So I haven’t done much meating lately — the husband and I moved this past weekend, so it’s been a hectic week.  But I can share a vital piece of non-breaking news: Pig + black beans = yum. Yes, world, the combo that shares a title with a Weezer song is famous for good reason. I am a big soup person in the winter, and I can finally enjoy black bean soup without searching high and low for a version sans bacon or ham. And now that I’ve had it, why would I ever bother? Black beans love smokey bacon, they totally want to be married in my mouth!

I also had my first Brazilian meal a little while ago, and while I wasn’t brave enough to order my own Feijoada (I went with fish), I did try it and found the hunk-o-pork + black beans bite similarly delish.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll get some meating in this weekend … I did buy some ‘duck bacon’ at the newly-joined food co-op yesterday…

Bonus Trivia:

Here are other things that people have sung about that go well with pigs, via my dad’s mega list of  food songs:

  • “Pork chops & Mustard greens”-Ernie Andrews
  • “Bacon Eggs & Biscuits”-Jim (that’s all he wrote, ‘Jim’ — I don’t know who this Jim is)
  • “Eggs & Sausage”-Tom Waits
  • “Pork Roll, Egg, and Cheese” - Ween
  • “Hot Dogs & Cabbage”-Little Wally

Baby Steps by Baby Cow

January 29th, 2009

I’m in the midst of packing to move this Saturday, but I did manage to fit in one big meating this week: Veal.

Beef has been a big fear of mine, since I’ve gotten sick from food I didn’t know was beef-tinged before. But when I checked out the menu for Fleur de Sel, where I had a NYC Restaurant Week lunch date with my friend Heather, I saw one of the two entre choices was veal. Besides the moral objections to eating a baby cow, I had heard it was a little more tender and probably milder on my tummy. Also, usually portions at these lunch deal thingies aren’t that huge so it wasn’t going to be like a steak the size of my ass.

Veal and Oxtail Ravioli at Fleur de Sel

Veal and Oxtail Ravioli at Fleur de Sel

When we got there, I stuck bravely with the plan, even though the veal was different than on the online menu and included an oxtail ravioli. Not one, but two meats on one plate! Heather ordered the same, so I would have someone to verify whether this preparation of wittle baby cow was well done.

When it arrived, I was surprised that while not the size of my ass — in fact, I’m not even sure that’s possible now that I think of it, what with it coming from itty bitty calfs and my ass being the size it is and all — Anyway, it was bigger than I thought it would be. I was a little ascared.

Now once before I had a bite of steak when someone said “this is the best most tender steak I’ve ever had” and my main recollection was that I had to chew it FOREVER. I have no memory of the taste, just that I felt ironically like a cow forever chewing its cud, it was in my mouth for so long.

The veal was decidedly more tender than that, and I believed Heather when she verified that it was well done. But I didn’t love it. It was okay — I didn’t get a strong taste from it outside the sauce. I did appreciate that it was … flaky? My meat vocabulary is at a first-grade level. The meat sorta pulled apart easily and wasn’t tough or stringy.  I only ate about half of it, partially because I didn’t want to get sick, but I also just wasn’t kookoo for cocoapuffs over it. On the other hand, I really liked the oxtail ravioli. I’m not sure if it was the oxtail or the spices or what, but mmmm mmm good. Rich and warm and yummo in mah tummo.

Anyway, I’m not knocking Fleur de Sel, the meal was tasty, but so far beef is losing to pork in the meat competition. And since I do feel a little bad about veal from a moral standpoint, it had to be crazy good for me to make it a regular item. I might try it again, but I guess I am still more a Stan than a Cartman:

From larrymac

"meat cake" from larrymac

“Could be meat, could be cake…. It looks like… meatcake!”  — George Carlin

So perhaps I have heard about “Meat Cakes” before, but blocked them from my brain because it a combination of two things I have literally no interest in: Meat and cake. Yes, not only was I a freakish lifelong vegetarian, I also am psychotically uninclined to eat cake. It’s unamerican, I know, but I just am not a big sweets person.

Anyway, I am perfectly willing to try meat loaf or other ground meat shaped into patties or logs or even stars and hearts for all I care. But don’t try and pretend the meat is a dessert item. I am against Tofurkey for the same reason. Seriously people, tofu does not taste like turkey and does not want to pretend be a turkey, and it’s insulting to the tofu, the turkey it’s offensively impersonating, and the vegetarians you are trying to somehow appease by serving a food item that they know perfectly well is not a turkey. When we signed up for the vegetarian label, we realized we weren’t going to be getting to eat turkey at holiday meals anymore. We’re okay with it, really.

