Do you know that steak’s mom?

KevinHunting, PhilosoFoodLeave a Comment

Forgive me for having given hunting a lot of thought lately. Killing things isn’t exactly the most socially acceptable activity nowadays, and I get that. It’s macho, ‘old-boys-clubish’, senseless, and so on. And it can be.

But it can also be one of the most intense connections with the food you eat. A steak of beef didn’t grow organically on a plant. Someone shot a cow in the head, slit its throat, gutted it, butchered it, and you’re eating that animal’s back muscle, more than likely – the one that runs down the sides of your spine. We have the same one. That’s the reality, and everyone knows that intellectually, but I don’t think you truly understand it until you either witness it or do it yourself.

I’m likely going to shoot a calf moose this fall. Now I’m guessing that’s going to be pretty tough to do, morally. The calf will likely be with it’s mom, and the mom will mourn the loss, and it’s all one shitty mess as far as that goes. But the way I see it, going to the store and buying veal is no different. That was a cow’s calf. Thinking there’s no emotional attachment between the two is crap. Even geese – if you shoot one out of a pair, the other will circle, honking, looking down for his buddy for a good while before getting the hell out of danger. It’s sad. It is. But it’s one of the crappy parts of being an omnivore with compassion. One of the many curses of being a human.

So I’ll feel like hell when I shoot a calf, but at least I’ll understand the importance of the meat. Buying a veal chop is as easy as buying a head of lettuce. No bad feelings there. I’m not suggesting that everyone should hunt – not even close. I’m just suggesting you consider that killing the animals you eat is actually normal, and in ways, more respectful to the animal, than being disconnected from the harsh realities of what needs to happen for humans to eat meat.

Blind Tasting, and BAD butchering

KevinBig Game, Butchering Game Meats, From The Wild, Game Birds, Waterfowl, Wild BoarLeave a Comment

I just had dinner guests do a blind tasting of two different species of geese to tell me which they preferred. Both were rotisseried, basted in garlic butter with fine rosemary, thyme, sage, and parsley. The final concensus: both were extremely close in flavour and nearly impossible to distinguish one for the other. And both tasted so much like roast beef, that it was agreed either could be passed off for roast beef.

And all agreed that the rather expensive bottle of 2003 Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Pinot Noir was really damn good.

The main course was a sauté of wild boar with a Madeira jus and lardons of bacon I made, served with roasted garden potato, carrot, and rutabata, and sautéed chard greens with nutmeg and lemon.
Which leads me to a rare event. I was mad today. Doesn’t happen often. I had a 5 lb bone-in leg of wild boar that a friend gave me, butchered by a local butcher. I had been anticipating enjoying it for weeks. I opened the package, it looked poorly trimmed, so I cut into the roast.

This is the absolute worst piece of butchered meat I’ve ever seen in my life. That is blod clot, running the entire length of the inside of the roast. It was disgusting. After trimming, I was only left with just under 2 lbs of edible meat. That’s just wrong. Whoever let this leave their shop, should be ashamed.

Wild Geese

KevinFrom The Wild, Hunting, Waterfowl2 Comments

I gave up hunting altogether for quite a few years. Lots of reasons why, and beyond the scope of today’s blog. I gave it another shot in the last couple years, and have been really enjoying it. It’s fun to be outdoors with the guys, and culinarily it’s a tremendous opportunity for me.

I just got back from goose hunting down in southern Alberta where my family on my dad’s side has been doing it for over 30 years. Every year, this time of year. I’m appreciating the tradition in it as I get older. There were thousands of geese close to the house down there, and we did well.

A few firsts. I shot my first snow geese. They’re beautiful birds, far smaller than Canada geese, and the flesh is far whiter, and likely more delicate in flavour and texture. I’m eager to try different things with them in the kitchen. Oddly, they’re overpopulated and destroying their habitat in the arctic. And no, that’s not a hunter justifying killing things. www.mb.ec.gc.ca/nature/migratorybirds/dc00s04.en.html. The limit on them is ridiculously high – our possession limit as hunting party of this species alone was 200. We only took a half-dozen.

