November 05, 2006

A Birthday and a Confession

This is what I made for my friend's birthday dinner last night:

C's Birthday Dinner Menu:

Red Butter Lettuce Salad with a Pomegranate Vinegar-Olive Oil Dressing and Pomegranate Seeds and Chevre
Pork Stew with Butternut Squash and Fennel over Soft Polenta
Apple Slices Sauteed in Browned Butter and Brown Sugar over Cinnamon Ice Cream from here
and lots of sparkling wine (Jacob's Creek Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Cuvee NV; which we both enjoyed and highly recommend)

C is gluten-intolerant so we had the stew over polenta instead of noodles as the recipe suggests. I actually preferred it that way. The polenta soaked up the liquid far better than noodles and was heartier. I am looking forward to leftovers today.

Pork Stew with Butternut Squash and Fennel over Soft Polenta, adapted from Bon Appetit

1 1/2 lbs 2-inch pieces trimmed pork shoulder (Boston butt)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 TB olive oil
1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon (not smoked) about 2 oz
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup broth (I used veg because it was in my cupboard, but the recipe calls for chicken)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 large fresh fennel bulb; cut into 1-inch cubes, reserve fronds
15 1 1/2-inch cubes peeled butternut squash

Place pork in a bowl. Mix next 6 ingredients in small bowl; sprinkle over pork, turning pork to coat evenly. Let stand 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat oil in oven-proof pot (that has a lid) over medium-high heat. Add pancetta/bacon and saute until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to medium bowl. Add enough pork to pot to just cover in a single layer, you may have to do this a few times; saute until brown, about 8 minutes. COOKING SCHOOL TIP: Do not move or turn meat until you can easily pick it up off the pot. If it sticks to the bottom, it means that the Maillard reaction (browning) has not finished. Wait until it has, your stew will be more flavorful this way. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl with pancetta. Repeat with remaining pork. Add onions and garlic to pot, saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices, broth, wine, and pork mixture. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits (the fond).

Cover pot; place in oven. Cook 1 hour. Add fennel and squash to stew. Cover and cook in oven until pork and vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. At this point, my meat wasn't quite done but the squash was. I ended up fishing out the squash because I didn't want to end up with puree and returned the stew to the oven for another half hour. The I returned the squash to the stew. My stew was a little to thick, so I added a bit more liquid. The original recipe recommends that you thicken the liquid by removing the solids and cooking down the liquid, but I didn't need to. Your results, as always, may vary. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve over egg noodles or polenta. Garnish with reserved chopped fronds.

Serves 4

Easy Slow Cooked Soft Polenta

1 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
5 cups liquid (water, stock, or broth)
3 TB butter
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste.

Preheat oven to 350F. Or if you are lucky enough to have an oven big enough for both the stew and the polenta cook simultaneously. I am not. Grease oven-safe pot. In pot, stir together cornmeal and liquid until there are no lumps. Add 1 TB butter. Bake in oven for 80 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in remaining butter, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Easy, no? If you prefer your polenta softer, add more liquid. Firmer? Add less.

The Confession: I think I need to give up the ghost and admit I am now firmly re-entrenched in the omnivore category of human diets. The partner is still a pescatarian, so most recipe posts here will continue to be vegetarian and all though I am eating some meat in no way will it be everyday. I prefer a more flexible diet but I can't imagine making meat the center of most meals. Not only is it pretty selfish for humane, environmental and sustainability reasons, it's also boring and I enjoy meatless meals and like the challenge of creating them. For these reasons, any meat I do purchase needs to be humanely raised and organic. Yes, it is more expensive but since it's not something I am going to indulge in too often, it's do-able. And I do believe that meat ought to be an indulgence, not a requirement. What do you think about that? I'm planning on the reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, has anyone out there read it yet? What did you think about it? If you eat meat, how do you explain why? If you don't, why don't you? I'm all ears.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am working on reading the Omnivore's Dilemma, after hearing Michael Pollan speak at the Bioneers Conference a few weeks ago. He was fab. Very casual and spoke easily about how the food system works - without being preachy, which I really appreciate.

It's one of those things I just wish I didn't know and I wish weren't true - about the agro-industrial politial machine our food source has become.

I have not switched to becoming vegitarian - yet. I enjoy the flavors and cooking with meat. I just can't stand to know how it all works...
So slowly, I start making rules - no carnivores (shark, big cats, eels, salmon etc.), then no pork or other bottom dwellers (shrimp, lobster, catfish...) and then how can I justify eating mammals (lamb, cows and deer, with their big brown eyes and beautiful babies.)

You see how it goes.

But then, here come the holidays, and I'm already looking forward to turkey dinner. For now, I will make the effort to buy the free-range, no hormone bird - and hope it had a good life, outside, and enjoy the stuffing, and say Thank you.

November 06, 2006 12:23 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...


Thanks for your response. I'm jealous that you got to see Pollan. I think it's important for people to understand and respect where their food comes from. When I do cook meat, I thank the animal too and tell it that I hope it had a good life. Seriously. It's a fine line to walk as an omnivore, but an important one. I wish that people gave more thought to it, like you are doing.

November 06, 2006 3:35 PM  
Anonymous gauchaguapa said...

Of the subject of meat:
I grew up with two vegetarians whom I give all the credit to for introducing me to such "weird" food such as pad thai, coconut curry, veggie burgers, and bulgur. It is true..they helped changed my palate from only desiring McD's to tasting/cooking fresh new flavors.
THAT Being said. I do not believe vegetarianism is for everyone. Example: While attending my yoga teacher training we were given only vegetarian meals. There was one man in the group that started to feel lethargic, sickly, and irritable half way through the two week training. He was not sure why. I had noticed a difference in his energy level and attitude, but didn't mention it. I also noticed the color in his face was getting more pale by the day. Anyway, on our free day half way through the training he decided to go into town and eat out. He ordered a steak or something. was like a different person when he came back! All the color had returned to his face, he was super happy and friendly again, and he had a ton more energy.
He needed meat.
THAT being said...I do believe it is our responsibility to know where the meat is coming from, how it was raised, and how it was treated. This is challenging, but we can try.
That's my two sense.

November 09, 2006 11:26 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...


I'm not trying to say that I think that everyone should go veg, but I do hope that people question why they eat meat, and where that flesh is coming from and how. I agree with you vegetarianism isn't for everyone but eating meat for every meal isn't healthy for people or our environment.

November 09, 2006 2:22 PM  

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