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Archive for the ‘Meats’ Category

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year for our little family.  The Spouse and I each have a long history of preparing feasts open to any and all friends in need of a cozy place to go.  Long before we dated, we were friends on opposite ends of the state consulting each other on menus, recipes, and cooking methods.  Once engaged, and finally in the same city, Vagabond Turkey Day was born.  For ten years, it has been about opening our home to an array of interesting people and watching them all connect.  Nothing fussy or fancy, just old friends and new sharing food, drink, games, and conversation well into the evening and often through the next day as well.

Day Two has, in fact, become an event unto itself.  Traditionally, the stock simmers all night while stragglers stay playing games through the wee hours of the morning.  As guests raid the fridge, bones are added to the bubbling cauldron on the stove.  Then on Friday, we make Jacques Pépin’s recipe for French Onion Soup (from his book The Apprentice).  Typically a few folks crash for the night, and a few decide to return the next day.

We added experimental doughnuts to the mix this year.  It was quite a draw.  Throughout Friday we had a constant full house.  French Onion Soup quickly became a ‘deconstructed’ stockpot of stock and onions while getting a few friends to pot luck lasagna and salad.  We were low on savory items, but were overrun with desserts.  The onslaught of sweetness muscled in on counter space – squeezing out most of the traditional game play.  But we will have to rejigger and perfect our strategy in years to come because the doughnuts were an unmitigated success.

There will be doughnuts again.

Oh yes, there will be doughnuts again.

The Spouse attempted these once before, after watching Chris Cosentino recommend Dynamo Donuts on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The Second Try was better still, and The Spouse has already posted the recipe.  But they were so good they merit repeating here.

The Child punted on helping out this time.  There were friends over with bikes and games outside.  So her dad brought out a fresh plate of warm doughnuts for all the kids.

Best.  Dad.  Evar.

Maple-Glazed, Apple Bacon Doughnuts – The Second Try

(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Yeast Doughnuts)

For the doughnuts
•    1 1/4 cup milk
•    2 tablespoons apple juice
•    2.5 oz shortening
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water
•    2 eggs
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 oz all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
•    2 medium apples (gala or fuji)
•    1 lb bacon
•    1/2 – 1 gallons peanut oil

For the glaze
•    3 cups powdered sugar
•    4 tablespoons of maple syrup
•    2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

(Will make approximately 50 doughnuts)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bacon a rack inside a foil-lined half sheet pan. Cook bacon for 15-20 minutes, until crisp. Reserve rendered bacon fat. When bacon has cooled a bit, dice bacon and split in half.
Warm milk in sauce pan until hot enough to melt shortening. Pour milk over shortening and stir until combined.
Place yeast in warm water for 5 minutes.

Peel and finely dice apples. Place 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a frying pan and saute apples over medium heat. Keep diced apples moving constantly until they give up some liquid and pick up a hint of color, about 5 minutes. Remove apples and any remaining bacon fat from pan and add to milk/shortening mixture along with 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat.

Lightly beat eggs.

Combine water/yeast, apple juice, eggs, nutmeg, milk/shortening/apple mixture, nutmeg, sugar, salt, half the bacon, and half the flower in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on slow speed until flour is incorporated, then increase speed to medium. When well mixed, stop mixer and add remaining flour. Again, slowly increase speed until well mixed. It will be very sticky.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a shiny ball.

Move the sticky, elastic dough to a bowl and allow it to rise for one hour, until it has doubled in size.

Dump dough out onto well floured surface. Flour your hand and gently flatten dough until 3/4″ thick. Flour a 2″ and 1″ biscuit cutter. Carefully cut out 2″ disks and move to wax paper, the use the smaller cutter to cut out the holes. When done, cover with more wax paper and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.

In a heavy stock pot, add enough peanut oil to fill to 2-3″ deep and heat to 365 degrees.

Prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat.

