If you’re on the fence as to why we do what we do here, read this article from Yes Magazine on the inimitable benefits of home cookin’.
Then go do it.
If you’re on the fence as to why we do what we do here, read this article from Yes Magazine on the inimitable benefits of home cookin’.
Then go do it.
Here’s a wow – Turns out Salvador Dali wanted to cook for a living, not paint. Way back in ’73, the iconic artist published Le Diners de Gala, a lavishly illustrated tome dedicated to the astounding meals he and his wife Gala produced for some epic parties, (as if a party thrown by Dali would be anything less). It’s not a surprise that we’d not heard of this gem before – There are reportedly 400 or less copies of the book still extant.
Now, all of that is about to change for the better – Taschen is about to republish this epic volume, filled with recipes, pictures, illustrations, and the ramblings of the maestro himself. Among the calorie laden cornucopia of truly bizarre dishes, there may be some real gems. And in any case, it’s guaranteed not to be boring.
I’ve got this young Manager, Taylor Beargeon, at the cafe. Turns out he and his mom are both followers here at UrbanMonique. Taylor has made a bunch of stuff we’ve posted, and we appreciate that more than we can say.
The other day, Taylor brought in a jar of fennel, black pepper, and bacon spread from Skillet, the incredibly talented consortium of restaurants, catering, street food, and much more. Lead by Jon Severson, and packed full of an amazingly eclectic and talented mix of fellow Chefs, this Seattle mainstay is a happening thing.
I tasted this stuff, and it was fabulous, indeed. Then the thing that always happens with me happened – I thought, ‘how would I do this?’ I trust that the folks at Skillet won’t begrudge that leap in the least – Sure, they’d love us to buy their stuff, but knowing all they do and how they do it, I believe that they’d be thrilled if what they did inspired a few home cooks.
I looked at the ingredients of their wonderful spread, and immediately saw some things that I’d change. That’s not a rip off, by the way, or a put down. It is, rather, the way things go in creative endeavors. The folks at Skillet didn’t invent the concept of bacon jams, this was just their swing at it. Tasting it, and wanting to do your own version is complimentary, not parasitic.
This is why I encourage y’all constantly to take your own swing at what we do here – It’s also why I regularly use guitar licks lifted from dozens of players who came before me – what it becomes is my own amalgamated style. And that’s also why I’m thrilled when somebody else cops something of mine.
Anyway, back to that Skillet Jam. Theirs contains bacon, onion, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, lemon juice, black pepper, whole and ground fennel seed, granulated garlic, caramel color, and xanthan gum, (a pretty benign stabilizer). What I tasted was, appropriately, bacon first, then fennel, then sweet. Again, that stuff was really tasty, but it got me thinking about what I’d want to taste in such a thing, and so here we are. As such, let’s just take a little spin through the roughly six days between what Taylor started by sharing that taste, and what I came up with for y’all to try.
The origins of bacon jam are somewhat murky. Skillet’s received a lot of press as an original condiment, and their version certainly is that. Yet the real roots go back quite a bit farther than 2011 Seattle street food. Mincemeat recipes, (an amalgam of beef or mutton mixed with suet, fruit, nuts, liquor, vinegar, and citrus), are found as early as the 1400s in England. Mincemeat might be served as a main dish, (in a pie), or as a side for meat or poultry.
Chutney, an Indian condiment made from fruit and/or veggies, sugar or vinegar, and spices, hails back to several hundred years B.C.E..
Marmalade, fruit preserved in sugar and originally made with quince, harkens back to the ancient Greeks.
Pissaladière, the signature southern French pizza, is topped with what can easily be called an onion marmalade.
And in Austria, a traditional dish, called verhackert, is a spread of minced bacon, garlic, and salt.
All of these things were made in order to preserve fruit, veggies, and meat for longer than their natural period of ripe and ready. Vinegar, salt, and sugar have all been used for just that purpose for thousands of years. Bacon jam, or marmalade, or chutney, are natural offshoots of these roots. As such, the sky is the limit for what you can and should try in your own kitchen.
Accordingly, I started thinking about what I had available and what I’d like to taste in such a thing. My first consideration was texture. That Skillet spread was just that – A processed blend of all that good stuff that you can scoop out with a knife and spread onto a sandwich or burger. What I wanted was something a bit more rustic, more of a marmalade feel.
Then came the taste palate I was after. What I wanted was big shots of savory and smoke, with sweet and heat as after notes. By that I mean literally, I wanted the savory and smoke to hit you front and center when you first taste the stuff, and the lingering notes to be sweet heat.
I had both fresh fennel and some super sweet little tomatoes in the garden, so those were definitely in. Sweet onion and shallot contribute savory, sweet, and heat notes, and would act as the anchor of the whole mix. Because fennel root is fairly delicate in and of itself, it wouldn’t stand up to the long, low and slow cooking a dish like this requires.
