Although July is the time for fresh corn, I couldn't help but share these interesting, delicious grits from Anson Mills. South Carolina's  Anson Mills is getting a lot of press for their heirloom grains, from Carolina Gold rice, Benne seed, Red Flint Polenta, to their famous Antebellum Coarse Grits.  Along with actively sourcing these rare cultivars (even to the point of tracking them down from seed saver or in the wild and then searching for a farmer to grow them), Anson Mills is also notoriously scrupulous about handling the resulting crops in a traditional method.  This might involve letting the corn ears dry out on the stalk a bit before harvesting, or letting them overwinter on the cob, loosely packed in wooden crates to further dry and cure.
Pencil Cob Grits are one of these rare, nearly extinct cultivars that Anson Mills is bring back to the dinner table.  They get their "pencil cob" name from the fact that the cob is very skinny and narrow.  Today, when contemplating corn, we just think of the jumbo cobs thick as a soda can, but in colonial times corn came in all types and shapes.  There was even especially tiny "milk corn," that was harvested early and eaten raw off the cob.  William Woys Weaver (of Scrapple fame) wrote about a fascinating milk corn, Sand Hill Gray Flint, in Heirloom Gardener's Fall'13 issue that's had me on the look out for it ever since.
Although the cooking of Pencil Cob Grits isn't too different from other grits (about 40 minutes, and soaking the night before really helps avoid lumps), the flavor is quite different.  A first spoonful makes you realize that these are not the bland grits that are served up in diners as little more than a delivery system for hot sauce and butter.

Grits with a Pork Chop and Fresh Strawberry-Pepper Relish
Rather than just mushy and bland, they have a toothsome texture and a savory corn flavor.  These are the old fashioned grits that were served up in homesteads as our country was just beginning to knit together.  A bubbling pot of these grits could easily be the dish "sofky" that's bubbling away over the fire in the frontier cabin of True Grit (really, no pun intended!).

While I'm excited to enjoy the fresh corn in season, I've got a strong feeling that I'll cook up several pots of these grits over the coming fall and winter.  But for now, I'm going to enjoy the summer.


I've talked about my love for juniper in the past, and it's still in full force.  When I saw a recipe in the Marianski brothers/Gebarowski book for Kielbasa Jalocowa, I just had to try it.  Not just because it used juniper, but also because it was from Southern Poland, where the land is more hilly and mountainous going up to the Tatry Mountains.  This leads to both shrubby juniper bushes, the raising of sheep, and hunting of game.  So while the recipe was still largely pork, the authors explained it was not uncommon to find lamb, duck, or wild game in these regional kielbasa.
Pork and Lamb Kielbasa
Now, I actually made this kielbasa twice over the last two months.  The first time I made it with 20% lamb meat, with the rest being pork.  The instructions suggested a small amount of ground juniper berries being added to the meat (3g juniper for 5kg meat), plus, mixing whole juniper berries/branches in with the smoking wood chips.  This was to give the meat an enhanced juniper aroma, as well as a pronounced dark color, perhaps from the additional resins in the wood?

The resulting lamb kielbasa was great.  Just a little bit of lamb flavor peeking out.  But my issue is that it didn't really taste of juniper.  I use wild-harvested juniper and it always has a great flavor, so my doubt wasn't with the berries being old or stale.  But juniper can be a love-it/hate-it ingredient, like cilantro, hot peppers, or anchovies; perhaps the recipe was too conservative in its juniper proportions for my tastes?

So I made the kielbasa again.  This time, I wanted to try some duck in the kielbasa.  A friend had given us an old duck that was lame after being attacked by a predator.  I butchered the duck for this kielbasa. The meat was very dark and firm, but there was not much fat on the duck.  I added the skin of the duck as well, to help add extra fat.  Finally, as a internal garnish, I coarsely ground a duck breast through my 3/4" die.  This produced large chunks of duck breast and fat.  The rest of the keilbasa weight was made up of finely ground pork.  To up the juniper flavor, I jumped up to 14 grams for 2.5kg of meat.

After it came out of the smoker, I was pleased to find a pronounced juniper flavor in the Kielbasa Jalocowa.  Piney, resinous, and wonderfully intense, it was just what I wanted.  Unfortunately, the duck breast had taken on a bit of a mealy texture with the extended cooking and smoking.  I thought the duck breast would maintain its tenderness, especially in the rich and fatty mix of the kielbasa forcemeat.  But it just felt like small pieces of dry, overcooked chicken breast studding the kielbasa.

So, when I am ready for batch #3, I think I've got this recipe down: pork, lamb, plenty of juniper.  I'll leave the duck behind for now.
In reading Ambrose Heath's wonderful 1968 book, Meat, I came across a rather unusual phrase in regards to serving Prosciutto and cured ham as an appetizer:

"All these [European hams] can be eaten in the Italian fashion, that is with an accompaniment of melon or fresh figs, but to my mind a supply of very small pats of fresh butter (and nothing else) offers the finest partnership of all." pg 167.
Prosciutto and Cold Butter
Buttering cured ham?  I always felt people who trimmed their prosciutto fat off completely were missing out on a delicious part of the experience...but buttering up a slice of prosciutto sounds quite odd to me.  Looking into the matter a bit further, I found some people do recommended this as a way to enjoy prosciutto (or Serrano, Bayonne, Westphalian hams).  The notion is actually pretty thoughtful.  A small pat of unsalted butter will help to mitigate the strong, salty flavor of the cured ham, plus the butter will then give the ham a longer, more pronounced finish in the mouth.  Sure, calorically I doubt a cardiologist would call it "pretty thoughtful," but there was a good gustatory reason behind it.

