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The Occurrence at Freeman Alley

1 Feb


This is a story of a city girl and a country boy joining forces in a downtown Manhattan alley.  OK, that came out wrong—let me explain.  In the beginning of this school year, my friend, Austin, approached me about cooking a dinner for Bloomer Creek winery to celebrate their recent addition of a new plot of land to their greater vineyard.  I had gotten to know Debra Birmingham, one of the owners of the winery (and wife of the winemaker, Kim Engle) and artist at the Ithaca farmers’ market during my time at Cornell.  Therefore, I was obviously enticed by the thought of cooking toward the Bloomer Creek wines (which I have thoroughly enjoyed while in Ithaca).

To get the planning started, we took a short trip up to the Bloomer Creek winery one chilly Sunday in October to taste their wines and talk ideas with Debra and Kim.  After basically mudding through an enchanted forest to get there (damn you, GPS, who did not know the easier route), we arrived at the winery.  Before going inside, I could tell the property was beautiful; even though the day seemed gloomy, the area’s extensive green, weathered and healthy vines, and view of the lake had me excited.  Once we entered Debra and Kim’s winery (and home), I was blown away.

This place was not ordinary, and it only took a few questions on my end before I learned that Debra and Kim built the house with their bare hands, painted every wall, and distressed and finished every floorboard themselves.  It was incredible.  After taking it all in, we went over to a central island to taste some wine.  While we tasted from Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon to distilled grape spirits, we learned how they began the winery, Kim’s philosophy on winemaking, and their take on their wines in the context of New York as well as the world.  Each wine had unique beauty, and as we noted various flavors and aromas, colors and textures, we began thinking food.

Before heading home, we saw the cellar where the magic happens.  Vats and carboys of fermenting wine took up much of the cellar, while old oak barrels housed aging wines.  Kim and Debra explained that they prefer using older oak barrels for their wines so that the grapes can be more readily expressed than they could under a veil of heavy oak flavor.  Even more interestingly, they allow their wines to begin fermentation naturally rather than inoculating with a yeast starter like many other winemakers do.  Even though the fermentation begins more slowly, they said, the wines’ flavors benefit, and this proprietary yeast strain makes their wines more notable.

When we talked about a location for the dinner, Debra and Kim suggested we either have a sit-down dinner in the Bowery section of Manhattan, at their artist friend, Jimmy Wright’s place, or have a cocktail party at the winery.  Although the cocktail party sounded fun, we unanimously agreed an off-site in Manhattan would be a fun adventure.  Besides—with a smaller crowd for dinner, we could control the wine pairing experience better and focus on creating a winning menu to show off these great wines.

Once we got on the road, Austin and I began talking food.  Between the car ride home and a stop at Chipotle for a quick dinner, we had already come up with much of the menu.  First and foremost, we chose our wine progression based on seasonal ingredients we wanted to use.  Then, it was all menu talk.  After drafting a five-course tasting menu, we sent it to Debra for feedback.

She gave the menu the thumbs-up, so we began to plan the dinner for mid-November.  Unfortunately, as the date came closer, Hurricane Sandy hit the city.  Although Jimmy’s place was not damaged by the hurricane, the city was a watery, powerless mess still, and we decided it was clearly best to wait.  After a few back-and-forth emails, we set the date for January 27th, the weekend after classes began again for Cornell.

On January 25th, a Friday, Austin and I drove out of Ithaca for my New Jersey hometown at the crack of dawn.  Neither of us really knew whey we had to leave so early, but we felt we could get more done without a rush if we arrived early Friday.  That day, we shopped for most of our ingredients, finalized our menu, and created a game plan.  We would drive into Manhattan the next day to set up at Jimmy’s and begin prep.

On Saturday, I was excited as I backed my Dad’s old Toyota into Freeman Alley, a small alley off Rivington, where the fabled apartment we would work in, was located.  As of this day, I had not seen the space, even though Austin had, so I was running on blind faith.  After all, this was a sketchy door going into an industrial looking building in an alley.  But you never know these days…  After we got buzzed in, we carried our coolers of ingredients up his couple flights of stairs to the main space.

