beef, veal, pork and lamb

Pig: King of the Southern Table pork recipes head to tail

James Villas, photo courtesy of Wiley Two of my beloved sayings involve a favorite food source and Southern comfort food -- the humble pig and the fruit of its loins, if you will.

Root hog or die.  This phrase is never far from my mind in times of crisis. Simply put, you must do whatever it takes to survive in this world. 

Take a bite of that barbecue and let me kiss them greasy lips. This quote needs no real explanation other than this: certain foods act as an aphrodisiac.

All this talk of survival and sex is one way of introducing yet another of my favored pastimes - reading cookbooks about foods I adore. While I enjoy beef and chicken, it's the other white meat that I truly enjoy for its versatility and for its long history on spits and grills the world over.

Fellow Southerner James Villas, a culinary expert who was food and wine editor for Town & Country magazine for 27 years, recently published PIG: King of the Southern Table, the complete compendium of pork cookery. 

PIG (Wiley, May 2010, 424 pp, US$34.95) covers the familiar recipes - devoting a lengthy chapter solely to the often controversial preparation of barbecue, its sauces and rubs - as well as the obscure (to some) recipes featuring variety and specialty meat, the polite term for the organ meats and odd bits often deemed unfit for the table. 

In true Southern fashion, Villas, a two-time recipient of James Beard Journalism awards with 15 cookbook titles to his credit, leaves nothing but the squeal uncooked.  He included recipes for Tennis Ball Salad with Salt Pork-Buttermilk Dressing (the precursor to the Iceberg wedge slathered in roquefort dressing), Bacon Waffles, and Carolina Pork and Sweet Potato Pie with Biscuit Batter Crust.

While his recipes were mostly familiar and traditional, the kind of country comfort food you'd find dished up everyday as well as for Sunday dinner, there were a few which I'd never heard of such as the intriguing Texarcana Pork and Bean Pie with Cornpone Topping or the savory  Baked Pork Loin with Fig-Citrus Stuffing.

Villa's recipe for Hog's Head Stew reminded me of New Year's Day when I was 12 and my father insisted I help cook a hog's head as part of the traditional dinner celebrating the first day of the new calendar. Villas  is correct; it is an acquired taste.  

For the uninitiated, the cookbook author includes a Southern Pig Primer: From Head to Tail, with delectable descriptions of the choice parts of the pig and their uses as well as A Southern Pig Glossary, with brief and delicious descriptions of the delicacies prepared from pig.

PIG is more than just a collection of pork recipes; it tells a tale of culture, cuisine and technique through  its memoir-laced introduction and well-versed headnotes. As an added treat, he includes factual tidbits and pig lore, referred to throughout as Pig Pickin's.

Lucy Schaeffer's food photography is a luscious side dish to the main course.

Meals in minutes: meatballs or polpette

Meatballs with mushroom gravy

Everybody cheats on occasion.  It's easy to grab a bag of frozen meatballs, brown them, then sauce and serve. 

The question for me is why. Meatballs or polpette are the easiest quick meal - and if you plan ahead, you can make extra to freeze.


That way when you get home exhausted and wonder what's for dinner, you'll just have to reach in the freezer for a better meatball - homemade instead of store-bought.

For every meatball recipe you can imagine from Swedish to classic Italian, check out


Roast beef and turkey redux: what to do with the leftovers

Before: A lovely rib roast

It's the season of leftovers.  From Thanksgiving to New Year's, there are big dinners and that means lots of food to re-heat or re-invent.

Re-heating leftovers is easy, but not particularly interesting. In fact, after about one re-heat, the entire food situation begins to look desperately boring.

Whether you cooked a turkey or a rib roast like the one I served Christmas Day, there are lots of opportunities for delectable re-invented meals that go beyond the usual sandwiches.

Soups and stews are go-to recipes for leftover meats (and I always recommend cubing some of that turkey or beef and freezing it for soups or stews later). You can also use cubed or diced meats for a hearty Cobb-style salad as a quick meal.

