Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Our 4,950 Mile Road Trip: Day 1

Towards the end of July, we set off on a cross country road trip to visit our family in Montana. Last time we did this drive, we only had two kids and one of them (Miss Emma) was the greatest baby in the entire world. We did that drive in one fell swoop by driving almost nonstop for over 24 hours before we couldn't take it any longer and collapsed in the not-so-soft beds of a Miles City, MT motel for a few hours respite before continuing onward with the last eight hours of our journey. This time, however, we are smarter, wiser, older, and know fully well that our youngest child is neither quiet nor content to be strapped in for that long.

So, we properly planned our road trip around several monumental stops so that the tiresome journey would not seem quite so ridiculously long. That was the hope, at least. We planned to spend no more than 11 hours driving each day. After our last cross-country excursion, that seemed totally doable. Again, we weren't really concerned with the older two kids. They are seasoned travelers. Lucy was the loose cannon in this whole scenario. We knew it was going to be rough with her. We used to joke that she was the quietest baby in the world because during the first few months of her life her cry was so pathetically soft and even when she began talking her words were barely whispered. Now, however, she is putting that big mouth of hers to good use and can scream so loud that I am surprised my windows don't shatter. She's a beast.

The morning of our trip, we piled everything (and everyone!) into our Subaru Forester and drove to Mishawaka, IN to spend the night with my brother Raymond and his wife Mary. We planned this so we could easily reach our next destination of Sioux Falls, SD in an easy 11 hour drive. This would be the single longest day of our westbound journey. The trip to Mishawaka was a little over six hours and the kids were fantastic. No noise, no complaining, no screaming, no begging for snacks. I don't think there was a single bathroom break. Lucy slept the whole time. Paul and I thought, for sure, that this was indicative of how well they would handle the rest of the journey.

Oh, that was so not the case.

The following morning, we snuck out of Ray and Mary's home and headed out around 6:00 AM. We planned to eat all our breakfasts on the road by loading up on granola bars and Belvita biscuits. The kids, of course, whined about this and Matthew grumbled, "I wanted eggs!" We ignored and drove.

And drove and drove and drove.

Do you know the most boring states to drive through are Illinois and Iowa? Seriously, they are. Everything looks the same.

We only stopped twice during the entire drive that day. One of our stops was at The World's Largest Truck Stop. Yes, that's a thing. Located right off of Interstate 80 near Walcott, Iowa, this rest stop is really large, really clean, and has really good coffee. The kids enjoyed looking around at the various little shops scattered throughout the complex. There was a large store with supplies, clothing, entertainment, and equipment for truck drivers that even featured several full-sized trucks on display that the kids could climb on and pretend to drive. They all enjoyed that - even Lucy! Obviously, I took way too many pictures of the kids walking around this place but it felt like a stroll through heaven after spending way too many hours crammed into the hot car. We spent about 30 minutes wandering around there before Paul and I bought the largest cup of coffee we could find and then packed everyone back into the car. Lucy put up quite a fuss as we strapped her back into the car seat. She did NOT want to go back in there. But, onward we drove.

My review of the World's Largest Truckstop? A nice break from the monotony of driving, but I wouldn't go jumping into your car right now to check out this landmark.

Our next stop was outside another rest area located an additional three hours further into Iowa. This rest area featured a large wind turbine planted vertically in the ground that Paul geeked out about. There was also a small play area that the kids rushed for even though the temperatures were blisteringly high. We let them play in the scorching sun and run around like little escaped convicts who were finally set free from their cells after a long sentence.

If you look close, you can see Matthew right next to the wind turbine propeller.
It gives some perspective of just how big those wind turbines are!

At this point, we were only an additional three hours or so from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, our destination for the evening, and Paul was anxious to just finally make it there. So, everyone piled back in once more and we made that final haul.

We did stop at one scenic lookout point just to see what scenery they wanted us to look at so badly that they created that sign. I was the only one who climbed the tower and quickly snapped the following picture.

