Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ringing in the New Year with Pork

Reflecting back on 2008, this was the year of the pig. (Forget what the Chinese Zodiac said about the rat.) In February, I watched the slaughtering and butchering of a pig. Then I made head cheese out of the head. I decided that that adventure was the culinary zenith of 2008. Rather than make me swear off pork forever, the experience did the opposite. I craved all things pork.

So fittingly, I made a New Years' Eve meal that was appropriate for celebrating the end of Sarah's personal year of the pig. For an appetizer, I made almond stuffed dates, wrapped in bacon. It's true. Everything is better with bacon. They are also ridiculously easy to make, if a bit tedious to assemble. The flavor, however, is worth it. The dates nearly caramelize in the oven, and the salty bacon, the sweet date, and the crunchy almond exploding in your mouth all at the same time, well, it's just a bit spectacular considering it's all wrapped up in such a small little bundle.

Here they are before they go in the oven. In my cooking and eating haste, I overlooked snapping an after picture.

Almond-Stuffed, Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Simply take pitted dates, push an almond into the center, and wrap with half a strip of bacon (avoid thick cut bacon). Secure with a toothpick (off centered, avoiding the hard almond in the center,) and bake on a rimmed baking sheet at 350, until the bacon is done, about 25 minutes, turning once so they brown evenly.

I also made Hoppin John, completely from scratch this year. I simmered the black-eyed peas with a pound of smoked pork neck bones, and I could not believe how incredibly smoky and earthy they turned out. Hoppin John, with a side of greens, will supposedly bring good luck. The greens, in particular are supposed to bring you more folding money in the new year.

I love New Year's if only for the fact that it's a holiday that invites reflection, nostalgia and list making. These are my favorite past times. (An understatement, I know). Add to this a blank 365-day slate of possibility laying in wait, and an excuse to get really drunk, well this is just my type of holiday.

While I've thought about listing a Prose and Potatoes 2008 Greatest Hits list, the idea tired me out and made me bored. I also thought about a Biggest Bloopers of 08 list, but honestly, I don't document the flops because I'd rather forget them as quickly as possible. The only exception here would be the Spam Sushi experiment. What the *&%! was I thinking?! However, I will tell you about one disaster. It was an angel food cake with lemon curd filling that tasted like sweaty, raw eggs and had the texture of a kitchen dish sponge. You can find the recipe, here, if you want to mock how ridiculous it is to fill an angel food cake with lemon curd and then, smother the whole shebang in boiled icing. What was I thinking?!

Instead of those lists I give you the list of culinary adventures I want to have this year. Here are the things I want to do with food and cooking throughout 2009, in no particular order.

1. Make my own ricotta and mozzarella cheese. (And hopefully taste raw milk for the first time.)

2. Make homemade sesame seed bagels.

3. Learn to can tomatoes from my garden.

4. Make dandelion wine and Lemoncello.

5. Cure my own corned beef.

6. Cook and eat beef tongue.

7. Make pirogi.

8. Make coffee can ice cream.

9. Make Baked Alaska and other frivolously retro desserts.

10. Make something with dried lavender flowers.

Am I missing anything? Is there some wonderful culinary curiosity that I should explore this year? I'd love your suggestions. And what about you? Is there anything that you've always wanted to learn how to make but have been holding back and putting it off? What is it? I'd love to hear about it.


Anonymous said...

Well girl...I must say I am so impressed with you and your pork adventures. Especially bacon now. You told me it was so evil. I love pork as you know. Those appetizers sound strange but I would like to try them. I don't know if I really have any cooking adventures I want to tackle this year but I would like to learn how to make bagels, sesame ones! You will absolultely love beef tongue if done right. I love it, especially with a raisin sauce. Boy those were the days when we were having our own fat cattle slaughtered. Have fun cooking. Mom

Karen H said...

Sarah, so glad you honored the year of the pig with such good-sounding menu items. Here in Virginia, we roasted the traditiional pork with sauerkraut cured in a crock that resides in Bowling Green, Ohio. Thanks! Karen H

Diane said...

New Year's is also my favorite holiday (although I also really love Halloween) what with all the eating and drinking. I don't normally like bacon-wrapped things, but those appetizers look delicious.

My only food resolution is to start baking homemade bread on a regular basis. But I need to have a really easy recipe that requires little hands-on time. I'm lazy. What do you know about those so called "no knead" breads? Angry Chicken loves them, so I think I might see if they really are that tasty and easy.

Erin @ The Skinny Gourmet said...

You would have loved the bacon party we host every time my husband's friend Justin comes into town. A true celebration of all things bacon. We've had bacon ice cream, candied bacon, bacon cheesecake, bacon with scallops, etc. You get the picture.

I also really love the culinary resolutions list. I made a similar one myself. I have to admire the DIY nature of your list. Canning has been on my to-do list for some time. Still never tried it. But I have made my own cherry jam (with some supervision by an older churchlady expert).

holly said...

1. cheesecake
2. cream puffs

i need a springform pan. birthday in 2 months and 16 days. . . (**hint hint**)

The Baklava Queen said...

Excellent ideas for this year's adventures, Sarah. I enjoy making dandelion wine, and there's nothing to make winter so much more colorful than knowing you've got plenty of home-canned tomatoes in the pantry. If you're looking for ideas for using lavender, I have a few recipes on my blog -- do stop by!