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Jun 08, 2011

In D.C., The Only Thing More Elusive Than Statehood Is A Good Cubano

DSC_0023
A Cuban sandwich is: ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard pressed until crispy between two slices of Cuban bread, ideally.

It’s a simple sandwich. It’s a great sandwich.

DSCN5828 You want a good Cubano, you go to La Teresita in Tampa. It’s on Columbus by the stadium. Over the years, the Cuban diner has cranked out thousands of Cuban sandwiches, each for about $4. Just look at it. The bread –- the Cuban bread –- is toasted just enough to be crispy, crunchy on the outside, while the interior stays soft and just slightly chewy. The Swiss is warm and beginning to melt. And there’s just enough roasted pork, ham and pickles to fill out the sandwich without going overboard. Simple.

Yet, in the dozen years that I’ve lived in the District of Columbia, I’ve encountered many, many bad Cuban sandwiches. Just awful ones. I became convinced that no one in D.C. could make a proper Cubano.

Before working on this article, I never actively sought out the sandwich around town. I make it back to Tampa enough to satisfy my occasional need to have one. But every time I did encounter a D.C. Cubano, I tried it. If the sandwich was a flop, I would assume the rest of the menu was as well. Why not? If a kitchen can’t make a ham sandwich, why should I assume it can make something more complicated? 

Fortunately, there are six restaurants (using the term loosely) in the DMV that make a good Cubano –- and one of them makes the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had … anywhere.

Ceiba, the upscale Latin American restaurant, across the street from the White House and a thousand miles from Tampa, makes the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever eaten (pictured above). That said, it’s not a traditional Cuban. If you’re a purist, the best traditional Cubano is made in Arlington by a guy from New Orleans. But the ways that Ceiba’s sandwich is different are the ways that it’s better than the rest.

For the most part, I’m still right about how hard it is to find a good Cubano in D.C. This is the town of Jose Andres and Minibar, of Michel Richard and Citronell, of Frank Ruta and Palena, of Vikram Sunderam and Rasika. This town, this foodie town (mostly) can’t make a reasonably good Cuban sandwich.

DSCN5926 G Street Food shoves dry, roasted pork and prosciutto into a roll and calls it a Cuban. It’s not (allegedly, there are other ingredients, but they’re lost in the loaf). Mi Vecindad on the Hill looks like the kind of mom and pop place that should specialize in a great Cubano. The sloppy steamed sandwich (pictured left) I had was the worst of the bunch.

The Disney inspired Cuba Libre offers an Ybor-style Cuban sandwich. Ybor City is the historic district in Tampa. Hey, I grew up in Tampa! I know Ybor! I’ve been there many more times then I remember. This should be great, right?! Right? Nope. The sandwich is too small, too expensive ($16!) and the flavors are too muddled. It’s a so-so sandwich at a Holy Shit! price.

And then there’s the Cubano flatbread at ChurchKey. I know it’s not a sandwich, but Kyle Bailey is a talented chef and I’m a fan of ChurchKey. Unfortunately, the Cubano flatbread is terrible. It may have pork, pickles and Swiss, but it doesn’t taste anything like a Cuban sandwich. Frankly, it doesn’t even taste like a good flatbread.

I could go on (Banana Café, Lima), but you get my point.

DSC_0006 In a strange twist for D.C., though, Jeff Tunks, chef and owner of Ceiba, uses all the right ingredients in his Cuban sandwich (well except Cuban bread, but he gets a pass because no one uses real Cuban bread). However, instead of yellow mustard, he uses a mayonnaise and mustard remoulade sauce. Rather than cured Danish ham, or sweet Virginia ham, Tunks uses a pungent smoked ham. And the Swiss cheese is replaced by its brawnier, more flavorful cousin, gruyere.

Tunks says the real difference is the pork shoulder that he marinates in citrus, garlic, cumin before slow roasting it. When he put the sandwich on the menu 8 years ago, he used pork loin, but switched to the fattier, more tender shoulder after a few months. Since then, the sandwich has remained unchanged. These days, if the pork sits too long in the kitchen before getting sliced, his staff will pick off pieces until the shoulder looks like it was worked over by piranha.

