bánh mì

Enough of this waxing poetic about Ironman (with its equal parts joy and sorrow) and back to the reason I started this blog in the first place: food. Ironman training changed my relationship with food, and in some ways, replaced the culinary impulses with new ones. But it’s the off season, so I think we can all just get along now. (Note: I drafted this post way back before the holidays, hence the comment about the off season. But last night’s Nuun-sponsored soiree with other bloggers inspired me to emerge from hiding. We’ll see how long it lasts.)

What better place to start than fat? The hubster has been trying his hand at a variety of delicious meaty things over the past few months (thanks to his new-ish book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman), and I’ve been happy to take on the role of dish washer/recipe tester. One of the best things about Ironman training is that I haven’t had to worry about his latest creation “going straight to my hips,” so to speak. I’m a firm believer in modest amounts of natural fat, like the kind found in nuts, eggs, avocado, and yes, meat. I’ve found that if I don’t have too much too often, I enjoy everything so much more.

One of the first recipes we tried was pork confit. In the introduction, the authors write: “Fat is dense and flavorful, the perfect cooking medium for a leg of duck or a chunk of pork belly … the fat ensures that when the meat is reheated, it remains moist and succulent.” They go on to say that an inexpensive, tough cut of meat like pork shoulder or loin can be transformed into something “exquisite” through this method. Sign me up.

And what better sandwich to use it for than the Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich? I first fell in love with this sandwich in D.C.’s own Eden of Vietnamese cuisine. The airy, crispy baguette sandwich brought to the country by the French hooked me right away. Turns out it’s almost as good homemade, especially if you can find the right baguettes and don’t mind confit-ing your own pork. Below you’ll find the method for pork confit, courtesy of Mr. Ruhlman.

Pork Confit for Bánh mì

adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

2 Tbsp/30 grams kosher salt

3 bay leaves

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp/20 black peppercorns

1 bunch fresh sage

3 Tbsp/36 grams chopped shallots

1/2 tsp/3 grams pink salt

5 pounds/2.25 kilos boneless pork shoulder butt, cut into 2-inch/5-centimeter chunks, or one 3-pound/1.5 kilo boneless pork loin

2 to 4 cups/500-1000 milliliters rendered duck fat or lard (or a combination)

  1. Combine all the ingredients except the pork and the fat in a spice grinder and pulverize to a powder.
  2. Rub the mixture evenly all over the meat. Place it in a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours if you’re using pork shoulder pieces, 48 hours if you’re using pork loin.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 to 200 degrees F/82 to 93 degrees C.
  4. Rinse the pork under tepid water, wiping off all the seasonings, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Submerge the meat in the rendered fat in a stockpot or Dutch oven; the meat must be completely covered in fat. Bring the fat to a gentle simmer on the stovetop, then place the pot, uncovered, in the oven, and cook until fork-tender for 4 to 6 hours for shoulder, 3 hours for loin.
  5. Cool in the fat, then cover, making sure all the meat is submerged in the fat and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or for up to 3 weeks. Or freeze for up to 4 months.
  6. To serve, allow the pork to come to room temperature, remove from the fat, and saute over medium heat or roast at 425 degrees F/220 degrees C. until hot.

Bánh mì Sandwiches

Individual-sized fresh French baguettes (from a Vietnamese bakery if you can find them)

mayonnaise

pork confit, or any kind of other protein you’d like, such as grilled chicken, pulled pork, tofu, etc.

julienned carrots, cucumber, and daikon

cilantro leaves

Sriracha sauce

other dressings to your preference (I had a nutritional yeast concoction on hand which we added, and was delicious!)

  1. Cut open the baguettes and assemble ingredients inside.

spring in a jar

Outside my window the world is white. I’m not sure if the snow is here to stay quite yet, but one thing is sure: the cold is. Winter’s boney fingers slowly graze the once cushiony ground, casting December’s spell. The trees stand out against the white-grey sky, proudly showing their shape, leafless and spindly.