Anyway, I digress. So I’ve seen the bacon chocolate bar, and okay, I get sweet and salty, fine. I lived with a couple in college who would quite often fry an entire pound of bacon and eat it with toast, and I understand how fanatical people get about bacon. (If you are among them, here is the mega list of bacon novelty treats). And there is plenty of meat on my list that grosses me out. Tripe, for instance. But I’ve never seen anything less appetizing than this pair of festive “Meat Cakes” made for a baby shower. Yes, a baby shower. I guess nothing says “A baby isn’t going to be what you expected” like a dessert that you think will be a thoroughly delightful sweet treat but turns out to be a much messier delivery that may involve vomiting. Okay, maybe only I threw up a little in my mouth.

Anyway, count me firmly against the Meat Cake. The prettier it is, in fact, the more of a total screw you it seems to me — why in Jebus’ name would anyone want their meat frosted? Here is a huge gallery of meat cakes, you can see what I mean.

A few years ago, when I went to see Late Night with David Letterman, he gave some members of the audience “hamsicles” but it was a joke, people. Please Internets, do not take this as a challenge to make a meat ice cream.  That means you too, Japan.

For the Love of Rocky Raccoon!

January 15th, 2009

First Squirrels, now Raccoon? I just read on Slashfood that Raccoon is “gaining popularity these days as a main course, despite the fact that in order to become edible, it must be brined, soaked overnight, parboiled for a couple of hours and then braised, roasted or smoked.” Seriously, is rabies the new truffle oil? In the original article from Kansas one reliable fan gushes, “During grad school, my roommate and I ate 32 coons one winter. It was all free, and it was really good. If you think about being green and eating organically, raccoon meat is the ultimate organic food.” Yes, indeed, nothing like free-range, trash-fed Coons to say “organic.”

To prepare for the inevitable next food news item: How many Chucks can a woodchuck feed if a woodchuck doesn’t make Chucks upchuck?  Here is the answer and how to prepare all sorts of ‘Varmints‘, courtesy of Gourmet, no less.

In my quest for carnivore knowledge, I am looking to meet meat in the best possible light, meaning in the most delicious manner. I’ve had a lot of great suggestions from friends, including:

  • Back Forty’s “$4 starter of ‘Pork Jowl Nuggets with Jalepeno Jam’ which is, I swear, the single greatest dish being served in New York City right now” - From Felix, who also recommends the bone marrow at Prune, which I had on my list via vegetarian-hating Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show already.
  • Julyne recommends the beef tongue at WD-50, saying the offal menu is “to die for”
  • “I recommend you go straight to Mario Batali for pork ” says Amy.

So, have you had a piece of spectacular meat? Know where they will cook my goose? Are you hopping with joy over a rabbit pot pie? Leave me a comment and let me know where to meat next.

Pork Belly Dancing

January 12th, 2009

Last night I had a real meat-venture at Dovetail restaurant on Manhattan’s upper west side. The husband and I met our friends Joe & Julie for the restaurant’s prix fixe “Sunday Suppa.”  I knew before going I was going to order either an appetizer or a main course of a new meat, but which I did not know. I was pretty set on staying with pork, since so far, so no-puke with pork, but in the end I picked the pork belly appetizer. My cohorts ordered other dishes so I could try a bite of this or that new thing without committing my whole meal to mystery meats.

Pork Belly appetizer at Dovetail

Pork Belly appetizer at Dovetail

Pictured you see the pork belly, which does it no justice. What a magical creation is this pork belly and why have you been keeping it from me, life? The first impression was of crispy, seared skin. The next was that there was some mouth-watering butter-like fat melting  on my tongue. All you meat eaters may laugh, but I did not know animal fat could do this. Apparently, it does. The whole thing oozed and crackled in my mouth in a wonderful fiesta of flavor. And yeah, yeah there was some kind of grain and sauce and blah blah blah it was all really good, but the pork belly! Rest of the meat world look out: The bar has been raised.

I guess the fried lamb’s tongue didn’t have much of a chance after that, but then again, I thought, What if IT IS ALL THIS DELICIOUS??? Even after Julie said you could “feel the texture of tastebuds” on tongue meat, I thought, perhaps the yum of tongue is unsung. Also since it was fried, what are the odds that tiny pebbly tastebuds don’t get burned off? And, of course, I’d never had lamb ever in any form before. So tongue: Meet tongue.

