Everything but the OINK

Everything but the OINK

About a week ago, I received a random package. It was fairly large and definitely heavy. It was either a brick or a big book, but having ordered neither, I was a bit confused! I scrambled up to my apartment and opened the package, revealing a BEAUTIFUL book, with the word BACON printed in large letters in the top-right. At this point, it still hadn’t registered what I was holding, but my first reaction was, “DJ … you’ve got good taste. This book looks awesome!”

The cover of the book is that of a black and slightly scuffled chalkboard, the kind you’d see presenting the Daily Specials at a fresh and tasty restaurant … or a high end butcher shop. It’s a look I happen to love (I literally have hand drawn chalk boards on my walls (ice cream flavors) … right now). Everything about this book’s aesthetic sang to me. I cannot recall the last time I was serenaded by a book!

I started to focus on it. It was heavy! I still couldn’t remember ordering it, but was in love with this lavish hard backed book. It had a clear purpose and sense of style. Everything about the art detail, graphic design, font selection, color palette and STUNNING photography was just beautiful and purposeful. There was a crystal clear clarity of message; both timeless and delicious!

The blanks started to fill … the clouds began to lift. I remembered an email from Stacy at PaleoParents.com, asking if I’d like to review their upcoming cookbook. Being both honored by the request, and a lover of food … I quickly agreed. HERE IT WAS!

I really don’t know what I pictured when I agreed to it, but this was much bigger in scale than I’d originally envisioned, to be sure. Let’s just say that … opening it … it made an impression! Inside was a lovely little note with fun facts about pork, as well as some literature on the book and “why it be”. It, like the book, was also warm and welcoming. The only thing they really could’ve done to impress me further would’ve been to wrap it in some butcher paper!

I set aside a date to really sit and absorb it. The more than 2 1/2 lb. book retails for about $35.00. This is a wildly different animal than the little freebie eBooks I peruse on Amazon every day. I wanted to give this as serious a treatment as I’m able to, both out of respect for Stacy and Matt, but also for my audience.

2 days ago, I curled up with the book, ready to dig in and absorb all its wisdom (and it IS a wise book!).

First, I was greeted with quotes from chefs, farmers and writers, including my favorite coined by the author, herself, “Praise the LARD!” I was then quickly swept up in Joel Salatin’s foreward, suggesting a strong DIY (Do It Yourself) mantra be lived in the day-to-day life. Something sorely lacking in the hire-it-out, virtual assistant, big box store world in which we live. If you don’t know who Joel Salatin is … look him up. I saw a movie largely focused on him about a year ago … if memory serves, he was introduced as a “crazy renegade farmer”. It’s weird to think that this borderline agri-prophet is just suggesting things like “do things that allow the pig its inherent ‘pigness'”. His radical suggestions amaze, leaving one to feel bewildered by the suggestions’ strong roots in “common sense”.

Anywhoo … having Joel start your book is an impeccable start!

The book goes on to present itself as a love letter to pork … and it is! It romanticizes and respects the animal, the history and the breeds, without ever getting cutesy. I mean … we ARE going to eat them, aren’t we? This book is about the animal, the whole animal, the animals’ lives and well-being, their place on the planet and finally the meat … the wonderful tasty flesh, snout to tail!

An overview is presented of purchasing a whole hog, or … perhaps a half of one. Various geography maps of swine anatomy are presented, along with a list of questions to ask yourself, the butcher, friends and/or a farmer leading up to the moment of acquisition. The history of pork is presented, as well as the logic supporting why pork is just so fantastically awesome!

Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s the least expensive pastured and sustainably raised meat, by the lb.
  • It’s delicious.
  • Bacon.
  • Virtually none if it will go to waste, from the organ meats, to the bones, skin and trotters!

… well … I don’t want to give it all away. It suffices to say, there are many more reasons. Read the book!

The book continues henceforth respecting the animal’s virtues, nutrition values and its place in our bellies. Then! … the book really gets cooking! It covers a few of the more “special’ cooking techniques which will be employed by the book. What I find so interesting about this is that the “special” techniques are the oldest known to man: cooking over fire and braising (basically letting stuff gurgle in liquid for hours at a time).

