Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Liver Pate

We had a solid Thanksgiving in Vermont with Kristi’s family.  Lots of eating, a couple gobbler sandwiches, and the time tested tradition of me bringing an odd food item to a family gathering, putting it out on the table, and hiding.

To backtrack slightly, Kristi and I visited Vermont a week and a half before Thanksgiving on the first weekend of deer season.  That Saturday morning, we got the call from Kristi’s father, Ken, that he had taken a four point buck from his stand.  And he saved me the heart and liver when he field dressed it.  As Janet would say, that’s exciting.

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn't reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn’t reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

After helping Ken hang the deer in the barn, I wrapped the heart up tight and left it in Ken and Carolyn’s freezer to cook with Ken when I returned for Thanksgiving.  The gigantic liver stayed in its’ shopping bag and went into a cooler for the ride back to Boston.  This seems like an opportunity to share a coworker’s photoshop of one of the bathrobes in the Wayfair catalog in honor of my recent ridiculous hockey hair.

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoyign his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven't had the courage to attempt

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoying his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven’t had the courage to attempt

Back in my home kitchen, I went through my usual hyping up session to prepare myself to deal with the gigantic liver in a Greg’s Meat Market bag.  Mostly the “hyping up” amounted to watching football and avoiding looking in the bottom drawer of the fridge.  Eventually I decided to get it over with and clean/package the liver for cooking the following weekend.  After a quick rinse in the sink to remove some grass and pine needles from field dressing (one of those “sh*t just got real” moments), I laid it out on the cutting board.

Thats the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on that one.  I'm not sure why I expected deer liver to be so small but this thing was a freaking monster

That’s the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on this one.  I’m not sure why I expected deer liver to be small but this thing was a freaking monster

When I placed the liver on the scale, it came in at a whopping 3.5 pounds.  That’s a lot of liver! I knew that I didn’t have enough friends or family willing to eat this in one sitting so I would need to cook it in at least two separate meals.  Which also gave me the opportunity to try a couple different preparations of the liver.

I removed the muscle that attached the liver to the body and cleaned out some of the area where the blood flowed in primarily before cutting the liver into two evenly-sized pieces.  Given that this thing was a day old, smelled extremely fresh, and was as organic and local as a food can be, I decided to (quietly, when Kristi wasn’t looking) be a bit adventurous with the meat.

You don't cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

You don’t cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

Given how strong cooked liver tastes, I think everybody (read: anybody crazy enough to try it) would be stunned by the taste of raw, fresh, natural liver.  It had very little flavor aside from a milky, nutty taste, almost like almond milk.  The texture was relatively enjoyable as well.  Very surprising.

The two halves went into separate vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer.  The freezer was necessary for keeping the liver tasty for the week lag before I was planning to cook it, but also helpful since, when thawed, the liver would purge a good amount of blood.

With Thanksgiving coming up and the opportunity to share the liver with Kristi’s family, aunts, uncles, and cousins, I decided to use the liver for something easy to transport and share.  I also wanted to dial back the overpowering liver taste as much as possible, so I elected to make a liver mousse (or pate).  I’ve made chicken liver mousse before with shallots and brandy, but I decided to make this one a bit differently.  First step was thawing half of the liver and soaking it in a salted water bath.

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right?

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right????

After an hour in the cold salted water bath, a decent amount of blood had been purged from the liver and I moved it to the cutting board to slice thickly in preparation for cubing it.

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh.  You know, if sniffing liver is your thing

Once cubed, the liver went onto some paper towel to drain off a bit more blood and I started the extremely tedious process of peeling and slicing a half pound of shallots.  The shallots would probably be the nicer thing to show here, but also boring.  So lets look at a pile of cubed game liver on a paper towel.

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

After the liver had drained on the paper towels for 10-15 minutes, I patted it dry to remove the last of the excess liquid and heated a large pan over medium-high heat.  Once up to heat, I put a couple tablespoons of safflower oil in the pan, seasoned the liver with salt and pepper, and browned the cubes on all sides.

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I'd made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar to the chicken liver mousse at this point

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I’d made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar looking to the chicken liver mousse at this point

Once well browned, and looking like dark brown iced cubes, the liver was removed from the pan and reserved on a plate.  Then the shallots headed into the pan along with a couple cloves of chopped garlic and tablespoon of bacon grease.

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn't find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn’t find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

Once the shallots & garlic were soft and fragrant, the liver went pack into the pan along with a half cup of red wine and a half cup of port.

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Once the wine was added, I covered the pan (slightly askew) and let the wine reduce by about 3/4 over medium-low heat.  It took about 15 minutes to get to this.

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You'll see.  Aren't you excited to see?

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You’ll see.  Aren’t you excited to see?

I moved the pan off the heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.  The goal was to have it stillwarm enough to blend smoothly but not so hot that it melted my Cuisinart.  Once cool (to my eye), I scraped all contents of the pan into my food processor along with a couple tablespoons of cold butter and pulsed it a few times to start breaking down the contents.  Then, I left it on a steady run while slowly pouring in half and half until the consistency looked about how I was hoping.

Quick side note on the butter addition.  I’d always assumed that liver mousse was primarily made of just liver, but there is such a wide divide between the strong flavor of straight liver and the mild flavor of a pate.  A few food shows cleared this up for me in the past year where I’ve seen chefs use butter, sometime in a 1:1 ratio, to smooth the texture of liver mousse.  I wasn’t going to go close to that ratio, but it was definitely a change from last time around.  This note came out far less interesting than I expected when I started writing it.  Back to that bowl of brown.

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn't this dark

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn’t this dark

Once the consistency looked right to me, I added a splash of balsamic vinegar on the recommendation of the internets and ran the food processor for another 30-45 seconds attempting to get the texture as smooth and uniform as possible.

At this point I had the option to press it through a mesh sieve to make the final product even more smooth, but this created a painful cleanup situation last time I attempted so I passed.  Just didn’t seem worth it; if you are willing to eat liver you won’t mind a little texture in your pate.  So, it headed straight from the bowl to the dish that I planned to refrigerate and let the pate set in.

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8" long by 4" wide and only an inch or two deep.  That's organ meat container dimensions!

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8″ long by 4″ wide and only an inch or two deep.  That’s organ meat container dimensions!

After a couple hours in the fridge, it was ready to sample.  Unlike a lot of other things I make, liver mousse is only sampled while cooking in tiny tastes to make sure the flavor is right, since hot liver pudding is not that enjoyable.  But cold, its like the boursin of Mt. Olympus, kept from the masses because they couldn’t handle its deliciousness.

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of wispride and some keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don't know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of Wispride and some Keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don’t know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

This one came out far better than the chicken liver mousse, likely due to some of the extra ingredients this time around.  The flavor was mild and slightly sweet from the shallots and possibly the liver itself.  The texture was smooth and not grainy, despite not pressing the pate through a mesh sieve prior to letting it set.  I attribute both the texture and mild flavor to using more half and half and a little cold butter when blending this time around.  I’m not sure what the balsamic added since it wasn’t a notable flavor, but it might have been what brought out the wine and port flavors.  Overall, very tasty, and I ate a ton of it over the following four days.

The biggest surprise was that I wasn’t the only one eating my offal product for once.  It went out as an app before thanksgiving and quite a bit of the family partook, including the hunter himself.  Most of the feedback was how mild the liver flavor was.  Kristi even ate some, meaning she’s rapidly on her way to full scale Ryan tastebuds.  She’ll be eating liverwurst subs with extra mayo in no time.

Merry Christmas!!!!!

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Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Cheesesteak (w/bone marrow “whiz”)

Early in my posting days, I undertook an ambitious attempt at pan cooked beef heart and crispy fried bone marrow.  The marrow came out great, the beef heart less so.  I think the heart’s subpar flavor and texture was due to my organ cooking inexperience, my lack of butchering skills (not that I am Sam from the Brady Bunch now), and generally that what I made was poorly thought out.  I cooked the heart for way too long, in a heavy sauce, and served it over watery greens instead of a starch of some sort.  In 90 degree weather.  Live and learn, but I definitely intended to take another crack at it somewhere down the road.

Three years later and I’m still working my way through the massive amount of organ meat stored in my chest freezer.  So, when faced with a little food boredom last week, I pulled a half beef heart out of the freezer to defrost.  It was the second half (I think) of the heart from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny and it had held up pretty well due to the vacuum sealed freezer bag.