If I wasn’t speechless from lugging coolers upstairs and being out of shape, I would have been rendered so by the sight of the living space.  When I say this place was cool, I mean it was the sickest looking apartment I had ever laid eyes on.  The apartment had everything—exposed brick, random decorations collected over the years, beautiful art, a nice kitchen with two four-burner ranges and ovens, and a lovely man living there.

Jimmy was a rare bird, for sure.  One way to explain how cool he is is to start by noting that he and his late partner renovated the apartment years ago, converting it from a near meth-lab type building to the crazy-awesome studio/apartment that it currently is.  I could also describe him by noting that over a day at his apartment, we heard music from opera to Snoop Dog to jazz to skaa-like stuff.  And he painted his bathroom like a jungle.  And he has some witty-ass humor.  Yes, the dude is awesome.

After we unloaded and organized our stuff, we parked the car and set out in search of Asian herbs and duck breast.  Being close to Chinatown certainly helped; after striking out on duck meat at Whole Foods, we knew where to look.  In a Chinese fish and meat market, we found a pile of birds in the back cooler, most of them chickens.  Fortunately, we found three ducks priced at ten dollars each.  This was great!  We would find out later that the suckers still had heads and feet on and were very possibly frozen with the guts still in, but because we did not need the carcasses, we were in the clear (and the duck passed the taste-test).  We should have known when we saw an oddly small center-cut loin that was most likely from someone’s wire-haired Schnauzer that we were probably not getting a fully fabricated bird situation.  But hey, c’est la vie, right?

Back at the house, we busted out most of our prep for the next day and planned out the table set-up with Debra, Kim, and Jimmy.  After that, Austin and I returned to New Jersey to get some sleep, print some menus, and go over final details.

The day of the party, we only had to finish some prep work, organize, and set up the space for the dinner.  Despite using my family’s old-ass computer and printer for the menus, we came up with something our artist friends deemed nice.  Once we got started with the dinner, it went by in a flash.

When guests arrived, we had cheese and aperitif wine for them.  Debra poured Bloomer Creek’s delicately balanced Riesling and Pinot Noir while we took a break in our cooking schedule to meet and befriend the guests.  Debra insisted that we not rush the dinner or spend too much time cleaning in case we miss out on the company, and her advice did not fall on deaf ears.  Everyone was really great to talk to—we talked to people in the food and wine business, the art business, and a girl close in age to us who gave me advice on where to travel in Hungary.  Cocktail hour was fun, and we cheers’d to finally making the dinner happen.

Course by course, we sent out the food, actually taking the time to eat each course with the guests—another of Debra’s kind requests.  No one was in a hurry, and even though we took time to eat, the whole dinner didn’t drag.

Our first course was a carrot salad with cashews, sheeps’ milk yogurt, oregano, and maple-lime vinaigrette.  We paired it with the Bloomer Creek Block 97 Chardonnay from 2010.  Here, the subtle oak on the wine went beautifully with the smoky, nutty cashews; the maple rounded out the pairing, adding some sweetness where the wine was dry.  Oregano added minty, herbal freshness, and the yogurt brought a tart note to the dish that echoed the Chardonnay’s clean acidity.


The second course was a black cardamom and vanilla-spiced crispy pork rillette with mizuna salad and challah croutons.  This paired with their Tanzen Dame 2nd Harvest Riesling from 2011.  We designed this course after Debra told us she likes this wine with paté.  Since the Riesling had some spice notes to it, we wanted to bring that home with the spices in the pork.  The vanilla in the dish accented the stone fruit in the wine.  Since the wine had a little sweetness, we dressed the mizuna salad in a high-acid vinaigrette so that the overall pairing wouldn’t end up too cloying or one-note.  Overall, the pairing seemed a success.  And, of course, deliciously butter-laden challah croutons never ruin the party.


The third course was duck with masa dumplings, squash puree, raspberry-red pepper salsa, and chevre crema.  We paired this with the Cabernet Franc from 2007.  Because we detected a lot of earthy notes and some bell-pepper notes in the Cab Franc originally, Austin wanted to give a nod to his home (Arizona) with some Southwestern flavors.  Hence, the masa dumplings and salsa.  The pairing was really nice here, because the raspberry in the salsa brought up some of the red fruit in the wine a notch and the peppers in the salsa spoke to the capsicum notes the wine already showcased.  The masa and the duck both brought some warmer flavors and umami to the dish, creating a pairing that had it all.

