Monday, February 23, 2015

OMG a Recipe: Embracing Feast Mode and Eating One's Feelings

So I think I can finally talk about The Incident, that fateful Sunday in the Year of Our Lord, 2015, on the Sunday of Superb Owl, when the beloved Seattle Seahawks played so valiantly... and lost. It still hurts to think about that afternoon. Not like arm-caught-in-a-combine hurt, but a mild, wincing pain nonetheless. I had prepared all this special food for this special game -- Special Sandwiches, that became Sandwiches of Sadness. I couldn't let all that effort go to waste, so please indulge me as I Eat My Feelings...with an egg on top.

Eating my feelings... with a fried egg - Photo by Wasabi Prime

We heart our Seahawks, win or lose, let me make that clear. It was still a championship-worthy and we-got-to-play-in-the-Super-Bowl season, regardless, and it only makes us more excited for the 12th Man flag to fly for this year's season. The only thing more powerful than Beast Mode, is, I daresay, FEAST MODE. We love our game day food, and it's not some mournful bag of chips with a can of shelf-stable dip that requires a pop-top -- we take our food seriously in the Pacific Northwest.

We will forever celebrate the warrior colors and Jello-shots of the 12th Man - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We were invited to watch the Superb Owl (Yes, I know it's Super Bowl, but this sounds better), at a friends' place -- the same location we watched the OMFG-worthy Championship game where we were all literally Losing. Our. Minds. in the last seconds of the game. We didn't want to break the streak; like some magical incantation, we had to recreate the series of events as closely to the original as possible. With sandwiches and color-coordinated vodka Jello-shots.

Flashback to another disappointment - 2014's Aurora  Borealis/Boreanaz no-show. But there was a puppy - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It should be noted, this was most of the same friends we gathered with to attempt to watch last year's Aurora Borealis (or as we were calling it the Aurora Boreanaz), which promised a spectacular show with a blessedly clear night sky. We were craning our necks towards the heavens, in the dark -- which is tricky when you're trying to drink beer -- and it was as much of a spectacular Fail Sauce as the Superb Owl results. We saw nothing, it was a bust. BAWWWWWWWWWWLLLL. Although it was a beautiful night, there were sandwiches, and most importantly, a super-cute puppy. Pongo... you complete me.

Stromboli - like a Pizza Sandwich! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I like good, hearty game-day (or night sky-viewing) food, and sandwiches are ideal for this. You don't need utensils, can be filled with just about anything, and most can be enjoyed at room temperature, so it's OK if it's sitting on the table for a while... as you hold your head in  SUPERBOWL SORROW.  It's also something you can construct right before serving or heading out to your destination. Instead of waiting for a pizza that will never arrive on a busy game day, make your own stromboli! 

Even more to-go friendly than a pizza! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Strombolis are like a calzone, stuffed with all your favorite pizza toppings, handily rolled up in pizza dough for easy eating. Calzones are typically smaller and individual sized, but a stromboli is built for a crowd. Once baked, it looks like an innocuous loaf of seasoned French bread, but when you cut into it, it reveals a pinwheel of gooey cheese, tomato sauce, and whatever the heck you want to put into it. I made a vegetarian-friendly stromboli, filled with chopped artichoke hearts, fresh parsley, mozzarella, and a sundried tomato pesto. I mostly went with ingredients I had handy -- I always keep a can or two of artichoke hearts in the pantry, I had leftover sundried tomato pesto after making a big batch, and fresh cheese and parsley is always at the grocery store. I like making my own pizza dough, which is simple enough with flour, water, salt, some olive oil and yeast, but you can buy pizza dough at the grocery store, make it easy on yourself.

As far as the stromboli filling, yes, the sky is the limit. You could make a Philly cheesesteak stromboli, or a Southwest-themed one; basically anything with cheese because really... who doesn't want to cut into bread and have cheese spilling out?? One thing I would recommend is, choose ingredients that don't have a lot of liquid, or cook out any liquid ahead of time. It's not like a pizza, which has its toppings exposed to the dry oven air; the stromboli is all wrapped up like a pizza burrito, and the ingredients basically steam inside. That was why I went with a tomato pesto instead of sauce -- I knew the artichoke hearts would give off some liquid, so the thick pesto would help balance that out. A stromboli is perfect UnRecipe food for a crowd; you can make several at a time, take shortcuts by getting store-bought dough, top with what will please the crowd, and roll the whole thing up, tucking the outer edges in like when you roll a burrito, just to keep everything sealed and contained. I also recommend giving the finished rolled stromboli some time to proof, maybe an hour or so, in the oven (turned off), with just the oven light on. It will give the dough time to puff up a little more, and get an airy outside crust.

Faux porchetta (faux-chetta??) - Photo by Wasabi Prime
My Main Event sandwich was porchetta on homemade ciabatta with mozzarella and salsa verde. Superb Owl-worthy, no? Although I should be clear -- no, it's not ACTUAL porchetta, more like an ad hoc version, made with what I had on-hand. I didn't have a whole piece of pork belly, I just used thick-cut bacon, and I used a bone-in pork roast instead of a tenderloin. These were all cuts of pork from our hog share -- I didn't have the exact cuts I needed and it just seemed silly to buy the stuff when we literally have a freezer full of swine. But the idea was still the same -- season a tender, leaner cut of pork, and surround it with a fattier cut, and let the oven do its magic.