Beef hearts are effing enormous. That's a 7" chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see was very intimidating

Beef hearts are effing enormous.  That’s a 7″ chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see is the most intimidating part of working with animal hearts.  In other news, I didn’t do too good in Biology and I’m pretty sure “crazy crap” is the closest I could come to a medical term to describe what you are seeing

That’s about two and a half pounds of muscle covered by a lot of silverskin and some hardened fat on the outside.  Plus the stuff on the inside that I can’t use my words on.  My plan was to trim off all of the external membrane/fat and any of the funky stuff in the internal chambers.  Once fully trimmed, I expected it to look like a normal (but extremely lean) chunk of meat that I would slice thin to make a cheesesteak from.

A 'lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming.  The piece on th right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slices were the start of the thin slicing

A ‘lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming which left me with what looked like a bloody Lego.  The piece on the right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slivers were the start of the thin slicing

Due to the density of the muscle, the meat was easy to slice thin using the same method as slicing gravlax; press the side of the knife against the meat and shave.  As I got toward the center, it became more difficult to keep the pieces thin so I switched to the other side and sliced until I got to the same point.  The center area I ended up cutting into thicker slabs for later use on the grill.  After slicing was complete, I had this.

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left.  Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend's garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as "Mommys" or "Daddys"

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings, and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left. Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend’s garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as “Mommys” or “Daddys”

With the meat sliced, I placed the thicker pieces in a marinade of miso and a few other ingredients to marinate for a day or so before grilling.  The thin slices went into a separate bag to rest and await cooking in the fridge.

In my opinion, a true Philly Cheesesteak can only use one cheese or cheese like product: Cheez Whiz.  It’s highly processed, probably doesn’t include any dairy, and keeps at room temperature in a jar for years, but good golly does it taste delicious.  The tangy flavor goes so well with fatty beef.  For the purposes of this meal, my ambitious plan for a homage to “whiz” was to use a piece of beef bone marrow instead of butter in a roux, then build a cheese sauce from there.  I got started by putting a piece of marrow in a 450F oven to roast and break down.

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Search marrow for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Look at the Heart and Bones post linked earlier for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save them in the freezer.  You know, for when you need marrow and stuff

While the marrow roasted, I pulled some cheese curds out of the fridge which would be the primary cheese-type ingredient in the cheese sauce.  The curds were maybe slightly past their prime, but given the mild and slightly tangy flavor of cheese curds I thought they would be perfect for my tribute to Cheez Whiz.

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed a solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren't made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed into a mashed together solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren’t made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often.  Also, it’s kind of amazing I’ve been doing this three years and this is my first loving homage to processed cheese, right?

I cut the cheese curds up into thin batons that looked similar to a grated bag of Kraft cheddar, then moved the now broken down roasted marrow to the stovetop.

All it takes to get to this point is a little pressure from the whisk.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the handle out of the 450F oven bare handed by accident

About halfway through roasting, you need to break up the marrow with a fork which lets any remaining fat render and the other pieces crisp a bit.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the pot handle bare handed out of the 450F oven and getting a nice sear on my palm

With the fat fully liquified, I started out the roux by whisking in a little over a tablespoon of flour and cooking it on the stovetop until it started to brown a bit.

The solid bits from the marrow were still relatively solid at this point but started to fall apart

I have no understanding of bone marrow as a cooking ingredient, I just know I like the flavor and it makes sauces better.  I thought it was all fat, but also have heard something (likely nonsense) about how it’s actually a degenerated protein and not as bad for you as fat.  I certainly am unqualified to explain what the crispy chunks are vs the rendered marrow fat

With the roux cooking, I pulled the thin sliced heart meat out of the refrigerator and drained the excess blood from the bag.  The meat headed to a pile of paper towels seasoned with salt and pepper to leach out a bit more of the bloody liquid and hopefully reduce the iron-y flavor of the heart.

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat, very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat. Very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying the cooked version of this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

While the heart meat drained, I began adding milk to the roux to form the based of the cheese sauce.  Once enough milk was added to thin the base to the consistency of gravy, I started to whisk in the cheese curds.

Cheese Curds are at their most questionable at this point since they don't melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  So they took a little longer, but eventually I had this...

This is the point I heavily questioned my own need to use everything in the fridge since cheese curds don’t melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  I berated myself loudly as these took slightly longer to melt than I expected then calmed down when they melted.  Eventually I had this…

...Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not cheese whiz, but it's made out of marrow for cripes sake

…Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not Whiz, but it’s made out of bone marrow for cripes sake

With the sauce bubbling on the stove, I heated a large cast iron skillet over medium/high heat and melted a tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter was melted and bubbling, I added the heart meat and half of a sliced white onion.

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

After a few minutes of browning, I gave my best attempt at the Philly tactic of using two metal spatulas to chop and tear the meat to shreds using the sides of the spatulas.  Mostly I just ended up making a lot of noise and sort of tearing a few pieces into slightly smaller pieces.

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat in the pan at the time too, but it was barely enough for one sandwich amazingly

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat at the time, but it was barely enough for one sandwich, amazingly

With the meat fully cooked, I piled it high in the closest thing I could find to the excellent crusty sub rolls from Sarcone’s or Amaroso’s that they use all over Philly.  It was not as close a match as I’d hoped and I knew it would be an exhausting sandwich to eat due to the chewiness of the bread.

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what makes them great

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what separates a great sandwich from the rest.  This was chewy and crispy but not soft

Once the sandwich was loaded up, I put a few large spoonfuls of the marrow whiz over the top of the meat making sure it had enough to soak into the bread.  Then squeezed it closed holding the meat in, cut in half, and did some more squeezing to make sure I could fit it into my mouth for a bite.

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

I ended up eating this whole thing and enjoying it, but you could definitely tell this wasn’t a traditional cheesesteak.  The meat was thin enough to easily bite through, though a little chewier than a normal cheesesteak.  Usually the meat is chewy, but in a cheap shaved meat way, whereas heart meat has a more rubbery consistency since the grain is so tight and there is no fat to break it up.  The flavor wasn’t too far off from normal steak though a little more iron-y, but the onions covered that up well.  The marrow cheese sauce had a ton of flavor and you could tell there was bone marrow in the mix.  Would have been better if I used cheddar and gruyere instead of curds I think, since it would have been sharper and complemented the marrow better.

All in all, a much more successful experiment and something I wouldn’t mind tinkering with again.  The grilled marinated pieces I cooked later in the week weren’t quite as enjoyable since they were just like metallic beef jerky due to dryness.  Here’s a picture for proof, no need to expound on it further, just didn’t want to ignore that this happened.

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope,  I got mineral jerky from this part

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope, I got mineral jerky from this.  Had to sneak it in here or it would have ended up in a Major Dag post

Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa II

The first post on this blog was my attempt to cook a whole hogs head buried underground whole on a camping trip.  For 24 hours.  It was quite a scene and it led to me posting my cooking adventures on a (semi) regular basis on this blog and helping you lose weight with every reading.  I assumed I would be back to cook another hogs head, just because I am cheap and they are $10 apiece at Meatland in JP.  Oh, and I have had one in my freezer for the past year.  I had to cook that one at some point.

This past weekend was blog character Dupee’s bachelor party on Webb lake in Weld, Maine.  And, since it is between May and October, it’s time for a refresher on how Maine is the most wonderful place in New England for a few months every year.

Ah, Maine.  It was a ridiculously nice day and I think we saw 4 or 5 people that weren't in our group all day.  How great is Maine?

Ah, Maine.  It was a ridiculously nice day and I think we saw 4 or 5 people that weren’t in our group all day.  How great is Maine?

With lots of fishing planned and steak tips on the menu for dinner, I wanted do something special for Dupe.  So, I decided to give him head.

When we got there the first arrivals were out fishing, so I decided to rinse and prep the hogs head on the dock.  Apparently while Grandma was watching.  Still an awesome houseguest!

When we got there the first arrivals were out fishing, so I decided to rinse and prep the hogs head on the dock.  Apparently while Grandma was watching.  I am still an awesome houseguest!  Yes, that is also in the shallow swimming area in front of the beach, right near where they draw water for the tap in the house.  Awesome, awesome houseguest!

Well, really, I was planning to give everyone some head.  Let’s just let that spoof stay where it lay and move on with the rest of the post.

