Swarni’s pork and cabbage

Yesterday was Guru Nanak’s birthday, which my friend Swarni told me about at work because she thought I’d like to take the kidlet and maybe Nick to visit a gurdwara, donate a dollar, and eat an Indian meal. This is a thing anyone can do, and Swarni says we can bring Tupperware for leftovers but the idea of being the greedy white lady with the Tupperwares mooching food from the Sikh temple kitchen is mortifying. She thinks I’m silly.

It was a quiet day at the office, and so we took a couple of extra coffee breaks and Swarni talked about her late father, and about her faith, which is a weird thing to discuss at the office but if you can get over things being weird and just listen, you can learn stuff. Anything you can learn without Google will make you better, I think, and if not better then at least a little wiser.

I want to learn everything, and am starting to understand how much less I have to talk to do that.

And so we talked, and we ate most of a box of Toffifee that Seti brought in, and then Swarni finally shared her recipe for pork and cabbage, a thing I’ve been begging her for but which she repeatedly waved me off about.

“It’s not much of anything,” she’d say. “My dad always made it, and he invented it.”

“Put it in your cookbook,” she said.

It’s not much of anything, and that’s why it’s so amazing. It’s just a few simple ingredients, and they’re cheap, and it doesn’t cook long, it’s got a depth of flavour you don’t always get in easy weeknight dishes. This one’s a keeper.

She said I could share the recipe with you. She says you can make it with chicken instead of pork, or with mushrooms and peas instead of cabbage, or with a can of puréed spinach. She says it’s best with bone-in pork chops, so you can pluck the bones out of the pot at the end of the meal for a nibble. I haven’t tried those other ways, but we do what Swarni says if we know what’s good for us.

I made this with the intent to pack the leftovers for lunches, and there were no leftovers. The little one gobbled his up, and Nick had two big helpings. I served it with brown rice, but white rice will do just fine. I was going to make raita, but got lazy. A few slices of apple made a perfect accompaniment.

Swarni’s pork and cabbage

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and sliced
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste (look for a low- or no-sodium version)
  • 2 tsp. Madras (yellow) curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 lb. savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • Cilantro

Add butter, onion and salt to a Dutch oven or other heavy pot and sauté over medium-high heat until onions have just begun to soften, about two minutes. Add garlic and ginger, cook for another minute, then add tomato paste and curry powder. Add half a cup of water. Stir to combine.

Add the pork to the pot, and stir to coat the pork in the spice-tomato mixture. Reduce heat to medium, cover the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, and add the garam masala. Cook for an additional two minutes.

Add the cabbage, stirring to coat in the sauce mixture until just wilted, another three or four minutes. You don’t want the cabbage to be limp and mushy – it should retain some of its toothiness and crunch.

Sprinkle with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, and serve over rice.

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Taco fried rice.

The first time I ever heard about taco rice I didn’t have much information to go on other than “yeah, duh, that sounds amazing. I would like to have that now, please.”

As usual, I wasn’t entirely paying attention and when it came time to try making it for the first time, I missed a few essential details.

Taco rice is one of those magical, confusing dishes that results from a bunch of ideas all jumbled up and served on one plate. It’s origin is Japanese – Okinawan, specifically – with influence from a bunch of taco-craving American GIs based on the island. It came up in the most recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and it was only then that I understood. Says Bourdain: “This unholy, greasy, starchy, probably really unhealthy delight, a booze-mop-turned-classic, caught on big time.”

Taco fried rice baseIn short, what I thought was taco rice was not taco rice at all. Taco rice is a layered thing – spiced, fried ground meat on top of white rice, with lettuce and tomatoes and cheese on top of that. Taco fried rice is unholy in its own way, the kind of thing you would make if you were drunk in your kitchen late at night, or if it was the 1950s. It’s exotic! Except it’s not.

It’s comfort food and you should be comfortable when you eat it.

So, here’s my misinterpretation of taco rice. What is authenticity anyway?

Taco fried rice

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and then diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cups prepared salsa (either homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and corn until colours have brightened, about two minutes. Add garlic and cook for another two minutes, stirring occasionally until veggies have just begun to soften.

Crumble the ground pork into the pan. Add chili powder, cumin, paprika, black pepper, coriander, and oregano to the pan, and stir, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon as you go. Cook for about five minutes, until pork is cooked through and the pan appears dry on the bottom.

Add soy sauce and rice vinegar, and stir to combine. Add rice. Stir again.

Add salsa, and stir. Cook for another three minutes, until most of the liquid in the pan has disappeared. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in cilantro and serve with accompaniments.

Taco fried rice with toppingsAccompaniments:

  • Shredded cabbage
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Diced avocado
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño peppers
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Cholula

Can I write about meatloaf in May?

