The Jungle Stand: Italian biscuit edition

photo(34)“Boxes” are all the rage these days: pay a few dollars a month and people will send you boxes of all sorts of things. Jess is a fan of Birch Box, a monthly grab-bag of sample-size fancy toiletries, but although my friend Joel DiPippa swears by the men’s version, I lack the skill, knowledge, or confidence to know what the heck to do with a box of fancy stuff to wear.

Not to fear, though — there are boxes out there for folks like me who wear Mountain Dew t-shirts and like to eat in bed, and today I got my first one from The Jungle Stand, a site that promises a “tasting bar” in every month’s box (for only $9.92). This month’s theme was “Taste of Italy,” the taste in question being several varieties of Italian-style biscuits of both the sweet and savory nature. Jess and I dug right in and found the selection to be quite good for the most part. Here’s a run-down of what we tried:

*Sfogliatine: This was an airy, crispy pastry puff that was lightly sugared and had a fine texture due to its many layers. This was one of our favorite bites from the box, so delicate as to almost melt on the tongue with each bite. Delicious.

*Krumiri: These were a dry biscuit made for dipping into a beverage. Prepared without water, the texture was similar to Scottish shortbread, although not nearly as buttery. This version was made with hazelnuts and vanilla, and had a nice, subtle flavor perfect for pairing with a cup of tea or medium-brewed coffee.

*Amaretti: These little anonymous-looking cookies were the stand-out taste in the box. Beneath that tame exterior was a powerful punch of almond and amaretto flavor that was almost shocking at first bite. Sweet, slightly bitter, and delightfully crunchy, these treats were among some of the best little cookies we’ve ever had.

*Cantuccini: What I would call a biscotti. These were infused with raisins and gave a nice, sweet bite that was quite crunchy. Not so great by themselves, but these would be perfect with a strong cuppa for breakfast. (UPDATE: The aforementioned Mr. DiPippa, who is my go-to source for things Italian says that “biscotti” is baked twice, hence the difference.)

*Biscuit with Mediterranean Herbs: The first savory biscuit, and the first one with no actual Italian name. These were some pretty lame little crackers with a strong taste of tomato bouillon and oregano. Seemed more like filler for the box than anything actually Italian.

*Srack Griss: I Googled “srack griss” and came up with nothing. These are little breadsticks with a strong flavor of tomato and basil. More assertively flavored than the other savory biscuit, these little bites were superior yet still not comparable to the sweet treats. Still, the light, crisp breadsticks would make a fine bar snack, and so I give them a pass. (UPDATE II: Joel says “griss” is colloquial term for “bread,” so these are srack breadsticks.)

In the end, our 6-flavor “tasting bar” was a solid 4/6 for success. I admire The Jungle Stand for attempting to include so many different flavors, from the light sweetness of the sfogliantine to the deeper, bittersweet flavor of the amaretti, to the less successful savory options. For our first box, we were well-pleased, and look forward to sharing what we get in next month’s shipment.

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Hillcrest Artisan Meats wins prize; shares with city

photo(29)Right before the July 4 holiday this year, our friends at Hillcrest Artisan Meats announced that they were participating in a “Ham Independence” contest sponsored by one of the world’s best producers of quality pork, La Quercia. I’ve enjoyed La Quercia products at H.A.M. for awhile, and when Jess and I were in Seattle, one of the best meat trays we ate featured meats from Salumi as well as prosciutto from the Iowa producer. We’ve eaten a lot of fine pork over the past year or so, from Spanish raised jamon iberico de bellota to some fantastic local-raised pork chops, but I think we’ve found a winner for best overall pork, because when Hillcrest Artisan Meats won that “Ham Independence” contest, the grand prize was a leg of Acorn Berkshire Prosciutto, a 17 lb. slab of pure porcine perfection that retails somewhere north of $1000.00. Yes, that’s not a typo — that ham you see in the picture above is worth more than a grand.

So of course Brandon Brown and the H.A.M. gang did the only thing they could do: they started slicing up free samples for everybody who walked through the door, because that’s the sort of excellent people they are.

photo(28)This was the first time I’d ever seen a ham with the hoof still on (other than pictures), held in a contraption made just for the purpose of keeping the ham upright for easy slicing. The outside was dark cream, the color of sea foam, but when sliced the ham revealed a lighter layer of creamy fat and a ruby red flesh that smelled of brine, of blood, and of the richness that comes from age and care. Brandon took a long knife and gently shaved a piece from the leg, handing it to me with a knowing smile. The fat began to liquefy as my fingers warmed it, and I brought the slice to my nose, breathing deep a scent that was wild, slightly gamy, and richer than strong wine.

The first taste: salt and fat, with a nuttiness from the acorn diet these Berkshire hogs are fed. Then a rush of sweet fat melting on the tongue, with a floral sweetness like good figs but with a solid deepness that coated and surrounded my tongue with delicious flavor. I’d consider it superior to even Spanish ham — a bold statement since it was the Spanish that brought pigs to this continent in the first place. La Quercia knows their pork, and it was a privilege to be able to sample some, especially at my favorite butcher shop on earth. Thanks to La Quercia, thanks to Hillcrest Artisan Meats — and thanks to all of you that voted. Arkansas really brought home a prize with this one.

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Greek yogurt pizza dough

photo(20)Ah, pizza. I haven’t met many people who don’t like at least one form of this dish, from thin, crispy crusts to thick deep dish pies, from the meatstravaganza Godfather variety to lighter fare made with zucchini and artichokes — people love pizza. Jess and I are no different. I like to make pizza from scratch, and since I’ve got a stand mixer with a dough hook, it’s pretty easy to do.

I stumbled across this idea of making pizza dough using just two basic ingredients — self-rising flour and Greek yogurt — and figured it was worth a try. The science makes sense, since the leavening agents in the flour require something acidic to get them going, and yogurt fits the bill nicely. But how would it taste? Well, the resulting pizza was pretty good, and while I’m not 100% satisfied with the crust, I think this basic recipe has enough potential to warrant further experimentation. I’d love to hear tips from any of you that have tried this, because I think this is a light, tasty way to have your pizza and eat it too.

Greek Yogurt Pizza Dough

  • photo(19)1 cup Greek yogurt. Be sure to get the authentic kind (we like Fage brand) because there are some Greek-style yogurts out there that are thickened with corn starch and other additives — they aren’t bad for eating, but not great for baking.
  • 2 cups self-rising flour (plus extra for surfaces). All-purpose won’t work for this unless you add in some baking soda and powder. I’m lazy, I just buy the kind that already has leavening in it — works like a charm.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  • 1 healthy pinch of salt.

Dump all of your ingredients into your stand mixer, or get to mixing by hand. As the dough kneads, it will become elastic and stretchy — just like pizza dough should. If it seems too thin, add a bit more flour; too thick, add a touch of yogurt (or water). Roll your dough out on a floured surface to your desired thickness (we’re thin crust folks here) and pre-bake in a 400-degree oven until the crust has set and begun turning golden brown. Pull the crust out and let it cool on a wire rack for a few minutes; then top as you’d like and return to the oven until your toppings are done and the edges of the crust are brown and crispy. The dough is light, has a good flavor, and I think it will lend itself to some modifications in the future. If you try it, let me know how it went — and happy cooking!

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