Working in batches of 4-6 doughnuts, fry doughnuts until golden brown and delicious on both sides, about 1 minute per side, using chop sticks to gently flip the doughnuts. When done, transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about a minute before dipping in glaze. Return to cooling rack and sprinkle with bacon from the other half you reserved.

(This works best with two people, one frying, one glazing.)

The most difficult bit will be giving the glaze about 5 minutes to set up. Doughnuts will still be warm and delicious!

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Farm Day

There was much anticipation of farm day around here.  I’ve written about our monthly community supported agriculture (CSA) meat share before, but this was the first time we visited the farm.  When asked if she would like to help butcher our Thanksgiving turkey at Godfrey Family Farms, The Child’s first question was, “Will I get to help take the feathers off?”  Each time a parent at school innocently asked if she was looking forward to the holiday, she swelled with pride and explained that she would be meeting her Thanksgiving dinner up close and personal.

*insert Lamorinda-mom cringe here*

Meanwhile I was awash with suburban hyperconsciousness myself:  are the alarms set, where are the work gloves, oh #$%*, it’s going to be 51°F and raining.  We packed enough spare clothes and shoes to enjoy farming to it’s fullest and not need the car detailed afterward.  You would have thought we were leaving for a month.

Enjoying a cinnamon roll with a mason jar of fresh milk from their Jersey cow, Mocha.

We were instantly put at ease upon arrival.  The Godfreys are a remarkably welcoming large family.  Kids far outnumber adults.  While taking in the comforting coordinated chaos, we warmed up with coffee in the kitchen (coffee with real cream from their cow).  The Child dove into the throng of many kids rolling, filling and cutting cinnamon rolls with Rose’s guidance.

That morning she got a full tour of the farm.  She watched Rose milk their Jersey cow.  She learned how to collect eggs from the Godfrey’s genius henhouse set up.  She met cows, chickens, turkeys, goats, rabbits, geese, ducks, sheep, pigs, and quail.  She met the livestock guard-dog puppy.  (It turns out when you cross an Anatolian Shepherd with a Great Pyrenees, you get something akin to a horse.)  In a matter of minutes The Child was off and running with the kids, on the best tour possible… a view of farm life from farm kids.  Every once in a while I would peek around and make sure I could spot her, and it was clear from a distance that she was thrilled and having a ball.

The Child, baby chickens, and many giggles!

The farm didn’t smell like a farm.

I don’t smell very well anymore (anosmia… but that’s another post), so when I could not smell any of the, eh hem, traditional farm smells I assumed it was just my deficient olfactory receptors.  But then I started asking around to the other participants, and no one else smelled anything either.  It makes sense given that every creature has room to be healthy, and nothing goes to waste.  From the bits discarded during processing of birds to the potato peelings left over after making lunch for a crowd.  No resource was squandered.

Then I asked the real finicky nose.  My kid.

“Nope,” she said matter-of-factly. “I didn’t smell anything gross.  Brian said that’s his test.  When he can smell an animal he has too many of them.”

And it seems to be working.  The farm didn’t smell like a farm.  It smelled like being outside in the dirt, cold, rain, and fresh air.  The ewww-factor simply was not there.

Hands on Learning

When it came time to start processing birds, the Godfrey’s were smart and did a practice run.  There were some old laying hens which, while not the best eating, word on the street was they make a superior stock having given their all.  It was a great way to learn a process I’d never seen before.  Learning how to do it properly is daunting;  catching, killing humanely, scalding, plucking and dressing.  There is so much to learn… which organs you probably don’t want to break, how to get entrails out without making a giant mess, all the while keeping the work area clean and the bird safe to eat.

Rose homeschools her children on the farm, clearly a skill set useful when handling a dozen awestruck suburbanites out to pat themselves on the back for their purchasing choices.

