Easter Blessings and a perfect recipe for left-over ham

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A more beautiful day for Easter could not have been had. At least here in Pennsylvania. I hope you enjoyed a lovely and blessed day wherever you are and whatever you believe.

Since I am admittedly a bit wild and uncivilized, there was no church service to spiff up for. Instead, I went to the Church of the Great Outdoors and enjoyed a walk around some hard-to-reach corners of the farm neglected over the winter.

And looky, looky! Well Hel-lo Easter Blessing.

Molly got sick and tired of all those amateurs fussing and swishing their tails, sighing and looking at their bellies. She decided to show those vapid girls how a pro gets down.

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No fuss, no muss, just found Molly in the woods with her new little Lady. Cleaned, fed and hardly even wobbly –  Molly is the best. I’ve been hoping for a heifer from Molly for a long time, particularly with the Destroyer for a Daddy. It is a very promising cross for which I am very grateful and excited and she is beautiful.

Working in a local, nose-to-tail butcher shop as I do, we’ve been busy making ham, talking about ham, wrapping up and sending home lots and lots of hams. Holiday over, now what to do with all that leftover ham? To that I say, “Ham Loaf”.

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 Tender, moist and subtle ham meatloaf topped with spiced fruit – Homey supper and great next-day sandwiches

_________________________________________________________________________You say you’ve never heard of Ham Loaf?  Around here, people take their ham loaf seriously. I did not grow up in a ham loaf home, so I had no idea what all this ham loaf business was about.

Doing a bit of asking around, I got the gist of the recipe and right away knew that the rich, sweet loaf of ham and pork topped with a mustard + brown sugar glaze was not for me. But, for some reason, I knew the idea still had promise.

Cue up Lianna Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. I know, I know, I’m all Lianna Krissoff this, Lianna Krissoff that, but seriously.

More often than not, I get a great idea from one of Lianna Krissoff’s books that is a modern, healthy throwback to something old-skool. Never pretentious, always original and delicious, the sidebars and variations alone share a wealth of tips & tricks to change your cooking ways for the better. And when it comes to ham loaf, Lianna did not let me down.

This ham loaf is lighter, less sweet and lets the flavors of the ham shine through. The ground turkey or chicken is a perfect – though non-traditional – partner for the ground ham, but if you don’t have those, plain ground pork (not sausage) is fine too.

And, if you happen to have pickled fruit or fruit relish in your pantry, this is a recipe where that home-preserved fruit will really shine. Check out the printable recipe here.

I’ve seen the ham-loaf light.  How do you do ham loaf?

On previous Easters here’s what we were up to:

is there anything nicer than a sleepy Sunday morning?

Easter egg glut? Pickle ‘em!

 

 

 

 

 

holy pan-seared pork chops: lip-smacking revelation

Oh, Pork Chop. I get it now.

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These are two smoked pork butt roasts. I know it’s not a chop, but this is the best illustration I have. On the left is a heritage breed, pastured roast, on the right the same cut from a conventional, CAFO raised pig. The difference in texture is visible to the eye – the roast on the left was much more succulent, rosy and the meat had a tender, open texture.  On the right, you can see the well defined muscle fibers and the stringy, strongly grained texture. You could cut the pastured roast with a fork, not even close with the roast on the right. Of course, the roast on the left was twice the price, but worth every penny. I knew the pastured pig had a good life and the farm pollutes no one which is worth a lot to me.

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I never understood the big deal about pork chops. How can a colorless, dry hunk of jaw-tiring chewiness with a gristly bone attached possibly be the centerpiece of one of America’s favorite Sunday suppers?

I suppose it’s tasty and tender if baked or braised long enough, sauced & seasoned to the gills – a chef’s art, surely not a farmer’s. A nice steaky chunk of veg, beans or even tofu would make me happier; why torture the pig for such mediocrity?

But now, I see. It’s not us; it’s them. The pigs. Nothing illustrates the wedge driven between our food knowledge and purchasing habits by commercial interests quite as plainly as the maneuvers of the pork industry post WW II.

