It's been about a month since I realized we had three roosters, and I have spent the entire month debating the fate of my three pets. I know the answer is obvious, but sometimes you have to get there in your own good time.
I can be overly sensitive. I have tried at least twice to de-beard mussels, and each time I nearly passed out part way through. I start out tough as nails, and then I start to wonder what kind of pain they might be experiencing. Before I know it my whole body feels hot and the room starts to spin. It detracts from the dining experience enough that I stick to clams now.
Last summer my husband and I bought my dad an enormous live lobster for his birthday. It was a great idea until the pot turned out to be waaaay too small. Apparently you really have to measure the monster from CLAW to tail, not head to tail, for an accurate measurement. The tail thrashed in agony. My dad shouted, "It's SUFFERING!" and left the room. Tears were shed and tempers flared. It was more funereal than festive to say the least.
So for the roosters, I realized that research was necessary and that maybe, just maybe, I was not the person for this job. So I have been interviewing unwitting candidates for a while now, kind of the way you would start asking around if you were thinking about going back to work and needed to find a good nanny. I make mental notes- too brutal, too cavalier, too eager, not gentle enough, looks too hungry.
It's hard to find the right fit.
And with all this, I have three roosters crowing together every morning from roughly 4:30 to 7:00. They harmonize, and I'm pretty sure that all my neighbors hate me. Yesterday morning I saw the three of them ganging up and mounting one poor hen. Roosters don't seem to understand that no means no, and I was out there in the early hours screaming "get off of her, you pig!". I'm sure the neighbors loved that too.
Finally, we butchered the chickens with the help of a man who was raised on a farm in Hungary. (I say "we", but by "we" I don't mean "me," not at all. My long-suffering husband was the one who did all the nasty work while I hid like the coward I am.) It was a depressing afternoon for me. Every time I started to turn green, my husband would strengthen my resolve by reminding me of the gang rape taking place in our backyard.
They dug a hole in the backyard for the blood. We boiled an enormous pot of water, one much bigger than the one the lobster went into, and they were ready. The birds bled out pretty quietly, and once they were good and dead I came out to watch. Chickens take a lot of work. Way more than I had realized. After dipping them in boiling water the feathers came right out by the handful. The feet had to be dipped in as well, and then the scaly skin peeled off. Next the birds were singed over an open flame.
Inside, he rubbed them all over with salt to disinfect them. (This was supposed to be my job. No way. Just couldn't bring myself to touch it.) I'll spare you the rest of the gory details, but it was quite an anatomy lesson. Each part of the chicken was cleaned, rubbed with lots of salt, and then rinsed and set in a bowl of cold water. The innards did smell foul until it all got cleaned up.
I'm including some pictures below, but if you don't want to see any of this, feel free to skip it. I'm not going to claim that it will enrich your life.
Not an inspiring name, I know, but try it and you'll see I'm onto something. This dish has a thousand possible variations, and it's a great way to use up mismatched vegetables from your garden. We have been making it with calcium broth and the whole family seems to like it.
It's been hard to post this because every time I make it I vary the ingredients, but then I realized that was the beauty of it. Apart from the ingredients you see below, I have also made this with tofu, dried salted shrimp, bamboo shoots, carrots, onion... Pretty much anything that needed to be eaten. I have also made this with dashi instead of chicken or beef stock, and I've seasoned it with equal parts soy sauce and sugar and left out the ten spice powder and sesame oil.
2 boneless pork chops cut into bite-size pieces
assorted vegetables cut into bite-size pieces
2-4 cups broth
2 bundles cellophane noodles
Chinese Five Spice or (even better!) Ten Spice
My son can't have dairy right now, so we're giving him bone broth in hopes that his growth will not be horrifically stunted from lack of calcium and other bone-building minerals. Consequently we all have broth pouring from our ears- but I guess it's the season for it anyway. According to this article, cultures that don't consume dairy regularly consume bone broth instead for the easily assimilated calcium they contain.