He’s right, the pork is good. The slow-cooked shoulder is juicy and the spices he uses are delicious and authentically Cuban. To me, though, the roasted pork isn’t the difference maker: it’s the smoked ham and remoulade.

DSC_0024 As I write this sentence, I can still smell the smoke on my since washed hands, and I can still taste the remoulade despite the other ingredients. When you bite into the sandwich, the smoke hits you. It’s confusing at first, because it otherwise looks like a traditional Cubano. But the smoked ham is a new element that gives the sandwich a flavor it’s never had before. And it works beautifully.

Then you notice that the bite from the mustard has been replaced by something smoother, richer. Until I talked to Tunks, I couldn’t figure it out. Somehow, the sandwich was more savory. The remoulade, which used a grainy mustard, was the unctuous secret.

Those ingredients added to an otherwise very well made Cubano resulted in one of the very best sandwiches D.C., or Tampa, has to offer. Sure, $13 is a lot to pay for a ham sandwich, but I’d pay twice as much. And if you order it off the late night bar menu, you can get it for half price.  

David Guas doesn’t like the remoulade. A Cuban sandwich needs yellow mustard. And he prefers more pork and less ham, though the smoked ham works for him. Guas’ opinion on Ceiba’s sandwich matters because he helped put it on the menu eight years ago.

DSC_0016 Today, Guas is the owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, and specializes in red beans and rice, boudin and has Abita on draft. But a couple days a week (Wednesdays and Thursdays usually) the kitchen will offer hot pressed Cuban sandwiches (pictured above) along with the muff-a-lottas. Guas may be a native of New Orleans, but his father was a native of Havana, Cuba.

Guas’ grandfather left Cuba to attend Loyola University, but returned with a wife and law degree. His grandmother’s ties to Louisiana led her to send Guas’ father and uncle to boarding school in Bay St. Louis, Miss., an hour north of New Orleans.

The city might be famous for po’ boys, but Cubanos were easy to find, Guas said, thanks to New Orleans’ Cuban community. And thanks to his extended family, Guas spent a considerable amount of his youth in Miami where the sandwich is a staple.

So the man from southeastern Louisiana knows from Cubanos.

Guas’ sandwich is fat with pork (that’s a good thing), but not so much so that the other ingredients get drowned out. Although Guas also uses a smoked ham, the flavor is much subtler than the ham Ceiba uses.

Both Guas and his former boss Tunks are big on the French bread they use for their Cubanos (Tunks’ comes from Cardinal, Guas’ comes from the French Bread Factory), but Guas’ roll carries the day thanks to the prodigious amount of butter he spreads on it before toasting it in panini press. The sandwich is crisp and almost flakey on the outside. Unless someone starts using Cuban bread, you’re not going to do better than Guas’ French roll. And at $7, you’re not going to find a better Cuban at a better price.

6 Tunks and Guas may make great sandwiches, but they are not alone in the Cubano trade. Within D.C., there’s also the El Floridano food truck. Parked along a curb in a neighborhood near you (maybe), the El Floridano offers up The Fidel (pictured right).

The Fidel is about as close to a traditional Cuban sandwich as you’ll find in the District. The El Floridano doesn’t do anything fancy (which is also good) and makes the sandwiches fresh. At the order and pick-up window, you can see the small flat-top lined with Cubanos held down by sandwich presses. For $7, you can get as good a sandwich as you’ll find in Tampa or Miami.

Fast Gourmet reminds me of some of my favorite Cuban sandwich spots in Tampa: gas stations. However, gas stations in Tampa don’t look this nice. The Cubano produced in the small kitchen near the corner of 14th and U streets is just as attractive. The crispy, panini pressed bread is stuffed with succulent, slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss and pickles. Although the menu says the sandwich also comes with mustard and mayo, which isn’t uncommon, skip the mayo. It’s applied too liberally and drowns out whatever mustard is on the sandwich. For $8.50, you also get a side of shoestring fries. Don’t let that deter you from ordering the plantains (maduros). They’re soft, sweet and hot, and come with crème fresh.

