Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Mixed Grill

I need to come up with a good name for mixed grill that sounds cool.  Bollito Misto would be a cool thing to call it but that’s a mixed boil, and all the other foreign terms for mixed meat grill-fests refer to a specific collection of meats.  Please provide suggestions for what I should call future events where I fish interesting stuff out of my chest freezer to grill up. 

Anyhoo, Lamb, smelts, and cow parts were on the menu for Saturday and good golly was it rewarding.  Let’s check out the vacuum sealed lineup.

iPhone camera + dish towel + assorted offal in plastic makes for a much more ominous shot than a joyous evening of grilling calls for

That’s a half kidney, half beef tongue, a lamb tongue, two lamb hearts, and a hanger steak.  The steak was from Uncle Billy’s cow, the half kidney was leftover from a previous experiment with steak and kidney pie, and the tongues and hearts were from Snow Farm.

David from Snow Farm has become the equivalent of an email pen pal, but one that occasionally asks me what “parts” I’m looking for when he is butchering some of his naturally raised lamb, pork, beef, and goat.

The hanger steak came over in the creepy cooler I picked up on Kristi’s grandmother’s porch and the tongues and hearts are from the bag David left for me in a driveway in Lexington, MA.  I was extremely excited to cook both of them.

The item I was less excited about was discovered in my freezer a few weeks ago.  In a good life lesson to search your friend’s pockets before they enter your apartment, a 1.5 pound bag of smelts was hidden between Janet’s waffles and some frozen corn.  In general I like smelts, which are basically a large sardine that is usually fried and eaten whole (with the guts and head removed).  The frozen version kind of scared me, and the fish stank they leaked into my fridge when they defrosted didn’t help my fear.

While the smelts finished defrosting, I started initial prep on the meat.  First up was the hanger steak.

Funky looking stuff when it isn’t trimmed.  I was positive this was some sort of neck or cheek meat when I pulled it out of the cooler originally just because it looked so bizarre

Apparently hanger steak (called that because it hangs from the diaphragm) comes from the same general area of the cow as the skirt and flank steaks.  Like those other cuts, it needs be marinated, cooked medium rare and sliced thinish since it can be pretty chewy, but first there was a whole lot of crap to cut away.

Big bowl of fat and connective tissue trimmed off the hanger, leaving me with…

…this.  Pretty decent looking steak with a little bonus piece that was loosely connected.  Nothing makes me happier than cheap (or free) cuts of beef that actually taste good

With the steak trimmed, it headed into a marinade of Worcestershire, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.  Random collection of ingredients but I also knew it couldn’t go wrong.

While all that was happening, the tongues were in a pot of salted boiling water for about an hour to get them ready for peeling.

Every time I cook tongue I like to think that it will look far more edible once it’s peeled.  Nope, still looks like a tongue.  Considering that is half a beef tongue and a full lamb tongue, it’s a good reminder of how friggin’ big a cow is compared to a lamb

Peeling tongues is always difficult to get started then easy going once you have a piece to get ahold of.  Not my favorite activity.

Back to the smelts.  With people arriving and plans of serving them tiny fishies as an app, I gave the smelts a good rinse under running water before dredging in lemon juice and shaking them in a bag full of bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

This was one of those times when I realized I was about to make bout 20 times more of a particular food than there were parties interested in consuming said food

Despite the conniption brought on by my OCD when pan frying, it was the only way to do the smelts right so they headed into a large pan with a layer of shimmering olive oil.  A few minutes on each side in the hot oil and you had a crispy crunchy whole fish body to chew on.

I usually make my own dipping sauces but that jar of Cain’s Tartar Sauce had been around too long and I was pessimistic that these little fishies deserved the homemade sauce treatment.  I whisked in some lemon juice to lessen the blow to their ego

The smelts were pretty dece, far better than I would have expected when I first smelled them.  You have to like the crunch of eating the whole fish body, bones and all, and the flavor that comes from doing so.  It’s a pretty flavorful experience, though I will always prefer the heads-on version I got in Sovicille Italy.

Back to the meats.  After a couple hours in the fridge soaking in a salt/sugar brine, the lamb hearts and kidney came out of the fridge looking like something from the storage room at the Mütter Museum.

Pretty much the stuff on the shelves of the dead end basement I run into in nightmares.  Or, to those I invite over, an exciting meal for pleasant guests!

I’ve shown beef kidneys on here before, so no need to show that again pre-trimming, but lamb hearts are pretty cool looking.

