A Little Science & a Simple Salad Topper

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My family has always had a passion for food.  Growing up, there was always something going on in the kitchen.  Every time we visited my grandparents, grandpa would make his famous enchiladas while grandma baked her homemade cinnamon bread.  My uncles are always posting pictures of a garlic shrimp & wild avocado sandwich with homemade bread or an elegant French dinner or just a simple Swedish meal that our ancestors would have made.  My mom has a heart for baking, cooking, and hosting elaborate dinners for her friends.  My brother is a farmer as well as a trained pastry chef, baking oven full after oven full of delicious sweets each week.  Now, in case you were wondering, I am neither a trained pastry chef nor do I cook for the masses. I do, however, have a passion for cooking and baking.  I have a nutrition minor and a love for science. There’s also the fact that I may have a slight obsession with all things bacon.  I’m also really good at eating.  The more you know…

This Easter some of my family visited KC for the weekend.  My brother, Thomas, flew in from Vermont, and my mom & stepdad drove down from North Dakota. Many hours were spent cooking, baking, drinking coffee, eating, and visiting around the kitchen table.  Of course, we had some famous Kansas City BBQ, but I was also excited to see what types of homemade culinary extravaganzas would be created and enjoyed over the weekend.

One morning, we were able to stop by the local farmer’s market downtown to pick up a few necessities.  Local farmer’s markets are probably on my top 10 best things ever list.  You get to pick up produce that’s the freshest of fresh AND help out the local farmers.  Really, it’s a win for everyone.  The big purchases that day were a couple of bags of greens as well as some of pork rinds.  Obviously I’m a HUGE bacon fan.  Turns out, chicharróns are also a big weakness of mine. I know what you’re thinking…”gross.”  Typically when I mention pork rinds, my friends wrinkle their noses in disgust.  Just try them.  Keep in mind, while the pork bits probably aren’t cooked in the best of oils, I consider them a treat and indulge only once in a while.  Moderation, my friends. The booth at the farmer’s market had a variety of flavors, all of which were sampled by yours truly.  The chili lime pork rinds were pretty legit, if you ask me. But, I digress… Our farmer’s market day was kind of dreary and drizzly, so it wasn’t packed with vendors and booths. It was also early in the season.  Despite the weather, we still spent a couple of hours there, perusing up and down the aisles.  Indian spices, loads of fresh produce, ethnic cafes, bakeries, flowers… It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.  Free samples and free smells.

As I mentioned earlier, my family really loves to cook.  In his carry on cooler bag, my brother packed some pork belly, bacon, pork chops, sausage, and eggs…all of which were straight from the farm. His farm.  Farm fresh eggs and pasture raised heritage pork. The flavor and quality are unlike any other.  It’s hard to buy stuff like that in the store when you’re treated to such decadent goodies from the farm.  When you pay a few extra bucks for meat/produce, you end up with quality.

In the days leading up to Easter, my brother came up with an amazing Easter dinner.  He planned to prepare porchetta, which is basically garlic, toasted fennel, rosemary, and s&p rolled up in a savory, juicy, and deliciously fatty slab of pork belly. This monster is then cooked in the oven for a handful of hours on low heat then higher heat at the end.

I don’t know about you, but I have finally figured out that the fat is the most delicious part of the meat.  Again, many people turn up their noses at fat or cut it off and set it aside.  Personally, it’s my favorite part.  While some fat, like chicken fat, isn’t super flavorful, other fat is.  A delicious grilled ribeye steak or this porchetta, for example.  The meat and fat go perfectly together.  There’s actually some science behind this called the Maillard Reaction.  As we all know, meat becomes more flavorful as it cooks.  Turns out, the amount of fat in the meat also helps to develop a richer flavor.  Furthermore, when you brown food, there is a chemical reaction between the breaking down of the meat proteins and the sugars, creating the flavors that we all know and love.  Science is delicious.  Am I right?!?  This reaction typically occurs between 300° F and 500°F.  This is why the outside has the punch of flavor more so than the inside.  Now, with this porchetta that my brother made, the seasonings were on the inside, and the pork belly was rolled and tied so the layer of fat was on the outside. Close your eyes and just imagine the taste bud party that went on with each and every single bite.  Hands down, THE most delicious pork fat that I have ever experienced.

Alongside the porchetta, my brother prepared a simple side salad that was light, but also packed with a ton of flavor.  The fresh greens were thrown into the bowl and topped with a little Parmesan cheese and toasted almonds.  Thomas threw together a fantastic vinaigrette that was super simple.  Olive oil, maple balsamic vinegar, mustard, freshly ground pepper, and a little lime juice.  Sadly, we were fresh out of Sriracha.  No worries, the dressing was perfect just as it was.  Last, but most certainly not least, my brother shaved some fresh asparagus and added that atop the salad.  For some reason, this totally blew my mind.  The little asparagus ribbons were super fresh and tender.  They added a pretty cool and refreshing element to the simple salad.   I thought that it was a brilliant idea.  I’m always trying to come up with new ideas on how to get more veggies, especially green things, into my diet.

We thoroughly enjoyed family time as well as feeding time.  I think that some of the best conversations are had around the dinner table.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  – Virginia Woolf

Happy Eating,
The Paleo Paramedic

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