Monday, June 30, 2008

1/1000 of a League under the Sea

Here are few pictures of restaurant Ithaa at the Hilton Maldives Resort and Spa, Rangali Island. It is 16 feet (or 0.0009 leagues) underwater, seats 12 and seems pretty pricey (187-220 dollars per person in '05) for a place that does not have a kitchen on premises.

And I don't think I like the idea of a restaurant that forces you to contemplate your place in the food web with quite this much authority.

I mean, you just know that some of those fish are wishing the glass would break.


Thanks to Claudia G for the letting me know about this.

Briefly Noted

This may just be the first time I have agreed with Jessica Simpson about anything.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Will these Loins bear Fruit?

A couple of weeks ago I came into possession of two factory-farm produced loins of pork. For reasons that should be obvious to regular readers of my blog, I could not market them to my regular customers who come to the farm specifically because it is NOT a factory farm.

So, after knocking heads with Trent Hendricks, the farm's owner and prime mover, we decided to use them to test a question that has been bothering us for a long time: What would happen if we cured and air-dried pork loins in the same manner that one might cure a ham or beef (e.g. bresaola)?

On it's face the question seems pretty easy to answer. Unlike ham, the loin is skinny and has not got much intramuscular fat, so it should dry out fast, be a bit tough to chew. And, forgive me for suggesting the obvious, but if loins of pork were fit to air dry, then why is it that we've never seen them before? Could it be that air dried loin of pork has been tried many times before and rejected because it always sucks?

Although my gut tells me that that an affirmative answer to the last question is -despite it's reductive nature- the right answer. I decided to try air-drying the pork loins anyway.

In the slide show below you will see two loins of pork that have been cured for ten days (until they were very firm) in a mixture of salt, sugar, garlic, sodium nitrate and lots of thyme. They were amazingly fragrant when I took them out of the cure box yesterday and rinsed them off under cold water. Then, after seeing again how skinny and lean they were, and worrying anew that they would dry so fast that they would not have time to develop the kind of flavor that I have learned to lust for in meat that has been cured and aged for a long time, I decided to sheath one of them in a beef casing, age both for the same amount of time under the same conditions, and compare the results.

Update: A few of you have pointed out that loin of pork is indeed air-dried in Italy. That it escaped my attention is probably a a function of the fact that the practice does not seem to be widespread. As of this writing I'm not sure that it is very common anywhere but in Sardinia. In any case, my bad, for not doing my homework before writing this up.

In additioned to be slightly chastened I am also, thanks to your comments, a lot more optimisitc about the outcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Duroc Nursery

Check out the photos of the latest additions to the farm! A brood of Duroc (red) piglets born to two of our sows on Sunday night. They are all exhausted and sleep most of the day inside the two quonset hut-like pig shelters. We did not anticipate that two sows would movie into one hut and nurse they piglets communally but there they are.

Last Night's Dinner

From the moment I read Michael Ruhlman's inspired post, Staple Meals, wherein he asked what his readers prepared for dinner at home on a regular basis, I wanted to respond but because I thought that he was asking too much decided I'd just not bother. But then tonight, after a glass of wine, I decided to pull out the camera and shoot some of the construction of a meal that is very typical at my home. It's nothing especially complicated. Just some artichokes from California, a chicken from a local Chester County farmer that my wife bought at the farmer's market, and some fried potatoes.

The artichokes were parboiled, salted and oiled and finished on the grill prior to being slopped around in garlic, lemon and more olive oil. The Chicken was pre-salted for three hours, seasoend with fresh sage under the skin, black pepper on the surface before being grilled. And the potatoes are skin on, cut on a mandolin and blanched at 350 and finished at 375.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Salt this

A few weeks ago a guy stopped by the kitchen while I was making sausage to ask me if there was any salt in one of the dishes I prepared. I told him that, yes, I used a type of sea salt that was pure sodium chloride and occasionally, Kosher salt. The sea salt I used was the same stuff that was used for making brine for cheese. It contained nothing other that sodium chloride.
Ironically, the Kosher salt, which by my limited understanding of the Kosher laws is supposed to be pure and unadulterated, contains an anticaking agent to keep it from clumping up when it becomes humid. I wasn’t sure which one I used, but either way I was very sure that both salts were mostly pure sodium chloride and had no iodine or any other adulterants.

