Friday, November 9, 2012

Scrapple....Just Don't Ask What's In It.

When it comes to scrapple, people fall into one of three camps: 

1. Never heard of it. (You clearly didn’t grow up anywhere near the Philadelphia/New Jersey/Deleware tri-state area.)
2. I’ve heard of it but would never eat it…do you have any idea what’s in that stuff?
3. Can’t get enough! 
And then there is the “syrup” vs. “ketchup” debate, and the great brand divide (Rapa vs. Habersett's) which creates factious battles resembling the Hatfields and the McCoys.

As for me, I fall into the "can't get enough" camp.  

But you’re probably reading this and wondering why you should care about any of this, or maybe you’re wondering “what the hell is scrapple?”

Scrapple is a delicious and slightly spicy loaf made with pork (and sometimes beef) and cornmeal. You slice it, fry it until it’s brown and crispy, and eat it with (depending on which camp you’re in) syrup or ketchup.  We usually ate it for breakfast but some fans like it in a sandwich. Not me. Real maple syrup, and only at breakfast!

If you live or grew up on the east coast, there’s a good chance you will have encountered scrapple at some point. You might even be a rabid fan of it, as I am. (Always Rapa, never Habersett’s...don't even go there.)

So what’s in it?  You really don’t want to know.  Let’s just say that those industrious American colonists, who are credited with its creation, don’t really like throwing away any parts of a pig.  But if it makes you feel any better, there’s probably no “part” in scrapple that isn’t found in most commercial hot dogs.  

Historians believe that scrapple is arguably the first pork food invented in America.  Wiki also tells us that the first recipes were created by Dutch colonists who settled near Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries.  That’s why scrapple is strongly associated with rural areas surrounding Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the Delmarva Peninsula. In fact, it’s so popular on the Delmarva Peninsula that they hold an annual "Apple Scrapple Festival" in Bridgeville, Delaware, where Rapa scrapple is made. (And there is no other kind worth eating, you know.)

Now you’re wondering what it tastes like.  Sadly, the best comparison the folks at Wiki could come up with is that, “In composition, preparation, and taste, scrapple is similar to the white pudding popular in Ireland, Scotland, and parts of England and the spicier Hog's pudding of the West Country of England.”  That really clears it up for you, right?

Let’s go at this another way.  In texture, it is a bit like fried polenta or cornmeal mush.  Crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside. The flavor profile is a little spicy (black pepper spicy, mostly) and has about the amount of saltiness you would expect in a breakfast meat.

But the aroma when it’s cooking?   Positively mouth-watering. Like a cross between frying bacon and making Thanksgiving dinner. Ketchup is ok, I guess, but the sweetness of real maple syrup in contrast to the salt and spice is heaven on a breakfast plate.

Of course, part of my love of scrapple comes from the strong associations with my childhood in Philadelphia, and our summer vacations on Chincoteague Island, Virginia (just off the Delmarva Peninsula).  It was almost always on the breakfast table in some rented cottage or efficiency motel kitchen. We’d get up early and eat a big breakfast of eggs and scrapple, then go crabbing with chicken necks tied to lengths of twine to catch our dinner.

This past summer I received a text from my sister, who was on vacation. It said, “I just bought scrapple and chicken necks…I must be in Chincoteague.”  Tradition is a beautiful thing.

My husband and grown kids fondly remember the smell of scrapple frying in my late mother’s big, cozy kitchen, the morning sunlight slanting through the leaded glass windows, filtered by the smoke from her cast-iron griddle.  

A few years ago, on a Sunday morning, I fried up some scrapple. We hadn’t had it in a long time, since it’s quite difficult to find in the Midwest, and that just makes it even more special.

Shortly after those thick slices of deliciousness hit the surface of the skillet, I heard my son’s size 13 feet hit the floor in his room above our kitchen.

And as he hurried down the stairs in his robe, he said, “It smells like grandma’s house in here…are you making scrapple???”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kale is the new black.  

Yes, that dark, green, leafy, good-for-you veggie is now fashionable, and being served in a fine restaurant near you, as a side dish, a salad or even as chips to accompany a well-crafted cocktail.

If you’re like most Americans, your first encounter with kale was a sloppy looking mess of soggy, dark green. And if that first experience was also your last, it’s time to give kale another chance .

I love this recipe. It uses kale raw, so it’s crunchy, not soggy.  And the dressing in this salad is light and fresh and takes full advantage of kale’s crunch and naturally nutty flavor.

This goes together quickly and can be prepared a day ahead of serving.

·         1 large bunch kale
·         One generous cup of good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs (or you can crush store-bought croutons in a plastic bag until they are the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs)
·         1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
·         ½ cup dried currants, soaked in a cup of warm water for 10 minutes and drained
·         1/2 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
·         1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus additional shredded cheese for garnish (you can substitute parmesan)
·         3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish (use the BEST oil you have!)
·         Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (just about 1/4 cup)  Tip: Squeeze your lemons into a cup through a tea strainer so you don’t have to pick out seeds.
·         1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Trim the bottom inches of the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons; this should yield about 5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl.