Funny looking things, much less intimidating than the gigantic beef hearts I’ve messed around with previously

I cut the hearts into thirds and the kidney into cubes before putting them onto double skewers, yakitori-style.  Since I had a decent experience with grilled kidneys in Morocco when they were coated with Moroccan seasonings, I went with a similar treatment.  The lamb and kidneys both got a coating of paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, and garlic powder plus a good drizzle of olive oil.

Forgot to soak these skewers in advance, which means I am still batting a perfect 1.000 at forgetting to soak skewers before I use them.  I think I secretly enjoy the experience of burning my fingers attempting to remove lit skewers from the grill by hand

I sliced the tongues as well and gave them the same yakitori skewer treatment.  Avoided the heavy seasoning this time and went with just salt pepper and olive oil.

At some point I am going to cook a beef tongue perfectly, but it is more likely to be coincidence than actual skill.  Much like anything I make that tastes good

With the grill well heated and enveloping our guests with smoke, it was time to get the mixed grill grillin’.

Grilling meat makes me happy

After a few minutes on each side for the lamb and tongues skewers, a little longer for the kidneys and a little longer than that for the steak, everything was ready to come off the grill.

I sliced the hearts and tongues while the steak rested.

Was surprised that I actually cooked the hearts to a correct medium rare.  I can’t consistently hit the right temperature on hot dogs, let alone random offal from animals I don’t cook regularly

Still nice and juicy, but in general tongue isn’t a fantastic grilling meat.  Type that up and email it from your Gmail to your Hotmail so it will be saved forever and not disappear when fads like “Google” go away

Kidneys. Slowly learning, these just aren’t my thing

This had to go back on the grill, totally erasing the faux confident move from me where I pressed a fork on the steak an said, “oh yeah, that’s done”.  I just make stuff up

With the meats all ready to go, I’ll throw a brief shoutout to our two vegetarian dishes that were a nice change of pace from the massive amounts of meat.

Kale salad courtesy of Kristi. I have been eating the living sh*t out of this salad for a few weeks now since we got the recipe from my cousin Chris.  I wanted to add 3-5 more curses to that last sentence to make it clear how strongly I feel about that kale salad

Soba noodle salad from vegetarian Taylor.  At this point I have no idea why she tolerates me, I think it’s to hang with Kristi and Janet

With everything laid out and ready to grub, we dove in until fully stuffed.  Here’s a new approach to the recap

  • The lamb’s tongue was rich and awesome, like a nice fried piece of fatty lamb.  Need to order more of these from Snow Farm.
  • The beef tongue had a nice pot roast flavor but was a little chewy due to the thickness I sliced.  I will figure out how to cook this stuff at some point.
  • The kidneys were very strong.  Like throw the rest out after we each had a bite strong.  They had been in the freezer for awhile and were from a factory farmed cow so the odds were against me from the start, plus I didn’t soak them nearly long enough and should have added a milk soak cycle as well.
  • The lamb hearts were really awesome and I will need to order more of them as well.  The meat was lean, tasted like great lamb with no off flavors, and very tender.  Probably always will be best on the grill but I’d imagine they’d go great with a little feta and a lemony arugala salad next time.
  • The hanger steak was also very good and had great beef flavor, need to find a butcher that sells it instead of keeping it for themselves.
  • I’ve made my feelings known on the kale salad (happy to share the recipe), but the Soba one was equally delicious.  The mango and cilantro were a great combo and the chewy tofu worked great as a meat substitute in a salad like this.

And that’s all.  Off to Little Compton for the weekend, going to hit that fish shop I love and hopefully do some foraging.

Foraging For Food: The Meat Processor’s Floor

“Meat Processor” sounds nicer than slaughterhouse, right?  Welp, that’s my one concession in this blog.  I am going to be discussing and showing parts of the cow that don’t make it into your average meat case.  In fact, I think a lot of the time they end up on the slaughterhouse floor and incorporated into pet food or the most discussed food topic of the day, pink slime.

I’m not planning to show anything graphic from the process of killing a cow or anything, but there will be a lot of organs.  I won’t take offense if you scroll down to this picture of Janet proudly standing on her own, smile, exhale, and close this window to read no further.

Her hair isn't as red as it looks here, more blonde. The profile is a little too much like mine, though. Let's hope she grows out of that one soon

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Uncle Billy continued his run as the most underrated ADB blog contributor by leaving me a cooler full of miscellaneous meat in Vermont.  The back story was that Billy had raised a cow with a friend and eventually split up the meat.  He let me know there would be plenty of cuts they wouldn’t be interested in and he’d be happy to save for me.

A couple weeks before the planned slaughter, Billy and I exchanged a few emails regarding what I would like saved.  In those emails I’m pretty sure I sounded like a budding serial killer, but Billy was patient with my endless questions and saved me a bunch of my requests.  Leading to a pickup of this cooler a few days after the cow met its end.