To make this, you roast grass-fed beef bones for about two hours. I do it at 350 degrees. At the end, the pan will have lots of rendered fat in it. Put the bones in a pot, cover them with water, and bring it to a boil. Strain this to get the last of the fat out. Cover them with water again, bring it all to a boil, and simmer it for two to three days. Eventually a milky substance should come out. This is the calcium and other minerals finally coming out of the bones.
Mine never looked the way I expected it to after hearing it described as milky, but I made some chicken stock the other day and had to admit there was a huge difference. The broth made this way is opaque. Since there are no savory aromatics, you can now use this as a neutral cooking medium for rice and other cereals like oatmeal. I confess that I have only used this for rice and soups, but I like the idea of using it for other things and thought I'd pass the information along at least. The rice was really delicious, and it had an interesting texture I can only describe as a little sticky.
After I roasted the bones, I poured the fat through a small strainer into a jar. The beef tallow was amazing. It cools to a candle-like hardness (obviously no coincidence since candles used to made from tallow). I used it to fry mustard greens and some other Chinese greens I don't know the name of and it added a great slightly meaty flavor.
I had also read about beef tallow being great for a skin cream, and I mixed the second batch in with a little jojoba oil (to make it soft at room temperature) and essential oils. Tallow smells just like crayons (also not a coincidence), so the essential oils make it feel a little girlier. It is an amazing skin cream that can be used on the body or the face, but I admit every once in a while I am a little creeped out to think that I'm rubbing beef fat into my body.
If you are at all interested, I recommend reading this article.
I love all Japanese pickles and they are invariably loaded with MSG. What I really wanted was the bamboo on top of ramen, but this was a delicious substitute. The bamboo shoots come packed in water in little plastic pouches. I buy them in the refrigerated section of a Japanese grocery store. When you open the package and drain them they taste like absolutely nothing, just a bland crunch, but once you cook them this way they add a great salty spicy crunch to everything. This probably tastes good on top of ramen too, but I used it over jook (rice porridge) with tiny shrimp and some stir-fried spinach.
7 oz. package bamboo shoots
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Drain the bamboo shoots. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, add 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil and fry the bamboo shoots for a few minutes. Next, add some soy sauce, a little sake, the garlic, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Add a little more sesame oil. Let it boil down and concentrate the flavors. Taste it and adjust the seasonings if necessary. You may need to add more soy sauce if it doesn't taste salty enough.
It's not raw. It's roasted, and a thousand times better this way. I hope that by spring my love of raw vegetables will return, but until then this or a variant will have to do.
The secret to great roasted vegetables is to overcook them. I think that once America figured out that boiling vegetables to death was doing them a disservice, the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction, and now all our cooked vegetables are left with a little too much fight in them. If it crunches or squeaks, put it back in the oven. There is no law against over-roasting vegetables, and once you have oiled, salted, and baked them, they will bear a striking resemblance to the one "vegetable" Americans still can't get enough of, the French fry. When you taste roasted vegetables coming out of the oven you should want to just stand there and eat the whole tray. That's how you know they're done.
I usually roast vegetables separately so I can take them out as they're ready. After a trip to the market, I roast as much as I can right away, and this inevitably results in it getting eaten just as quickly. Tonight I roasted cauliflower for maqloubeh, sliced fennel for Perrin's fennel salad, and shaved burdock root for a simmering dish on the stove. Somehow I ended up roasting it all instead and the results were fantastic.
Burdock root, or gobo, is one of those vegetables you have probably never heard of unless you are Japanese or health-obsessed. Here is one article extolling its virtues, and here is another. It's fascinating to read about, but try it for the fun of it instead. It doesn't even look edible, so you're in for a nice surprise.
cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
fennel, thinly sliced
gobo, peeled and shaved like a pencil
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cauliflower with olive oil and salt and spread it on a baking sheet. Repeat with the fennel and then with the gobo, roasting each one separately and removing them from the oven when they're done. Toss them all together and season with salt and pepper after you've tasted it. Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar if you prefer a sweeter flavor, but if you are secretly pining for potato chips and French fries, leave that off and enjoy this as is.
