Rest assured, I've been cooking. I've been cooking as much, or more, than ever. I just haven't found the time/energy to go through the whole rigmarole of blogging about it. Let's say that recently I've been more interested in cooking purely for the joy of cooking and less interested in the photographing/writing part of it all.
Well my moods change from time to time and today I felt like photographing and writing.
Jessica is out of town in San Diego on business this weekend. Whether she is here or not, I cook. However, I find that when she is gone I tend to use it as an opportunity to experiment and push myself in directions I might not otherwise go. Since I'm just cooking for me, there is no harm done if I have an epic face-plant, so I'm more open to trying new things and pushing boundaries.
It is Spring time. If you are obsessive compulsive like me, Spring and cleaning go hand in hand. I went out to our chest freezer on Friday to grab something and after 10 minutes of freezer jenga realized I needed to do something about the state of the freezer... stat. I spent Saturday morning turning the gallons of collected chicken carcasses, lamb bones, lobster shells, etc. into various stocks. Not all that challenging, but time consuming... one of those things that takes some time up front but pays big dividends for months to come. I find that making stock puts me in a sort of zen place. It's great to have the stock to use at the end, but the process itself is as rewarding to me as the outcome.
During the process of cleaning out the freezer, I discovered a couple of beautifully fatty and marbled Dai Due wild boar pork chops that had been sitting in there for months. I immediately realized I needed to do something awesome with them and moved them to the fridge for thawing.
As fate would have it, I awoke this morning to a dreary rainy day coupled with a certain out of nowhere sense of nostalgia for Italy... specifically Tuscany. From this, the idea of a dish coagulated in my head.
Dai due marinated wild boar chops, slow braised in milk and chicken stock. Polenta with porcini, alba, and crimini mushrooms finished with Parmesan and red wine vinegar. Fresh garden spinach... picked 5 minutes prior and gently wilted and salted. Sauce derived from braising liquid. Fresh basil. Crushed red pepper.
Pairs super nicely with a 2011 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino... I just LOVE Tuscan wines.
This dish worked absolutely beautifully.
I have often read about the Tuscan (esp. Florence) approach of milk braising meats, particularly pork and also often veal breast. This is the first time I actually tried it. The technique is magical, but you have to be VERY vigilant about your simmer level. +5 degrees too high and you curdle your milk... no good. I like a tough fatty collagenous cut of a relatively delicately flavored meat with this technique... Pork/veal, shoulder/leg/breast in particular would be good bets... Suckling pig would probably be the top of the mountain with this technique in my opinion.
Also, I am developing an addiction to Porcini mushrooms. Their over the top umami level is like culinary steroids. I put Porcini mushrooms and Vadouvan curry in the same camp of magical ingredients that are basically tantamount to cheating. Truffle and foie gras might also fall in that camp, but with both of those you actually have to know what what you're doing to cheat with them.
Anyhow, maybe one day I'll try to post something resembling a recipe for y'all. I hear folks ask for that frequently. My personal approach to cooking tends to be very ad-hoc and iterative and doesn't lend itself well to a specific recipe. To me, recipes are to good food what paint by numbers is to good art. It is a creative process, not a mechanical one and it it requires improvisation to get right.