Wednesday, June 24, 2009

butchery class.

Just a few short months ago, I proposed the idea of "Lady Butcher" to a friend. I had been post-vegetarian for about a year-- struggling to find pleasure in food again and wanting to be being a "good steward" of my money, meat resources, and even my desire to eat healthful and tasty foods. I thought I could go on a meat journey and document my findings, perhaps in the form of a reality television show. Unfortunately, it turns out that even though I live in Los Angeles, a reality television opportunity was not dropped in my lap. Hence, I started a blog. I didn't know what would come of it, but looking back, I am pretty excited for what I've learned and that I have already had the chance to go behind the scenes of a super neat, artisan, lady-owned butcher shop!

Thank you for following my story!

Here are some photographs and highlights. (I didn't take that many pictures because I was pretty focused and aware of sharp objects.)
We had the opportunity to learn about two animals, pig and lamb. First up was the pig. Suckling pig, to be exact. What is a suckling pig, you say? This refers to a very young animal that has never been fed solid food and has not developed its muscles fully, resulting in very tender meats. For us in the butcher class, this also meant that the animal was small enough to arrive at the shop relatively intact, i.e., head and trotters still attached. Basically, full-on shock value.

The class was structured in a way that all of the participants had the opportunity to make several cuts on each animal. I had been feeling a little nervous, so I was very happy that I was not making the first cut of the day.

The first cut was the head.

Next, the trotters.

Then, my turn, removing the kidneys (the only organs left in by the slaughterhouse. Sidenote: slaughterhouses remove and clean out the animals before they arrive at a butcher shop, resulting in a much less gruesome process than I imagined. Butchers actually have to purchase many of those parts back from slaughterhouses if they want to use and/or sell them!), doing some cleaning touch-ups, and making the first cut to divide the beast into sections. We used three tools, a flexible boning knife, a hand saw, and a cleaver with a mallet. There didn't seem to be specific tools for specific tasks, we were instructed to use what felt comfortable and appropriate.

After lunch, my queasiness had dissipated. I thought, gosh, the lamb wouldn't be too difficult as it looked much more like a piece of meat than a furry creature... but I had to go first this time around!

I was the only female in the class and had stayed pretty silent throughout the process, so I wasn't totally prepared for what I was asked to do, but I'm super happy I got to do it! While the lamb was hanging from the hook, I split and tore off the flanks and skirts, cleaned out the inside, and then...

Made that cut. First, I made an incision straight through, then sliced from the spine out on both sides. Next, I was told to wrap my leg and my arms around the lamb and snap the spine where I had made the cut. Wow! That was intense! Then, I supported the weight on my leg and cut behind the spine, caught it when it dropped, and hoisted it up on the table. Whew!

I felt pretty bad ass. I can't come up with a more appropriate word.

When the cuts were being portioned for us to take home, I happily said that I had a meat grinder and, why yes, I do make sausages! And I would take the fun bits for stock-making. Perhaps the other dudes in my class thought they were making out because they got to fight over the pig head, but for the man and I, the ground meat and stocks will be far more useful. I got some nice steaks too (and those were fun to cut down!) and a package labeled "pig shoulder."

Honestly, I think that was the biggest thing that I learned was that it all was very intuitive. The parts of the animal dictated how the cuts were to be made and the butchers worked instinctively. Not to get too philosophical, but this wasn't surprising. I carry no judgement for the decisions people make about their eating habits and choices, but we seem to be carnivorous beasts at heart and this opportunity reinforced that notion for me. So thank you, Avedano's (and to the ladies at Sweet Meats for telling me about them!) for a highly fulfilling experience.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Butchery previews.

Just a preview of the fun that is to come...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

cheap steaks and thoughts on butchery.

