Sunday, February 26, 2006

Jer: Braised Pork Belly

We moved to San Diego over a year ago and it has taken me this long to feel like I’m at home. What is home but a familiarity with all your surroundings. A drive home that is like the back of your hand. Knowing where to find your perfect cup of coffee. The one retail establishment where every visit is true therapy. And of course, for those that relish that perfect meal, the perfect market.

In search of pork belly I found home. None of my usual markets would sell me a cut less than 10 pounds and in desperation I went in search of a German meat market that someone had mentioned in casual conversation when we first moved here. “There is a German meat market in Carlsbad across the street from the Flower Fields that is as authentic as any market one would find in Europe.” I Googled “meat market” and “Carlsbad” and low and behold I find Tip Top Meat Market. I give them a ring and ask if they can special order me this cut of meat that now feels like the last leg of a cruel scavenger hunt. “Let me check” says the French sounding butcher on the phone. “Yes, we have some, how much would you like?” Bingo. I have found my market.

Next door to Tip Top Market is a green market with fresh produce picked from fields in Carlsbad. Check plus. I pick out all my green staples for the week and sneak out of there for less than $8. Tip Top Market is a gem. A true find for someone that lives for a well cooked meal shared with friends. Over 20 different types of handmade sausage, ducks galore, smoked ham hock for Pete’s favorite split pea soup which his mom has been making for him since he was young, and an imported dry goods section that would rival any market in London or Lyon. Hibiscus tea from Germany, tahini from Lebanon, Swedish chocolate, and Viennese pastries. I was in heaven. To top it off, there is an aisle devoted to dried beans. Beluga lentils, chana dal, petite crimson lentils. Sure each bag was more than $3, which might cause temporary cardiac arrest when compared to the $0.89 bag of beans at Trader Joes. But come on. Can one pass up such unexpected treasures and feel like the cook she prides herself to be?

I took home six pounds of pork belly for less than $20 and I couldn’t help but relish in how inexpensive and divine this meal was going to be. With six pounds to play with I decided to cook this obscure treasure in two batches. The first I would do according to Mr. Colichio’s recipe. Braise, remove skin, score fat and re-cook at 400 to brown the top. Thursday night, in between Olympic figure skating performances, I accomplished this task. The second night called for a different preparation – an identical braise but remove all of the fat and do not do the final step of high heat cooking. Instead let the fork tender pork cool in its own juices before it heads into the icebox for the night.

A favorite old CD was playing, and my Argentine malbec was too good to not cook a little more while the pork belly was braising. First up was braised cabbage. If you have never tried this dish, promise me you will as there is nothing more comforting than a $2 dish that tastes like much, much more. It cooks in the oven with any meat braise, tastes better the next day, and is so easy you might wish your mother taught you this dish before you headed off to college when cooking gourmet on a budget was almost unheard of. With some leftover pancetta, a half-empty container of chicken stock and a splash of my malbec, I finished off the night by cooking the beluga and French green lentils I found at Tip Top.

My sweet cousin Teena would be joining us for dinner on Saturday. She is in all respects, a sister and my dearest female companion here in San Diego. Loving and pure and a big fan of anything I cook I wanted to make a dessert that spoke to her heart. Like me, she is on quite an emotional roller coaster, given our grandfather’s emotional and physical state. What better way to mend her heart than with a Filipino chocolate cake that my Auntie Eva used to make for Teena when she lived with her years ago. I came upon this cake in January when Auntie Eva gave me her treasured recipe book. At the start of the year, I embarked on an important family project. In the spirit of my grandfather’s 80th birthday which takes place this May I decided to compile a Castillo family cookbook, rife with all of the recipes our Lola used to make for us when we were young. My gregarious grandmother used to babysit me, my sisters and all of my cousins and my love affair with cooking started while helping in her kitchen, which as an aside looks today exactly the way it did 25 years ago. What better way to honor my grandfather than with a book of love. Recipes from his wife, his children and his grandchildren in a book jam-packed with memories. This cake might make Teena cry.

Pete is in Buenos Aires until the 15th, and in spite of his absence, our meal was in a word, lovely. Good wine and laughter make for good times. We topped off the braised cabbage and stewed lentils with truffle mashed Yukon gold potatoes and they were an excellent companion to the braised pork belly. I prefer the method of removing all of the fat and letting it cool in its own juices but both meats were succulent and wonderful. When I told the table about Tip Top Market our friend Jon told me about Chino Family Farm in Rancho Santa Fe. Akin to the Union Square Green Market in New York, it is supposedly where all of the gourmet restaurants in San Diego buy vegetables from daily. We Google it tonight. Its open daily, and it is less than five miles from where we live. I am giddy and now have a plan for tomorrow. This place is really starting to feel like home.

