Thursday, November 25, 2010

CSI Thanksgiving

For the first time in my life, I bought my Thanksgiving turkey straight from the guy who bred, raised, and slaughtered the bird. It came with the neck still attached--a reminder that this form was a creature that walked upright and had a head. The first difference I noticed about this bird as opposed to all other organically raised, free range birds I've bought in the past is that, even uncooked, it smelled great. Within minutes of putting it in the oven, my house smelled like eau de Thanksgiving. This year, I'm not hosting but just making the bird and gravy, which makes for a pretty east holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here we go again

2010's W+K Pie Contest. This year's entry: Chocolate Cream. It was one of the most consistent and popular recipes from Half & Half. I know if I was serving this at a party it would have folks rolling on the floor in ecstasy, but the pie contest is a different animal. It's chaos, and there's no real system for judging. Winning is pretty much a crap shoot. Still, it brings out a big, ugly competitive streak in me. And anxiety. All in all, it's about 3% fun, and that 3% happened yesterday as I was making the crust and filling.

Here is another pic of my pie, gazing out on a rainy 38 degree monday morning, bemoaning its fate to be devoured by a bunch of advertising gluttons. The world is beautiful and cruel.
UPDATE: I came in first in my category, but lost to a banoffee pie. And even though the grand prize (and the only prize) was a trip for 2 to New York, I truly was happy just to be in the winner's circle. Or by that time the xanex had kicked in.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The New Addition

Between my dog food production, my bulk meat purchases, the produce that I freeze in the summer, the frozen domestic squid I like to keep on hand for spontaneous calamari, the organic chicken I buy only on clearance, and the random hot dog buns that get left behind after a cookout that I can't bear to throw away, I had to upgrade to a bigger chest freezer. The one pictured above is my new model--8.8 cu ft and ready to party. Landing on this one was not an easy decision. Do I get a second 5 cu ft to match the one I already have? Go with a really ample 12 or 13 cu ft model, which could hold a few extra months of dog food or an additional elk? In the end, I made the conservative decision: upgrade to a model nearly twice the size of my original, and sell the old one.

I declined the $60 delivery charge and asked 2 muscular male friends, one with a van, to help me with the freezer transport. As with most things, I used food an an incentive and promised them a hearty breakfast if they would show up at my house on Saturday morning, head over to the Sears Warehouse, pick up and install the freezer. I got up early this morning and made this for breakfast:
Clockwise: Greens with ham hock, buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy. Not pictured: slow-cooked scrambled eggs.

As it turned out, David's van wouldn't start. Suddenly, my day was in peril, since I had to pick up a half lamb and 85 pounds of ground beef by noon, and no vehicle with which to pick up the freezer. At the moment when everything was falling apart, my friend Matt came by with his dog and kid. We looked up the measurements of the freezer and realized it would in fact easily fit in my Volvo wagon. Duh. The rest of the story is boring: I picked up the freezer, Matt helped me get it in my garage, I fed him the biscuits and gravy. In retrospect, I think I could have pulled off the entire thing by myself, it's just nicer when you can ask someone for a favor and repay them with something you make. Incidentally, this meal used up the last of my 2009 sausage, a ham hock from 2008, and a half-cup of homemade lard went into the biscuits. A pork trifecta.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dog Day Afternoon

It really shouldn't surprise you to know that I make my own dog food. I am equal parts proud and embarrassed of this, because it feels like something that someone who is unhealthfully attached to their pet might do. But the truth is, I am somewhat unhealthfully attached to my pet. Rather than spoiling him, I feel like I am simply giving him every opportunity to be immortal. It's selfish, really.
For about 6 years, he's been on a variation of the BARF diet, which essentially simulates what dogs would be eating without us humans around to dress them in funny outfits and teach them how to use toilets. As a result, his coat is soft and shiny, his teeth are clean, and, not to go into too much detail, but he's not the dog laying giant smelly turds all over your sidewalks. He's also a versatile eater and will let you feed him apple slices, but above everything he just wants to find and devour fresh cat shit. It's time consuming and expensive, but I do it because I love my dog more than you love yours.

This Sunday was a dog food making day. About 45 meals and 60 pounds worth of dog food making. Which meant that on Wednesday I had to call New Seasons and order a 40 lb case of chicken necks. On Friday I picked up the rest of my meat from Meat, the raw food pet store on E. Burnside. Sunday morning I went to Food 4 Less for the rest of the ingredients, and by 2pm I was not at all figuratively up to my elbows in raw variety meats. This is always torture for old Vic, who always gets to lick the bowl, but until that moment, drools underfoot with pained expression. Stupid dog.

