52 Foods Week Forty Eight: Ground Pork

I spent much of this week contemplating recipes for persimmons, a fruit I only first had last Monday, even going so far as a failed chutney attempt. While coming up empty on good persimmon ideas, I was inspired by our friend Tracy who put out a call for meatloaf recipes. It’s been years since I last made meatloaf, and with Jen and I both furiously working on finishing the school quarter, it seemed like a perfect comfort dish that would also yield a meal or two of leftovers. This week could have gone either of two directions, pork or beef, as I use both in equal proportions. I chose pork because I’m still hoping to showcase my burger skills before the year is out.

I picked up a half pound each of Llano Seco organic pork and Five Dot Ranch beef, both freshly ground by the Davis Co-Op.

Beef to the Left, Pork to the Right

I put the ground meat in a bowl and added about a cup of finely chopped onion, a chopped garlic clove and two ribs of celery.

Onion, Garlic and Celery

Next I added a bunch of bread crumbs and an egg.

Breadcrumbs and Egg

Finally, I spiced it with a teaspoon and a half of salt, a tablespoon of dijon mustard and ground black pepper all over the top.

Salt, Pepper and Dijon

Next came the fun part, getting into the bowl wrist deep and mixing it all together.

Playing with My Food

When it was all mixed together, I filled a loaf pan and covered it with foil. I placed it in an oven at 350° F for 30 minutes, after which I removed the foil and continued cooking it at 400&deg F; for another 30 minutes, until it had reached an internal temperature of 160° F.

We sliced it up and enjoyed it with baked potatoes. This meatloaf is super easy to make, and has a great meatloaf taste—lots of umami, just like meatloaf should be.


Photos here.

52 Foods Week Thirty: Spare Ribs

While strolling the Farmers’ Market a couple weeks ago, Jen issued me a challenge that spoke to both my pride and my appetite: “I’ve never been much into ribs before. Make me like ribs.”

We had just visited the Sunblest Orchards booth, where we picked up a jar of Apricot Diablo glaze—a tasty looking mixture of apricots with habañero and jalapeño peppers and other spices. One of the recommended uses was pork ribs, so we checked with Bledsoe Meats and scored their last rack of spare ribs.

Sunblest Apricot Diablo

Ribs, both beef and pork, have long been favorites of mine, but—an odd experiment with kangaroo aside— I’ve never attempted straight up BBQ ribs. For guidance I turned to Steven Raichlen’s How To Grill and followed his very detailed instructions for preparing pork spare ribs. I’d encourage anyone interested in grilling a wide variety of foods to pick up this book, as he covers all sorts of foods with many discussions of technique and excellent photographs demonstrating key steps. If I gloss over any of my prep steps, it’s only because I’m trying to exactly follow his lead, and you’d do better to go directly to the master than to work from my imperfect first attempt.

To begin, I trimmed the cap and rib tips from the rib rack. I also did my best to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. When we ate the ribs, I discovered that I did not perfectly follow the line of the rib tips, and cut through a couple of them, leaving them on the rack. This isn’t really a problem, but as a matter of technique, it was suboptimal. In the future, I’m going to take a little more time with that step to get it down pat. I kept the rib tips and the cap and cooked them up the next day Vietnamese style.

Removing the Rib Tips

Following Raichlen’s advice, I submerge the ribs in apple cider and the juice of one lemon, covered them, and put them in the fridge for about five hours.


When the ribs were done marinading I patted them dry, then covered them with a spice rub of salt, garlic salt, paprika, cumin and cayenne. In the future, I would omit the salt from this, as the ribs came out saltier than I wanted. In general, I’ve discovered that I tend to underestimate the power of salt in my rubs. I’m working on it and the first step is acknowledging I have a problem. The ribs went back in the fridge, covered, for close to three hours.

