Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Problem With Pork

 Not a great picture... but hey, it was a great dinner. Ossabaw pork tenderloin, cooked to a rosy medium from Nature's Harmony Farm.

I'll preface this post by saying that though backed by a few factual bits, most of this post is editorial.  

Most people have had a pork chop.  Unfortunately many of those same people have had bad pork chops.  It's not the pigs fault really, or even the cook's fault to some extent, it is the sCaRy trichina worm.  Trichinella spiralis to be specific.  I along with millions of other home cooks, were raised with the thought that you had to cook pork thoroughly to kill this parasite.  It just isn't true.  Fortunately for those of you reading this, you can rest assured that I will help dispel this myth and help you cook a better pork chop.

Let me back-track a bit.  Trichinosis was at one time a more significant concern than it is today.  In decades of yore (let's say my grandparent's generation), the pigs that were raised for human consumption in factory farms were fed garbage.  Food scraps, waste from restaurants, waste from food processing plants, and other tasty bits.  Of course because they were pigs they didn't much care: if it was tasty, well then that was just fine.  Trichinosis infection in people was somewhat common.  According to my trusty interwebs netpages research, approximately 1 in 6 people were infected in the 30's and 40's.  Today the pigs are still fed food scraps, but those scraps are cooked.  Let's call it gourmet garbage, because cooked rotting beef parts and banana peel just sounds so much more appetizing.  Partly as a result of this cooking, there has been a significant drop of trichina worms in pigs raised for consumption during my parent's generation.  We'll call this the 50's and 60's.  This paragraph is where I should include a reference or two but hey, it's a blog not a research paper...  Just trust me. 

Old habits die hard.  You can't expect people to change their cooking habits overnight, things like this take time.  How 'bout we give people 60 years to rid themselves of the nasty habit of mercilessly overcooking pork?  Done... and here we are today.  Today we live in a world where pork raised in the US is virtually free of the trichina worm.  Even if the parasite was present in pork, the US Department of Agriculture says that it is killed in under one minute at a temperature of 140 degrees F.  At 140 degrees F commercial pork is often rosy pink and still relatively juicy depending on the cut, but in my experience there is a narrow window where this pork is done perfectly.  Because of the lack of fat in commercial pork, going too far above 140 F and you can end up with that dreaded, dry hockey puck.

So now we have a new problem.  While we were eliminating the parasites found in pork, we were also breeding the fat (and thus flavor) out of the meat.  The perception was that leaner is better.  The National Pork Board is proud of this fact.  They often compare it to lean poultry when in actuality pork shouldn't be all that white or lean to the point where it has virtually no intramuscular fat.  Real pork - pork with flavor - is varying shades of dark pink or red.

For a long time, pork fat was the enemy.  The rain on our pork parade.  While we shouldn't gorge ourselves on pure pig fat (please kindly disregard my previous posts on Lardo di Arnard), there is a silver lining to that porky rain cloud.  The fat in some pork, especially pastured or true, free range pork, rivals the levels of heart healthy oleic acid found in olive oil.  Doesn't sound too bad does it?  What if you heard that pork fat was lower in saturated fat than butter?  It is.  The pastured pigs found at an ever increasing number of farms dine on natural forage.  Nuts, acorns, tubers, bugs, etc.  This natural forage and the ability to roam freely (within reason of course) on wooded pasture is what lets pigs be happy and healthy.  A happy and healthy pig produces happy and healthy meats for the consumer.

Now where can you, the "average consumer" find this pastured pork?  You could take the time to drive out to a farm, talk to the folks who raised it, see the environment in which it was raised, ask a few questions, and eventually buy some pork and trek back home.  Seriously, I would recommend it - but in reality not everyone has the time or the desire to do such things.  We want convenience.  So what if that same farmer instead came to your town and delivered that pork to you?  Would that be convenient enough?  You're in luck.  How about you check out the new Farm Train from Nature's Harmony Farm.  It is an easy way to buy direct from the farm on a fairly regular basis.  Just go to the link above or visit Nature's Harmony website and enter your email address in the bottom right corner.  They will notify you of upcoming deliveries and send you an email when it's time to buy.