We’ve forgotten, been lured off the path by all that “pork, the other white meat” business. But, glimmer of hope, slowly we’re remembering. Chops from the right pig, raised the right way are packed with succulent, juicy, rosy deliciousness and make the most beautiful pan drippings imaginable. And it’s so simple. Which is not to say easy.

This is a recipe with very few steps and components so it is important to use impeccable ingredients and be very intentional in the execution. No multi-tasking, chatting on the phone, watching TV or other distractions while you’re about this recipe –  it deserves your full attention.

We rarely think of farming as an art anymore, but trust me: the art of the farmer is just as important as the art of the chef. We’ve just forgotten because it’s so rare these days. An artful chef can make industrial food pleasurable, but pair that same talented chef with an equally artful farmer and your axis will be shifted.

One of my deepest wishes is to help in some small way to restore the reverence and specialness meat so richly deserves. And, I swear, pork chops like these are darn near spiritual. An awakening, a happening, or maybe even a tiny miracle.

Let’s say a prayer of gratitude for the pig.

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Before you start:

The single most important step: buy the right pork chops. Supermarket chops are almost always industrially raised, commercial breeds. Commercial breeds of pigs are bred to be extra-lean and to grow to slaughter weight super-fast which we have been taught is good and efficient. True for the producer – but not for the pigs or the eater. Pastured heritage breed pigs shine, allowed to take their time growing slower, happier, healthier and more delicious.

Buy thicker, bone-in chops. I like mine at least 1-inch thick, even better up to 1 1/2″ but you can go too far. Chops  2” or more begin to behave more like a roast. Do not be put off by the rich, rosy color of heritage breed pork – that’s due to the older age of the pig, the fact the pig actually got to use his muscles and variances in breed.

Two tools that will help tremendously in your journey to mastering well-raised meats are the instant thermometer and an old school cast iron skillet. And keep handy this reference chart from Shannon Hayes, the farmer who literally wrote the book on pastured meats.

Standard temperature recommendations for cooking meats are calculated by the USDA to temper the pathogen loads common in the industrial meat industry. If your meat is from a trusted source, ideal cooking temperatures are much lower.

In fact, there’s no reason to not enjoy your pork a bit pink (shock & horrified gasps!). Since Trichinae are destroyed at 137 degrees, as long as you cook above that temperature, you are well within the safety zone. Well raised pork can be safely cooked between 145 – 150° F maintaining those delicious pink juices, whereas the USDA recommends a dried out range of 160 – 180° F.

Cooking your chops:

Prepare your pork. If your chops are frozen, allow them to thaw gently, preferably in the refrigerator. PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT THAW FROZEN MEAT IN THE MICROWAVE!!  Bring your meat to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking and blot dry.

  1. Rub a bit of olive oil into the chops, seasoning modestly with salt, cracked black pepper and if you must, rosemary, oregano or other favorite herb. If using, insert your thermometer probe into the thickest part of a chop, away from any bone or gristle. 
  2. Bring a seasoned cast iron or stainless ( not non-stick) skillet to screaming hot (high heat) on your stove burner.
  3. Place your chops in the hot skillet – do not overcrowd. They will give a good, satisfying sputter and sizzle; if you don’t hear this, the heat is too low and your chops may sweat which will cause them to dry out. Very important: resist the urge to fuss & flip to check the browning progress for at least 2-3 minutes. Your impatience and lack of faith will cause the delicious crust to tear which would truly be sad.
  4. Using tongs – do not pierce the meat with a fork – flip your chops and do the other side, for 2 minutes.

Since these chops are so thick, a bit of a braise will cook them through without ruining the beautiful exterior crust. Add a cup of liquid: wine, vermouth, apple cider, beer or stock – I use what I’ve got here, usually stock,  it’s all good.  Also add any onion, shallots, herbs or garlic if using.

Lower the burner to medium-low, cover and simmer until chops are cooked through, about 145 – 150°F.  All ye thermometer resisters; guesstimate your chops will be done in about ten minutes.

Note: If your chops are the standard variety cut to a more common half-inch thickness, this step is not necessary, you can stop at the pan frying, but it won’t be the same…

Resting the meat:

I would not kid you about this; the resting is nearly as important as the cooking. Remove the chops from the pan to a plate. Tent with foil for 10 minutes to allow the juices to re-absorb into the meat.