ImageThe fourth course was braised beef tongue with celeriac puree, sour cherry gastrique, and Vietnamese herb salad.  This went with the Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007.  This course was a funny one.  From the outset, I wanted to do braised beef tongue.  As frequent readers of Getinmebelly know, I am an off-cuts girl.  It took minor convincing on my end to get Austin on board with this, and Debra was a little unsure.  But because we went through with a risk, we did reap a high reward—none left a scrap of tongue on the plate.


Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the heavier wines in the world.  Kim and Debra’s Cab is slightly less oaky than some, allowing the woodsy, fruity qualities from the grape to shine through.  For the pairing, we did a take on steak and potatoes.  Our steak was obviously the tongue, here, and the mashed potatoes were really celeriac puree.  To pick up the acidity, we added the sour cherry gastrique, and to add intrigue, we added the Vietnamese herbs (mint, cilantro, culantro, basil).  The celeriac met some of the woodsier flavors in the wine where a potato might have left them hanging, and the herbs came through for the subtle eucalyptus notes we found in the wine.

The last course was a clementine-saffron sherbet with whipped almond gazpacho, tonic gelée, and smoked paprika gingersnap crunch.  We served this with the Bloomer Creek grape brandy.  This course was a fun one.  We took some very Spanish flavors (saffron, pimentón, white gazpacho), and used them in a dessert.  It hit home for me, having spent time in Galicia, where some meals are finished with the house Orujo, a distilled grape spirit.  No, we did not put garlic in the gazpacho for the dessert, but a little lemon zest and a touch of sugar transformed it into a delicious dessert “soup.”


Since we charged it in an isi canister, it was really more fluffy than soup, but let’s not get away from the bigger picture.  The spice and crunch from the cookie with the creaminess and acidity of the gazpacho, the bright, saffron-infused sherbet, and the subtly bitter tonic gelée was a pretty dynamic bomb of flavor.  And with the beautiful grape brandy?  It was the shit.  And I’m not bragging—it’s just one of those things when flavor nostalgia hits home.

By sitting down and eating with the guests (something cooks do not do often), we got to see both sides of the story—the cooking and the guest experience.  As Aly, one of the guests, pointed out, the English language does not have a word for good food, good people, and a good place.  Well hopefully, we can make one soon; it seems a few foreign countries already beat us to it.


When the dinner was over, I think Austin and I both felt mixed senses of relief and loss—even though we were both glad the dinner went off without a hitch, it was our baby.  Since October, we had been planning, tweaking plans, re-engineering the menu…and now it was all over!  I take comfort in knowing that not only did the dinner go well, but that we met some really great people in the process and had a great time collaborating with Debra and Kim.  I know I don’t usually get all sappy here on Getinmebelly, but I am certainly grateful to have a great friend/fellow cook in Austin and that Debra and Kim took that leap of faith having us cater the dinner.  I think it was a master collaboration of Ithaca, Manhattan, food, wine, art, and friends.  May the Barrow Vineyard property we celebrated bring more great wine and great times to Bloomer Creek.


In the Kitchen with Malted Barley

25 Feb

I’ve been curious about cooking with malted barley for a while.  We cook with barley in soups, so why wouldn’t the malted form be usable?  Check out my awkward cooking demo to see what happens…


Stoner Food at its Finest

24 Feb

Hello, I am Shaina, and I am here to tell you that there is a hell of a lot more you can do with cookie dough than make chocolate chip cookies. Yep, I’m talking plain and simple Tollhouse recipe crack-attack, more than half of which rarely makes it to the oven before everyone eats it all. You see, the recipe is simple, but it is perfectly constructed. As seen on Friends, it is a historic and revered one.  And that is why I can pretty much make it off the top of my head; it’s an invaluable crowd pleaser.