Over the course of writing this blog, I haven't had that many moments where I truly questioned what I was doing. However, when I opened this cooler on the back porch at Kristi's grandmother's house, I couldn't help but mutter "what the f*ck is WRONG with me?!?" aloud as I nervously chuckled and shook my head

That right there is a bunch of organs and unusual cuts from a grass fed cow, stuffed into trash bags and thrown in a cooler.  I’d imagine it took a lot of unnecessary effort to butcher the cuts I ended up with, especially since they were for someone else, so big thanks to Billy and his buddy for doing so.

After hanging with our friends Tara and Nancy until late on Sunday night after picking up the cooler, I realized I needed to get this stuff cleaned, trimmed, vacuum sealed, and in the freezer before it spoiled.  I prepped accordingly.

That cleaver gets used pretty rarely and is only partially effective when it is. Those towels underneath are still showing the battle scars and stains they saved the butcher block island from

I had a general idea of what was in the cooler, but there was a lot left to discover.  First out was a cut I hadn’t seen before but one that looked the most normal of anything in the batch.

Looked like flank steak, but the symmetry made it clear that it wasn't

My first guess was that it was cheeks, but Billy had mentioned that he wasn’t able to keep any parts of the head due to sanitary reasons.  Also, the fact that it was in one continuous piece didn’t seem right.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop some disgusting bombshell here (that comes later).  It turns out that it is the piece between the spine and diaphragm, which I believe is known as hanger steak.  See!  This blog isn’t all gross!  There’s stuff we all overpay for when paired with french fries that they call “frites”!

Next up, a throwback to one of the early posts on this blog back when I knew even less about what I was doing than I do now.

A return of the absurd cutting board, on top of another cutting board, on top of a butcher block island that was intended to be used as a cutting board. There's a classic Phil Hartman SNL skit called the Anal Retentive Chef, and the reality is nothing they spoofed in that skit comes close to these OCD moments from me

The heart was quite a bit larger than the one I cooked a couple years ago, and it also didn’t arrive pre-butchered.  The only steps I took before bagging and labeling was removing the ventricle and valve-laden top area and cut the whole thing in half so I wouldn’t need to prepare it all in one meal.  Should have mentioned that part of the goal of bagging was getting everything into individual meal portions.  You know, so I can drag out the misery for my friends (joy for me) for more than one meal.

Next up was the thymus gland (or sweetbreads) and tongue.  Both of these don’t require a ton of detail since they are pretty common on restaurant menus, but….

Nothing to see here, move along move along

The thymus gland isn’t that pleasant to look at it in it’s fully butchered form, but when it’s still encased in the hard, bloody fat that surrounds it, it’s even less so.  I will have to revisit this when it’s in some sort of delicious meal in a few months.

The tongue. I've got lots of these thanks to Billy and David from Snow Farm. This one required a little rinsing

The tongue had the biggest, “oooohhhh, daggg.” moment of the entire process when I removed it from the trashbag and found it still covered with grass from the cow’s last meal.  As I said in the chicken slaughter post, it’s occasionally good to get a reminder of the previously happy animal on the other end of your grubfest.  I love eating animals, but if this paragraph grosses you out and the $18 Filet at Applebees doesn’t, it might be time for a reminder that your meat doesn’t grow in styrofoam packages.

Alright, enough preachiness on topics other people care about far more than me, how bout some kidneys!

From the second I opened the cooler, I recognized that smell, yet I honestly didn't know there were kidneys in there until I started digging around. Nice of Billy and the crew to peel them for me.

Although the kidneys had that distinct kidney smell, they also smelled cleaner than the ones I had purchased previously.  Not sure if that makes any sense or if I was just imagining it because I liked the idea of the non-factory farmed cow smelling fresher.  Regardless, I have no idea what I will be doing with these kidneys since the last few months have left me a little kindney-ed out.  Will think of something.

Next to last out of the bag was the whole skinned cow tail.

That is some extremely cool looking food, and also some easy entry point offal. My friend Marshall has a great recipe for oxtail that calls for an un-separated slab of sliced bacon and a pound of ice, I'll have him send you the recipe

I’ve had oxtail a couple times before and also participated in a few failed attempts to cook it.  It’s tender and flavorful stuff, like great pot roast, when cooked right.  Usually, it’s sliced perpendicularly into inch-thick pieces and this is the first time I had ever seen a whole tail.