Go getcha some.

Oh they have chicken (and eggs), beef, cheese, lamb, rabbit, heritage breed turkeys and other meats too but perhaps those belong in a different post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beer in Squirrels

Yes, I said beer in squirrels.  Just take a look at that picture for crap's sake.  In what some people (like me) could describe as the single most perfect bottle of beer for this blog, the BrewDog folks across the pond in the UK have developed the world's strongest beer weighing in at an ENOURMOUS 110 proof... 55% alcohol.  The beer is called The End of History.  Click that link to read more about it or watch the video below.  To top off this gargantuan feat, they have chosen one of the most hilarious bottling gimmicks of all time: they put that bottle of beer inside a squirrel.  As a dedicated beer drinker and admirer of all things squirrel, I will take it upon myself to buy one of these bottles of beer. 

What? What was that? You said it will cost $762 per bottle?  Maybe I'll have to save my pennies for this one, or in what some people (like me) would describe as a very generous act of kindness, perhaps those fine upstanding fellows Martin Dickie and James Watt would send me a bottle for review.  I'd be quite happy to report my findings here. 

The End of History from BrewDog on Vimeo.

I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you that my squirrel kill count is approaching a milestone - my current count is 190.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Late Spring

Late Spring has brought with it hot temperatures and an explosion of growth in our little garden.  As I write this, today's heat index is 100 degrees... and the chilies love it.  Hopefully, here is a preview of what is to come from our little 8x8 foot garden.  This year I planted 4 tomato plants (yellow grape, black cherry, sun gold, beauty heirloom), 4 chilies (serrano, jalapeno, chile de arbol, coloro cascabella) and some herbs.  Based on the yellow grape tomato flowers (above) we'll be getting a nice bounty this year.  The black cherry tomato (below) plant is winning the race on fruit production and I hope to get some tomatoes in the next couple of weeks.  I can't wait!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Green Market on Green Street in Roswell

There's a new farmers market in town. The Green Market on Green Street in downtown Roswell is one of the newest markets in the Atlanta area but this past Thursday, market manager Kathy Mullen and the vendors looked like seasoned pros. The fact that the market is held on Thursday evenings makes it a great alternative to the grocery store.  It is located just off Green Street on the grounds of Swallow at the Hollow. Not only is it in a great location, easily accessible from all points of downtown Roswell, but the fact that it is located on Swallow at the Hollow property means you can grab a glass of wine as you peruse the goods.

Opening day was cheerfully busy and vendors from within a 100 mile radius of Roswell came out to peddle their produce, cheese, meats, bread, smoked trout and salmon, eggs, fudge, honey, knife sharpening skills, milk, yogurt... just to name a few. The market is hosting vendors and farmers that are organic or Certified Naturally Grown.  On select Thursdays when Alive after Five coincides with market days there will be specially themed events: 

  • May 20 - Strawberries Alive!

  • June 17 - Blues and Blueberries!

  • July 15 - HOT!HOT!HOT! - peppers and local microbreweries.

  • August 19 - Tuscany in Roswell - tomatoes, herbs, pasta and Pavarotti.

  • So if you're in the area, stop by on Thursdays from 5 to 8 PM at 1072 Green Street, Roswell, Georgia 30075.  The market will run through October 28, 2010.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    No More No Knead

    No knead bread was soooo 2006.  What... you still like planning 18-20 hours in advance to bake and enjoy your bread?  You like dealing with incredibly super-sticky dough?  All that and sometimes you still end up with failure.  Welcome to the future: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I started making this bread a few weeks ago after listening to Farmcast, a podcast from Nature's Harmony Farm.

    The process is incredibly simple.  Mix together some flour, water, salt and yeast and let it sit on the counter to rise for about 2 hours.  In this regard it is similar to the no knead method (no kneading required).  After that cover it, refrigerate it, and use it within 2 weeks.  2 weeks!  How awesome is that?  