Outside D.C., Cuba de Ayer is Havana via Burtonsville. The little Cuban restaurant hidden in a shopping center off Old Columbia Pike offers a great Cuban sandwich. What makes the drive to Burtonsville worth while, though, is the mojo you can order on the side. Dipping the warm and crusty Cubano into the garlic and olive oil mixture makes a good sandwich phenomenal.

Closer in is Cubano’s. What the Silver Spring restaurant lacks in polish and focused service it makes up for in a good Cuban sandwich (skip the fries and get the sweet maduros on the side). I wouldn’t go too far out of my way for Cubano’s, but if I was in the area, I’d be in the dining room.

There may be a lot of great restaurants, and food trucks, in the D.C. area, but there are only six that can make a proper Cuban sandwich. They are:

Ceiba: 701 14th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 393-3983; Cubano: $13
Bayou Bakery: 1515 North Courthouse Rd., Arlington, VA 22201; (703) 243-2410; Cubano, a once a week special (Wednesdays and Thursdays usually), $7
Cuba de Ayer: 15446 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville, Md. 20866; (301) 476-8013; Cubano $7.50 (mojo $0.75)
El Floridano: moves daily; Cubano $7
Fast Gourmet: 1400 W St N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; Cubano $8.50 (plantains $2.50)
Cubano’s: 1201 Fidler Ln., Silver Spring, Md. 20910; Cubano $14.95 (maduros $4.95)

Categories: Arlington, Capitol Hill, Caribbean, Cuban Sandwich, DC, Downtown, Eastern Market, Local Food, Maryland, Pork, Regional Food, Sandwiches, Silver Spring, Virginia, Washington, DC
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Mar 11, 2011

Red-Eye Gravy: Because It's That Kind Of Morning

DSCN5902 Whoever came up with red-eye gravy was either very hungry or very hungover, maybe both. Afterall, coffee and salty pork fat don't exactly seem like a winning combination. But red-eye gravy is simple, it's Southern as cornbread (y'all), and more than anything, it's salty as hell.

Dietary guidelines be damned, some morning you just need an extra punch of salt - even if it's mixed with coffee and ladled over grits.

Red-eye gravy is basically two ingredients: salt-cured country ham and coffee. On it's own, it's rough. Think Vegemite via Montgomery, Ala. Just as Vegemite works better on buttered toast (I'm told), red-eye gravy is made to dress grits.

I love grits, but there's no getting around how bland they are. Add a good bit of butter, salt, pepper, cheese, even barbecued shrimp, and you transform the grainy porridge into a pretty nice dish. A little red-eye gravy does the trick, too.

DSCN5897 The bitterness of the coffee works with the salt and cooked pork flavors from the country ham. A little butter adds a needed bit of richness to the gravy. 

To make it, simply fry up a couple slices of country ham, deglaze the pan with black coffee and whisk in some butter. Now, the other night I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (I have no excuse for myself) as Guy Fieri tasted some Arizona cook's red-eye gravy. It was made with chicken stock and involved no ham or coffee. I don't know what they were doing, but they weren't making red-eye gravy. It's one thing to play with a recipe, but once you remove the primary ingredients it becomes a different dish.

And then I reminded myself I was watching Guy Fieri.

Red-Eye Gravy
(makes 4 servings)

2 slices of country ham
2 cups of coffee, black
2 tbs. of unsalted butter (or more to taste)
Grits

DSCN5906 Red-eye gravy is a very quick dish. If you're going to make it as part of a large breakfast (and you should), cook the ham first (about 3 minutes per side) and deglaze the pan with 1 to 2 cups of coffee (to taste), making sure to scrap up the stuck on pork bits. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (or more to taste). The gravy doesn't reduce (please, don't reduce it), but it can be kept warm while you prepare the grits, eggs and whatever else you plan to have.

Once everything it ready, simply ladle on the red-eye gravy (y'all). 

Categories: Breakfast, Brunch, DCFoodies Cooks, Do It Yourself, Pork, Recipes, Southern
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Oct 28, 2010

Autumn Menu: Grilled Tenderloin and Fall Hash

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Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.