The remainder of the book contains 100 gorgeously photographed recipes. DO NOT READ IF YOU’RE HUNGRY! The book is written in a tantalizing vocabulary, placed alongside the kind of photos which transport you to a picnic table at your grandmother’s farm … or that time you got lost in Iowa and stopped for a bite at this quaint little out of the way shack, only to find it the best meal in years.

Many of the recipes are positively inspired, too! There is a Vietnamese Pho using chitterlings (small intestines) as the noodles. Clever! I was also thrilled to see a banana leaf wrapped tamale. Numnumnumnum! What’s a good all-around pork cookbook without something sweet, you ask? A dessert of sow? How about a home cured and dried Prosciutto with Roasted Peach Ice Cream? Yes, please. What about Maple Pecan Lard Scones? Lard … in a Maple Pecan Scone? I say … OH YEAH!

This book travels through the animal, making head cheese of the skull, brining and smoking the belly for bacon, rendering lard from the fat, stock from the bones and making sausage, meatballs and other tasty treats with the ground pork gained during the purchase of a whole hog.

No waste … nothing is left behind. Everything but the oink!

In the end, the book is not totally without its faults. I absolutely love the book and feel its amongst one of the most beautiful in my collection. Alas, I do wish they’d spent a little more time discussing the butchering process, with actual photographs of the various cuts. However, probably my biggest beef (ha!) with the book is related to the ground pork. It is suggested that some 30 lbs. of ground pork will be included with purchase of a whole hog, but without much mention of its origin. How much is fat? Does it include the retina?

Sausages, meatballs and meatloaves make quite a few appearances, but can be quite fussy depending on how much fat is held within them. Sausages can be particularly particular, having a gritty and mealy texture if the fat content isn’t emulsified into the meat AND … within a specific ratio. 1 lb. “ground pork”, to my eye … is simply not enough information. Many may only purchase ground pork from the store and might run into trouble, when a little extra fatback ground into the chilled meat would make a huge difference in the quality of the final keilbasa. This omission may lead to lots of mealy sausage and crumbly loaves of meat.

I also felt that the book was HEAVY. Perhaps it wasn’t intended to be read in one sitting, but I look at a book like the progression of a meal. It should start light, and with introductions. It should dance around with a bit of levity before getting deep into the meat. The resolution should be sweet and conclusive. While I realize it’s a book about meat and wonderful, chin dripping fat … lettuce, radiant tomatoes or sweet summer berries made surprisingly few appearances. The stage set for me was largely of winter and fall, a time resplendent with good foods, but by the 40th recipe, I was looking for a small ray of sunshine …

Pork can be quite delicious with a lighter preparation.

No single book can ever contain all the information. There does come a time to call it a day, put a pin in it and decide that the book is “just awesome” as is … and it certainly is. A good book leaves you wanting something more. Here’s to hoping there’s a “Beyond Bacon II: Electric Boogaloo”!

On a scale of 1 to 10: 8.4

I’d buy it and I love that I own it!

For my audience, who are largely on the lower end of the carb spectrum, things you may look for are nutrition information and sugar-free recipes. The recipes do not contain nutrition facts. Sugar, honey and maple syrup are used, but not with sickening glee, like so many other Paleo entries. The sugar is addressed and respectfully used … with purpose. For the most part, these can be replaced with your own favorite sweeteners. Easily 90% of the book holds a wonderful value for you.

Just a solid effort. Great book. Beautiful.

Thank you Matt and Stacy for bringing this magnificent book to the world!

I’m a Big Chicken

I’ve never done anything like this review, before. Because my review was just short of glowing, I wanted to makes sure that I wasn’t burning a bridge with the Paleo Parents. They just seem like great people and I think it’s important to maintain good relationships, all around. I sent them an advance copy of my review, in case they wanted it smoked and braised. I would never have changed it, but I would have not printed it, if they didn’t like it. Say good things … or say nothing at all, I suppose. Unsurprisingly, they said … Go for it! However, they did have one note, which I think is important to attach.

