journey of an aspiring meat artist

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

reichl on steaks and dads:

Need anything else be written about butchers, steaks, father/daughter adventures?
"...our journey always ended at the narrow butcher shop on Jones Street, with its sawdust floor and its find mineral aroma. The cases were filled with the bacon that they smoked themselves, pink and white strips spread out like gorgeous fabric, and a few pretty little lamb chops, red circles of meat clinging to elegantly long bones and decorated with frilly paper caps.
"Good morning, Jimmy," my father would say.
And Jimmy would look up and smile and seem delighted to see us. He'd hand me a slice of salami, or some of the liverwurst he brought down from Yorkville, or sometimes the dried beef that he made when business was slow. "Fine morning," he'd say, even when it wasn't.
"We need a porterhouse, please," my father would say. And Jimmy would reply,"The finest steak there is!" as if the thought had occurred to him for the very first time. Then he would pull open the heavy wooden door, with its huge slab of a handle, and disappear into the cooler in the back. When he reappeared he was carrying what looked to me like half a steer, although it was really just the short loins that had been hanging for a few weeks, acquiring a fine patina of age.
Picking up a hacksaw, he'd indicate a cut: "This much?" And no matter how thick it was, my father always said, "A little thicker, please." And Jimmy would nod and cut off a substantial steak, humming as he worked. When he was done he'd hold up the steak and point out the fine veins of white tracing a pattern through the dense red meat. "Good marbling," he said admiringly every week, as if this steak was a special star. "All the flavor's in the fat. Cut off the far, you can't tell the difference between beef, pork, and lamb. That's a fact. Did you know that?"
Then he'd thump the steak onto the chopping block and begin the ritual of trimming. First he'd cut the thick blue-black layer of mold from the outside of the steak, scraping it until the bright red flesh beneath the crust had been revealed. Then he'd carefully remove a few inches of fat from the edges so that only a creamy white frame remained. Carefully folding in the little tail end, he'd lay the meat on a piece of pink paper and heave it onto the scale.
"You're going to have a fine dinner," he'd say, as if the compliment were to the cook and not the cutter. "Don't be afraid of the salt."
"That's the secret!" my father always replied, carefully tucking the parcel under his arm. Waving cheerily, we'd walk out the door.
At home we had another ritual. Three hours before it was time to eat, my father would jump up from his chair and say, "No point in cooking cold meat." Together we'd go into the kitchen, remove the porterhouse from the refrigerator, carefully unwrap the package, and set the steak on a platter lined with wax paper. When it had thrown off the chill, Dad would salt it, releasing a small blizzard over the meat. "The secret to a great steak," he always said, "is that when you think you have enough salt, you add some more. The other secret," he'd say as he got out the big cast-iron skillet, "is to heat the pan until it's blazing hot and cook the meat exactly eight minutes on each side."
"And the final secret," I'd add, doing my bit, "is the butter." My job was to plunk a lump of sweet butter onto the sizzling steak just as my father set it on the platter.
My father carved the steak with long, precise strokes of the knife, carefully separating the sirloin that he and my brother preferred from the tenderloin that my mother favored. The bone was mine.
While they plied their forks like civilized people I'd bring the bone up to my face until the aroma--animal and mineral, dirt and rock--was flooding my senses. Then I'd bite into the meat, soft and chewy at the same time, rolling it around in my mouth. It was juicy, powerful, primal, and I'd take another bite, and another. The meat closest to the bone was smooth as satin, and sweet. It tasted like nothing else on earth, and I would gnaw happily until the bone was stripped naked and my face was covered with a satisfying layer of grease."

--Ruth Reichl, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

happy meat-iversary!

My cubicle-mate and I share many things, including a disdain for action films, an infatuation with tiny cheeseburgers, and the same calendar-date wedding anniversaries. We also seem to share an anniversary tradition of consuming large slabs of red meat at restaurants chosen by our spouses.

One of our co-workers got wind of our tradition and gifted us with his family's special spice rub.