The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.

Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February. 

That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.

DSCN5692 Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.

To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.

In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.

To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.

DSCN5717 If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).

So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)

DSCN5681 1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.

When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.

As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.

After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.

DSCN5696 (If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)

After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.

And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.

Categories: Apples, Beer, Belgian, DCFoodies Cooks, Food and Drink, Grilling, Pork, Recipes, Seasonal
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Oct 05, 2009

Oktoberfest: Grilled Schweinshaxe und Bier!

Image043 If you like pork and if you like beer, then you're in the throes of your favorite holiday and mine: Oktoberfest.

I don't know whether it's the glutton, the drinker or the German in me, but damn I love this holiday immensely (Well, not too immensely. I don't wear lederhosen or anything.). Thirty-three might be a little young to have a bucket list, but if I were to put one together, celebrating Oktoberfest in Bavaria would be toward the top. Hell, I'd even strap on a pair of lederhosen for the occasion (when in Rome, after all).

Just the idea that thousands of thousands of people getting together to drink maerzen and eat all manner of pork while singing beer halls songs is enough to get me down right frothy about the holiday. Then I came across the photo blog Orr Shtuhl posted on the Washington City Paper's Young & Hungry blog. Man, those pictures nearly made me say, "Screw the job, I'm going to Deutschland." Seriously, if you've ever thought about going over for the grand celebration you need to check out those photos.

Here at home, we've distilled Oktoberfest down to sausages, beer and sauerkraut. Let me make this clear: I love sausages, beer and sauerkraut. A lot. I mean, last year I had my buddy Carlos at Canales Meat make me a five-foot bratwurst. That's love, people.

But there's much more to German cuisine than brats and sauerkraut, even in the beer halls. So this year I decided to have a few friends over an Oktoberfest celebration featuring another staple of the beer hall: schweinshaxe.

Schweinshaxe is the roasted front hocks - or shins - of the pig. With all the recent interest in offal and charcuterie, pork hocks still fly under most Americans' radars. However, my wife, who studied in Bavaria, says schweinshaxe is as common as bratwurst and pretzels.

Given how easy it is to prepare and how unctuous the meat is (thanks to the fat and skin surrounding it), pork hocks should start making their way onto more of our menus.

However, the up side of pork hocks' obscurity is their price. I bought eight hocks from Wagshal's Market for $17. Along with the beer-braised brussel sprouts and potato pancakes, the roasted hocks easily fed seven people.

Image022 In Germany, hocks are typically braised, but I wanted to make sure the skin got crisp. So after braising them for a couple hours, I stuck them on a spit for 30 minutes. Afterward they looked like retirees in Miami - tanned and crispy. Beneath the crunchy skin was moist, soft pork covered in warm fat. I pulled a piece of meat off the bone and dabbed a little stone ground mustard on top. It was porky nirvana. 

Now, you can't have Oktoberfest without beer. And with all due respect to American brewers, Germans make the best German beer. Whether it's hefeweizen or the maerzens traditionally made for Oktoberfest, German brewers simply do those styles better than we do. They just do.

Image047 Keeping in the spirit of things, I hopped in the car and headed over to the German Gourmet at Bailey's Crossroads. You like German stuff? They got German stuff, including one of the best selections of German beers in the area. Rather than going with an Oktoberfest beer, I grabbed a 5 liter keg of Einbecker's Mai-Ur-Bock. It's a faintly sweet, well-rounded amber lager that is made for pork and potato pancakes. Sure, I should've grabbed the Paulaner Oktoberfest instead, but I knew I can find it on tap around the city. But give me some credit, I did get a mini-keg.

Roll out the barrel, baby! Prost!