Photo Credit: Colleen Cummins/Appeal-Democrat -- Click on the thumbnail for the article

They made the day about relaxed learning.  Assiduous with keeping workspaces clean, tools in good repair, and coolers of ice water at the ready, the backyard classroom had a relaxed, pitch-in-where-you-feel-comfortable attitude with avid discussion amidst shivering smiles.  The Spouse did most of the hands-on work, while I preferred to watch with frozen fingers stuffed in pockets.  The Appeal-Democrat story the following Sunday did a great job covering the actual processing of birds.

Good Teachers Share Mistakes

Brian and Rose are extremely modest given what they have achieved in a mere two years of farming.  The day was full of learning-on-the-job stories from natural born storytellers.

Photo Credit: Godfrey Family Farms

The “chicken mansion” is a source of well-earned pride, giving visiting kids a chance to collect eggs without the daunting prospect of reaching under the actual chicken.  Brian laughed as he admitted the crows got the better of him for a while, as they would wait patiently for lunch to roll down the chute.  Now some fabric covers the treasure until kids come to collect it.  Next to visiting the baby chickens inside their pen, collecting eggs with the other kids was The Child’s favorite part of the day.

Another achievement is their plucker.  Brian beamed when he recounts Rose discovering the online design for the Whizbang Plucker, and chuckled while sharing his own pride having built a tool himself which works so well.  This contraption was remarkably quick, and speed is essential when getting a bird from slaughter to the cooler to ensure food safety.

Our Bird

Our day at the farm is what community supported agriculture (CSA) is all about.  Brian and Rose Godfrey thoughtfully shared a bit of themselves with the curious and engaged community they are fostering throughout the Bay Area.  It was a day of embracing the ideal that everyone always has something to learn.  The experience reinforced that buying our monthly CSA-share of meat helps ensure the safety and quality of what our family consumes and serves.  And we all in turn brought our well-cared-for, tasty birds home to share with our friends and family to spread the love.  Delicious love.

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Apparently my plan to get through a week without The Spouse is to compensate via over-scheduling.  I have not stopped zipping from one thing to the next since he left.  Volunteering at the kid’s school, errands, and keeping ‘just behind enough’ on the housekeeping so as not be on a disturbing reality show.  Just barely.

I can’t complain.  It is all fun stuff this week.  Today The Child had a half day of school, so we went to the park with friends all afternoon.  The weather was glorious!  The reality of to-do lists could wait another day while we took in some well enjoyed park time.

The day does go a bit smoother when I have thought of “what’s for dinner” in advance of actual dinner time.  Lucky for me, today I had the plastic tub-o-leftovers.  It had been waiting for the fetching of appropriate condiments for optimum enjoyment.

Borscht is good.  But borscht with a dollop of sour cream is awesome.  And The Spouse’s freestyle Goat Borscht with Radish Greens is an out-of-this-world bowlful of pink win!

So there was no cooking this evening.  There was merely zapping in the microwave.  And there was standing in front of the machine quoting Homer Simpson, “D’oh! Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?”  A few slices of garlic bread and two glasses of milk later, and we were done.

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It was unbelievably hot this week.

The Child and I were flying solo on dinner and I did not have it in me to cook.  Having been home less than a week, the cupboard was still really bare.  Unless somehow I was going to work magic with evaporated milk, a can of crushed pineapple, and a little lonely leftover baked chicken thigh from the night before… we were out of dinner options.

But our produce delivery from spud! had arrived the day before.  I had one nectarine which seemed ripe enough to eat, one heirloom tomato left, and a single scallion.  Found some flour tortillas and some lettuce in the fridge, and I set to work chopping, muttering lines from The Princess Bride, “Why didn’t you list those among our assets in the first place??”

A quick salad was born of nectarine, tomato, scallion, and a minuscule amount of leftover chicken. It was lovely.

Nectarines and tomatoes are prolific at farmers markets this time of year, and I highly recommend giving this combo a try.  Child loved it, and she beat me to the single second helping.