Mince the garlic and mix it in a small bowl with 1/4 teaspoon of salt until it looks like a paste. (You can also do this with a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board with the side of your chef’s knife). 

Combine the garlic paste with the 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine.

Pour the dressing over the kale, add the pine nuts and currants, and toss very well (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves).. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the bread crumbs, additional cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

Adapted from the Raw Tuscan Kale Salad with Chiles and Pecorino recipe in Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pretty in Pink

There may be no vegetable prettier than a bunch of fresh radishes, all preppy hot pink and green and piled up in a colorful tumble at your local farmer's market. They're almost impossible to resist, so I always end up buying a bunch, cutting a few up into a salad and feeling like they really didn't live up to their looks. (Sort of like that hot guy that you lusted after for months, only to discover he was completely devoid of personality.)  I also hate that I always throw away those beautiful green tops...surely there must be some way to use those? And I wondered, could I cook the radishes? Would that mellow their flavor?

The radishes in the market this year have been particularly gorgeous...large and round and perfect, with crisp, fresh greens attached. So I've been on a quest to find new ways to prepare them, with great success, I am happy to report.

 Radish, cucumber and edamame salad with fresh mint.

This is SO simple:
 English cucumber, diced
shelled edamame, thawed
radishes, chopped
lemon juice, EVOO
fresh mint, chives chive blossoms salt/pepper to taste

 Do you really need measurements here? I think not. Just wing it. So pretty!

 Steamed radishes with sauteed greens, lemon chive butter and chive blossoms

Cut the radishes from the bunch and trim. Wash the greens well. Sautee the greens in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Steam the radishes in a covered dish in the microwave with about a cup of water, until they are just getting tender. Set aside and melt 1/4 cup of butter, stir in a handful of minced chives and a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Pour over the radishes and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange greens and radishes on a plate and scatter chive blossoms over them. (If you don't have chive blossoms, you can just skip this. They look pretty but are only available for a few weeks in the spring. You could substitute other edible blossoms.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Comfort Cocktails: New Orleans Bourbon Milk Punch

Curl up with a good book and one of these creamy lovelies...

2 oz. Good Quality Bourbon (I used Bulleit)
1/2 oz. Vanilla Extract
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (I confess, I used splenda)
1 oz. Heavy Cream
2 oz. Whole Milk
1/4 of 1 Egg White (I used the packaged pasteurized eggwhites, about 2 tbs)

Add the contents to a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake until good and frothy.

Serve in a frosted old fashioned glass. Garnish with:

Freshly Grated Nutmeg

Pear Vodka 3.0

Vodka...not my favorite drink. Not by a long-shot. But I absolutely love pear vodka. It was at the base of one of the most ethereal cocktails I have ever had; an "Orchard Pear", served at the since-closed Allison II in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Its intoxicating (no pun intended) fragrance was reminiscent of an orchard in full bloom. Pear vodka, St. Germaine, a squeeze of lime, with a float of champagne.

I've tried both Absolut Pears and Grey Goose la Poire and honestly, they don't even belong in the same league. Absolut Pears tastes like a pear Jelly Belly. Grey Goose Poire tastes like...pears. Fragrant, with just a hint of sweetness, it's crisp and delicious. But if you've priced it you know that all that quality doesn't come cheap.

So I've been on a quest to make my own pear infused vodka, with only limited success. I don't want to resort to adding extracts or flavoring, but I've been at a loss to get the true flavor of the pears to infuse the base vodka. But my last foray, my third attempt, has been my most successful to date. Here's what I did. Note: You'll need TWO WEEKS for this process.

Week 1

2 750 ml bottles of Tito's Handmade Vodka
4 large bosc pears, peeled, stems removed and cut in half lengthwise
2 oz dried pears (with no sugar added)

Put the fruit in a large jar with a lid (I used a sun tea jar with saran wrap under the lid) and pour vodka over the fruit. Cover tightly, and shake gently every day for a week.

Week 2
Drain the liquid into another jar or bowl. Dump out the spent fruit.
Add 2 more peeled, halved bosc pears.
Let steep for another week, shaking gently every day.

At the end of week do, drain the vodka into a container of some sort. Using a strainer lined with a coffee filter, strain the vodka into another vessel. You might need to replace the coffee filter halfway through the process, as the small particulate matter will coat the filter pretty quickly.

You can then pour it back into the empty vodka bottles or whatever other bottles you have handy.

I'm really happy with this batch. It has just a touch of fruity sweetness and the aroma reminds me of poached pears.

Ok, it's not Grey Goose Poire but lovely in its own way.

Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.