I think yes, I can, because it’s my name on this thing and I felt like something meaty. The whole last hour of my day and the entirety of my bus-ride home was spent fighting the urge to chat MEAT! MEAT! MEAT! MEAT! for all the world to hear, and when I finally got here, I dove right into things, mincing shallots and sautéeing finely chopped mushrooms and garlic in butter and olive oil. Can I write about mushroomy meatloaf in May?

Again, I say yes. At the little farmer’s market I go to when I go back to the ‘burbs, there were beautiful little white mushrooms that a sign claimed came from very nearby. And I wanted them, so we’re throwing back to November here, even though it’s warmish out now and the sun periodically mentions itself from behind the clouds. Around here meatloaf is a three-day affair – one day dinner, two days lunches, and I like the long-lastingness of it. Why am I defending this? You know you want meatloaf. There are places where it’s not even really spring yet, and maybe you’re from there. Maybe you want this so bad right now.

Well, here. This one’s a little different – it’s French. Or, rather, French-ish. It starts with shallots, then mushrooms, and then garlic, some dry white wine, fresh bread crumbs, a generous dollop of dijon, enough black pepper, and fresh parsley. There’s meat in there too – I used buffalo tempered with pork, but you can use beef, and venison would be lovely. I’ll bet a bit of lamb would be exquisite.

Anyhow, I made the meatloaf, and it was very good. You can hold off until October, if you want, but I’d make this now. Let it get cold, and slice it into sandwiches, and serve them at picnics.

Mushroom meatloaf

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 minced shallot
  • 3/4 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 lb. extra-lean ground beef (or other extra-lean red meat, such as buffalo or venison)
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. grainy dijon mustard
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg

In a large pan over medium heat, sauté shallot in olive oil and butter until translucent. Add mushrooms, stir to coat, and allow to cook for five minutes, until liquid begins to drain from mushrooms. Salt, add garlic, and stir. Sauté for another five to ten minutes, until pan is dry and mushrooms have begun to caramelize, achieving a golden hue.

Deglaze pan with wine, and simmer for another three to five minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, and allow to cool until you are able to handle the mushrooms comfortably.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine meats, mushroom mixture, bread crumbs, eggs, mustard, parsley, pepper, and nutmeg. Squish everything together with your hands until pretty well combined. It’s okay if the meats are not thoroughly blended – it’s more interesting if they’re not, actually.

Press mixture into a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let stand for ten minutes before serving. And remember, it’s always even better the next day.

As you may have noticed, meatloaf is one of the ugliest foods, which is one more reason why these photos suck. But don’t let that stop you from making this.

To make up for the photos, and because I’ve been good lately, here’s a sleepy photo of the cat.

The word of the day is “lazy.”

I had all these big plans this week, but I got lazy. Already. My biggest big plan was to make cabbage rolls because they are so super awesome and they make lunches and leftovers all week long and no one ever went wrong with a big dish of meat. But then, I failed. I didn’t feel like it.

Then I remembered this handy tip I got awhile back from a reader named Jenn, a very funny high-school teacher from Saskatchewan, who suggested lazy cabbage rolls, and also this lazy pierogie thing I’m going to try another lazy time. I liked her idea, but I had all the stuff for non-lazy cabbage rolls, so I adapted. This is what happened. We are going to have leftovers forever.

Oh, one more thing. I used bratwurst here because I always seem to have it in my freezer, and because it’s flavourful and the point here is laziness. If you don’t have bratwurst, or if it isn’t dirt cheap at your local Polish deli, then you can use ground pork, or beef, or whatever you like, but you may want to add additional seasonings.

Lazy cabbage rolls

(Serves six to eight.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cups diced carrot
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. bratwurst, casing removed
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2-2 lbs. green cabbage, cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella (or other mild cheese)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9″x13″ baking dish.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, fry bacon until brown and crisp. Add onions and crumble bratwurst into the pan, stirring until meat has browned. Add garlic, carrots, and rice, and then add stock to deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure all those delicious meaty bits make their way into the sauce. Season with pepper and marjoram, then pour in the crushed tomatoes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Taste, and salt as desired.

Layer half of the cabbage along the bottom of the pan. Pour half of meat mixture over top, then add another layer of cabbage. Press down lightly to pack. Add the remaining meat mixture, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese.

Bake covered for 80 minutes, then remove the cover and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until top is browned and bubbly. I’ll admit, the cooking time is a little longer than I like on a weeknight, so this might be something best served on Sunday night, so you can pack the leftovers for lunches.

Eat while wearing pajama pants. Know that this is going to make your entire office smell like eastern Europe tomorrow. And be okay with that. Believe me, there are worse things you could do.

And now for something completely different. Also? Pork Wellington.