Grilled Schweinshaxe with Beer-Braised Brussels Sprouts and Potato Pancakes
(Makes eight servings)

8 pork hocks, skin on
9 Yukon gold potatoes, skinned, shredded and drained
Image017 6 onions (yellow or red), 2 chopped roughly and 4 cut into thick slices
2 stalks of brussels sprouts (or two bunches)
3 carrots, chopped roughly
3 celery stalks, chopped roughly
2 bay leaves
16 oz. container of sour cream
3 thick slabs of bacon, diced
2 eggs
5 16 oz. bottles of beer
Canola oil
Whole pepper corns
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

To begin, place the pork hocks, carrots, celery, bay leaves and the two roughly chopped onions into a pot and cover with water. Salt the water generously, cover and bring to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for two hours.

As the pork braises, shred the potatoes, draining off all the excess liquid, and cook the brussels sprouts. For the brussels sprouts, place in a pot and cover with two beers, a half cup of water and a table spoon of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes covered. If the brussels sprouts are tender after 30 minutes, drain the liquid from the brussels sprouts. Otherwise, cook for another 10 minutes.

Image029 Heat a frying pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the bacon and brussels sprouts, reduce to medium high heat and cook until the bacon is crispy and the sprouts have browned some, about 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and cover loosely to keep warm. 

In a sauce pot, pour the remaining three beers and a dozen or so black pepper corns, and bring to a boil. Once the basting liquid is boiling, turn the heat down and reduce the liquid by half.

When the pork hocks are cooked, pull them out of the pot, pat dry and stick on the rotisserie rod. Load the pork hocks on the grill and cook using medium heat for 30 minutes. Baste with the liquid every 10 minutes. Also, grill the slices of onion.

Image019 As the pork hocks spin, beat the two eggs and combine with the potatoes.  In a hot pan, add a couple tablespoons of oil. As the oil heats, take a portion of the potato mixture, form it into a patty and place in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for three minutes or until a brown crust forms. Turn, season and cook the potato pancake for another three minutes.

When the potatoes, onions and pork hocks are cooked, plate them with the brussels sprouts and top the potato pancakes with the grilled onions and a dollop of sour cream. If you haven't already, tap the keg and pour the beer.

Categories: Beer, Grilling, Pork, Recipes
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Nov 24, 2008

Penn Quarter Farmers Market

Front_sign After work on Thursday, I headed over to the Penn Quarter Farmers Market to pick up some items for a Thanksgiving side dish I had in mind.  To say that it was cold was an understatement (even in mittens, my hands were freezing), but my friend James and I braved to cold nonetheless. 

The Penn Quarter Farmers Market, part of the FreshFarm Market organization of farmers markets in the DC metro area, was established in 2003 and is a stone's throw from the National Mall.  I have frequented the market several times before because of its close proximity to my office and its hours (3 pm to 7 pm), but usually only during the high growing season.  At its busiest, the Penn Quarter Farmers Market has 18 food vendors, ranging from fruits and vegetables to meat and dairy.  Visitors of this market tend to enjoy the convenience of its location to their offices and the hours (like myself), which means they can pick up something fresh from the farm for dinner that night.  I use it as a market to supplement what I am scheduled to receive in my CSA box or to pick up a nice loaf of bread or a pastry from The Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm for that evening.  This time, however, I had an express mission to find the remaining ingredients for my stuffing for a Thanksgiving potluck dinner.

I don't usually put mushrooms in stuffing and had no intentions of doing so until I stopped by the Mushroom Stand.  Run by Ferial Welsh, the stand sells mushrooms grown in Chester County, Pennsylvania that are certified organic. The Mushroom Stand only sells mushrooms from Phillips Mushroom Farms and Mother Earth Organic Mushroom Farms which are not mass produced mushrooms from huge agribusiness conglomerations and their quality speaks for themselves.  Even though it was biting cold, Ferial was kind enough to offer me suggestions for mushrooms that would compliment a savory stuffing.  She handed me a sample of a maitake mushroom, telling me it had a mellow, woodsy flavor that would work well in a stuffing.  I had never even heard of a maitake mushroom, let alone tasted one, so I was a bit skeptical.  However, she was dead on in her recommendation.  Not only did it have a refined, earthy taste to it, it wasn't overly chewy like some mushrooms can be - even when cooked. I tweaked the recipe I had in mind a little in my head and continued on in search of bread.