Here's my recipe and method for 45 days of dog food:

4lb "green tripe" (I think this is uncured tripe--it's good for their digestion)
4lb "cow pie" (this is a combination of ground beef, heart, and liver)
5lb assorted chicken livers, hearts, gizzards, etc
12 lb ground duck
4 doz eggs
5 lb potatoes, baked, mashed
1 #10 can pumpkin (about 6 lb)
2lb frozen peas, thawed and processed
2lb frozen carrots, thawed and processed
2lb frozen green beans, thawed and processed
25 lbs of chicken necks

Put on some rubber gloves. I like to listen to Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet or Some Girls while I'm working. Mix all the ingredients but the chicken necks in a big bus tub. You're basically creating a loose, gross meatloaf-like concoction. Try not to smell, inspect, or think about it too much. Breathe through your mouth. Don't make on an empty stomach or a full stomach. Don't eat or drink anything while you're working.

Leave the mix for a moment, and set out as many plastic containers as you can fit on your counter. Place 4-5 chicken necks in each container, this is roughly 1/2 a pound. Using a scoop or your hands, follow up with your meat mix, getting about 12 oz or so in there. You want to end up with your meals weighing in between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 lbs. That's for an active, 50 lb dog. Less or more depending on your own pet.

Place lids on the containers and store in the freezer. This is where having a chest freezer comes in handy. Well, that and the 300 lbs of meat you should be buying every year for personal consumption. Every night before you go to bed, pull out a container. It will be thawed out by morning. It's a good idea to keep some high-quality kibble on hand in case you forget to pull a meal before you go to bed. Which happens more than it should for someone who is trying to make their dog immortal.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shepherd's Delight

Somewhere in the world, lamb neck is probably a prized cut of meat. That doesn't appear to be so for the part of the world I inhabit. You can find the occasional lamb neck recipe in a British or Canadian cookbook, more still for Persian or Middle Eastern cuisine, and probably a smattering throughout the Mediterranean regions. But there are no preparations listed in the Joy of Cooking or Bittman's How to Cook Everything, so when I set out to prepare my lamb neck, the last of 2009's lamb, I had to wing it. I went with the dish that always seems to taste best when prepared out of necessity: Shepherd's Pie.

The lamb neck recipes I did find call for it in slices. Not feeling curious or ambitious enough to hack away at this particular part of the anatomy, I decided to braise the neck the same way I do shanks: first browning in hot oil in a cast iron vessel, then cooking slowly in an oven with mirepoix, wine, stock and herbs.

My buddy David Neevel has been showering me with the best Chanterelles that Oregon has seen in years, and so I wanted them to be as much of a component of the dish as the lamb. So instead of a chicken or beef stock for the braise, I reconstituted some dried porcinis. The lamb braised for about 2 hours at 300, and then it was late so I turned it down to 200 and went to bed. Somewhere in the night I shut the oven off, and then after work the next day, I processed the cooking solids and liquid through a food mill and then set about reducing it by about half.
Meanwhile, I pulled the fat and gristle (and spine!) from the neck and chopped the meat into chunks. Then, I sauteed my chanterelles at a pretty high heat, added salt to seep out the liquid, then reconstituted the saute with lamb and white wine. At the last minute I decided to add some large chunks of carrots to give the dish a little sweetness and texture. When the cooking liquid, now gravy, had reduced, I lazily thickened it with a little cornstarch slurry (I'm not eating wheat right now! Fodder for another post!) and incorporated it into my mushrooms. Let this cook long enough to take the crunch out of the carrots, and poured it into the bottom of my casserole.
Meanwhile, I had boiled up a couple of russets along with a big, knobby parsnip. Passed this all through a ricer and incorporated an unhealthy amount of butter, and spread it over the top. She baked at 375 for about 30 minutes and came out better than I even imagined. I feel like lamb always has to get the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Provençal treatment, and it was nice to give it the Autumn in Oregon treatment, worthy of my friend David, the Fungi Shepherd (he got the leftovers at lunch today).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


My best friend got married over the weekend. I played the Maid of Honor, which in this case meant helping with a few extra errands, giving a toast, and having permission to spend too much money on shoes. And organizing a bachelorette party. While the men roasted a pig on a spit and shot-gunned beers for 10 hours, about 17 of us had a really nice family-style dinner at clarklewis and, for dessert, indulged in an edible, nude effigy of Heather's fiancé Michael:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pretty Excited About This Right Now

Home-cured guanciale, one of the jowls from last year's pig. Bathed in a salt-sugar cure for a little over a week, needs to hang in the fridge for 3-5 weeks. I am hoping to move it to the garage as soon as the temperature stays in the low 50's. Stay tuned...