Okay. So. I had an idea today, and bear with me, because this is the first time I’ve ever done this and also I was drunk. Which sounds like an excuse for crime or being in porn. No one’s ever invited me to participate in either.

And I now hate my own cartoonish square face. And my voice.

I taped myself assembling a pork wellington inspired by Laura Calder and something similar she made with beef. I think I also saw Alton Brown make something similar once. Also, the only time I’ve ever been on rolling film I’ve been inebriated, which obviously means I was awesome it wasn’t – and continues to not be – my fault. For whatever. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

Anyway, if you hate my face or if my awkwardness makes you horribly uncomfortable or if you can’t hear a word of what I said in the video, let me know, and I’ll either do better next time or hang my head in shame and never cook again.

The recipe and instructions are after the video, just in case.

(I have to preemptively apologize for everything in case you think I take myself seriously, and thus think I’m some sort of douchebag. Neither is the case, I promise. Unless you think I’m a douchebag for using “thus” in a sentence. For that, I have no defense.)

Pork Wellington

  • 1 cup oaked chardonnay
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 package puff pastry, rolled out (one square, or one sheet if you buy it in rolls)
  • 6 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced down the centre
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a small saucepan, simmer cranberries in chardonnay and butter until plump, six to eight minutes. Set aside.

Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface until it’s large enough to completely wrap your pork tenderloin. Drizzle with olive oil (a step I forgot in the video), and then lay out your prosciutto. Sprinkle with herbs.

Place pork tenderloin in the centre. Spread apart, and spoon the winy cranberries into the opening. Add the hazelnuts, press to pack, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper, as much or as little as you’d like.

Paint edges of pastry with beaten egg, and fold over pork. Pat to ensure the thing is sealed, and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. I told you you should bake it until it’s 140 degrees, but, in all honesty, I don’t care about the rules and I baked it until it was about 135°F in the centre of the meat. It’s better that way. You won’t die of swine flu or whatever people think happens when your pork tenderloin is a tiny bit pink in the middle.

Let this sit for a few minutes before serving. I made a simple gravy out of some beef stock, a touch of wine, some garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper, cornstarch (to thicken), and mushrooms, and served it all with potatoes. We ate healthily yesterday, so I figure this meal makes up for it. Very simple, earthy, and an excellent start to fall.

Porkstravaganza.

Mapo doufu, because it finally cooled off enough for comfort food.

Although to say it’s “cooled off” is incorrect, as I still sweat like a fiend all the time, but that could just be a liver thing. It’s probably the heat. But there were clouds today, and a touch of breeze, so it felt like a day for mapo doufu, a thing I quite enjoy, and which I could have just ordered if I’d wandered down to Peaceful Restaurant on Broadway, but I was lazy, and this meal for three cost me less than ten dollars. And it would have fed four. But we were hungry.

And I wanted to make something with the beautiful green onions I bought.

Onion porn.

And Tracy, who I haven’t seen in a million years (hyperbole) told me she was coming over tonight, so I thought it would be a good idea to make white-people chow mein (it’s a real thing – you get it in restaurants that specialize in “Chinese and Canadian food” and I think it’s in the section on the menu under the chicken fingers and the chili dogs – you also get it at the Kam Wah Wonton House in Langley which is where my parents order from and it’s awesome and the guy there knows that I like an Orange Crush with my order, every single time, even if it’s been a over a year since my last visit. I like it there. But this isn’t about chow mein.) and mapo doufu, which is just a fancy way to say “salty spicy tofu with meat” which is one of my favourite paradoxes, and a paradox is a juxtaposition of two things that at first don’t seem to make sense together, but upon closer examination, they so do. Vegetarians are confused about tofu, and they make it boring – I like it fried in bacon fat, or like we had it tonight – fried with salty things and meat. Not a grain of brown rice in sight. (Even though I actually really like brown rice. Not tempeh though. So you can’t call me a hippie.)

Mapo doufu

  • 1 (14 to 17 oz.) package medium-firm tofu, rinsed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 5 oz. ground pork, or just about a cup’s worth
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. black bean sauce
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. sambal oelek (or chili-garlic sauce, or Tabasco, or sriracha)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 4 tsp. water
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (green onions)
  • 1 tsp. ground white (or black, I guess) pepper

In a large pan or a wok, heat the oil until it shimmers. Stir-fry the pork until it’s no longer pink, then add the garlic, bean sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce, then stir-fry for about a minute. Stir in stock, soy sauce, sugar, tofu, and a pinch of salt. Simmer for about five minutes, occasionally stirring, tasting and adjusting seasoning as needed.

Mix the cornstarch and the water together until the mixture is milky and has no chunks.