And then, we finally made it to Sioux Falls! The best part about leaving so early and taking so few stops, was that we were able to make it to our destination early enough that we could grab a quick dinner and then explore the city a bit. After a fantastic dinner of pizza and salad, we headed to see the namesake of this cute little town - the Sioux Falls themselves! When we arrived at the park, we were astonished to find hundreds of people wandering about. We did not expect Sioux Falls to be that hot of a tourist spot! However, after closer inspection, we realized that most of the people wandering about were staring numbly at their phones as they played Pokemon Go. Oh, the insanity! In the words of my wise brother-in-law Steven: "At least they are outside!"

The kids really enjoyed wandering about the falls. There were some great photo opportunities thanks to the beautiful backdrop.

At one point, the kids and I were looking out over the steepest drop in the falls and a man hopped over the railing to get closer to the water and capture a better picture. The kids, after seeing him, wanted to do the same, but I pointed to the signs posted about the dangers of jumping the guardrail and explained that it was not safe to disobey the rules. Emma was especially eyeing the man closely with narrowed eyes as he carefully balanced near the end of the falls, snapping photos. When he finally came back up and climbed over the guardrail, she immediately headed over and, with her hands cheekily placed on her hips, chastised him: "You're not supposed to be doing that! You could get killed. You need to follow the rules!" He shot her a dirty look and I quickly snatched her up and carried her away. Little Miss Sassy-Pants.

That evening, we stayed in a guestroom rented out of a local retirement community that is one of a chain of communities across the United States founded by one of Paul's uncles. The community in Sioux Falls was built on the grounds of the 1880s-era All Saint School for Girls and features an extensive, impeccably landscaped campus and a massive main building displaying some of the unique historical architecture of the original institution. The room in which we stayed, for example, was the original bell tower of the school and if you peer up into the ceiling of one of the alcoves, you can see where the bell hung at one point over a century ago. The kids thought that was incredible!

Everyone slept well in comfortable beds as we prepared for following day's journey, which would take us through Mount Rushmore and end on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.

Day 2 is coming up next!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chiles Rellenos Casserole

Paul and I were overjoyed to find fresh Hatch Chile Peppers from Hatch, New Mexico in our grocery store this week. If you have never tried a hatch chile and you don't mind a bit of heat, you must try to find some for they are simply incredible. With an undeniably robust flavor and an impressive level of heat, these chiles are fantastic roasted and added to just about everything, from a mix-in for guacamole to a topping for burgers. When Paul and I found them in stores, we bought way too many because ever since we tried a Hatch Chile Salsa last summer, we have been positively hooked! We have never been able to find them near us until this week! Thankfully, the chiles can be frozen so we plan to roast and peel a whole bunch of them this weekend and then carefully freeze them for use all year long. We might be Hatch Chile addicts.

Not a Hatch Chile addict. She's a candy addict.
The first dish we prepared with our treasured Hatch Chiles were these Green Chile Cheeseburgers. We savored every bite even as the tears streamed down our faces from the heat. After eating the burgers, I was already planning our next meal: my favorite Hispanic dish of all time, Chiles Rellenos. True, authentic Chiles Rellenos take quite a bit of time to make because each pepper is stuffed individually with cheese and meat (or just cheese if I had my preference) and then coated in an egg batter, fried, and served atop a spicy tomato-based sauce. As much as I love a good Chiles Rellenos, I'm also a bit lazy and busy with all the kids so if I have a casserole option for a dish I'm craving, I am more than willing to take that route.

I originally saw a recipe for Chiles Rellenos Casserole in an issue of Cook's Country about five years ago. At the time, I honestly thought, judging by the picture, that the dish looked kind of gross. However, while thinking about making Chiles Rellenos this week, the memory of that recipe popped back into my head, so I dugged the magazine out of my archives and decided to give it a try.

Boy, am I glad that I did.

Although it is an ugly dish a difficult to photograph, it is incredibly delicious and truly captures the flavor of an authentic Chiles Rellenos. My house smelled incredibly while I was preparing the meal and my eyes singed as I sauteed the peppers, onions, and beef together from all the spice flying back into my face. I should have broken out the old chemistry goggles when preparing this! I loved the flour, milk, and egg white batter that was poured over the top. After baking, it created a crispy shell that brilliantly mimics the crispy egg coating on an authenitic chile relleno. Very, very clever! I used a little less than half the meat called for in the recipe and I thought there was plenty. For me, the highlight of this dish are the fantastic peppers and the cheese!