Another first was shooting once, and seeing two white-fronted geese [speckle-bellied] fall. That doesn’t happen often. Happened to me yesterday. This was the most abundant species of goose down there – usually is. They are also smaller than a Canada goose by a fair margin, and have a bizarre squealing sound rather than a honk. Many argue these are the best tasting goose. I look forward to being the judge of that. We ended up with 30+ of these.

We also got a few Canada geese. The big ones we were shooting around Edmonton last year were 14 lbs, but down south they’re a fair bit smaller.

I have a Snow, a White-Fronted, and a Canada skinned whole, trussed with some of my home-cured and smoked bacon, and ready for a side by side rotisserie or roast comparison. And I’m eager to make sausage from each of the species. For those that haven’t tried, goose has a definite poultry flavour, but because they’re migrating – as opposed to being in a feed lot – their meat is a lot tougher than domestic poultry. These geese were feeding in a wheat field for a couple weeks – which is awesome. Animals that are grain fed before slaughter taste better – domestic or wild. So this year’s brain wave is using most of the meat in sausage as it will have a nice poultry flavour, and the grinder will take care of the toughness issue.

I am sore. Pushing round bales is hard [for cover]. So is squatting for hours [hiding in cover]. And I’m tired – up at 4:45am for the past couple days. Looking forward to going again next year.

Steak Sandwich

KevinRecipesLeave a Comment

I cook a lot. It’s a noteable occasion when I’m amazed by a particular dish. And I just was. By a steak sandwich.

Okay, so it was a prime piece of Bison loin, but I don’t think it matters.

Basic premise:
– a good chunk of steak + a lot of kosher salt and coarse pepper
– A mediocre hunk of baguette/italian/french bread, sliced lenghtwise
– garlic butter [2 tbsp butter, 1 sm clove garlic minced, pinch salt, bit of minced parsley] cooked gently just to cook the garlic a bit.
– a glass of decent red wine

Grill on a very hot grill. While you’re at it, toast the bread. When bread’s ready, brush the bread with the garlic butter. When you flip the steak, brush done side with a bit of garlic butter. If you get the doneness right on both – you’re in for a treat.

I had mine with some onion confit with a french ‘quatre épices’ spice blend. I also tried it with horseradish, and beet relish my mom made. All excellent. But it will be a fine treat on its own. My cabernet sauvignon heavy 05 blend paired ridiculously well – which is promising for me with the upcoming bounty of hunting season.

Basic premise: good steak + garlic toast + red wine = holy crap it’s good.

Eating in Restaurants

KevinPhilosoFood, TravelLeave a Comment

I used to really enjoy eating out in restaurants. That’s where good food was, afterall.

Then I developed a passion for cooking. Travel fueled it. So did gardening, Food TV, and exposing myself to a lot of culinary education. As time went on, I got more and more disappointed with the quality of food at restaurants. It’s to a point when my wife and I choose to eat out, it’s neary always a cheap asian place [good value]. That and fine dining once a year for our ‘staff xmas party’. Much beyond that, and I’d rather cook it myself, thanks. That must sound snobby.

For example. I used to call Boston Pizza my ‘favorite restaurant’. Don’t ask me why – this was back in university. Now, I’d far rather make my own pizza at home from scratch [dough, sauce, and all] than set foot in BP’s. Not only is it going to taste better, but I know what’s in it, and it costs $3 rather than $23. And value matters a lot to me when it comes to food.

On our recent trip to France, I was eager to eat some ‘real’ restaurant food. After much research, a plane ticket, and a few euros, some of my faith was restored as I ate foie gras, tete de veau, and vanilla bean custard on vanilla bean ice cream. Accordingly, my ‘new’ favorite restaurant is the Perraudin in Paris. www.restaurant-perraudin.com [Oooh – sounding snobby again]. But as a whole, crossing border after border, I encountered few things I couldn’t pull off respectably on my own for far cheaper. Even in Italy. The best food by far I ate in Italy was in someone’s home [more on that another day]. What a piss off this was.