For the smoke, the bacon absolutely had to be the keynote. I used Hemplers, a stellar local bacon smoked in applewood. To really highlight the smokiness, I opted for Bourbon, (which also adds subtle sweetness), and a local Thai chile grown by a friend of my Sister that I’d smoked and ground this summer – That also brings the primary heat note to the mix. The final smoke note came from home roasted dark coffee. Touches of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper round out the blend. Here’s how I did it.
NOTE: You may sub 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika and any hot chile flake if you don’t have a smoked chile as I did.
UrbanMonique’s Bacon, Fennel, Onion Marmalade
1/2 Pound Applewood Smoked Bacon
1 fresh Fennel Root, (About 1 1/2 Cups)
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Sweet Onion
1/2 Cup Shallot
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Cup brewed Coffee
1/2 Cup Bourbon
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
1/2 teaspoon Chile flake or powder
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
As with any dish that calls for a bunch of ingredients, you’ll want to do all your prep, and have your mise en place set out neatly and close at hand before you start cooking.
Rinse, peel and and dice the fennel root, onion, and shallot, (about 1/4″ dice).
Rinse, stem, and quarter cherry tomatoes.
Stem, peel and mince the garlic.
Cut bacon into a roughly 1/4″ dice.
Heat a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add the chopped bacon and sauté until it browns and starts to turn crispy, about 3-5 minutes.
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to clean paper toweling.
Toss the onion, shallot, and fennel into the hot bacon grease and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes.
Transfer the veggies from the pan to clean paper toweling, with a slotted spoon.
Deglaze the pan with the bourbon, taking care to scrape loose all the little cooked bits from the bottom.
When the raw booze smell dissipates, return the bacon and salted veggies to the pan, add the tomatoes and the garlic, and stir to incorporate.
Add the coffee, vinegar, and maple syrup; stir gently to incorporate.
Season with chile powder, salt, and pepper and stir to incorporate.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has all been absorbed and the blend has a nice, marmalade like consistency. A little loose is fine – It will tighten up as it cools.
Transfer marmalade to a glass bowl to cool.
So, what’s it good on? Silly question! Damn near anything! Burgers, dogs, sandwiches, omelettes, chicken, pork – There’s a reason bacon is such a ubiquitous kitchen cheat.
Refrigerated in a clean, airtight container, the jam will last for 5-7 days.
Oh and hey – Thanks Tay Tay!
No surprise really, just joy.
Check out Michael Pollan’s piece in Yes Magazine.
Gathering Swing – It’s what happens once you get here and get into the rhythm of the place.
Swing on through. What you’ve come for will be here in spades, be it playing a bunch of hand made instruments, or working on or talking the technical and artistic aspects of building them.
If none of that is for you, there will be plenty of non-builders here to discuss art, history, philosophy, archeology, geology, and a dozen other things. And if that don’t float your boat, there’s more great food and beer and music than you can shake a stick at.
Whatever your bailiwick, you can immerse yourself in it, or do as I do, and drift in and out of things as you see fit. Of course, since I’m the Chef, I spend more time on food than anyone else, and that’s exactly how I like things.
Chef swing – A Chef working a thing like this has to do a lot of planning, but probably not as you might think it’ll go – we plan main courses, sides, and deserts, to some degree – But any given meal may need to feed 12 or 60, and everything in between.
On top of that, folks will bring stuff – some will tell you they’re bringing it, and some won’t, and their level of concern over how and when the dish gets used will vary as well. Blending all that, making enough food, and having ample contingency plans for leftovers is par for the course, and requires diplomacy, humor, and quick thinking.
Take the chickens that became the main dish for Saturday night. Somewhere around 20 folks who’d said they were coming didn’t, and all of a sudden, we’ve got a bunch of left overs – No problem… They found their way into frittatas the next morning, or tarts for brunch after that, and finally into incredible chicken pot pies Sunday night, (if I do say so myself – and I do…)
Here’s some eye candy from the weekend – If anything floats your boat, drop me a line and I’ll give up the recipe for ya.
And we can’t forget the vegetarian crowd, either…
Well, here’s another fine mess I’ve gotten us into… So, a slight diversion from the mother sauces, again by popular demand.
Being a tease the other night, I posted some Instagram pics of dinner, and ended up with a lot of y’all asking for a recipe, so here it is. If I’m gonna tease, I gotta come across thereafter. So here’s that dish – Ginger Chicken Wontons with Summer Vegetables.
This is a recipe that I literally threw together when some amazing sugar snap peas came ripe in Monica’s garden. You can often find really nice ginger chicken wontons for sale locally, but they’re also pretty easy to make at home, if you’ve got the time – They can certainly be made in less than half an hour with store bought wonton wrappers.
