This is the first butternut squash I’ve grown and eaten. And it’s a huge one. Guess there’s a reason it’s called winter squash…it being in great shape in nearly December. You can see the water droplets on the left side it was so juicy. I wrapped 1/6 each in foil with some Bardi extra virgin olive oil from Petroio in Tuscany that I bought from the man himself + kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Baked it until it was mushy soft. Tomorrow: Butternut squash ravioli.
I smoked bacon in -24 and snow today. Far more enjoyable in the fall, but seems to have worked okay nonetheless. Cured pork belly is not near as good as its smoked counterpart. It’s not just the smoke – in this case, hickory. It’s a texture thing too – it firms it up, changes the character of the meat, and more importantly, the fat. Back prior to having ever made bacon myself, I read that once you do, you’ll never buy it again. It’s true. And I didn’t even used to be a big bacon fan overall. Now it bothers me to not have a small slab in the freezer that I can pull out to shave or cut [cuts well frozen] to throw into a nice meat dish or salad. Or with good local organic eggs from Sunworks. Yum.
And a few weeks ago I mentioned to my dad that I would like to try cooking with deer – as despite the abundance of them, I hadn’t seen much of it in my kitchen. Moose, elk, bison, boar yes – but deer no. Well today I got a phone call that we have some butchering to do on Saturday. So venison tenderloin, loin, and top sirloin is slated to hit my table in the coming week or two. How excellent is that?!
I ate my vietnamese soup for breakfast, lunch, and supper today. No pictures, sorry. Good thing I made it, as I woke up with a sore throat and headache. Hence my lack of awesome story about my soup eating binge. Dang.
I have great respect for Vietnamese cuisine. For some reason, among the asian cuisines I’ve been exposed to, I’m drawn to it the most. Maybe I’m more ethnocentric than I think and it’s only because they were once colonized by the French, my European cuisine favorite. Or not. I’m a big fan of the clean, fresh, savoury, transparent, and crisp vibe to the food. Not much fanciness. Just good food done properly.
I’ve recently become a student of Phở – a Vietnamese noodle soup in beef broth. At what is in my opinion the best Vietnamese restaurant in town, I tried both the Northern and Southern Vietnamese variations. Both excellent. After much discussion about flavour profiles, differences, and similarities, I had to try it at home.
So today I bought a cheap duck and a slab of cheap beef and made stock, jacking it up very slightly with star aniseed, onion, szechuan peppercorn, and black peppercorns. Stock, I can do. I love the pace of stock. 9 hours of love. And although some aromatics may vary, the meats don’t vary much cross-culturally, and the process is much the same.
So soon, likely tomorrow, I will post pictures and a review of my resulting bowl of noodles. I am on a mission to become adept at this. Can’t wait.
Today I read an add in the paper from Normand’s – a respectable local restaurant – advertising: “Fine Regional Cuisine, Featuring Wild Regional Game: ELK, CARIBOU, and MUSKOX…”. Now for those of you who do not spend much time outdoors, you will not find, no matter how hard you search, a wild caribou or muscox within many, many, many hours of driving of here. Perhaps they mistakenly think they’re in the tundra. Sometimes seems like it in the winter. Perhaps they think their clientele are too stupid to know better? I’m really not sure what the real reason might be. But it did guide me in my search for what IS regional. If you drive the highways at all, you KNOW deer are everywhere here. So many that vehicles kill them regularly. [them and porcupines, but we’ll forget about that for the time being] So where’s the venison on every menu? You’d think that the meat in a Donair shop or in your burger would be venison – it’s local, it’s everywhere, and it can be procured cheaply [not referring to road kill, here]. It’s lean, it’s healthful, I don’t get it. Driving around, you’ll notice elk farms, bison farms, alpaca farms, lama farms, and loads of horses. But only a couple of those might ever make a fine restaurant menu. I’m guessing the vast majority of people have never considered eating any of them. Probably because McDonalds doesn’t sell them. Okay, that’s mean. Probably because the local super-grocer doesn’t sell them.
So I will continue my search for what is regional. Things I’ve got in the ‘are not’ column: rice, all tropical fruit, corn products, seafood, muscox, alligator, chilis, figs, and sugar cane.
Last night I tried a variation on my ‘steak au poivre’. I’d seen Cat Cora on Iron Chef America – Battle Ground Beef [okay, somewhat embarassing] crust red meat by slathering it in Dijon mustard prior to frying. It looked good and sounded good in theory, although I had a hard time picturing how frying mustard wouldn’t make a mess of the pan. So I tried it with a large piece of boneless Elk rib eye. I slathered the piece of meat in mustard – mustard that Pam’s grandma makes that’s quite sweet, and I think the sugar helped with the end result. But Dijon would likely be similar, and that’s next on my list of things to try. I then rolled the messy-with-mustard meat in cracked pepper like in ‘steak au poivre’. So not much innovation here…just added lots of mustard.
I fried it carefully, and the mustard crusted up amazingly. It was really a wicked smell that I’d never smelled in my own kitchen. I then stabbed it with my trusty probe thermometer, set the alarm for 150 degrees, and threw the pan in an oven at 350. [note: my pans are oven safe] In a half hour or so, it beeped, and I took it out to rest it [IMPORTANT] while I made the sauce. Same sauce concept as the previous recipe – the Cambozola one. It’s been good every single time.
The crust on the meat was something I’d never achieved. It was really good. I’ve never created a really dense crust on meat that’s as pleasant, chewy, dense, and tasty. Worthy of repetition. And sharing. And I’d be proud to serve it to guests, which means you may eat it here one day.