Crowning glory – the pan sauce:

Raise the heat and bring the pan drippings to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Stirring constantly, reduce the sauce to a thick, syrup-like consistency. Taste and adjust spices; a knob of good butter, a splash of cream or half & half is a lovely but not necessary addition, as is a whiff of grainy mustard. Keep the seasonings simple, and allow those gorgeous chops to shine.

Go for richness and quality with the sauce, not quantity. It’s better to have a thimbleful of amazingness than a cup of watery gravy.

And that, friends, is the way to properly thank your pig.

How do you honor your pork?

new & improved as we’re going to get: a kinder shade of the other white meat?

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Ginger takes a break from spinning circles & rooting to see what I’m up to

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Do you have any pig friends? If not, you probably don’t know so I’ll let you in on a secret: pigs are like roller coasters, pogo sticks and trampolines.
What?
I’m not kidding. It’s just not physically possible to hang out with free-to-be pigs and not laugh.

Pigs are clean, smart, happy, silly clowns; get to know them in person and you’ll realize just how unkind it is to keep them in confinement.

Recently, Nicolette Hahn Niman of Righteous Porkchop and BN Ranch fame shared this video of a modern, improved Confinement Pig Operation and the contrast between the pigs in the video and my own pigs was something I pondered for several days.

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Please take a minute to watch this. It’s short, informative and there’s nothing that will spoil your breakfast – I’d never trick you that way.

The commercial pork industry is busy posting videos like this to reassure those of us who expressed and acted upon our disapproval of confinement farming methods.  It’s a significant first step and I want to be sure to appreciate it, but of course I have some questions and observations too.

Sardines Anyone?

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I was pleased to see the sows in group pens, and they seem to be peaceable – pigs are picky about the company they keep and don’t tolerate annoying room-mates particularly in close quarters.  And you’ll see, quarters are close.

How does one manage this many genetically similar animals in confinement this close without medications? How does one dispose of the waste produced in a safe, holistic way that enhances the land? And, how does one birth piglets in a way that is safe for the babies and humane for the mothers?

The video avoids carefully skirts explaining their use farrowing crates – stalls so tiny sows are prevented from turning around. I picked up on something about 7 days – anything can be endured for a mere 7 days, right?

Okay, that’s snarky. To be fair, one of the nasty bits about raising pigs is birthing piglets, and farrowing crates, even industrial style ones do serve a valuable purpose.

In nature, piglets can have a pretty high mortality rate and in an industrial setting where the mothers are stressed, crowded, and have diminished maternal instincts, the mortality is amplified. Piglets can be in danger of accidental squashing or intentional aggression from their mothers and need some sort of safety measure, hence farrowing crates.

No linens at this hotel

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You know what else you’ll see in the video? These pigs have no bedding and I don’t see any rooting or playing.  Contrary to their reputation, pigs have clean housekeeping habits. Pigs keep themselves, their bedding and feeding area clean. Bedding (I use a combination of sawdust and spelt straw) is very, very important to pigs.

To be fair, there are synthetic animal flooring products available that provide a cushiony surface without traditional bedding and hopefully that’s what these girls are spending their days standing and laying on, though it doesn’t look very comfy or soft.

Many pigs do spend their lives on nothing but concrete; hard on their legs & hooves, unforgiving and cold to lie on and offers no absorption of urine and feces, forcing pigs to lie in their own waste which is not natural for them at all.

This operation is clearly digital state of the art, and bedding is not something they are likely to overlook as it is tremendously important to the pigs quality of life and health, but it’s not commented on, and I don’t see any – what should we think?

Waste Not, Want Not

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Assuming it’s being used, modern synthetic bedding products are designed for the convenience of the operator, not the contentment of the animals. It’s easier to hose things off than it is to shovel manure the old-fashioned way.

Concrete, metal and synthetics can be sanitized in a laboratory-style way. The cozy, comforting all-natural stuff creates good compost, managed properly keeps animals clean, dry and warm and shoveling manure doesn’t waste any water.