Stacy responded, “To address your 2 issues: we wrote the book to be Autumnal intentionally (and release it at that time) because that is when pigs go to slaughter, so we tried to make it somewhat seasonal. And it’s a great point that we should have clarified as much, but most ground pork anyone can buy (even from their farmer) does not state % of fat, so even if we stated our recommended % (which honestly we’ve never done for processing so this was a surprisingly good thought for us) someone wouldn’t be able to figure out if theirs was correct since farmers and stores don’t often label it. I always thought this was because parts of pigs can be so fatty naturally it’s not a straight % mix of fat v. muscle but I’ll be asking my purveyor soon!”

Thanks for the additional information, Stacy!

The book is being released tomorrow, July 2nd, 2013. If you’d like to buy an advanced copy, Amazon is currently offering a 27% discount! I don’t know how long that will last. Click the image below to pre-order and lock in your price while it lasts!

In closing, reviews are the life blood of books on sites like Amazon. Take the time to write a review, to help the book if you support the authors, and/or to let future purchasers know what they can expect, even if you don’t!

Blog Update 2000

I just counted my recipes the other day. There are about 330 of them. WOW! This suggests that I’ve added a recipe to my website, every single day for 330 consecutive days!

WHEW! Blogging is HARD!

At this point, my tiny blog has grown to be a little one. Some day, I hope to be a medium sized one! In order for me to achieve this, I need to restructure some of the things I do. At this point, easily half of my day is just chatting/sharing on Facebook and/or responding to emails. It’s important to me that people know I’m available and that I care, but it’s also a challenge keeping up with it all.

This past month I coordinated a REALLY excellent collection of recipes for the fourth book in the best selling Low Carbing Amongst Friends cookbook series. As a result, I was unable to cook much and have slipped behind. July is going to be almost ALL kitchen time. I’ve got well over 100 dishes slated for the month of July!

What’s my point? Evolution of the blog! There are many other pursuits I’d like to bake into the DJ Foodie experience, such as books and video! I also feel the quality of my writing and recipes have suffered as I’ve grown, of late.

I think this is my way of saying … I think I’m planning on doing a better job … less often! I love this blog and I love that it’s growing. I think I’m in that restructuring period that will help push me to the next level. With your support and appreciation, I hope to continue blogging for years!

Translation: I plan to slack for about a month. I’ll do my best, but it might get a bit choppy!

~ DJ

Chicken Puttanesca

Chicken PuttanescaNot all recipes start as a fairy tale (unless, of course, that particular fairy tale is “Pretty Woman“). Some historic or traditional recipes exist out of necessity, be it for speed, available ingredients, perseveration, the masking of rotten flavors, tenderizing, etc.

Pollo alla Puttanesca literally means, “Whore’s Style Chicken”. It’s essentially just chicken with “Sugo alla Puttanesca” (Whoreish Sauce); a sauce draped over the top of it. The sauce is a mixture of tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and chili flakes. If you’re a bit squeamish of the anchovies … bacon bits will do in a pinch!

Over the years, I’ve heard MANY stories about the origin of the name, ranging from being named for the aroma of Italy’s “ladies of the evening” to it being an accumulation of leftovers that would collect, to being something that the prostitutes would quickly assemble between appointments. There are also tales of this being something tossed on the ladies of pleasure as they walked through the night time alleys, shouting “puttana, puttana!”

There are also stories of it being a relatively new recipe, with written examples of it only going back about 50 years! There are those that believe it’s a name twisted from the word “puttana”, which today means “prostitute” in Italian, but its origin lies in the latin “putus”, meaning “boy”. From this etymology comes the word “puttanesco”, meaning “lower than” … as in “boyish, girlish, whoreish, etc.” It implies a lower status, while not necessarily meaning “prostitute”. It could be interpreted, then, that the name simply means a sauce made from humble ingredients.

Whatever the case … whatever the origin … it is, no doubt, a tasty dish!