Obviously, the matter needed more study, so I decided to make up a plate of prosciutto and butter.  Plus, this was a chance for me to use my fancy butter curler that I had been nagging at Carla as an "essential item" for a few weeks now. 
The Butter Curler: A Decorative Scythe for Lipids
I tried the prosciutto with butter on its own, as well as on a generously buttered slice of bread.  Honestly, the pairing does help give a long, savory finish to the cured ham, which was delicious.  I'm not sure if the butter helps to soften the bite of the salt, but perhaps cured hams marked for export were saltier in years past before imported prosciutto and serrano ham could be purchased in most well-stocked grocers and delis.

While eating a second slice of buttered bread and prosciutto, I was reminded of an old French tradition of buttering bread and topping it with cheese.  This was done when you came across a wheel of cheese that had passed its peak and become a bit too sharp or acidic.  In the same mind frame, the butter would help to soften the bite and tame the cheese down to a more palatable state.  Perhaps this tradition inspired the ham pairing?

This cheese totally surprised me, poking its fuzzy little rind out of a display case at a beer and wine shop on the Outer Banks.  I've read about the Moser cheeses from the Swiss company Moser Kase, but never actually tried them.  Available in a few flavors, these cheeses are brought in by Quality Cheese, the same company that imports the wonderful cheeses of Rolf Beeler
Similar to a baby Camembert, Moser Chardonnay is a small (4.4 oz) wheel made from organic milk, then washed in organic chardonnay wine.  The wine helps the tiny wheels develop a thin, soft rind of white mold.  Due to the expense of organic certification, and the fact that this cheese needs to be flown in by air (rather than cheaply shipped in by boat like big sturdy wheels of Parm, Gruyere, or Manchego), it's usually only available as a preorder.  This also raises the price, which was $13.99 ($50+/lb) for the little wheel.

And here I find it, in all places, on the coast of North Carolina, sandwiched between cryovac'd wedges of English cheddar and local NC beers.  If you read a lot of books on cheese, they usually spend several pages talking about how to spot bad or mistreated cheese.  A browning rind, odd damp spots, cracks that could allow air and mold in, sagging rinds sinking into the cheese's core.  There's a lot that can go wrong, and more often than not you need to approach the artisan and esoteric with a bit of hestitation.  But this was perfect.  Slightly firm to the touch, a fresh mushroomy aroma, and a nice, bright rind.

Moses Chardonnay is a delightful little cheese that's quite rich and creamy, with a slight sharpness in the finish.  Much like another Swiss counterpart, Tomme Vaudoise, Moser Chardonnay has a thin, felt-like rind that's very easy to eat and enjoy with the center paste of the cheese.  While some Brie or Camembert can have a thick skin that's a bit too crusty for my tastes, this rind was much less intrusive.  Was it worth the price?  That's hard to say.  I really enjoyed the cheese, but I think a great deal of the enjoyment came from finding such an obscure cheese in peak condition at the most unlikely of spots.  When I think back about the cheese, most of my thoughts center on the serendipity of discovery, rather than the actual cheese itself.
I always try to make a polite nuisance of myself at the fish department of Wegmans.  Whenever I see they have a whole fish on displau, I always inquire to the whereabouts of the head.  Through this, I've twice acquired salmon heads for free, once been told they were already given away, and one particularly memorable time had to repeat my request and was told, "No, we only sell regular stuff here."
But now it seems that Wegman's has realized there is a demand for the trimmings and is no longer giving them away for free.  Poking around the smoked whitefish, I was surprised to see two packages, each containing a wild sockeye salmon tail and the neck (no head though).  While I appreciate the store looking to get some return on the trimmings, I was surprised to see they were still asking $16.99/lb, same as a center cut filet of wild salmon.  No one was biting, and they were marked down to $10/lb...which still seems pretty high for a lot of fins, neck bones, skin, and cartilage.  These were not big meaty cuts.

I could clearly see the top two packages were tail and collar, and assumed the third package in the back was the same.  But when I dug it out I found it was filled with rough cuts of salmon filets.  While trimming the whole fish into nice, square portions, they had collected up all the odd, angular bits and bagged them up.  Now this was a bargain at $10/lb!  I scooped them up.
Down at the outer banks of North Carolina, I noticed some seafood restaurants that specialized in local fish would put these odd cubes and strips of fish to use as appetizers.  Breaded and fried, they came out a delicious little chunks of mahi mahi or tuna nuggets.  I considered this option, but ended up going for an old fashioned dish of potted salmon.

To "pot" something, as in potted meats, potted fish, or the classic Lancashire potted shrimps, just means to seal it up in a pot.  It's similar to rillettes or a confit, in that the meat is cooked down, then sealed with a layer of fat, but usually doesn't involve as long of a cooking process (and thus also does not last as long as rillettes or a confit).
Potted Salmon in Jar
So to start, I gave the wild salmon a good shake of salt, white pepper, and a touch of cayenne.  Then I put a stick of butter in the bottom of a pot with about 1/4 cup of water and bay leaf.  The salmon got packed around this and gently cooked for about 40 minutes over a low temperature.  Next I removed the meat, picked out the skin and bay leaf, and poured off all the juices.  This was packed into a bail top jar with a bit of the cooking juices to make a slightly thick, but spreadable salmon forcemeat.  I tried to keep a good amount of the flakes intact to add some variety to the texture, rather than just mashing it into a totally smooth paste.  Then I sealed the jar up with some of the (now pinkish) cooking butter and let it sit overnight in the fridge.
The next day I cracked off the seal of butter and scooped out the contents.  The salmon spread easily and didn't have any overly "fishy" flavor.  It's quite nice on its own, although I've been adding a bit of lemon or snipped chives to brighten up the cooked down flavor of the fish.  Another contrast to rillettes or confit is that this still tastes very light and summery, as I just added back enough fat to float on top and cover the salmon.