If you can't find Hatch Chiles, substitute Poblanos or Anaheims! This will still be incredible!

And no, our kids are not adventurous enough to join us in our Hatch Chile-eating frenzy. They enjoyed plain cheese quesadillas for dinner and were more than happy with that. They think we are crazy for liking our spicy food. Matthew shook his head the entire time we were raving about our dinner and kept repeating: "Spicy peppers are not good for first-graders!"

Maybe not, but they are so, so good for grown-ups!

Chiles Rellenos Casserole
from Cook's Country

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped fine
2 pounds 90% lean ground beef
4 Hatch Chiles, seeded if desired and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (10oz) can Ro-Tel tomatoes, drained
10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups), divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk (preferably skim)
2 large egg whites

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in beef, breaking up meat into small pieces, and cook until no longer pink, 8-10 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer beef mixture to paper towel lined plate.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.

Add chilies and cook over medium-high heat until browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Stir in beef mixture, garlic, cumin, 3/4 teaspoon salt, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes and cook until beef mixture is dry, about 1 minute.  Off heat, stir in 2 cups Monterey Jack.  Scrape mixture into 13 x 9 baking dish, pressing into an even layer.

Combine flour, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl.  Slowly whisk milk into flour mixture until smooth: set aside.  Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip ell whites on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute.  Increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Whisk one-third whipped egg whites into batter then gently fold in remaining whites, 1 scoop at a time, until combined.

Pour batter over the beef mixture.  Bake until topping is light golden and puffed, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Blueberry-Lemon Zucchini Bread

Another blueberry recipe? Really? Sorry not sorry. I look forward to blueberry season all year. Plus, this recipe incorporates Matthew's favorite vegetable, the humble zucchini.

Why does Matthew like zucchini so much? Frankly, I have no idea. We really struggled getting him to eat vegetables during the first few years of his life, but for some reason he really loves raw vegetables of all types right now. And I mean completely raw. Raw carrots, tomatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, red bell peppers, he loves them all. However, if you cook any of those veggies or chop them up really small and throw them in a sauce or a salad, suddenly he grows suspicious. It makes no sense.

Right before we left Montana, Matthew helped Grandma Nistler harvest a very large zucchini from her garden. It was an impressively large zucchini and Matthew became so attached to it that he begged us to let him bring it on our car trip home so he could "eat some of it as a snack." We talked him out of it and, after a few parting kisses to his beloved veggie, he left it behind on Grandma's counter. I hope Grandma washed it really well after Matthew's hands and lips were all over it.

When we arrived home from our Montana trip, I was delighted to find that our neighbor had gifted us a very large zucchini from his garden. Some day, I will actually get up the courage to try growing my own zucchini. I would love to be one of those people who have an endless supply of zucchini and have no idea how to use it up. That would be the perfect problem to have, in my opinion. Matthew immediately wanted to slice it up and eat it but I told him that we were going to use it to make zucchini bread.

"Zucchini? In bread? That sounds like so not a good idea!" was Matthew's dejected response. Don't worry kid, you're going to like this. He watched me skeptically, his little nose wrinkled up in disgust, as I grated up his beloved zucchini, wrung it out slightly to remove some of the excess water, and then added it to my bread batter. This take on zucchini bread simply adds a bit of lemon and a generous amount of blueberries to the traditional batter. These loaves become more moist if you let them sit for a good day before eating. The lemon glaze on top is an absolutely perfect finish. The only alteration I made to the original recipe was to incorporate a hefty amount of lemon zest into the sugar before mixing it with the rest of the batter. I really wanted that lemon flavor to permeate the entire loaf of bread, not just the finishing glaze.

Everyone loved this bread and it was a noble use of half our zucchini supply. Even Matthew, my biggest critic, admitted that zucchini bread is pretty good stuff. He ate half a loaf in one sitting. And whatever zucchini I did not use in this recipe, I sliced into rounds and saved for his dinner and made him the happiest kid on the block.

Blueberry-Lemon Zucchini Bread
adapted slightly from The Recipe Critic

For the Zucchini Bread:
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups white sugar
Zest of 1 large lemon
2 cups shredded zucchini, drained and squeezed in a dish towel to remove excess water
3 cups all­-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 pint fresh blueberries

For the Lemon Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Heavy Whipping Cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9x5 loaf pans. I also like to line the bottom with parchment paper.