I ended up learning that the cartilage that runs down the center of the tail is a lot thicker than I thought when I couldn’t get through it with less than 4 swings of my cleaver.  This was likely due to my consistently decreasing muscle content, the lightweight/dull cleaver, and my wildly innacurrate swings that either missed entirely or landed an inch to the left of the previous cut.  Oh well, I got it broken down to three pieces and into a bag.

Last up was easily the most bizarre/gross item in the bunch and one that led to multiple, “wait, seriously?” emails from Billy after I requested it; the udder.

I'm pretty sure Billy and co. left the fur on to remind me what this is, but it might just have been that they had no interest in dealing with it. Also, please don't tell my wife that this image was taken in our kitchen sink. Thx

As gross as it sounds, I know from watching lots of TV and web research that this is a somewhat common food at grill restaurants in various South American countries.  I was picturing something incredibly fatty but more like an heavily marbled piece of meat than what it ended up being; a huge block of fat marbled with meat.

I think I've shown how big that cutting board is over numerous previous posts. That udder was a good 10+ pounds

I had no idea what I would eventually do with the udder, but I knew I wouldn’t want to use it all at once so it was cut and divided into multiple smaller bags.  During the cutting process you could see the incredibly odd texture of the meat, with large pockets of fat and pink meat running between it.  Odd stuff, looking forward to experimenting with it a bit in the future, especially after learning a lot this past weekend when I grilled a few slices of it.

After nearly burning out my food saver, here is where I ended up.

That right there is a solid two months worth of blog posts, but I'll need to mix it in occasionally with normal meals to avoid alienating everyone who I cook and write for

This all headed into my chest freezer in the basement in a reusable grocery bag that I should have written “Kristi, don’t look in here” on.  Also, chest freezers and food savers are the best use of $300 (combined) that I have encountered in my life.

Thanks to Uncle Billy for providing me with awesome ingredients along with a beef buyers guide that I have been studying with a confused look on my face like an 8 year old boy with a Playboy.  Next week will either be one of my go to recipes or some pretty interesting food that we made last weekend on our visit to NJ.

Weird Crap I Cook: Surf and Turf

It doesn’t sound that odd, but “Surf & Turf” does cover a broad variety of food combinations.  To me, the traditional surf and turf consisting of filet mignon and a previously frozen, warm-water lobster tail is the surest sign of an awful restaurant; just two overpriced bland food items.  The different takes are always the best ones, which is how we ended up with offal, reptile, and fish for dinner when we were down in Naples.

It all started at Jimmy P’s butcher shop in Naples, FL.

Like most awesome food spots in Naples, Jimmy P's is in a rather anonymous strip mall. Made a suburban-raised Jersey kid feel right at home

Along with lots of nice looking cuts of high-quality meat, they also have a few cases of more interesting and unique items.  As you look left to right at the freezer cases, they start you with the game meat sausages, advancing to the tiny birds and poultry liver mousses, before culminating with a case full of organ meats.

After 15 minutes of pacing, leaving grease streaks on the glass with my nose, and defrosting the freezer with constant opening and closing, I paid for my lamb kidneys and gator fillets.

The sub-$4 price tag and lack of required cooking time helped these kidneys beat out the veal tongues and sweetbreads they were competing with. I wish they packaged all offal in cheap(er) quarter-pound one man portions

After some research, it seemed that one of the most common methods for prepping lamb kidneys is to soak in heavily dilluted vinegar.  I didn’t like the idea of this since I hate the rubbery, bad ceviche-like outside that citrus juice or vinegar gives to meat when marinating.  However, I’m also an idiot and blindly followed the recommendations of some anonymous internet recipe poster.

I ended up regretting that decision when I saw the outside had changed color 20 minutes later.  I pulled the kidneys out of the diluted vinegar soak and rinsed them thoroughly to stop the pickling effect before slicing each one in half.

Despite the whitened vinegar-cooked outside, these were still much cooler looking food than beef kidneys. My poor mother invites us down to visit and I thank her by preparing organ meats in her pristine kitchen while belching loudly and muttering curses at her dull knives

After the internets failed me, I fell back on my previous knowledge of kidneys and soaked them in milk followed by salted cold water.  The goal was to draw out whatever blood and funkiness they held inside.

While those sat in the fridge and reduced the resale value of Mommy Ryan’s condo, Tim got started prepping the pound of gator fillets.

Looked suspect and tourist trap-y, like some sort of airport souvenir or a sweatshirt the Mooman would buy if he visited the Everglades

Alligator is a little gimmicky and is on the menu at a lot of crappy theme restaurants in Southwest Florida.  However, it’s also pretty delicious if done right; like salty tender chicken scallopine that’s been tenderized by the spiky side of a mallet.  It sounds specific, but it’s a pretty solid analogy according to the writer of said analogy.

