Sops & Leeks: Medieval Comfort Food

We all know what leeks are: the perfect mild blend of their cousins, garlic and onion. They’ve been part of our diet since somewhere around 2000 BC in Egypt, they’re one of the official emblems of Wales (wearing one on your helmet in battle identifies you as a fellow countryman) and for their easy re-usability to grow, regrow, and keep growing through less than ideal weathers, they’re a great produce for peasants. So what about “sops”? The word “sop” has become a common place verb now; i.e.: using bread to “sop” up the remaining sauce. And that’s what “sops” are: pieces of crusty (usually stale) bread, in the bottom of a bowl or plate, used to soak up (or “sop”) the juices and sauces and flavors from everything else in the bowl.

This particular recipe was a common one among monks during lent. However, since it includes white wine and white bread, it was certainly not for the poorer monks. These were more expensive items to produce and no – not all monasteries have/had the same resources.

The original medieval recipe of Sops and Leeks does not call for ham, chili flake or cream, but as long as you’re not a monk during lent, this updated recipe is great to elevate a medieval dish while still keeping it fairly true to form.

I like to use it for lunch or as a dinner side paired with simple roasted chicken. Including the poached eggs could make it a great addition to a creative brunch menu.

Ingredient Quantity How
Leeks

2

White and greens, sliced and washed
Butter

2-3

Tbsp
White wine

1/4

cup
Heavy cream

1/2

cup

Ham

3/4

cup

Cut into cubes
Red Chili Flake

1

tsp

Shredded Parmesan Cheese

1/4

cup

(optional)
“Sops” (thick sliced crusty bread, buttered)

4

Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. On stove top, heat dutch oven (preferably) or cast iron pan with deep sides, add butter until sizzling, then add leeks and ham. Allow leeks to just soften, about 2 minutes, then add white wine and cook until just soft.
  2. Add cream and red chili flake. Reduce heat to a simmer; allow to simmer until cream is very thick and no longer has any “soupy” quality.
  3. While cooking cream down, butter both sides of slices of crusty (traditionally stale) bread.
  4. Once cream has thickened and you have a pot of creamy leeks, top with toasted bread and bake in 400 oven until butter on bread is just browned. Feel free to top with optional parmesan cheese at this step.
  5. Remove, flip leeks and bread so bread is on the bottom and serve immediately, hot out of the pot and topped with soft boiled egg, if desired .

Stuffed Crescent Rolls: The Best Way To Clean Out Your Fridge

doneplated

Usually this would be offered to you with a recipe for the most beautiful crescent roll dough, especially with my new Kitchenaid in tow. However, I recently ended up with a tube of one of those pre-made pop-open crescent roll tubes – and a fridge full of food.

We all know homemade is better, but we also sometimes have to admit – those pop-open canister crescent rolls are mighty tasty (and so fun to open!). Definitely good enough on their own, they’re also awesome with some chicken, dipped in soup, or like a friend made – as a topping for savory meat pie.  But with a fridge full of cheese, meat, veggies and the tiniest bit of left over fruit – I figured, “how about stuffing them?”

And so, after tearing through the fridge, pulling out most of what was in there and staring at it, I put together the following fillings and combinations: (in no particular order)

1. rasberries (with a pinch of sugar on the dough)

2. salami, fresh mozzarella, a tiny dose of the best horseradish mustard around

3. roasted red beets, black pepper, and Cypress Grove fresh goat cheese

4. roasted potatoes and the remnants of some red pepper and eggplant spread

5. roasted mushrooms and Taleggio cheese (with the tiniest brush of truffle butter on the crust)

6. roasted broccoli and Beemster mild cheddar

7. fresh mozzarella and last night’s anchovy pizza sauce

8. roasted jalapenos and smoked gouda

Roasting all the veggies before putting them in the rolls really makes a difference; because the crescent rolls don’t cook for more than 7-ish minutes, any vegetables inside will stay mostly raw. Raw potatoes, raw jalapenos, raw beets (certainly no good)– the mushrooms and broccoli could work raw, but I recommend making them better by roasting.

