The November Cook it! 2012 Challenge: Seafood Terrine

When you write a food blog, there can be a pretty serious temptation to lie about the success rate of your cooking projects.  It could be an exaggeration, that a recipe is more amazing-delicious-mind-blowing-best-ever than it is in real life.  It might be a bigger lie than that, like me telling you that the recipe I made for the November Cook it! 2012 resolution turned out delicious and that we ate it all and that I’m going to make it ever day, always, because it was so good.

This month’s project was to make something charcuterie related.  Originally I’d planned on making sausages and salami, but a friend of mine promised me a whole wild boar during December, and so it seemed really ridiculous to buy any pork during November since we’re about to have a ridiculous bounty of it. Since I have a fair amount of fresh fish in my freezer right now, the project I settled on ended up being a seafood terrine, one of the projects that I never got around to making during last year’s Charcutepalooza.

So.  I made the terrine.  And?seafood terrine

It was disgusting.   It looked like cat food. It smelled worse.  I actually tried to feed it to the cat but even he kind of sniffed it and then walked away. Even after I’d gotten rid of the terrine, the lingering smell on the dishes and utensils that had touched it made me want to gag.

The temptation to lie here is huge.  This recipe should have been just fine, it should have tasted light and fresh, and it should have been a classy little appetizer to serve with a glass of wine or champagne at a holiday party.  Unfortunately, I managed to commit a fatal error that any professional cook and local food advocate should absolutely know better than to do.

I was buying a few staples at the grocery store (whiskey, butter, coffee, etc.), and walked by the seafood department, where my thriftiness got the best of me and I was lured in by the siren song of lump crab meat.  Dungennes crab is in season right now, so I figured it was probably caught somewhere near by, and it was on sale for super cheap, so I bought it.  I’m cringing as I type this, because any good cook knows never, ever, ever, even if you’re starving to death and it’s the last food on earth after the zombie apocalypse, buy discount seafood.  It will be gross and awful.  I don’t know what I was thinking (well, yes I do, I was thinking CRAB I LOVE CRAB AND LOOK IT’S ONLY FIVE DOLLARS LEMME GET SOME OF THAT RIGHT NOW OH YAH COME TO MAMA!).  Discount seafood is just a bad idea.  Period.

Sure enough, when I got home and was making my terrine, I opened the pack of crab meat and smelled that it had seen much fresher days.  I pretended it was fine and folded it into my fish mousseline (which smelled fresh and clean, and shouldn’t have been fiddled with) along with some blanched baby mustard greens. I crossed my fingers that it would taste okay once it was cooked and served properly.  It didn’t. It got much worse.  When I unmolded it the next day, the crab had clearly gone bad, despite the fact that the “sell by” date on the original package said it could have sat on the shelf at the grocery store for another day.  The moral of the story: big box grocery stores are only good for buying toilet paper, booze, butter and coffee beans.  I knew this already but sometimes we have to relearn life’s important lessons.

Seafood Terrine

This recipe would have worked just fine if I’d used actual good quality, fresh crab instead of half rotten garbage from the grocery store.    Since I’d really never made or tasted anything like this before, I kept the seasonings fairly basic, but next time I might infuse the cream with some horseradish root and add a splash of white wine.  Serve with bread or crackers and pickled vegetables for a light lunch or an elegant appetizer.

One other note: I’m still learning all the specifics of these different terms, but if I understand correctly, a “terrine” is basically the same as a “pâté,” meaning that meat and fat are blended together into a spread.  A “mousseline” is very similar, but instead of fat, the meat is blended with cream and egg whites.   My recipe here is a very basic fish mousseline with crab and fresh greens folded in to make the terrine.

Cook Time: 30 min. active plus overnight to chill

Special Equipment: an ovenproof container that you can use to mold the terrine. I used a very large mug and it worked just fine.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. cod or other neutral flavored white fish
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/3 c. heavy cream
  • 1/3 lb. lump crab meat
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 c. baby braising greens
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley + 1 sprig

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Season the water with a pinch of salt. Blanch the greens for 3-4 minutes, then drain and pat dry.  Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the cod and egg white in a food processor and puree until completely smooth.  While the food processor is still running, slowly pour in the cream and puree.  Transfer the fish mousseline to a bowl and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  (Since I used very fresh fish and eggs from my hens, I felt totally confident tasting this mixture to adjust the seasonings, even though it was still raw).  Gently fold in the parsley, crab, and blanched greens.

