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Archive for the ‘Offal’ Category

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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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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Our family talks about where our food comes from every single day.  Now that The Child is seven we have started in on the enlightened environmental sustainability speak… but when she was teeny-tiny we skipped over that and stuck to the basics.

What I mean specifically is setting down a pulled pork sandwich and announcing, “Mmm…  Pig.”  Or having a platter full of sausages become an impromptu quiz for a three-year old:

Us:    “What do beef and pork mean?”
Her:    “Cow and pig.”
Us:    “What’s in the bockwurst.”
Her:    “Baby cow.”
Us:    “Excellent!  Dig in.”

It got a lot of laughs from guests when she was wee, but it is a serious attempt to instill respect for what we are eating, how it gets to us, as well as the obvious basic identification about what it is.  I want The Child to know what she is eating and still have to try it.

This also applies to where it comes from on the animal.  Alton Brown does an excellent job of conveying this information on Good Eats in a manner even tiny kids can grasp.  Every time The Child asks for TV and I want to say no, but still desperately want to plug her in for my own sanity, I offer Good Eats off the DVR and sit down with her.  Frankly watching Alton break down a chicken using a dinosaur skeleton as a useful illustration is entertaining!  While The Child did not retain the details as a toddler, it fostered an environment for these discussions to become legitimate and regular dinner conversation.  And at a very young age, roasting a whole chicken became a lesson in anatomy, providing a launch point for discussions of dinosaurs and birds.  Adaptation and evolution.

No one should be thought too young for an anatomy lesson.  Most people purchase their meat cut and wrapped and ready to cook, and in the case of poultry, it is shrink-wrapped and presented such that it is not obvious to a little kid which end the head was on.  The Child was typically plunked in her Easy Diner as a baby, a safe distance from raw meat preparations, and became used to engaging in cooking interest even then.

Ever noticed how kids gravitate to drumsticks?  (Even big kids like drumsticks!)  Knowing a drumstick is a leg, and showing a kid how it goes together, is really just a fascinating puzzle.  But on a more basic level it reinforces that our dinner is muscle, bone, fat, and in the case of the humble chicken, the skin.  Put a dried out, boneless, skinless, chicken breast in front of a kid, and I cannot blame them for deciding they don’t like chicken anymore.  The more we learn about micro-nutrients inherent in every component of what we eat, the more important it is to leave that skin on, enjoy that wee bit of crispy fat, and discover the marrow in those bones.  Assuming appropriate portion control, the science of nutrition is indicating more and more that every little edible bit of an animal has a role to play in a truly balanced diet.  Akin to the micro-nutrients of leaving some of the bran intact on whole grains like farro or eating the peel on your apple.

Not every family is brimming with science geeks like our little threesome.  But just as food is science, food is also culture, and respect for food is foundational to respect of other cultures.  Religious food traditions are a common way of approaching food discussion with reverence.  Maybe your family likes to travel?  You don’t have to travel far to find varied food traditions.  Perhaps there are farmers, fishermen, or hunters in your extended family or social circle.  If history or literature is what excites you, bring that conversation to the table, especially about the foods they already love.  Just find comfortable, matter-of-fact ways to relate what you are eating to what it once was without “Ewww!” or “That’s gross!” being considered an appropriate reaction from anyone.

Kids cannot learn to respect their food unless they know what it is.  And frankly, that goes for adults too.  If your family has made the decision to consume animals, give your kids a little credit and be honest and straightforward about what is on their plate.  They just might surprise you.

Taking The Child (2 yrs old, orange pants) to The Oakland Zoo with friends in July 2005

When The Child was two years old we went to the brand spankin’ new Children’s Zoo at The Oakland Zoo.   The Oakland Zoo succeeds better than most zoos in teaching conservation and science while providing for the health, welfare, and habitats of their animals.  The Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo is no exception, and we were there in July 2005 when they opened.  They include farm animals amidst the exhibits there, and my two-year old sprinted up to the pig exhibit with a huge smile, sighed in awe, and said, “Mmmm… Bacon.”  Some folks within earshot cracked up.  And amidst the stress of keeping up with her that day I thought, “Okay, I’m doing something right.”

Pot-Bellied Pig at The Oakland Zoo's Children's Zoo. One man's pet is another man's food.

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Veal Kidney Chops

The Child and her dad ran errands all morning while I went to visit a friend a few days ago. I arrived home to lunch on the table, ready to dig in.  I am so lucky!  This particular lunch menu, it turns out, was The Child’s idea.  While standing at the butcher counter ordering a ginormous leg of lamb, The Child perked up and said, “Oooo!  Can we get some kidney chops??”  Apparently this startled even the butcher, and he happily wrapped some up for them to take home.

When my husband is not traveling for work, he does most of the large roast beast sort of cooking.  Hence the ginormous leg of lamb.  But when the Child and I are on our own, I tend to stick with smaller cuts and less mess-inducing techniques.  By keeping the production scale and portions smaller I don’t waste any leftovers either.  We experimented one day after school with some lamb loin chops in the cast iron pan, and they were a hit.  But they weren’t exactly cheap.  Then one fateful day, I saw veal kidney chops for $1.89 per pound.  I have never seen them that inexpensive again.  But from a purely cost savings perspective, the more typical $3 or $4 per pound cost still beats the lamb loin chops hands down.  I got the chops home and thought, “Now what?”

Veal kidney chops are a classical old-world cut.  They hark back to a time when eating sustainably meant eating the whole animal so nothing went to waste, not just concerns about how the animal was raised.  The fat-enclosed kidney sits right along the loin. Typically this used to be left in place, so with each chop cut off the loin there was a little slice of kidney attached.  Current butchering techniques typically separate the kidney from the loin earlier in the process, so modern kidney loin chops have two separate cuts bundled together.

This poses a serious complication when preparing them.  Lobel’s Meat Guide recommends skewering the chop around the slice of kidney before baking, grilling, or broiling.  But even with skewering, my first several attempts resulted in the kidney falling out completely.  The few times the kidney stayed put it was overcooked by the time the chop was ready.

How did I solve this culinary logistics problem??  As with so many other quandaries in life…  the answer is bacon.

Wrapping bacon around the edge before skewering keeps the tiny little chops bundled tightly.  As the chop cooks, it shrink-wraps the kidney chop in bacony goodness.  This helps protect the kidneys from becoming overcooked, and the chops cook more evenly as well.  It worked brilliantly, and The Child liked them so much she saved the kidney for the last perfect bite.  Apparently she now asks the butcher for them herself as well.

Veal Kidney Chops with Roasted Onions and Cauliflower

4 Veal Kidney Chops
One small cauliflower, quartered
One onion, frenched
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Wrap tail end of veal chop around the kidney.
Wrap a standard size slice of bacon around the outside edge and secure with skewers.
Season both sides of chops with salt and pepper.
Slice cauliflower into quarters and cut out the core.
French one onion.
Heat olive oil in a cast iron pan.
Sear chops in hot cast iron pan for 2-3 minutes a side.
Meanwhile toss to coat the onion and cauliflower in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Add these veggies to the pan after the first flip of the chops.
After searing the second side, finish them in the oven, and let the meat rest before serving.

The cauliflower arriving in our spud boxes has been remarkably tasty but small.  For working with a larger specimen, use large chop-sized chunks in the pan, or roast the entire cauliflower in the oven.   Cut it into florets, toss with seasoning and olive oil, and roast at 400°F for about 25 minutes, turning once or twice.

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