Tag Archives: Cider

Pork is the answer.

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My husband Jason and my brother Alec are allies. Each the youngest of three, they speak a common language, one I’m not too sure I approve of. In addition to their inability to find humor in the harmless practical jokes I may have played on Alec when we were kids (maple syrup in the water bottle we used to comb our hair, for instance), they also prefer the canned, gelatinous abomination known as cranberry sauce over fresh, whole fruit.

I’m in no way a purest. My Aunt Ali’s cranberry, walnut mold is the sentimental favorite, but the foodie, hipster compotes I’ve been cooking down since my mid-twenties deliver equal satisfaction. Still, despite my best efforts, because of Jason and Alec, I am forced to open one solitary can in an otherwise farm fresh meal preparation. Until this year.

If there is one way to win over men with food, it’s a really fatty piece of pork. I promise, one mention of pork belly, and your father, brothers and uncles will gladly turn off the game and come running to the dining room table.

Pork belly took me a couple tries to get right. A lot of fat will render out, so don’t rush the initial searing. There are a couple inches at the end of the piece of pork belly that are almost entirely fat. Save those for later. Finally, when you sear the meat before serving, pat it dry and cook it over relatively low heat to prevent the fat and sugars from burning.

Braised in cranberry apple cider, the pork is flavorful and tender. Tart-sweet, orange-infused cranberry is the perfect foil for rich, fatty pork. This round goes to me. Now if I could only get them to eat beets…

Cider Braised Pork Belly

*Begin the pork two days ahead of time, letting it dry marinate overnight and braise for several hours the following day.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 – 2 pounds pork belly
  • 1 tbs coarse salt
  • 2 tbs Spanish paprika
  • 1 tbs ground Aleppo pepper (or 1 tsp cayenne)
  • 1 tbs fresh-cracked black pepper
  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 2 tbs red miso paste
  • 2 cups cranberry-apple cider (or 1 cup apple cider and 1 cup cranberry juice)
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1/4 cup Autumn Apple Vinegar*
  • 2 tbs maple sugar
  • 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

*My seasonal favorite from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. You could substitute sherry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Mix together salt, Spanish paprika, hot pepper and black pepper. Rub pork belly with rub and refrigerate overnight, up to 24 hours.
  • Warm a dutch oven over medium heat. Meanwhile rinse dry rub from pork belly and pat dry. Cut pork belly, the short way, into 1″ strips.
  • Sear pork belly on all sides, starting with the fat side down. The fat will produce some smoke so get ready to fan your alarm.
  • Pour off all but 2 tbs fat and sauté shallots until soft. Add miso and cook 1 minute longer. Add cider, sherry and vinegar to pan. Bring to a boil. Add pork belly, cover and simmer over low heat for 2.5 – 5 hours, until fork tender.*
  • Remove meat from braising liquid, pat dry. (Move onto next recipe or see the next step to serve separately.)
  • To serve the pork belly on its own, slice in serving size piece, and sauté over medium heat for 1 minute a side before serving. Be careful not to burn the fat.

*Braising the meat longer makes it more tender, but it was delicious at 2.5 hours. You can also braise it in the over at 200 degrees for 4-5 hours.

Cranberry Compote With Pork Belly

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cups fresh, whole cranberries
  • 1 cup maple or brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup ruby Port
  • 1 tbs Orange Oil*
  • 1 1/2 pounds Cider Braised Pork Belly (recipe above)
  • 1 tbs Autumn Apple Vinegar

*You can substitute Sapore’s Orange infused oil with two 2″ pieces of orange zest.

Directions:

  • Melt butter in a 3 qt sauce pan over medium heat.
  • Add shallot and sauté until soft., 3-5 minutes. Add star anise and cranberries and sauté for 3 minutes longer.
  • Add sugar, cider, Port and orange oil. Turn heat to medium-high and cook until liquid reduces to a thick, jammy glaze.
  • Slice pork belly into 1/2” strips. Sauté over medium low heat for 1-2 minutes a side being careful not to burn the fat. Add Autumn Apple Vinegar and reduce, turning pork belly to coat.
  • Serve pork belly pieces over the compote.
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It’s still more fun than work.