While the tongue got to go to the party in my tummy, it was more of the guest you invite because you have to than you’re really happy to have show up. It had a very strong taste that had a note of old gym socks to me but mainly, I found the texture to be sort of — not exactly mealy — velvety? It felt thick and dense in a way that seemed to take up my whole mouth. But the husband ordered the lamb meatloaf for his main course, which I duly tried. That I liked well enough, it was nutty and juicy and easy to eat. Not a knockout, but fine. So it wasn’t the lamb, but the tongue. I may not be into the organ meats.

What I was into was my main course: Duck goulash with cavatelli and a hen’s egg, and while I’ve had duck before, I’ve never had it in a magical braised-stew concoction such as this. There was a party in my mouth and the entire dish was invited. It was savory and rich but not too much so, the duck was tender,  and man, I am a sucker for the egg-on-top of anything.  It was a huge portion but I ate as much as I could shove in my eating-hole. After that, there was dessert and teeny-tiny red-velvet cupcakes to finish a fabulous feast with friends.

I felt fine after my meat-a-palooza until the cab ride home, when I had a uh-oh moment as the cabbie sped madly through the streets and towards our home.  I don’t know if it was the overall richness, the mad driving, or the new meat that had me near to having a physical recollection of my meal, but I’m happy to report that I managed to make it home and to keep all my food down after some deep breaths and lying down. Phew.

All in all,  a great meal and secured Dovetail as one of my favorite new restaurants in the city.

First Roast ChickenWhile I’ve been a chicken-eater for over 10 years now, having never been around people who cooked it, I’ve mainly just eaten chicken when dining out. Sure, I’ve cooked a few boneless, skinless, chicken breasts and added a chicken sausage to this or that, but I never really felt I was cooking an animal. Since I have a few birds without feathers on my meat checklist and you don’t always find goose, squab, or pheasant on the menu, it may be up to me to make those flighty friends on my own. Also, in the quest for the best meat treats, there’s a lot of eating out on the agenda for the year, and I need to cut costs somewhere.

So, to start out I decided I’d roast my first whole chicken. I got a free-range, antibiotic-free bird at the market and read up on how to cook birds. I decided to combine the advice of Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food
and the spice of Bon Appetit to flavor the fowl. First step was to take it out and salt and pepper it.

It is hard for me to handle a whole chicken without thinking of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” Video, but I duly resisted making the bird pretend-sing-and-dance. Now remember when I said birds without feathers? Well, one “bonus” feature of this hippie bird was that it still had some feathers attached to its bottom area. I was steeling up for shoving my hands in its inner cavity and rubbing some salt all up in its insides, but I had to take a step away after seeing its naughty region still a-feathered. This was the moment of peak grossed-out. But I grabbed my chefs knife and just sliced those parts off and threw ’em away.

After that it all seemed pretty easy — even separating the skin to gently wedge oil and fresh spices in there.  I realized towards the end I had no string for trussing, so I used the extra sprigs of rosemary from my garden to tie the legs and wings as instructed. Then it was into the oven, and after a few turns, bastes, and a little more than an hour, the chicken you see above came out. Perhaps presciently, I had asked for a meat thermometer on my wedding registry, so I just waited for it to read 175 and declared it done.

And thanks to Water’s tips I believe, it was delish. The gravy I made had a few lumps, but the husband agreed my dish ruled the roost.

nuts My feeling on squirrels, growing up in New York City, can be aptly summed up by Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City: “You can’t be friends with a squirrel! A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.” Now squirrel, though I know it is eaten in the U.S., has not made my “meat checklist” — it brings to mind poor families with no other choices.  And Mike Huckabee.  *shudder*

But now I hear via the New York Times that “a new meat is gracing the British table: squirrel … many feel that eating squirrel is a way to do something good for the environment while enjoying a unique gastronomical experience. ” Not only are people eating it up, there is a “war raging in Squirreltown!” Squirrel Nutkins!  It seems the vicious gray squirrels are like the Wal-Mart of the animal kingdom, and where ever they put up shop, they crowd out and kill the lovable local red squirrels. So now British people everywhere are adding rodent to their list of meats to eat.

I’m not sure if I’ll really get to ordering and cooking a squirrel, but I am going to add it to the meat checklist. Has anyone ever eaten squirrel? If so, how was it?