Wrestling and seasoning the Beast - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I would go ahead and just use a pork tenderloin for the porchetta interior -- while not impossible to debone and butterfly a pork roast, it can be tricky, and you may risk shredding your cut of meat just to remove the bone. I've done similar roulade-style stuffed meats in the past, so I didn't care how uneven my protein canvas was, a sheet of plastic wrap and a meat mallet is the great equalizer. Porchetta filling is typically a lot of sage, some rosemary, garlic, and fennel seeds, all delicious with pork. I added another layer of flavor by adding chopped sundried tomatoes. They looked pretty and I knew they would add a nice sweetness to the sandwich.

Wrapping with bacon is tricky; I considered doing a bacon-weave blanket, but the slices of bacon I had were too short. I'd recommend if you use bacon, get strips as long as possible. You can either use all-cotton string to tie, or toothpicks to hold the bacon in place.

A great tip I learned from this recipe from Saveur was to wrap your porchetta in plastic and foil, and keep it wrapped for the first two hours of lower-heat cooking in the oven. I've always been wary of putting plastic wrap in the oven, but it totally worked, and it kept the shape pretty tight while it did the majority of its cooking, so that when that plastic/foil layer is removed and the oven is cranked to super-hot, you're just crisping the outside while the interior keeps its moisture. Yes, it will look like a giant silver burrito-torpedo in the oven for a few hours, but it totally works. Wanna know what else works? Sprinkling a little baking soda on the bacon while it cooks, to help crisp it up. MAGIC.

The making of Feast Mode Sandwiches (egg optional) - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Making sandwiches from this Faux-chetta gives you a lot of latitude. It's OK if the roast looks like a hot mess when it's done cooking, although I was very pleased with the pretty swirl of filling when I sliced into my fully-cooled porchetta loaf. In a way, it's a shame that was hidden between bread and toppings, I almost wished the porchetta's shape was ruined. I built our Special Sandwiches/Sandwiches of Super Bowl Sadness using ciabatta bread slathered with some dijon mustard, slices of the pork, a hearty drizzle of salsa verde (a vinegar-y Italian herb sauce -- recipe here, from Epicurious), and melted mozzarella cheese. I wanted to taste-test the sandwiches that morning, so I made two little ones for the Mister and myself, with the bonus ingredient of a fried egg. Wonderful, but also very messy. Have the egg-topped version at home, with plenty of napkins.

If you Put an Egg On It, just have plenty of napkins handy - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I can't guarantee your Sportsing Team will go to the Superb Owl, but if you want to make this sandwich at home, here's my recipe -- it's culled together from a few recipes, namely the Saveur article, with the tips about wrapping in plastic/foil and the baking soda trick. And you don't have to make your own bread, but if you want to make your ciabatta loaf from scratch, I used this easy recipe from the vegan blog, Holy Cow! You can use whatever bread you like, I recommend a thick, absorbent bread. The flat, wide surface of ciabatta, and it's crisp outside, soft interior, was the perfect match for these hefty sandwiches.

Faux-chetta (recipe adapted from Saveur)

1.5  pound whole pork tenderloin, cut into a single, flat piece, like for a roulade (have your butcher do it if you don't want to mess with it)
1/2 pound of thick-cut, long strips of bacon

1 cup fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
1/4 cup thyme leaves and tender stems
1 cup roasted garlic cloves
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (about 2 lemons' worth)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup of olive oil 

Special Tools:
All-cotton string
Tin foil and plastic wrap

Prepare the filling: finely chop the sage, rosemary, thyme, sundried tomatoes and garlic cloves. Crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or run the knife through to do a rough chop. Combine the herbs and tomatoes into a bowl, add the salt, pepper, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and olive oil, and mix until it's an easily spreadable paste. Add more oil if it's too dry.

Take the pork tenderloin that's been cut into a single, wide piece and lay flat. Spread the filling in one even layer. Roll the pork as tightly as possible so that it looks like a swirl from the side, with the filling. Take your slices of bacon and wrap around the roll until it's completely covered; use the cotton string to tie, or use toothpicks to pin the bacon slices together, around the pork. Allow the bacon-wrapped pork to sit in the fridge for 12-24 hours, uncovered, to dry out the surface as much as possible, and then wrap it tightly in a layer of plastic wrap, and then foil. This can sit in the fridge, wrapped, for another day before baking

When you're ready to cook the faux-chetta, let the wrapped roast sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes before baking, to take the chill off. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the roast in a pan before placing into the oven (it will release juices as it cooks). Allow the roast to cook for 2 hours or more, at 325 degrees. Use a quick-read thermometer to check for center done-ness -- should be 130 degrees in the center.

When the center has come to temperature, remove the roast from the oven and raise the temperature to 475 degrees. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and foil from the roast and place it back into the baking dish. Lightly sprinkle the bacon surface with baking soda -- about a teaspoon's worth -- and place back into the oven. Remove every few minutes to baste with the pan juices and turn the roast, adding a little more baking soda, if you want more of the bacon to crisp. When the surface is crispy and the bacon has fully rendered, remove and allow the roast to cool before removing string/toothpicks and slicing. 

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