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!

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.

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

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