Rub the sugar together with the lemon zest with a small bowl until the zest releases its oil and the sugar turns very fragrant. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla, and the lemon sugar. Fold in the zucchini. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder,and baking soda in a separate bowl and then add it to the zucchini mixture. Stir until no flour remains. Gently fold in the blueberries. Pour into the prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50-70 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (mine took closer to 65 minutes). Cool for 20 minutes in the pans before removing and transfering to wire racks to cool completely.

Once the bread has cooled, make the lemon glaze by whisking together powdered sugar, lemon juice, and heavy cream. Drizzle on top of the bread.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Blueberry Pie

Today marks the beginning of the very last week of summer for Matthew before he heads back to school to begin his First Grade studies. I am dreading the first day of school. Ever since Matthew started Preschool, the beginning of the school year has been very difficult and emotional for me. While the routine of the school day is appreciated by parents and children alike, I love having little Matthew around all day every day. I think both his sisters will miss him, but more importantly I will miss him so very much. He has truly blossomed this summer into a helpful, loving older sibling and son. He still has his moments, but he has demonstrated a true desire to please and be helpful.

As an example, the other day I was extremely flustered while making Blueberry Pie for our Sunday dessert. Matthew had helped me prepare the pie dough earlier in the day and we decided to actually bake the pie while Paul was out mowing the lawn and Lucy was eating a snack while safely strapped in her high chair. Emma was being a bit of a pain trying to steal and eat the raw pie dough, but we could handle her as long as Lucy was subdued. So, Matthew measured out the blueberries and mixed them together with the sugar while I rolled out the dough for both the bottom and top crust while simultaneously protecting it from the grabbing hands of the three-foot kleptomaniac. Just as we were getting ready to assemble the pie, Lucy began to flip out. I went over to try to appease her, but she kept screaming and crying at the top of her lungs. I got her out of her high chair and tried to distract her with some toys so I could go back and continue assembling the pie. She ended up following me, howling the entire time, and began clutching onto the back of my legs and begging to be held: "Mommy! Mommmeeeeeee!"

I was getting so flustered, especially because I had let the pie dough sit a bit too long and it was being a real pain to roll out. Matthew, seeing my frustration, grabbed Lucy by her torso, took over to the other room, and began to encourage her to play with her Noah's Ark set. My little man bought me just enough time to finish assembling the pie, toss it in the oven, and quickly clean everything up before returning to my typical role as the baby slave. But, do you see? Matthew anticipated my needs and, without even being asked, took control of the situation and aided me in my time of crisis. I will miss him so incredibly much! While out at the library a couple days ago, the librarian asked me if I was excited for the start of the school year. When I answered with an emphatic "NO!" she was very surprised and told me I was the first Mom to say that. I explained to her that I love having Matthew at home and the beginning of the school year is always very emotional for me. I wonder if that will ever change?

The blueberry pie I made with Matthew was entirely his idea. After we did our last round of blueberry picking, Matthew begged and pleaded for me to help him make a pie. I was actually not too wild about the idea of making blueberry pie because I remember not liking it very much at all as a child. Granted, that was about a gazillion years ago and a lot of things have changed since then. I no longer wear my hair in big scrunchies, walk around in dalmatian-patterned wind pants, regard the Hardy Boy mysteries as top shelf reading material, or think Tuna Casserole is the fanciest meal on the planet so perhaps my tastes regarding blueberry pie have changed as well. So, Matthew and I made my favorite pie crust and decided to use a simple filling recipe from Williams-Sonoma (upping the amount of berries called for by quite a bit).

Matthew could not wait to cut into the pie and was rather bummed when I told him that we had to let it cool as long as possible or else the juices would run out when cut. So he waited and waited and as a little special treat for being such a good helper, Paul and I let him stay up a little later than his sisters and enjoy a big piece of pie with us. You should have seen him eat it - he enjoyed, savored, and delighted in each and every bite. The entire time he ate his slice, he kept raving about how much he loved it. He has come a long way from the little boy who would never even touch every pie, cobbler, or crisp I made. He licked his plate clean and asked me to promise to make it for his birthday. I guess someone is getting blueberry pie in the middle of January.