Rubbed Ribs

When it came time to cook, I fired up the Weber with mesquite charcoal arranged for indirect cooking. I placed the ribs in the center of the grill, with the coals to either side, then threw a handful of soaked and drained pecan wood chips onto each charcoal pile. Pecan is one of my favorite cooking and smoking woods. I find that it is similar to applewood, but a little stronger. It shines in a 50/50 split with oak when we make our famous Thanksgiving turkey, and works well to add a sweet smokiness alongside any charcoal you prefer, or on its own if used in larger chunks.

On the Grill

Following Raichlen’s advice, I sprayed the ribs with more cider every 20 minutes.

Spray with Cider

I also added a little extra mesquite and pecan every hour to keep the heat and smoke going.

Add Coal Every Hour

As we reached the final 30 minutes of cooking, I covered the top of the ribs with a generous layer of the apricot glaze, kicked the smoke up a notch and closed the vents to let things get nice and smokey.

Applying apricot sauce

We set the table, basking in the evening heat and watched generous billows of pecan smoke escape the grill.

Last Hit of Smoke

After nearly three hours cooking, I pulled the ribs and sliced them into five manageable pieces.

Cutting the ribs up

We served them with some homemade corn slaw. Jen happily gobbled up her first set, and reached for seconds. Success!

Spare Ribs and Corn Slaw

Photos can be found here and here.

52 Foods Week Twenty Four: Pork Belly

When I began Fifty Two Foods, there were a few foods I knew I would include. Some of those, such as walnuts, I covered early. Others, like cherries, I needed to wait on until they were in season. This week’s food, pork belly, was another that I knew I would cook from the very start, and while it has been readily available, I’ve held off cooking it, because I really wanted to get it right. Towards this end, I took a first run at it a few weeks ago, and much like collard greens, I learned a few things that have informed my second attempt—a slab of pork belly that is in the oven as I write this.

I’ve enjoyed lots of pork belly in the last couple years, thanks to what seems to be a love affair between it and Portland’s new crop of chefs. One of my favorite preparations comes courtesy of Beaker & Flask, where it is served as a large, tender steak nestled among an ever-changing line-up of vegetables and fruits (my favorite was cabbage and pomegranate, if I recall correctly). This is, in my mind, the high watermark of pork belly. Soft and charred, with fat that melts away and flavor the veggies below. I won’t aspire to achieve this so early in my pork belly career, but keeping it in mind will hopefully guide me towards my perfect home cooked belly.

For my first pork belly attempt, I followed a simple recipe where the pork belly cooked slowly, with a minimum of spices. Reflecting on the finished product, I noted a few places where I thought it could be improved. I cooked my pork belly for 3 hours, but felt that it hadn’t really cooked as long as it should have. There was still a lot of fat under the skin that could have melted and basted the pork, and the flesh was not yet as tender as I wanted it. I also felt like it was a little under spiced, and that the onions imparted very little flavor. My solution to these issues was threefold:

I rubbed spices on both the skin and meat sides of the pork.

Spiced Underside

I set the pork on a layer of onions and apricots.

A Bed of Apricots and Onions

I’m cooking it much longer, 5-6 hours, than last time.

My apricots are Royal Blenheims from SunBlest Orchards in Patterson, CA. SunBlest’s representative at the Davis Farmers’ Market is consistently one of the cheeriest vendors, always good for a big smile and often a friendly comment or two. I was more than happy to pickup 2 pounds of apricots, especially after he gave us a sample—a perfect balance of sweet and tart—that confirmed apricot season has arrived.


I quartered a large, yellow onion, then sliced it into thin strips.


I made a spice rub of salt, paprika, cumin and white and cayenne peppers.

Spice Rub

My pork belly, as before, came from the Bledsoe Meats, in Woodland, CA, surely the nearest and best pork producer to Davis. It’s a 3+ pound slab of hog, with the skin intact. Sitting on the cutting board it was pure pork potential—ready to be slow roasted or made into bacon, pancetta or another smoked marvel. I scored the skin on both diagonals, so the fat could bubble up and create crispy cracklings.