When the first arrivals asked what exactly I was planning to do with a hogs head, Dupee shrugged and said, “probably make tacos”.  Correct!  In fact, I can’t figure out a damned thing to make with animal heads aside from head cheese and tacos.  And why fix it if it aint’ broke?!?!?

Let' be honest here, it's kinda broke.  I might need to make some guanciale or pig face cracklins or something

Let’ be honest here, it’s kinda broke.  I might need to make some guanciale or pig face cracklins or something soon.  Or just stop hoarding animal heads like a hoarder hoards computer monitors

Alrighty, here are some thoughts on the somewhat horrifying image above:

  1. The eye area was much cleaner and trimmed than the last one
  2. The ear area was far better cleaned too
  3. The skull was pre split for easy access after cooking
  4. There was a lot more meat at the back of the head than the last one
Whole lot going on in this shot and probably for the best that you can't zoom in.  That part of the head is best not closely examined or questioned prior to being dark and crispy

Whole lot going on in this shot and probably for the best that you can’t zoom in.  That part of the head shouldn’t be closely examined or questioned prior to being dark and crispy

After patting the head dry with paper towels, I did a little inspection for any nasty bits that would need to be trimmed off and eventually just accepted that nothing was nastier than anything else on the head.  I then moved on to removing the ears and stuffing them inside the mouth so they wouldn’t burn.  Then, I covered every square inch of exposed flesh with a rub of paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, and salt before squeezing it into a Pyrex.

The split skull is a bit more apparent in this picture.  I am sure this disrupted the Pyrex's plan to cruise through its remaining days baking brownies and maybe some chicken breast here and there

The split skull is a bit more apparent in this picture.  I am sure this disrupted the Pyrex’s plan to cruise through its remaining days baking brownies and maybe some chicken breasts here and there

I wrapped the head tightly with foil and put it into a preheated 300F oven to bake for 6-8 hours or until I figured out a way to smoke it.

While the head cooked we did some more fishing and horseshoe throwing.  But mostly fishing.

I didn't catch any of these and most were caught before I arrived and jinxed the whole thing Oliver-style.  These trout will play a role in a future post hopefully.  Here's a hint: a part of one of them has been sitting in one of my kitchen cupboards for 4 days.  And that cupboard be STANKIN

I didn’t catch any of these and most were caught before I arrived and jinxed the whole thing, Cousin Oliver-style.  These trout will play a role in a future post hopefully.  Here’s a hint: a part of one of them has been sitting in one of my kitchen cupboards for 4 days.  And that cupboard be STANKIN’

Around 6 hours into the cook time we came up with a plan to finish the hogs head in a smoker fashioned from fresh birch chips and a ‘Lil Smokey grill.  I proceeded to babble about it nonstop and lay some pretty poor groundwork for eventually executing it without actually getting started.  Then I got distracted, probably dug a hole in the sand with my feet, and eventually went up to check on the head and discovered it was already fully cooked.

I have 4 or 5 of these pictures and they all are oddly half focused/half unfocused.  It would be hard to figure out why that was happening if I hadn't needed to clean a thin sheen of pork fat off my entire phone the following morning

I have 4 or 5 of these pictures and they all are oddly half focused/half unfocused.  It would be hard to figure out why that was happening if I hadn’t needed to clean a thin sheen of pork fat off my entire phone the following morning

The skin was crispy, the meat was falling apart, and there were some delicious bits of meat to pick off the back of the head.  Considering that it almost fell into four pieces when I moved it three inches from the Pyrex to the plate and was completely cooked through, I abandoned the smoker plan and got started picking.

First up was the ears which were tender, sticky and falling apart.  Sliced these into little pasta-like ribbons.

Immediately brought memories of the 10+ bowls of unidentified items put on our table at the turtle hot pot dinner in Beijing.  Not sure I knew what these were then but I know now

Immediately brought memories of the 10+ bowls of unidentified items put on our table at the turtle hot pot dinner in Beijing.  Not sure I knew what these were then but I know now

The tongue was up next and was definitely more innocuous looking than the one I cooked a few weeks ago.

I originally put this into a separate bowl after slicing before deciding anyone who was willing to eat pig face wouldn't mind a little tongue in there too, and mixed it in with the regular meat bowl

I originally put this into a separate bowl after slicing before deciding anyone who was willing to eat pig face wouldn’t mind a little tongue in there too, and mixed it in with the regular meat

From there I got a stack of paper towels, brought over the trash bin and started the messy process of picking through all of the fat and skin to get to the tender head meat.  The bulk of the meat came from the cheeks, but there are also decent-sized deposits around the eyes, on the inside of the jaw, and multiple spots on the back of the head.  A couple shots of the carnage.

I steered clear of that whole teeth and sketchy lip area, but you can see how much meat is barely hanging on to that jaw bone

I steered clear of that whole teeth and sketchy lip area, but you can see how much meat is barely hanging on to that jaw bone.  Dag, looked at those teeth again.  Generally this is a much worse foto than I originally thought it was when I posted it

This is shortly before was able to crack the skull in half because of my incredible strength and manliness.  Then I removed the brain, washed my hands urgently, and screamed when I saw a bug on the window

This is shortly before I was able to crack the skull in half because of my incredible strength and manliness.  Then I removed the brain, washed my hands urgently, and screamed when I saw a bug on the window

With the meat keeping warm in the oven and my stomach stuffed with crunchy skin cracklins consumed while cooking, I moved on to the ears.  I heated up a few spoonfuls of rendered fat from the head in a pan and threw the ears in.  And I had a learning experience.

I once tried to make fried clams and had them all explode in the fryer covering my face with hot oil, but let’s give pan-frying ears its proper due as a close runner up to that.  The oil got way too hot too quickly and the slices of pig ear started exploding like crazy, covering my arms and face with oil.  I found out the following day that you gotta go the opposite way on the burner to get it to a temperature that won’t burn everything in sight.  Oh well, the pig ears stayed about the same level of edible.

fried ears on left, cup of fat in the middle, brains and eyes on the right.  That bowl on the right had nothing good going on, I've learned that pork is not the mildest eating brains and eyes and didn't touch this set.  Still left it out so someone else could make the same mistake I've made (and they did)

Fried ears on left, cup of fat in the middle, brains and eyes on the right.  That bowl on the right had nothing good going on; I’ve learned that pork is not the mildest eating brains and eyes and didn’t touch this set.  Still left it out so someone else could make the same mistake I’ve made (and they did)

That bowl of ears didn’t last long, which was surprising.  I think Dupe ate most of them but they were pretty much gone when I got back to the kitchen.

With dinner close, I heated up 24 corn tortillas in more of the pork fat for the tacos.

Not much to this one, I guess I wanted to point out how many rounds of tortillas I had to heat

Not much to this one, I guess I wanted to point out how many rounds of tortillas I had to heat

From there, it was pretty much serve and eat.  I setup the taco bar with the head meat, raw onion, cilantro, limes, crumbled goat cheese (because I couldn’t find queso fresco), and some hot sauce.  I probably could have cut the stems off the cilantro, but, meh.

I went with the double tortilla for authenticity but it was stupid then and it still looks stupid now.  Plus we ran out of tortillas and I had to heat more, so, even stupider

I went with the double tortilla for authenticity but it was stupid then and it still looks stupid now. Plus we ran out of tortillas and I had to heat more, so, even stupider

There’s not a lot to say here that wasn’t covered in the first post, but these were tasty tacos.  The meat was tender, flavorful, rich, and very very porky.  Hence the need for all of the fresh ingredients and other strong flavors to accompany it with.  I wish I had found a better way to serve the skin which I let go from crispy to soggy in the hour between when it came out of the oven and dinner.  Some crispy pig skin slivers on top would have been a nice touch.

Probably not my last venture with hogs head, but not sure I will be roasting it again.  Just not that much meat and my hands are still sticky.  But, a decent, odd meal in honor of Dupe.

Next week, mystery cupboard fish parts!

Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Tongue Pizza

Due to the kindness of friends and strangers, and their love of giving me trash bags of offal, I have a lot of interesting meats in my freezer.  Tongue, from several different animals, is available in abundance in the freezer.  While I’ve found some good uses for lamb, pork, and goats tongues due to their small size and tender meat, I had yet to cook a beef tongue dish that I truly enjoyed.  I’ve stewed it (for too short) and grilled it, but I haven’t made a dish that had the tender texture that tongue is prized for.