Just a quick little tip from the LA Times on cheap cuts of beef... Nothing too profound, but there are some good tips. And I must say, I had a fabulous top sirloin steak a few nights ago. (Yes, the one that made me stinky for ballet...) The advice for cooking and slicing it properly made a huge difference in the texture of the meat.
But what else is new in this lady's meat land? I've been trying to prepare myself mentally for my butchery class coming up on Sunday. The man and I are hopping in the Green Dragon on Saturday morning and heading up to SF for quick trip to return promptly after the class with our giant red camping cooler filled with fresh cuts of pork and lamb. I have to admit I'm not sure what I've gotten myself in to!
From the start of my meat journey, I have confidently stated that perhaps every one who eats meat regularly should, at some point, have the experience of seeing the animal in pre-vacuum wrapped state to understand and accept what we eat and demand humane treatment of animals and quality products. Now that I'm actually going to experience it, (or at least part of it, won't be going to a slaughterhouse this time around!) I'm a little squeamish. I keep replaying the guy on the phone telling me that it probably goes without saying, but remember to wear something that you don't mind getting.... He tapered off. Does he say "bloody"? Would that be offensive? Disrespectful? I got the picture. Still don't know what I'll be wearing though. Debating on a clean white t-shirt for an interesting splatter-paint fashion statement, but don't think I'll follow through with it. Suggestions?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

what's that smell?!

Last night, I was doing my usual post-work rushing around-- walk the dog, make dinner for the man and I, and pick up a friend to go to our 7:30 ballet class. As I was running out the door, I realized that my sweatshirt reeked of the tasty steak I made for dinner. I am already pretty self-conscious in ballet class, but now I had to embarrassingly wonder what my teeny-tiny, limber teacher would think when she grabbed my not-so-petite arms and waist to try to twirl me across the floor... Would she notice the smell and be offended or even grossed out?

If I had only known about this yesterday, I would've been considerably less self-conscious about any lingering meat smells. For only $3.99, you too could smell like a (Burger King) flame-grilled hamburger. What could be sexier?!


Here's the tagling:
Most [celebrity] fragrances offer a ‘delicate’, ‘playful’ or ‘captivating’ overtone. But not Flame. The new fragrance from Burger King bucks the trend with that hint of flame-grilled beef. And reputedly it's also a surprising scent of seduction!
What do you think? Would you try it? I think if my man wore this, I would be disappointed...
Me: "Ooh, did you make dinner?"
Him: "No, it just smells like I did!"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

burgers+diagrams or "don't mess with my meat!"

I haven't been very up on my Diagram Wednesdays, but here's one that is definitely worth sharing--


So true, so true.

It actually brings up my next point. There has been quite a bit of buzz about the best burgers in LA. Last week, there was an article in the Downtown News as well as a (now expired) circulating coupon for a free burger from Blu Cafe, their pick for best downtown burger. Needless to say, the man and I had to go check it out.

The cafe was pretty swanky and had an exciting menu, as well as reasonably priced beer and wine and an in-house baker who makes lovely cakes. Here's a shot of our lovely free burger--

Looks tasty, huh? Yeah, I heard it was. The only criticism from the man was that the piece of cheese didn't cover the whole (half pound!) meat patty. Unfortunately, the (super friendly) waiter was not very knowledgable about what the burger may contain except that it was "seasoned." If you've read my little backstory or have eaten with me in the past few years, you know that I didn't feel comfortable eating the mystery burger. So all that is to say, I agree with the above diagram. I would much rather make a tasty burger at home. Saves a buck and is worth the effort to feel comfortable and satisfied with my burger!

fashionable meats!

Thought I should share some meat fashions that were passed along to me this week:

Meat Fabric! (Please let me know if anyone figures out where to purchase this! I see a lovely summer sundress...)

and Meat Dress! (Probably a bit perishable for summertime wear.)

Thank you and you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

burger cake!

This is probably the most beautiful cake every made, and it was allegedly purchased from Ralph's.

Photo by Kim Garcia for a friend's birthday.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

liquid smoke and indoor grilling

Being a loft-dwelling stovetop grillpan griller, I'm always up for suggestions on how to make my grilled meats taste a bit more authentic. I suppose someone out there may be willing to let me use their grill in exchange for some buffalo ribs, but for everyday use, I was recently advised to check out adding a touch of liquid smoke to my dishes. Of course, my immediate response was "YUCK!" Why would I want to add artificial flavoring to something that I'm preparing myself? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of making sauces from scratch?