A Mexican-style lasagna of layered flour tortillas, diced turkey, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and a roasted poblano chili sauce spices up an ordinary after the holidays meal.  This dish makes a fantastic one dish brunch or dinner meal served with a green salad garnished with avocado.After: Beef Pot Pie

With a homemade pie crust (or store bought, if you must) and some chopped root vegetables and mushrooms, leftover beef or turkey can be transformed into a savory and meaty pot pie just like Mom used to make - and infinitely better than a frozen version.



serves 6


1 cup diced beef or turkey

1 cup chopped mushrooms

1 cup diced carrots

1  medium potato, diced

1 medium sweet potato, diced

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup diced onions

1 cup beef or chicken stock

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Prepared pie crust or puff pastry


In a large casserole, mix diced meat, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, peas and onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix stock with cornstarch and pour over the meat and vegetable casserole.  Cover with prepared pie crust and vent with three vertical slashes.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until crust is browned and sauce has thickened and bubbly.


serves six


6 flour tortillas

1 cup diced turkey

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup diced or canned tomatoes (drained)

1/2 cup diced green onions

1 cup roasted poblano sauce


for the poblano sauce

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 poblano pepper, roasted and seeded

salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pan, combine milk and butter. Stirring continuously, bring the milk and butter to almost boiling. Whisk in the cornstarch and continue stirring until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and pour into a blender. Add roasted poblano, then pulse until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium-sized casserole, spread a thin layer of poblano sauce, then top with strips of tortilla (each tortilla can be cut lengthwise in quarters to make serving easier), followed by diced chicken, tomatoes, onions and grated cheese. Repeat the layering process, ending with grated cheese.

Bake in oven, preheated to 350 degrees, for 45 minutes or until bubble and cheese is melted. Allow to sit for five minutes before cutting and serving.

My boyfriend, the butcher makes Saturday night dinner just right

Saturday night's delish dish

I like to look.  At the grocery, that is.

When I'm shopping for food, I'm in no particular hurry. Unless, I'm shopping for a particular menu, I usually don't carry a list.  I know what I want when I see it.

This is no problem for me shopping solo, but if I'm marketing with anyone else - my son, my mother, or any other person who isn't as happy in the kitchen as I am - the going can be tough. I hate to be rushed, so if I'm shopping with anyone who sticks to a list and does a cart dash through the market, I'm more than a little annoyed.

The same goes for when I'm cooking.  Join me in the kitchen for a glass of wine and a chat, but stay out from under foot and - please - don't second guess my seasonings or method.  I won't tell you how to cook in your kitchen and unless I ask, I don't want you telling me how to cook in mine.

Old habits are hard to break.

So when I found myself in front of the butcher's counter at Whole Foods this week, I was doing what I normally do - eying the meat, checking out its color and its texture, making note of its price, basically enjoying the overabundant display.  There's a reason excessive and gorgeous displays of food are dubbed 'food porn.'

One of the reasons I like Whole Foods is the staff is attentive and knowledgeable, although, for me, sometimes too much attention is worse than not enough.  My boyfriend, the butcher, for instance was quick to ask if I needed assistance - not once but twice in the span of five minutes. The third time he asked, I finally woke up and realized he was flirting.  

Please don't flirt with me over the meat counter.  I can't think about possible dates over a bloody cut of meat. Too much multi-tasking.  Plus, my mother was hovering.

None of this was lost on my mother the matchmaker, who despite marrying me off unsuccessfully one or two times before, would still like to see me linked up with some eligible someone. But I really just wanted a lamb roast.  Besides, my mother's matchmaking record is not so great.

Even if my boyfriend the butcher struck out, he gave terrific customer service. I got a lovely boneless roast, hand cut just right for Saturday night dinner. Maybe I ought to reconsider the man behind the meat counter.

Boneless Lamb Roast with Carrots, Parsnips & Brussel Sprouts

serves six

2-3 pound boneless lamb roast

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh Italian oregano, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

3 carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes

3 parsnips, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes

12 brussel sprouts

1. Rub the outside and the center of the roast with the kosher salt and ground pepper.

2. Mix garlic and fresh herbs, then rub the mixture over the roast and in the center. 

3. Place the roast in a glass baking dish and pour the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar over the roast. Cover and marinate over night.

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Arrange vegetables around the roast and add 1/2 cup of water to the baking dish. Cover and cook 20 minutes per pound for medium rare (140 degrees on the meat thermometer), 25 minutes per pound for medium (160 degrees), and 30 minutes per pound for well done (170 degrees).

Saturday night eat-in: Pernil asado or roast pork with spicy saffron rice

Comfort food for the homesick NYer

Since we've moved to North Carolina, I've been craving Latin food.

There's a large Hispanic community here, but (despite the welcome sight of a Taco Truck) I've yet to find cocina casero like you find on every street corner in NYC.

When you're handed a big bag of lemons, you start making lemonade. 