My apartment is warm and my desk is graced with overflowing mugs of tea.  As long as my shelves are full of heavy squash and my fridge is stocked with soup, I don’t mind that the days of fresh, delicate greens are so far off.

But there is one hideout. In a small jar in my cupboard, things still grow. Like a reminder that this cold death can’t last forever, their green curls bring a smile to my face and a bittersweet crunch to my sandwiches. 

It’s quite a miracle, really. Seeds and water, soaking; life in a jar. 

*Sprouting jar with three different sized draining lids, and sprouts provided by Sprout People. These people have a great selection of organic beans and seeds on which to try your sprouting hand. Their site also offers hints, information about the health benefits of sprouts, and interesting recipes.

sandwiches, sweeping the clouds away

Sometimes I miss watching Sesame Street. I don’t even know if it’s on anymore, or what name it’s going by now, or what they’re teaching kids these days. I feel so out of the loop.

Maybe what I miss is waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing but cartoons on the agenda. Maybe it’s that unapologetic and unproductive laziness we’re so discouraged from as adults. I miss the time when play was serious business and games my most prized accomplishments. Sometimes my nostalgia points its compass squarely in the direction of childhood.

Today was one of those drifty days. I felt a pervasive lack of direction, the clouds of limbo thickening around me. Today was a day I ached to be too busy, and then chided myself for this wish. I made a mental note to be evermore grateful for a full schedule. Today was a day that reminded me of the exquisite balance needed to live a healthy life. Rest and involvement in equal measure, calm and momentum in an intricate dance.

As I thought about youth and adulthood, playing and working, being and doing, my thoughts naturally led to peanut butter. (But it could be the influence of Peanut Butter Planet, a cookbook I recently picked up at the library.) If there’s one thing that’s inseperable from childhood, it’s peanut butter. Yet in adulthood, as I strive to eat less meat and still get all the nutrients I need, peanut butter has risen to new heights in my protein cache. It’s convenient, bursting with fiber, protein and unsaturated fats while being almost endless in versatility.

This book also reminded me that peanut butter is (hold onto your celery) really just ground peanuts. I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’ve been had. This revelation isn’t new; I recall trying to make it with a bowl of peanuts, some water and a fork. Needless to say, what we eight-year-olds ended up with looked like something that hadn’t agreed with her cat’s palate.

We go through PB around here like the nuts are going extinct. And that’s when my fellow peanut butter monster remembered the food processor attachment that came with our hand blender. I tell you, forgetting about this piece de resistance has been my biggest kitchen blunder since getting hitched. Not charring stuff, not poisoning dinner guests, but realizing that I actually could have made ALL THOSE THINGS THAT CALLED FOR A FOOD PROCESSOR and didn’t. Just thinking about the pestos, dressings and ground-up things we’ve missed out on brings me deep sorrow, but boy am I ever going to make up for lost time.

3 cups of bulk roasted peanuts + 5 minutes with electrical magic wand = 14 ounces of peanut butter so smooth and airy I’m don’t think I’ll ever go back. Sorry Teddie. It’s not even about the savings, or eliminating the packaging and transportation. This pure peanuts-and-that’s-it goodness is enough to keep me on the Skippy boycotting bandwagon for at least a few more idealistic years.

And in hopes of bringing on my own “sunny day,” I whipped up this little open-faced sandwich on some new sprouted grain bread I’ve discovered. And even though I didn’t see even a feather of that old yellow friend of mine, the sun did come out to greet me, if only for a minute or two.

Sunny Day Sandwiches

serves 2, half the recipe for one person

Combine the following in a small bowl, and spread on whole-grain or sprouted bread:

½ cup natural peanut butter

¼ cup shredded carrot

2 Tbsp. sunflower or pumpkin seeds

2 Tbsp. raisins or craisins

2 tsp maple syrup

Homemade Peanut Butter

In a food processor, grind 2 cups of good-quality roasted peanuts at a time until they turn buttery. This may take about 2 minutes. For a crunchy version, grind up another cup of peanuts into small pieces and add them to the peanut butter. For an even higher fiber variety, use the peanuts with the reddish skins on them. Enjoy!