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Archive for the ‘From the Cellar’ Category

Beef Butchery Workshop 2012: The Details

10.02.12

After a successful first go at ‘Pork Butchery Workshop‘, and due to loads of demand, we’re now taking a crack at an inaugural ‘Beef Butchery Workshop‘. In case you’re wondering, I deleted the workshop page from my site because my inbox was getting inundated with inquiries. Still figuring out what to do about that exactly. In the meantime I’m posting details of coming workshops here.

Date: October 20th

Location: Sangudo Custom Meat Packers

THE GAME PLAN

8am. Kill a cow. Then, gut and skin cow, taking the necessary time to harvest and chat beef offal. Speed tour of the layout of the meat shop. We’ll then break down a side of certified organic beef and talk through your cut options with each primal. Eat some beef lunch. Spend the afternoon doing some beef charcuterie preparations, this time courtesy of chef Chad Moss. Then, we shall dine on beef and red wine. The end.

Everybody will go home with a minimum 5lb box of beef goodies – bones for stock, some fun off cuts and offal, etc.

Buy-in for this one’s higher because a head of certified organic beef costs the same as about 10 pigs in this case. That, and quite frankly the food and booze at pig day was largely donated, and we are trying to price this to be a financially sustainable endeavour. To keep costs manageable, we’re doing a price point of $250 for the whole day, meals and booze included, and you go home with the 5 lb box referred to above as a party favour. If you want in on the meat we’re cutting that day, which certainly would be a wise move, we’re going to be dividing a side into 10 equal boxes and you can take home one of those boxes [1/10 of a side of beef] for an additional $100, which is essentially at cost. So $350 w/ a meat share, $250 w/out. Up to you.

This one is a long way to selling out after a couple tweets that it’s going down, so if you want in, you’d better act quick. I’m taking registrations via email: kevinatkevinkossowan.com.

Deal will be the same as before: cash day-of. We’ll hold you to your word on you being there if you’re going to have us reserve a spot for you.

ps. a game butchery workshop is in the works too. november. elk.

Episode 50 – Pork Butchery Workshop V1.0

09.09.12

Jeff Senger of Sangudo Custom Meats

If only 2002 Kevin knew this was coming in 2012. 10 years ago I lived in a condo, fondling my tattered copy of ‘Charcuterie’, longing for an opportunity to get my hands on a whole hog to do even just a few of the myriad of possible delicious preparations pork offered – many of which you can do at home but money can’t otherwise buy. But I had no space to do it. I had nobody to show me the way. I’d never met a pork farmer who I could ask to hook me up. In the spring of 2008, I had moved into our current home, and the previous winters’ pent up porcine desires meant its garage was pre-destined to witness many a pig butchering. 4 years on, many sides and porkventures later, and after a few pints of beer with Jeff Senger tossing around the idea, here we are putting on a pig butchery workshop. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no master at breaking down a side – but mastery was not the objective here. Instead my hope was to give folks that were in a position I recall all too well a crack at breaking the ice. To give them a shot at seeing pig go from live on the hoof to wrapped and packed in the freezer, largely by their own hand. Pig Butchery 101, down and dirty.

Huge thanks to Jeff Senger and Allan Suddaby for putting their heart into it and sharing their expertise throughout the day. An equally huge thanks to those who came, who took the leap. I think it was a day all involved will remember for a long, long time. And yes, we’re talking about maybe doing more. Maybe even a beef butchery workshop. Maybe.

Merridale Cidery

08.12.12

I dearly wish I could show you via video rather than photos and writing, as I had lined up a video episode for this wonderful place, and realized I forgot my DSLR setup on the lower mainland as we left the dock on the ferry towards Victoria. I don’t think I’ve ever claimed to be smart.