“Oh,” he said “ I can only sea salt. I’m allergic to regular salt .”

I then explained that regular salt or table salt is sea salt that has been mined from areas formerly covered by saltwater. When the sea water evaporated, the salt -and everything else in the water- precipitated, crystallized and formed what are called evaporite deposits. After the salt is mined, the impurities are removed and what’s left is pure sodium chloride. Then I said that since one can only be truly allergic to proteins and that, unlike many of the salts that are made by people who evaporate sea water in cave or tidal flats, there are no proteins in table salt, it is pure sodium chloride, so he should feel safe.

By now the man's eyes were glazed over as he said “But sea salt is more natural than sodium chloride, right? I mean, sodium chloride is a chemical, isn’t it?”

Obviously, there was nothing more I could or should say other than Yup, I reckin, or what I actually said which was "Yes."

Afterwards, when he had gone, and I was alone with my sausage, I realized that while he may have been more allergic to one conception of salt than salt itself, he was not at all unusual in one key measure: he was suspicious of ingredients that are described by their chemical names.

I think that a lot of people assume that if an ingredient is described by it’s chemical name that it must be man made and therefore dangerous to consume. So, for many folks sea salt is good because it comes from the sea, but sodium chloride or table salt is bad because they think it is produced by pinheads in lab coats working side-by-side with dweebs who are cooking up dioxin.

There are some larger points to be made here and some big conclusions to be drawn. If you're up for it, do it. Me, I'm going to cook dinner.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This may be about making food

I discovered this video via the comments section on the blog of Ulla who writes about cooking and farming at Goldilocks Find Manhattan. I like the video a lot, even though it is virtually incomprehensible. I'd love to look and sound this cool while no obvious sense.

I've always wanted to be able to talk and write like Bob Dylan and have everyone think they understand me. But I'll never be that cool, ever. Whatever, I'm giving too much away.

Wolfgang sues Wolfgang

Judge chops celebrity chef Puck's steakhouse suit in California tells the sad story of a court fight between Wolfgang Puck and Wolfgang Zweiner who has been using name "Wolfgang" for his restaurant in Los Angeles.

It seems that the more famous Wolfgang believed that the less famous famous Wolfgang was trying to trade on his famous name, trick his customers into thinking that they were eating at a Puck-haus and injure them with inferior food. What makes this story so sad for me is that the judge sided with the second Wolfgang and now the first Wolfgang is probably NOT GOING TO SLEEP AGAIN AS LONG AS HE LIVES KNOWING THAT THE SECOND WOLFGANG IS DECEIVING HIS POOR CUSTOMERS.

This is so pucked-up.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Swineherd

So I'm a swineherd. At least that's what Trent says, and frankly, there's no point in arguing with a guy who can look Gordon Ramsay straight in the eyes (as he did a few months ago during a filming of "Kitchen Nightmares" in New Jersey) and with a poker face face tell him that his cheddar was better than anything to be had in England.

Apparently what makes me a swineherd is that I helped to return one of the new Duroc sows to the pasture after she decided to take advantage of the fact that we left the gate open. I'm not sure where she thought she was going, but she only got as far as the house before we turned her around chased her back in.

It was actually kind of fun, although it was more than a little disturbing to think that she could so easily abandon her 12 new borns :-)

But really, does herding a swine once make one a swineherd? I don't think so, sigh. I am tempted, however, to post the question over at Ruhlman's blog where even the most obscure comments are often blown up into gigantic discussions by his readerships seemingly insatiable appetite for many of the more arcane aspects of culinary culture. I mean, where else can you expect to find an audience that will leave 180 comments on the subject of coffee pots? When Michael wants to take time off from blogging, all he has to do is type the words "foie gras" or "Iron Chef" into subject header and 20 or so of his readers will argue for a week. It's an amazing machine he has built there.

In addition to herding swine I made a boatload of food last week: 120 pounds of sausage; 8 gallons of iced tea, 8 gallons of soup, rice pudding, iced cream and more. There's lots of stuff coming in from the garden including some amazing sour cherries half of which I cooked in heavy the syrup and the other half which is right now fermenting into wine by way of its final destination of cherry vinegar.

Here's a few pictures of the pigs and the garden. I hope you enjoy them, I may or may not be a swineherd, but I'm no Alfred Stieglitz, that's for damn sure.