Nature has her own means of sanitizing, dependent on fresh air, appropriate population size, sunshine, abundant bedding material and manual labor, all rare commodities in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO).

Simple joys?

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Not to mention that man-made bedding doesn’t smell like anything pigs enjoy;  there’s nothing they like more than pushing those rubbery noses around in things that smell like nature.

If you want to see pure joy, throw my pigs a fresh, clean bale of straw or a load of fresh grass and stand back. Very, very entertaining. Or watch one race around carrying a bucket or some other found treasure, the others scrambling & barking, in hot chase… just like dogs with a ball.

Lethargic & uninspired

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Something else you won’t learn from this video is how talkative and playful pigs are.  The girls in the video seem pretty lethargic, but to be fair, it’s natural that as sows get older they will grow less playful, so I’ll assume that’s some part of what’s happening in this video.

My pigs are curious and active.  Their chirps, barks, squeals and satisfied humming crack me up every day – all missing in this video.  Pigs love to know what’s going on and have a wide and full vocabulary, punctuated with plenty of tail wagging & slapping. There’s no way I could film a video like this and not have pigs worming their way into the action: these girls don’t seem to care about much.

Don’t let me be cynical and ungrateful though. This is a huge first step for the confinement pork industry, and I greatly appreciate it. But, as I see it,  it is a first step.  It is important that we not assume the goal of better lives for factory-raised pigs has been achieved.

As consumers we need to remain vigilant and vocal; commercial producers will revert to their previous cheaper,  more convenient  business as usual if and when we turn our attention elsewhere.

Semantics matter: System or Farm?

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You know what else? The number of times the speaker used the word “system” is kind of distracting – but fitting too.  To be more precise with the words, he’s more an “operator” or “manager” than a “farmer”.  He has a “facility” or “operation” instead of a farm and so many pigs he needs a computer monitoring system to tell him if a pig is off her feed.

Things are a little less sophisticated around here. My system? I ask the pigs and they tell me all I need to know.

What do you think?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday and the Wednesday Fresh Foods Linkup at Gastronomical Sovereignty . What’re  those you ask? Two ambitious and enlightening collections of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check them out…

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I’ve been waiting three long years to say this to you:

Steers are looking good – getting fat on an all grass diet…


Hello, Hel-lo!

It’s hard to believe three years have passed since beginning this sustainable farming project.  It certainly doesn’t feel that long, but since my calendar says so, it must be true.

No kidding, this farming business is tough.  And relentless.  And it keeps reminding me how not-young-anymore I really am.  It’s been a huge lesson in tenacity, sustainability and humility, but it’s been such a worthwhile and eye-opening journey too.

I hope you’re as excited as I am because, finally, the moment I thought would never come is here: I have beef to share with all of you!

Is it bragging if I say so myself? I can’t help it. I’m very, VERY jazzed up about this beef.  Rich, amazingly flavorful, tender and juicy on an all-grass diet; it’s the best beef I’ve ever eaten.  And, I know the cows were treated with care and respect.

What’s different about our Devon beef?  Science shows that the meat from old-fashioned, un-improved British breeds of cattle eating an all grass diet makes the most flavorful, finely textured and succulent beef.  And you must be hiding under a rock if you haven’t heard the bawking about grass-fed beef being the most nutritious and healthy – for you, the cattle and the environment.

Cows don’t come any more old-fashioned, un-improved or British than ours.  And 100% guaranteed Pink Slime Free.  It’s never been more important to support local farms and one of the best and easiest ways you can do that is to buy your food directly from farmers you know as often as possible.

I hope you’ll take a minute to consider a different way of provisioning for your family – one that’s healthier, more affordable and so much tastier.  And easier too, once you get used to thinking a little differently about food.

Without your support, small, sustainable farms like mine struggle to live long enough to provide a lasting and healthy alternative to factory meat and produce.  If you know me at all, you know that this farm isn’t just a business to me.  It’s a calling.  A mission.  A legacy.  And if you believe in the importance of sustainable agriculture, I can really use your help.