I’ve known about Merridale for a while, and had tasted some of their ciders prior to me falling in love with the stuff, but it was an eye opener seeing first hand the cider gold-mine of awesome they’re sitting on, and taste the gamut of their production. The only cider operations I’ve been to have been in Normandy, so it was nostalgic to be there. Nostalgic, and a little piece of me hopes: prophetic. I think there’s opportunity in this industry in Canada. Big time. All those varietals that grow here in abundance but folks don’t get excited about because they’re not good out of hand translates into cider potential. My nostalgia though was a little mis-sited, as the varietals they use are base more in the British cider culture. It’s all good in my world.

As with most new world producers, the methodology here is based on past winning formulae, with many a contemporary innovation. They make pommeau, for example, but not the way the French do – the french just mix 1/3 apple brandy to 2/3 juice and age it in oak 18 months. Merridale’s is actually based on cider to bring some of that flavour to the party, and they age it in oak a lot longer. Their cider product line is deep with variations on the cider theme – all of them interesting, my favorites being their dessert ciders and Normandie cider.

As with all new ag ground that need be broken, their operation is plagued by government foot-dragging. The distillation portion of the business, an important piece of the puzzle in my opinion, gets hammered with ~170% tax by the province, rendering profitability impossible if trying to hit a price point on a bottle that the market will bear. They’re working hard to change that. Until then, barrels of apple brandies sit in french oak until it’s profitable to bottle and sell them. C’mon BC gov’t.

This place is worth a visit, and worth supporting in general. Sadly, because their product is only shelf stable under refrigeration, transportation far and wide has not been feasible. So despite this being the closest cool cidery to me [closer than France, that's for sure], I still can’t buy the stuff here. One day. Until then, I still heart Merridale. Bravo.

 

Saskatoon Glean 2012

08.03.12

Long, long ago, in a former saskatoon u-pick that is now more lawn than bush, a friend and I harvested saskatoons by the 5 gal pail and I made wine. Not your usual cooler-esque cheery saskatoon wine, but a heavy, dense, rich, viscous wine, aged with american white oak. That was way back in 2009. That vintage is now 3 years old and I’m wagering is the type of wine that will rock in the 10+ year range. I hadn’t had the supply to make another vintage since – until now.

Over a year ago, I got in touch with a U-Pick grower who was on the Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton grower list, but last year the ridiculously deep snow in the winter prior yielded a crop failure thanks to the moose eating the bushes to get through the winter. No 2011 vintage in the stars, trumped by nature. This year though, it was game on. Not only did we get the grower some fruit to sell via her share, and donate a pile to OFRE and a local charity, I came home with enough to make a 2012 vintage of saskatoon wine. No time for it now, so the berries will go into the freezer for the time being until my insane schedule lets off a bit.

Surprisingly, despite the wonderful opportunity to stock up for the winter in a very win-win-win-win situation for all, not as many OFRE volunteers were chomping at the bit to get on board as I thought. We were hardly at capacity for the 2 nights we were out. Still, we managed to glean roughly 350 lbs of fruit. Then we got an email from another Saskatoon U-Pick grower, offering another glean. Saskatoons anyone? I’m done.

Cob Oven Bacon

06.03.12

Writing about bacon. Again. Just when I thought there wasn’t anything additional to add to the conversation I have with myself here, there was something else to add. A simple conclusion: wood ovens are fantastic smokers. Different than a commercially manufactured smoker that generally involves automation, an element, and some wood chips, it still requires some finagaling in the way of fire management, making it an enjoyable creative process. Not only does it contain smoke as intensely as you’d like, it’s also well suited to creating smoke, as it’s easy to shut down its O2 supply such that it can’t ‘catch’ flame, and instead smoulders and smokes prolifically. I still maintain that an external fire source is critical to successful smoking, so I had a fire in an old baking pan off to the side to fuel the oven with heat when it started to cool off too much to hot smoke, or generate smoke at all for that matter. As usual, the wood of choice in my yard is apple wood, this time supplied by a friend at Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton. A future project of mine: many of the hundreds of trees OFRE has signed up for fruit rescue need some serious pruning + a local meat shop is interested in smoking their meats with said wood = cool.