I’m reading yet another book by Anthony Bourdain [my 5th]. In it, he discusses a Canadian author who categorizes chefs into two camps: Crips and Bloods. Crips being the fusion-loving multicultural innovators, and Bloods being the terroir driven, regional-and-in-season-only kind of folks. I like to at least think of my self as a ‘Blood’. I spend a lot of time focused on meat I hunt, vegetables and fruit I grow, wine I make, and other local food producers’ products.
But if I am such a blood, why am I so inexperienced with Alberta Beef – supposedly some of the best in the world? Not that I don’t know how to cook beef properly or do not eat it on occasion – but I would have to admit that I am not intimate with the nuance in how our beef is better than anybody else’s. I probably buy beef once every few months at best. Now, I can pat my guilty feelings on the back using the fact that I eat game rather than beef [economics and ‘natural food’ more than snobiness, honest] as an excuse. But it doesn’t change anything about my lack of Alberta Beef intimacy. Perhaps intimacy is the wrong word to use when describing farm animals. But you get what I mean.
And another thing I’ve come to realize. I’ve spent a lot of time, energy, and money traveling all over Europe learning about ‘their’ regional cuisines and foods. Not that the education and experience isn’t valuable. But what about ‘ours’. Our food culture isn’t as well developed or time-worn, perhaps. And yes, I will continue to learn about and practice French and Italian cuisine – but I’m trying to start to put a lot more weight on the regional cuisine of the region I live in.
I know I can feel good about what I’m reading when it provokes this kind of thought.
Haven’t passed on any recipes lately, so I’m excited to share one of my successful creations of the fall season. Plus, I’m always really proud when I figure out a way to serve game meats in a fashion that would please even non-game-eaters. The concept is far more important than the recipe here. The fundamental is a ‘steak au poivre’ french classic – the Cambozola sauce happened because it was in my fridge, and I knew ‘blue cheese’ paired well with red meat. So here’s how I suggest giving it a shot.
good quality tender cut of red meat
black peppercorns [whole]
cream [i used 18%, 10% or 35% would work fine]
cambozola [local grocer or cheese shop will have this]
butter [2-3 tbsp…okay, maybe 4-5]
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, sliced
Okay, this is simple. The idea is ‘cracked’ coarse pepper. Crunch up the peppercorns with a mortar/pestle, pan, or whatever JUST until there are no more whole ones. Cut the meat into the portion you want, and rub it generously with the very coarse pepper. Season carefully with salt. Heat the butter until the foaming subsides, and fry the meat gently until it looks really good. Flip it, salt again, and cook until it’s done how you like. The next bit is important: take it out, put it on/in a dish and cover with foil to let it rest while you make the sauce as follows:
If you browned the meat at a nice pace, the pan should have some residual butter and nice brown ‘fond’ or stuck on bits. Throw in the onion and garlic – they’ll pick up a lot of the brown colour from the meat frying. Fry for a couple minutes. Pour in the cream. Basically enough for the amount of sauce you want. Let it simmer, stirring to get every last bit of stuck on stuff incorporated into the sauce. Add what you’d consider 3-4 bites of cheese per person to the sauce, and stir it until it disolves. It will thicken the sauce beautifully. Add a pinch or two of salt. Taste it. Add another pinch or two of salt. Stop when all the flavours are popping, and before it gets too salty. If it gets too thick on you, add a bit more cream, or water to cut it.
Serve the sauce on the meat with mashed potatoes or another favorite fall veg. You won’t be disappointed.
An important note about pan-frying meats: the heat you’re looking for in your pan is ‘just’ enough to keep it bubbling and sizzling. If it’s quiet, your heat’s too low. If it’s frying fast and hard – that’s not good. My burner knobs read 1-9. I start frying on 4-5, and once the food in the pan starts to heat up, I can turn it down to between 3 and 4 while still maintaining enough heat.
An important note about doneness: press down on the meat when it first hits the pan. It will give under your pressure quite a bit. As it cooks, the meat will travel towards hardness. Your goal is to catch it somewhere in the middle. Where exactly that is will depend on taste and experience. And if you don’t like meat bleeding on your plate – REST IT UNDER FOIL for a few minutes. It continues to cook, and the ‘doneness’ becomes more even through the piece of meat. Sounds fussy, but it makes a huge difference.
For another wicked culinary idea – which coincidentally also combines nasty cheese and red meat -check out Holden’s BBQ Southwest Bison Sandwich in his Nov 9 2006 blog entry at http://holdend77.blogspot.com/. Huge props, man. Love to see it.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. But I just got back from butchering the calf moose I shot. It yielded 100 lbs of meat – and oddly, exactly 50 of super-lean super-clean burger, and 50 of varying steaks and roasts. It took very close to 5 hours from start to finish, including grinding of burger and cleanup. This is the third animal I’ve helped butcher this fall. If we’re lucky we may get some calf elk yet, and if we’re really lucky, we may find ourself butchering some wild boar.
Happily, I’ve been improving my chops with game dishes to keep us enjoying eating all this stuff. Today’s accomplishment was a ‘steak au poivre’ style sauté of calf moose tenderloin with a cream and cambozola cheese sauce on garden mashed potato. Pam loved it, and wants me to make it again, which means I did good.
This being the first large animal I’ve shot, gutted, skinned, butchered, packed, and frozen, I can say there’s a similar feeling of accomplishment similar to gardening and eating your own produce. I’ve referred to hunting as ‘gardening for meat’ before. Very similar concept, but has far nastier sides to it than gardening. But man it teaches you how much the average meat-eating consumer is blissfully sheltered.