Beef Art: Bresaola

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

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Have you heard? The New York Times is calling all carnivores to tell them why we believe it is ethical to eat meat.

Since this is a topic front and center in my mind nearly every day and I planned to discuss it with you anyway,  how about right now?

The stingy 600 word limit was a real hardship for a chatty girl like myself; hopefully Word’s word count tool is accurate!   I sent my blood, sweat and tears off into the electronic sunset, and from there, who knows?

Weigh in with your opinions in the comments below, but do play nice. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

So, here it is; my big New York Times minute:

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This question of whether it is ethical to eat meat cannot be deeply understood by anyone with clean hands.

My point?  A formal decree from above is not coming. Fancy panel of judges or no, there isn’t a single right answer to this dilemma.  Like death itself, we each have to wrestle this contradiction alone. The real ethical question?

Will we humble ourselves by taking a ruthlessly honest look at the toll our lives extract from others? My guess is we’d rather shield ourselves from introspection with dueling data, finger-pointing and clever bumper-sticker retorts.

Nature has an uncomplicated relationship with death. Nobody, two-legged or four is spared. We try hard to find a loophole, and Nature humors us. But she never lets us hide from her truth for long.

To Nature, death is just part of life. Creatures are born, creatures die.  The dead feed the living and the living eventually become the dead. Nature builds in harsh but perfect circles, not the logjams and cul-de-sacs we construct to avoid uncomfortable truths.

Remember the scene in the movie Cold Mountain where the old lady kills the goat?  The loving kindness the Goat-lady gave that trusting goat as she pierced its heart is a stunning moment.  Is it cruel betrayal or the heartfelt kindness of a true shepherd?  That goat didn’t suffer one bit, but sweetly laid down its head in eternal sleep, feeling safe in the trusted shelter of the Goat-lady’s lap.

Somehow, the intentionality of the Goat-Lady’s act really jams our brains. The abrupt killing contradicts the peaceful mercy of that death. The dichotomy rocks our certainty. We’d rather cover our eyes.

I raise cattle with love and tenderness, and I admit I cry every time I deliver one to slaughter. I don’t like slick words like “harvested” or “processed”. I prefer the unvarnished facts. A cow was killed because I decided it would be so. I won’t shirk my sadness or culpability with a perky elevator speech selling the rightness of my decision.

My beautiful, one-and-a-half-inch thick piece of well-raised beef is carefully cooked: rare with a perfectly browned crust.  I eat my steak mindfully with gratitude and pleasure. That steak is meaningful to me. I appreciate its full, bittersweet cost and I don’t waste a single scrap.  It’s delicious.

Recently, I plowed a field so I could plant some Monsanto-free organic vegetables.  A commendable act most Vegans would agree.  In doing so, I disturbed nests of bunnies and a home some peace-loving groundhogs have enjoyed for some time.  It was traumatic for those little creatures, and the hawks that trawl my pastures were elated. Thanks to my vegetables, there was a new all you can eat buffet in town. I didn’t kill anything myself, but I knew creatures would be living there. They live everywhere. Ethical?

We need to step away from our computers, books and chattering brains and deepen our understanding of Nature’s ways.  Only by maintaining a distant, academic understanding of Nature can you believe in the moral superiority of tofu.

When someone comes up with a real, actionable plan to free the animals, not rely on industrial foods and feed the soil in a sustainable way, my mind is open. Today, the most ethical thing I can do is provide a joyful, carefree life for my meat.

In this way, and only this way, I say yes.  It is ethical to eat meat. Life is grand, messy, confusing business.  I accept my assignment of hands-on, eyes-open, deliberate participation.

That’s as ethical as it gets.

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

Monday Moo-sings: In which we share random farm happenings, snapshots & recipes

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Can’t imagine a prettier color filling…

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I must say I’m a teeny bit disappointed.  Disappointed because not a single one of you asked about my rhubarb beet tart from St. Patrick’s Day.

Now I really, really need to know; did you not ask because you didn’t notice, or because it didn’t sound like anything you’d want to make?

In case your head has been under a rock, guess what? It’s spring.  Ready or not here it comes it seems. Grass is growing, trees are blooming, and new rhubarb is pushing its way up. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’m not being ungrateful or anything.

The fruit is macerated, the juice is strained, reduced & added to filling after baking

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Obviously I’d better get a move on and empty the freezer of the remains of last summer’s stash so I’ll be ready for the new stuff soon to come. Some of my stash?

One pound of rhubarb nicely chopped & ready to go.  My plan was to make my favorite rhubarb tarts, but I find I’m 8 ounces short of rhubarb.  Conveniently, I have exactly 8 ounces of grated beets. Coincidence? I think not.