Quail_creek_farm_stand The busiest stand by far at the Penn Quarter Farmers Market is the Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm.  Located on the Potomac River in West Virginia, The Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm use no preservatives or unnecessary additives in their breads, pastries, cookies and scones.  If you are anything like me, this is a big selling point, as I am a label reader.  If I can't pronounce it, it doesn't go in my body.  I have spoken with various workers at the stand on several occasions about their baking process and their ingredients and have always received the same information.  Their flours come from local millers and their yeast is fresh from breweries in their area (if only I could get in on some of those ingredients).  When I asked which bread would work well as a stuffing, one of the guys pointed to a huge boule (and by huge, I mean it could also double as an ottoman) that I was almost convinced served as an anchor for the entire bread stand.  This would definitely be more than enough bread to create a stuffing for a Thanksgiving meal (or a small army…which sometimes actually describes my family Thanksgiving dinners).  Just as I was getting my change back, the crowd began to swell, so I high tailed it out with my ottoman sized bread.

Penn_quarter_market My final stop was Cibola Farms, a vendor I know quite well from my visits to Dupont Circle Farmers Market.  Cibola Farms is a meat purveyor that sells bison, poultry, pork products and goats (yes, I said goats).  On my first visit to Cibola at Dupont Circle, I spoke with one of the workers for about 20 minutes about their farm processes and slaughter methods.  Their animals are not caged but are instead allowed to roam and graze on actual grass.  Rather than using chemicals or overworking the land with heavy machinery, Cibola Farms uses their hogs and goats to maintain the grass for grazing.  After that very informative discussion (I will spare you the details of their slaughter methods, but trust me when I say they are humane), I have been a regular customer.  I have tried everything from their bison (a slightly sweeter meat than beef but with its own strong flavors) to their pork sausages.  And it was their sage pork sausage that I had in mind for the stuffing.  I picked up a package and called it a day.

On Saturday morning, I gathered the onions, apples, fresh sage and celeriac from my CSA box, along with the bread, sausage and mushrooms from the market and decided to make a small test batch of the stuffing.  My family takes their stuffing very seriously (an entire Thanksgiving meal was ruined once because a family friend had the audacity to show up with dressing, not stuffing…big mistake), something that has been ingrained in me.  Although I won't be able to make it to Georgia for a family Thanksgiving, I will not show up to a potluck dinner with mediocre stuffing.  And since this was a recipe I was making on the fly, I had to be sure all the ingredients worked well together.  I was amazed at how well the celeriac, the root of celery, worked along with the mushrooms and apples, giving a sweetly subtle depth to the heartier flavors in the stuffing.  A perfect addition to any Thanksgiving dinner.

Stuffing_better Sausage, Apple and Mushroom Stuffing

2 loaves of quality white bread, torn into bite sized pieces
1 large onion (or 2 medium sized onions), diced
1 celeriac (the root of the celery), peeled and diced
2 apples (whichever apples are in season in your area), diced
32 ounces vegetable or chicken stock (preferably homemade), warmed up slightly
1 container maitake (or shiitake) mushrooms
2 tablespoons fresh sage
1 pound sage pork sausage
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Grease a large casserole dish and set it aside.  Spread the bread pieces out on cookie sheets and bake them in the oven 5-10 minutes or until slightly golden.  In a large skillet, brown the sausage and then place it in a very large bowl (the bowl must be big enough to combine all of the ingredients).  Add the onions, celeriac, mushrooms and apples to the same skillet, season with the salt and pepper and cook until softened.  Add the onion mixture to the sausage and then slowly start adding the bread cubes.  Thoroughly incorporate the bread cubes into the other ingredients before adding another handful. 

Once all of the bread has been added, toss in the sage and give the mixture another good stir.  Pour in a portion of the stock and then stir it into the bread mixture.  Continue this process until the bread mixture is moist but not a soggy mess.  Pour the stuffing into the casserole dish, cover it with aluminum foil and bake it for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil from the stuffing and continue baking it for another 10-15 minutes or until it is golden brown (but not burnt).

Categories: Apples, Farmers Markets, Mushrooms, Penn Quarter, Pork, Recipes, Stuffing
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