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KotW: Pork with Pears, Lentils, and Plum Sauce February 5, 2009

Posted by panterazero in all-in-one, exotic!, fruit, herbs & spices, Kip of the Week, pig pig pig.
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[In North America we have an odd attitude toward fruit; we want to cook it only when it’s perfectly ripe. That insistence makes for great apple and peach pies and strawberry jam, but in other contexts it’s awfully limiting. For example, what would the great Cuban beef dishes –- picadillo or ropa vieja or boliche -– be without a side of fried plantains? Unripe fruit is an estimable staple in savory cooking.

So find a few really rock-hard pears and try this. I give two slightly different versions, one using fresh plums if it’s the right time of year, the other substituting dried fruit and factory sauce. ]

1 1/2 cups green or brown lentils
two cups boiling water

two medium yellow onions, chopped
two tablespoons oil
one pound boneless lean pork, sliced

two to four unripe hard green pears, peeled and cored (depending on size, enough to make four cups chopped)

If you can get them:
four tart purple plums, seeded and cut up
Otherwise:
eight dried apricots
one-half cup Chinese or Japanese plum sauce, from a jar

four to six cloves of garlic
a piece of fresh ginger the size of a walnut, peeled and sliced
one-quarter cup dry sherry
one-quarter cup cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
one tablespoon sriracha, or more to taste

Put the lentils in a large measuring cup, pour the boiling water over them, and let them sit. If you’re using the dried apricots, put them in a smaller cup, pour boiling water over them to cover, and let them sit too. Chop the pears.

Sauté the chopped onions in the oil, allowing them to brown generously. Add the sliced pork and stir until the meat loses its pink color. Add the chopped pears, the lentils, and the soaking liquid, stir, and leave at a simmer.

Drain the dried apricots, if you’re using them. In a food processor, mince the garlic and ginger till it settles on the walls of the tank. Add the cut-up plums OR the dried apricots, and purée. Add the sherry, the vinegar, the plum sauce if you’re using it, and the sriracha, and blend.

Pour the plum sauce over the meat-lentil-fruit mixture, turn up the heat and bring it to a boil. Ideally, the pears will still have a tiny bit of crunch, and the lentils will be nutty-tasting and firm. Correct the seasoning.

© /KC September 2008

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Peppers (yes!) sausage (yes!) January 24, 2009

Posted by panterazero in exotic!, herbs & spices, pig pig pig, restaurants, reviews, Uncategorized.
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Sometimes I chase after peppers, and sometimes I stumble over them.  Last week in Southern California, I had a surprise roughly comparable to the existence of Saeng’s Orient — the discovery of a fine Hungarian restaurant and deli in a tiny town in the high desert.

Hungarian cuisine is legendary for its promotion and extensive use of paprika peppers, whether in the dry ground form also called paprika, the lip-stinging and lipstick-red preserve called lecsó, or simply as a vegetable to be sliced and cooked in soup or stew.  Of course, various types of fresh hot peppers can be found — and are inventively used — all over central and southern Europe, but many Hungarians are convinced that the best European hot peppers with a pointed shape grow only in Hungary.  (Sounds like New Mexico.)

Cut to the barely known community of Littlerock, California, which is about half the size of NetHeadChef’s “P’ville,” with one post office instead of two, and without the university.  It’s a pleasant place, and various farm stores advertise specialties like jerky, fresh fruit, homemade candy, etc.  So far it’s not too different from some other towns in the California high desert.

But in the 8800 block of Pearblossom Highway, Valley Hungarian Sausage & Meat Company offers 36 kinds of homemade sausage — most European, some not — together with sliced cold cuts, Hungarian plate lunches, pierogies, an amazing range of Hungarian specialties in jars, cans, and bags (even Hungarian pasta!), and, naturally, homemade dill pickles.  Their fresh Hungarian sweet sausage is exceptional, and I say that without fear of contradiction.

Littlerock is about 40 miles east of Santa Clarita, or about 70 miles northeast of downtown LA.  It’s worth the drive, but I would call or e-mail first to confirm hours:

Valley Hungarian Sausage & Meat Company
8809 Pearblossom Highway
Littlerock, CA 93543
Ph: (661) 944-3351
vhsm@sbcglobal.net

Pork, pasta, and veg. September 23, 2008

Posted by sarawr in all-in-one, pasta, pig pig pig, saucy.
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Hello there! I know I promised you a gingerbread post last time I popped in, but I’m hung up on a quest for molasses — I am determined to make genuine gingerbread, which requires molasses. Not honey. Not caramelized brown sugar. Not Splenda. Molasses. So. That will happen later.