    Here's where the "5 minutes" part comes in: whenever you want some bread (say when you get home from work) take the dough from the fridge, cut off a grapefruit sized chunk, quickly form it and plop it on a pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal.  It takes about 5 minutes (get it?).  What do you do with the rest of the dough?  Put it back in the fridge of course.  You'll get about 4 loaves of bread from the master recipe.

    Let the dough rest for 40 minutes on the pizza peel and preheat your oven to 450 with a stone on the top rack and a broiler pan underneath.  After 40 minutes, slash the dough with a serrated knife, slide it onto the stone, and pour about a cup or so of water into the broiler pan.  Careful, you're going to get lots of steam so don't burn yourself.  30 minutes in the oven and you get this... 

    I won't reprint the recipe here, but the master recipe that I've described above can be found in the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking or you can find it reprinted with permission on the web.  I suggest looking at these websites, The Global Gourmet, or Mother Earth News.  I don't see the need to ever make no knead bread again.

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Lardo di Arnad: Part 2

    Back in late December I started the process of curing a hunk of fatback from what I later determined to be an Ossabaw hog.  The fatback came from Nature's Harmony Farm of course... would you expect anything different at this point?!  Originally I was going to cut the fatback into smaller pieces to make lard, but Jason who I'll call an expert on the subject of curing meats, suggested that I make Lardo di Arnad.  So I did.  
    The process was relatively simple: boil some water, dump in some salt and spices and, once it was cool, toss in the hunk of fatback.  I guess the hardest part was waiting the 3 months for it to cure.  The result?  At first I must admit I was skeptical.  The water had turned a dark brown (see above) and it smelled quite strong.  Kind of like spices sitting in salty water for 3 months with a hunk of fatback.  So I cut off a piece, toasted some homemade bread and laid thin slices of the Lardo di Arnad on top of the hot toast to partially melt (see below).  Holy crap this is good stuff.  Salty, silky, and hugely flavorful with a wonderful pork flavor.  I'm quite pleased with the results. 
    So far I seem to be the only one in this house who eats the stuff... and I've got lots.  Come on over and try some.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Hog Butchering Class at Nature's Harmony Farm

    Early Saturday morning I set out on a day trip to Elberton, Georgia to visit friends and farmers Tim & Liz Young at Nature's Harmony Farm.  This visit was quite different from past visits: this day we butchered half a Berkshire hog raised on the farm!

    When I started telling people about the event, their visceral first reaction was to think we were actually killing the hog.  This was not the case; the killing was done a couple days prior to our arrival to allow for hanging time and minimal processing like removing hair, taking out the internal organs and bisecting the hog into two halves.  Below is the half hog just before we started.
    The class began with lessons on how to render lard, how to make bacon, and how to use some of the less-used cuts of pork like the head.  Tim explained the simple curing process for bacon and then we sawed off the hocks, all of which were placed in the smoker.  Liz then showed us how she took the head to make porchetta di testa: a deboned, rolled, and cooked pig's head.  Of course they were nice enough to share and we were more than happy to taste test.  Everybody likes bacon, but the real treat was the porchetta di testa - good job Liz!
     Removing the hock
     Tim putting cured pork belly in the smoker to make hickory smoked bacon.

    For more information on porchetta di testa, check out the video below.

    Around noon we took a break for a farm tour and a quick bite to eat, then class resumed - now it was time to get down and dirty.  There are a few different schools of thought on what constitutes a section or primal of a hog, but today we focused on three sections: the shoulder, the loin and belly, and the ham.  These primals are further broken down into smaller cuts that are more recognizable: the shoulder was separated into the Boston butt and the picnic ham, the tenderloin was removed, the loin was sliced into chops, and while most everyone will recognize a ham, we cut into ham steaks to fairly distribute the meat among the 8 attendees.  Enjoy a few pictures.
    Check out video that Tim and Liz put together of the day's events.

    The class was really fantastic.  While most of us were generally familiar with what cuts come from what part of the pig, actually breaking down this half of a hog was an amazing learning experience.  There are several more classes this year that include chicken, lamb, and turkey butchering, as well as meat curing and cheese making classes.  Details are here if you're interested. Thanks Tim & Liz!