Tim planned to set aside some of the larger pieces for grilling and fry up the remaining chunks.  Worked for me, but I insisted he come down to the pool and help me start the grill since I am scared of grills and he is a real man and all.  Friggin jerk.  Here’s what headed to the grill along with two (varying degrees of) portly Ryans:

Olive oil, salt, and lots of pepper. The kidneys were mild smelling enough that they didn't seem to need a ton of extra flavor covering them. I had an arugala and lime aioli waiting just in case

The gator fillets. Figured these would be the under-the-radar best item on the table

A couple thick tuna steaks with a little toasted sesame oil to avoid sticking to the grill. Had to feed Kristi something. Note the Bell's Oberon in the background that I was extremely excited to find until I realized I was drinking their summer beer in February. Still pretty delicious though

With the grill safely started by Tim (while I hid behind the deck furniture with my fingers in my ears), we let it heat up for 5-10 minutes and threw everything on.

Just a wonderful sight, even if the lamb kidneys looked mildly disturbing on the left side. The next day some condo association busybody complained about the residue left on the grill while Tim and I whistled and looked at the flowers and cracks in the floor

The grills are quality ones, and the setup is great, but they just didn’t get hot enough despite being cranked to high the whole time.  Against every instinct, I had to lower the cover for a bit.

"What you guys doing:}?!?!?", "OMG!!!", "I ❤ them! TTYL!!!!" What can I say, I am a 32 year old dad who texts more than a teenage girl and with even less coherence. I also wear slippers with my DB lax-daddy shorts and pink shirt

After a few minutes, I opened the lid, flipped everything and cooked with the uncovered for another 5-10 minutes.

Kidneys had some of the crispy char I was looking for, and the gator looked decent, but I already knew the tuna was going to be over. I think I took it off a split second later while saying hateful sh*t about myself under my breath

After everything had some good marks on both sides, we loaded onto platters and made the trip back up to the condo.  The kidneys had a remarkably mild smell considering how strong organ meat can smell when cooked.

I would have preferred the kidneys be borderline burned on both sides. No idea why, burned kidneys sounds awful

The grilled gator was tender and full of flavor.  Because it is served in so many fried preparations, usually using the gristle-heavy cheap cuts, gator gets a bad rep.  I honestly think a piccata with gator fillets would be incredible after how good the grilled version was.

The kidneys were interesting.  The flavor of beef kidneys reminded me of gamy lamb, so I assumed that lamb kidneys would be like mega-gamy lamb.  I ended up being incorrect for a change, and they weren’t too bad;  a little rubbery with some mild liver/organ meat flavor, complimented well with an acidic sauce.  Unfortunately the arugala and lime aioli I made broke while I was at the grill which was a bit of a bummer.  File lamb kidneys in the “I’m glad I tried it but I’ll pass on thirds” category.

Acknowledging my mistakes here with that tuna. That's what I'd expect on a salad at a TGIFridays, thank god It had a decent sauce for dipping (same as my dumpling sauce)

The best item, which came together entirely while I was at the grill so I can’t take credit (though I will if you offer it), was Tim’s fried gator nuggets.  Salty, tender, crispy, well seasoned with Old Bay and served with a garlic mayo, friggin’ delicious from a friggin’ jerk

I could have eaten this whole plate, I love that slightly fishy chicken taste that gator has. Oh, and anything salty and fried

We will need to experiment with gator some more on our next visit, along with whatever else Jimmy P’s has to offer.  Really good.

Will try to break up the WCICs with some cookies or mac & cheese or something next week.  However, there are definitely some good meals in the queue after picking up 40 lbs misc. cow parts from Uncle Billy last weekend in Vermont.  Not to mention the bag of lamb hearts and tongues from David at Snow Farm that was left for me to pick up in Lexington, MA.  You end up with a lot of awesome random food when you write a random food blog.

Weird Crap I Cook: Steak and Kidney Pie

When Hi Lo closed in JP, I lost a full aisle of meats and organs that I had never cooked before.  Luckily, the local Stop & Shop added a few items that have made their way into a recent blog posts.  A quick scan of the meat section presents a handful of foods I have penciled in for future posts: pigs ears, bone-in goat meat, honeycomb tripe, and a couple other goodies.  But this post is about beef kidneys.

Just now noticing the "recipe and cooking instructions" on the generic peel-off Tender & Flavorful Beef label. My guess is the recipes aren't kidney specific

I’d seen steak and kidney pie on a previous visit to London and heard my English godmother discuss it, but never tasted it and certainly never cooked it.  It looked decent enough in pictures, like a beef pot pie, so I settled on it being the most innocuous use for the kidneys.