But liquid smoke is actually completely natural and made through a pretty interesting process. It is exactly what it sounds like - distilled smoke (usually from mesquite or hickory wood) - and is often aged in oak barrels like wine or beer. Sounds fun!


Thanks for the heads-up.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

meat fact of the day:

So, I'm watching Iron Chef America: Battle Hamburger and learned a fun new meat fact from Alton Brown. I've never given much thought to Salisbury Steak. The only association I have with it is from hot lunches in elementary school. My mom always packed my lunch (thanks, mom!), so I never partook in this, but I remember the stinky, gray discs of meat with lumpy sauce in those individual cardboard containers with the holey plastic wrap over the top... I had no idea that this was perhaps a public school lunch staple because it was thought to be a health food!

James Salisbury apparently was one of the first health food advocates. He suggested eating lean ground meat and coffee three times a day, with fruits, vegetables, and starches only making up 1/3 of one's diet. According to my sources, he thought that fruits, veggies, and starches were "poisonous" to the digestive system and caused countless diseases.

Here's his recipe--

Eat the muscle pulp of lean beef made into cakes and broiled. This pulp should be as free as possible from connective or glue tissue, fat and cartilage.....The pulp should not be pressed too firmly together before broiling, or it will taste livery. Simply press it sufficiently to hold it together. Make the cakes from half an inch to an inch thick. Broil slowly and moderately well over a fire free from blaze and smoke. When cooked, put it on a hot plate and season to taste with butter, pepper, salt; also use either Worcestershire or Halford sauce, mustard, horseradish or lemon juice on the meat if desired.

And, he lived to be 85.

Maybe I'll have a different outlook next time I see one of these:


daily burgers: finishing strong

I feel I must make some closing remarks on my burger adventure, so here goes!
Sometimes, the silliest things become quite consuming. Honestly, I'm not much of a meal planner. I've been trying to be a bit more organized since attempting a food budget, but I'm more of a pick up what you need every other day or so grocery shopper than a once a week shopper. I like to think of it as European-style or eco-friendly shopping since this allows me to walk my bags home, but I know it is actually just laziness!

That to say, it was a bit of a challenge to stay on top of my meat purchases (as it isn't realistic to run to the butcher every day!) and to plan well enough to keep my burgers interesting enough to satisfy both the man and I and make for fun pictures. I hope a few of my new found habits will stick. My burger cooking skills have grown, but sadly, I still can't replicate Morton's burgers. Perhaps a commercial grill is necessary to get the crisp inside while keeping the middle nice and pink? Also, I was pretty excited that I didn't come close to running out of ideas. I could probably make a year's worth of daily burgers! Very creatively stimulating and tummy-satisfying.

I asked my man to rank his top three burgers and I'll share mine as well. He did not eat all 31 with me (sometimes I had mine for lunch), but I'm always up for constructive criticism-- and a pat on the back!

Here are his choices:
3. Daily Burger Number Twenty-Four - Ostrich Burger with Crunchy Slaw
2. Daily Burger Number Fourteen - Lindner Bison Burger with Blackberry Sauce
1. Daily Burger Number Ten - Mini Lamburgers with Mint Oil

And here are mine:
3. Daily Burger Number Twenty-Two - Mini Chimichurri Lamburgers
2. Daily Burger Number Eight - Chicken Burger with Cranberry-Cilantro Relish
1. Daily Burger Number Twenty-Six - French Onion Soup Burger

And the unanimous least-favorite was Number Twenty-One.

Yes, the venison, cherry compote and all. The man has given up on venison, giving it one more shot in a little meat pie from Harrod's in London last week. I'm not ready to give up though. I still think that once cooked properly, it will be tasty. I've been advised to add some beef fat to the ground meat (counter-intuitive if you're choosing venison because it is so lean...) to give more flavor and keep it moist while cooking or to use it in chili or stew.

So, what's on the horizon? The next major meat event on my calendar is a butchering class in a few weeks. Surely, that will be a challenge and leave me with much inspiration-- and a giant cooler full of very fresh meat.