Pubic Steak

A fiendishly clever line cook has finally found a way to achieve something that generations of chefs and Alexander Portnoy wannabes have been scratching their, er, heads over for decades: pubescent meat.

Ex-cook faces jail after putting [Pubic] hair in steak - Criminal weirdness-

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Animal Farm is Busting Out!

This week we took on some new pigs to add to our swine herd: two pregnant Duroc gilts and a sow that farrowed a litter of 12 late last week. If you look at the slide show you cannot help but notice that the piglets are black while their mother is brown. According to the farmer from whom Trent bought the pigs, all three adults were impregnated by a Large Black boar who raided the hen house behind the farmer's back.

When I first saw these animals this morning, I was immediately struck by how lean and athletic they looked compared to our late Berkshire sows. My first thought was that the differences were attributable to variation in breed (genetics) but Trent set me straight when he told me that the Durocs had been raised on pasture (free range) while our Berks had been penned. In other words, the Durocs look more athletic because they have had more exercise. (Duh) And they will continue to get plenty of exercise because we are going to keep these beauties in pasture.

Now check this out: with a little luck, when the other two Duroc gilts farrow, we might have over thirty pigs on the farm. You cannot imagine how thrilling this is for someone who loves charcuterie as much as I do. I'm wiggin.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Frontier Dairy

I am often amazed by what people who seem to have very ordinary jobs end up actually doing when they go to work. You know what I mean: the orthopedist who fixes your kid's broken arm and who, you accidentally discover, spends two months out of the year in Eastern Europe treating scoliosis sufferers pro bono or the corporate IT geek who spends half his work day hacking into your bank's finacial network trying to steal your savings. The world if full of people who, for one reason or another, aren't necessarily doing what you thought they were doing during the normal pursuit of their profession.

I was, Ahem, inspired to make this deep observation after seeing these photos of a dairy operation in Kazakhstan. They were taken by a fellow whose company, Fisher & Thompson, set up the milking room at Hendricks Farms and Dairy where I ply my salami skills. Mr. Fisher sent them attached to an email to Trent Hendricks who then forwarded it all to me. He wrote

I spent 11 days in Kazakhstan (old Soviet Union) last week. I asked to be part of a team to do a dairy development program.
The goal was to develop sustainable agriculture (especially grazing) and eventually set up several model dairies for the locals there to learn from.I visited the largest Airshire [sic] dairy in the world. 7000 animals! 10 miles from Siberia.

Take a look at the “summer milking” facility.

Ayrshires, BTW, are the same breed of cow that live provide all of the milk for Hendricks Farms and Dairy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sows to Salami

I'm not sure that an apology for lackadaisical blogging is in order, but I'll give one anyway.

Sorry folks, but I've been too distracted over the last couple of weeks to devote much time to writing.

Writing is funny like that. Sometimes my fingers just can't shut up and the words pour out like water from a hacked fire-hydrant. Then there are there are the dry times when it's all I can do to type my user name and password. It's not exactly writer's block; not my form of writer's block anyway. It's more like writer's ennui: I try to write and become so bored by the process, I give up. Whatever, I'll get over it.

I had a very busy week at the farm turning some of the meat from our late Berkshire sows (above left) into comestible products. In addition to my typical production of soups, puddings, chicken and turkey sausage etc., I made 40 pounds of Tuscan style salami, 40 pounds of orange-cardamom salami and about 50 pounds of pancetta.

I'm sure that I have noted many times that the inspiration for my two-boots-on-the-floor return to the craft of charcuterie was a reading of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. But what I have not said is that despite having many other references and a bunch of recipes from back in the day when I used to make charcuterie for my restaurant clients, for the first couple of weeks at the farm I mostly worked from Charcuterie.

Now, I know you all know that Ruhlman is a friend of mine, and that I'd say nice things about his book even if I thought it sucked (which I don't). But what you may not know is that by admitting that I used Ruhlman and Polcyn to reestablish my skills, I have made made what amounts to a ringing endorsement.

See, I hate reading cookbooks, even very excellent bestselling ones.

In my world, there are few types of books that are more boring than cookbooks (perhaps chick-lit and diet books?). Cookbooks always have too many details and invariably, ingredients that are either unavailable, unnecessary or unacceptable. And let's be real, cookbooks are lists. I suppose there are lots of people who enjoy reading lists (scriveners, perhaps?), but unless we're talking about a list of names of lottery winners with my name on it, I'm nonplussed to the hilt.