So, this week's recipe for Saturday night eat-in is a quick and dirty version of pernil asado. Click here to see video instructions for another version.

Pair this meal with a youthful and fresh Portuguese Vinho Verde.

Leftovers can be used to make super delicious Cubanos, meaty and magnificent heroes made with roast pork, ham, swiss cheese and dill pickles on Cuban rolls.

Mighty good eating, I say.




Yummy pork deliciousness

* 2 teaspoons ground cumin

 * 4 cloves garlic, chopped

* 1 teaspoon salt

* 1 teaspoon dried oregano

* 1/2 cup orange juice

* 1/2 cup dry sherry

* whole fresh lime, juiced

* zest of  fresh lime

* 1 tbs cilantro, chopped

4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed and tied


Mix all marinade ingredients in a glass or non-reactive metal mixing  bowl. Place the pork in a large resealable plastic bag and then pour citrus marinade over meat, and seal.

Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning the bag over occasionally to thoroughly marinate the pork roast.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Transfer pork and marinade to a roasting pan, and place in the oven.  Roast uncovered for half an hour, then cover and continue to oast for about an hour and 45 minutes, basting with pan juices occasionally, or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).

Add small amounts of water to the pan if it dries out.

Roast uncovered to crisp the pork roast, then transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

For quick and easy sides, serve with Mahatma spicy saffron rice and seasoned pinto beans.

Serves 8-10.

It's sauce season: ragu di carne

A big pot of simmering sauce

If the temperature dips even slightly below 70 at night, Iam ready to rattle my pots and pans to make hearty meat sauces and soups. It's not that I don't make sauces and soups in the warmer months, it's simply that there is something idyllic for me about simmering a large pot of sauce or soup on a long, cool afternoon or evenig.

Yesterday I made a ragu di carne in the Bolognese tradition. This meat sauce originates in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. It is both familiar and comforting, and can be served with pasta - fresh or dry - as well as polenta and gnocchi. 

Variations of this sauce may be made with prosciutto, porcini or chicken livers.

Ragu di carneKey ingredients

3 oz pancetta

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 stalk celery

1 small carrot

1 small onion

l/2 lb. ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1 tbs Italian seasoning mix (I bought mine in the Campo dei Fiori, but you can find yours at any well-stocked grocer or make your own.)

1/4 teas red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup broth

1/2 oz butter

1 tbs tomato paste

1 32-ounce can crushed tomatoes (or 4-6 large peeled & seeded tomatoes)



Prepare a battuto (finely chopped herb mixture traditionally using a mezzaluna) with pancetta, celery, carrot and onion. Melt butter in a saucepan, add the battuto and the ground meats, brown well, then add the wine and half the broth as well as the Italian seasoning mix and red pepper flakes.

Continue to cook until the liquids are reduced, then add the remaining broth. Reduce again, then add the crushed tomatoes or peeled and seeded tomatoes as well as the tomato paste, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

Cover saucepan and let cook over a medium heat for at least 2 hours. Add the cream, and correct salt and pepper to taste. The sauce is ready to serve over fresh or stuffed pasta.

il Buco celebrates all things pig with Sagra del Maiale, Festival of the Pig

Infiernito-cooked pig & Chef Mattos (center)

il Buco restaurant celebrates its 15th anniversary on Sunday, September 20, 2009, during its sixth annual Sagra del Maiale (Festival of the Pig).

The event, an outdoor pig and apple festival marks the Autumnal Equinox (when day and night are of equal length).

The celebration will take place outside il Buco on Bond Street between Lafayette and Bowery from 1:00 - 8:00pm. Chef Ignacio Mattos and staff will rise before the sun and start a bonfire on Bond Street, where they will slow-roast a 200 pound heritage breed Crossabaw Pig.

Cooked on an infiernillo (literally "little inferno" but more commonly known as "little hell"), the pig slowly roasts between two large iron griddles with an intense wood fire above and below, a method developed by Chef Mattos' South American Mentor, Chef Francis Mallmann.

Throughout the night, Chef Mattos will tend to the flames while encountering late-night passersby for an incredibly fun New York night.

Starting at 1pm, friends and family alike will line up early for a convivial feast of all things pig.

Tickets will be available on-site for $20 per plate. Red and white Wine, Prosecco, Lambrusco, and Wolffer Estates Apple Wine will be $10 per beverage. Beer will be $8.

il Buco works extensively with the Crossabaw Pig, a special hybrid of the a rare breed Ossabaw, a pig from Georgia's coast on Ossabaw Island. The Ossabaw, left by the Spaniards more than a century ago, is a direct descendant of the "Pata Negra", or black-footed pig so treasured for its flavorful meat.