Moisten the inside of the terrine mold with a little bit of water.  Line it with a piece of saran wrap, pressing the plastic into the edges of the mold. Place a sprig or two of parsley in the bottom of the mold as a garnish.  Pack the seafood mixture into the mold, pressing down evenly.  Fold the saran wrap over the top.

Put the foil-covered terrine into a casserole dish and add hot tap water into the dish to come halfway up the side of the mold.  Bake until the center of the terrine reaches 140 degrees.

Remove the casserole dish and terrine from the oven.  Take the terrine mold out of the water bath and remove the tin foil.  Place a weight on top of the terrine (I used a full pint jar) and refrigerate overnight.

To serve, simply unwrap the saran wrap from the top of the mold, flip it upside down, and give a gently tug on the saran wrap. The terrine should pop out fairly easily.
PS. If you want to read about a Cook it! project that turned out delicious instead of disgusting, you must head over to Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja and read about Julianne’s first try at making duck prosciutto. 

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When Life Hands You Lemons, Take A Bunch Of Cold Medicine And Make Bacon Cheeseburgers

It’s 4:55 a.m. right now, and I suppose this must be why they invented NyQuil, which I currently have none of. I have lots of other cold medicine, which I am taking, and which doesn’t seem to be particularly effective. By which I mean that it’s completely not doing anything.  So, since I can’t sleep, you know…  I might as well write my Charcutepalooza Bacon Challenge Post. Right? (NO? I should go back to bed? Lies. The bed is not working for me right now).

This is gonna be a crazy post.

For the February Charcutepalooza Challenge, we turned fresh pork belly into delicious, home-cured bacon.  It was a Star Wars Meets Lord Of The Rings-style epic journey trying to get my hands on fresh pork belly and the pink salt needed for the curing process.  I know a lot of farms that raise pigs, but for some strange, strange reason, everyone that I called wanted to – get this- keep their pork belly and sell the bacon since bacon basically sells like winning lottery tickets, or free vacations to Hawaii, or, you know…. NyQuil if they were in my house right now. The point is, bacon is one of the most popular items at all the local farmers markets, with vendors often unable to even fill the existing demand, and no one had any spare pork belly lying around.  Totally weak.

Well, I ended up being in San Francisco, and I went to a great butcher shop that had piles and piles of it, right there, all for me.  Normally I like to know exactly where my meat came from, but there was a bit of a language barrier.  Even getting past “Do you sell pork belly?” and “Yes we do” was pretty impressive, so I bought two and considered it a victory.

at the butcher shop
duck!

 

much higher quality than the grocery store stuff....

Back when I didn’t have the flu, or whatever this is, I kind of intended on writing a little something about how supporting local specialty shops is a great thing to do, and how often do you find a proper butcher shop where they have high quality meats and they do all the butchering right there, on site, and you can talk to the butcher about the different cuts of meat and…. blah blah blah.  You see the pictures.  That meat looks darned good– try to find that at Safeway.

The Curing Process

So, first we had to find a special type of salt (Sodium Nitrite? I can’t remember. It’s pink, and usually just called Pink Salt).  The organic folks don’t always like sodium nitrite, since it’s definitely not organic, but in Charcuterie, Michael Ruhlman tells us that it’s completely safe in small quantities, and that you just wouldn’t want to use it like table salt. Which is why it’s bright pink, so that you don’t accidentally season your next big pot of soup with it. That salt was super hard to find, but for any San Francisco Bay Area folks, I finally found it at Village Market in the Ferry Building.  For people who actually plan in advance (the horror!)  the internet is also an available solution which doesn’t involve traffic, parking, lines, etc.

planning in advance and ordering pink salt off the internet would have avoided this

Once you finally have the pork belly and pink salt, the basic idea is to season the pork belly with a salt rub and then let it sit in the fridge for a week. (For the full set of instructions, refer to Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman).

pork belly

When the week is up, the pork belly is slow roasted in a low oven for a few hours.

cured pork belly before it goes into the oven

After that, you’ve officially made bacon, and you’re ready to cut of a piece, fry it up, and eat it!