If a cookbook has any value to me it, is mostly in the concepts that it purveys. And that's pretty much how I read them, for the concepts. I don't want whole recipes from books, I want the idea of the recipe. That's why one of my favorite cookbooks is Le Guide Culinaire, by Escoffier et al. Le Guide is mostly a description of about 4000 dishes, with very little detail. Sure, the dishes are mostly dated and unattractive to modern eaters. But the book is nearly unparalleled in its Platonic approach to cooking as it suggests what a dish could become if only the cook had the will and the skill to prepare it.

Anyway, I found that Ruhlman and Polcyn's book, while not the Parnassian masterwork that is Le Guide (Sorry guys) was full of the kind of information that I needed to get back in the game. For example, it told me that sausage meat should typically be 25 % fatback and salted at the rate of .333 oz of salt per 16 oz of meat. (I found that .25 oz salt to 16 oz meat works better.) That's what I like, give me the Ur recipe, the simplest, most basic version without the "internal garnish cut into 5mm square dice" and chrome bumpers and let me fill in the details. Okay, okay, it's true the book is also filled with a lot of detail. If it wasn't I'd probably be the only one interested in buying it. Not too many people are going to be interested in a book that only gives names of dishes and relative proportions of ingredients.

Hmm, maybe that's the book I should write :-)

Well, so, here is a slide show of some of the stuff I made this week. All of the the items you see were made from our Berkshire sows. As you will see in the photos the meat is very dark and -please take it on faith- flavorful. It is clearly not the other white meat.

The Tuscan style salami is derived from the recipe in Charcuterie. The orange cardamom salami, inspired by a suggestion from my former apprentice, Christian the Apprentice, is my own recipe and the pancetta is almost verbatim Ruhlman and Polycn.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Can't breath? Eat more Fish

It's nice to see that these Indian asthmatics are not exactly happy to eat live fish stuffed with herbs. I mean, there are so many of them lined for the treatment that if even some of them appeared to be eager I'd have to question my aversion.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Meat Delivery

We sent two sows out to be slaughtered on Tuesday and they returned on Friday as meat. We had been planning to slaughter and butcher at least one of them ourselves, but the timing was all wrong. I was more than game to get it done, but I could not slaughter and dress a 300 + pound pig by myself and Trent (who absolutely could do it himself) was not going to be available to help because he was too busy cutting and baling hay. Frankly, I was pretty disappointed that we had to send them out.

A big part of the reason why I have chosen to work on a farm is that I want to try to fully confront the implications of my craft and my appetite. So far, I think I've done a pretty good job of moving towards an apprehension of what happens along the chain of cause, effect and affect when I choose to cook or eat something. But I don't yet know what it is like to a) raise a large animal, b) kill it at close range, c) butcher it, d) cook it and e) eat it.

With the slaughter and return -in the form of meat- of our two Berkshire sows , I've experienced everything except b and partially c. I've broken down large animals into primal cuts but I have never bled out and gutted anything larger than a rabbit.

Apart from being slightly disappointed over not having had the opportunity to kill and butcher at least one of the sows, my feelings about what happened are characteristically complicated. The meat is superb and I'm very pleased at having had a hand in producing it. And while I would not describe myself as feeling sad that the sows are gone, I definitely feel their absence. If nothing else, they were two very big animals who made a lot of noise and now that noise is gone. And as Trent noted yesterday when I half-jokingly asked him if the piglets were upset that we sent away their mother(s), they are definitely less rambunctious now that they don't have two mammoth adults to stand between them us.

The quiet that replaces the sows has made me more aware than ever that the business of cooking and eating is very serious business.

I'm sure it's going to be even harder for me to look at one of those asinine food ads that encourage people to "think" about eating or overeating as entertainment without smelling those sows. And I'm even more sure that the people who run those idiotic "cooking" shows that treat cooking like a spectator-sport are either denial-artists or cynical liars. Cooking is not a sport, eating is not entertainment.

I suppose it is okay to occasionally pretend that these essential activities are something other than unique and sacred (as in "set apart") practices, but I am also convinced that when if you ignore what is really happening when you cook and eat something, you lose.