Can't wait to try it. Gosh, I just love meat gifts. And anniversaries. And even cubicles, sometimes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

these are ducks.

These are ducks.

Not duck breasts, duck sausages, duck liver pate; but ducks. These birds lived in the wild and were hunted for food in the Mid-West in January. Shortly after the end of their lives, they were de-feathered (mostly), cleaned, tagged, and transported to California by said hunter. After some time chilling out in a freezer, they landed in my loft in Los Angeles to be roasted and presented to small gathering of friends.

Let's see you tell that story about a hot dog.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a club worth joining

For Christmas, the man purchased a subscription to Zingerman's Bacon of the Month Club for me. Funny thing, same thing happened as did with the Valentines' Day/Kitchenaid meat grinder debochle of 2009. A few days before the holiday, I forwarded him an article that I found to be exciting. A bacon of the month club! What a great idea.
Husband immediately gets kicked puppy face.
Oh no. Here it comes.
"Christmas is ruined. I discover the perfect gift, and you find it on your own. The surprise is gone."
Well, the surprise was gone. But the bacon... that was not so easily spoiled.
Stay tuned for my praise of the best of the bacons.

Friday, December 25, 2009

thank you mr. meat man, the duck was great.

Followed his recipe to a T and served with roasted carrots with honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg and homemade cranberry sauce.
And the rest of the wine.
Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

duck shopping.

"You came here for duck breast?" The butcher's eyes twinkled from behind the counter at Puritan Poultry.

"Yep!" I said confidently. This is the response I always hope for when standing at the meat counter. Up until this point, I had only received it when inquiring about different types of intestines or insisting on grinding my own meats. "Got any tips for me?"

Grinning, he ushered me and my wrapped pair of duck breasts to the end of the market stall and told me precisely how to prepare my Christmas eve feast.

I'll be following his animated step-by-step instructions.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan on stovetop over high heat.

While oven and pan are warming, score the skin of the breasts in a cross-hatched pattern, taking care to not cut score the fat. (He illustrates the pattern on the back of a ticket.)

Season with salt, pepper, and a bit of oil.

When the pan is good and hot, place breasts on bottom, skin side down. (Him: "Tsssss!" with explosive hand movement.)

Sear for 3-4 minutes or until the skin starts to curl up around the edges.

Turn and immediately slide pan into oven.

Cook for 10 minutes for medium rare and remove from pan to rest.

While breasts are in the oven, thinly slice onions or shallots, garlic, and rosemary.

As duck is resting, cook above in pan until soft.

Then, add 1/2 cup of red wine to pan (Him: "You have red wine, right?" Me: "Obviously.")

Reduce wine, then at the last second, add a tablespoon of butter (Him: "Shhh...")

And you're ready to go. (He smacks his lips. "Voila!")

Serve with your choice of sides. (Him: "Ratatouille, perhaps? You know that just means roasted vegetables.")

And, the rest of the wine.


That's my plan for tonight. Wish me luck. And a Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

things I love:

This week, just to show my cynical side, I'm going to begin with something I don't love-- lab grown meat.


Although this article raves of the wonders of this product that is being developed in the Netherlands, touting that it tastes like a "soggy form of pork" and is PETA-approved (two things I look for when shopping for meats), I think I'll skip it. Have I mentioned that I also love sarcasm?

Now here's a trend that I can get behind. Last week, the New York Times ran an article about Urban Hunting. Though somewhat disturbed by inevitable mental imagery of shotguns aimed at briefcased businessmen, cheery children with balloons, or maybe an occasional well-fed squirrel, this actually refers to groups who are taking the localvore craze a step further. A handful of ingenious folk are teaching hunting, butchery, and cookery classes to city folk in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Anyone want to start an LA chapter? Though surely not for the faint of heart, the article points out some pretty noteworthy benefits:

Provides food that is as local as you can get--
“If you can shoot a deer in your own backyard, butcher it there, that’s zero food miles,” says hunting teacher Jackson Landers.
Meats are wonderfully far from factory-farmed--
“There’s nothing more organic and free range than meat you hunt for yourself and your family,” says Anthony Licata, editor of Field & Stream magazine.
May be an economical option for budget-crunchers--
Mr. Landers, who tries to take Virginia’s full limit of six deer a year, agreed. For the cost of the necessary licenses, $36.50, he said he can stock his freezer with nearly free protein.