The Recipe

What to make with bacon, well, besides the obvious?

farm fresh eggs and home-cured bacon

I think the real question is, what would I not make with bacon? (Sorry Deborah Madison.  I love your cookbooks but I am putting bacon in with those veggies.)  Back before I got sick, I had nice ideas about making some kind of pasta dish, with roasted pumpkin from the garden and bacon lardons, maybe some toasted nuts, fresh parsley, some asiago cheese…

ingredients for the dish that never was

The Fever and the Cold Medicine say that we’re making Bacon Cheeseburgers and that all that vegetable stuff is for losers.

The Best Bacon-Filled Bacon-Topped Cheeseburgers EVER!

These are the BEST cheeseburgers! I think the only reason I’m really sharing this recipe is all the cold medicine, usually it’s a big secret.  These burgers are juicy and packed with flavor (and super bad for you!)  Also, there’s a secret ingredient- grated fresh tomato! I stole this from a Middle-Eastern kebab recipe, because it’s works well in burgers too, and adds a ton of extra flavor and moisture.

In the winter I use a cast-iron grill pan to cook these burgers. In the summer, they go outside on the Weber grill.  You could also sear them in a cast iron skillet and then put them in the oven for about 10 minutes if you don’t own a grill pan.  

Makes about 6 burgers

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

For The Burger:

  • 1.5 lb. 80/20 ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 small slicer tomato (not a cherry tomato, just a small tomato)
  • 1/8 c. BBQ sauce (whatever you have is fine)
  • 1 c. cooked, diced bacon (don’t be a baby, yes, I wrote ONE WHOLE CUP, just do it)
  • 2/3 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder
  • a few tablespoons of grapeseed oil to season the grill

For the toppings:

  • lettuce, tomato, and onion
  • 8 bacon slices, cooked
  • 5 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/2 block), sliced thinly
  • 6 hamburger buns, toasted (whatever type floats your boat is fine)
  • ketchup, mustard, mayonaise
  • homemade pickles

1. I like to preheat my grill pan on very low heat.  Turn on the flame and using a clean cloth, rub grapeseed oil all over the grill.  Any other high-heat oil will work (like canola oil).

2. Using the large holes in a box grater, grate the tomato and onion and put the resulting pulp in a bowl.  It will be watery and messy, just dump it all in the bowl.

burger ingredients

3. Add the other ingredients for the burger to the bowl with the tomato and onion.  Using your hands (wash them first!), fold all the ingredients together gently, trying not to overwork the meat, but still making sure everything is well-incorporated.

4. Form the mixture into six patties and set on a clean plate until you are ready to grill (these could be made in advance, if you wanted, and put in the fridge now).

5. On medium heat, grill for about 4 minutes on each side, or until burgers are cooked to medium.  When they’re two minutes away from being done, layer two bacon slices and about an ounce of cheese on top of the burgers, and cover for a minute to melt the cheese. (I just use big lid from a different pan, since grill pans don’t really have covers).  Very important: Since these burgers have a ton of moisture in them, they will fall apart easily on the grill.  Don’t mess with them! Just put it on the grill, wait four minutes, flip it, wait four minutes, and put it on a bun. Don’t rearrange the grill 900 times while you’re waiting for them to finish.

6. Arrange the burgers on toasted buns with whatever toppings you like, and serve with pickles. Be happy.

bacon goodness

January Charcutepalooza Challenge: Duck Prosciutto

the finished product: duck prosciutto, sage cracker, olive oil marinated chevre, montmorency cherry jam and blood oranges

Where to start… I had huge problems trying to photograph and write something about my first Charcutepalooza project.  For one, the whole process – obtaining duck breasts, learning how to cure them, waiting for them to cure, and then finally knowing how to tell when the meat is finished and ready to eat – was long and very drawn out.  I got kind of bored mid way through, lost interest, and decided to make marmalade and plant flowers, and that was infinitely more entertaining.  That is…  until I sampled some of the finished product! Delicious revelations in cured meats! Needless to say I am on completely on board the charcuterie bandwagon again.  That was the second road block- the prosciutto was disappearing off the cutting board faster than I could go get my camera. In the end, though, this project was exactly what it should be- salty, buttery, melt-in-your mouth goodness.