While the pies bake, the strained liquid is reduced to a thickened sauce

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I followed the rhubarb tart recipe exactly except for the substitution of 8 ounces of beets for 8 ounces of rhubarb.  Then, instead of the vanilla, I used the zest from one orange.  The cinnamon I could go either way on – I added it this time, next time I think I’ll pass. But the orange was perfect.

the open crust allows the thickened sauce to be easily spooned in & i like the rustic look

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It was a unique and serendipitous hit if I do say so myself; I highly recommend pie as a way to clean out that freezer. I have high hopes about this years’ garden… and the squash and pumpkin still waiting in the freezer.  With a little luck that freezer will be emptied & restocked in no time…

Are you getting excited for summer food projects?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

In which we stockpile Hope

In which we stockpile Hope

Organic tomatoes straight from the backyard. What to make to preserve their summery essence to enjoy this winter?

I’m in over my head, I admit it. Those old school farm wives; how did they get it all done? I suppose it helps to be free of distraction from Blackberries (I don’t mean the tasty kind), cable and high-speed internet and maybe having a workforce of hard-working children helped a little too.

Anyway, being the farmer and the wife may just be more than I can handle. Something’s got to give… and so it will. For this year, it will have to be preserves. I just don’t have time for the many consuming preserving projects I managed last year.  Instead, I’ve got fences to build, pastures to clear, trees to remove and roofs to mend. Next year we’ll be back in the preserving saddle with produce harvested from our own land – very exciting.

But today a welcome rainy Sunday gave me the perfect excuse to catch up with the guilt-inducing tomato stockpile on my porch. Since fancy extras like ketchup and sauce are out, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will make me the happiest. What might that be?? I’m a girl who likes possibilities, so picking just one of anything is a painful prospect.

So, I think back to the darkest days of frigid winter and try to remember what quick, simple home-grown tomato dish gave me the greatest surge of Hope when I really needed it.

A fresh batch of Hope draining away

Hope  with a capital H that soon enough the dark, frozen nights will turn gentle, soft and dewy and my porch will once again be filled with buckets of tomatoes, still warm from the garden.

Well, that kind of thinking made my decision easy; so easy in fact, no decision-making was necessary.   So, here it is, my recipe for Hope.

Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. Oh, and this sauce is beautiful with fresh mozzarella…

After rinsing and weighing the tomatoes, cut an x in the bottom of each with a sharp knife and toss into a pot of boiling water for a minute to loosen the skins.

With a slotted spoon, fish tomatoes out of boiling water and drop into cold water. You don’t want to cook the tomatoes, just loosen the skin.

The split skins will peel right away – then toss into your food mill. I use a Roma and run the tomatoes through two or three times to extract every last drop… If you don’t have a food mill, just do your best to skin, seed and chop as finely as you can. The texture won’t be exactly the same, but don’t let that stop you – it’s still going to be awesome.

The tomatoes after processing. Add kosher salt and ladle into your cheesecloth lined colander.

Maybe you’re not like me with large pieces of cheesecloth lying around. Not to worry, you can use a simple cotton dish towel or pillow case but be prepared for it to be forever stained. I toss my clean cheesecloth into the boiling water for a few minutes before using. Line a colander with the cheesecloth and you’re ready to pour in your tomato mixture. Place the colander over a large bowl or bucket and drain for at least a couple of hours or overnight.

The finished sauce. I freeze this in one cup portions in small freezer bags to use all winter. Thaw it in the bag and gently spoon over cooked pasta tossed with olive oil or butter. If you must heat the sauce, simply warm a little olive oil in a sauce pan and stir in the sauce until just warmed.

Home made pasta, uncooked fresh tomato sauce frozen from last summer’s harvest and some good quality parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!

This recipe makes four servings to be eaten right away but is also very simple to repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.

I  store one cup portions in freezer bags. This size will feed the two of us dinner with plenty of  leftovers for the next few days.  Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.

Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced.  I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.

Tomato water, tomato essence, plasma – it’s all in the name. This tasty cast off from our sauce is a treasure too!

What a treat to whip a container of this out of the freezer for a quick, fresh pasta, pizza or bruschetta that tastes like the tomatoes were literally just picked warm from the summer sun. The only thing that can improve it is home-made pasta and a really good Parmesan or pecorino.  Eating a steaming bowl while looking at a foot of snow on the ground outside is guaranteed to give you the encouragement you need to make it through ’till next tomato season, I promise!

When you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know it’s a thrill for me when the throwaway from one dish can advance to star in another.  For example I’m currently smitten with the idea of heirloom tomatoes suspended in tomato water essence from Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. My relationship with this dish is limited to the mind opening, jaw dropping awe I felt just reading about it in black and white and then, a couple of weeks later the total crush I have on this post with full color photo from Jake when he made it for his inspiring and entertaining blog, Leave Me the Oink.