Here’s what you can do:

Buy our beef! I have a small number of steer ready for butchering beginning July.  These steer live perfect cow lives, work to improve the land and produce the most nutritious, flavorful beef available.  If you think enjoying the best tasting, humanely raised, rare heritage breed grass-fed steaks for about $7.00 a pound sounds like a good thing, click here.

You don’t need beef but want to stay in touch?  Consider joining the Auburn Meadow Farm community by subscribing to our blog and/or liking us on Facebook.

Spreading the word about our beef to others helps tremendously.  It would be so awesome if you would forward this post to anyone you think may be interested.

I love to share stories about the cows, tips to help break your processed food habits, and lead hands-on old-fashioned farm kitchen workshops focused on mastering and preserving farm-fresh ingredients.  If you’d like me to speak to your group, lead a Menu For the Future reading group or host a preserve swap for your business, church or neighborhood group, let us know.  Our fees are extremely reasonable.

The future of small sustainable farms is up to you – if you don’t patronize them, small farms won’t be around to continue their work building an alternative to Corporate Agriculture.

Happy Eating,

Jackie & The Ladies of Auburn Meadow Farm

bresaola SOS: words of wisdom from Crested Duck’s Kevin Costa

Oh, humble pie.  I’m determined to make something tasty from you. As always happens when I’m oh-so-smug and pleased with myself, I really blew it.  Remember my bresaola?  What did I say about the Italian art of air-curing beef?

“Of course, leave it to our Italian friends to turn thinly sliced air-cured beef drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice into an art form while our American version of dried beef is known by millions of GIs as the main ingredient in a dish called Shit on a Shingle. What can I say? It doesn’t have to be that way…”

Well, last week I proved how totally American I am.

 I’ve been clucking and fussing over the petrified hunk of beef hanging in my spare fridge for a month. I checked the temperature twice every day and watched carefully to be sure no undesirable green & fuzzy mold was setting in.  Finally the big day arrived.

The story I planned to tell was one of eating this amazing sandwich from the restaurant ‘ino in New York.  A sandwich so fine, it’s described by The New York Times as “the prettiest sandwich in town, [it’s] a seductively simple masterpiece of paper-thin bresaola, pristine lemon-splashed arugula, and grated grana, carefully layered between crustless Pullman-loaf slices. Dainty looks, huge flavor.”

Which is worse I ask you? A complete and inedible flop, tossed straight into the nearest garbage can, or a tantalizing one where you’ve just pushed it one tiny step too far?

I can taste how ridiculously close I was to awesome.

The subtle flavors from Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall’s brine recipe are fully manifested and while I may have hung the roast a week longer than ideal for such a small roast, I still managed to capture a red, moist interior.  I was successful in cultivating a small bit of dry, white mold on the exterior (a good thing) and in avoiding growing any undesirable green or black fuzzy molds.

Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?  And so it would be but for the salt.  My bresaola is so, so salty the spicy beefy goodness is pretty much inedible.

I’ve been relying on the panel of experts on my bookshelf and the internet for advice, and have really learned quite a bit.  But clues are gleaned bits here and pieces there and often I don’t learn about the pitfall ahead until I find myself in need of rescue. My mishap could have been avoided if I’d had some real, live guidance.

Who to ask for help? Easy. I looked to Pittsburgh’s own Kevin Costa, owner and Executive Chef of Crested Duck Charcuterie. Crested Duck Charcuterie is an amazing treasure trove – an artisanal market, butcher shop and deli offering a wide range of hand crafted cheeses, pickles, charcuterie, locally raised meat and poultry and prepared foods from made from high quality, local ingredients.

Crested Duck’s cured meats are made and aged using traditional methods, and, this gets me really excited –  their products are locally sourced. You really need to get over there and check them out.

Since Kevin Costa regularly makes bresaola that looks like this, he would naturally be the first person to beg for advice.  Fortunately, Kevin is also really nice and found time to answer my questions despite his busy schedule.

Me: What do to when the bresaola is just too salty?

KC: Soak the bresaola in cold water for 12hrs (but this has to be done after curing but before aging)

Me: A little comment on good mold and bad? No mold at all?

KC: My end product does not have any mold on it. Good mood is obviously acceptable and even desired, but for aesthetics I remove it before the customer sees the end product.