As part of this year long journey, I am trying to use animals that were either farm- raised or hunted by myself or someone that I know.  I was able to trade eggs for a few of these:

wild duck

This is my favorite kind of transaction: A friend of mine wanted eggs. I have eggs. I wanted duck. He had a bunch of them. No money needed, simple barter of goods for goods.  An interesting point to take note of is that quality of the bartered goods- I can tell you with absolute certainty that my eggs have richer yolks and better flavor than any eggs you will ever find at the grocery store, or sometimes even at a big farmers market.  Large-scale poultry farms, whether they are free-range and organic or not, are not usually able to provide everything that we can.  Our hens have space and sunshine; they are able to forage for wild greens and bugs, and we amend their diets with lots of scraps from the kitchen and the gardens.  In the same vein, the wild ducks that I was able to get are leaner and less greasy than farm-raised ducks, they have a richer flavor since there is more meat and less fat, and I can eat them in good conscience, knowing that they lived happy duck lives in the wild, the way they are supposed to.  The moral of the story? If individuals strive to become part of a healthy food system either by having a garden, supporting local farms, hunting, foraging, canning or preserving, we will not need to rely on overpriced corporate giants like Whole Foods to have access to high quality, artisan, hand-crafted goods.  (Really, we won’t need grocery stores at all. The farmer’s market, our backyards and our neighbors backyards can provide all of the things we need for a beautiful, local, healthy diet).

With all of that insane preaching (probably to the choir), at the beginning of the project, I was so nervous about my meat choices and lack of charcuterie experience, that I ran out to the local Co-Op and picked this up:

Ridiculous! Despite how lame that was and as much as I wished that I didn’t buy it, using both farm-raised and wild duck breasts ended up being a really interesting experiment, and now that I’ve got a little more faith in my meat-curing skills, I don’t think I should have to cave in to the temptations of the grocery store again.   I cured four of the breasts, using the same process for all of them- first buried in kosher salt, and then wrapped in cheesecloth and left to cure in a cool, dark space.  (For a full set of instructions, refer to our textbook for the project, Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie).

duck breasts buried in salt

The resulting prosciutto was delicious, and it was really interesting to see the color variations between the two types of duck.  The wild duck’s darker meat became even darker, and it had a really vivid, rich duck flavor.  The farm-raised duck made more of a traditional prosciutto, with a thick ribbon of fat running across each slice and a less obvious duck flavor.
finished prosciutto: the wild duck is on the left, farm-raised on the right

For the Charcutepalooza, each participant is supposed to come up with a unique recipe for the meats that they have made.  Sampling the prosciutto, it became totally clear that ours wasn’t going into some fancy, complicated dish; we needed crackers, and some cheese, and we needed them fast, before it disappeared off the cutting board.  We ended up with a table full of warm, homemade crackers, olive-oil marinated local goat cheese, fresh herbs from the garden, sliced blood oranges from the farmers market, and a jar of my Montmorency sour cherry jam. The sweet-sour-salty combination of the meat, cheese, and cherry jam was amazing, with some fresh cracked black pepper on top for spice, a sprinkle of fresh thyme, and sliced blood oranges to brighten the whole thing up and make sure it didn’t get to heavy with fat and sugar.  I have to emphasize again: really, really tasty.

montmorency cherry jam

If you want to recreate something like this, a basic list of ingredients would be:

  • cured duck breast (it’s really incredibly easy!)
  • jam or jelly such as fig, cherry, or red wine will work the best with duck
  • cheese (I like goat cheese here)
  • crackers (Recipe follows…. scroll down)
  • fresh herbs
  • fresh fruit
  • pepper
  • olive oil

No need to be too fancy, just put all those items out on a cutting board and go to town. Enjoy!


Homemade Sesame-Sage Crackers

This was also the first time I’m made my own crackers. This recipe is so simple and cheap, I doubt I’ll ever buy them again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. flour (I used all-purpose white, you could use whole wheat too)
  • 2 tbs. cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 c. cold water
  • 2 tbs. sesame seeds
  • 1 heaping tbs. chopped herbs (I used mostly sage, with some rosemary, marjoram and thyme; whatever you have in the garden is fine)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Combine all the ingredients except the water in a food processor.  Mix until crumbly (like making a pie crust) and then slowly add in the water. Mix until the dough comes together in a ball (it’s okay to add a few tablespoons of water if you need).  The dough should just come together, and not be sticky.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and roll as thin as possible.

3. Transfer dough to an ungreased baking sheet. Poke holes in the dough with a fork, and score with a knife if you want to break it apart later to have square crackers.

4. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool, and break into pieces.  I have no idea how they would store, since we ate them within a few hours.