You will need:

  • 1 canister pre-made crescent rolls
  • a few veggies from your fridge (anything you have laying around)
  • fresh berries (anything you have laying around)
  • a few tablespoons of a few different cheeses
  • a few slices of tasty meat: salami, prosciutto, ham
  • one egg

To roast the vegetables:

  1. pre-heat your oven to 425
  2. clean and dice each 1/2 beet, 1/2 potato (or anything you are using) very small; clean any cauliflower or broccoli into 4-5 tiny florets; quarter 3-4 mushrooms; half 1 jalapeno down the middle and pull as many seeds out as possible
  3. leaving out red beets, toss and coat all veggies together with olive oil, salt and pepper; toss beets with olive oil, salt and pepper separately to keep from bleeding onto the others
  4. spread veggies evenly onto a sheet tray and roast until slightly browned and cooked through
  5. if some veggies cook first, take them off of the sheet tray and begin cooling

Once the jalapeno is done, try to peel it as best as possible, get the seeds out and very finely chop it:

jalapenoschopped

Once each of the veggies are done, turn the oven down to 375.

While the oven cools, make sure you have all your fillings (berries are cleaned and raw) out and ready and have laid out your little triangles of dough like so:

unrolledunfilled

Now, you can go ahead and start putting the filling on top of the triangles, taking care not to be too generous, as it will squish out the sides as it bakes.

unrolledfilledbetter

Next, roll them up gently and set them aside for a quick second.

Separate one egg, discard the white and use a fork to lightly scramble the yolk.

Finishing Touches

Use a pastry brush to put a thin coat of egg yolk on both sides of each roll (unless you are using any flavored butter, in which case see below).

If using any butter, melt it gently just enough to be able to brush it on, but not enough for it to be hot, and brush it on in place of the egg wash.

Sprinkle the top of the berry roll with a pinch of sugar, and the beets/goat cheese with a pinch of black pepper, the mozzarella and pizza sauce with a pinch of crushed red pepper.

rolleduncooked

Place the rolls gently on a baking sheet (I recommend using a Silpat or parchment paper beneath for easy clean up if the cheese or anything else melts out) and get them in the oven, baking until golden brown.

donerollsunplated

Let cool to the bite and dive in!

Search through your own fridge and see what you can find to fill a few rolls – I guarantee you’ll find plenty of treats and combinations to play with!

halfeaten

 Have fun and enjoy!

Baked Eggs in Meat Cups! (or, how to wow your brunch guests…)

 

I made these baked egg meat cups for breaky last weekend, and was telling a co-worker about them. She seemed to think it was some kind of super fancy ordeal, but it’s really not. Simple as can be – only a few steps and little clean up, great for serving a lot of people. While they’re baking in the oven (bout 10 minutes or so), throw together a quick salad with a nice tart vinaigrette and a few slices of lightly buttered sourdough toast to serve with the egg cups. With salad and toast, one egg cup is usually enough per person. They can be pretty rich.

Ingredients:

You’ll need a non-stick muffin tin for this.

For each individual cup, you’ll also need:

  • A few slices (about 3, depending on the size) of very thin sliced cured meat (proscuitto recommended)
  • One egg 
  • 2-3 white button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2T butter
  • One medium-thick round slice of tomato
  • 1T grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 oven, preheated to 400

How-to:

1. Line the muffin cups with proscuitto. You can substitute the proscuitto for very thinly sliced bacon, or other cured meats. Just make sure whatever you use is as thin as can be!

2. Sautee your already chopped mushrooms in a small dollop of butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then, drop a slice of raw tomato into each cup, and top it with a few mushrooms.

3. Crack one egg carefully atop the mushroom-tomato cup, careful not to break the yolk and trying to keep it as close to the center as possible. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and a pinch of the parmesan cheese.

4. Bake in your preheated 400degree oven until the whites are juuuust set, the yolk still a tiny bit wobbly.  The yolk will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven, until you cut it open and let all the heat out. So poke the yolk ever-so-gently (without piercing it) to find the perfect time for your desired consistency. If serving with toast and salad, I recommend it nice and runny! MMmmmm….

5. After you pull it from the oven, and once it sets for a minute in the meaty-muffin cups, it will be easy to slide out using a couple of wooden or large spoons (be gentle!). Top it with the remaining parmesan cheese and serve with a simple salad of greens and vinaigrette to cut the richness of the meat and cheese and egg and toast to sop up the yolk.