Me: Do you rinse the brine off before hanging?

KC: YES  (Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall didn’t say anything about rinsing!! No wonder my bresaola is too salty!!)

Me: Do you rinse after hanging?

KC: No

Me: Rub in olive oil?

KC: No

Me: Can a roast be too small? What’s your favorite cut for bresaola?

KC: That depends on how you intend to serve the bresaola. For my purposes, I believe, yes you can have a roast that is too small for making bresaola.

Note: Kevin uses eye of round to make his bresaola.  In Leaves from the Walnut Tree, the book that inspired Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall’s recipe, Franco Taruschio offers the following caveat:  “Do not attempt to preserve a smaller piece of meat, it is not satisfactory”. He uses a 9 pound (after trimming) top round piece of beef in his recipe.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls for a 7-9 pound top or bottom round.

Me: Any secret insider tips?

KC: Measure everything carefully and record all your data, it makes it significantly easier to improve your product as you perfect your bresaola.

Me: MacGyver curing tips/setups for home projects?

KC: Um… lots of butcher’s string?

Me: Your favorite way to serve bresaola?

KC: Arugula, lemon juice and fried egg

I still love the River Cottage recipe but for future bresaola I clearly noted in my book in ink  to RINSE the roast after brining.  My roast was 2 pounds after trimming – next time I’ll use a bigger one, and/or I’ll reduce the number of days in the brine.  My roast rested in its bath of spiced red wine for 7 days.  I think three would have been plenty. I also hung my roast for four weeks and I think at three my bresaola would have been moister.

Oh, well.  I’m ready to take it on again soon because this lesson has been learned. The next time I blow a bresaola, I’ll find a new way.

But this story isn’t over yet.  You don’t think I give up that easily, do you?

Since I was so snobby about our American Shit on a Shingle, what better way to redeem myself than to make SOS so amazing my Italian friends will be begging for some?

Mixing the meat into a sauce disguised the fact that I gave the beef a good soaking in water first.  This recipe has a rich yet delicate milk, butter & floury flavor with a just a bit of freshly grated black pepper and micro-smidge of nutmeg. A perfect backdrop for the mildly seasoned beef.  If you’d like to try it yourself, here’s the recipe.

Now you may not appreciate the nuances of a creamed anything over toast supper, but for me, this is comfort food from home.  The key is white bread that is lightly toasted and not too hefty or spongy. I carefully toast my bread, place it dry on a plate and pour the topping generously, yet not too generously on top. If you drown it, the bread loses its delicate crispness and turns mushy which is a shame because that little bit of texture makes a big difference in a simple dish like this.

OK, maybe I exaggerate just a tiny bit. My Italian friends aren’t begging, but it’s good.  Really, really good.  And it will be even better tomorrow after the flavors marry overnight.

Whew. The thought of ruining that beautiful roast was keeping me awake at night.

Good save!

that’s right: it’s a dumplin’ throwdown and we’re in it to win it

I’m about to take a leap into the completely random and unexpected for a girl who is always bawking about seasonal this and seasonal that. What could this random leap be? Mincemeat! See, you so did not see that one coming, did you?

I’m learning that seasonal is a somewhat deeper, more complex concept than I originally thought.  To eat well and seasonally, sometimes it takes some planning ahead. And by planning ahead, I mean more than just remembering to thaw the meat the day before.

For example, one of my favorite books perfectly illustrates this point. In Little Heathens, Mildred Armstrong Kalish tells how the preparations and planning for Thanksgiving dinner began in September. First by harvesting and storing some of the foraged and home-grown ingredients and particularly selecting and granting special fattening privileges to the geese who would be the main event. That meal was a big project requiring the help of young and old.  Procrastinators need not apply.

But why mincemeat? Well, for some reason I have a fascination and determination to turn old-fashioned real meat mincemeat into a modern runaway hit. Why? I have no idea, I just do. It’s a holiday memory like fruitcake that commercialization has belittled and betrayed. It’s no accident commercial mincemeat gathers dust on the shelf, but I intend to change that.