Jake from Leave Me the Oink made these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes suspended in tomato water aspic – WOW!  Tell me you’re not impressed! 

How often will you have all this fresh tomato essence just lying around begging to become an epic dish like Jake’s aspic? Come on, you can do it!  Ok, I admit the aspic may be a little ambitious.  How about one of these easier but still great summery uses from Sue Veed at SeriousEats.com then?

* As a base for Bloody Marys

* As an added flavoring for beer or vodka

* As a base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce

* As a poaching liquid for shrimp, calamari or lobster

* As a dressing for fresh oysters

* As a marinade for white fish

* As a vinaigrette mix-in

* As a rice seasoner

* Chilled and over ice, with basil

Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free oomph? But, whatever you do, please, please don’t let me find out you poured all that great home-grown organic tomato water down the drain!

An icy glass of tomato essence…. yummy and refreshing straight up, and so many great uses in coctails…

In which we can’t stop thinking about apples

In which we can’t stop thinking about apples

'Tis the season for windfalls

I have an ongoing romance with the notion of apples. Maybe even more than with the apples themselves. Ruddy cheeked and fragrant, apples are a treat for both the eye and the palate. And the variety of projects apples inspire in us: festivals, cider hard and sweet, sauce, butter, pie, dried, spiced, stuffed, baked, fried, vinegar, wine, cakes, the possibilities truly are endless.

I realize I’m jumping ahead with the apple talk just when the long-awaited peaches are hitting their stride.  Apples are the fruit of fall here in Pennsylvania. Crisp, snappy days = crisp, tart apples. Trust me; I’m never one to rush a seasonal moment, but there is a timely reason I’d like to talk about apples today.

Bling raiding the apples again....She thinks nobody knows...Who's she fooling?

Raising great apples is an art that fortunately is practiced with care by knowledgeable orchardists around here. I’m not one of them, but I am enthusiastic about the possibility. Fortunately for me, apples are pretty tough and for the most part want to thrive. If I can just figure out how to stay out of their way, I should have more than enough for our needs. That is if I can keep some cloven hooved Ladies we know out of the trees….

What?? Who, me?

One little considered industrial use for apples is the making of commercial pectin. This pectin is mostly imported in bulk from Europe and packaged in the United States. But really, what is it? As it turns out, pectin is a water-soluble substance found in the tissues of all fruits, though some have much more than others. It acts as a thickening and jelling agent. Typically, pectin is extracted either from tart apples or the white pith found under the peel of citrus fruit, both naturally high in pectin. As the citrus pith tends to retain a bit of bitterness, most commercial pectin is derived from apples. Commercial pectin was a great boon to many overworked home preservers upon its introduction in the early 1900’s. It’s use made preserving much more forgiving and yielded more standard, reliable results.

Ever useful apple pectin stock.

The great pectin debate among jammers is an interesting one. Myself, I tend to pass on the commercial pectin, but I don’t really have any super scientific reason for my avoidance.  I just really don’t like stiff, rubbery jam or jelly and going without commercial pectin gives a gentle, softer texture that I love. And, a failed batch of jam isn’t really a crises in my book – I love ice cream topping, glazes and syrup almost as much, so what’s the big deal?

Smugly confident with my anti-commercial pectin decision, I read Linda Amendt’s most helpful book, Blue Ribbon Preserves.  Linda is firmly in favor of using commercial pectin, particularly in its liquid form. She is also decidedly against the use of homemade pectin stock. If you haven’t read her book, and you are a student of the science of preserving, you really should. It’s indispensable in my kitchen not just for the recipes (which are plentiful and good) but for the why’s and insider tips that help me deviate safely. Needless to say, Linda cast more than a shadow of doubt on my opinionated prejudice against commercial pectin.

I think of making jam and jelly as a Devotion and form of gratitude rather than an assembly line process. Commercial pectin is a shortcut, an equalizer that lowers the quality of the excellent and raises the quality of the poor to achieve a consistent good enough. A bailout of sorts.

It makes me sad that consistent has come to define good with regard to food in America. Agreed, embracing true regional and artisanal food means risking a really disappointing experience from time to time. Maybe even the occasional bellyache. But, that’s the price I’m willing to pay to enjoy that sublime surprise you’ll rarely find at any chain restaurant or grocery.

Ruthless thinning makes the remaining apples healthier and larger. For healthy organic apples, it's important to pick up the windfalls anyway so you may as well make jelly, right?

If you have an apple tree of your own, or a friend willing to share theirs, apple pectin stock is a great way to use the immature, tart apples that fall or are thinned mid summer. Losing excess apples makes the remaining crop healthier and the fruits larger. Using the unripe green apples to make home-made pectin stock makes sure nothing goes to waste.