These Ossabaw pigs are raised in the open woods in North Carolina, on a diet of acorns and peanuts, both extremely high in oleic acid, the same fats that make olive oil so healthy. So pig is, indeed, good for you!

Executive Chef Mattos is from Santa Lucia, Uruguay. A protégé of the renowned South American Chef, Francis Mallmann, Ignacio has also worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, Spain's Martín Berasategui, and with Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café.

As Executive Chef of il Buco, a beloved NYC establishment that has been open for 15 years, Ignacio has had the honor of cooking at the James Beard Foundation, has taught cooking classes with the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), the French Culinary Institute (FCI), DeGustibus and The New School and has participated in numerous food events in and around New York City.


Get the grill out: it's burger time on Fourth of July

 Usually when I grill, I get this overwhelming desire to throw every meat imaginable on the fire.

Lately, however, I've taken a more single-minded approach.  I'm thinking about simplicity, about the beauty of a classic: the burger.

It's better burger time! (photo by Ian Brittan, For the Fourth of July, when the skies cloud with blue and aromatic smoke all across these United States, I wanted to share a few burger recipes that I'll be sampling in my quest for the perfect juicy all-meat patty.

I love the rich flavor of lamb and what could be cooler and fresher than a chutney of English cucumber, yogurt and mint. (Epicurious)

Leave it to Emeril to kick it up a notch.  Here's Lagasse's Tuna Burger for the seafood lovers in your crowd.

Of course, the doyenne of domesticity, Martha Stewart, weighs in with this big Best Beef Burger packing little more than the ground chuck. This all-beef biggie is the one for the purists.

Finally, for the artist lurking in the dark heart of my little kitchen, the Scratch Burger. Labor intensive, this recipe takes on every tiny detail from grinding the beef fresh to making the perfect bun. (The Washington Post).

Holiday menu: Rack of Lamb with Artichokes


If you aren't ready for your holiday meal, here's a lovely last minute and super simple yet elegant suggestion from Academia Barilla

The wesbite is a veritable encyclopedia of Italian gastronomic tidbits as well as a market place and cooking school. 

Is there any thing the Italians don't do with understated elegance?

What's for dinner: roasted lamb breast & winter root vegetables


I was in the farmer's market early Saturday morning, buying parsnips and lusting over organic rabbit.

My son discovered that Mr. McGregor did not have Peter Rabbit's best interests at heart as we pondered a bag of freshly dressed bunny. 

While I envisioned braised rabbit with wild mushrooms and perhaps some couscous, my son was busy grilling the market woman on the farmer's means of skinning the rabbit. I grew up around outdoorsman, so I know the drill. It was fun seeing him bridge the gap between what we eat and where it comes from.

The rabbit in 2-3 lbs portions at at $6.99 per pound was out of this week's budget, but will definitely make the menu in coming weeks. If you want your rabbit fresh, buy soon because bunnies apparently get lazy in the summer months, so there are fewer to eat!  You can, however, freeze whole rabbit up to a year and pieces up to nine months.

Since I already had lamb breast, an economical and delightfully delicious cut if a bit fatty, my quest was to pair it with some root vegetables for a meal that all went into the oven while I relaxed on the couch and listened to music.  Along with a few stalks of celery, the parsnips, carrots, and baby potatoes (red, purple, and white) made the cut. 

Parsnips are a new addition to my repertoire and a happy one at that.  I love the flavor - a little sweet, a little nutty.  They played nicely with my other root vegetables and all made fast friends with the lamb. 

Roast Lamb Breast

3-4 pounds lamb breast

1 Tbs kosher salt

4 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves cleaned from the stem & finely minced

1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

At least 24 hours before roasting, clean the lamb breast with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.  Then rub the breast with kosher salt, front and back, following with the garlic and rosemary.

Roasted Parsnips, Carrots  & Potatoes

3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in slices

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut in finger-sized chunks

3 baby purple potatoes, quartered

3 baby white potatoes, quartered

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon herbs of Provence

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup water

In a mixing bowl, coat vegetables with the olive oil, then add salt and herbs. Transfer to a glass, clay baking dish or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Add water. Roast uncovered, tuening gently once or twice during roasting, for 45 minutes to one hour in an oven preheated to 400 degrees Farenheit (200 degrees Celsius).  Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavors.