The year in meat

December 31st, 2009

While this blog didn’t thrive past the middle of the year, my meat eating did.  There’s the usual life got busy excuses, which is true. In May we got a new cat, Ryan Jingles Seekrest (the cat who twitters!) but the main thing that kept me distracted from writing about meating is that we’ll be bringing a new omnivore into the world next year, in the form of a human baby. Since July when I learned I was pregnant, I was given even more reasons to eat meat as a replacement for the many things I could no longer have: Booze, sushi, stinky cheese. Also, as a vegetarian I was prone to anemia, which can get worse in pregnancy, but since I have been meating, my midwife has declared I am “the least anemic pregnant woman ever.” Take that, tofu. And despite my early-in-the-year worries that meat would make me sick, I didn’t suffer a single bout of morning sickness.

While I was raised vegetarian, I don’t plan on raising our son the same, which makes me all the more glad I have done this year of meat thang.  While he may suffer through the same lack of McDonald’s Happy Meals as I did — sorry, kid — at least he won’t be forced to demand the “least pepperoni-y slice” of pizza at a birthday party and then proceed to pick off every speck of pepperoni before eating or bring his own weird veggie hot dogs to a cookout. Though who knows in the end what weird eating problems, pickiness, or allergies the future offspring may bring: One of my childhood friends would only eat hot dogs and yoo-hoo at parties. And there are those who won’t touch parsley.

In any case, I’ve accomplished much of what I set out to do at the beginning of the year. There are some notable exceptions: I didn’t ever get crazy with items like squirrel or kangaroo, and I have yet to try venison. But I did eat and cook many many new meats, and even introduced 3 other lifelong meat-eaters to a meat none of us had ever tried before: Goose. My goose was well cooked, if I do say so myself.

In the end, my favorite meats were all pig-related. Bacon is a wonder, but I also enjoyed pork in loin and cutlet and basically whatever form it came in. Hello, Char No. 4 Pork Nuggets, be my best friend?

Beef on the other hand, I tended to only like when made into something else, like a burger or a sausage or braised in some other mixed-in meal. I had some beef that was good, but I just can’t ever see myself craving a place that serves a good beef tenderloin, even though the tenderloin I had recently was good.

So what does 2010 hold? I expect more of the same. I don’t plan on going back to complete vegetarianism and while I won’t be eating meat on a mission as much, I plan on continuing to eat it when the meat meets me at my plate.

Hawt Dawg

May 27th, 2009

Back when I went to summer camp, my family would send me along to camp with a can of vegetarian hot dogs. Yes, you read that right, a can.  Like Tofu Dogs in a Vienna Sausage tin? You might ask.  I guess, but bigger and minus the tofu. It is a soy product, but it’s not like a tofu dog you might have tried. Oh Loma Linda Linketts, how to describe you.  You look like a hot dog pre-packed in its own hot dog water. You were what I knew as a hot dog for my entire youth. Yet now I know something else: You are nothing like a real hot dog.

Being that Memorial Day Weekend is the Official Start of BBQ Season, we felt it was our national duty to pitch in and burn things on a grill. And since I tried hamburger, it was hot dog’s time. As I tend to do, I picked the no-nitrate, uncured kind to try first, promised by their maker that their “all-natural hot dogs are full of flavor and larger in size than the average hot dog.”

I left the cooking to the husband, and dressed one with hot sauce, grilled onions and ketchup, and the other in the “traditional L.L. linkett” fashion: mustard, ketchup, relish. Being that I have liked almost all things sausage-y, it was not a huge surprise that I liked them. Unlike the LL cool-Links, these hot dogs had a snappy, tasty “skin” and were oh so juicy. And also they had this crazy… what is it… oh, I know: Flavor.

Next up I’m heading to Grey’s Papaya for one of their famous dogs, but if anyone has any other fave Dog shacks, let me know!

Every once in a while, I like to check my search referrals and see just how google sends people here. One such visitor came looking for “meat on my face.” I can’t help you out there, but it reminded me of this sight I snapped in Italy:

happy sandwich meat


April 3rd, 2009

So I’m in midst of planting my new garden, and while I love cooking from things I grew myself, I worry about some backyard pals that plague the area. Now, there is one pair of particularly cheeky squirrels who I call Chip and Dale. Yes, I am aware that Chip ‘n Dale are chipmunks. But more important than their species is their love of mischief and hijinx. One of these backyard squirrels will sit right on my office window ledge and eat nuts in my face. He is a ballsy rodent. Would he be so brazen if he knew he is on my list of meat? Unfortunately, he is illiterate so my attemps to show him the list on my laptop have had no effect. If he digs up my vegetables, I’m going to go all Farmer McGregor on his ass.

Meanwhile, more disturbing is the appearance of this fat creature:

He has come by twice, and Mishka the cat is all for us taking a cue from this fellow and making a meal of him. Choices include “roast coon with sweet potato, sausage and corn bread stuffing; raccoon cobbler and roast marinated raccoon with liver and onion.” Um, cobbler? I don’t think so. I maintain my earlier position that Meat is not for dessert.

March Mad Cow

March 30th, 2009

So I have kind of failed at making March “Beef Month” as the only other beef I have eaten since the Burger Joint burger is one bite of Kobe Beef off the husband’s Surf ‘n Turf birthday plate at La Bernadin. I liked it, but so far there’s no question who will take the final spot in my own personal march meat madness  bracket. It will come from the pork region. And the region of pig will be belly.  I had another portion of pork belly at A Di La and it only cemented my love of the fattiest part of the pig. I’ve gotten some excellent bacon at the Union Square farmer’s market and enjoyed my first BLT. I try to eat other meat, but bacon keeps drawing me back in.  In the words of a wise man, “Bacon, the most beautiful thing on earth… bits of bacon are like the fairy dust of the food community”:

So while I may be guilty of a meat fail with my march mission, the year is but a third over and there’s plenty of time to give beef it’s due. Meanwhile, I’m going to cook up some Bacon Donuts. Bibity bobity bacon!

I had many good recommendations for my first burger, but in the end, it came down to more than the meat.  As much as “burgourmands” debate the pros and cons of this place’s patty versus that bistro’s beef, in the end there were a few things that narrowed my choices.  Mainly, I didn’t want a huge, crazy burger. On Saturday, the husband indulged me as I scoped out some final choices. Yes, I went and just looked at people eating burgers.

Both the burgers at Shake Shack and the Burger Joint looked “normal” and had received the most rave reviews from both friends and the Internets.  In the end, the appeal of the getting a good burger at a diner-like dive hidden in a fancy midtown hotel could not be beat. On Sunday, we returned at what I thought would be a non-totally-crazy-nutso-hour-crowd time (3 pm) and snagged a table.

I had the hubband wait on line and instructed him to order a burger medium-rare “with the world.” Yeah, I read the posted how-to-order sign as saying “the world” when any sane person would realize, funny font or no, that it said “the works.” In any case, he knew what’s what and brought me back:

first burger

I cut it open and took my first burger bite. The “works” I should mention, includes lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. My first bite I must admit was mainly a taste of toppings. But further bites made me realize that the hub was right: Burgers have a lot to do with toppings. Did I like it? Yes. Was it very different from a good turkey burger to me? No, it was not.

I was sort of disappointed: I expected it to be a  world-changing beef bite. But either I still don’t have the palate or I just don’t see the big deal about burgers. It was good, yes, but if it changed anything in my belief o’ beef, it was that burgers in and of themselves may never ever make their way into a regular food for me, and that 34 years may be too late to get into hamburgling.

Last in my journey was to find out: Would I, in competitive eating terms, suffer a reversal?

While I left a few bites on my paperish plate, the happy news is that I managed to keep it all down. I think I may be able to stomach anything now! Backyard squirrels, watch out.

When I think of hamburgers, I think of J. Wellington Wimpy, friend of Popeye and moocher of burgers. He loved burgers so, he would beg, borrow, and even once committed identity theft to procure his favorite treat. Ask my dad, he’ll know just what I mean. For Wimpy, any burger would do. But for me, I am looking for the best.

Now, there are plenty of recommendations for great burgers in NYC: The blog “A Hamburger Today,” for instance, has an entire section just on burgers in NYC. And I’ve been looking around for “best burger” lists and have found:

To name a few of the very, very many. Man. Grilled vs. griddled? Fancy shmancy or plain Jane? It’s too much to take in. So here’s where you can help me out, my meat-eating NYC readers. I’m asking, not what you think is the best burger of all, but What burger would you recommend for someone’s first ever burger?

Think of me as a foreigner, from a burger-free land where not even McDonalds have managed to sprout. You want to amaze me with this American tradition, this miracle of ground beef and bun. Where do you take me?

Post title cleverly coined by the husband in reponse to my declaration yesterday that this month I’m going to “beef up.”

The first two months of my Carne-val of meat have largely consisted of explorations of fowl and pig. I’ve really porked up (in every sense of the word!) and have enjoyed eating pork ragu, fried pork jowl nuggets, some dried meats like speck, and bacon and sausage a plenty.  I tried a decent piece of ham. I even bought and cooked bacon for the first time: First duck bacon and now “regular” bacon — specifically this bacon (from the hippiemart: it’s not all tofu and sprouts and kale). Okay, okay, I did use some of the bacon to saute with organic kale.  It was delicious.

It’s interesting to cook meat in general, as I have very little frame of reference for it. Most people grow up seeing, even if just in passing, meats being cooked. Other than at other people’s BBQs and my bacon-loving college roommate, I have never really been around meat cookery. So what have I learned?  I am disturbed by how much fat liquifies off bacon. Simultaneously, I am intrigued by the idea of clarifying it and using it in other things.  On TV, I watched Gordon Ramsey go to the abattoir with two pigs he raised himself on “The F Word” and it was sad and hard to take. Yet I am still planning on putting together a butchering class to learn how to break down a pig.  He still cooked and served those pigs. I’m not taking it that far: I have space for tomatoes, but not livestock. Which I think may be illegal in any case in NYC and in every case would definitely not be cool with the landlord. (No, really, that’s my giant hairless cat!)

The best part so far is how easy it is to order anything I want when I go out. I haven’t turned 180 degrees so I order sausage followed by a bacon-wrapped pork chop followed by a ham and cheese sandwich. I still order a lot of the same kinds of things: I love fish, I love pasta, I love vegetables. I crave them. But now I don’t have to ask if the collard greens have bacon. When I taste bacon in my cornmeal-crusted catfish, I don’t have to make my dinnermates taste it and weigh in before asking the waiter and considering being the jerk who sends back the fish because of a whiff of meat. Instead, I go “yum.” I say “Taste this, it’s amazing.”

Since I’m getting comfortable with porcine products on my plate, it seems the right time to mooooove on. Sorry, I can’t help myself. Simply, my plan for March is to really brave beef.

Meat Hero

February 19th, 2009

Now while I humbly begin a journey that includes meat, one of my comedy heroes, Mike Nelson of MST3K fame, is eating nothing but bacon for the month of February or “Bacon Stupidity Month.” I heard about it when he began, but nothing but bacon? And not only bacon, Mike is a hardcore bacon purist:

No condiments allowed. No syrups, or hot sauces, or pureed vegetables in the form of ketchup. No sauces at all. Just nature’s finest bacon, all by its dignified self.

I hesitated to blog about it until he made it through at least a week.  But after two weeks, he is still going strong. Mike Nelson, you are the the porky wind beneath my wings.

Related Bacon Fun:

Sausage Party

February 16th, 2009

My husband’s facebook status update  at one point recently read: “Staying home sick while the wife heads off to a sausage party. for realsies. they’re going to make sausage.” And I did. Though it was only a party of three.

It began with a phone call on a sunny Sunday afternoon, just as the hub and I were about to head into brunch in our new neighborhood. My friend Felix was calling asking “What my meat situation was these days.” You see, he and his wife Michelle had planned to make venison sausage with a friend of theirs who had been hunting and nabbed a deer. Felix was ready with oodles of  casings and his sausage-making attachment for the Kitchenaid, but alas, the friends, and therefore the venison, were not coming after all.  Would I, he asked, be up for making some sausage? Does a moose get shot from a helicopter in Alaska? You betcha! I asked what kind of meat I could bring and armed with advice, headed post-brunch to the butchers for the first time.

We had passed a place called Prime Meats on 5th avenue earlier in the day and they seemed open,  so we headed back and I checked out the meats. Unlike Astoria, our former home, there were no whole carcasses lining the front windows or the inside, but they still had plenty o’ meat to buy. Since I’ve done fine so far eating pork, I bought 6 pounds of pork and 1 of beef, just for varieties sake. When the butcher learned I was making my own sausage, he was noticeably excited and after saying “good for you!” told me that next time, tell him before he ground it up: Bigger chunks = tastier sausage.

Later,  I headed to Felix and Michelle’s, meat and onions in tow and ready to go. As I exited the subway, my phone rang. Felix wondered if I would be interested in some sweetbreads also? Why not? Said I.  I figured that was something you might also put in sausage and agreed to try and find peas to bring along the way. (Peas in sausage? What did I know.)

Now, Felix and Michelle have made sausage before, which I knew because once Felix showed up late for poker because he was busy making sausage. To prove it was not a metaphorical joke sausage party, he showed up with sausage. Which he then cooked and people enjoyed — though not me since I had not embarked on this meat-venture.

When I arrived, they were ready with herbs and spices and bowls and… what is that? A bag of  snakes’ shedded skins?

Here are things I did not know about real sausage casings: They do not look like super-long, unrolled condoms. Instead, they look like a wrinkly, white, messy nest of dessicated brains or some kind of fiber one might knit a white net for catching fish that loved meat. And salt. They were absolutely covered in salt. I guess as a preservative.  I forgot my camera but this is a pretty good picture if you need to really visualize it.

Luckily, I was not tasked with the casings, but instead (post-onion & garlic chopping) to mix up the first batch of meat in a bowl. Is there any fun like making the former vegetarian use her hands to mix up ground pork for the first time? I’m sure there is and it will come to me this year. The meat-mixing really wasn’t bad. We added onions, garlic, loads of parsley, salt and pepper to our first simple batch and after wrestling the casing onto the attachment, began to smoosh and poosh it through. The first batch went fine, and we moved onto the second, which I decided to go spicy with: Ground dried chili pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, onion, salt.  This one was going even smoother than the first, with Michelle dealing with the filling of the casings and me the smoosh-poosh when…

The Kitchenaid broke. After asking the Interwebs what to do, it seemed we had done something to the motor and had to wait to get it fixed to continue. There was no way we could figure to make it without the extruder thingy, so we made patties of the rest of the mixed meat. Meanwhile though, I learned the sweetbreads weren’t for sausaging but for eating, then and there! Felix had them soaking and sauteed them with the peas and some pancetta for us. He believed they were veal sweetbreads, so that’s what I’m going to believe.

The last time I had sweetbreads in front of me was at Epcot Disney in “Paris” with my sister. I was about 9 years old and I thought, I like sweet bread, I’ll order that. Maybe that’s what they call French toast in Paris, I thought. They wouldn’t call it French toast after all, I smartly reasoned. In short time, a plate of mysterious flesh appeared before me.

“Where’s the bread?” I asked the waiter, who laughed and laughed. Apparently, in the opening days of Epcot Disney they went for waiters that played the part Americans wanted to believe lived in France: Ones that would openly mock you. I also now cannot believe they had something as adventurous on the menu in any part of Disney, but then again, Epcot was the place that you could get booze in those days, too.

In any case, this time I knew what I was in for, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I had no idea what to expect but my first impression of the sweetbreads was “pillowy.” They were soft but not mushy, and kind of creamy-fatty, but not too much so. It wasn’t like eating a softened butter or really anything I’d had before. There was a firmness to them but they melted in my mouth. I started with a tiny piece and actually went for a second small portion, so I’d say I liked them.

Since the sausage was my first, the couple graciously allowed me to take all that we had managed to make (about 2 pounds worth I’d say) while they kept the rest for meatballs and whatever struck their fancy. Much thanks to both for inviting me over and initiating me into the sausage making trade.

I didn’t bring my camera but I did take pictures of the two meals the sausages I made made:

sausage two waysThis is a ’spicy sausage patty’ with one link of the original blend sausage. Served with potatoes and kale.  Second is the “bangers and mash” version, which is spicy sausage, homemade mashed potatoes and more kale. The spicy sausage was totally the winner.

bangers and mash