Nectarine, Tomato & Scallion Salad

1 Nectarine, chopped
1 Medium to Large Heirloom Tomato, chopped
1 Scallion, chopped
1 Cold Chicken Thigh, chopped (any small amount of leftover protein will do – pork chop, steak, crumbled bacon, etc. – even canned black beans – or leave the protein out altogether)

Chop.  Salt.  Mix.

Serve as is, or wrapped in warmed, buttered tortillas with some chopped romaine hearts.

Makes about 3 wraps.  Feeds one mom and one ravenous kid.

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My husband is the daring adventurer in the kitchen.  He will watch something on a television show and say, “Well that looks easy!” subsequently diving in over his elbows into whatever new technique, skill or challenge the kitchen presents.  Usually he has the child ringside to engage and participate.  Yup, The Spouse is an awesome father.  I married well.  *grin*

I am the researcher.  He has always teased that I can put together a binder on just about anything.  Geeking on family traditions and recipes makes me smile.  I enjoy digging up history of ingredients and the provenance of traditions.

This summer I set about on my own learning how to make Boiled Beef Tongue from my dad, just like my grandmother used to make.  I don’t recall ever trying this as a kid, but I remember my father wistfully recounting tales of tasty beef tongue sandwiches.  With mustard.  On rye bread.

I had never even seen one in a market before this summer’s experiment.  But  grandma’s recipe came with the cabin, and the fabulous guy from Futility Farms regularly has them for sale at the Land O’ Lakes weekly farmers market.  Family history and learning a new technique for offal?  I’m in!  Eating nose to tail is an important facet of sustainably consuming animals.

I bought a frozen beef tongue at the farmers market, found locally baked rye bread from the Eagle Baking Company, some proper German-styled mustard, and waited for my dad to visit.

Confession Time

When it came time to thaw and prepare it, it creeped me out… juuuuust a little.  For the first time in a very long while I stood before something bizarre to cook and for a brief moment thought, “Ew…”  It lay there on the cutting board looking like a beef tongue.  It has taste buds, and it looks really strange.  Maybe it felt strange because it looked so familiar?

The photos at Wasabi Bratwurst are vastly better than any of the ones I took! Photo Credit: http://www.wasabibratwurst.com/pickled-tongue/

But we eat anything around here, so I just took a deep breath and dove in.

This recipe could not be simpler and serves as a reminder of what food tasted like when money was tight and ingredients few.

She Likes It!!

I made this recipe twice this summer, and in both cases everyone who tried it has subsequently sought it out on their own.  Including the seven year old!

The first time, my father and I started too late in the day for it to fully cool as directed. So we plunked the entire thing in the fridge in the vinegar solution overnight.  This resulted in the tongue being substantially more sour and grey than the second undertaking, but no less tasty.

The Child favors the pumpernickel over caraway rye, with Hot German Dusseldorf mustard, fresh tomato, and her suggested substitution of cream cheese in lieu of the traditional mayo.

I like the caraway myself, but I must admit, I think she’s onto something with the cream cheese!

I am looking forward to further experimentation!  Simply Recipes has a Lengua Tacos recipe that looks delish.  And Japanese gyutan grilled tongue is intriguing…  Here’s to fabulous, sustainable eating on the cheap!  Huzzah!

Grandma J’s Beef Tongue

Boil covered in salt water for 3 hours.  Remove skin.  (This is much easier than one might think.) Cover with 1 part vinegar to 1 part water solution and simmer about one hour.  Allow to cool in liquid.

Remove from liquid.  Wrap in foil and slice thinly for cold sandwiches as needed.

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Shopping at the local Northwoods grocery store is a bit challenging.  We get local items when we can, but when it comes to most things that is not an option.  Our area is historically trapping, logging, and mining country, not farming country.  The growing season is too short, and the soil quality is poor.  Most quality-raised food has to travel much farther than we are used to in California.  Sometimes shopping here is about choosing the least of several processed evils.  This is after all, a part of the world where it is socially acceptable to buy and serve Velveeta.

