've grown. And tastes even better than it looks.

If you've never made a terrine, this is a good place for a home cook with, say, intermediate kitchen skills to start. It uses late summer vegetables, ones that your SIPs are starting to deliver. It's also a very flexible recipe. The basic technique can be used with several different combinations of vegetables.

Before I get to the terrine, I'd like to point out that there are countless recipes, and sites devoted to them, that you could use to prepare your vegetables. With good ingredients, simple is better; a plate of sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, sherry vinegar, basil, salt and pepper. Add a few slices of No-Knead Bread , some good cheese and a bottle of wine and it's a meal.

If you want some more ideas, I've found two of Mark Bittman's cookbooks to be helpful--Best Recipes in the World and How to Cook Everything - Vegetarian.

Grilled Vegetable Terrine

Adapted from Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie and this recipe on Epicurious.

2 eggplant (roughly 2 pounds), peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4" slices

2 zucchini (roughly 1 pound), sliced lengthwise into 1/4" slices

2 yellow squash (roughly 1 pound), sliced lengthwise into 1/4" slices

Olive oil to brush on the above prior to grilling, (or broiling)
Salt and pepper

2 or 3 sweet peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips
4 or 5 oven dried tomatoes, (click here for more on this technique), or sun-dried tomatoes

8 oz. goat cheese, softened to room temp.

1/2 c. of your favorite vinaigrette
1 1/2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin

A narrow terrine pan, 10"x3"x3". If you have a different size you'll need to adjust the quantity of your ingredients. Also, any mold wider than three inches might cause the finished product to sag in the middle.

Mandoline, optional but makes things a lot easier
Plastic wrap
Pastry brush
Piece of cardboard cut to fit the top of the terrine pan
2 one pound cans, used to weigh down the terrine while it sets overnight

It takes about an hour of prep time, plus it needs to chill overnight

Yield: 8 to 10 appetizer portions

Slice the first three vegetables as uniformly as you can, a mandoline works best. Brush with oil, season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat until tender, turning just once so you get nice grill marks. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Before you start putting the terrine together, taste each of the components. If you don't like anything, change it now. It won't magically improve after being refrigerated overnight in a mold.

Put the water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Once the gelatin is absorbed (blooms), put the pan over low heat until it's dissolved. Add it to 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette and keep it warm so it doesn't start to set up while you assemble the terrine. Putting the cup of vinaigrette into a slightly larger bowl of warm water does the trick.

Line the terrine with plastic wrap. You want enough overhang, (about 3 inches, on the long sides) so you can fold it over on the top of the finished terrine. Wetting the inside of the mold before you put in the plastic will make the plastic stick in the corners. Put a layer of eggplant slices in the mold first. Put them in crosswise, with the end of each piece starting at the centerline of the bottom of the mold and running up, and over, the side by an inch or two.

Keep in mind that the first layer you put down is going to be the "top" of the finished terrine, so put the pieces down with very little overlap. And that you're going to be serving a cross section of whatever you put inside the mold.

Lightly brush the eggplant with vinaigrette. You might have enough eggplant to put down two layers, overlap the joints where possible. After each layer brush with vinaigrette, it's the glue that holds the whole thing together. Repeat with the zucchini and yellow squash, remembering to put vinaigrette between each. Lay the strips of pepper in the mold and brush with vinaigrette. Gently press the goat cheese into the mold, creating an even layer and brush it with vinaigrette. Lay the tomatoes on top of the cheese, again brushing with vinaigrette. Fold the eggplant and squash flaps on top of the tomatoes, brush the top with the remaining vinaigrette. Pull the plastic up over the top and seal the terrine. Push down on the finished terrine using a little bit of pressure. You want to eliminate any voids and create a fairly solid block of vegetables. Put the cardboard cutout on top of the plastic you just sealed. Refrigerate overnight with the two weights on top.

Take it out of the fridge about a half hour before serving. Flip it over on to a cutting board, remove the plastic, turn it right side up (what was the bottom of the mold is the finished top of the terrine) and cut it into 1/2" slices. You'll get a clean slice if you use a thin bladed knife and pull it toward you with a long stroke rather than sawing back and forth. Clean off the knife in a tall glass of hot water as needed. Serve each piece with a little of the reserved vinaigrette on the side.

Try this recipe using different vegetables: carrots, mushrooms, leeks, onions, or fennel. Or boil, and shock in an ice water bath, some chard or kale to use as the outer layer instead of eggplant. You can play around with whatever combinations taste and look good. I wonder if I could make it a truly vegetarian dish by substituting agar for the gelatin? I bet someone at Ideas in Food or Playing with Fire and Water could tell me.

Rulhman's Charcuterie is discussed here on eGullet. Now that you're familiar with the basic technique, put it to use by making other terrines and patés.