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I’ve been re-reading my copy of Jennifer Tyler Lee’s “The 52 New Foods Challenge” cookbook and finding inspiration from other cooks who’ve created recipes based on her list of 52 new Foods that kids should be trying. 

If you haven’t read my post about Jennifer’s book, you learn more about her book here. Like many people at this time of year, I’ve thrown myself into all things seasonal. We’ve been drinking wintry cocktails and using the rolling pin to smash peppermint candy canes to top our hot chocolate. We’ve lugged home a tree, and decorated it with a pound of tinsel. Holidays are a full contact sport in our household. Though I have yet to bake anything since my big Christmas cake effort in November, my food has been holiday-spirited nonetheless.

Pomegranates are one of my kids’ favorite fruits although they’re still getting used to the tiny seeds. I had my own experience with new foods, so I understand their trepidation. You may recall that my stepfather gently encouraged me to eat the rind on my Brie cheese, or else – or so I was told – I would be the laughingstock of all of Paris. I learned to eat rind, our summer visit to France was a success (minus the traffic accidents. Plural.) And I came away with an understanding that foods sometimes require a little warm-up period.

Without any harsh consequences playing on their young, impressionable psyches, my kids are slowly learning to eat their pomegranate seeds without spitting out the, er, seed. They love the flavor, the juice, and the vibrant red streaks that cover their hands and get under their nails. I can’t resist pomegranate seeds either – that color! That flavor, they’re positively luminescent. So, I tend to use them abundantly during the holidays. Like gemstones, pomegranate seeds make everything a little more festive.

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After my last read through the “52 New Foods Challenge” cookbook, I was excited about cooking for my kids using a mix of familiar flavors, with a few new ones. My kids are becoming more adventurous with food, and it was high time they were introduced to ingredients like garlic and soy sauce.

The ribs were a hit, and I felt confident that I could push their buttons a little further with a new recipe. Yes, we’d have some familiar foods in the form of pomegranates and steak. But I’d also introduce some new ingredients. New to them, and with one in particular – new*ish to me.

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Vegetarians, avert your eyes…

We’re getting into the nitty gritty of pork belly today.

The pork belly ramen at David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant was one of my first experiences. Rodney and I went several years ago, waited for hours for a table, and sat down to ramen that can only be described as “well worth the wait.” A sweet harmony between chewy noodles, the porkiest pork broth, the belly itself, and what I now know to be a perfectly-runny 5:10 minute soft-boiled egg.

I soon decided to tackle pork belly at home, buying it in smaller pieces before graduating to larger roasts, which is what I prefer to cook these days. It makes enough for dinner and leaves plenty of meat for leftovers.

Although it shouldn’t have been a surprise – pork belly is essentially a big slab of bacon – I thought that it was funny when my kids started to request it for dinner. Spaghetti with tomato sauce, chicken tenders….pork belly.

If I were to rank the nutritional value of pork belly, it would rank right up there next to candy canes. So we don’t eat it often, making it an infrequent luxury.

But considering that it is the holidays, and that we’ll be eating like gluttons all week long, what’s the harm in an additional 1,000-calorie meal, correct?

I’ve been in a Thanksgiving frame of mind and can’t stop using all manner of sage and cranberry; forgive me if you’re facing an overload of these ingredients. December will be about fruit cake and royal icing, and at a certain point you’re welcome to tell me to stop featuring those too.

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Belly is nothing to look at in its raw state. You can buy it with the skin on – which is how it’s typically sold. You can alternatively ask your butcher to remove the skin, or do it yourself at home.

I’ve roasted pork belly with the skin on before, and it comes out flavorful, but with the texture of shoe leather. David Chang suggests that you keep the skin and make Chicharrón, but it involves a dehydrator and some technical skill in removing every last trace of fat. Count me in for that exercise when I retire to Palm Springs with my silver hair and Mephistos. Until then, there are far too many kids in the kitchen, husband included.

For now, let’s talk about the rest of the belly. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this one is rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar, chopped fresh sage and orange zest. I love citrus at this time of year, but Satsumas, with their vibrant color and sweet juice is perfect for this. But pick a favorite orange, anything will work.

Don’t forget to drink a beer while you’re making it.

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Roast on high heat for an hour, then turn down the temp to low. Much of the fat will render out, leaving you with soft, shreddable meat and a crunchy exterior.

While the belly is roasting, switch gears and make your cranberry sauce.

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If there’s a more Fall-spirited, festive, happy-making dish around, please fill me in.

Let’s talk about ingredients first, starting with this squash. (I know, I know, three straight weeks of squash…next week will be squash-free, promise).

The name “Carnival” really sums it up. This squash makes me want to throw on a party hat and blow on a plastic kazoo. Am I the only one?

Carnival squash is a heritage breed and can usually be found at your local farmer’s market. If you’re really lucky, lighting strikes, and you’re there on the right day, you can find them at Whole Foods. Especially around Thanksgiving when Whole Foods erupts into a massive delivery channel of straight-from-the-farm produce, from Winter greens to Winter squash, Garnet Yams, and everything in between.

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The Carnival squash’s skin ranges from dark green to vivid orange, and the flesh is sweet and a little spicy. I’ve got to be careful about using the word “flesh” since my kids erroneously presumed that I was feeding them humans when we did our mystery food challenge last week. I assume that you won’t make the same mistake. We don’t eat humans in our house, and neither should you.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know that I have a habit of prepping ingredients right after I get home from the store. Prepped ingredients are far easier to incorporate into quick-fix meals, so I usually slice and roast squash with nothing but olive oil, salt and pepper, and then figure out how to use it at a later time.

Likewise with homemade stock. Whenever I’m at the store, I pick up a few extra pieces of bony/collagen-filled meat, which I make into stock that can either be refrigerated for a few days, or frozen. If you’ve ever wondered who that person is buying up those packages of chicken backs, lamb necks, or chunky pork bones – that would be me. They’re cheap, and the bones give your stock incredible body.

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