I decided to change all of that a couple weekends ago and brought a tongue up from the freezer to thaw.  Not just any tongue either, this one was from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny, which I had in a vacuum-sealed freeze for about a year.  As I’ve referenced before, since this was a grass fed cow that was butchered in a non-commercial setting, the cuts were in a more, um, natural state.  As in I still needed to rinse some grass off the tongue once it had thawed.

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans.  That’s all I got here.  Oh, and the black part felt like the scratchy side of velcro

I followed the same standard process for preparing beef tongue with this one even though it was a little different than any you would find in a store.  The tongue went into a pot of boiling water for 90 minutes to loosen the hard outer skin from the meat so it could be easily peeled.  As usual, I boiled it for the recommended amount of time, briefly rinsed it in cold water, and cursed the stupid internet as I burned my fingers unsuccessfully peeling.  Then, eventually, easily peeled it once it got started (like a stubborn orange made of skin and shaped like a tongue).

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it's still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it’s still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

To expound on what made this tongue different while you are staring at that unappetizing photo, it’s because unlike a store-bought tongue, this one included the “stump”.  That area required some trimming of fat and unsightly pieces before boiling, but still has some decent meat so I left it intact.  If you’ve ever looked at the underside of your tongue in a mirror, I’m sure you can guess how questionable that stump looked when this all started.

Anyhoo, with the tongue ready for further cooking, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in Lil’ Blue over medium heat and started browning the outside of the tongue.

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have too much experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have a lot of experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Once browned on all sides (including some awkward balancing on the back of the tongue), I removed it from the pot and reduced the heat on the burner.  While it cooled a bit, I chopped carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in the food processor and dumped it directly into the pot to cook down for a few minutes.

This is becoming my go to braising and sauce base.  You will be seeing a lot more of it if I ever post regularly again

This is becoming my go-to braising and sauce base.  I think mire poix plus garlic is called sofrito, but I need some sort of clever nickname for sofrito + pork product (a la the regionally famous “Mire Pete”).  Suggestions are welcome

Once some of the liquid had cooked out of the veggies, I stirred in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a little crushed red pepper, salt, and a handful of currants.  The currants were mostly to add some sweetness without using sugar and, as previously mentioned, Kristi bought a comedically large container of them a month ago.  Every day that passes with them in the cabinet stresses me out more.

After a little stirring, the tomato paste had well coated the other ingredients and I added a bottle of red wine to form the base for the braise.  While I waited for the liquid to reduce a bit, I preheated the oven to 300F and seized the opportunity for a little window-side photo shoot.

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, generally the only part of those movies I didn't laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself doing the same spoofs unintentionally by the window of my kitchen

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, which were really the only part of those movies I didn’t laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself spoofing that scene by the window of my kitchen with various odd foods

The browned tongue still looked a little funky, but smelled like roast beef with a little bacon aroma thrown in for good measure.  The tongue went back into the reduced braising liquid along with a few spoonfuls of liquid over the top.

I never even considered that this wouldn't fit but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

I never even considered that this wouldn’t fit into the Le Creuset, but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

The lid went back onto ‘Lil Blue and it headed into the oven for three hours of braising.  I’d like to say I paced the house the whole time, but I think we actually got outside and away from the kitchen so I wouldn’t obsess over it the whole time.

When we returned home, Kristi said something along the lines of, “I am disgusted by how good that smells since I know what it is”.  Which, I guess, is a good sign?  I thought yes, so I pulled the pot out of the oven to see what we had.

Pretty much what I expected, though I am always amazed by how much smaller meat is when it comes out of a braise

Pretty much what I expected, though braising makes food smaller which is not something I like to have happen.  Yet I continue to braise everything I have no other ideas for

The meat was extremely tender to the point that I was concerned it would fall apart when I removed it from the pot.  Which is what I was hoping for after my previous chewy experiences cooking tongue.

With plans to use everything in the pot, I removed the tongue carefully with a couple large spoons and transferred it to a separate dish.  Once the tongue and pot had cooled enough to touch, they both headed into the fridge to chill completely.  After a few hours, the tongue had firmed enough that it would be easy to slice without the meat falling apart, and the excess fat in the braising liquid had hardened for easy skimming.

Once skimmed, the liquid went back on the stove top to come back up to temperature.

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce.  All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce. All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

While the sauce simmered, I started the grill and began slicing the tongue into pieces that would work well as a pizza topping.  See, it wasn’t just a falsely titled post, it just took a while to get there!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

The part of the tongue between the stump and the end sliced in perfect sized rounds.

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the "stump" and the "tip", he responded "Awesome language!"

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the “stump” and the “tip”, he responded “Awesome language!”

The remainder of the tongue I sliced over the following few days for a couple tongue sandwiches which were friggin’ delicious.  Even on stupid, evil sandwich thins.

I pride myself on my kitchen items and our many fine glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned takeout thai food dish.  Kristi doesn't mind because all my offal goes in them

I pride myself on my kitchen gadgets and our many glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned plastic takeout Thai food dish.  Kristi doesn’t mind because all my offal goes in them

When cold and in between two slices of (stupid diet) bread, the braised tongue can be enjoyed in all of its glory.  It was a combination of the flavor of rich pot roast with the texture of firm liverwurst in a sandwich.  So tasty, but no one else will think that sounds delicious.  Except, maybe, this one person I know…

THAT'S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin like the greats and disgusting her mother in just a few speedy bites.  She wasn't sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

THAT’S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin’ like the greats and disgusting her mother at the same time.  She wasn’t sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

Janet had her fair share of slices over the following few days, but my favorite moment was when our friend’s son Griffin took a piece out of her hand while we were visiting in LBI for the 4th.  He ate it in two bites while his mother Liz turned away in horror trying to avoid vomiting while saying through muffling hands, “It’s fine, it’s fine, he can eat it if he wants to.”  I am a great houseguest!

With the grill up to 550F and all of the ingredients prepped, I stretched out half of a pizza dough and brushed it thoroughly with olive oil. Then straight onto the grill oiled side down.

I have discussed my love for grilled pizza previously, but that love hasn’t faded.  It is the only way to get crispy, bubbly, and chewy dough cooking at home due to how much heat comes off the grill.  Here it is after about a minute and a half.

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way in.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way back in to the house.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

The raw side gets another brush of olive oil then the whole thing gets flipped so the grilled side can be topped.

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I've failed a few times, but it's almost always edible

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I’ve lost a few times, but it’s almost always edible and more often than not delicious

The crispy side was spread with the braising liquid, the tongue rounds, and a couple handfuls of parmesan and shredded mozzarella.  Then a couple dollops of additional sauce for good measure and back onto the grill with the boring pesto, tomato and cheese pizza Kristi made me make as well.

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be trapping enough heat to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be spent trapping enough heat inside the grill to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

After another few minutes on the grill with the lid closed, I burned my hands the usual extensive amount transferring the pizza back to a cookie sheet to bring inside.  A quick foto of the brief resting period so the cheese wouldn’t all slide off when I cut it.

That's right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing without acknowledging to this point in the blog.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

That’s right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing this blog that I haven;t acknowledged yet.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

As usual with the half dough pizzas, each was cut into eight, 5-6 bite rectangles.  The point of cutting to that size is so I don’t know how much I’ve eaten and no one else can really tell whether I am eating a lot either.  Strategy!

Luckily the beef tongue was tender and easy to cut unlike pepperoni, prosciutto and other toppings I have struggled to slice through previously.

Had to have a slice of the stupid Kristi pizza too, you know, to get my greens

Had to have a piece of the stupid Kristi pizza too.  You know, to get my greens

The pizza was very tasty.  Because the sauce was a reduced and concentrated blend of sofrito, red wine, tomato paste, and juice/fat from the beef, it had a ton of flavor.  It was very rich and pretty delicious.  The only mistake was the extra dollops of sauce since a little bit went a long way and I wanted it to compliment the tongue instead of challenge it.  As it was with the extra sauce, the flavor of the tongue was overpowered a little bit, but overall it still tasted how I hoped: pot roast pizza.  Next time around I would likely use slightly less sauce, use some shaved gruyere as the cheese, and integrate some caramelized onions.  Only reason I passed on the onions this time around is because they play a prominent role in my braised short rib pizza which would have been nearly identical to this.

Once again, I promise to right this ship.  For serious this time.