Preparation Note: This recipe goes quickly, so have everything chopped and ready to go, before you even start heating the pan.

Photo Note: Served over a bed of zoodles.


Garlicky Baby Broccoli with Bacon

Garlicky Baby Broccoli with BaconThere’s a vegetable out there called rapini, broccoli raab and/or broccoletti, which kind of looks like broccoli, but is more closely related to the turnip. It’s my understanding that it’s quite common in southern Italian cooking. I remember cooking it in culinary school and I’ve seen it handful of times in various restaurants. I remember a time when I could find it in the grocery store. I never really sought it out, as it’s INCREDIBLY bitter, which doesn’t really jive too well with my palate. Even cooked down, it’s still very bitter. It’s edible and fine, but … far from my favorite. HOWEVER! In reading about it, I realized it’s an almost totally “free food” for a low-carb lifestyle. In fact, really, any diet, anywhere, is going to say, “You can eat as much rapini as you can stomach”. Even the famous Jack Lalanne was quoted as saying, “If it tastes good, spit it out!”. I went on the prowl to track down some broccoli raab, with the plan to make something yummy and plentiful. Alas, I could not find it!

Everywhere I looked … it wasn’t there!

In place of where I feel rapini USED to be, was a new vegetable. This is one I’ve never really seen before. They must have invented it, while I was tanning down in Mexico for near 10 years. Upon my return, imagine my surprise to learn of a whole new vegetable! This one is being called “Baby Broccoli” or “Broccolini”. It looks VERY similar to rapini, but it isn’t rapini. It also isn’t baby broccoli! Not really, anyway … it’s a cross between a Chinese vegetable called “gai-lan” and regular ol’ broccoli. It’s stalk is longer, totally edible, with smaller florets and the whole thing is just a bit sweeter. It looks like it’s really becoming quite popular. Even the Jolly Green Giant is making a play!

So, feeling a bit dejected, I grabbed a package of fresh Broccolini and headed home. I wanted to make something simple, but tasty. That usually involves bacon. But, I wanted to take it one step further … GARLIC!

So, I made my little garlic chips, added some bacon, then sautéed the raw broccolini in the sweet and salty crunchy blend of ingredients. Added a little salt and pepper … BEST BOWL OF BABY BROCCOLI EVER! You’ll notice that I’ve sort of adopted it as a new base for many … MANY of my recipes. I LOVE IT, SO!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have quite the same carb profile as rapini. It’s closer to regular broccoli, from a nutritional standpoint. So, you can eat a big bowl of it, but … if you’re me … probably not two!


Roasted Kabocha Squash

Roasted Kabocha SquashKabocha Squash are AWESOME! While they’re not super easily found, they CAN be found! There’s an Asian market in Seattle where I can always find them. I’ve also spotted them at a variety of Farmer’s Markets. While this Cambodian squash is largely considered a winter squash, they can be found year round.

Kabocha are a super discovery for a few reasons:

  • They’re on the sweet side, even sweeter than a butternut squash, but with significantly less carbs. With the seeds removed and cut into cubes, a full cup has 7 carbs and 1 gram of fiber, for a total of only 6 net carbs!
  • The flavor is spectacular. Imagine a smooth and creamy cross between a pumpkin, sweet potato and a russet potato. It’s like some kind of gift from the low-carb gods!
  • They’re a manageable size and the rind is completely edible! It’s not like a pumpkin or butternut squash, where the peel must be removed. These are totally edible! (that said, I do peel them, from time to time)

The kabocha in this recipe is cut in half, the seeds were scooped out, then I cut wedges. From there, I tossed the wedges in bacon fat, erythritol, bacon bits and spices. These have a dense and smoky taste, with a bit of sweet and some complex spice.


Note: This method can be applied to many winter squash, but the carb counts will likely go up and the rind may not be edible, but for those with higher tolerances to carbs … go for it!

Nutrition Note: Kabocha info is based off of 4 cups of kabocha cubes, for 1/2 cup per person. Nutrition info is not in USDA database. It is an educated guess, but one which is close and honorably presented.


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