Scored Skin

I covered both sides of the pork belly with my spice rub and laid it atop the apricots and onions, which were doused with a helping of silver tequila to keep things moist. Then I placed the pan in the oven to cook slowly at 250°F.

In the Pan

Update at 5pm: Just passed the three hour mark, and I’m kind of shocked that this was about when the last pork belly came out. The skin is definitely starting to get crispy, and a lot of fat has melted out to mix with the tequila, apricot and onions.

Rotated 180º

It took about an hour for the fat to start melting. Then another half hour before there was evidence of cracklings forming.

Skin Close Up

I’ve raised the oven temperature to 275° to encourage it to cook a little faster, and to make sure the fat simmers enough to keep basting the pork.

Update at 10:30pm: The pork belly took about five and a half hours to complete. I pulled it out around 7:30, and the moment I peeled the skin off the meat, I could tell it was a success. Great roasted pork belly tends to pull apart along the muscle grain, and this was definitely happening.

Skin Peeled Off

I strained the apricots and onions out of the roasting pan, and put them in a skillet on the stove to make a chutney to go alongside the pork. Much of the spice was in this mixture, so it made a wonderful and very welcome complement to the belly, which had taken some of the flavor, but was still relatively lightly spiced.

Apricots and Onions

I cut the pork belly into inch and a half wide slices and layered them on a platter to serve.

Pork Belly Ready to Serve

The skin had a nice snap to it, but I wanted to get it a little crisper, so I threw it back in the oven for a few minutes. Five minutes later, I had wonderfully crisp, but still slightly toothsome pork cracklings to serve alongside the pork belly. They were very well spiced from the rub.


All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Ten: Shitaki Mushrooms

Sometimes the most important thing you cook is a side dish. We were invited to a pork dinner that we knew would be fantastic. The hog itself, tucked into our friends’ industrial freezer, was already stuff of legend. All we had to do was choose whether to bring a side or a dessert. We chose side.

Browsing the Farmers’ Market the morning of the meal, I happened upon some glorious shitaki mushrooms. I’m generally bullish on mushrooms of all kinds, and the shitakis that Solano Mushroom sells may be the most impressive I’ve seen. They were nice and full and appeared to have been very gently handled. I happily snapped up half a pound of them, then browsed the other tables to figure out what I was going to cook with them. Visiting the folks at Capay Organic, again, I picked up two bunches of rosy chard, as well as some collard greens for a Fifty Two Foods practice run.

Two Bunches of Chard

Having both leafy greens and mushrooms in hand made for an obvious choice—creamed chard with mushrooms—since mushrooms take to cream so well, and there’s nothing quite like creamed chard for a hearty yet refreshing side dish.

I sliced the shitakis into good sized slices, then sautéed them in butter and garlic until they softened and the juices ran out.

Releasing Their Juices

The garlic I sliced very thin, and cooked slowly in the butter before adding the mushrooms, allowing it to soften and caramelize a bit. It tasted a lot like roasted garlic, but instead of soft, thick pieces, they were thin and crispy. The garlic alone was absolutely delicious.

Cook Garlic in Butter

In another pan, I sautéed a minced shallot in olive oil, then added the chard stems, which cooked for 5-10 minutes before I added the roughly chopped chard leaves. I added a bit of white wine, then covered the chard to let it soften for another 10 minutes, or so, before adding the entire contents of the mushroom pan.

Add Chard Leaves to Pan

Finally, I added two ounces of heavy cream and stirred everything together for a couple minutes.

Add Heavy Cream

The shitakis added a fantastic earthy taste to the chard, elevating a dish that already would have been tasty to a profound complexity. It paired very nicely with the pork we had, but could also have served well alongside any roast or grilled meat. Check out all the pictures here.

52 Foods Week Six: Apples

Sometimes you pick the meal, sometimes the meal picks you. The latter happened this week, when I came upon a gorgeous haul of Pink Lady apples from Mt. Moriah Farms. I quickly filled a bag with 10 or 12, not certain what we would do with all of them, but confident that a plan would become clear. Placing the apples alongside some leeks we had purchased earlier, I realized that the meal I should make—the meal I had to make—involved that most apple-loving of meats, the humble pork chop.

