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

what kind of future are you planting?

what kind of future are you planting?

I’m kind of excited about a few new things going on around here.  I’ll admit I have never been all that fond of gardening chores.  I think it’s the relentlessness. I enjoy gardening some days, and I find a job well done very satisfying.  And then I’ve had enough for a while.

Today, the garden I slavishly weeded yesterday has weeds. Already. Overnight. Can you think of a better word than relentless? Thankless? Never-ending? Merciless?

Yet, each year something about the garden draws me in a little deeper.  I have threatened to do this for a while, but resisted. Last year, I even went so far as to buy most of the supplies but didn’t get to the project in time.

But this year is the year. I’m leaving the kiddie pool and am headed definitively towards the deep end. Maybe too deep – we’ll see how long it takes before weeds are overtaking even my dreams…

What am I talking about? Starting my own seeds, silly! This year I’ll have veggies you can’t buy at the store… the secret to amazing pickles? it’s all about amazing cucumbers…

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As ambivalent as I am about gardening,  you know what I am wholeheartedly fond of? Good food.

Food from the kitchen garden hooked me.  Get used to it and there’s no going back.  Recipes now begin not at the grocery, but in the seed catalog.  Like the old timers, I’m  starting to plan things I want to cook a year or two in advance – because to have the right ingredients, I have to grow it myself.

I’m sure I’ve gone way overboard, but I’ll give it my best. I’m planning things that add pleasure to my winters, are fun to give as gifts, go well with my other favorite things like cheese and charcuterie and in general will add summer sunshine to dark snow-filled days.

And don’t think I’m planting just for myself.  I’ve got a few treats in store for the Ladies too.  Fodder beets and pumpkins anyone?  I can’t wait to dish those out once fresh grass is a distant memory.

This quirky-sweet book, Eat More Dirt by Ellen Sandbeck, has been on my shelves for some time, and it’s always good grazing. I savor a morsel here and a bit there, then put it back and forget about it. I bought the book a while ago, sometime just after 9/11. Who knew then that I would be living on a farm with a bunch of funny bovine Ladies?  Surely not me…

Today, this quote from the introduction really grabbed me, I suppose because it so well explains what’s been happening to me since we bought this farm:

“ We love that which we know intimately.  No lover ever knew his beloved better than a gardener knows his garden.  Learning to love a single small plot of earth is a good start toward learning to be protective of our beautiful little planet.”

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But do I own this farm? Or does it own me? I’ll have to get back to you on that…

This is no kitchen garden – it’s a field! Freshly plowed, ready for disking & soon to be planted with corn, fodder beets and pumpkins plus a few surprises to come…

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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 trot out that old chestnut (jam) once again…

In which we trot out that old chestnut (jam) once again…

 

Sometimes Nature wraps her treasures in tricky packaging.  Wrapped like this,  she must think pretty highly of chestnuts…

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One thing I’m accepting as I learn more about turn of the century food ways is that I can’t expect to whiz in at the last minute, open a can of this and a jar of that and whip up a throwback masterpiece.

Well, not fully true; if I have the foresight to plan ahead and make sure the cans and jars have been put up well in advance, the last-minute slam dunk is still possible. That’s why I’m doing my farm-ly duty by reminding you that September is winding down, October means Halloween is just a few short weeks away and Thanksgiving is hot on its heels.

I say that not to make you hyperventilate in a state of overwhelm, but to inspire you to deliberately avoid said state of overwhelm and plan to enjoy a slower, more purposeful holiday season.

There’s no denying it; the leaves are beginning to turn and that unmistakable spicy smell of fall is in the air. In our area, it’s time for apples, crab apples, black walnuts, hickory nuts, grapes and chestnuts. All exciting and good, but it’s the chestnuts that are on my mind today.

Soon enough, the smell of roasting chestnuts will be teasing from city streets, those glossy nuts in their prickly coats will hit the ground and squirrels will be in a tail flicking frenzy of gathering and burying. Visions of varnished turkeys bursting with chestnut stuffing will be served in magazines across the land. But, did you know that the chestnuts you’ll be eating this holiday will not be from the mighty American Chestnut trees once so abundant, but instead from Oriental or European varieties and hybrids?

The Venerable American Chestnut today….

Today, we consider the Oak to be the outstanding example of great North American trees, but the American Chestnut once was mightier. Before 1904, when a horrible air-borne blight arrived from the Orient in a shipment of plants, the American chestnut was treasured for both its excellent hardwood timber and nut production.

These valuable trees grew huge and wild and made up nearly half of the national forests between Maine and Georgia. In addition, there were also large commercial chestnut orchards dedicated to growing highly valued “tree corn”. Sadly, after the arrival of the infested Oriental plants, the defenseless American chestnuts all died with devastating effect to already strapped Appalachian homesteaders. They were reliant on the chestnut’s starchy sustenance; chestnuts make a good flour, are excellent roasted and make yummy candy and sweets.

Last year, I took on the chestnut challenge. And yes, it is a challenge. Sometimes Nature wraps her treasures in tricky packaging and all I can say is that chestnuts must be pretty valuable to Her. Of course, my chestnuts were the free kind, gathered from a friend’s yard. I have aspirations for Marrons Glace (fancy for candied chestnuts) this year and will confess to thinking springing for these already peeled babies from Chestnut Growers, Inc. is a pretty fine idea.