For the summer we cook like we’re camping.  We try to make careful choices while remembering that, sometimes, food is just fuel.  And without a dishwasher, one-pot meals with off the shelf ingredients have distinct advantages.
Since this cabin is typically occupied by someone in the family throughout the year, the cupboard and freezer are often filled with groceries other people have purchased.  The kind of food men buy on a fishing trip.

But no amount of Michael Pollan-esque food guilt can allow me to waste food.  I may not make the same purchasing decisions, but when the might-as-well-be-generic brand of canned peas (yes, canned peas…  shudder) are taking up space in the pantry, they ought really be eaten up.

The nice thing was that I had both bacon and a ham steak from the meat purveyor at the local farmer’s market.  I had bought a chicken from him as well and roasted it earlier in the week, so I had homemade chicken stock in my arsenal too.

Futility Farms sends a nice guy with a truck full of freezers each Thursday to sell their grass-fed beef.  Thanks to their neighbors raising animals with similar philosophical bent, there are also conscientiously-raised chicken, pork, and lamb.  The meat comes all the way from Gilman, Wisconsin.

I remembered my father mentioning my grandmother’s recipe for my favorite pea soup is made with canned peas.  And although that soup is beef based with drop dumplings, I decided to freestyle with some pork products, chicken stock, and my forsaken canned peas.

Finished in less than 30 minutes, it was fabulously cozy on a stormy, grey evening.  The Child had seconds, and requested leftovers the next day.  Like all pea soups, this one gets better each day in the fridge.

She wondered why we’d never made this before.  Good question, honey.  Turns out we will be putting canned peas on our pantry staples shopping list from now on.  Cheers to not wasting food and taking a chance.

Canned Pea Soup

1 ham steak, diced
1-2 rashers bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cans, canned peas, drained and rinsed
Homemade chicken stock
Pepper to taste

Saute the onion, bacon, and ham.  No extra oil or salt is necessary to saute as the pork bits provide sufficient fat and flavor.  When the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown on the bottom of the sauce pan, add the drained and rinsed peas.  Stir to combine and add chicken stock to cover.


Stir occasionally while the soup heats through. Some of the peas will break up on their own, and I suppose some folks might like to take a potato masher to it at this point, but we liked leaving our peas intact.

Served dinner for two, leftovers for a day or two, plus half the batch in the freezer for a rainy day.

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Musing about how The Child eats jump-started my writing, especially after we began eating goat at home.  It was the first time we ate goat we prepared ourselves, and the first time we purchased meat directly from a farm.  A positive experience, we were encouraged to search for a regular meat-CSA to join.

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a food distribution model wherein the consumer and the farmer share the risk and rewards of farming.  Typically a subscription, the consumer pledges a monthly rate for a share of what the farm produces each month.  While it is more common to find fruit and vegetable CSAs, the demand for meat and dairy is on the rise.  Consumers typically seek out CSA food in an attempt to eat local, support small-scale agriculture, or obtain organic products.  They may also supply a greater variety of products, as well as heirloom produce or heritage breeds.

Singing the praises of Godfrey Family Farms is long overdue.  We experimented and signed up for a monthly share at the start of the year.  Having no idea what to expect, we planned to re-evaluate after 6-months.  Honestly, I thought by June our freezer would be bursting, and it would prove to The Spouse that our family was not large enough to justify the 15 pounds of meat each month.  We do not have sufficient square footage for a deep freeze of our own.

But I was wrong.  I love it.

One Saturday morning each month, The Spouse drives to a Home Depot parking lot to fetch our share of the monthly meat.  It runs $100 for approximately 15 pounds of various cuts from various beasts, including fresh eggs.  Rose and Brian Godfrey are remarkable.  They write a blog to keep folks posted about happenings on the farm, and have a Facebook Fan Page as well.  They both have a way with words and wit.  Back in January, I read their post about geese including photos of Thanksgiving…

…looking through the fence at Christmas…

…and I knew these were my kind of people.

Our traditional Easter dinner is rabbit after all, and we call him Thumper.