And as anyone who has lived in an area that is populated with deer knows, promoting hunting cuts back on the nasty possibility of deer-related car accidents, which is just a total waste of a poor animal's life, an insurance claim, and many-a-tasty steak.

For your meat-loving friends and family, can I recommend doing some Christmas shopping with Sweet Meats?

They have some clever new products-- DIY plush toys, charms, aprons... Always crafty, thoughtful, and the perfect mix of savory and sweet.

Speaking of Christmas, there are a plethora of bacon candies and treats on the market this year. A stocking stuffer's delight!
Here are some links to get you started:
Bacon Chocolate
Bacon Jelly Beans
Bacon Gumballs
Bacon Coffee
Bacon Beer

Monday, November 30, 2009

1810 Argentinean Restaurant

You'll seldom encounter a restaurant review here because I rarely eat out. When I do, I tear apart the menu, ordering completely uninspired items, plain and flavorless so as to not aggravate my allergies. As a creative person, I really respect chefs and their choices about how to prepare a meal, so I would rather cook myself than order and criticize a dish because I was not able to enjoy it how it was intended to be eaten.

This weekend, my in-laws were insistent upon taking us out for a "nice birthday meal," the four of us each having celebrated our birthdays in the past few weeks. My nerves started to build, not wanting to offend them by turning down dinner or pre-eating and shoving food around my plate at a restaurant. Then I remembered a new place the man and I passed by in Pasadena last week, 1810.

In the space formerly occupied by Gaucho Grill, 1810 opened in January and introduced an inspired and quaint eatery to the series of chain restaurants that line Colorado Boulevard. Greeted by a friendly hostess, we entered the brick walled and candlelit dining room, finding it to be sparse but cozy. My husband and I immediately began to reminisce about our Argentinean adventure. The waitress overheard and told us the owners are originally from Buenos Aires, so we poured over the menu, anticipating an authentic experience.

And the meal did not disappoint. Against my better judgment, I ordered the "wine special" from the limited menu, a Malbec and empanada for $7 and was pleasantly surprised. The empanada (from a selection of four--ham and cheese, chicken, beef, or spinach and cheese) was flaky and flavorful and the wine warm and fruity, perking me up and easing my eating-out phobias.

The main course selections were simple and highlighted quality ingredients. What caught our attention immediately was the Parrillada Mixta, or mixed grill. Would it compare to our experience in Buenos Aires? Much to our excitement, the meats were brought to the table on a little grill. The quantity was not overwhelming, but the quality of the meats was impressive. A good value, the mixed grill easily fed 2-3 guests with a crispy half chicken, beef, blood sausage, and a few mystery meats that were a welcome surprise. If you're looking for a good steak, ordering from the grill menu is the way to go. The 10-ounce Churrasco was perfectly seasoned and cooked to order, served with side dishes of garlicky mashed potatoes, rice, salad, or vegetables. The menu is rounded out with several "kitchen" dishes, chicken and fish with sauces and pastas, but being the carnivores we are, we didn't bother with those.

1810's cuisine is refreshing for both seekers of a special experience and simple food lovers like myself. And save room for dessert, or at least a bite or two of flan con dulce de leche to share with your table.

1810 Argentinean Restaurant
121 W Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91105-1924
(626) 795-5658

my first turkey: part two.

Not the drool-inducing photograph I was going for, but regardless of the somewhat mediocre outcome, I must document my first Thanksgiving turkey.

After getting lost in the completely over-saturated internet recipe world, I was really feeling the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen anxiety. There are so many opinions about how to best prep your bird (wet brines, dry rubs, aromatics, injectors) and how to cook it (roasting in a bag or out, grilling, deep frying), I was ready to throw the dang bird out with the brine.