Chestnut Jam is an impressive, unique and deliciously sweet spread. While it is very good served simply on crusty bread, I enjoyed it most combined with a tiny bit of chocolate in dessert-y ways like over vanilla ice cream (with fudge sauce), as filling for tarts, chocolate cake or on meringue topped with whipped cream. This recipe is once again from one of my favorites, Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No 2.; Pam Corbin’s contribution to the excellent River Cottage Handbooks series. Have I mentioned how much I love Pam Corbin? I don’t actually know Pam but all the same….

The printable recipe is here in our archives.

And so, such is the sad tale of the once grand American Chestnut. A very real example of the results of our human need to rearrange the universe’s furniture, not being satisfied until we eventually jam up the works. If you’d like to learn more, this is a surprisingly enjoyable read by Susan Freinkel: American Chestnut: The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.

And to give due respect to the deceased, why not make this the fall you show the chestnuts the love they deserve? I promise, once you’ve got a chestnut habit, there’s no going back…

Curiously addictive and unique: Chestnut Jam

 

Update: A couple of you have expressed concern about the photo of the “chestnut” at the top. It is clip art, and since I do not have chestnut trees I was not sensitive to the nuances of look-alikes. Renee’s comment ‘splains it best:

“I just wanted point out that the first chesnut pictured is actually a Horse Chestnut, and it is toxic. You can tell because the pod is not hairy/prickly. They have a terrible bitterness about them, but they taste fine for the first 30 seconds of chewing…that’s the dangerous part, by the time they taste toxic, most people have already swallowed some. If swallowed, one will not die, but they will experience some pretty painful GI distress and vomiting.”

Okay friends, be sure to practice safe chestnut, K?

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 we have blisters on our fingers

In which we have blisters on our fingers

And not the Beatles kind if you know what I mean….

My goodness, do I ever admire those pioneers.  Now that I am officially a gardener and putter upper of food, not a day goes by that I don’t think about the Pioneers.

I know, it’s a little crazy, but usually it’s in a moment of manual labor induced frustration.  I find myself getting whiny and then I think about a day in the life of a typical Pioneer.  Now that puts my silly mishap into perspective.

Charcuterie is trendy and cool these days, but truly it’s about preserving the harvest and eating seasonally.  Mostly, animals were butchered each winter when the temperature was low enough and a slew of charcuterie projects were handled immediately.  Fat was rendered for lard or tallow, hides were tanned for leather goods, bacons and hams were cured and smoked, jerky and sausages made and so on.

One of my favorite books is  The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. As we’ve been working our Charcutepaloozian way through bacons and sausages,  I’m reminded of Ms. Lewis’ description of hog killing in her community.  It took place in December since the cold weather was essential, and the families all joined in helping each other put up their meat & fat for the year.

She remembers that in addition to the anticipation of the special meals they would enjoy after the hogs were butchered, it was the “highly festive feeling of everyone working together that made this one of our favorite times in the year.”  (I do kind of have to laugh at the idea of how this little festival would be appreciated today at American community centers across the land… )

 

I take putting up food seriously, but thankfully, a bad harvest is no life or death crisis for us.  At least today.  For the Pioneers though, failure meant starvation; the for real kind.

Pioneers had to be thinking ahead for future meals ALL the time.  There had to be enough wood on hand to heat the stove, ingredients had to be planned for as much as a year ahead – there was no 24 hour super store backup.  And, projects had to be finished no matter how long they took or how tired or busy you were. Procrastination meant possible death – no kidding!

 

But, once again, I wander.  Could it be because I procrastinated a wee bit myself?  Thank goodness for the excess pork butt I had left over from last month’s smoking challenge because, believe it or not, my local butcher shop BURNED DOWN.  To the ground.  The reason? Their smoker…. be careful out there Paloozers!

I’m tempted by the highly flavored seasoned stuff; I really love it.  But today I’m stubbornly sticking to the most basic of basics.  My reason? I want to make pantry staples that I will use all year long.  If my seasoning is too specific, I’m limited in the recipes I can use later.  I want to be able to make fast food of the slow food kind later, so I need a freezer and pantry full of solid basics today.

Diced pork butt seasoned with kosher salt & finely chopped garlic

My pork has great flavor, so all I added is kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and some finely chopped garlic.  I chopped the pork fine (hence the blisters – sharpen those knives friends), mixed in my seasonings and let the flavors marry for a few hours in the fridge.

I used my food processor to grind the sausage and found the texture to be perfect.  The part I didn’t get so perfect is my seasoning mix.  I think they were too salty.  I wasn’t careful enough with my conversions I suppose.  I’ll be more careful next time – and there will be plenty of next times.

For this meal,  I went to a pantry favorite,  roasted peppers preserved in oil.  These are so useful not just for the peppers (a little goes a long way) but for the oil.  I mix it into pasta,  drizzle it onto polenta and toast.  I pan fried the sausage patties and dropped one into a little puddle of this oil and served with a couple of peppers and a tart salad of mixed greens in vinaigrette.

With my sausage patties formed and frozen, all I need to do to get a quick local meal on the table is to fry the sausages and toss the salad.  And to me, that’s what Charcutepalooza is all about.

Home-made sausage, hot peppers in oil & a crisp green salad

Hot Peppers from our garden preserved in oil. Drizzle over home-made sausage on soft white Italian bread! Yum!