So after years with a bbq conversion setup, and a year with a dry-stack brick setup, I am now pleased to be staring down a future of smoking in the new cob oven. A friend recently asked me if the honeymoon phase is over with the oven. Nope.

Episode 42 – Slow Food Edmonton

05.19.12

I’ve been involved with our local Slow Food convivium for a couple years now, and this year was an opportunity for Edmonton to play host to convivia leaders from across Canada, as well as delegates from Slow Food International for Slow Food Canada’s national meeting. What resulted was a rather epic adventure in food, as well as an unprecedented coming together of talented, inspiring food-people.

It was a rare occasion for me, who spends a lot of time advocating for regional ingredients like saskatoons, highbush cranberries, game meats, lake fishes, etc, to see the who’s-who of local chefs craft thoughtful and beautiful dishes to highlight what’s special to here. Although many celebrate regional ingredients on their menus, I’m pretty confident that the regional-food focus has never been so laser-precise, nor to this magnitude in Edmonton. Ever.

This edit condenses 4 days into 4 minutes. It by necessity excludes much of the goings-on around the enormous event, but hopefully gives you sense of some of the regional ingredients highlighted, and a look at how the local talent worked with them. If you’re interested in becoming a Slow Food member, you can sign up here.

My Food-onomics

04.13.12

My diet is probably the most localized of anybody I know. Some come close, but let’s use me as the example. If I’m Mr. 95+% local food diet guy, and local, good quality foods are by your definition the most expensive foods, I should then have the highest food cost of anybody I know. But the facts are, the opposite is true. Our family’s food budget works out to about $400/month. That’s for a family of 5 [kids 5, 3, 1], which per person works out to $80/person, $2.66/day, or less than $1/meal per person. Thems is the facts.

How? I’m headed there, bear with me a bit. It’s critical to point out here that we’re eating the top quality ingredients we can find here too. Rather than buying my meat at Walmart, I’m buying the best quality pasture raised stuff I can find. Rather than eating veg bred for withstanding transportation, I’m growing those with the best flavor I can find. We even fit in buying organic grain in there – I think if more folks learned the difference between conventional grain farming and organic grain farming, they’d make that leap too.

Which leads me to an important point: the marginal cost of upgrading. Having visited an organic grain farm and concluded that I didn’t want to feed my family conventionally raised grain, I found a local supplier [Sunnyboy and Highwood Crossing for unbleached white flour] that was selling organic flour for $32/20kg bag. I could buy conventional at a box store for $13 or so. So I was multiplying my food cost 200-300% on grain. This seemed illogical to my inner cheap-ass, but then I looked at the bottom line. If we go through 3 bags a year, I was spending $39 before. Going organic would cost $96. A year. So $63 more per year. That’s $5 of my $400 monthly food budget I’m happy to spend to upgrade. Think about some of the things you spend $5/month on. Parking meters maybe? Those same ‘upgrading’ economics apply to many other items, including meats. And for the record, our budget affords us buying heritage organic whole-grain flours from Gold Forest Grains too.

A quick look at inflation and seed cost. My grandma’s 95. She was born in 1917, before the end of WWI. I’m sure a bunch of carrots at the market, if they were there at all, were a few cents. Seed cost would have been fewer cents. Almost a century later that bunch of carrots at a farmers’ market, $5, say. When I’m a senior, it will likely be $10-20. And I’m not begrudging the farmers those prices – they have to pay for their time to feed you. But the seed cost remains pennies. In fact, if you save seed [and Monsanto doesn't sue you for intellectual property theft, that is], seed can still be free. As time passes, I’m convinced the economic value of seeds will become more and more obvious to the average consumer. The spread of end-product cost and seed cost is growing. I’m doing more and more seed saving. Did I mention the free part?