One thing, though, is commonly misunderstood about this recipe. To say that the dough is only meant for chocolate chip cookies is like telling a girl she was only born to get married and breed babies. THIS DOUGH IS DESTINED FOR MORE! Today, I decided to whip up a batch and forage for different add-ins around my dorm. I actually ended up doing a little shopping at our downstairs vending machine…and ended up with Fritos, brown sugar Poptarts, an Extra Crispy Kit Kat (basically a bigass Kit Kat), and a package of Reeses Cups. And they all got crumbled right into the cookie dough.

Twenty minutes later, I can tell you with confidence that they look and smell amazing. I was pretty hefty on the portions, and I’m pretty positive my suite-mates will rejoice and floor-mates will lurk jealously in the heavenly smelling shadows as we devour the stoner-food goodness.

Enjoy the view! How do you get funky with Tollhouse-recipe cookie dough?

mmm...glory amidst a table of, also, that's a toy gun...

We Partied Like the Pilgrims When They Saw Plymouth Gin…I Mean Rock.

30 Nov

We carved the turkey.  We passed the gravy.  We gave thanks.  We posted our pictures on Facebook.  And then outsiders got a little jealous.  Your Thanksgiving looked epic on Facebook, people tell me in passing.  I can’t deny the truth in their words, so I concede that my Thanksgiving was in fact the most. epic. Thanksgiving. ever. period.  But, dear readers, as a blogger and as a college student so offended by the oncoming onslaught of finals that I avoid all school related tasks, I feel the need to relive that Thanksgiving by relaying it to you here on Getinmebelly.  This hero journey takes place over a five day span:

Day 1:

To pick up my friends, I drove the Camry

Round Cornell’s hilly roads–West, North, C-town.

Tomaso, Jim, Austin, Ethel, and me

To Ho-Ho-Kus would we make the drive down.

Some four hours later we got to my house.

Thence we ate clam chowder with my Mama,

While with wine our parchéd throats we did douse.

After TV, we donned our pajamas.

Day 2: Wednesday

On this day we did deliver food

To clients who ordered cinnamon buns

From yours truly, and the weather was good.

Too we picked up birds as did set the sun,

And sought out duck fat in dangerous lands

Also known as Fairway Supermarket…

Tomorrow we would make a feast so grand,

Three nice turkeys to the brining bucket!

We toiled with deboning duck and chicken

And turkey for the turducken, as we

Sipped martinis of all kinds and fuckin’

Ate Brillat Savarin with truffles, oui.

turducken prep

Day 3: Thanksgiving

I awoke to bake pies early that day,

And we ate bagels and watched the parade.

For three hours we prepped sober –such dismay!

sewing up the beast

Until noon when we broke out the “first aid.”

Beer tasting consisted of many brews,

Some lighter and blithe as the brisk fall day,

Some darker like my humor, but all hues

So beautiful and delicious–hooray!

As we drank, we cooked, no less skilled than norm,

And we turned out a feast so epicly.

A jell-o mold, turkeys, and pies so warm

Gravy, bread, veg–we ate and felt sickly.

I was thankful to have friends and the fam

To enjoy the holiday with and chill

And that my friend is skilled with a cam–

Ethel’s pics made our weekend look for ril’.

So here is a list of the things we made

Our food was so sexy, it could get laid.

  1. Malt Beer Brined Turkey
    This turkey recipe was from Bon Appetit.  It was amazing, but, no offense–I think ours looked better than the BonApp covergirl… 



  2. Duck Fat Roasted Turkey
    This was inspired by Chris Cosentino, who showed a duck-fat roasted turkey on the Food Network.  It looked amazing, and ours was great.
  3. Turducken with 3 stuffings
    The chicken had apple-cardamon stuffing; the duck had orange stuffing; the turkey had herb stuffing.  What can I say? It was gorgeous.  See footage of  the brainstorm below

