Monday, March 28, 2011

White Bean and Swiss Chard Soup (original recipe!)

I tend to cook from recipes most of the time. This is due largely to fact that I enjoying cooking totally new things and I wouldn't have any idea how to go about them otherwise. Even then, though, I'm pretty good at coming up with substitutions and variations to fit my needs/tastes/supplies. And of course I've got go-to dishes (brussels sprouts with bacon, risotto) that I need no directions for.

So I guess I shouldn't be as proud as I am of the white bean and swiss chard soup I made last week, totally from scratch, without following a recipe.

White Bean and Swiss Chard soup

My goal was to recreate an amazing soup I had in January at Nopa. It consisted of kale and miniature white beans in a parmesan* broth, with croutons. "This can't be so hard," I thought to myself, and it wasn't! This soup is hearty and delicious, with complex flavors and simple preparation.

A couple simple variations: if you want the soup to be vegan, use olive oil instead of bacon fat. If you want it to be meatier, cook pieces of bacon (or sausage crumbles) in the pan first, then remove; proceed using the fat left in the pan and then add the meat back in at the end. You could use tomato paste to enrich the broth, or use homemade chicken or vegetable stock (but it was really flavorful made with water, thanks to the caramelized onions, soy sauce, and plenty of salt). I'm also sure this soup would be better with dried beans; maybe it would work to add them when you add the water (you'll need more water, I imagine) and then simmer for a couple of hours before going to the next step.

White Bean and Swiss Chard Soup - serves 3-4

2 tbsp bacon fat (or olive oil or butter)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1lb (1 bunch) swiss chard, stems and ribs separated from the leaves and chopped, leaves chopped
4-5 cups water
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 can cannellini or navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 small tomato, diced
Dash of apple cider or red/white wine vinegar

1. Heat the fat in a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook until browned, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the garlic and the chard stems and ribs. Cook until the chard is browned and onions are caramelized, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the water and soy sauce and bring to a simmer.
4. Once simmering, add the chard leaves, beans, and tomato. Stir, cooking until leaves are wilted and beans are warmed through.
5. Add the vinegar and salt and freshly ground pepper (and/or more soy sauce) to taste.

Let me know if you try it, and how it worked out for you!

*The parmesan rind I added ended up not doing much for me, so I'm left it out of the recipe above.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Corned beef tongue and corned beef sandwiches

Corned beef tongue on homemade rye

Yes, you read that correctly, and no, I believe corned beef is normally made from brisket.

However, when the March Charcutepalooza challenge was announced and we were given the choice between making corned beef with brisket or tongue, I went with my adventurous side. I'd never cooked tongue before and this seemed like the perfect excuse.

Did you know that cows have really enormous tongues? The one* I purchased weighed 3.5lbs.

Brined cow tongue mise-en-place

Beef tongue, pre-brining Spices for the brine

Tongue in brine, with brine injector

I followed this recipe. The process could not have been simpler:

Combine the tongue, brine, and seasonings in container; put in fridge and forget about for a week or so. When it's done brining, boil in fresh water with aromatic vegetables for a few hours; peel; chill; slice.

Yes, I said peel.

Boiling beef tongue for corned beefCooked beef tongue
Peeling the tongueAll clean!

(Thanks to the folks over at FoodTease I had some idea of what I was getting into with the peeling. Turns out it's super easy, especially if you start on the bottom. I thought it was fun!)

Results? Delicious! Corned beef isn't something I eat often, if ever, but I was really pleased with how this turned out. The real moment of pride came when a visiting friend, who didn't know what it was supposed to be, tasted a slice and remarked, "You know, this tastes exactly like corned beef." Success.

I sliced the tongue so that we could enjoy it on sandwiches:

Corned beef tongue

In the spirit of cooking things I've never cooked before, I also decided to make my own deli-style rye bread:

Deli-style rye breadDeli-style rye breadDeli-style rye breadDeli-style rye bread

I love trying new things. Especially when they're delicious.

Corned beef tongue on homemade rye

*I actually bought two, not realizing how large they'd be. My friend Jeters kindly took the other one off my hands; now everyone needs to bug her to make lengua for tacos with it!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Last night, I attended a whole hog butchering class with Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats. In about three and half hours, we went from this:

Hanging out

to this:

Yield from 4505 Meats' Whole Hog class

Actually, that's just the 8th (approximately 20lbs) I took home. It was a fun evening of sawing and hacking and boning and skinning (I spent most of my time cutting the face meat off of the skull). Despite having checked before I left home, my camera battery died shortly after arriving at the class, so I don't many pictures from the evening. (Somewhere there exists a picture of me holding the pig's ears up to my own head...)

To make up for my inability to photoblog the class, I'll tell you about the first thing I cooked with my yield.

See the plastic container in the second picture above? It contains something special. I was one of two lucky students to get to take home (um, gross-out photo coming up)...

Pig brains

...half of the brain!

Actually, no one else wanted any brain. Oh well, their loss, 'cuz that sucker was TASTY. I decided to indulge my latent zombie tendencies and have some fried brain for a lunchtime snack today.


I had a vague idea of what to do, but I always feel more comfortable if I have a guide when I'm cooking something totally new. Luckily, a cookbook of traditional German recipes given to me by my brother a couple years ago came in quite handy:

Pig brains!

Fried pig brains mise-en-place

On Ryan's recommendation, I sliced up the brain into thinner pieces:

Pig brain cross section

I sprinkled one side of each slice with salt and freshly ground pepper, and decided not to do the other side because the slices felt like they would fall apart if I turned them over. I put three tablespoons of butter in a frying pan on medium heat until it had all melting and was bubbling nicely. Then, (using tongs) I dunked each slice of brain into a beaten egg, coated it with flour on each side, and put it into the butter:

Frying the brain in butter

After a few minutes, I turned the slices over to reveal their crispy, golden bottoms:

Frying the brain in butter

A couple more minutes to brown the other side, and they were done!

The cookbook recommended serving the fried brain with capers and lemon wedges, so I obliged:

Fried pig brains

The accompaniments were good suggestions; the slices weren't quite salty enough for me, so the capers helped with that, and the lemon juice helped cut through the richness of the meat itself.

Verdict? Delicious! The breading was crispy and the brains themselves were creamy and slightly porky. If you have issues with custardy texture, this may not be the dish for you, but the slices are thin enough to avoid too much icky mouthfeel. Still, I don't think my husband will be sad that he was at work for this experiment.

Up next: tongue and trotter?