Ginger Chicken Wontons
1 Pound ground Chicken
1 large Egg
1/4 Cup Spring Onions, fine diced
1″ fresh Ginger, minced
2 cloves Garlic, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon Hoisin Sauce
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
3″ to 4″ wonton wrappers
Small bowl of ice water
In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and knead by hand to thoroughly incorporate.
The key to making wontons is to have a nice, open prep space; arrange all the components so that they’re right at hand, then get after the production.
Wonton wrappers are square, which messes some folks up – don’t let it, it’ll work out just fine.
Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the ginger chicken mixture into the center of a wrapper.
Dip a finger tip into the ice water, and then run the wetted finger tip along the top and right edges of the wrapper.
Now get hold of the lower left corner of the wrapper and pull it up over the filling to the top, right corner.
Smooth out the wrapper so that all the air is squished out and the wrapper is tight all around the filling.
Dip your finger tip back into the ice water and dab that onto the right corner, then grab that corner and bring it around to the left one, and give them a pinch to seal everything down – viola, you got a wonton, (or, for that matter, a tortellini.)
So, now it’s cooking time, which means it’s time to decide what to add to your wontons. We had those amazing peas as our center piece, so I chose other stuff that complimented that, and here’s the drill. If you’ve got one, use a cast iron frying pan for this.
Ginger Chicken Wontons With Summer Vegetables
1 Cup Sugar Snap Peas
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, sliced roughly 1/4″ thick slices
1/4 Cup Sweet Red Pepper, rough chopped
1/4 Cup Sweet Onion, rough chopped
1/8 Cup fresh Cilantro, chiffonade
1 Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
1 small lemon, halved
1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced
Fresh ground Pepper
Peanut Oil to coat the pan
Put a cast iron frying pan on medium high heat, and coat the bottom of the pan with peanut oil.
When the pan is up to heat, add the onion and peppers.
Season lightly with sea salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the onions begin to turn translucent.
Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates.
Transfer the aromatics from the pan into a small plate and set aside.
Add oil to recoat the bottom of the pan and allow that to heat through.
Add the wontons and sauté on one side for about a minute. Use a wooden spoon or fork and flip the wontons, and sauté for another minute or so until golden brown.
Add the chicken stock and allow to heat through.
Once the wontons and chicken stock are simmering, add the peas and tomatoes, reduce the heat to just maintain the simmer, and sauté for about another 3-4 minutes until the veggies are heated through.
Add the basil and cilantro, stir to incorporate and a heat through.
Squeeze the juice from the halved lemons and stir to incorporate.
Taste the jus and adjust seasoning with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
Allow everything to heat thoroughly through.
Serve piping hot.
Our friend Doug Luchetti is a source of great stories and ideas. He reads and contemplates voraciously, and shares what he finds.
This piece on Fruit Walls, a forgotten piece of low tech agriculture, seems a timely reminder of how much worked perfectly well before we got smarter and messed most of it up. Before we all go out and start slinging bricks, look at this second pic of an old English version – one good wall might just be all ya need.
Well, let’s see…It’s been a hell of a year. I lost some dear friends, and my Mom. There were serious medical issues, including my getting hit square on the head with a 32 pound box of soup that fell off the top shelf of a walk in freezer; I’ve been challenged and frustrated by my State’s ‘advocate’ for my case ever since.
On the other hand, my muse, touchstone, partner, one true love and best friend, Monica Atwater has been with me through it all. We live in an incredibly beautiful place, where we’re blessedly happy to be.
We were blessed to share some fine times and cooked some great meals with my Sis, Ann Lovejoy. My nephew, Ian Atwater, and his lovely mate, Bre Soliz, have shared a bunch of requests that lead to some of the best posts here. We got to cook for and with our kids, Case Sowa, James Skar, Joe Skar, and daughter in law Miranda Skar, as well as with nephews Peter and Andrew Lovejoy, his wife Kate Lovejoy.
The annual trip to Minnesota, to hang with Grant Goltz, Christy Hohman, Joe Sustaire, Ron Miles, Dennis Leahy and so many more was highlighted by a truly incredibly wealth of local, organic produce.
And here on the blog, well – readership and followers exploded in 2015. We’ll be looking to build on that solid foundation here in the new year.
So, truth be told, while I might be tempted to bitch and moan and complain, I am and have been so blessed, and I am very deeply thankful for that.
I thank you all. I bid you all Peace.
Here’s to a bright 2016.
Check out this wonderful post by my Sis, Ann Lovejoy its full of great house made tips for making healthy and amazing goodies.
And do follow the link to the fabulous story of the Japanese photographer who took some absolutely heartwarming pics of her Grandma and Grandma’s cat.
If this isn’t what holidays are for, then I don’t know what…
Happy Solstice to you all – it’s all warmer and brighter from here on!