Midweek snacks

Some bits ‘n’ bobs to break a long, dry non-blogging spell. Hey, man, I’ve been busy lately, so cut me me some slack.

Pumpkin time

Pumpkin CupcakesHalloween is right around the corner. Make these cute (and easy) lil’ Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Pig parts

Picture 2I dubbed 2008 the Year of Bacon, and our love affair with all things pig continues unabated. Last week, Top Chef contestants were challenged to create fare for the Pigs & Pinot event in Northern California. Serious Eats contends you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear–or at least a tasty snack of Crisp Fried Pig’s Ear (and I thought pig’s ears were only for dog treats…). On The Atlantic, Ari Weinzweig touts the pleasures of smoked pig’s jowls.

Make garlic even better

CIMG0952Here’s a cool trick I picked up recently: Place peeled garlic cloves (doesn’t matter how many) in a small saucepan. Cover with olive oil (be generous). Bring to a simmer, and cook until the garlic is very tender. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the oil. The oil can be refrigerated and used for dressings, cooking, whatever. Mash the garlic with a fork. Use the mashed garlic to flavor all manner of things, from salad dressing to beans and legumes.

Comfort me with pasta

It’s been a rough week, with a really sick cat and all, so I figured we could use some comfort chow for dinner tonight. These days, that means a pasta toss with lots o’ veggies. After hitting up the local market to stock up on Brussels sprouts, cremini mushrooms, and a wedge of pecorino Romano, we were ready to go. I’m not sure when Brussels sprouts became a comfort food for me, but they are they are. Especially with bacon. Come to think of it, everything is better with bacon.

cimg0982Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

This would work with any short pasta–orrechiette or cavatappi, perhaps. I used cremini mushrooms for their full, earthy flavor, but white button mushrooms would do the trick just fine. You can substitute a slice or two of regular bacon (with smokier results) for the pancetta.

6 ounces dry penne pasta

2 tablespoons diced pancetta

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 garlic clove, minced

4 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved pecorino Romano cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, and keep warm.

2. While the pasta cooks, heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta to pan; saute 2 minutes. Add shallot; saute 2 minutes. Add garlic; saute 20 seconds. Add mushrooms and salt; saute 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, broth, vinegar, and pepper; cook 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta, and toss to combine; cook 1 minute or until hot. Garnish with cheese and sage. Yield: 2 servings.

Food of the year: Bacon

 

Black Forest bacon from Shaller & Weber.

Black Forest bacon from Shaller & Weber.

2008 may well go down as the year I finally embraced bacon. I’m not sure why it took me so long to come around. My mom was a fiend for bacon–one of the last things I remember her eating was fat scallops wrapped in bacon. She ordered rashers of the stuff when she was in the hospital with lung cancer, much to the consternation of the staff nutritionists. They’d call to set her straight.

“Mrs. Mann, we got your order, and I’m afraid bacon doesn’t count as a protein.”

“That’s not really an issue for me now,” she’d reply. “Send me the bacon.”

Perhaps it took me a long stay in the Deep South, where the natives love all things pig, but I’ve finally come to realize bacon is a staple that deserves a spot in the fridge at all times. I love i’s smoky flavor and crunch, which elevates all manner of dishes. I also appreciate  the flavorful fat it renders, which I use to saute, well, anything, really.

Perhaps it took me a long stay in the Deep South, where the natives love all things pig, but I’ve finally come to realize bacon is a staple that deserves a spot in the fridge at all times. 

Of course, I’m latecomer to a really big party, because bacon has always had a passionate following. I (Heart) Bacon is a Seattle-based blog devoted to cured pig products. Another one is Bacon Freak (i.e., “Bacon is Meat Candy”), where you can order everything from gift baskets of bacon to gummy bacon candy. Serious Eats just named bacon one of their top posts for 2008.

I picked up a half-pound of Black Forest bacon, a thickly sliced, German-style smoked and cured variety, at the Whole Foods meat counter the other day. And I’ve enjoyed it this week with Brussels sprouts and spinach, and in place of unsmoked pancetta in Bon Appetit‘s Fettuccine Carbonara with Fried Eggs (I also omitted the fried eggs and used spinach in place of the broccoli rabe). But here’s how I use it with Brussels sprouts in my current favorite side dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Black Forest Bacon

Brussels sprouts and bacon have a special affinity. You can use any type of bacon in this easy side dish, though the smokiness of Black Forest bacon is especially nice. Depending on the type of bacon you use, you may not need much (or any) salt. Quartering the sprouts helps them cook quickly. You could add shallots with the garlic, if you like, or deglaze the pan with white wine instead of broth. Serve with roasted pork tenderloin or chicken.