This pie completely changed my opinion about blueberry pie. It was so darn good. We served it a la mode with a scoop of ice cream and that was simply perfect. I loved the small hint of cinnamon that really accented to the blueberries in the filling. At first I was worried that it would clash with the little bit of lemon also added to the filling, but the flavors actually melded together perfectly. I can't stress enough how much every single member of the family enjoyed this pie! And now that I know my kids love pie so much, I really should start making it more often!

Blueberry Pie
filling adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Crust adapted from Cook's Illustrated

For the Crust:
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch slices
½ cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup vodka, cold

¼ cup cold water

For the Filling:
6 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, strained
3⁄4 cup sugar
3 tablespoon cornstarch
1⁄2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Process 1½ cups of the flour, the salt and sugar in a food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 to 15 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and redistribute the dough evenly around the processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a generously floured work surface to a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Ease the dough into the plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with the other hand. Leave any dough that overhangs the plate in place; refrigerate while preparing the filling, at least 30 minutes.

To prepare the filling, place the blueberries in a large bowl, sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to coat evenly. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the berries and toss to distribute evenly. Immediately transfer to the dough-lined pan. Dot with the butter.

Roll out the second half of the pie dough into a 12-inch circle and gently drape over the top of the blueberry filling. Crimp the edges. Using a small, sharp knife, cut six slits in a circular pattern in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape during baking.

Refrigerate the pie until the dough is firm, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 375°F.

Bake the pie until the crust is golden and the filling is thick and bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely to set, at least 2 hours.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Warm Spinach Salad with Roasted Pork Belly

My brother-in-law Peter is quite the character. I have so many brothers-in-law that I love and admire but Peter holds a very special place in my heart because he was one of my best friends before I fell in love and married his identical twin. Some of my fondest memories of college involve Peter and his shenanigans.

Peter would often be seen around Notre Dame's campus in all types of weather wearing flip flops. He had a pair that I swear were glued to his feet. He would be all bundled up in his ski jacket but always wearing that same pair of flip-flops. As a member of the Notre Dame Cycling team, he could also be seen strutting around in his spandex biking uniforms sporting freshly shaved legs. I was, in fact, quite jealous of his shaving technique because he could flawlessly maneuver over the tricky bumps and curves of the ankle area with incredibly skilled precision. Paul used to be so worried that people on campus would mistaken Peter for him - and he most certainly did not want people to think he wore spandex and shaved his legs. Paul also used to joke about how embarrassing it was for him to listen to his identical twin discuss leg shaving techniques with his girlfriend.

Obviously a quirky fellow, Peter has always had a fondness for Asian cuisine and culture. In fact, he owned a fancy rice cooker long before most of us could afford a decent haircut.  He also took a semester of Chinese despite a rigorous schedule of engineering courses and no foreign language requirement to fulfill. He chose the name "Showw-shing" (I am totally butchering the spelling and I'm sure I will hear an earful from Petey about that later) because it translates into "Little Whale." It was always grand entertainment sitting in the common room of Peter's dorm and listening to him practicing his Chinese vocabulary out loud from the confines of his bedroom.

Although he has long since abandoned his attempts to study the Chinese language (he has since been immersing himself in the study of German and is now quite proficient), Peter still loves Asian cuisine. Peter now resides in Los Angeles, a far cry from his remote Montana roots. One of the things he enjoys most about LA is the variety of restaurants at fingertips, particularly the ethnic cuisine. Right before Lucy was born, he was enjoying Korean restaurants the most and had become quite fond of a particular soup. He sent me a recipe for it so I could try to re-create it at home (in our small town we are nowhere near a Korean restaurant) but I was too fat and lazy from my pregnancy at that point to get myself to an Asian grocer and track down all the weird ingredients needed. Well, three weeks later, Lucy arrived and about three days later so did Peter. The following weekend, he and Paul went on a hunt for all the ingredients to make that Korean soup and came home with a lot of fairly interesting ingredients - including dried anchovies, whipped tofu, and...about 20 pounds of pork belly.

My kids are little porkers, but that's a lot of premium-quality pork fat even for them!