Isn’t it early to be thinking about Christmas-y foods, you ask? Well, I suppose so, but since some projects like ham, wine, air cured meats and mincemeat need time to age and cure, the earlier I begin the more complex the flavors will become.  And I won’t lie: if I blow it I’ve got time to start over.

The other, more important reason for my timing is that we are putting the mincemeat to the test.  That’s right.  My cousin Guy makes some of the best pasta ever.  We’re stuffing that mincemeat into his home-made dumplings, saucing it up and seeing how it holds up to the competition in the Pittsburgh Dumpling Experiment. We mean business, and don’t you forget it.

I’m a lover of all things throwdown and the Pittsburgh Dumpling Experiment promises to be a good time.  If you aren’t busy this Sunday, you should get on over to the ever fascinating Mr. Small’s in Millvale and watch some of Pittsburgh’s most focused amateur chefs sling some dumplin’.  And did I mention craft beer?? And helping disadvantaged children & teens?

Quick Tip:  I’m told the Food Experiments are usually sold out events, so if you plan to come you may want to follow the link and buy your tickets online.

OK, I’ve said too much already. I can’t reveal my secrets, but stay tuned Monday when I’ll spill about everything, recipes and all.

I’m really looking forward to a fun afternoon, and I sure hope to see you there!

Beef Art: Bresaola

The Goal: Silky, paper thin, marinated, air-dried beef from the river cottage meat book

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Remember the huge crush I have on Paul Bertolli? And his tomatoes 12 ways project? And my idea to copy his idea using beef instead of tomatoes?

You thought I forgot about it didn’t you?  Well, I admit I’ve been slow to come up with a new way, but not to worry; I’m on it now.  And I’m especially excited about this one.

Everyone loves prosciutto, the paper-thin, silky, salty, air-cured ham from Italy.  But prosciutto’s less known beef cousin bresaola can be just as amazing.

Of course, leave it to our Italian friends to turn thinly sliced air-cured beef drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice into an art form while our American version of dried beef is known by millions of GIs as the main ingredient in a dish called Shit on a Shingle. What can I say? It doesn’t have to be that way…

Since I’m out of everything but burger at the moment, my eye of round is from Ron Gargasz Organic Farms just outside Slippery Rock, PA.  Now, don’t tell the Ladies I said this, and if you do I’ll never admit it, but the Angus cows at Ron Gargasz’s farm are pretty amazing too. They’ve never eaten anything but organic grass and hay grown right there at home and lead companionable, social lives. With plenty of doting too…

So, with a beautiful, grass-fed organic eye of round in my freezer, I’m not about to waste a chance to take an imaginary road trip to Italy.

The esteemed panel of experts on my bookshelf  had much to say about making Bresaola.  Sadly, just like he did when I made consommé, Paul Bertolli left me to fend for myself.  But Darina Allen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Josh and Jessica Applestone and Michael Ruhlman; they all had lots of good advice.

All four books have great recipes and a slightly different take on making bresaola.  I had a hard time making up my mind which one to follow, but ended up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  My super-close second was the Applestone’s recipe which was the only one to call for cold smoking the roast before air drying. Very intriguing and I will be trying it soon.

Why was I so taken with HFW’s recipe? The brine was a little more elaborate, without being ridiculous. I always hate to over season well-raised beef because I think it tastes so great as it is.  But the small amount of lemon zest, orange zest, bay leaves, black pepper and red pepper flakes in the wine & salt brine seemed like just the right blend to really call attention to the beef.  You may not agree, but I think there’s something magic about the combo of beef and orange zest… add red pepper flakes and oh, my.

So this week, I mixed up my brine and soaked that roast turning twice a day. Tomorrow begins the tricky air-drying process which will last three to four weeks. Then, if I don’t blow it, comes the best part of all, eating the bresaola!

Very exciting stuff for me. I know.  I know.  I  SHOULD get out more.

If you missed my other beefy adventures,  here they are:

Beef & Pork Belly Dan Barber’s Way

Corned Beef Tongue & Red Flannel Hash

Creamy Corned Beef (Tongue) Spread

Oxtail Consommé & My Very Favorite Ravioli Filling