  4. Giblet Gravy
    After making a stock with all our extra birdie parts, I made a gravy with the pan drippings, stock, cream, butter, Applejack, and giblets.  Yum.
  5. Herb Mashed Potatoes
    Nothing beats nice, rich mashed potatoes with rosemary and thyme!
  6. Sweet Potato Casserole
    Brown butter, cream, Bourbon, rosemary, maple syrup, brown sugar, hazelnut streusel.  Done.
  7. Buckwheat, bacon, chestnut, and maitake rolls
    Dark, dense little rolls with a whole lot of umami.
  8. Cranberry Sauce
    Funny story…so we had this cranberry compote left from last year in our freezer, and we defrosted it…and it was amazing.  So we served it again…
  9. Cranberry Relish
    My cousin, Olivia, always makes a killer cranberry-orange relish, so we got her to bring it again this year!
  10. Shiitake and Currant Stuffing
    Ciabatta, stock, butter, more butter, shiitakes, and currants.  Good stuff.
  11. Gluten Free Cornbread and Rice Stuffing
    Some of my family members don’t or can’t eat gluten.  This cornbread stuffing was great even without wheat!
  12. Gluten Free Biscuits
    Just another example of decent gluten free grub.
  13. Roasted Root Vegetables
    We went a bit overboard on these.  They were delish–sunchokes, rutabagas, acorn squash, parsnips, and carrots–but we made too many.  By overboard, I mean that our leftovers consisted of a huge bowl plus two tupperwares of these… 

    this was only bowl #1

  14. Jell-o/Panna Cotta mold
    I made a random jell-o mold just for fun, so the top layer was lychee-cherry-pomegranate flavored, and the bottom was a cardamom panna cotta with almonds and sour cherries.  It really was a great old school throw-back.
  15. Brussels Sprouts with Guanciale and Mushrooms
    These were great.  How can you beat roasted Brussels with a ton of piggy fat?
  16. Apple Pie with Miso Butterscotch
    Inspired by the Momofuku cookbook, we made a miso butterscotch sauce to go with our pie.  It was a yummy combo.
  17. Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie
    This pie is not for people faint of heart.  It’s rich, boozy, and intense.  But it’s great.
  18. Pecan Pie
    Certain people prefer plain pecan pie.
  19. Pumpkin Ice Cream Profiteroles with Brown Butter Glaze
    This was a nice change–pumpkin pie is nice, but these were fun and tasty.
  20. Gluten Free Apple Pie
    Just as good as regular, but the crust is more crumbly.

Ten Ways to Be a Kill-joy on Thanksgiving, as reported by NBC

21 Nov

I just skimmed this article on MSNBC’s website.  If you are a freak, these diet tips might be great for you.  But I’m pretty sure stuffing yourself to capacity is pretty much standard on Thanksgiving.  So here is the article with commentary by yours truly.

1. Eat breakfast! Don’t starve all day — you’ll overeat later.
Savings: 550 calories

We think that skipping breakfast will “save” calories that we can use later for the big meal. Not true! Meal skipping leads to overeating later — you start to eat, and then become over-hungry, with less control over your food choices, not more. Most typically, when the appetizers arrive, before the meal, the breakfast skippers grab some combination of a few handfuls of nuts (300 calories), chips and dip (250 calories) and/or a few pigs in blankets (250 calories) or other hot appetizers just to “tide” us over until the main meal.

Translation:  Start early!  Eat breakfast because your mom put out a shitload of scones and bagels and you’re making omelets to eat while you watch the parade.  This will not save you calories, but it’s a damn good way to wake up Thanksgiving!

2.Start with soup — chunky veggie or other clear soup fills you up so you’re not ravenous.
Savings: 250 calories.

A low-calorie hot liquid helps to fill you up, so you have a better sense of contentment on fewer calories. A cup of tomato-vegetable soup or consomme with julienned vegetables is satisfying — and a better choice than a cream soup, or even a salad with full-fat dressing (350 calories). It is the lowest-calorie appetizer choice (about 80 calories a cup), with the added benefit of extra fullness (many studies show that hot soup prior to a meal helps you eat less later on).

If you start with soup in my family, you’re getting Grandma’s creamy mushroom soup.  While this is an elixir of some very bad-ass gods, it really packs on the pounds.  I think the base for this soup is actually heavy cream.  So yeah, I love soup too, but come on–at least I eat a good soup, and I’m honest–it’s fattening!  Oh, and writer–you forgot that the opportunity cost of filling up on watery gruel defeats the purpose of saved calories.