Bonus trivia for this post: Etymology of ‘Squirrelly’ comes from a squirrel’s diet of nuts!

Coming Out of the Meat Locker

January 7th, 2009

Universally, from vegetarian and meat-eating friends alike, my meatening up has been met with positive reactions, from simple “cool how fun” replies to enthusiastic offers to be my “meat mentor” from a chef and invites to meals filled with a bonanza of beef, platters of pork, something “encased in intestine” and even promises of  a dinner of “pig knuckles and chicken feet. You’re in for a treat.” Um… I’ll get back to you on dem bones.

Which brings me around to the two most common questions I’ve gotten: Doesn’t meat gross you out? and Won’t you get sick?

To the first I say: Not really. Meat itself I don’t find gross. I’m not — I mean wasn’t — a moral vegetarian along the lines of “It’s wrong/bad to eat animals” or “Eating pork makes me think of a real pig and the smell of bacon makes me cry and want to snuggle with piglets.” I don’t think I could eat cat or dog, I’ve loved too many, but I am going to give frog a try and I had not 1, not 2, but over the course of 2 years 20 pet frogs. Which are, by the way, not vegetarians either. And unlike frogs, I don’t plan on eating any of my meals while they are still alive.

But I have cooked a lobster — and I don’t know that eating a piece of sausage has the same “wow I really just killed this delicious creature purely for my own pleasure” connection that plunging a live crustacean into a vat of boiling water and then eating said animal does. It’s not just the plastic bib that makes eating a lobster not pretty. And I have always, as long as I can remember, favored fresh whole lobster over all other fish, and never minded the whole messy process of it or that it was, just a little while ago, a live animal.

The second question is more of a problem, and is why I’m taking it slow. I’m not jumping right into a steakhouse and telling the waiter to bring it on. In small quantities, pork doesn’t (so far) make me sick. On the other hand, the last time I had a meal that I didn’t know was cooked with beef broth, I got to know the toilet real well. And if hidden beef broth puts me on a path to discussing things like “Ah, I forgot I ate peas yesterday” with my new BFF the toilet, I am worried about eating it outright.

Still, I believe that if I take it slow and eat well-cooked qualty meat, that should help. You don’t run a marathon the first day you start running, and I won’t order the Mega Meat-Splosion! platter quite yet.

The only people I have not yet told about my meat-venture are my parents. As parents, they have heard  much,  much,  much worse things from this daughter over my 34 years, yet I am still working up to telling them. I think they will basically take it with puzzlement, not dissapointment or anger, but I figure there’s no rush to tell them.  I’ll let you know how it goes when I do.

Breakfast Meating

January 4th, 2009

first sausage hamming it up

Beginning with breakfast meats seemed a wise way to begin: If I hated/couldn’t stomach the sides of meat, there was still plenty of eggy and french fried goodness to enjoy. I’m still wary of ordering a big ol’ steamin hunk o’ meat for my main meal. Baby steps to the elevator.

So I started the year with bacon, and yesterday at our favorite local diner, I noticed the sausages looked pretty good — not those sad little links you see some places, but what looked like nice, fat, fresh sausage (from what I know, which admittedly is little). I added a side to my eggs and toast. I’ve had chicken and turkey sausage, so I knew the basics of what I was getting into. I thought it wouldn’t be that different, but I have to say it was — it was (to state the obvious) more pork-y in flavor, but also more juicy. The casing had a tight snap which made for a pleasing bite, and the inside was tender and tasty. Even better than eating it alone was having a bite with toast and egg. Me likey.

Today to finish the battle of the breakfast meat, I tried ham with my eggs and sweet-potato fries. Ham is definitely the most recognizable as flesh of my forays so far. No pretending it’s not meat, it looks like a cross-section of muscle. Which I guess it is.  This was the most pork-y tasting of all, and hella salty. I am a girl who literally eats salt plain (I used to shove those little paper packets of salt in my mouth and suck on them when my parents weren’t keeping an eagle eye on me), so this should appeal to me, but I was not into it. My meat-tour-guide/husband tasted it and reported that this was typical but not especially good ham. It was better as part of a egg-toast-ham bite, but the ham was still most of what I tasted even in this combo. I could see how it would be good as a flavor note or part of a sandwich with some strong cheese (swiss or something), but I did not love my eggs and ham. I may retry it here or there. I just won’t eat them anywhere.

So the surprising winner of the breakfast meat battle is…. sausage!