Weird Crap I Cook: Coniglio al Cioccolato

I’m once again writing from a plane over the central US.  In the “According to Jim”-quality sitcom of my life, the episode where I traveled to Las Vegas for a jewelry trade show would likely end up as an audience favorite.  I know earrings go in ears because the word “ear” is right in the product name, but other than that I am pretty clueless.  I’ll let you know how this all goes.

A couple of days before Memorial Day weekend, Kristi discovered a block of dark baking chocolate in our cabinet.  It was leftover from a monster box of expensive baking items that our downstairs neighbors Hollye and Steve left us when they moved out late last year.  H&S were great neighbors and always had ingredients that recipes called for and I didn’t own, and now those spices and ingredients are all in our cabinets.  Anyhoo, For some reason when I saw the chocolate my first thought was a Sicilian dish called coniglio al cioccolato that I’d heard of, never seen on a menu, and wanted to try.  So that is how on a beautiful Memorial Day, a holiday synonymous with grilling, I ended up cooking a rabbit in dark chocolate on my stove top.

I think I first saw this dish on a food show, likely a Bizarre Foods Italy episode.  As I’ve become more of a fan of Mexican mole and other savory chocolate sauces, my interest in cooking this one myself grew.  It sounded awesome with the bitterness of chocolate and vinegar balanced with the sweetness of raisins and wine.  Plus I had a rabbit in the freezer.

Had no idea what I would use this for when I bought it but I was so happy to see it in the grocery store that I wanted to encourage them to order more.  I am aware I am just a meat hoarder at this point

Had no idea what I would use this for when I bought it but I was so happy to see it in the grocery store that I wanted to encourage them to order more.  I am aware I am just a meat hoarder at this point

I hadn’t cooked rabbit since a camping trip in 2009 when I roasted one whole over a Hermit Island campfire.  That one was decent, but more recently I’ve enjoyed a few chicken fried variations in restaurants and an awesome braised rabbit pasta last week.  I knew I would have to break down this rabbit before cooking so I removed it from the package and gave it a good rinse in the sink.

I think I referenced how much the pheasants I cooked a couple months ago look like rabbit and I still feel that way looking at this.  I also recognize how disturbing cooking a small animal can look at this stage

I think I referenced how much the pheasants I cooked a couple months ago looked like rabbit and I still feel that way looking at this.  I also recognize how disturbing cooking a small animal can look at this stage

The inside had been cleaned of the lungs and all parts of the digestive tract but still had the heart, liver, and kidneys attached along with some loose fat in the belly.  Very easy to remove, and although I hadn’t planned on it, I knew I would end up having to at least sample them.

To clarify, I’m never bummed out when I find stuff like this since I like trying new things, but I wish I had known so I could get some crusty bread or something.  Straight organ eating can be a little aggressive.

To clarify, I’m never bummed out when I find stuff like this since I like trying new things, but I wish I had known so I could get some crusty bread or something.  Straight organ eating can be a little aggressive

Back to the rabbit.  I watched a couple youtube videos on how to break down a rabbit before getting started.  The top result was filmed from about a football field away and was the least helpful thing I’ve ever seen, but the second was a helpful hipster type with good tips.

The front legs come off easily since they are seemingly only connect by muscle.  The rear legs were also easy to remove but required a little more work starting with cutting back toward the legs along the ribs.  Then folding the rear legs towards the front, snapping the back bone and separating with an easy cut.

The cleaver was for getting through the back bone and separating into two rear legs.  I am absolutely terrified of taking swings with the cleaver, I mostly gently apply it to the meat and put all my weight on it (which means I am becoming better with a cleaver with every year of weight gain)

The cleaver was for getting through the back bone and separating into two rear legs.  I am absolutely terrified of taking swings with the cleaver, I mostly gently apply it to the meat and put all my weight on it (which means I am becoming better with a cleaver with every year of weight gain)

After getting the legs off, the final step was separating the ribs from the loin and belly meat (apparently called a backstrap), then cutting each section into two portions.  I struggled a bit with what to do with the loin; remove and cook on it’s own or braise it with everything else?  No animal loin braises well from my experience, it always ends up a little dry, and some would say that rabbit loin is the best part (though I prefer the rear leg).  Anyway, I decided to leave it all intact since I didn’t have ideas on how to cook the loin if it wasn’t going to braise with everything else.

The cracking of animal bones is one of those activities that only happens when Kristi isn’t home or is napping.  I’ve learned that if she overhears that the odds of her actually eating the finished product decreases exponentially

The cracking of animal bones is one of those activities that only happens when Kristi isn’t home or is napping.  I’ve learned that if she overhears that, the odds of her actually eating the finished product decreases exponentially

The recipes I referenced all recommend soaking the rabbit for a few hours in white wine, olive oil, and bay leaves.  Since I was trying to do this one authentic, I was going by the book with recipes which made me feel like stupid jerkface Brother Tim.  Look!  I’m cooking what I am reading everybody!!!  And now you are reading about me reading and cooking!!!

Three buck chuck and dried McCormick bay leaves, just like they’ve done it in Sicily for a thousand years

Three buck chuck and dried McCormick bay leaves, just like they’ve done it in Sicily for a thousand years

The rabbit headed into the fridge for a few hours and I moved on to cooking my lunch of rabbit offal.  Got started with a tablespoon of butter in a hot sautee pan before adding the seasoned heart, kidneys, and liver.

I haven’t enjoyed a kidney since Morocco, but I had faith in these little dudes just because rabbit is so mild in flavor to begin with.  We’ve hit the part of my flight where the passenger next to me starts sneaking looks at my word document and wondering what the hell I’ve been doing for the past hour.  Won’t be opening my iPhoto again for awhile

I haven’t enjoyed a kidney since Morocco, but I had faith in these little dudes just because rabbit is so mild in flavor to begin with.  We’ve hit the part of my flight where the passenger next to me starts sneaking looks at my word document and wondering what the hell I’ve been doing for the past hour.  Won’t be opening my iPhoto again for awhile

After a few minutes, I gave the offal a flip and added a pour of white wine to deglaze the pan and cook down for a couple minutes.  The heart and kidneys I ate straight out of the pan pretty much.  The heart was a little chewy and minerally, not my favorite, but the kidneys were soft and had a nice mild liver-y flavor.  Pretty dece.  The livers went onto toasted pieces of the only bread I had in the house: Thomas’ English Muffins.

The now obligatory shot by the window.  Used the contents of the pan as a sauce.  This marks the second time I’ve carefully prepared liver and then served it over toasted English muffins after the triggerfish livers last summer

The now obligatory shot by the window.  Used the contents of the pan as a sauce.  This marks the second time I’ve carefully prepared liver and then served it over toasted English muffins after the triggerfish livers last summer

The livers were mild and livery like most other small animal livers.  Pretty delicious with the white wine and brown butter sauce over the top.  Pretty good lunch.

After a couple hours in the marinade, I heated up a little olive oil in a large pan to brown the rabbit pieces.  After removing the bag from the fridge, I shook the excess liquid off of the rabbit pieces, loaded into the hot pan and reserved the leftover marinade.  Once all pieces had some good color, I threw chopped onion, carrots, and celery into the pan and cooked until transluscent, then added the rabbit pieces back to the pan.

That looks like way too much mire poix, for the amount of rabbit but I was following directions.  Not sure if I mentioned this but my sister in law was in the process of throwing this pan away when we obtained it and I easily get more use out of it than any other pan we own.  If I have mentioned that before my apologies since it was barely worth mentioning the first time

That looks like way too much mirepoix, for the amount of rabbit but I was following directions.  Not sure if I mentioned this but my sister in law was in the process of throwing this pan away when we obtained it and I easily get more use out of it than any other pan we own.  If I have mentioned that before my apologies since it was barely worth mentioning the first time

Once the rabbit was well nestled back in, I added the leftover marinade, bay leaves, a half cup of white wine vinegar, salt, crushed red pepper, and more cloves than I’ve used in any other dish.  The lid went on and the pan was left to simmer over low heat for an hour.

Did I mention Maroon 5 is playing a concert just for the tradeshow attendees?  And it’s a beach themed party?  There’s a good chance this will be the most awkward event I’ve ever attended in my life.  I think the uniform evening is Hawaiian shirt, sockless black loafers, salt and pepper chest hair, and different shaded gold chains.  I’ve heard Jewelers know how to party

Did I mention Maroon 5 is playing a concert just for the tradeshow attendees?  And it’s a beach themed party?  There’s a good chance this will be the most awkward event I’ve ever attended in my life.  I think the uniform for the evening is Hawaiian shirt, sockless black loafers, salt and pepper chest hair, and different shaded gold chains.  I’ve heard Jewelers know how to party

When the hour was almost up, I chopped down a few squares of the dark chocolate to make it easier to melt.