 And don’t neglect all the options! This is just a base for beauty of a breakfast canvas…

  • Replace the parmesan with goat cheese or cheddar cheese. Instead of on top, put the cheese right under the egg, on top of the mushroom and tomato. Top the egg only with salt and pepper.
  • Replace the parmesan with a slice of fresh mozzarella, and replace the mushroom with 2 leaves of fresh basil for a caprese-ish meaty egg cup. Layer in this order: meat cup, tomato slice, basil leaves, mozzarella slice, salt and pepper, egg, salt and pepper.
  • Try adding spinach to the layer of tomato and mushrooms.
And, as always…. enjoy!

Cured Pork

Somewhere in the development of commercial agriculture, the artisanship of food began to deteriorate…. but what remains can still be found holding strong in charcuterie. The best of the best within this category (save for head cheese) lies in all the varieties of cured porks. In this first installment of a series on cured pork and its uses, I will guide you through how its made, where its made, and when to use it and hopefully impart in you a little more of a love for these products, what goes into them and the glory they can create for your plate.

Guanciale

What:
Guanciale is an unsmoked cut of pork cheek or jowl, seasoned with salt and black or red pepper and marinated for 3 weeks to 40 days, then hung to dry.

Where:
Italy, traditionally in Umbria and Lazzo. Known aliases include

When:
Use to lard pork chops (link), spaghetti all’amatriciana, spaghetti alla carbonara. Just like you would bacon, save the fat from frying and use in sauces and other recipes to infuse them with the rich flavor. Fry like bacon or pancetta for pasta sauces, salad toppings etc.

*While it seems to be a popular consensus that you just can’t get Guanciale outside of Italy, its not true. The first Italian deli I asked (which also happens to be my favorite), Lucca Ravioli had it. I tried my next favorite Italian deli, Molinari’s in North Beach, also had it. So, that’s 2 out of 2. Not as rare in the states as it seems, I guess.

Bacon

What: There are several versions of what we all believe to be the true “definition” of bacon. Generally, it’s cut from the sides, belly, or back of a pig, then cured, smoked, or both. The USDA definition, however, is “the cured belly of a swine carcass”; other cuts and characteristics must be separately qualified (e.g., “smoked pork loin bacon”). I’m going to be honest and say that – while I admit it is, indeed, accurate – the use of the word “carcass” in a government approved definition of food is unsettling.

When: just about anytime, I can’t possibly list them all. Always save bacon fat to cook with. Great for pan sauces, cream sauces, wrap meat with it, use it to lard or bard (link) Replace for guanciale in carbonara,

*If you’re a fan of the fun that bacon brings, take a look at the Seattle-based bacon-loving block Iheartbacon.com, or baconunwrapped.com.

Prosciutto

What:
Though literally just the Italian word for “ham”, in English, prosciutto refers to an aged, dry-cured, spiced Italian ham, sliced very thin (the thinner the better) and served raw. In Italian, the equivalent of this would be prosciutto-crudo (raw ham).

Where: Regional varieties come from all over Italy, the most well known from Parma (Prosciutto di Parma), Tuscany and Emilia.

When: Perfect alone just as it is, or very traditionally with blue cheese or wrapped around quartered figs. Though when cooked, prosciutto is touchy, when used right, it can be amazing. It takes on a much stronger, almost gamey flavor when cooked, and so should be used in conjunction with equally rich or aggressive foods – heavy cream sauce, stuffed into pork chops with blue cheese, duck-fat mashed potatoes (link) etc.

Some Known Aliases: Jamon Serrano is the Spanish version, rolled in sea salt and dried for one year to 18 months, usually containing less fat. Culatello is always from Parma, Italy and is created using the best part of the meat from the prosciutto cut. It is salted, spiced and tucked into a pig’s bladder and dried for two to three months, then aged in an humid environment.

Pancetta

What:
Pancetta is similar to American “streaky bacon” (the most common cut in the United States). The belly of a pork is salt cured and spiced (nutmeg, pepper, fennel, dried ground hot peppers and garlic are most commonly used), and dried for three-or-so months and usually not smoked. There are many varieties, and in Italy each region produces its own type.

Where:
Varieties are specific to regions in Italy, Croatia and Spain.