And it wasn’t a passing observation – it will influence how we travel from now on. ‘Never again without having my own kitchen’ – I resolved. It seems ridiculous to me to walk through cheese shops, wine shops, meat shops, bakeries, patisseries, and local markets bursting with seasonal vegetables, fruits, and local products – and not be smart and take advantage. You could collect a wicked AND economical meal in these places. I’m not knocking the restaurant industry here – they have overhead, staffing, and profitability to worry about. What I am saying is that, short of a few exceptions, eating in restaurants is no longer for me.

Cooking, Art, and Music

KevinPhilosoFoodLeave a Comment

One of my favorite authors, Michael Ruhlman, takes a moment in one of his books to wittily criticize those that think that cooking is an art. He believes that it is a craft, not an art. Trivial? Not in my little world, I guess. This got me thinking.

Art defined: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

I’ve spent a lot of years believing that art involved something else – integrity. You can write a song, paint a painting, or prepare a dish without any intention of artistic endeavour. I could write a silly song for fun, but I wouldn’t call it art. I could paint a stripe and it’s technically a painting, but would express jack squat.

I think art requires you create something leaving nothing on the table. You have to put everything you have into it. It has to be genuine. I think many chefs would believe they’d accomplished that a time or two.

A Sausage First

KevinCharcuterie, SausageLeave a Comment

Today I completed my first attempt at making my own sausage. It’s a lot of work, but damn tasty. I made a pork garlic sausage with herbs my garden and red wine I made with airborne yeast and no chemicals. It was an important first step in my quest to make a variety of ‘gourmet’ sausages during this year’s coming hunting season.

One of the main drivers for me to take this on – other than flavour and overall quality – is knowing exactly what’s in it. I chose the cut of pork shoulder. I ground it myself. Short of having raised the pig, I know where everything came from, that it was fresh and of the highest quality available – and no preservatives, additives, or other ‘unpronoucables’ you find on ingredient labels. And if I continue to write my blog entries in the coming week – no botulism either!

A few sausage recipes pending: ‘venison with madeira’, ‘canada goose confit with sweet potato’, and ‘venison with gin and juniper’. Yum.

Grilled Pork Shoulder Steak with Honey Garlic and Thyme Glaze

KevinRecipesLeave a Comment

Time for a recipe. I have a large collection. Actually, I’m working on something akin to a cook book except it’s never going to be a book so I don’t know what to call it. More on that another time. For now – the glories of pork shoulder steak. Fat haters – ignore this one entirely. But for those not cowering in fear at the thought of eating some reasonably healthy pork fat, read on.

First thing you need to do is go to your local supermarket and buy a pack of pork shoulder steaks. They aren’t hard to find, and you get a big pack for roughly $10. They’re a cheap cut, because people fear them. Pork chops, people know. But pork shoulder? Oooooh. Or they just fear the fat, which is a shame for them. When it comes to pork, I’ll take shoulder over loin any day.

The only tough bit, and it’s not tough: Make the glaze. Use your mortar and pestle if you have, and if you don’t, improvise as best you can. Grind a small pinch of whole cumin and a half a dried chili per steak [if you like heat], maybe a bit of salt to act as an abrasive. Once it looks fine enough that you’re not going to be chewing on any whole bits of spice, add 1 clove garlic, and a half dozen or so small twigs of thyme, leaves picked. Add about a tbsp of honey to loosen the mixture. That’s it. If you do not normally use whole cumin or dried chilis – you should. You can likely buy whole cumin in a bulk aisle for a few cents, and a bag of dried chilis for a buck or two should last half a year. Both are excellent on grilled meats. And if you don’t have your own little herb pots to steal thyme from, you should. But store bought is fine, just more expensive.

Get the bbq nice and hot, and grill the steak(s) with a decent amount of kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Check it periodically, and when it looks nice, flip it and do the same thing. The focus isn’t doneness at this point. One thing the high heat is doing is getting the fat going and caremelizing. Yum. Once both sides look semi-cooked/seared, turn the heat right down, and liberally brush on the glaze, flip the meat and let it ‘set’ and caramelize. Use your intuition here. It should look good, not burned. Flip, and glaze the other side as you did the first. Repeat if desired – the more you do this glaze and flip deal, the more the flavours in the glaze will come through. Luckily, because of lots of intramusular fat, it will be tough to really overcook the shoulder steaks to the point of toughness. What would cremate a loin chop, will be just dandy for a shoulder steak.

