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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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Here we are. The last CSA post of the season. I don’t know whether to click my heels in the air or shed a tear. I’m torn….

These posts are a beast to put together – many of them tally 3,000 words in length, which to give you some perspective, is like writing an AP English final every week (albeit without the stress and pre-reading).

But it’s fun. I love taking you on a journey through food: how we tackle mealtime based on our CSA deliveries, and how we use leftovers from one meal to create the next. It keeps me honest – never again will I question exactly what went into that strawberries and cream cake that I served on Emma’s birthday, or wonder how I made those waffled grilled cheeses.

I keep thinking about next week’s post, and the post after that – will I feel empty writing about just….one dish?

Perhaps. And perhaps not. Maybe having some free time will motivate me to clean out the kids’ long stockpiled art collection. Shop for some desperately-needed non-2007-era clothes. Massage? Manicure! This is actually starting to sound good….

Today I’ll leave you with the set of recipes that I made from my final Bialas Farms box: Week 18. Here’s what we received in our box this week:

  • Baby Bakers (potatoes)
  • Leeks
  • Green Cabbage
  • Delicata Squash
  • Shallots
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet Carrots
  • Bunched Beets
  • Sugar Pumpkin
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy

It’s a big set of recipes. Something about this being my last box made me nostalgic about my deliveries before the week was over. If last week I struggled to put interesting meals on the table, this week I was chock full of ideas. It also helped that I received my monthly box from Hatchery, whose products always seem to get the juices flowing.

I’ll admit that the first meal that I made doesn’t fall squarely into the “interesting” category. A split roast chicken, carrots and parsnips cooked in honey, butter and herbs (along with some of the chicken juices).

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Not creative and unique, but certainly delicious…And made for a beautiful Saturday night dinner at the lake, paired with a butternut squash casserole and a fresh green salad with a previous week’s stash of leftover romaine.

I found the squash casserole on Food & Wine magazine’s site and followed it to the letter. Not only was I able to use my CSA butternut squash, but I also used some of the leeks from last week’s box, as well as thyme from my kitchen garden. If you’re planning Thanksgiving sides, I highly recommend this bad boy.

With a little leftover chicken, and some homemade stock from the bones, I made a Sunday night (gluten free) chicken noodle soup. I had a few old zucchinis from a few weeks ago, which looked like they were nearly ready for the garbage bin—but I was able to salvage this sorry lot by peeling off some of the softening green skin, and spiralizing them into noodles.

My kids are so-so with spiralized zucchini noodles on their own, but I learned this week that if you add them to soup, their whole attitude changes. Sam even declared this chicken and vegetable noodle soup his new favorite. In fact, he made me promise me that I would still make him this “when he’s an adult”. Deal.

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To make the chicken soup with zucchini noodles

First make the chicken stock by taking the remaining bones from the half chicken and placing them along in a slow cooker with a few types of chopped vegetables (I used leek greens, carrots, and celery) along with some thyme and black peppercorns. Cover with water and cook on low overnight, and then strain the next day. Save any remaining chicken for your soup, and if you have none left, simply cook a breast the next day and chop/shred it for the soup. Store the stock in the fridge until you’re ready to use it for the soup.

When you’re ready to make the soup, simply prep a bunch of vegetables- I used chopped celery, carrots, red peppers, and zucchini noodles (1 zucchini, peeled, and passed through a spiralizer). Since the carrots, celery and red peppers are quite hard, you can either cook them in the chicken stock in the slow cooker for a few hours when you’re out that day, or if you’re using them at the last minute, put them in a microwave-safe container with a splash of water, and nuke, partially covered, for about 2 minutes. Drain the water. In a Dutch oven, combine your vegetables (including the zucchini noodles) and your stock and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, and some chopped fresh parsley. In a separate bowl, whisk an egg, and then slowly add a ladleful of hot stock to the bowl, whisking constantly. Take the pot of soup off the heat, and then add the stock/egg mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. On low heat, warm the soup gently for a minute or two, making sure that the soup doesn’t boil and scramble the eggs. Serve with a grinding of fresh black pepper.

Note: If you have leftovers, this soup may separate in the fridge. If that happens, just give the jar a good shake before heating it back up.

If you were to guess what my favorite vegetable has been, you would likely guess incorrectly. The vegetable that I loved most of all, strangely enough, was this: German white garlic.

There is a huge difference between the garlic that I find at the grocery store, and the plump, sturdy cloves that I received most weeks as part of my CSA. The German white garlic heads come with only 4-5 cloves – not multitudes of tiny cloves that make you peel and curse, peel and curse. I hate that garlic. It does the job, but oy.

So not only did I receive garlic most weeks with my CSA, but I also bought extra to stow away for rainy days and stewing adventures.

This is not stew: 

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It’s that time of year when all rational behavior falls by the wayside. Ramps are here. Home cooks and chefs alike elbow each other out of the way in order to return from the market with a few bunches of these highly prized vegetables, triumphant.

They’re delicious.

Black truffle delicious? Pork belly delicious?

I don’t know if I’d go that far. But they’re pretty fantastic, owing in part to the fact that they’re only around for a brief window in the Spring. Then they’re gone, hidden from view until they can serve as next year’s bright indication that that Spring is back, and that Winter has been banished for 9 more glorious months.

Some of you may be scratching your heads at this point, either never having heard of a ramp, and/or reflecting on your extreme distaste for pork belly. Let’s focus on the first issue, which is the topic of this post. Pork belly will be saved for another occasion when I muster up the confidence to cook it at home.

If I’m to use my Instagram account as a laboratory of sorts, there seems to be a lot of confusion about ramps.

Are they overpublicized and overpriced?

Or are they unsung heroes, with iffy recognition at best? The kind of fame often reserved for cultish authors, who slip by unrecognized by the masses but are adored by a passionate few.

Here are a few of the comments that led to my confusion after I posted a few dishes that contained ramps.

First, there is a large and vocal group of ramp lovers….

  • “RAMPS, my fave!”
  • “Ramps!!!!” (inclusive of a bright green leaf emoji)

Second, there seems to be a strange sleeper cell of ramp haters….

  • “I’m suffering from ramps overload”
  • “#savetheramps”

Lastly, there are those, with whom many reading this post will identify, who have never laid eyes on a ramp:

  • “Wait, what’s a ramp?”
  • “Are those ramps?”
  • “How have I never heard of these?”

Because educating the ramp unaware population is far more critical than appeasing the (likely) minority of (ornery) ramp haters, here we go: a short tutorial on where to find ramps, and what you can do with them. I’ve tried to make this visual so that you can see for yourself how versatile this simple green root can be….

Sourcing:

For some reason, I have never seen ramps in a Whole Foods or for that matter, any store with four walls and a ceiling.

The only place I’ve found ramps is at the farmers’ market, where you can find them in bunches, looking like this:

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Season:

Although it depends on seasonal temps, ramp season (in the Northeast) runs from late April into early June.

Preparation:

Use them just as you would any fresh herb, or if you want a milder flavor, give them a quick sautee or grill.

Just go easy on them at first – their flavor packs a punch.

Here are some suggested uses:

1. Snip them raw like chives over anything that loves oniony things – omelettes, ricotta cheese on toast, or as my kids like to do, just eat the leaves plain.

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(That was, for the record, ramps scattered over homemade labneh; harass me about writing a post on labneh because it’s ridiculously easy and so delicious)

2. Sautee them and add them to baked foods, like fritatta…

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Stir them into a bubbling pot of mussels…

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