1 pound small Brussels sprouts

2 slices Black Forest bacon, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup chicken broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Trim away the outer leaves and stalk end of the Brussels sprouts. Cut sprouts into quarters.

2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 5 minutes, or until bacon starts to get crisp and render its fat. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds. Add sprouts, saute 5 minutes. Add broth, scraping the pan to loosen any browned bits. Reduce heat, and cook 3 minutes, or until sprouts are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

Saving money tops food trends for 2009

In 2009, chefs and home cooks alike will turn to cheaper cuts of meat to save pennies.

It’s that time, when “experts” and the rest of us look ahead to what’s in store for the new year. And it would appear that my friends are bona fide trendsetters. Months ago, they started cooking up cheapo recession fare, and now they’ve challenged each other other to whip up dinner for less than $3 per serving (or is it $3 for both of them? Whatever, they’re doing it, albeit with mixed results).

People around the world are feeling insecure and are already looking to re-establish a sense of stability in their lives. A good home-cooked meal can do that. 

They’re not the only ones coping with rising food costs and smaller budgets. Many food trends for 2009, not surprisingly, are driven by the current dour economy, which makes value-oriented items more appealing than ever. “People around the world are feeling insecure and are already looking to re-establish a sense of stability in their lives,” says Joan Holleran, director of research at the global trends research firm Mintel. One way to accomplish that is with the food you eat, and consumers will be more selective than ever about how they spend their money. James Oliver Cury of Epicurious predicts “value” will eclipse “sustainable” as the foodie buzzword of 2009.  These are just a few ways the cheap-and-cheerful trend will manifest itself.

Comfort food still reigns supreme. You might think this has peaked, but consumers will crave familiar ingredients and dishes more than ever. Bon Appetit put peanut butter at the top of its list for 2009, along with eggs in any form. Both are inexpensive sources of protein. The magazine also predicts more restaurants will serve breakfast all day–always an affordable, filling, and comforting option. Overall, restaurant diners will favor bistro-type eateries serving familiar, high-quality, well-priced food. Expect spaghetti and meatballs to “make a roaring comeback,” according to restaurant consultants Baum & Whiteman.

Goat meat may go mainstream in 2009.

Beware, billy: Food watchers say goat meat may go mainstream in 2009.

Cooks will use cheaper cuts of meat. The National Restaurants Consultants forecasts the price of beef will skyrocket, making less-expensive cuts–short ribs, hanger steaks, brisket, chuck roasts, and the like–a better buy. These cuts typically are tougher, but long, slow cooking techniques like braising, stewing, or pot roasting yield tender, hearty results.  Other types of meat will go mainstream, too. Among them: goat, according to “trendologists” at the Center for Culinary Development. George Wilson, of the Australian Wildlife Services, has proposed promoting kangaroo as an environmentally friendly alternative to beef cattle; unlike cattle, kangaroos don’t produce methane and they have high levels of healthy fats.

Tip: When shopping for meat, remember anything with “loin” in the name = tender = more expensive. “Chuck” or “shoulder” = tougher = cheaper. 

Look for offal recipes. Other cultures, especially those in Asia, have a long tradition of using all of the animal, because meat is considered too precious a resource to waste. American cooks are expected to adopt a similar “nose-to-tail” approach, making use of everything from cheeks and tongue to tripe and trotters.

Indulgences won’t go away, but they will shrink. The expense of food may help all of us with portion control. If a beef is expensive, for example, we may opt for the occasional 4-ounce serving of  pricey tenderloin. The high cost of ingredients is driving more restaurants to add small-plate options to their menus. 

Type in your ZIP code at Ueatcheap.com to map out meals under $10.

Type in your ZIP code at Ueatcheap.com to map out meals under $10.

We’ll share information to find affordable meals. Call it Eating 2.0, but diners will continue to flock to the Web in search of the good, cheap eats.  Sites like Slashfood, Serious Eats, and Eater LA (and its sisters Eater NY and Eater SF)  specialize in content by and for avid foodies while users rate restaurants on Yelp and Ueatcheap.com

People will stay home. Although restaurateurs will do their best to lure customers with bargains, most of us are likely to dine out less and eat in more in 2009. Analysts at Mintel forecast more entertaining at home while the folks at UK-based thefoodpeople predict we’ll whip up cocktails at home rather than hit the bars.