The recipe called for more chocolate than this but I had to draw the line.  I also recognized that the recipe I saw called for regular dark chocolate and this stuff was 99% cocoa.  Insanely bitter stuff

The recipe called for more chocolate than this but I had to draw the line.  I also recognized that the recipe I saw called for regular dark chocolate and this stuff was 99% cocoa.  Insanely bitter stuff

The chocolate went into the pan with a half cup of currants (replacing raisins) and a half cup of pine nuts.  I also added a few pinches of sugar to combat the lack of it in the chocolate.  I was surprised that it immediately melted but I struggled to get it well stirred in without the meat falling apart since it had already braised tender.

Not a finished product, I was able to get it stirred in without making too ridiculous of a mess.  Cooking with chocolate is no good for a borderline OCD cook.  It took all of my will not to wildly spray Fantastic everywhere and taint the entire batch of food

Not a finished product but I was able to get it stirred in without making too ridiculous of a mess.  Cooking with chocolate is no good for a borderline OCD cook.  It took all of my will not to wildly spray Fantastic everywhere and taint the entire batch of food

Once all ingredients were well combined, the pan was left to simmer for another 30-40 minutes and reduce the sauce a bit.  Regardless of how much it reduced, I recognized pretty quickly that this was a lot of sauce for a wittle wabbit.

The other thing I recognized was that I was not being super considerate to my wife by serving her an animal she wasn’t comfortable with in a sauce she wasn’t comfortable with.  So, I got going on a mushroom risotto that started with a lot of truffle butter, onions and garlic.

The flavors don’t make a ton of sense together, but that doesn’t really matter if the risotto is tasty enough.  Again, this was a warm memorial day and I was making stick to your ribs Sicilian/Italian comfort food.  I might stick to steaks for July 4th and Labor Day

The flavors don’t make a ton of sense together, but that doesn’t really matter if the risotto is tasty enough. Again, this was a warm memorial day and I was making stick to your ribs Sicilian/Italian comfort food. I might stick to steaks for July 4th and Labor Day

The rabbit was looking and smelling pretty good despite the odd combo of aromas in the kitchen.  It was like I was making truffle chicken brownies or something.  I wish the sauce had reduced a little bit more, but it looked ready to plate and the rabbit was very tender.

No mistaking that as a  big pan of melted chocolate.  I was very tempted to add cayenne to make it more mole like at this point, but I was trying to stick to the script and not make some sort of Sicilian Mexican thing.  A couple sample tastes were encouraging though

No mistaking that as a big pan of melted chocolate.  I was very tempted to add cayenne to make it more mole-like at this point, but I was trying to stick to the script and not make some sort of Sicilian Mexican thing.  A couple sample tastes were encouraging though

I gave Kristi and I each a rear leg since that was the meatiest piece with the least bones and I took a piece of the backstrap/loin as well.  I topped both pieces with a big spoonful of the rich and chunky sauce then piled up some risotto on both plates.  Was pretty cool seeing the extremely white pieces of meat once we cut into the dark sauce.

Saturday flights to Vegas are pretty bro heavy.  I should see if any of them are going to the jewelry show too.  “Did you guys see that Enza has a new line of cat-themed emerald jewelry?!?!  I know right?!?!”

Saturday flights to Vegas are pretty bro heavy.  I should see if any of them are going to the jewelry show too. “Did you guys see that Effy has a new line of cat-themed emerald jewelry?!?! I know right?!?!”

For me, a pretty delicious dinner.  The truffle flavor on the risotto wasn’t very strong but you got some nice waves of it here and there.  The rabbit was tender and juicy but the normal knock on rabbit is how lean it is and not filling, which the sauce braising liquid more than made up for.  The chocolate sauce was very rich and had a lot of flavor from the wine, currants, cloves, and mirepoix plus the combined bitterness of the chocolate and vinegar.  The carrots and celery still had a bit of crunch texture that was a good contrast to the soft meat.

Kristi struggled a bit and couldn’t quite get into the flavor of meat and chocolate.  I was under the impression she liked Mexican mole but I probably should have asked before I started cooking.  She powered through though and ate the whole leg while the rest went to work with me for easily the oddest lunch I’ve ever consumed at my desk.

Next week will involve the grill I’m thinking.

Weird Crap I Cook: Shad Roe & Veal Brains

Last weekend we headed down to Naples to visit Mommy Ryan and get away from the cold weather in Boston.  If you’ve briefly visited Naples before, you might not think highly of the food scene there; lots of small strip mall restaurants or overpriced large restaurants downtown.  But, after a few years of visits to Naples I can confidently say it is one of my favorite places to eat despite then having to go shirtless at the beach and pool.  The food is diverse, high quality, and spans regional cuisine from across the country and other cultures as well.  Makes sense considering people move there from pretty much everywhere and want their favorite comfort foods nearby.

While visiting I sampled some incredible pastrami from Pastrami Dan’s (a retired New Yorker), fried sheep’s milk cheese with chicken livers and tender octopus from Pelagos, upscale Mexican from Masa, and traditional seafood at Kelly’s.  The bakeries and raw materials to cook at home are equally as diverse and awse.  A few examples:

Bells beer.  Tough to find outside of michigan but available in pretty much every grocery store around Naples.  Not a huge fan of the Oberon, but the Two Hearted Ale is a top 10 beer for me

Bells beer.  Tough to find outside of Michigan but available in pretty much every grocery store around Naples.  Not a huge fan of the Oberon, but the Two Hearted Ale is a top 10 beer for me

Those strip malls house small restaurants that make items like pissaladiere from Paris Bakery.  That's a croissant-like pastry rolled out and topped with onions cooked down in olive oil and anchovies.  Like the most confusing and buttery delicious pizza you've ever had

Paris Bakery lives in one of those anonymous strip malls and serves a mean pissaladiere.  That’s a croissant-like pastry rolled out and topped with onions that have been cooked down in olive oil and anchovies.  Like the most confusing and buttery delicious pizza you’ve ever had

Wagyu ribeye from Jimmy P's butcher shop and a never frozen tuna steak from Wynn's seafood market

Wagyu rib steak from Jimmy P’s butcher shop and a never frozen tuna steak from Wynn’s seafood market.  I took this after already coating the tuna steak with chili oil for the grill if you’re wondering what that bizarre orange stuff is

Jimmy P’s and Wynn’s have supplied the ingredients for previous blog posts including lamb kidneys and all posts involving head-on shrimp.  So, in addition to the two delicious pieces of meat shown above, I also tapped them for two odd items I’d never sampled before: veal brains and shad roe.

Veal brains are pretty self explanatory, but shad roe is the roe sack from a river herring that is usually only harvested for a brief period every year.  I learned all of that just now from Wikipedia, but I had long been interested in shad roe since Mooman has raved about it for years.  I was very excited when I saw it at Wynn’s, even though it is funky looking stuff.

I knew there was zero chance I would convince Kristi to eat this once she saw it

I knew there was zero chance I would convince Kristi to eat this once she saw it

Funky looking stuff, and apparently this wasn’t even half as bad as it looks when it is very fresh.  What’s in the container represents the two roe sacks from one fish, connected by a membrane in the center.  At this point I couldn’t understand what all the fuss (primarily from Mooman) was about; it looked just like any other roe sack from a fish.  And those other roe sacks tend to cook up mealy, flavorless, and insanely dry.

Just looked like a larger and less fresh version of the Tilefish roe sacks retrieved from Jason's fish in Eleuthera.  Not a promising comparison

Just looked like a larger and less fresh version of the Tilefish roe sacks retrieved from Jason’s fish in Eleuthera.  Not a promising comparison since that just tasted like salty sand

While a few pats of butter melted in a sautee pan, I separated the roe sacks from the center membrane and seasoned heavily with salt and black pepper.  Once the butter started to brown slightly, I added the shad roe to the pan.

The smell was entirely just butter and garlic (I threw a sliced clove in), but this still wasn't promising food for anyone but me

The smell was entirely just butter and garlic (I threw a sliced clove in), but this still wasn’t promising food for anyone but me

After a few minutes of saute time, the roe sacks appeared to be firming up a bit so I flipped them and squeezed a little lemon juice into the pan as well.