What's a first-time turkey cooker to do?

I sifted through recipes, articles, and blogs and finally decided to try the suggestion to Judy bird my Willie bird. I had planned on using a brine, but never got around to cleaning out my bucket. Besides, who can really fit a bucket into their fridge when it is already bursting with feast fixings, pie prep, and perfectly paired craft beers?

Unfortunately, as a result of my second-guessing I started a day too late. On Tuesday, I hastily made a fragrant rub of kosher salt (3 1/2 tablespoons for my 17 1/2 pound bird), lemon zest, and fresh thyme. The turkey was then coated, bagged, and shoved back in the fridge. Since I didn't have the recommended 72 hours for the rub, I cut out the drying time and just took the turkey out of the bag on Thursday morning, drying it as much as possible I could with paper towels. After a second rub of brown sugar and more thyme, I crossed my fingers and shoved it in the oven. 400 for 30 minutes, then down to 325.

I don't know if the rub affected the cooking time, but it cooked far faster than anticipated. The temperature read at 180 after 2 hours. Overdone. But not tragic. With major help from the ladies (and thanks to the man for keeping my wine glass full), the turkey was tucked into a foil tent while the sides were finished and "dinner" was on the table at 1.

The turkey wasn't half bad. The skin was crisp and flavorful even though the meat was touch dry, and a dollop of homemade cranberry-orange sauce covers many mistakes. I won't digress too far into my dietary restrictions, but a huge perk of holiday hosting is that I am able to indulge my inner control freak and prepare dishes that I can eat. For the first time in who knows how long, I had a colorful, well-balanced Thanksgiving dinner; feasting on turkey, cranberries, brown rice and raisin couscous, a yummy salad topped with my birthday pomegranates, and apple crisp for dessert.

I know, all that really matters was the time with family. Everyone was happily well-fed, no one died, there were leftovers for days, and the plumbing in our building didn't cause our loft to be covered in hot pink sludge until much later that evening.

And I did not have a nervous breakdown.

Monday, November 23, 2009

my first turkey: part one.

My emotions range from excitement to complete terror at the idea of cooking my first Thanksgiving turkey.

I know what you're thinking.
"You say you're a meat lady and have never cooked a turkey??? Just cook the damn bird already!"
This will actually only be my second Thanksgiving back on meat and last year, we were traveling. So no more excuses. This year, I'm gonna do it.
Otherwise, the weight of the 18-pound bird will forever be on my shoulders. And in my refrigerator.

I suppose it is a right of passage; cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the in-laws and expecting sister-and brother-in law.

On Saturday, in lieu of my birthday trip to Catalina to see (and hopefully eat) buffalo, the man and I did a bit of turkey homework. At first, I was discouraged because we didn't have the opportunity to plan ahead and order a special heritage bird, but we found we could get something nice and tasty. Our butcher friends at the 3rd and Fairfax Farmers' Market helped us out and we purchased an all-natural* free-range Willie Bird from Puritan Poultry.

My only real objective is that the bird not kill anyone.
But preferably, it will be perfectly seasoned, moist, have a lovely brown crispy skin, and supply us with piles of leftovers to feast on for days.

I'm not completely settled on my prep and cooking methods. All I know is that the dressing will not be stuffed into the bird. Our guests will be told that it is purely to keep the meat juicy, but my real reason will be to keep the bread and meat separate so that I can enjoy it free of wheat-worries. I'm also thinking that a brine will be happening, if I can find a suitable bucket. The brine "recipes" I've found are widely varied, so I think I'll be going with water-kosher salt-brown sugar-apple cider-and whatever herbs I have on hand, perhaps followed by a light dry rub.

We even spent the last $25 Bed Bath & Beyond gift card from our wedding on an inexpensive roasting pan.

I'm ready.

Wish me luck!

*Why not organic? Honestly, we were told that these were the best. Willie Bird does raise and sell organic birds, but not at our source. And really, it would have been pushing it price-wise.