In the meantime, I came up with something very yummy that I thought I’d share. I was browsing through the frozen foods aisle at Wal-Mart (hush now, I’m all right) when I came across these… uh… well, I don’t know what they’re called. They’re bags of food all frozen together so that when you heat them up, they make a meal. Beef and potatoes, chicken and broccoli with sauce, that kind of thing. One of the bags caught my eye — it was elbow pasta with chicken and alfredo sauce, and it might have had a vegetable of some sort, too. I don’t remember the particulars now, but it looked good. I wanted it. Except, I didn’t want to pay eight bucks for two servings’ worth, especially since those two servings were all flash-frozen and preservative-laden. What to do?

Well, I got creative, is what. I picked up some cavatappi pasta (elbow noodles, but somehow fancier) and pancetta (soft bacon, but smokier and also fancier) and thought about what I already had at home. I didn’t have chicken, but I did have some pork loin. I didn’t have peas… or peppers… or whatever was in the frozen stuff, but I did have spinach and some native corn (maize, to you non-New Mexicans). I hate alfredo sauce, but I thought garlic cream sauce might be nice. Bingo!
I diddled about with the proportions and various cooking times, and here’s what I ended up with. I wasn’t going to post it here until I’d given it a few trial runs, but guys: This stuff is delicious.

YOU WILL NEED:

Half a pound to a pound of cavatappi (or farfalle, or whatever — just stay away from stringy noodles)
1/4 to 1/2 pound pork loin, cut into strips or cubes
A splash of olive oil
One to two cups fresh spinach, chopped
An ear or so of native corn (or regular corn)
One cup pancetta, crumbled or diced very finely
This garlic cream sauce

WHAT TO DO:

Whip up the garlic cream sauce beforehand; with this recipe, it’s best if you add extra pepper — maybe three dashes instead of one. Then get your pasta boiling with a little salt. Pop your spinach and corn into a colander or steamer (a double boiler would be handy here, but I didn’t have one) over the pasta so that it can wilt/steam properly. While the pasta and veggies are doing their respective things, stir-fry the pork loin in olive oil for about ten minutes on medium heat. Add the pancetta to the pan about eight minutes in and let everything sizzle together for the last couple of minutes. Drain the pasta, shuck the corn, and throw everything into a pan over very low heat. Slowly stir in the garlic cream sauce.

Ta-da! Dinner. It’s even sort of well-balanced. Who’s the top chef now, huh?

Quickie: Not-so-original pinwheels. September 15, 2008

Posted by sarawr in appetizers, cheesy goodness, pig pig pig, quick & dirty.
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I should probably put in a disclaimer here: when I came up with the recipe I’m about to post, I truly thought I was a genius. People, I bragged about this. “It’s so good!” I said. “It’s so easy!” I was very smug, and I planned this post in meticulous detail.

Then I told my friend Heather about this recipe and she was like, “Oh, yeah, pinwheels. Those are good.” D’oh. Also, duh. Still, while this little snack-or-lunch option isn’t as creative as I’d thought, it is still tasty and super easy.

YOU WILL NEED:

Several slices of deli ham — or, even better, prosciutto
Cream cheese (whipped, if you’re feeling fancy)
Chives or green onions
Paper towels

WHAT TO DO:

Chop up a small handful of the chives/onions. Lay out your ham slices and blot them with the paper towels. Put a teaspoon or so of cream cheese in the center of each slice, then dampen your hands with water and spread the cream cheese with your fingers. (I have tried to do this with a knife, and without blotting the ham, and all that happens is Cream Cheese Ham Skating.) Sprinkle a generous line of chopped chives down the center of each ham-cheese concoction, then roll the whole thing up.

Et voila. You have either a tasty snack, a delicious hors d’oeuvre, or — if you’re a busy freelancer with a deadline and a hungry pre-schooler — dinner. You can cut the rolls in half and place each one on a garlic Triscuit if you want to be really fancy. Black olives make a nice accompaniment too.

(Be gentle with me, guys. I’m going to attempt gingerbread in the next few days — if it turns out well I might have a real recipe for you!)