When:
A good replacement for guanciale when unavailable, especially in Spaghetti al Carbonara. Fry with brussel sprouts or creamy polenta on toast, or with goat cheese on a baguette, wrap around leaks and poach, diced in spinach salad with shaved pecorino.

You can look forward to more cured meats, such as coppa, soppressata, lardo and mortadella in the upcoming “Guide to Cured Pork: Part Two”.

A Few of My Favorite Things

In effort to introduce myself, my kitchen and my blog, I offer to you a short list of my favorite tools, equipment, indulgences and pantry staples:

1. Salt: The best, standard rule of thumb is never, ever EVER cook anything without salt. Since you should always abide by this, you should also have a strong supply of various gourmet and finishing salts on hand in addition to cooking salts (they’re fun to discover and collect, too!). Some of my favorites include Fume de Sel (a grey salt smoked over Chardonnay Oak), Kala Namak ( aka “Black Salt”; a strongly sulfuric salt from India and my absolute favorite), Bolivian Rose (a slightly sulfuric pink salt, quarried from a dried lake bed in the Andes), and of course the standard Fleur de Sel.

2. Individually sized foods: Individually sized entrees, sides, or desserts are like
tapas in your own home. They encourage people to participate in the greatest
aspect of food: a time to share, talk and interact with each other They’re also a
convenient way to test out multiple recipe variations all at once – just remember to label which is which.
(see #3 and Bacon Mashed Potatoes Pie)

3. My Round 4” Non-stick Baking Dishes and/or 4″ Round Custard Ramekins: Perfect for individually sized anything. (see #2)

4. Truffles: Yes, I know that this is everyone’s favorite, but it can’t be overlooked. Truffle oil, truffle salt, truffle cheese (see below).

5. Al Tartufo StagionatoTruffle Cheese: Since I restrained myself from listing 25 different salts as my favorite things, I deserve two for truffles. This one in particular is a dream come true. A sheep’s milk version of the original Al Tartufo, its harder and dryer. I’ve heard complaints that it doesn’t melt as well as the original cow and sheep blend, but I ignore this because I don’t care to know or understand any kind of lunatic that would manipulate the make up of such a perfect creation by melting it. (I even once saw a recipe for a truffle cheese grilled cheese. Idiots.)

6. Stuffed Foods: Stuffed foods are a really fun way to experiment with the
creativity that goes along with good cooking. It’s also a good way to practice and test your ability to pair tastes and textures with one another. They also are usually easy to make pretty, and make you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you barely do. Some of my favorites: Duck breast stuffed with baked goat cheese (I actually turned a vegetarian with this dish); Pork chops stuffed with brie and pancetta, Roasted bell peppers stuffed with chipotle roasted lime couscous.

7. Liver: The only thing I could imagine being more delicious than truffles, or having a better richness in both flavor and texture than liver could possibly be liver confit in duck fat with truffle oil. Oh, mama.

8. Cameron’s 11″x15″ Stovetop Smoker: I first discovered this while cooking in a restaurant in San Francisco, where we used it for the house smoked bacon. It’s small, but perfect. Tomatillos, heirloom tomatoes (reserve the juice to make a mind-blowing tomato sauce), eggplant, and tofu are only a few in the long list of items that, when smoked, are a tasty way to move vegetarian or vegan dishes from the sides menu to the entrée menu. I also suggest experimenting with pizza toppings.

9. Duck fat: While that truth remains that I was vegan for 12-or-so years, things have changed and I am now a very strong advocate of always having duck fat on hand. A
pound or two goes a long way – makes you look impressively creative in the
kitchen, and isn’t excessively expensive. It’s a simple way to add
richness to anything when you’re happy to indulge in a dish that is well worth
turning a blind eye to saturated fat and calories. And let-me-tell-you …. Some stuffed pork chops browned in duck fat ….. well, I think you get my point. Duck fat is easy to obtain from your local butcher. Even a grocery
store butcher would probably be able to order it (ask ahead), though I strongly (very strongly) suggest going to a butcher, not your grocery store. The quality is incomparable.


This list will surely grow, but for now, for your peace of mind. don’t worry, the dishes mentioned here will all have recipes posted shortly. Take the time between then and now to pick up a few of these items. Especially the duck fat.