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There’s a picture of my parents at a cider pressing party in the early 70’s. They look impossibly hip, my Dad in his thick rimmed glasses and thick, curly hair, my Mom in a fabulous sweater, her hair nearly white-blonde. It’s New England in the fall, the press is a large wooden barrel and they could be in any fashion editorial today.

I grew up in New England where the scent of apples defined fall as much as the shuffling of crisp leaves was its soundtrack. We ate crisp McIntosh apples daily. Less frequently we enjoyed cider donuts, apple crisp, baked apples and fresh cider. Apple sauce was homemade, pink from the skins and warm from the stove. It was always made with a food mill, with children doing most of the work.

What sounds downright pastoral today was just life, growing up. I wish I had treasured it a bit more, but I’m grateful for having been blessed with the opportunity to take it for granted. It makes the fresh sauce I cook at home that much more special. And using the food mill is still more fun than work.

Homemade applesauce

The mix of apples you use will determine the sweetness or tartness of the sauce. I prefer about 1/3 tart to 2/3 sweet. Try different mixes to find what you like. Ask your local farmer for advice.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Honeycrisp apples
  • 3 tart apples, like Pound
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • Nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon
  • Lemon juice
  • Honey

*Do yourself a favor and buy a food mill just for this! It keeps the skins behind and you don’t have to peel any apples. Plus your sauce will be beautifully pink!

Directions:

  • Core apples. Don’t bother peeling them. Cut them into 8 pieces each.
  • Place apples and cider in a 4 qt saucepan, cover and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 min until really soft.
  • Run apples through a food mill.
  • Return sauce to saucepan and season with 1/8 tsp each of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon.
  • Cook over low heat for five more minutes to develop flavors.
  • Add honey or lemon juice as needed.

An island in the storm.

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About seven bites into the plate I couldn’t help but load as high as the laws of physics would allow, Thanksgiving dinner begins to feel like an onslaught of flavors. Roasted turkey, fluffy and buttery mashed potatoes, stuffing hot out of the bird, winter vegetables mashed, roasted and glazed, and the whole plate dripping in thick, flavorful gravy. My palate cries “Uncle!”

Cranberries provide an island in that storm: tart, black-red and jammy. That is, unless you plop the cloying, wobbly log of jello out of the can. While my brother requires its presence on our Thanksgiving table, I instead look to whole cranberry compote, fresh, minced cranberry salad, or even a savory cranberry mold to deliver much  needed relief.

Cranberries see the world in black and white: all acidity and no sugar. So even the tartest cranberry dish needs sweet balance. This compote delivers it with Cippolini onions, glazed with maple sugar, butter and rich stock. The cranberries cook down in port wine to a thick, jammy texture. One spoonful per dinner guest will satisfy. But make a double batch. Blended with a little mayo, it will transform the sandwiches you’ll inevitable be sharing around the kitchen table later that night.

Cranberry Cippolini Compote

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cippolini or pearl onions
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 3/4 cup maple sugar*
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1.5 cups vegetable or veal stock
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup port
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
*You can substitute a mixture of half light brown sugar and half white sugar for the maple sugar.
Directions:
  • Blanch onions in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove to an ice bath. Trim tips and roots of onions, be careful to leave the base of the onion intact so that they don’t fall apart. If the onions are larger than bite sized, cut them in half.
  • Melt butter over medium heat in a 3 qt saucepan. Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown in places.
  • Add 1/4 cup sugar, garlic and rosemary. Cook 1-2 minutes until garlic is golden.
  • Pour in stock, reduce heat and simmer until liquid reduces to a thick glaze. Be careful not to burn the garlic as the liquid reduces.
  • Add cranberries, port, and cider. Simmer over low heat until liquid is reduced to a glaze and cranberries have turned jammy. The cranberries will pop delightfully as they cook. but don’t worry, the juices don’t spatter out of the pot.
  • Season to taste with balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper, and additional sugar if needed.

Midnight blood sacrifice.