Everything I've been eating has been meaty, heavy, and custardy. I'm ready for a break. This is simple and light and probably the only things you need to make sure you have for this are the beets, the pasta, and the parmesan. All the other ingredients you will already have on hand or you can alter.
1 pound Pasta
1 bunch of beets or 2 bunches of baby beets with greens
toasted walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds
a few cloves of garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
grated Parmesan cheese
1. If the beets are small, boil them in water until they are fork-tender. If they're large beets, wrap them tightly in foil and bake them in a 400 degree oven until they are tender. Let them cool, peel them, slice them, and dress them in balsamic vinegar.
2. Wash the beet greens well, slice them, and sauté them in a pan with olive oil, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and set aside.
3. Cook the pasta in salted hot water according to the package directions and strain.
4. Toss together the pasta, greens, beets, and nuts. Sprinkle generously with parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
My parents made this a few times when I was a kid, and I still remember the enormous crock in the kitchen weighted down with a glass plate and a ten pound weight. Guests would come over and my parents would apologize. "Sorry for that ripe smell. I know it smells like something's going bad, but it's just the kim chi..."
I adapted this recipe to suit what I had on hand. The basic idea is so simple that you can easily make changes. Carrots are good in here, and chili powder is more traditional than red pepper flakes. My kids are scared of chili powder, but they will try something spiced with red pepper flakes, so I'm hoping for the best here. My dad adds dried anchovies to his kim chi, but I haven't fully embraced that particular addition yet. Eventually I want to try making sauerkraut and a few other ferments this way as opposed to salting them directly.
I own a gaggle of Korean cookbooks, but Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee's Eating Korean is my favorite. This recipe is adapted from her recipe for quick kim chi. .
2 small tender Napa cabbages sliced into 2 inch pieces
3 small tender daikon, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced into half inch moons
3 cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced into half inch pieces
1/4 cup coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced ginger
5 cloves of garlic, minced
red pepper flakes to taste (or chili powder)
1. Put the cabbage, daikon, and cucumber into a big bowl. Dissolve the salt in one cup of water and pour it over the vegetables. Stir it up a little with clean hands and set it aside overnight.
2. Strain the vegetables, but SAVE THE LIQUID. Add in the scallions, ginger, garlic, and red chili flakes. Mix it well and transfer the vegetables to a gallon jar. Smoosh and press the vegetables down and then pour the liquid over the top. Make sure there is at least one inch of space left at the top of the jar or it might bubble over as the vegetables ferment.
3. Leave it out on the counter for three to five days. I tasted my last batch at three days and it was ok, but tasted way better after at least five days. How much you like to let your kim chi ripen is a personal preference.
Chef turned out to be a great mixture of both food porn and a decent storyline. After watching Chef, I lay awake trying to determine whether I wanted most to make a Cuban sandwich, buy a food truck, or hop onto the next flight to Miami. Since the flight and the food truck were really out of the question, I would have to settle for the sandwich. After a little more research, I realized the sandwich had to start with mojo, which apparently isn't just something Austin Powers lost but a meat marinade.
It took me forever, but here it is. I doubted whether making the Cuban style roast pork would make a difference in the sandwich, but the marinade is so strong that it actually comes through. Mojo has a sour orange base with enough garlic and onion to kill a virus.
The recipe I used called for mashing the pepper cloves, garlic, and onion up in a mortar and pestle, but I realized part way through that they must have been talking about a really BIG one, so I had to use a processor instead. Suit yourself.
Here is the original recipe I used. It makes enough for a six pound pork roast.
Roast Pork in Mojo (Lechon Asado)
a 2-3 pound pork roast
10 cloves garlic
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3/4 cup sour orange juice (or two parts orange juice to one part lemon and one part lime)
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup olive oil
1. Smash up the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle. Into a running food processor, drop the salt, garlic, and oregano. Turn off the processor and add the onion. Pulse until the onion is finely cut up. Stir in the sour orange juice.