Forgive my geekiness, but I think that’s pretty exciting in spite of what Linda Amendt thinks. I use the apple pectin stock to glaze sweet pastries and savory roasted meats and make preserves and jelly from fruits, herbs or veggies without enough pectin to jell on their own. And, it’s already jelly, so if I never make anything further from it, it’s still good on toast or in cocktails. But my most pressing reason for making it is so I can use it later to make onion marmalade.

Pectin stock is not so much a recipe as a formula; learn the proportions and the procedure is easily adaptable.  I’m thinking of tart green apples today, but stock can be made from other fruits as well; crabapple, red currant, citrus, certain plums, quince, gooseberries – anything with a high natural pectin content. The thing about apples that makes them so useful is that their flavor is mild and willing to take a back seat so other flavors can shine.

I love that I’m not importing something from afar, I know my apples haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and they’re free – my favorite price! I accept the variability of the levels of starch in my apples and the varying content of pectin from one apple to the next. If the worst penalty is using up a batch as ice cream topping or syrup when my jam didn’t set, that’s a penalty I can happily accept. Honestly, it’s rarely happened.

What about you? Commercial pectin or no? I’d love to hear your enlightened opinions in the comments below…..

Quirky, knobby, high pectin windfalls

in which our turkey walks on the wild side

in which our turkey walks on the wild side

He's no beauty, but he sure does taste good!

Never known for their grace or beauty, wild turkeys can be counted on to be good for supper. Having lived in areas of Pennsylvania where wild turkeys have always been abundant, I was somewhat surprised to read that our turkey population was ever endangered, yet  today I find it’s true.

Turkeys were abundant throughout North America when the settlers arrived, and soon became an important food source for the colonists.  During the 1800’s, deforestation combined with unrestricted hunting decimated wild turkey populations. The Game Commission, by operating a successful trap and transfer program, imposing restrictions on hunting and even maintaining a turkey farm has been very successful in restoring our turkey populations.

The turkeys did their part by becoming very adaptive and claiming as home some pretty unlikely habitats. Today in Pittsburgh’s heavily populated suburban neighborhoods, we don’t think twice about turkeys running through our yards and crossing the roads.  Even watching a turkey’s awkward attempts to fly is pretty commonplace.  But still, the daily life of a turkey remains somewhat of a mystery to me.  This article, while 10 years old, is still an interesting read about our local wild gobblers.

Rare to see: I found a hen sitting on this nest of wild turkey eggs on the farm. Not sure who was more startled, the turkey or me!

My cousin has over the years become an excellent cook with the natural progression being a freshly developed interest in good ingredients and sustainable living.  Part of this journey for him has involved exploring alternatives to our industrial meat system. His strategy for making improved choices includes his decision to become a hunter and harvest his own meat, along with splitting a side of pastured beef raised by a local farmer with a few friends.

This spring, he bagged his first turkey – a jake (young male) and for my sausage making needs, he kindly shared a breast and a thigh.  My inspiration for turkey sausage is this recipe  for Turkey Meatball (Polpette alla Mollie) from Oprah.com.  The recipe was created by Chef Mollie of Trattoria Mollie in California and makes ground turkey (which let’s be honest, can be a bit bland) rich and delish. Because half of my eaters don’t like spicy food, I didn’t use the crushed red pepper and I like it almost as well.

Resting meat mixture awaits a good food processor grinding.

I mixed my cubed turkey with some pork fat, grated pecorino, chopped plumped black raisins and fresh, chopped Italian parsley from our garden and put it in the fridge for the flavors to marry. Check out the mixture here.

Being the only person in America without a KitchenAid stand mixer, I used my food processor for the grinding and the stuffing was done with this Oster Jerky Maker rig which worked very well (13 bucks thank you Bill!).

This Jerky making rig did a darn good job for 13 bucks!

So here we are, chilled, ground meat mixture, stuffing rig, and finished sausages.  Since I’m only two-handed, you’ll have to take my word for the fact that I really did stuff these babies myself. Working alone, it was all I could manage to handle the sausage, let alone the camera. Altogether, it wasn’t the Lucy and Ethel event I was dreading. I was actually somewhat competent and organized.

I cannot believe I made these myself - two coils of shiny, solid, beautiful sausage

This sausage is rich and the pecorino makes it a bit salty. You would never know the raisins were hiding in there unless I told you.  I thought it best to let the sausage dominate, and decided to support it with a classic white sauce.

Served over homemade pasta, again thanks to my cousin who makes a beautiful noodle, I’m feeling very satisfied.  Bring on that frankfurter challenge – I’m ready!

Yum! Home made pasta, home made sausage made of my cousin's wild turkey, and a classic white sauce

One of my favorite things about sausage is the thick, dark, carmelized drippings left in the pan after you fry the meat. I like to drizzle that over top of my sauce to further richen up the flavor.