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My husband, Jason, first met my extended family at my sister’s wedding. My mom is one of seven, all married with children.My dad is one of three. In total, there were more than 50 family members present. I love Jason’s retelling of this first meeting.

“I was waiting for a blood sacrifice at midnight,” he says. “They were all so friendly. Every single one of them. I thought it was a cult.”

So, it shouldn’t surprise you then, that when my happy family gets together, conducting a squash tasting seems perfectly normal. This is exactly what Mom, Dad and I did last fall after visiting the local farmers market. We took four squashes – Buttercup, Ambercup, Delicata and Sweet Dumpling – roasted them with thyme and olive oil and compared. Delicata was the clear favorite: sweet, mild, firm and smooth textured*. It is also the perfect squash for this recipe.

Easy to peel, Delicata is perfect for breaking down to a 1/2″ dice. It’s light, sweetness balances beautifully with the cider glaze, mellow herbs and brightened with a splash of Sherry vinegar. It is tender enough to cook in just about 15-20 minutes.

How good is this recipe? I made it last week for dinner guests. Our friend Gerry pulled me aside before dinner and said, “Don’t be offended if I skip the squash. You really don’t want me to eat it unless you want to see me throw it back up. I hate squash.” After dinner, with a glint in his eye, he said, “I admit it. I tried a bite. It was delicious!” I was glad. Throwing up at the table would have really killed the mood.

*Buttercup was our second favorite. Richer, but still mild and sweet. Ambercup could be easily mistaken for sweet potatoes. Sweet Dumpling was similar to Delicata. It’s a reasonable substitute in a pinch, but grab Delicata if you can find it.

Cider Glazed Delicata Squash

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs chopped sage
  • 2 tbs chopped thyme
  • 4 cups Delicata squash, in 1/2 cubes. 1 large or 2 small
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • Sherry vinegar
Directions:
  • Heat a 12” sauté pan over medium heat. Melt butter in pan.
  • Add herbs and sauté without browning, 1-2 minutes
  • Add squash, and sauté 3-5 minutes, browning the squash lightly.
  • Add cider, bring to a simmer and reduce heat and cook uncovered.
  • As the squash cooks, the cider will reduce to a glaze. Add additional water, 1/4 cup at a time, if squash needs more cooking time.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of Sherry vinegar.

It was the kind of morning when you could not fail.

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Today was the perfect day for this stew. Despite my earnest promise of a crisp, clear fall day, we woke to gusty rain. Jason and I set off to Eastern Market and started cooking. I offer my sincere thanks to those of you who stood out in the rain, huddled under umbrellas, waiting 45 minutes from the first wafts of rich, beefy goodness until bowls of streaming stew were served up hot!

When I came across the inspiration for this stew, I was excited, but it disappointed. The squash was flat and grassy. The beef? Barely there. Roasting the squash and a homemade beef stock would solve the problem. While well worth the effort, I’m sure, the average weeknight doesn’t afford me the twelve hours a good beef stock takes. How to speed this up?

Carrots added with the squash brought out butternut’s sweetness and a splash of cider vinegar brightened it up. Brandy, and miso gave the beef flavor depth, while butter – good, rich, creamy, grassy, Amish butter – gave the soup the richness it needed.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs lean stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut in 1/2inch cubes
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 6-8 cups stock
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Cider vinegar
  •  Brandy
  • 1-2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs red miso, mashed with a tbs water into a thin paste

Directions:

  • Heat a 6-8 qt heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven over med-high heat. Add oil and heat until smoking. Cook beef in batches, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Sear until brown. Remove beef to a bowl and reserve. The beef juices will brown on the bottom of your pot. Don’t worry, this is pure flavor!
  • Add onion to pot, cook until soft. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
  • Add 1 cup stock and deglaze pot, scraping up the rich brown bits off the bottom of the pot.
  • Add squash, carrot, thyme, bay, reserved beef and remaining stock. Simmer until squash is soft. 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove half the squash and carrot, and mash or run through a food mill.
  • Return the mashed squash to the pot. Season to taste with a splash of vinegar and brandy, butter, miso paste, salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes to thicken.