3. Replace the fat in stuffing with low-sodium chicken broth and add a bunch of chopped vegetables to “dilute” the bread.
Savings: 250 calories.

Many recipes have 2 to 3 sticks of butter or margarine as the “liquid” to moisten the bread stuffing. Replace all that fat with equal amounts of low-sodium chicken broth (the boxed variety is fine — no need for organic) for extra flavor without calories. A cup of chicken broth is around 10 calories — compared with an ounce of butter at 100 calories. (A stick of butter/margarine is 800 calories.) Also, rough-chop celery, mushrooms and onions to “bulk up” the volume of your stuffing, without the calories of bread, so the calories per serving are reduced. By replacing the fat and adding more vegetables, you’ll save 250 calories per serving.

Skinny bitch say what?  I’m very sorry, but if you think broth can take butter’s place, you are probably the type who is running on a treadmill as you eat Thanksgiving dinner anyway.  This is a miserable idea.  I am actually thankful for the pure memory I have of a truffle butter loaded stuffing I made a couple years ago.  It’s called stuffing, not un-stuffing!

4. Alternate your alcohol. Have a drink, then a seltzer or diet soda — cut your calories in half.
Savings: 500 calories.

Alcohol contains a whopping 7 calories/gram — almost as much as fat (which is 9 calories per gram; protein and carbs are 4 calories/gram). It’s a long afternoon/evening when people tend to imbibe more than usual. Cutting just two to three mixed drinks from your celebration will cut 500 calories. An average Mai Tai has 350 calories; a martini, 225 calories. Also — no one knows what is in your glass (a common worry among people). Another tip: If you’re a wine drinker, you can alternate as above, or choose to make a “spritzer” through the evening — half wine and half seltzer — that cuts the calories.

Really.  First and foremost, I want to know who makes Mai Tais on Thanksgiving day (besides, maybe, Sandra Lee).  While I understand alternating with water to keep from going into a coma, I want to remind everyone that falling asleep drunk on Thanksgiving commonly gets written off as “attack of the tryptophan,” and is therefore totally acceptable.  Turkey is by far the greatest scapegoat man has ever created. Why don’t they serve turkey at college parties?  Passing out drunk would technically not exist!

5. Use a tablespoon to serve yourself instead of a ladle! Built-in portion control.
Savings: 800 calories.

Compare a tablespoon in serving size to a typical serving spoon — about one-third to one-half cup. With two kinds of creamy potatoes, stuffing, creamed spinach, cranberry sauce and all kinds of other family favorites, like macaroni and cheese, downsizing your serving size with a tablespoon saves you about 150 calories/dish.

No matter what you do, your plate will still be full.  And you will refill it.  Exhibit A:

a little nibble to start!

6. Skip the skin. Cut the calories in half per serving. Eat the meat you like — very little difference in calories of dark and white meat.
Savings: 300 calories.

For a 6-ounce serving of turkey, taking off the skin saves about 300 calories. It doesn’t make much caloric difference whether you eat white or dark meat — what does save the calories is skipping the skin.

This violates everything that is good about food, you crazy health-freak!  I mean, I know it’s your job to report on health, but the skin?!  The skin!?  A turkey dies to feed your skin-and-bones family who apparently doesn’t eat much, and you don’t respect it enough to eat that beautiful skin?  That glorious crispiness we rub with butter and honey and salt, just to make it brown and beautiful…you just throw it away?  This troubling thought makes me question the meaning of life.

7. De-fat your gravy. Even a ladleful can be a calorie-bomb.
Savings: 200 calories.

Fat-free gravy can be full of flavor. Cook your turkey with enough time to cool the pan juices and make your gravy — after dumping the hardened fat that rises to the top. Or, use a gravy separator to get rid of the fat.

