LA CUCINA VIGNETO ....... Piatto a Base di Maiale e Fagioli

Occasionally I'll receive a photo assignment where I am required to prepare and photograph the food. This was one such assignment. The food editor has a great sense of humor and she emailed me - "Can you do a food shot on short notice? It is an upscale version of Pork & Beans!" What? But I said that I would - not knowing I would have to jump through a few hoops and fast to obtain the ingredients for this dish. The article was to be about Paul Kahan, Executive Chef/Partner of Blackbird, a very upscale restaurant in Chicago. Kahan was the winner of the James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest 2004 and a 2007 nominee for the James Beard Outstanding Chef.
The Recipe? Braised Pork Belly with Fresh Shell Bean Ragout. "Braised Pork Belly!" Now that just sounds awful doesn't it? Not easy to find either. You usually have to order it from Slagel Family Farms or Niman Ranch.
At any rate, I was able to track down the ingredients and prepare and photograph this dish in time for publication. I was very skeptical until I actually tasted this. It was incredibly good.
When I serve it at my house it's "Piatto a Base di Maiale e Fagioli" - just sounds so much better!
Braised Pork Belly with Fresh Shell Bean Ragout
Blackbird Executive Chef Paul Kahan

Braised Pork Belly:
Pork Belly, approximately five pounds
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
8 heads finely chopped garlic
1 onion, diced
2 celery, diced
2 medium carrots, dices
1 cup white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 large sprig of thyme

The night before, trim all but one inch fat off the pork. Score fat. Separately, lightly toast all the seeds and coarsely grind. Cover the pork on the top and bottom with seeds.
the next day, scrape the seeds off the fat side of the pork. Season well with salt and pepper.
Heat a large, heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat and add the pork, fat-side down. When the fat is a nice brown color, remove pork to a roasting pan, fat side up.
bring chicken stock to a boil.
Pour off most of the fat and add the mirepoix. Saute mirepoix until just tender, season and add wine. Reduce wine to au sec.
Pour vegetable mixture over the pork, add chicken stock and thyme and season so the braising liquid is just salty.
Cook, uncovered, in 325 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until it is extremely tender when pierced. Let cool in liquid.
when mixture is cool, remove pork, divide into four pieces and set aside. Skim fat off the top of the braising liquid and strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pushing just gently.

Fresh Shell Bean Ragout:

1/4 pound pancetta, medium dice
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 shallots, sliced thinly
5 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 1/2 cups fresh cranberry beans, shelled
2 cups braising juice (from pork belly)
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
salt and pepper

Render pancetta in saute pan until just crisp. if needed, add a bit of water to facilitate rendering.
Add olive oil, heat briefly and add shallots and garlic, sweating them until just tender.
Add beans, braising liquid, herbs de Provence and simmer until beans are soft (not toothsome).

Red cabbage and Parsley Salad:

1/2 cup very thinly shaved red cabbage
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Splash champagne vinegar

Combine all ingredients and season to taste.


In a black steel saucepan, render the fat side of the pork over medium-high heat.
When nicely browned, reduce heat to medium and brown remaining sides.
Spoon 1/4 cup shell bean ragout, with juice, into the center of a plate.
Top with pork belly, fat-side up, and top with cabbage and parsley salad.

Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Sotto Il Monte Vineyards



I fully intended to try and live up to my Lovely Blog Award by posting a witty and creative entry yesterday. Normally, I'm thinking about photos that I want to take or photos that I must take for assignments. I sat down at the computer early yesterday morning (I rise at 5:30 most days) to work on a post. A sort of blankness started creeping in. I stared at the screen and realized "I've got nothing!" Couldn't think of a thing - even though I have folders full of ideas and photographs. "Maybe I need another cup of tea." That didn't work. Perhaps I should check my email. And there it was - along with some sweet messages from friends - My Horoscope for the Day.

Horoscope for June 25

"Today your creative impulses could seem totally blocked, Ryannan. You might be trying to reach a deadline, whether it's one of your own or one imposed by someone else. You feel the need to get some work done, but your muse seems to have gone on vacation. If your deadline is official, phone whoever's in charge and ask for an extension. if you force yourself to work today, you won't be happy with the results." That was all the encouragement I needed. Far be it from me to argue with the stars. I went back to bed and pulled the sheets up over my head.Today is not much better. My thoughts are still in the garden where I've just spent the last couple of days.

I love finding these fossils in the vineyard.Random vignette from the casa.......................................................

The Gardenia and Arabian Jasmine are in full bloom and incredibly fragrant. One Gardenia blossom will perfume an entire room.
The lavender was ready for a first cutting..................................................

Micia follows me around the garden and keeps me company...............................

Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Sotto Il Monte Vineyards


Lovely Blog Award

I've been away for a few days - off checking on vines, pets and houses. All fine and thriving. What a sweet surprise to come back to the blog site and find the One Lovely Blog Award from Ingrid at Vita Lenta Nel Bel Paese. Grazie Mille Ingrid! Having a blog site - is well - work! But more fun. I've met so many people with such incredible artistic talent and am so happy that they are able to express their creativity on blog sites. It will bring me pleasure to pass this award along to some of those beautiful people.