I learned my lesson from previous organ meat adventures and bought the smallest packages of meat that were available.  Even so, this was enough for steak and kidney pie to serve 6, so I ended up cutting both in half and freezing the extra.  You know, for when I feel like cooking kidneys again.

Funky looking stuff. Apparently there is a membrane covering kidneys usually that must have been removed by the white coated fellers at Stop & Shop

I rinsed the kidneys well and then went about trimming off the hard chunk of fat at the center and any weird(er) looking areas.  From there I cut into cubes that wouldn’t seem overwhelming in a mouthful of pie.

Not as funky looking, but helped clarify that I definitely ate a skewer of kidneys while in Morocco which I previously believed was liver. Trimmed out fat is in the background

Although the recipes I referenced instructed to use the kidneys as-is, I remember hearing that soaking in milk can help reduce any off-tasting flavors.  So I poured some milk in a bowl, added the kidneys, and put the bowl in the fridge for a couple hours.

While that soaks, a quick sidebar.  I’ve heard very bad things about how kidneys smell, and I was prepared for the worst.  However, they didn’t smell strongly of anything at all.  Once I started cutting, I did notice a slight smell that could be described as “uric”, but it wasn’t anything worse then the smell of blood at the bottom of a package of beef.  Back to the soakin’.

Looks way too much like yogurt with strawberries

I could tell something had worked, since the milk went from white to pink over the course of the soaking.

Not sure if it was entirely mental, but this looked a lot more innocuous than before the milk soak

After I strained off the milk, rinsed the kidneys, and patted them dry, I cubed the chuck and seasoned everything heavily with salt and pepper.

The chuck. Went with a ratio of about 2 parts chuck, 1 part kidney. If I am trying a new organ meat, I am always going to lean towards it being an ingredient more than a main event

The kidneys. Looks like more than it was, probably about a half pound once trimmed and looking more innocuous by the second

The plan was to cook all the ingredients separately in the same pan and dump them all into a large saucepan once they had been quickly browned.

The chuck went in first, then the kidneys (shown), then carrots/celery/garlic, and finally thick sliced brown mushrooms

Once everything had browned, I deglazed the pan with some sherry and poured it over the ingredients.

I would, and do, put sherry into everything. It's never an unwelcome flavor

Over medium heat I stirred in a heaping tablespoon of flour, let it cook for a few minutes, then added a spoonful of tomato paste, a bay leaf, and a spoonful of concentrated beef stock.

The seared mushrooms actually were kept off to the side until all ingredients were combined and simmering. Wanted them to keep some texture

A quick sidebar on the concentrated stock.  I will do a full post on making it at some point, but it’s basically a reduced version of 10 pounds of roasted marrow bones, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, a bottle of red wine, and water.  All boiled down to 2 cups of strongly beef flavored gelatin that makes a great sauce starter.

This was an attempt to show how thick the concentrated stock is, but really it just shows off my gnarled thumb. Been biting my nails too much lately

Back to the cooking.  With the strong flavors of the tomato paste and concentrated stock added, there was no need to use beef broth or anything similar to add more flavor.  So, I used a beer instead.

Much as I think the best cooking wine is Charles Shaw, I think the best cooking beer is whatever is oldest in the fridge. This is a German beer leftover from an Oktoberfest party a few weeks ago

After adding an additional splash of water to completely cover the meat and vegetables, I reduced the heat to a simmer.

I didn't like the color at this point. I was hoping for dark and rich and had my doubts that it would get there. I was probably moping around the house and starting arguments with Janet

Over the next two hours of simmering I attempted to skim off any fat and congealing funkiness that rose to the top and stirred regularly.  Against my pessimistic concerns, the sauce reduced, darkened, and thickened to the color and consistency I was hoping for.

Forgot to take a picture before I started spooning it out

The filling went directly into a loaf pan while I worked on the crust.

Those air pockets made me happy since they showed how thick the filling was

The crust started off with a standard tube of Pillsbury crescent dough, rolled out flat onto a piece of wax paper and pinched along the pre-cut areas to make one uniform piece.  Once fully laid out, I folded it on itself to make a a rectangular shape that would fit inside the loaf pan.

Could have put more effort into pinching the pre-cut lines into a uniform piece, but close enough

After a brushing the raw crust with some egg wash, the pie went into a 400F oven for 30 minutes.  Which left me with this:

This picture should make any doubters interested in this meal, even if you substitute in stew meat for the kidneys

The loaf added up to about three good sized portions, which was more than enough since only Conor and I were planning to eat it.  Mashed potatoes and peas seemed like a decently British pairing, but I substituted some leftover celery root/potato puree for the traditional mashed.