2. In a skillet, gently heat the 3/4 cup olive oil. Add the onion/garlic mixture to the oil, take it off the heat, and whisk it thoroughly. Let it cool.
3. Stab the pork all over with a sharp knife and then put it in a bowl and pour the marinade over it. Leave it in the refrigerator at least overnight.
4. Put the roast in a Dutch oven. Pour in at least an inch of marinade and bring it to a boil. Turn it down to low, cover it tightly, and let it braise until the internal temperature is 170 degrees. Make sure that it never dries out and add more marinade if you need to so it doesn't burn.
5. Take it out, let it cool, and slice it.
Finally- the Cuban
I've eaten a few Cuban sandwiches in Miami back in the day, but this was before I had a digital camera, and I don't think I have any photographic evidence. I also don't have much of a memory either, so I researched this a bit. People are very passionate about what should or should not go in this particular sandwich. Roast pork, butter, ham, lettuce, pickle, and Swiss cheese all get the green light. Baguette, salami, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato do not belong. Mustard is tolerated by some, welcomed by others.
However, my chef who follows no rules just made me a sandwich with mustard AND the forbidden mayonnaise. While it might not have been a Cuban anymore, it did taste a lot like an In'n'Out Burger. In a good way. I don't know what constitutes Cuban bread, so we used those big fluffy supermarket baguettes and the result was good.
Be very generous with the butter.
Butter the bread. Layer on the roast pork, ham, pickles, and cheese. Heat some butter in a frying pan and fry one side of the sandwich. Press down on it with another pan to flatten the sandwich, and when it has browned, flip it over, adding more butter. Cook it until the cheese is melted. You want the bread to absorb the butter since this is a glorified grilled cheese sandwich.
Last week I cooked through a collection of Lebanese recipes from Saveur in a sort of culinary virtual trip to Lebanon. For some reason the road to Lebanon was paved with more than a few bumps. My cooking buddy took a nap instead. I cut the tomatoes wrong for the tabbouleh and included a raw turnip. Yuck. What was I thinking? I spent so much time chopping the parsley for the tabbouleh that after a few lonely and exhausting hours of cooking (which was planned as a social event) I never even got to the lamb. The two and a half pounds of ground lamb became a fifty dollar expense (long story). The first lamb dish I didn't get to start until seven and my family ate at nine. I got distracted and more than doubled the amount of grated onion in the lamb patties, and consequently my entire family wept over dinner.
The spiced lamb patties were probably the best. I couldn't be sure these were a hit the first night since it got so late and there was the whole raw onion fiasco, but the truth was in the leftovers. They just got better and better. The flavor is very rich, so it's nice served with something tart. I tried it with pita and baba ghannouj one night, and then with basmati rice and labne the next day. Delicious.
Reading through recipes makes them sound so complicated and laborious, but these are very simple. You mix the patties (meatballs in disguise), brown them, simmer them in tomato sauce, and finish them off in the oven. Eat them right away or reheat them all week for lunches.
2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons Lebanese seven-spice powder
6 cloves garlic (2 minced, 4 thinly sliced)
1 -1/2 large white onions (1/2 grated, 1 sliced 1/2" thick)- this is where I screwed up and put it ALL in the lamb mixture
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 big tomatoes, one halved and grated and the other in 1/4" slices
1 stick cinnamon
1. In a big bowl, mix together the lamb, parsley, flour, 1 teaspoon seven-spice powder, two minced garlic cloves, half a grated onion, the egg, and the salt and pepper. When it is well mixed together, shape it into meatballs or fingers. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan that can go into the oven and brown the patties in batches in olive oil. Remove them and set them aside.
2. Heat a few more tablespoons of olive oil again. Fry the sliced garlic and sliced onion until golden brown, then add the tomato paste and the last teaspoon of seven-spice powder. After it's fried for a few minutes, add the grated tomato, the cinnamon stick, and salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a few minutes until it thickens, and then slide in the lamb patties. Top the whole dish with the tomato slices.
3. Slide it all into a 400 degree oven for about half an hour until the tomato slices look a little dried out.
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!