Color and everything was looking solid, but the shape and visible texture makes this a not easy entry point food.  Me, I was ecstatic to eat something I've never eaten before.  It could have looked awful (as I will prove later)

Color was looking solid, but the shape and visually concerning texture makes this not an easy entry-point food.  Me, I was ecstatic to eat something I’ve never eaten before.  It could have looked awful (as I will prove later) and I would still excitedly eat it in that scenario

After a few more minutes, I divided each roe sack in half and moved them to pieces of toasted baguette.  The remaining butter stayed over medium heat with an additional splash of white wine and a squeeze of additional lemon juice.  After a couple minutes of reducing the sauce while stirring constantly, I poured a few spoonfuls over each of the pieces of shad roe and served.

I could not come up with a vehicle to hold the pieces of shad roe and also absorb the sauce.  Mommy Ryan had some leftover bread from a recent dinner which explainst the jagged edges

I could not come up with a creative vehicle to hold the pieces of shad roe and also absorb the sauce.  Mommy Ryan had some leftover bread from a recent dinner which explains the jagged edges

Definitely the best fresh roe I’ve ever tasted since it didn’t have any of the negatives that you usually get with fish roe; not fishy, no mealiness, and the eggs still had a little pop to them.  The flavor was very mild and had a little clam-like flavor.  The brown butter, wine, and lemon sauce was a nice complement without overpowering the flavor of the roe.  The bread was probably a little unnecessary, but it did a good job of absorbing the sauce and minimized the need for utensils.  As usual with the odd stuff, Janet enjoyed it.

Not the cutest picture, nor the greatest moment in person since she was mashing each piece into hundreds of tiny eggs on the way to her mouth.  Since she is in her PJs, I'm guessing a significant amount joined her in the crib that night

Not the cutest picture, nor the greatest moment in person because she was mashing each piece into hundreds of tiny eggs on the way to her mouth.  Since she was in her PJs, I’m guessing a significant amount of eggs joined her in the crib that night

Now on to the veal brains.  The moment you’ve been waiting for!

Jimmy Ps has a whole freezer case full of items that qualify for WCIC posts, but I liked the small size and price of this one

Jimmy Ps has a whole freezer case full of items that qualify for WCIC posts, but I liked the small size and price of this one.  Also, I love the comical brevity of meat labeling.  I feel like organ meat labels should hem and haw like someone trying to hide what the meat truly is until you sample it

I’ve had some ups (goat) and downs (sheep) with brains over the past few years, but I thought veal would be a solid choice since I assumed the flavor would be mild.  The brains went into a cold water bath for about 6 hours, changing the water regularly.

Once the water remained relatively clear after 30 minutes, I removed the brains to dry them and lay out on the cutting board.  You knew this foto was coming at some point and it ends up being pretty brutal.

Worst shot of the blog!  Let's get through this quickly.  I would have preferred that it was a couple distinct brains but these were clearly separated from their surrounding membrane pretty indelicately.

Worst shot of the blog!  Let’s get through this quickly.  I would have preferred that it was a couple distinct brains but these were clearly separated from their surrounding membrane pretty indelicately

The brains were soft and there was a fair amount of brain stem pieces.  Good god this sucks to write about.  Let’s fast forward to when I was done cutting into individual pieces and tossing in flour seasoned heavily with salt and pepper.

Phew, much better.  Further proof that frying makes everything better, even just the process of frying

Phew, much better.  Further proof that frying makes everything better, even just the process of frying

I coated the pieces in flour and fried in two batches.  While I was in the process of trimming and coating, I had a pan of vegetable oil and some bacon fat heating on the stovetop.  Once a small piece of bread browned within 30 seconds when dropped in the oil, I added the brain pieces to the oil.

I was hiding from the oil as usual at this point.  Also, this was my 4th or 5th consecutive deep frying in someone else's home.  Screwing over friends and family with oil stank since 2010!

I was hiding from the oil at any time that I wasn’t taking pictures.  Also, this was my 4th or 5th consecutive deep frying in someone else’s home.  Screwing over friends and family with oil stank since 2010!

After 3-4 minutes I flipped each piece then cooked for a few more minutes before transferring to paper towels to drain off any excess oil.

Very happy with the frying, these were solid and crispy.  Kinda limping to the finish line here

Very happy with the frying, these were solid and crispy.  Kinda limping to the finish line here

The next batch headed (wokka wokka) into the oil and went through the same flipping and draining process.  Originally I had hoped to drizzle a little butter, lemon, and caper sauce but I forgot about it while it was on the stove and that didn’t really work out for me.  So. instead, I squeezed a little lemon over the pieces and topped with chopped parsley and shredded parm.

Toppings that work with pretty much any savory fried food.  Learned that one in Sovicile, Italy when about 30 whole fried sardines were served this way

Toppings that work with pretty much any savory fried food.  Learned that one in Sovicile, Italy when I made it through a gigantic plate of whole fried sardines served this way

I was relatively confident that these would be tasty but I was surprised they turned out as well as they did.  The coating was salty and had some smoky pork flavor from the bacon grease.  The texture and flavor of the brains was almost identical to veal sweetbreads, with a crunchy fried exterior.  The meat was soft and creamy, which might sound off-putting but it is why it pairs so well with a crunchy coating.  The flavor was very mild and only slightly beef-like, which also makes it very difficult to describe.  Just try sweetbreads next time you see them on a menu and you’ll get what I am talking about.

After biting into this one I was horrified to realize that they weren't that far off from the beloved dark meat chicken McNuggets from my youth.  A little creamier, but similar fat flavor and texture

After biting into this one I was horrified to realize that they weren’t that far off from the beloved dark meat chicken McNuggets from my youth.  A little creamier, but similar fat flavor and texture

I was most impressed with how much of that pile of fried food we went through.  Janet had been in bed for a few hours so she was of no help, but between me, Tim, and Mommy Ryan we made it through all but a couple of these.  Kristi pretty much sat out all adventurous foods in this meal.

I need to take a few weeks off from WCIC after this one.  This one was odd even by my standards.

Weird Crap I Cook: Jellyfish Salad

Two clarifications: 1) I didn’t really “cook” this exactly and 2) I get a good amount of random comments correcting me when I make internationally loved items and put the WCIC prefix on them.  I get that jellyfish, stomach tacos, and tuna head aren’t “weird crap” in some places, but if Kristi won’t stand in the same kitchen as an ingredient, it qualifies as weird for the purposes of this ‘lil blog.

Two weeks ago I finally made the trip to Super 88 market in Brighton with Janet and occasional blog character and game meat provider, Dupee.  I don’t have a great reason for why I’ve never been before, aside from I haven’t lived in Brighton for 6 years and my culinary fever was caught after moving away.  For those not familiar, Super 88 is a large pan-Asian supermarket with lots of hard to find ingredients and some very interesting cuts of meat.  After discovering recently that they also have a food court with an assortment of great food, I decided to make the trip.

Seeing this totally reassured me that this food court was legit.  I'm used to seeing that hanging in a store window in Chinatown, not in the middle of a mall-like food court

Seeing this totally reassured me that this food court was legit.  I’m used to seeing that hanging in a store window in Chinatown, not in the middle of a Bridgewater mall-like food court

The first major error of the day was assuming that the food court opened at the same time as the grocery store (9 AM).  It actually opened two hours later, and we unfortunately arrived at 9:30.  I did my best to kill time poking meats in the market and letting Janet push her stroller around, but even I couldn’t kill an hour and a half this way.  So, after collecting as many interesting items as I could justify, Dupee, Janet and I headed out to explore Brighton ave.

The area between Harvard ave and Packards corner has evolved into an ethnic restaurant melting pot over the past 10 years and I was amazed at how good everything looked.  After an hour in which Janet sampled baklava, Vietnamese scallion pastry, wind burn, and frostbite, the doors to the food court opened and we headed in.  I immediately ordered a quarter roast duck.

Traditional roast duck isn’t for everyone since it’s mostly skin and fat with lots of bones to navigate around.  Oh,  and it’s served lukewarm. Regardless, I was incredibly excited when my order came up until Janet got all up in my face and started stealing my food.