I thought this actually looked like a nice authentic plate that Benny Hill would stand up from and then chase around some ladies in bikinis with a creepy look on his face. That previous sentence made no sense to you if you didn't watch Benny Hill reruns in the 80s

The pie was extremely rich and had a delicious combination of flavors from the carrots, onions, beer and concentrated stock.  The best bites were either a little crust and a little pie filling or some of the mash and peas with the pie filling.

You could definitely tell when you were eating pieces of chuck vs. kidneys, due to the texture and flavor.  The kidneys were like tender rubber bouncy balls: very dense but also easy to chew.  The flavor wasn’t overpowering or off-putting, especially surrounded by so many other complimentary flavors, but you could definitely tell you were eating organs.  The flavor was irony and gamey, kind of like overcooked lamb.  Conor pointed out the lamb similarities while eating it and I thought it was a dece analogy from someone with such an unrefined palate.  Just kidding, it wasn’t that great of an analogy.

Will likely talk more about cod cheeks or roasting bones next week.

Pete’s Travels: the Markets of Morocco

When I was growing up, I would watch MTV Spring Break and think to myself, “I can’t wait to go on spring breaks like that when I am older!”.  Then I went to college and instead of spending my spring breaks in Panama City playing Truth or Date with a bikini-clad coed, I spent them with the rest of the Bates Crew team not drinking, waking up early, and generally appalled by the opposite sex.

When I got to business school, I wondered if I would finally take that tequila-fueled spring break I dreamt about so many years prior.  But, I realized I am happily married, would swim wearing a t-shirt if it was socially acceptable, and find Ed Hardy clothing to be a reasonable sign of poor education.  So instead, I introduced Morocco to this DB.

Leather hat, sunglasses, business school shirt, muscle kiss. Thats Pete's Recipe for being A DB. Write that down

The trip location was decided somewhat haphazardly, but we all agreed it was a place we likely wouldn’t visit with our significant others and that there was a lot we wanted to see.  I was most excited to visit the markets (or souks) in the Fes and Marrakech medinas, since they’ve both been in business for over 800 years.  Neither dissapointed.

First stop was Fes where we stayed at a small riad (or inn) just inside the medina walls.  On our second day, we hired a local guide named Mohammed to show us around the medina since there are a lot of sites to see and its an incredibly confusing place to navigate yourself.

This is a typical way to cut across the medina, a 50 yard long alley that is narrower than my shoulders. Without a guide I likely would still be lost in the medina

After walking for about 15 minutes and taking a few confusing turns, I recognized that we were in the heart of the food section of the souk.  The most surprising thing, was that I was surrounded on all sides by meat and produce yet it had none of the off-putting smells I had encountered in markets in Italy and China.  It smelled clean and kinda delicious.

We arrived in the market section of the medina around 10AM and it was crowded until we left at 4PM, Mohammed is the way too cool for school dude in the jellaba

The most notorious food item that I was interested in finding was khelea, a breakfast food that nearly made Andrew Zimmern throw up when he ate it.  I asked our guide about it and he made it sound like it was as common a part of breakfast as bacon or sausage in the U.S.  Which he must have assumed was pretty common since he was talking to me.  He pointed out a butcher that was making it.

Big bucket of kaleah. Moroccan vendors have an obsession with presenting food in a conical manner. Looks great with spices, kinda foul with meat and fat

This stuff was everywhere.  From my understanding, its meat (I think beef) that is cooked, salted, then packed in animal fat or olive oil to keep it preserved at room temperature.  Its taken from that cone and put into smaller containers for sale to the multitudes of Moroccans looking for it.  Aside from the olive vendors, it was the most common item we saw.

I was happy that I traveled with three idiots who didn't like olives so that the free ones served with meals were all mine

Back to the kaleah.  Most stalls offered a variety of cuts of meat and animal fat vs. olive oil.

These containers were everywhere, I counted at least 20 stalls that had it

As it turns out, this stuff isn’t nearly as gross as it sounds and we ate it mixed in with our eggs without even knowing what it was.  The texture and flavor was similar to the air dried beef in creamed chipped beef.  Not entirely sure what grossed out Zimmern so much.

Once we got past the overwhelming visual of being surrounded by kaleah, we realized that we were right in the middle of the meat market.  They specialize in beef and lamb and all parts of the animal are available.  Individual vendors specialized in the prime cuts or the organ meats, but rarely carried both.  The latter was definitely the more photogenic subject matter.