Gravy: Thanksgiving::Lube: Sex.  The gravy helps things go down better, OK?  And slippery fat is awfully helpful in the equation.  Besides which, it’s fucking delicious.  Let me tell you what my gravy-making process involves: I make a stock with the neck and aromatics all morning while the turkey roasts and renders deliciousness into the roasting pan.  I then sear and chop up the giblets.  I take the roasting pan and skim off the excess fat and deglaze with sherry or port.  That is the only point fat should be taken away.  Then, I add a bit of flour and the gizzards back to the pan I seared them in and cook the flour.  I scrape the roasting pan into that pan and then add my strained stock and let all this simmer until it reaches perfection.  Then, I ADD BUTTER.  Ha!

8. Lose the crust. Make your favorite pumpkin pie filling, and put in small ramekins. Bake until firm. Top with some chopped walnuts or a swirl of whipped cream.
Savings: 200 calories.

The crust is fat laden, and most people don’t even miss it. This works for apple pie as well — put the apples in a small ramekin, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake. Another way to save 200 calories is swap out a slice of pecan pie and have a single-crust apple pie with some walnuts mixed in instead.

Whoa.  Butter, lard, and a little practice, and you can do anything!  Especially make pie crusts…There is nothing better than a crisp, buttery crust holding that hot, meltingly delicious apple filling at the end of your meal.  End of story.

9.  Choose a simple potato. Baked white or sweet — as nature intended — without a casserole filled with extra fat and sugar.
Savings: 250 calories.

Go plain for the potato — and sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings, including ground pepper and chives. Skip the butter, cheese and sour-cream mix-ins — and the brown sugar in sweet potato casseroles (brown sugar is not a “health food” and has the same calories as white table sugar). Use some of your de-fatted gravy on top for extra flavor.

Or, you can take some rum, which nature intended sugarcane to be used for, and add it to a puree of sweet potatoes, brown butter, maple syrup, nutmeg, and thyme and put it in a deep casserole covered with hazelnut streusel.  But you know, whatever suits you, dude.  I mean, if that potato still sounds good to you, that’s fine.

10. Take a 30-minute walk after eating, instead of a nap.
Savings: 200 calories.

This might be the hardest part of all. Most people want to go directly from the dinner table to the couch! Avoid that and grab a walking partner to take a 30-minute walk. It will aid digestion as well. It’s initiating the walk that’s the problem. But everyone finds that once they’ve started the walk, they’re very glad they’ve done it.

This plan is probably only viable for those with access to Kryptonite or methamphetamine.  I guess I’d go on a walk if I had a Segway, but I don’t.  And I’m pretty sure if the pilgrims went for a walk, they would have gotten lost or scalped by Squanto.  It just wasn’t meant to be.

If he's gonna sacrifice his life for you, eat him. And do him justice.

A Rare Kill

15 Nov

I write this smelling heavily of smoke and the outdoors.  I am wearing the same clothes I’ve been wearing for the past few days, I just handed in a half-ass excuse for homework; I just got back to school after three and a half hours on the road.

You see, this weekend, I skipped town to partake in a rare experience: a Mangalitsa pig slaughter.  I had never been to an actual slaughter before this weekend, but a couple of weeks ago, I read that Mosefund farm in New Jersey would be holding a workshop on their Mangalitsa pig farm.  What kind of workshop?  What is a Mangalitsa pig?  Well, this was a workshop for hardcore foodies.  Attendees would spend a three day weekend learning how to slaughter, break down, and cook pigs at Mosefund farm.  And these Mangalitsa pigs…well, lets say they are a little known culinary treasure.

Originally from Eastern Europe, the Mangalitsa pig is a woolly species with massive quantities of body fat.  When I went to Hungary a couple years ago, I learned that Mangalitsa pigs neared extinction at one point in time.  However, farmers were working to bring them back, unwilling to give up such a special breed.  Now, in a woodsy area in New Jersey, a family raises around two hundred Mangalitsa pigs, much to the good fortune of America’s pork lovers.

can you make out the pig behind all the wool?

Because I am a college student on a limited budget, I could not afford the workshop.  However, its coordinator was kind enough to let me observe the class free of charge.  Although I did not attend all three days, I learned a lot from day one: the slaughter.

When I arrived at the farm, the students (a group of 12 people, ranging from Brooklyn pork-lovin’ hipsters to park rangers) were getting ready to kill the first pig.  The man and woman in charge of the kill demonstrated the first.  They lured a big, woolly guy to the corner of the pen, trapped him in the corner, and then calmly shot him in the head.