For the meal I envisioned, I needed thick pork chops. Pork chops thicker than any I had seen in Davis. Fortunately, I had a hunch about where these might be obtained: Corti Brothers in Sacramento, a 64 year old Italian grocery that I had heard tales of for years, but not yet had the pleasure of visiting. Corti Brothers did not disappoint, with nearly 2-inch thick pork chops that were a pound each. We bought three, along with some other treats. A plan was coming together.

Back in the kitchen, I submerged the pork chops in a marinade of Wild Turkey Bourbon, sel gris, fennel seed, crushed red pepper and Pernod. The anise aroma of the Pernod filled the room, conjuring thoughts of a robust and complex cocktail. I figured the perfect opener to our pork meal would be a cocktail that offered a preview of the pork’s flavors—apples, anise, whiskey—an apple Sazerac cocktail.

Pork Chops in Whiskey Brine

I am a huge fan of rye whiskies, and, with the recent rye shortage, have been stocking up like a squirrel preparing for winter. I believe I purchased the last bottle of Wild Turkey Rye in the Sacramento Valley and recently acquired a dusty bottle of Sazerac Rye, a spirit that has been absent from the shelves of both liquor stores and bars for at least nine months. Bravely, like Abraham acting in faith but against judgement, I emptied nearly half of my Sazerac into a carafe over a chopped apple.

Apple Infused Rye Whiskey

I left the whiskey to infuse overnight, then strained the apples from it. Tasting it, there was a light sweetness, but the apple was barely noticeable, still trapped within the pithy fruit, along with some of my precious rye. I transferred the apples to a measuring cup and muddled them aggressively, then strained this juice back into the whiskey, creating a charming, apple accented rye.

Back to the pork. I chopped the white of two leeks, and sautéed them in some olive oil, then seared each of the pork chops over medium-high heat. Once the pork chops were seared, I stood them on edge, about half an inch apart, and filled the pot with 4 chopped apples. I reduced the heat to low, and added a couple ounces of water, then covered the pot.

Fill Pot with Apples

I left the pork to braise for about 2 hours, occasionally rearranging the apple pieces to sit lower in the pot as they softened, and flipping the pork chops once. After removing the pork chops and slicing them, I turned the heat up again, to cook down the apple and leek mixture for a few more minutes. I strained the apple-leek solids out to serve on top of the pork.

While the pork rested, I mixed up a batch apple Sazerac cocktails for our guests, which we served right before the food was brought to the table. The cocktails’ offered a perfect introduction to the pork, which was sweet and fruity with a hint of anisette.

Apple Leek Pork Chops:

3 lbs thick cut pork chops
2 leeks
4 apples
2 tbsp olive oil

For marinade:
1 cup whiskey
1/2 cup sel gris
1 tbsp fennel seed
1 tbsp crushed red pepper
2 oz. Pernod

Combine all marinade ingredients and cover pork for 12-24 hours. Chop leek whites and sautée in olive oil in large pot. Push leeks to side and sear each pork chop on both sides, 2-3 minutes a side. Chop apples into 1/2 inch pieces. Stand pork chops on edge and fill pot with apples. Add a few ounces of water and cover. Cook over low heat for 2 hours, turning pork chops once. Remove pork chops and increase heat. Cook leeks and apples an additional 10 minutes. Serve strained apples and leeks over pork.

Apple Sazerac Cocktail:

2 oz. apple infused rye whiskey*
1 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup**
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Pernod rinse
1 apple wedge

Rinse glass with Pernod and place apple wedge at bottom of glass. In a cocktail shaker, combine rye, simple syrup and bitters. Stir with ice for 15 seconds. Strain over apple and serve.

Apple Sazerac Cocktail

* Soak chopped apple in 12 oz whiskey for 24 hours. Muddle apples to release juices. Strain into a clean bottle for storage.

** Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water and cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to boil. Let cool and refrigerate.