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Pilgrims & Oysters

    Call it a pilgrimage.  On the way back from a Lake Tahoe ski trip last week, I convinced my car mates to make a slight detour to see Thomas Keller's The French Laundry. We didn't have the time, nor did we have the cash to actually make it inside for dinner (4 people for dinner would have cost over $1,000), but it was a fun detour through Napa, Yountville, and then on to Sonoma. While we were there I ran into Culinary Gardener, Tucker Taylor tending to the garden with vegetables grown specifically for The French Laundry's kitchen.  Pretty sweet deal.  Tucker was at one time based in Atlanta at Woodland Gardens.  His stall at the Morningside Farmer's Market every Saturday was always packed, often with a line of 10 people or more waiting to buy some prized tomatoes.  Tucker was nice enough to let us walk through the garden and see the sights.

    The Napa Valley scenery was really nice. To be honest it's really all I care to see in Napa.  I've been on one wine tour in my life and from what I've heard, I've seen it all.  Usually you're shown the vineyards (we saw them) then you're shown the storage tanks/barrels (didn't see them), and then you're shown to the buy-some-room, I mean tasting room.  We can get Napa wines here in Atlanta for what is likely the same price if not cheaper when you add in shipping costs.  So what did we miss out on by not touring any vineyards?  We didn't see any wine barrels.  OK I take that back, I saw a tractor-trailer full of new oak barrels driving down the road.  So there you have it: the fastest, and cheapest visit to Napa Valley of anyone I've ever met.  Here's a pretty picture from the car.

    From there we drove west through Sonoma (just about the same as Napa) towards Point Reyes National Seashore.  Culinarily speaking, I think Point Reyes is most famous for it's Point Reyes Blue Cheese but our immediate goal was to see the picturesque California coast.  We certainly saw it and it's monster waves.  The picture below doesn't do justice because there is no scale, but these were some pretty big waves.  After wave watching we stopped for lunch at Priscilla's Pizzeria & Cafe in Inverness, California. Despite the name of the place I had some really good oysters from Drakes Bay Oyster Farm - just up the road by about 2 or 3 miles.  6 raw and 6 BBQ oysters is what I ordered and they were really fantastic.  These oysters were monsters with a deep bottom cup shape to hold all that liquor.  Fantastic.

    When we arrived in San Francisco we were about pooped, but dinner was still to be had at Zuni Cafe: a well established standard for Californian cuisine in the city.  Dinner was great but I think the Ferry Building Farmers Market the next morning was more exciting.  From cheese, to meats, to bread, to an incredible spread of vegetables, it was a fantastic market.  I had a breakfast of Blue Bottle Coffee, sourdough bread from Acme Bread Company, and oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company.  The beauties below are Kusshi (smaller, on the right) and Chelsea Gems (larger, on the left).  I haven't had oysters like these in probably 10 years.  Cold, crisp, and sweet is the best way that I can describe them.  If you don't like raw oysters after trying these, you're a sissy.

    Ferry Building Marketplace
    Overall, the trip was great.  From the snowy slopes at Heavenly and Squaw Valley, to the West Coast cuisine with it's great looking produce and pristine oysters, it is a great area of the country.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Squ-EEL-ing Good Dinner

    Most people hear the word "eel" and get scared.  I think dinner.  Perhaps people's first experience with eel is at sushi restaurants?  They see eel mentioned on a sushi menu and they immediately picture a slippery, slimy thing that squirms and swims around in deep, dark, scary water!  People who think that are partially correct - it does swim in water - but in the simplest terms an eel is just a fish.  In fact, all eel served in sushi restaurants is cooked (which means it is not raw, for those just starting out) so you can ignore any fears you have about raw fish.