Here is a brief sideshow with a few pictures of some of the belly we took from the sows. There are also a few shots of some of the eggs that Trent chickens are cranking out. I think has has more than 300 hundred laying hens now. I'm not sure but I think we are harvesting about 12-15 dozen eggs/day now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Cheap and Cool Grill Fix

For about a year, I've been looking for an inexpensive charcoal grill that wasn't made from wafer thin sheet metal. I don't know what you all know about pre-fab charcoal grills, but the way things are now, most are dirt cheap, designed to last maybe two years and have no ability to store heat or they are designed to leave to your grandkids and are really expensive (e.g. Big Green Egg ).

I finally found one on Tuesday at Walmart that fit my needs almost perfectly. The grill I bought was designed as something that could be used on a "table" and (if you can imagine) hooked to the butt end of a vee-hick-ill on a trailer hitch.

Well, I had no intention of putting my "Backyard Classic" (yep that's the name) on a table (too messy) or hooking it to my car (I don't have a hitch) but straight away I realized that the thing was almost ideally suited to my needs. Why?

  • It was heavy gauge steel and was the right size for everyday use by a family of 4
  • It had vents on two sides to adjust air flow
  • The bracket could be flipped over and used to mount it to my deck
  • It cost $40, that's right, $40.
To mount it as you see here, I flipped over the trailer hitch thing. I made a post from two pieces of angle iron in-filled with 1" square pressure treated deck balustrade salvaged from when I tore the railings off of my deck. I drove the angle irons and balustrade into the soil and lag bolted them to the deck (see 3rd photo from top). To secure the bracket I cut a piece of stud pine, lag bolted it to the bottom of the bracket and tied it into the deck with a couple of decking screws.

Oh yeah, I had to drill few holes and add a few bolts to tighten it all up. And I painted the angle Irons, cut end where the legs were , various nuts and bolts and the angled 2X4 with black hammered finish Rustoleum just to make it look finished so I could sleep. (I'm going to finsih the base with cedar next week.).

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Another Cranky Rant

Marketing to Fear

A couple of days ago someone forwarded to me a newsletter from a maker of raw milk cheeses who seemed to be very alarmed about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) designed for human consumption. In "Are FDA Approved Biotech Industries Creating New Incurable Diseases?" the cheese maker wrote

Morgellon’s Disease, is a horrible new disease which is apparently related to consumption of genetically modified foods (GMO). More than a thousand people in our nation have already been diagnosed with this dreadful disease. Victims are looking toward alternative health care for a cure for this disease after allopathic practitioners have declared it incurable. 75 to 80% of all food in the United States now contains GMO ingredients.

The skin of Morgellon’s victims oozes mysterious strands that have been identified as cellulose (which can not be manufactured by the human body) and people have the sensation of live things crawling beneath the skin. Some studies show that when these colored fibers are removed from the skin, they continue to grow in a petri dish. After being analyzed, these previously unknown fiber organisms contain DNA from both, fungus and bacterium, which are used in commercial preparation of genetically modified foods and non-food products such as cotton.

Setting aside for now the fact that allopathic (conventional) doctors

  • have not declared Morgellons incurable,

and that no credible entity has linked the disease to consumption of GMO food. What I find truly frustrating about the contents of this newsletter is that the author appears to be trying to convince potential customers to eat his cheese by implying that if they do, they will avoid having their bodies break out in oozing fiber-sprouting sores. [click at your own peril]

I dislike this kind of marketing just as much as the type that emphasizes the positive health benefits and nutritional composition of foods. Sometimes I think I'm the only person alive who does not want to be constantly reminded about how good something is for me or how many calories, how much protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants or minerals are in foods. All I really want to know on a regular basis is whether or not food looks and tastes good, if I can afford it and when I can eat it.

The descriptions of content and healthfulness (or health warnings) is noise, annoying noise.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Or just be really, really careful to look in the can before you grab and eat.

Designer of Pringles can is buried in his invention

Jamie Oliver, Chick Killer

Former boy-toy chef Jamie Oliver is walking a righteous path these days (Hey, everybody has to grow up sometime.) by teaching his TV audience about how food is produced at every node in the process. Watch, as he demonstrates to a group of clueless swells how the egg industry manages to maintain an almost exclusively female population of chickens .

Daddy-San is Crazy