Stir cornstarch mixture into stir-fry and simmer, gently stirring  for one minute. Stir in scallions and cook for another minute, before removing from heat. Serve sprinkled with white pepper. Unless you only have black pepper, then use that. And I’ve heard lots of people don’t like white pepper as much as they do black pepper, but Julia Child preferred white pepper, and as she was kind of a big deal and I actually do like the taste, we just go with that a lot of the time around here.

Serve with rice, or with tasty chow mein. I stuffed my chow mein full of vegetables so that there was some nutritional value to the meal. We do that some of the time around here.

Dinnerific.

You can't see the vegetables so well because they are all under the noodles. For realsies.
You can't see the vegetables so well because they are all under the noodles. For realsies.

The chow mein was just a bag of those fresh Chinese noodles you get in the salad section of the supermarket, mixed with garlic, carrots, celery, those gorgeous green onions, a bit of chicken stock, some soy sauce, and a touch of sesame oil, and then tossed with bean sprouts, which are not poisoned with listeria at the moment. It’s easy, and fast, and not so much authentic. But it sure is good. Serve both with a bottle or two of cheap but sumptuous white wine. It’s probably the best way ever to start off a work week once your vacation is over.

And it is over. Sigh. Tomorrow I will tell you all about the gazpacho with which I bade the time farewell.

Bacon fat cookiestravaganza. Or, how to make you fall in love with me. Except that I probably wouldn’t tell you what was in these if I was trying to woo you.

I hadn’t had a peanut butter cookie in a really long time.

And when Nick went out to get dinner stuff, he mentioned that maybe I should do the dishes, and I was like, “If I’m helpful, maybe he’ll come home with a present!” So I did the dishes, and Nick came home, and I pointed out the four dishes I washed, and he wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped, and then he asked if I bothered to clean out the fridge yet. Of course I didn’t. But I thought, I could at least open it and see what happens. And then it happened. The bacon fat resurfaced!

Mmmm!Please don’t quit on me yet. I promise you, this is worth your while.

Bacon fat is better for you than margarine, if you haven’t heard, and while I can’t actually back that up, it’s a fact, and if you want proof then I would be happy to recommend some literature that will help you along. And we’re in a recession. And I’m saving the butter for mashed potatoes. My grandmother used to make the best peanut butter cookies in the world using schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat), which would have been left over anyway, which she kept in the freezer just for baking. And being (constantly) broke, my cold little heart breaks when I have to throw stuff out. I always save my bacon fat.

The peanut butter cookie recipe I like the best comes from Fannie Farmer. I have long been a fan of Marion Cunningham, who is like everybody in the world’s grandmother’s cookbook (but not my grandmother, the story of who’s cookbook is a novel for another time) mashed into one divine being who makes everything you want to eat and is tall (I imagine) and regal and is friends with Jeffrey Steingarten, who is another kind of hero. I make half-batches of this recipe, because two dozen cookies is quite enough for me. The recipe in its full measure claims that it will produce 120 cookies, which I have never found to be true. This is either a gross miscalculation or they’re supposed to be tiny little cookies, and I hate little cookies because they’re a tease and before you know it you’ve eaten two bags of mini rainbow Chips Ahoy and you’re drunk and it’s 3:42 am and you’re crying on the kitchen floor (again) and the reason is embarrassing but also you wish you could carry on a conversation with normal people without saying something wildly inappropriate or them thinking you had tourette’s syndrome, for once, and who the hell let you have the phone in the first place?

Peanut-Butter Bacon Fat Cookies

(Adapted from the recipe for Peanut-Butter Butter Cookies from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, circa 1984. Makes about two-dozen cookies.)

  • 1/2 cup bacon fat
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat your bacon fat, peanut butter, and sugar together in a large bowl. You want the colour of the goop in the bowl to lighten and get creamy. Once it’s there, crack open your egg and drop the contents in, and keep beating the mixture.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, mix well, and then slowly add it to the mixture in the bowl, beating until all your ingredients are combined.

Cookie doughIf you’re like me and you’ve never been disappointed by a hunk of cookie dough in your mouth, then sample away. At first you may think it’s a little weird – and it is. But in a good way. The bacon fat makes the peanut butter seem peanut-butterier.

Roll the dough out into balls about an inch or so in diameter. Place about an inch apart on a cookie sheet, and press the tops down with a fork dipped in granulated sugar.

Raw cookie deliciousnessBake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, and cool for a bit on a wire rack before eating.

I have to say I was pretty pleased with myself/these cookies, and not just because I used something in the fridge and therefore made progress toward a cleaner tomorrow. They are TASTY. You really ought to try this. I’m pretty sure a pound or so of bacon will produce enough fat for these, and then some, if you don’t already save your fat. Don’t waste fat. Baby Jesus cries when you wash the fat of the pig down the drain.

COOKIES!Seriously. You need to try these. Go render some pork fat, and then let me know how it all works out. Or, just come over for cookies and milk, and inhale my good baking stink.