So I’ll cut to the chase on a few items. Let’s start with fruit and veg. Because we pick fruit until we can pick fruit no more with Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton in the fall – saving fruit on the tree or bush that would otherwise get hauled to landfill – our fruit cost has fallen to essentially zero. And no we don’t need to eat apples all winter. Our freezer’s full of sour cherries, black currants, raspberries, apples, apple juice, and more. You could argue that I have to include my cost of gas to harvest fruit, but I’d argue that I don’t, because you wouldn’t include your cost of gas to go to the box store to buy the stuff.

Our annual seed budget for veg is about $100, and I could easily tighten that up if I felt it was necessary. So yes, that $100 bill pays for enough vegetables to feed our family for the year, year round thanks to cold frames and my root cellar [also economical to build]. So substantially all of our fruit and veg for the year costs a whopping $100 or so.  ’But I live in a condo downtown and don’t have a garden‘, say you. Your solution is the Edmonton Organic Growers’ Guild - you can take the LRT to the UoA farm, spend some afternoons and evenings pitching in, and they get grants to pay for seed and tools, so your organic veg is free. There’s that word again: free. And would you believe they’re actually looking for people to take them up on this deal?!?

I’ve done beef-onomics and pork-onomics for years. When I first started buying whole animals, I was highly motivated to figure out if that big expense up front worked out in the end. Turns out for pork that no matter how I spin it, it works out to about $2.25 a lb, give or take a dime or so. Keep in mind, this is pastured, low-density, antibiotic+hormone free, happy pig, and I can shake the hand of the farmer I buy from. Box store pig isn’t any of those things. Yet my $/lb works out to less than the box store. Yes, less. I’ve done the math. So top quality meat for less than box store prices. The catch: you have to actually buy and use a whole animal [ie, not just eat its tenderloin or boneless skinless breast], and spend some time processing it yourself. And therein lies the rub. Time.

Most folks, when I start talking about food economics, will grab ‘time’, and toss it in my face. ‘You must spend every waking hour growing, processing, and preparing your own foods‘, say they. Anybody that knows me knows that’s not true. For example. It takes me 2 hrs to take a side of pig and break it down. That’s wrapped, packed, in a freezer, cleaned down. Folks will spend 2 hrs watching a movie and think nothing of it, so I’ll take that to mean 2 hrs is not a big time commitment. Harvesting apples [did I mention free?] in the fall can be done at a rate of about 100 lbs/hr, say. If you buy apples at the market for $2-3/lb say, than the economic value of your time is $200-300. Per hour. Not a lot of time, but even if it was it’s an economically efficient use of it, even if you get paid a whole lot at your day-job.

But even if it did take a lot of time, I’ll argue til the end of the earth that perhaps we should start to be okay with spending more time handling our own food. Call me crazy. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ll still get those telling me they have NO spare time, AT ALL. Not one single day on a weekend a year. I think that’s dysfunctional and more is required than a reinvention of your food life. So long as folks own TVs, there are some spare moments in the week. If you’re that person that’s so strapped they need to figure how to best utilize those few precious spare hours per calendar year to maximize their food budget – email me or let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to help you. But before you fear the time commitment, ask those that do it – grow, process, harvest, cook, and otherwise spend time with their food, and they’re likely to tell you it’s a wholesome, productive, happy-making ‘work’. A therapy of sorts. It’s good for the brain. It’s good for the health. It’s good for the pocket-book.

Willing to share your food budget? Any food items you haven’t found an economical solution for?

Episode 37 – Bacon

03.21.12

I’ve been writing about bacon for years now. As in, 6-7 years. I’ve made it umpteen times, yet there are always little refinements here and there to make in the process. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say about it too by now. Nope.