Father's Day 2009

Father's Day was pretty relaxed here at the pied-a-terre. We started the morning with croissants and tea out on the terrace overlooking Oyster Creek..............................
With it's odd assortment of ducks, turtles and sea birds...............................................
Went poolside with Mimosas for a couple of hours..........................................
I made Lemon Ricotta Hotcakes for brunch .............the kiddos called to wish Jim a Happy Father's Day. Jim is such a wonderful Dad - our kids are crazy about him...Me too!Siesta time on this hot sultry day - later - tea and chocolates.........................................

Happy Father's Day!

Lemone Ricotta Hotcakes

6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 tbls sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbls lemon zest
confectioners' sugar
1 cup fresh berries

Mix egg yolks, ricotta cheese, and butter in a large bowl. Set aside. combine flour, sugar, salt and 2 tablespoons lemon zest in a bowl. Slowly add dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix well. Set aside. Beat egg whites in a bowl with an electric mixer until firm peaks form. Carefully fold egg whites into batter. Lightly grease a griddle or non stick pan and place over medium heat for one minute. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter on griddle for each cake. cook cakes for several minutes on each side until golden. Serve with a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar, remaining lemon zest and berries.

Photos By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Sotto Il Monte Vineyards


Palm Springs - Mid Century Modern

During the last 25 years I've photographed more houses than I care to count. I've always been interested in architecture and interior design so I look forward to seeing what's out there and what is cutting edge in design. Now, I'm not crazy about Mid-Century Modern, so when I received this magazine assignment in Palm Springs, I wasn't all that excited. These houses changed my opinion. Developed by Mark Bodon of Contempo Homes along with the architectural firm - O'Donnell & Escalante, the Alexander Estates houses give a fresh new look to Mid Century Modern.
Alexander Estates was named with a nod towards the Father/Son team George and Robert Alexander who built more than 2,000 modern houses in Palm Springs between 1955 and 1965. Both died, along with their wives, in a plane crash in November 1965. The Alexander's developed a neighborhood now known as Las Palmas. Las Palmas became the weekend get-a-way choice for the "New Hollywood" crowd. Dianah Shore, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe and Peter Lawford each owned an "Alexander" there.
Most of these new houses are also weekend getaways. My first impression was that "These houses are built for parties!" Walls of glass that open up to the outside, Terrazzo floors that hold up to wet feet from the swimming pool and are impervious to spilled wine. Each house has an indoor/outdoor feel.
The weather in Palm Springs can be intense to say the least. I've never known a city where a large portion of the restaurants and shops completely close down during the summer months.
Working there in the summer is difficult. On some days (most) the wind is relentless - shade and protected spaces are a must.
Winter is the best time to visit Palm Springs. The days are pleasant but nights can be a little chilly. The outdoor fireplaces were an important feature in these homes.
Tall ceilings and open spaces make these single story homes feel larger.

All the tile was a bit much for me. I felt like I would go blind after a while in this kitchen.

But, I have to say, I loved the outdoor spaces - Would I buy one? Well no, still not my kind of thing. Did they sell? Yes, most all of them on the very first weekend they were available for purchase.
Photography By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Sotto Il Monte Vineyards



I keep blackboards in each of our kitchens. One is for inspiration - recipes that I want to try and on another the menu for the week. Our youngest daughter calls "What should I cook for dinner Mom? I need some ideas. What's on the chalkboard?" She often calls for wine recommendations as well. Our son does the same. "What's on the chalkboard?" Not that he has any intention of cooking any of these sometimes elaborate meals. Seems to be comforting to him just to hear the weeks menu. After having been away for a month this is the chalkboard that I have come back to............................................
Oh my................................. Le husband can clearly not be left alone! Whole Foods had fresh red snapper, a favorite of Jim's. I baked it with lemons, thyme, butter and garlic...........................................................................................
A crisp salad and black beans on the side.............................................................

And a key lime tart from Whole Foods................................................................
Photos By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman
Sotto Il Monte Vineyards


The Daniel Pearl Music Foundation

I've been gone for a month - feels like six! No Internet, television or cell phone service. So much catching up to do.
I've been attending a month long music festival in the Texas Hill Country. Lots of great music and late nights! The highlight of the music festival for me was a surprise group called The Fire Ants out of Austin, Texas. A group of teenagers that came on for a 20 minute set. I was standing up on the hillside talking with a friend - when this group started playing my ears perked up - I had to get closer!

Ian Stewart, far left, a 17 year old senior at West Lake High School in Austin, heads up this band.
Stewart is the 2008 recipient of the Daniel Pearl Music Foundation Violin. Most of us know Daniel Pearl as the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan. He was also a gifted musician. Jonathan Cooper, a well respected violin maker from Maine wanted to honor Pearl's memory by starting a foundation in his name. Jon crafted a fine violin, the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin, and presented it to Mark O'Connor at a Boston concert in honor of Daniel. Each summer at the Mark O'Connor Strings Conference, an exceptional violinist is presented with the violin to play for one year.

Ian Stewart - "I am so honored and humbled by being this year's recipient of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin. This symbol of unity and peace has so much meaning and power behind it and what better way to keep Daniel's message alive than through this mission of connecting people through music. The Daniel Pearl Violin is simple and profound and I hope to transmit that idea whenever and wherever I play this beautiful instrument."

He did that and more - these kids rocked the house! Everyone was dancing!

Including me!

Sotto Il Monte Vineyards
Photos By: Ryannan Bryer de Hickman