Monday, March 15, 2010

Beefing up the freezer

Some people are into whole foods, but I prefer fractional ones. Because when you're talking about a cow, a whole one is just too much.

Tyler and I recently became the proud owners of an eighth of a cow from Puu O Hoku Ranch on the neighboring island of Moloka‘i, a purchase coordinated by our local Slow Food chapter. Although I'd much rather buy a half hog or goat, I was nonetheless excited in "going in" on a whole animal, especially one that was pasture-raised on a local farm.

Tyler was excited as well, although as the pickup day approached he became more and more nervous about our limited freezer space. After all, we were looking at 50-55 pounds of beef coming to us! His stress was understandable, but I knew we could make it work.

I was conveniently on the Mainland on the appointed pickup day, so it fell to Tyler to fetch and store our eighth. And though it was a tight squeeze, he did an excellent job of packing it all in to the freezer. Check it:

We made burgers straight away, which I see as sort of a litmus test for judging the quality of any beef. These did not disappoint. As a rule, grass-fed beef tastes markedly different from grain-fed beef; it's more strongly flavored, almost gamy, and to me that's a good thing. After all, cows that eat what they're supposed to eat taste more like they're supposed to taste like. (Conversely, cows are not designed by nature to eat corn or soy, and as a result the meat doesn't taste like much at all).

It also helped to know that grass-fed beef is leaner than conventional beef, so it will overcook if you're not careful. But then again, since this beef is from a good source that keeps its animals healthy, and we know it's from a single animal (neither of which is true for conventional supermarket ground beef), we could eat this stuff totally raw, with nary a second thought.

(Of course we will also eat it raw. Stay tuned.)

Since the initial burger fest, I've made a few other things with the beef, and I will continue to post reports and photos as we go along. So far I've also made:

Chili with peppers and ale (a recipe I developed for the cookbook*). For this I used the stew meat and a bottle of Boont Amber Ale. We don't have winter here, but this is such a wintry stew, it almost made me wish we did. Almost.
*want the recipe? Buy the book! Fall 2011, in stores everywhere. Or from me. I'll have lots.

Picadillo, a sort of gussied-up ground beef dish from Cuba. I did add the requisite green olives, but forgot the chopped hard boiled eggs. Not content to leave well enough alone, I then made empanadas using the picadillo as filling and Tartine's recipe for Flaky Pastry Dough as the wrapper. And you know as well as I that butter pastry makes everything better.

So we're about five pounds down, with 50 more to go...

Up next: more burgers on Friday, plus I'm going to tackle an island favorite and try my hand at pipikaula, which is sort of a soft, sweet soy saucy version of beef jerky.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How do you do? (the dishes, that is)

There exists a cultural divide between my generation and the preceding one, which to my knowledge has gone completely without notice by anyone, anywhere. This under-the-radar-ness is baffling, because it arises after every Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas breakfast, or family reunion. Anytime, really, that the two generations clean up after a meal...and that's when the great question arises:

To fill the sink, or not to fill the sink?

Because I don't often cook with my family (or any other "elders"), I had totally forgotten that They Do It Differently. But it all came back to me recently when my visiting mother kindly offered to do the dishes after dinner, and asked me where I kept the stopper for the sink.

Stopper? We don't even have one. The closest I get is a mesh drain catch designed to keep olive pits from noisying up the garbage disposal. When it's time to do the dishes, I just soap up the sponge, run the water as needed, and go to it.

I should say that I didn't grow up using this technique. At home, I learned from my parents to fill the sink with soapy water, give everything a good scrub, drain the sink, and rinse. But college changed all that; there, everybody did the dishes piecemeal without committing to a full sink's worth of suds.

I can only think of one explanation for my generation's one-at-a-time dish approach, and it's this: roommates. Two of the most important things I learned in college were how to write a paper (debatable, really) and how to live peacefully with others. The latter can be a long, contentious process in which one roommate is inevitably more domesically inclined than the other. So what do you do if your slob of a roommate refuses to clean up after themselves? You clean around them, and you only wash the dishes you dirty. And filling the sink with soapy water is not the way to do that.

That's what I did, that's what my friends did, and it stuck. Everyone around my age (a gentleman never asks, but I'm 32, so there) does the dishes one at a time in an unfilled sink.

Does this even matter? I think it does. It symbolizes a shift not just in gender roles (I have no doubt that previous generations of women have Home Ec classes to thank for their dish-doing indoctrination) but in my generation's overall approach to housekeeping. A scrupulously clean house was once a source of pride for homemakers, but that's a foreign concept for contemporary women and men. If we don't outsource our domestic duties (and many of us do), we do as little as possible in order to maintain order.

I'm okay with that, actually. I'll happily continue in my modern approach: I won't fill the sink with water, I'll soap the sponge as needed, and -- perhaps most tellingly -- I'll keep on blogging about it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back from SF and Marin...

I've just gotten back from a few days in the Bay Area, where I was doing a photo shoot for the cookbook. All said, it was a great trip, even though I never did feel warm enough (even inside with the heat blasting).

The photo shoot was a total success, despite the pouring down rain we experience for the first couple of hours. It's always fun to do these shoots, especially since Sam and France and I work so well together.

I made my first ever video about some of the producers we visited. Take a look!

Marin County food producers from dabney gough on Vimeo.