    Maybe you decide you don't care if it's cooked or not, you just don't want it... you'll have some "other" fish.  That's fine, but realize that eel is a nice, firm fleshed white fish with good flavor.  That flavor is enhanced even further when you pour or brush kabayaki sauce (also known as eel sauce) all over it and heat it up.  The dark, sweet & salty kabayaki sauce is what makes the eel look brown and glossy, just like in the picture above.  Kabayaki sauce is kind of like an Asian BBQ sauce: soy sauce, some sugar, sweet rice wine (mirin) and that's about it.  It would be great on salmon or even chicken too, just pick up a bottle next time you're at an Asian grocery store.  After all, most people like soy sauce, lots more people like sugar, and then you throw in some rice wine to top things off.  It's quite tasty.

    So eel over rice was our dinner last night.  I simply pulled the pre-cooked, pre-sauced eel out of their vacuum packaging and broiled them in our oven for about 3 or 4 minutes per side.  Served over rice with some sauteed shiitake mushrooms, radish sprouts, and green onions, it was quite nice.  Try it next time you're out at a sushi restaurant.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Lardo di Arnad

    Below is a large hunk of skin-on fatback from either a Ossabaw or a "Crossabaw" (cross between a Ossabaw and Berkshire) from Nature's Hamony Farm.  Originally, it was destined to be rendered and turned into lard.  That was until a fellow poster at 285 Foodies suggested I should make Lardo di Arnad... I agreed.

    So I have started the process which is really pretty simple.  According to Jason's instructions, I took 1 liter of water and brought it to a boil.  I used a bottle of spring water just to keep all the flavors super-clean.  Once the water boils, add 300 grams of salt and stir until dissolved.  Add in a hefty dose of herbs and spices and let the mixture steep until it is completely cool.  Here I have used about 8 grams of rosemary, 2 cloves of garlic (crushed), 7 juniper berries (crushed), a tablespoon or so of black peppercorns, 7 sage leaves, 6 whole cloves, 3 bay leaves, a stick of cinnamon, and a few small stems of thyme.  Once cool, pour the brine over the fatback and refrigerate... for a long time.  From here, time does the work.  Jason instructed to leave the fatback in the brine for 3 months, turning once a month, making sure everything is submerged.

    So, you have 3 months to figure out what Lardo di Arnad is.  In 3 months (late March) I'll post again and of course show you the finished product.  Below is the fatback in the brine.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Terrapin's Hopsecutioner

    Terrapin's newest addition to their year-round selection of brews: Hopsecutioner IPA. It gives new meaning to "killer" IPA... get it? Executioner? Never mind.

    This beer is rumored to be one of the most expensive beers that Terrapin makes. Hops tend to be quite expensive and the mix of 6 kinds of hops including Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo, and dry hop finish of Cascade certainly make that rumor believable. Aside from the hops this beer has a hefty backbone of malt and it makes the finish less bitter and more sweet and floral. At least that's my best guess while drinking my first glass ever. With that said it does ring in at 78 IBU's so it's still a potent IPA for those who like the hop.

    The beer is a nice dark amber color and is quite viscous which makes for a nice mouth feel. This isn't a chugging beer. Congrats to Terrapin on their new brew. I'll be sure to partake often.


    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Milling About

    If anyone has stepped into a mid-scale restaurant somewhere in the South over the past several years you have probably come across the name Anson Mills. For those of you who have not - time to get out more... or time to pay more attention to the menu. Though I have had Anson Mills products sparingly over the years at restaurants, this is the first time I've mail ordered anything from them.

    To give a little background, Anson Mills is a producer of heirloom organic grains, legumes, and flours located in Columbia, South Carolina. They have products like oats, beans, rice, farro, cornmeal, etc. Yes, I'm going to make fancy grits. What makes Anson Mills special is first, the flavor that is achieved first by using only heirloom varieties of vegetables and plants and second, they grind everything to order and ship the very same day in frozen, insulated containers. Because they are just over the border there in S.C. regular ground shipping is basically the same as overnight. Shipping costs aren't too bad, I ordered 6 bags of various items and the total (with shipping) was just under $50.

    Below is our first order of Anson Mills products and I'm positive it won't be the last. Please check out their website; they have a great deal of information, history, and recipes designed specifically for their products.