When working late pays off…

Last Friday Matt beat me home by an hour and a half. When I walked through the door, I was greeted with this:

Those are bison burgers blanketed in melted cheddar with a heap of red onions.  And a side of homemade sweet potato chips. And a be-stubbled husband with a dish towel neckerchief.

So I’ve got to ask…

What on earth does one do to repay such a kindness?

A retaliation of slow-cooked pork shoulder? A barrage of oozy chocolate lava cakes??  A plethora of panko-crusted, spicy barbecue-dipped chicken tenders???

There’s a pint of Cutty’s pork fat in the fridge. Methinks that’s a pretty good place to start.

Home Alone

Not really appropriate for a Saturday night, this song would be more fitting under a semi-dramatic PG scene where the hero comes to grips with the fact that he needs to face his enemy and then sets about preparing to do so. Like in Home Alone I and II when Kevin starts booby-trapping his house/derelict apartment building.


Speaking of which, there is an entire web page devoted to the booby traps in the four (four?!?) Home Alone movies and it’s quite thorough. There’s really nothing you can’t find within 3 seconds on the internet. Now go rig an iron to fall down the laundry chute before the bad guys get here.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Looking forward to a lunch dominated by honey-baked ham, even if that ham’s primary purpose is to serve as a vehicle for getting heaps of stoneground mustard into my belly (just like lobster:butter, artichoke:aioli, pancakes:syrup, the list goes on. Why wasn’t this on the PSATs?). Also I really need something to balance out the pounds of carrot cake already in there.  Because while it makes perfect sense to follow a recipe that leaves enough batter to fill an extra round cake pan for taste tests, that’s only if you aren’t the sole person testing, and only if you don’t rationalize that an extra slice with toasted coconut, and another with a dusting of finely chopped walnuts, will allow you to narrow down the topping options.

I followed this recipe first because everything the author posts induces stomach growls, and second because her last instruction for the frosting was “bump the speed up to medium-high and beat the crap out of it.”  Right on.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover, whichever the case may be.

Carrot Cake with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting
Very slightly adapted  from “I Made That

Yield: 1 (8-inch) 3 layer cake or 1 rectangular cake pan plus one small circle pan for your multitude of taste tests.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
¾ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
3 cups finely grated peeled carrots
1 cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup raisins 

Position racks in the top and bottom third of the oven, and preheat to 325 degrees. Lightly grease 3 (8-inch) round pans with butter (or 1 cake pan plus 1 8-inch round pan). Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (I didn’t do this due to laziness, but was still able to turn out the cake without a problem).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Whisk well to blend.

Beat the sugar, butter, oil until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate after each addition. Add the applesauce, beating to mix. Add the flour mixture, and beat to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if needed. Add the carrots, pecans, and raisins and mix just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35-45 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes; then turn them out onto the rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used goat’s milk)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Sift in the powdered sugar, and beat on low speed until incorporated. Add the sour cream or yogurt, vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and beat well to incorporate. The best part: “If the frosting is lumpy from the sugar, bump the speed up to medium-high and beat the crap out of it.”

The Bo Ssam Miracle: Living Up to the Title

It was a big mistake to click through the New York Time’s food section during lunch at work a few weeks ago. When you’re woofing down a tepid melange of roasted vegetables, a hunk of old cheese, and some stale crackers, you can’t help but dwell on just how satisfying a huge platter of crispy, caramelized pork, forked off and swaddled in fresh lettuce with a trio of dipping sauces and pickled vegetal accessories might be. This daydream of a meal hovered all week, until on Friday I parted with $25 for some local, farm-coddled Boston butt. Not going to apologize – the recipe’s siren song instructs “go big or go home.”

The pork shoulder marinated overnight in a mountain of kosher salt and white sugar, then went into the oven for most of a chilly Saturday. As it cooked, we walked to the Asian market a few blocks away to find jars of ssamjang and kochujang hidden in shelf after shelf of exotic pastes, sauces, syrups, and oils.  And porcelain tea pots, whole wriggling fish, and mung bean noodles. It took an hour, but we finally left with the necessities, plus an armful of garlic scapes and an enormous jug of fish sauce that is currently fighting the blender for counter space.

Later in the evening, the pork was slathered in sugar and a little more salt to form a crust under high heat. We assembled the sauces, plated everything up, and dipped to satiety…plus some.

This is a meal to share with friends with taste buds that welcome the extremest of salty, sweet and spicy flavors, and who are comfortable seeing you with dripping fingers. You in turn must derive pleasure from their special satisfied smiles, the ones that come with consuming a substantial amount of pork fat.  If there are leftovers, do it again the next night, or shred the pork into a frittata with some grated sweet potato.

Though we’ll probably only make it once a year, we’re holding onto this recipe.  It’s a worthy indulgence, and one that lives up to its newspaper anointed title.

Momofuku Bo Ssam
David Chang’s Recipe adapted and printed in the New York Times

1 whole bone-in pork butt or picnic ham (8 to 10 pounds)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons brown sugar

Ginger-Scallion Sauce
2½ cups thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
½ cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
¼ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)
1½ teaspoons soy sauce
1 scant teaspoon sherry vinegar (we used apple cider + white wine, for lack of sherry)
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Ssam Sauce
2 tablespoons fermented bean-and- chili paste (ssamjang)
1 tablespoon chili paste (kochujang)
½ cup sherry vinegar (we used apple cider + white wine, for lack of sherry)
½ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)

3 heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried

Place the pork in a large, shallow bowl. Mix the white sugar and 1 cup of the salt together in another bowl, then rub the mixture all over the meat. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

When you’re ready to cook, heat oven to 300. Remove pork from refrigerator and discard any juices. Place the pork in a roasting pan and set in the oven and cook for approximately 6 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily to the tines of a fork. (After the first hour, baste hourly with pan juices.) At this point, you may remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for up to an hour.

Meanwhile, make the ginger-scallion sauce. In a large bowl, combine the scallions with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and taste, adding salt if needed.

Make the ssam sauce. In a medium bowl, combine the chili pastes with the vinegar and oil, and mix well.

Wash lettuce and cilantro. Put kimchi and sauces into serving bowls.

When your accompaniments are prepared and you are ready to serve the food, turn oven to 500. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining tablespoon of salt with the brown sugar. Rub this mixture all over the cooked pork. Place in oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or until a dark caramel crust has developed on the meat. Serve hot, with the accompaniments.