Peter went about making the soup and our kitchen smelled rather fishy for the duration of the evening. When he finally served the soup, it was the most interesting bowl of food that I have ever gazed upon. In other words, it looked completely unappetizing - almost as if someone had gotten sick and served it as the main course. However, it was pretty darn tasty. Paul and I enjoyed it so much and slurped down the leftovers for days afterwards. I would love to try the dish in an actual Korean restaurant sometime!

However, of the twenty pounds of pork belly we purchased for the soup, Peter maybe used about half a pound. The rest went into my freezer where it was completely forgotten about until this summer. Foodies would declare this absolutely sinful, since pork belly is considered a very cherished ingredient in the culinary world. However, I really didn't want to cook with it since 1) there was so much of it, 2) pork belly is so incredibly fatty, and 3) Paul had been talking about making bacon out it. While struggling to make room in my freezer for some groceries, I came across the large slab of pork belly and decided that it was high time we cooked the darn thing.

I threw a brown sugar and salt rub on the defrosted pork belly and let it sit in the fridge for about 24 hours to cure. Then, I slow roasted it so the fat cap would begin to melt and naturally baste the rich meat as it delicately cooked. Once removed from the oven, the fat was drained into a cast-iron skillet and used to fry the fat cap on the belly, leaving it perfectly crisp. The pork belly was then put aside to rest and drain while I prepared a basic wilted spinach salad. I used some of the fat from the belly to make a hot dressing. I poured the hot dressing over fresh spinach, mushrooms, and red onions and tossed until the spinach began to wilt. We plated each salad individually and topped the plates with a generous portion of pork belly and a runny egg. It was pretty rich, mighty tasty, and incredibly filling. We did not use all the pork belly in the salad, but rather saved the majority of it for use in eggs, tacos, and other meals throughout the remainder of the week.

If you happen to have many, many pounds of pork belly left to consume, consider this simple roasting method for preparing it! Or, if you have a hankering for a really strange but tasty Korean soup, I know a cute, German-speaking, rice-loving, Camry-driving, Othello-winning, computer engineer who can make it for you!

Warm Spinach Salad with Roasted Pork Belly

For the Roasted Pork Belly:
1 (3-pound) skin-on center-cut fresh pork belly, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
Vegetable oil

For the Dressing:
3 Tablespoons Reserved Pork Belly Grease
3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 teaspoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 dash Salt

For the Salad:
5-6 hard-boiled, fried, or poached Eggs
1 whole Red Onion, Small
1 package Mushrooms, sliced thinly
8 ounces, weight Baby Spinach, Washed Dried And Stems Removed

Using sharp chef's knife, slice pork belly lengthwise into 3 strips about 2 inches wide, then make 1/4-inch-deep crosswise cuts through skin and into fat spaced 1/2 inch apart. Combine 2 tablespoons salt and brown sugar in small bowl. Rub salt mixture into bottom and sides of pork belly (do not rub into skin). Season skin of each strip evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place pork belly, skin side up, in 13 by 9-inch baking dish and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to lightly greased wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Roast pork belly until meat registers 195 degrees and paring knife inserted in meat meets little resistance, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.

Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to large plate. (Pork belly can be held at room temperature for up to 1 hour.) Pour fat from sheet into 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside three tablespoons of the fat to use in the dressing. Add vegetable oil as needed to equal 1 cup and transfer to 12-inch skillet. Arrange pork belly, skin side down, in skillet (strips can be sliced in half crosswise if skillet won't fit strips whole) and place over medium heat until bubbles form around pork belly. Continue to fry, tilting skillet occasionally to even out hot spots, until skin puffs, crisps, and turns golden, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to carving board and let rest for 5 minutes. Flip pork belly on its side and slice 1/2 inch thick (being sure to slice through original score marks).

While the pork belly is resting, prepare the spinach salad.

Add 3 tablespoons bacon grease, vinegar, sugar, and Dijon to a small saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk mixture together and heat thoroughly.

Add spinach to a large bowl. Arrange onions, mushrooms, and bacon on top. Pour hot dressing over the top; toss to combine. Arrange salad on individual plates. Arrange chopped pork belly and sliced hard-boiled eggs on top. Serve!