Do whatever it is you do to test for doneness. I either press on it with my thongs, or use a meat thermometer if I’m not sure. Cut into it if you want. Enjoy.

On Travel

KevinTravelLeave a Comment

I’m a European travel addict. And yes, I know there’s more of the world to see.

To date we’ve been to England, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Italy, Vatican City, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. And if you think traveling to Europe is all the same, you obviously haven’t seen much of it. A city in Poland is nothing like a coastal village in Spain. If you don’t believe me, your loss.

Why travel? Rick Steves describes it as ‘accelerated living’ – and I agree. You experience more in a week of travel than in a year at home. Not a fact, and yes, an approximation, but you get the idea. It’s also an invaluable education in geography, language, history, culture, food, and human nature. So I guess if you don’t value living life, intense experience, or an education about the world and humanity – then don’t travel abroad. Or I guess there’s always traveling to get drunk and tanned.

On Wine

KevinWineLeave a Comment

The man to my right is Mr. Chenu-Lefebvre, vigneron and winemaker at Le Moulin Aux Moines, Chorey-les-Beaune, in Burgundy. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’s changed the way I’ll think about wines for the rest of my life. Why the big fuss? Well, to most, including myself prior, ‘integrity’ is not an ingredient the modern wine world looks for when buying a wine. This man lectured me on integrity. He scoffed at dark coloured pinot noir wines. Red wines, he says, were not dark in colour 50 years ago – they have to add other varietals to get the colour that sells well now. ‘La Mode’ – or trendy, he calls it. He scoffed at modern vinification methods including refridgeration to cool fermenting must. He uses tubes, gravity, and his 1000 year old cellars to chill wine. He is one of the old-timers that believes that wine is made on the vines, and the vinification afterwards should simply reflect the grapes: how stressed they were or were not due to weather, soil conditions, and other factors that nature controls. He believes that wine making is a natural process, and mucking about with it is disrespectful. He preached that making wine to suit a modern palate just because it sells, and not to reflect the grape or the terroir is ridiculous and offensive. These were concepts I’d hear again and again.

Skip ahead to the Cote du Rhone, near Vaison la Romaine. I had the privilege of staying up drinking cheap bubbly with a vigneron widow and a local vigneron, Sebastien, who tends vines in the Chateauneuf du Pape AOC. They told me of the woes of french winemakers – how new world wines were forcing some producers to tear out their vines. The once thriving french wine industry has hit the skids. But Sebastien spoke of hope. He feels that this pressure will force the poor terroirs to no longer be planted with vines – leaving only the very best plots of land to produce only the very best the region can produce. And that the inevitable quality that will result will allow them to maintain a respectable price and demand for the flavours of their region. Personally, I think they’re going to be just fine. There may be more wine supply, but there’s also a lot more humans kicking about to consume it all. And in these times, we’re damn efficient at consuming.

While debating some of my new-found wine wisdom over dinner with Robert and Liz, our Tuscan foodie-friends, Robert insisted I watch an incredible film by Jonathan Nossiter called Mondovino. I think I’ve watched it 5-10 times. Get if from your local library, or rent it if you can find it. Brilliant documentary about people in the wine industry, and the trend toward the commoditization of wine – making it the same across the globe so that it sells well, at the cost of regionality. I totally appreciate that some people don’t care. In my opinion, it’s a sign of the times. People are cluelessly detached from what they eat and drink. I will have to write another day about this, as there’s too much to say. But in general – people used to give a shit about food and drink, and the last couple generations have gone and right fucked it up. Wonder bread? Cheez Whiz? Kool Aid? McWhatever, microwaveable dinners? Come on. That’s embarassing.

Onward. About wine, right? Right. My conclusion will suck, because trying to come to a conclusion about wine is not dissimilar from trying to conclude about religion. Understanding is a life-long journey. Blasphemy? Isn’t wine the blood of Christ? I hope to post more about wine in the future, but for now, go get a copy of Mondovino, and care a bit more about what you’re drinking and the people making it.