This kid won't even eat pasta with cheese and butter yet she goes nuts for scrapple, lox, baklava, roast duck, and short ribs.  Wait.  I WON!!!  IN YOUR FACE KRISTI!!!  She eats like me!!!!

This kid won’t touch vegetables or bland pasta, yet she goes nuts for scrapple, lox, baklava, roast duck, and short ribs.  Wait a tick.  I WON!!!  IN YOUR FACE KRISTI!!!  She eats like her daddy!!!!

The roast duck was awesome, if a little tough to feed to a 1.75 year old that was constantly demanding a fresh piece.  Lots of little bones since the thigh and leg were cut into chopstick-sized pieces with a cleaver.  The meat was so moist and tasty, though, and the crispy fatty skin was as delicious as it sounds.

The next food item I got was a traditional display of Pete’s stupidity.  I know I don’t like most Chinese cross-cut short rib preparations; the meat never seems to cook long enough to be tender which leaves it chewy and tough to eat.  But, as usual I saw a picture on the menu and ordered them anyway.  Dupee and I were both very disappointed, especially with how hard it was to get the meat off the bones, but Janet enjoyed them.

Janet wads extremely jealous of the chopsticks we were using to eat, so she got her own pair and took a shot.  She poked in vain for about 30 seconds and then picked up the meat with her fingers and ate it.  Just like everyone else the first time they used chopsticks

Janet was extremely jealous of the chopsticks we were using to eat, so she got her own pair and took a shot.  She poked in vain for about 30 seconds and then picked up the meat with her fingers and ate it.  You know, just like everyone else the first time they use chopsticks

All in all the food court was decent and I’d like to try a few of the food stalls I didn’t hit this time around sometime soon.  But, the main goal of the trip was finding a bunch of stuff I hadn’t cooked before and making something at home.

The produce was either extremely fresh (the seafood and vegetables) or slightly dodgy looking (the meat).  For example, I could have had the seafood counter clean one of the live Tilapia or Carp for me (“Kristi! Got us some carp for dinner!  You know, carp!”) and yet the bulk of the meat was frozen solid.  I still came away with a decent haul for under $20.

Those dumplings and shumai were gone within 5 days, the enoki mushrooms and udon made a bawmb noodle dish, and the miso has some high expectations associated with it ever since I heard about miso-glazed pulled pork.  If you read the emotion "giddy elation" from the preceding sentence, you are an incredibly observant reader

Those dumplings and shumai were gone within 5 days, the enoki mushrooms and udon made a bawmb noodle dish, and the miso has some high expectations associated with it ever since I heard about miso-glazed pulled pork.  If you read the emotion “giddy elation” from the preceding sentence, you are an incredibly observant reader

The dumplings cost $2 and were enough food for three meals.  The seaweed salad made me realize I’ve been paying twice the cost of this package for a quarter of the seaweed salad from restaurants my entire life.  The Udon will likely be the item I buy in bulk on every future visit since it was easy and cam e out so delicious.  But, the jellyfish, now that stuff was the main event.

Looks like a bag of gummy jolly ranchers or something.  Nope, not quite

Looks like a bag of gummy Jolly Ranchers or something.  Nope, not quite.  Wish I knew what collection those characters represent so that I can see if it was limited edition or something

Purchasing jellyfish to make jellyfish salad was one of my goals for the trip.  The reasons were simple: I love jellyfish salad, haven’t had it in a while, definitely have never made it, and I needed some blog fodder.  When I first scanned the seafood department and produce, I didn’t see any jellyfish and got a little concerned.  Eventually, I noticed that I was surrounded by boxes (next to the open freezers but not exactly refrigerated) filled with packages that looked like the one above.  They were a variety of colors; red, green, yellow, blue, purple, etc. but all otherwise identical and covered with calligraphy and not much English.

I looked through about 20 of those little windows on various packages before finally admitting to myself that they all looked completely identical

I looked through about 20 of those little windows on various packages before finally admitting to myself that they all looked completely identical

After a few minutes of looking at the different colored packages and trying to figure out the difference, I noticed the small English language ingredients on the back.  I assumed these ingredients were the marinade the jellyfish would be sitting in, and after not finding a “plain” version, I went for the most innocuous combo I could find.  I was hoping that the sesame oil, msg, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce note on the package would rinse off easily so I could season.  Yet, when I opened the package at home, I found jellyfish and this.

Well that was unexpected.  Four packets looking identical to ramen seasoning.  Mmmmmm ramen seasoning.  Would it be at all surprising to know Ryan's ate ramen drained of the liquid with butter and that seasoning packet?  Of course it wouldn't

Four packets and one looks like ramen seasoning.  Mmmmmm ramen seasoning.  Would it be at all surprising to know Ryan’s ate ramen drained of the liquid with butter and that seasoning packet?  Of course it wouldn’t

Welp, that was surprising.  After looking at this and the small package of jellyfish for a while, I recognized that this is almost like a (sadly defunct) Handi Snack or the famous Walking Taco.  Tear open the top, dump on your seasonings, then walk around eating your meal.  Of jellyfish!

I was intrigued enough that I tore open each package and tasted the contents.  Actually, after tasting the cheap soy sauce and vinegar, and what tasted like burned fryer oil, I elected against tearing into the packet of white sugar and MSG and safely disposed of it out of Janet’s reach.  Not due to MSG fears (Super 88 covers its walls with pro-MSG/anti-MSG fear info, which I enjoyed reading), but because I was kind of grossed out by the tastes in those packets.  Back to the jellyfish.

Wouldn't have been the most appealing package of "food" to be presented with, but now that you know it was approved to sit in lukewarm temperatures for up to one year, you gotta be a convert, right?!?!?!

Wouldn’t have been the most appealing package of “food” to be presented with, but now that you know it was approved to sit in lukewarm temperatures for up to one year, you gotta be a convert, right?!?!?!

There was nothing fishy about the smell or any unpleasant odors at all.  It really just looked like an odd-looking bag of noodles.  Regardless, I threw the jellyfish pieces into a colander for a good rinsing in cold water.

I had a love/hate relationship with the darker spotted pieces of jellyfish.  The love was that they made it clear it wasn't just a pile of cellophane or rubber bands, the hate was that they looked a little nasty

I had a love/hate relationship with the darker spotted pieces of jellyfish.  The love was that they made it clear it wasn’t just a pile of cellophane or rubber bands, the hate was that they looked a little nasty

After shaking and draining off all excess water, it looked slightly nicer.

Like noodles, right?!?!?  I wish I could make this see normal and not like the thing that stung me on Long Island when I was 8 and made me scared of the beach for a couple years

Like noodles kinda.  I wish I could make this seem normal and not like the thing that stung me on a Long Island beach when I was 8 and made me terrified of jellyfish as a kid.  Vengeance is mine, jellyfish

I seasoned the jellyfish with pretty much the same seasonings that I had just thrown away.  These ones tasted better and were less sketchy though.  Crushed red pepper, rice wine vinegar, tamari, toasted sesame oil, a pinch of grated ginger, and a little brown sugar were all tossed with the jellyfish in a glass bowl.  Then into the fridge for about an hour to let the flavors come together.  Which left me with this.

Pretty humble little pile, but I can't complain since I think the package cost $1.50.  I have no idea what anything costs at Super 88 but my first guess would be $1.50

Pretty humble little pile, but I can’t complain since I think the package cost $1.50. I have no idea what anything costs at Super 88 but my first guess for anything would be $1.50

I’d already eaten dinner at this point, but I wasn’t too concerned about the small portion of jellyfish salad overly filling me up.  I was just excited to have it again since I may have last consumed jellyfish salad two years ago in Philly.

Will someone show Janet this picture?  That kid needs to figure her sh*t out and stop embarrassing me with her lack of dexterity.  It's kind of BS

Will someone show Janet this picture so she understand how chopsticks work?  That kid needs to stop embarrassing me with her lack of dexterity.  It’s kind of BS

Not sure that I even need to write this part, but I finished the whole bowl and it was delicious.  Jellyfish salad is most similar to seaweed salad; it’s not gelatinous, slimy or mushy, it’s actually crunchy and most similar in texture to grilled octopus or calamari.  Your teeth go through easily, but there is still some crunch despite it being so soft.  There isn’t much flavor to the actual jellyfish, it’s mostly just a texture pairing with the seasonings you add. Combined with the sesame/soy/pepper/vinegar combo, it is always going to be a winner for me.

Off to Naples for the weekend which is always good for a post.