As it turns out, we consume most of the share each month.  We even purchase extra;  several dozen more eggs, and additional chickens anytime they have them.  We are thrilled when some challenge of farm living means there are extra rabbits, ducks, or veal bones to be had.

The meat CSA has made a profound difference in our diet and our lives. From the very first shipment of duck eggs with a magical double yolk… to guilt-free pastured veal… and a variety of beasts… Yes, it is safe to say I am biased.

To counteract said bias, I will skip the compulsory review of pros (eating local, pastured, and small-scale), and head straight to the cons of any CSA.  But are they really cons?   Seem more like advantages to me.

You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. My daughter learned this in pre-K, and it is a rule many adults could stand to learn.  When you join most CSAs you do not typically get to place orders.  And if you do it ought be considered a lucky perk worthy of your undying gratitude, not setting an expectation.

We learned how to meal-plan based on what default produce arrived in a box on our doorstep, and this is really no different. So we have tried new things such as guinea fowl, water buffalo, and duck eggs.  Instead of shopping based on a plan, we plan based on the shopping.  One Saturday each month we gather around the cooler to see what Santa brought us while attempting play a game of freezer Tetris with the frozen blocks.

Please remember it is a farm people!  The animals and crops really do not care what your schedule is, much less your menu.  Sometimes the guinea fowl are too much trouble to raise again.  Sometimes the butcher goes on vacation and instead of pork you get glorious water buffalo from the neighbor’s farm.  Sometimes the momma animals turn out to be less than skilled mommas.   And sometimes the hams, sausages, and bacon come cured by someone else.  We have fallen in love with Rose’s recipes, the Italian sausage and brats in particular, and this is not a con for us.  But it may be for some folks.  If you are particular about what cuts, or which beasts, or what sizes you *need* to have, perhaps this isn’t the right purchasing model for you.

Eating nose to tail. A big part of eating sustainably is eating nose to tail. Philosophically, if you are going to show respect for the animal you are consuming, let nothing go to waste. Economically, if you learn to cook the stuff other people do not want, you will have a wide selection of cheap proteins from which to choose.

It was not our intention to pose the chicken as if it were dancing off stage left. *giggle*

I am confident someone is enjoying the extra bits. (Lucky #$%^&*@!)  And even though Godfrey chickens arrive intact from beak to toes, most of the regular shares do not include offal.  When a family of three buys 15 pounds of meat per month, it reduces our trips to the grocery store.  That puts a dent in how many times we pick up braunschweiger or headcheese for lunch, have calf’s liver for dinner, or discover we like new things like veal kidney chops.

I miss my butcher. Well, not a particular butcher per se.  We predominantly shop at Lunardi’s Market, since the Andronico’s near us went out of business (pout).  It is an average-sized traditional grocery store with a meat counter, and a veritable army of butchers.  They appreciate questions and are quick to ask someone if they don’t know the answer.   I have never been ignored or hustled along.  The Child always loves to visit them.  Since infancy, she has been accompanying one of us, helping to pick things out, watching all the action as the butchers break things down, and fascinated by the various meats hanging from the ceiling.

Approaching this calmly as a reality helped her develop comfort and understanding of what lands on her plate.  But we spend less time visiting the local butchers now that our freezer is packed to bursting once each month.

Maybe it is time to figure out where to put the deep-freeze after all?  The Spouse can park his car in the driveway, right?

Okay, maybe not.

Skillet Sausages

Cast iron skillet (optional)
Bratwurst, bockwurst or favorite sausages
Onions, sliced in half, then in half-rings
A favorite beer or hard cider

Brown the sausages and add the onions tucked in around the edges, i.e. don’t just layer them in on top.   Open up a favorite beer to enjoy and share with the skillet.  Every once in a while check to see that things aren’t sticking.  When they do, add some beer and use your tongs to scrape up the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Skip the bun, serve with mustard and a side of sauerkraut or coleslaw… or both!

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