If this description sounds less dramatic than it should, believe me when I say that the kill itself was far less dramatic than I had expected.  Although the chosen pig fought a little at first (he didn’t want to be pushed around), once they shot him, he just went down without a fight.  Compared to the rooster killing I once observed, this was gravy.  One student stuck the pig’s neck to drain blood (for sausage, of course), and that was that.  The hard part would be removing the hair.

Four strong men had to drag the pig into a bathtub of hot water to make the hair-removal process easier.  The students rubbed off much of the hair by going up and down the pig’s sides with some metal chains.  After the pig came out of the bath, students continued to rub off its wool with scrapers, more water, and a torch.  Once they had a bald pig, students hung it from a tractor for the breakdown.

Cristoff, the man in charge of the butchering process, taught how to remove the intestines in one clean piece.  After that, he showed how to remove the organ meats (yum!) and leaf lard (so much in this breed in particular!), and then it was off to the cooler.  While he made the process look simple, things took a little longer when the students took over.  But what else could be expected?

I hope to score some Mangalitsa pork in the future, since I did not have a chance to buy any this weekend.  Even though these pigs were adorable, they are also, without a doubt, delicious little beasties.

Brain’s on Shrooms.

27 Oct

2:30 AM here, and I just finished making mushroom soup.  Oh, college sleep schedules.  One minute, you’re sleep-deprived as a coke-fiend-rockstar-on-tour, and then suddenly you find getting 12 hours of sleep two days in a row put you a bit too far ahead.  And then, there you are, making mushroom soup in the wee hours on a rainy Ithaca night.

creamy maitake soup

I made this soup because the other day, I could not convince my friend to buy maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms at the grocery store.  She didn’t think she would be able to cook them before they went bad.  But, because I love maitakes and believe everyone in the world must enjoy them in abundance, I bought some.  And I told her I’d cook them for her.

So that’s what I chose to do on my night of raging insomnia: make mushroom soup with my little hunk of maitake mushrooms.  I only had a few ounces, so I made a small portion, but I fashioned the soup after my grandma’s mushroom soup.  You see, every year we have Thanksgiving at Grandma’s, she prepares this mushroom soup for the apepetizer.  Now, my grandma will tell you she doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking.  In light of this detail, I was always amazed by her soup.  It was so good.  Granted, after a bowl of it, making one’s way through a Thanksgiving meal was a true, grueling challenge.  But still, the soup was damn good.

When I wanted to make the soup today, I couldn’t remember exactly how my grandma makes the soup.  However, I remembered my mom telling me how easy it was–something along the lines of “mushrooms are pretty much all that goes into it besides a shit-load of cream.”  This made sense–a simple recipe (appropriate if my grandma wants to spend less time in the kitchen) with awesome ingredients (mushrooms and cream–two of my favorite food groups…um…foods, that is) could be the recipe for success.

Ultimately, I came up with something close to Grandma’s soup.  Although she uses baby bella mushrooms, I used maitake, and I also added a dash of star anise to amp up the umami from the shrooms.  The pork stock I used (instead of chicken stock, which I believe also goes into Grandma’s) was super-reduced, and that added a silky mouthfeel to the soup.  I hope you will use this recipe to take out your family and friends before the main course this Thanksgiving!

Grandma’s Mushroom Soup, Evolved (serves 1…double, triple, or whatever as needed)

1/2 c maitake mushrooms, separated into “leaves” (don’t chop; just pull apart)

2 T butter or pork fat


star anise, ground

1.5 T flour

2/3 c heavy cream

3/4 c pork stock, super-reduced (a normal stock reduced 4X; use low-sodium if store-bought)

1) Sautee the mushrooms in fat in a hot pan until brown and tender.

2) Add flour and stir mushrooms to coat.  Cook over low to medium heat until flour is toasted.

3) Add cream and stock; stir to incorporate roux substance.

4) Simmer until soup is desired consistency; season to taste with salt and star anise.

5) EAT IT.  THEN GO CURL UP IN A BALL and sleep.  Then wake up for turkey.