Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tartare To Die For

Several years back, my once hippie brother-in-law began hunting my in-laws 500 acre farm up north. What began casually for him has turned into an obsessive dance. Deer hunting was the gateway drug. He now bow hunts, stalks deer with a muzzle loader, and has developed a strong addiction to fly fishing. He's dragged his family all over North America in search of the perfect rack and trout that he doesn't eat. Yeah, I don't get that part either, but he assures me that most respectable fly fishermen don't eat their catch.

Over a couple of Wild Turkeys one late night at the farm, I told him that I would love a chance to practice my butchery skills on a couple of his kills in preparation for purchasing a whole hog and lamb (still haven't gotten there yet but I'm close). After fumbling through the first two, I've gotten pretty damn good at the process. My wife is also incredibly supportive. When I get the call that a kill has been made, and brought back to our processing facility (usually his heavily tarped garage) I'm quickly released of my fatherly duties, pack up my knives, and jump in the car.

One of the best parts of being the resident butcher is that he lets me process the way I want; Frenched Chops, tied roasts, never frozen tenderloin, venison sausage, etc. And if the season is good to him, he usually gives me a deer for my freezer.

This last Thanksgiving was the opening of rifle season in Wisconsin and my B-I-L brought in two doe. Since there was a number of family in attendance at the weekend's festivities, cuts were wrapped and prepped for delivery to the plate ASAP (see earlier post for the John Besh venison shoulder recipe). We prepared and ate a fair number of chops.
But one of the best things that we did was to take a couple of small pieces of tenderloin, age them in a bag for a day or so, and make some of the freshest tartare that I've ever had. Spiked with a splash of sherry, a bit of minced shallot, some fresh thyme, salt and pepper, we kept it simple and the results were spectacular. In no time the plate was licked clean.
I would have worked a little harder on the presentation and possibly even the photo, but hungry cocktail laden family members were approaching like zombies through the fog. I had to get out of the way. I nearly lost my drink.

Burger of the Year!

I may be jumping the gun here, but I figured that since December is fast approaching, and I recently stumbled across this pic in iPhoto, I thought I should throw a nomination out there for Burger of the Year. Now before you get all hot and bothered and go searching for the address of the place where this burger was born, forget about it. I made that burger. The bun was locally made, the produce was from tomato plants in the yard, the pickles were from a friend, the bacon was home cured from last year's pig (her name was Slash), and the fried egg (as well as the patty) was from a farmer friend of mine in Wisconsin. Yes, I met that cow, and so did my daughter. I'm still unclear as to whether she or I enjoyed the burger more. Needless to say, despite the fuzzy picture, you are looking at the best burger you'll never be able to eat. Unless you make it yourself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eat Your Heart Out!

Alright, here's a perfect example of my food assholery. This weekend was Thanksgiving. We headed up north to spend time with the family (in-laws to be precise). During the course of the trip we consumed a large amount of food followed by a slightly larger amount of alcohol. We repeated this process daily. My brother-in-law hunts the 500 acres that Grandma and Grandpa's house sits on, so I also had the pleasure of butchering a couple deer (more on that later). It's safe to say that fun was had by all.

Since I did the majority of the cooking, it was my job to make the most of the ingredients on hand. The last evening I recreated a John Besh recipe that I found in an issue of Field and Stream laying around the house. Here are a few pics of my version:

The recipe is a rock solid venison stew. I added a few tablespoons of butter and a splash of red wine at the end. Other than that, modifications are not required. The editors do say that the turnip/potato mash is, "one of the bet things we've tried all year." I'm not sure I can get on board with that, they must not be eating very much. Trying to sell readers on the turnip mash in this recipe is a little like trying to sell someone a BMW because the cup holders are elegant and can still hold a 32oz beverage. I find the lack of cream in them an issue, plus, cooking the potatoes and the turnips at the same time produces a definite gap in doneness between the two roots. I digress.

As a precourser (I call it a precourse, because appetizer doesn't do it justice), my sister-in-law made these killer biscuits; heavenly little herbed pillows of buttermilky goodness. She topped them with a little chedder and served them warm from the oven before dinner.
I looked at these lovely little things that were beginning to get "oohs" and "ahhs" from the inebriated crowd growing around the island, and decided that they needed a little improving. Since we were out of beef stock for the deer recipe, earlier in the day threw together some fresh stock made from a beef heart that I had defrosted the day before. The stock was intense and could have been served as a consume. After simmering for an hour or more, I allowed the pot to cool slightly and then removed the heart to a cutting board. I sliced it thin and across the grain, and then returned the slices to the stock pot with the broth. I took a quarter cup of horseradish, half a cup of yogurt, a pinch of salt, and a turn or two of cracked pepper and mixed it together. I sliced the drop biscuits open and smeared a generous amount on the top. I ran to the fridge and grabbed a jar of Major Grey's Mango Chutney. I smeared about a teaspoon of the chutney on the bottom of what essentially was now a decadent roll, and then I laid a few slices of the heart in between with a pinch of kosher salt.
Now here's a word for squeamish readers when it comes to offal: deal with it or become a vegetarian. If you are of the meat eating persuasion, there's something morally wrong with you if you aren't open to a little (or a lot) of organ meat. How can someone justify killing a whole animal for a couple of burgers, a steak, and a sausage? It's ludicrous and selfish. I'll say one more thing in the topic here and that is this; Fergus Henderson is my hero. Heart tastes like filet when seared and roasted slightly, and like brisket (that hasn't had the shit cooked out) of it when simmered properly.

The resulting sandwich was nearly a main course. Several more cocktails wear consumed while noshing, and dinner had to be delayed by about 45 minutes. Here's what makes me an asshole, I nearly sabotaged a great dinner to make sandwiches that hid the brilliance of a perfect biscuit. What's more, this kind of thing happens nearly every time the in-laws get together. Whether it's my job to cook or not, I end up in the kitchen stealing the spotlight. I can't help myself, and it's starting to wear on my loved ones. Most of the people in my family don't even bother cooking anymore. They just head to Costco and return with tubs of food for mass consumption. When cooking is attempted it's always preambled by some long drawn out apology for the state of the meal. I have become judge, jury, and executioner for nearly every family meal. So far I have not figured out a way to climb down from that tree. I'm hoping this blog will help alleviate a bit of this apprehension. That's right, we're talking about blog as therapy...well, and recipes, and food news, and there will probably be a restaurant review on occasion too.

Eat well or not at all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why am I here?

People ask me all the time, "How do you know so much about..?" Usually, the topic is food and my knowledge therefore of food and drink. Answering them often offers me a painful glimpse into myself. I fumble, if only for a moment, and then begin to nervously provide way too much information, to explain about my background with cooking and food lust, how I fell in love with The Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook in grade school and how I began making (perfect) omelets by middle school. Things have gotten so bad these days that I've sworn off grocery store butchers counters completely, no matter what the quality, I moved through farmers market vaccupaks, and during the last year have taken up a boning knife in pursuit of he perfect pork chop, haunch of venison, and roast chicken. What most of the time is manageable, occasionally spills over in the excessive and indulgent. There was the time I acquired an obscene amount of pork belly and spent the better part of two weeks making pancetta, several kinds of bacon, chocolate covered roast belly bits, and a porchetta the size and weight of a small child. I end up preaching to these unsuspecting souls about my strongly held beliefs, and they quickly realize that they've wandered into a very dark part of town. I'll attempt to reveal most of these beliefs, preferences, and standards to you over the course of the next several weeks, months, or until I purge these asshole tendencies from my well-fed body and soul.

Many claim to be foodies, gourmands and the like; I alone claim to be a food asshole.