Perfect braised cabbage

1 cabbage
1 carrot
1 onion
¼ cup good olive oil
¼ cup chicken stock
Salt, pepper, red pepper

Cut cabbage into eight wedges. Slice onion into slivers. Chop carrot into whatever size you like. Put all the vegetables in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and stock. Sprinkle salt, pepper and red pepper. Cover with foil and bake at 300 for two hours. Turn cabbage wedges over half-way through braise. If it dries out add stock. When fork tender, remove foil, turn heat up and cook until vegetables are beautifully browned.

My favorite lentils

Cook this on a weekend as it is wonderful as a mid-week meal served over sauteed greens.

1 onion
1 carrot
2 cups lentils
4 cups stock
Handful of pancetta
Red wine

Cook pancetta and onions in olive oil. Add lentils and stir. Add a splash of red wine and reduce. Add stock and simmer until lentils are tender. Half-way through cooking add carrots. When finished emulsify with a tablespoon or two of good olive oil.

Auntie Eva’s Chocolate Cake

¾ cup cocoa
1 1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup butter
3 eggs
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 ¼ cup cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 ¼ tsp baking soda

4 tbps flour
2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbps butter

It is the condensed milk and evaporated milk that makes this a Filipino dessert. Perhaps it’s the monotonous heat causing a dearth of cows and goats in the Philippines that forces its people to use canned milk in almost every sweet dish. In fact, the original recipe called for water instead of milk which I assume is not because water works better but because there is not much fresh milk in the Philippines. Whatever the reason, the results are Magnolia-esque and remind me so much of licking my fingers as a child.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add milk. Combine dry ingredients. Bake at 350 until set, 20-25 minutes. Don't overcook as it will dry out.

Cook all of the icing ingredients in a heavy sauce pan. Stir on medium/low until its really thick and the right consistency.

Prepare icing and use as a filling as well as a frosting. Melt white chocolate and add whatever color makes you happy. Dot with colored white chocolate, let set, set on an elegant white cake platter and serve to those you love.

Ps, I would make 1.5 times the icing as its really good and you want extra icing in the middle.


Blogger Ashley said...

This looks awesome Jer....I wish I lived closer and were invited over for such a nice yummy dinner!

27 February, 2006 18:29  
Blogger Elaine said...

I love the blue piping on your filipino choco cake. I love the brown/blue color combo. That icing sounds very special. Can't wait to try that. Mike will gobble up this cake without any reservations...well, maybe a little reservation cured by a little pill called Lactaid (wink wink)

27 February, 2006 20:24  
Blogger Cath said...

Jer, Chino's is amazing! My family vacations in Oceanside every summer and my mom and I love to go to Chino's. Rob thinks they're snooty (one of the owners once gave him a hard time for being from Texas--he was wearing his "Made in Texas" tee) but whatever. The produce is incredible. You're in for a treat!

27 February, 2006 22:45  
Blogger Jer said...

Oh Cath, Chino Farms was amazing. You are so right. I bought these amazing little brocolli rabe and cooked them in olive oil with garlic and lemon. Nothing more and they were divine served over pappardelle. The lettuce selection is incredible and the cutest baby carrots and parsnips. What a find!

01 March, 2006 22:56  
Blogger Kate said...

I love all this Jer...the cabbage and lentils are two of my favourites. I do something very similar with lentils and crumble goats cheese over with flat leaf parsley....another weekday stock.
How is that chocolate cake! It looks totally luxurious. mmmmm.

All these markets too. Elaine and I have talked about me getting some photos of my local markets and posting them and I will hopefully get round to it this week. But I would love to see everyone elses locals. Cath and Jer this Chinos sounds fab. You will probably all laugh but I also want to see what Joes? johns ? that you all seem to know is llike...I have a mental picture and its probably nothing like it.

03 March, 2006 08:42  
Blogger Jer said...

Taking photos of markets is a great idea! I'd love to see where my new friends shop! Kate, I hear you live near an incredible market!!

03 March, 2006 22:25  
Blogger Jer said...

Kate, I like your idea of crumbled goat cheese. I sometimes top with shredded parm and it doesn't add much. Goat cheese would add a nice flavor and the contast of the bright white against the dark beans would be so pretty. Thank you!

03 March, 2006 22:30  
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