I feel like this episode should be rated ‘N’ for containing the evil ‘Nitrates’. But for all you nitrate haters, consider this: “the permissible amount of nitrate in comminuted meat products [sausages], is 1718 mg/kg.” The amounts of nitrates naturally inherent in vegetables are then quoted, again in mg/kg: “spinach, 1631. beetroot, 1211. lettuces, 1051. cabbages, 338. potatoes, 155…” The list goes on. I’m quoting the book ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design’ by respected charcuterie authors S., A., & R. Marianski. The authors then go on: “If one ate 1/4 lb smoked sausage, the ingoing nitrate would be 430ppm. That would probably account for less nitrates than a dinner served with potatoes and spinach.” 

That’s right. That box-store bagged spinach [which has a nasty history of carrying deadly pathogens, I'll add], cooked into a nice lasagna, would very likely have far more nitrates in it than a healthy portion of bacon. There are many things to fear in the food world, but let moderate use of nitrates not be one of them. And lastly, let me say it for the record: bacon without nitrates is not bacon, it’s pork belly. If you’re smoking pork belly without nitrates to get a ‘pretend bacon’ or ‘nitrate-free bacon’, you’re missing the point that nitrates are present to avoid you having a intimate encounter with ‘Mr. Botulism’.

Episode 34: Caviar?

03.06.12

It is ice. And it is a hole.

One day, a biologist will explain to me why it is that when ice fishing, the vast majority of your catch are females, or ‘hens’. As an example, the last day I had a bunch of perch in my kitchen sink, 9 out of 9 were female. So what, you ask? Well what this means to me is that I have a surplus of roe. I’ve been cooking it, mostly, then realized that perhaps I am missing the boat on converting it into something unique and special: caviar. As I’ve since learned, caviar is simply brined fish eggs. That’s pretty simple. Most recipes online [Hank's got a nice post about caviar] were from trout or salmon roe. Perhaps freshwater fish roe would suck? Nope. I’ve had Golden Caviar [Whitefish caviar]. You can buy it commercially. I had to try it.

Turns out one of my favorite ice fishing spots is a mile or two away from Doef’s Greenhouses [Ep. 33]. I shot these two episodes in the same morning. A morning I will not soon forget, as I learned that hauling all my fishing camp gear and all of my camera gear for a km or two in deep snow is not a very good idea.

So I made up a 5% brine, threw it into my ice fishing bucket, and set out to give it a go.  I’d read that you should do it with super-fresh eggs. I can attest to the fact that they do deteriorate rapidly under refrigeration. Subsequent concept: go catch a fish with a DSLR on record, then kill and de-roe the fish right then and there on the ice. Can’t get much fresher than that. If you want to give this a go, you might want to read up on freezing freshwater fish prior to eating a raw preparation, so you can manage any bug-risks yourself. I’ve done my homework. So how was it? Watch the video.

Episode 29 – Applejack

01.23.12

Applejack Made by Freezing Apple Cider/Wine

Applejack is a hard liquor of 20-30% abv that can only be made when it’s extremely cold out. For that, it is special to me. Its flavours and smells cannot be created in warmer climates – perhaps why the Normands don’t do applejack despite their apple-booze culture…they simply can’t. It’s extra special due to the fact that distilling booze to make spirits is illegal here – big time. But this isn’t. I spoke to 4 people at the AGLC [all strangely helpful and nice] before finding out if posting this would incriminate me. The guy at the top didn’t even know what applejack was, and had to look it up and get back to me. Apparently I am into the obscure. Clearly couldn’t be something they were enforcing if they didn’t even know what it was, no? Had to be sure though, and in the end, the authorities gave me the okay – but do check with the authorities in your jurisdiction prior to trying it, finding yourself in the slammer, and blaming it on me. Don’t do that.

You could try this with a full bodied white on the sweeter side if you want to give it a go and are short on cider [not a problem I have]. My one suggestion having done it is that you’d want to use as high quality an input as you can – use your good stuff, not your ‘this-sucks-but-maybe-if-I-Applejack-it-stuff’ – as it will concentrate the good, but also the bad. More, in the video.