The prime cuts

The organs. Hows that for a contrast? Fresh fava beans on one side of the stall, and what I have since discovered but didn't notice when taking the picture is a pair of testicles on the far left edge of the picture. Cow, not fellow traveler

Kidneys, brains, hooves, tongues, bones, and whole sheeps heads.  Sounds like what Pop Ryan used to tell me was in hot dogs.  At this point I was excitedly asking Mohammed way too many questions which he happily answered with only the slightest hint of fear in his eyes.

Boiled brains and steamed sheep heads are both very common foods in Morocco, while the other sheep organs like kidney, heart, and pancreas are usually stuffed with other ingredients and grilled or fried.  Check out how much larger the beef counterparts are.

I was even overwhelmed by this stall. All of these organs were enormous

The beef heart I cooked last summer was half the size of the one at this stall, but that was nothing compared to the stuffed pancreas the guy next store was selling.

I mean, what the hell?

Apparently this is like Moroccan scrapple, stuffed with other chopped organs and rice, but it was ten times more terrifying to look at.  I am still not positive that this was pancreas since I can’t find any images online of anything similar, but thats what Mohammed said.  Here’s a sliced version.

Those red onions and tomatoes aren't making the main event look any less scary

At this point, we had seen every single part of these animals except for their skin, until I turned around without looking and somebody carrying about 30 skins ran into me.  He was heading to the tannery, which is also located inside of the medina, to drop off his haul.

That's dye in the foreground, not blood. It'll make more sense in the next picture

The tannery made up for the complete lack of foul smells in the food market.  This facility processes camel, cow, and sheep skins primarily, and does it all in the labor intensive manner that its been done for hundreds of years.

The white containers in the back are for the initial treatment, the front containers are where the skins are dyed and scraped

The initial treatment needs ammonia in the mix.  In Morocco, they stick with their traditions and use pigeon poop as the source of ammonia, which definitely doesn’t help make a funky smelling process any less funky smelling.  Regardless, it was a very cool process to watch and explained the extremely large amount of leather goods available in the medina.  Including the hat from the first photo that cost me $10.

Back to the food, this time the seafood and shellfish section.  Lots of fresh stuff coming in from the coast daily.

Again, no overpowering odors. Smelled like a high quality fish market

The fish looked amazing but without a place to cook, much like the meat stalls, it was somewhat painful to look at.  We also didn’t see much seafood on menus or at the street food stalls, which made it a little worse.  What we did see at a lot of food stalls were snails.

These little dudes were trying to escape left and right

The last time I ate snails I was twelve and had a serious allergic reaction.  I came to Morocco prepared with antihistamines and an asthma inhaler since I was very excited to try this local delicacy.  There are a lot of things wrong with that previous sentence.  More on that in a future post.

I was starting to recognize that there was more challenging food available for eating than I could possibly handle.  Feeling intimidated, I distracted myself with the woman making crepes a few stalls down.

I could have been completely hypnotized watching this process for hours

This was really cool to watch.  That sphere is metal and very hot, so she would drape the crepe dough around the entire dome where it would instantly turn transparent and then slowly turn the opaque yellowish color you associate with french crepes.

After about a minute, she would peel it off and fold it on itself which made for a layered crepe with air inside, kind of like pita bread.  Most mornings these were served with breakfast at the riads we stayed at.  A little fresh sheeps milk cheese, a little honey, with a cup of coffee on the side, and you had a delicious start to the day.  Speaking of sheeps milk, these stands were on the fringes of the market for easy pickup.

Note the kaleah above the sheeps milk products

The glasses are filled with sheeps milk yogurt that is similar to the texture of a smoothie; the plates have a cheese that is closest to ricotta.  You couldn’t stand and look for too long since there were a lot of donkeys being led into the market at the entrance by this stand.  You know, since the narrow alleys aren’t crowded enough without lumbering, stupid donkeys.

Throughout the day we constantly had to press ourselves against the wall so a donkey could get by. Most of the time, they were carrying nothing heavier than something a human could carry in themselves. So, Morocco is full of lazy donkey owners. How's that for a sweeping generalization?

The other crazy thing about the medina relates back to an expression Mohammed said was very common in Morocco, “Don’t judge a palace by it’s door”.  Kind of an equivalent to “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but they mean it literally, unlike our meaning of not making assumptions about an unattractive person until you see how funny they are (hi).

Every door in the medina looks the same, but we would duck into certain ones with Mohammed’s guidance and discover a beautiful palace inside.

This place had an average door, followed by an unassuming staircase straight down, opening up into an enormous open indoor courtyard with ornately decorated mosaic walls

There was ton of great things to see in the souks, but my personal favorite was the community bakery.  Aside from the people carrying animal skins, the most common sight was people carrying their homemade dough to the community bakery to make khobz; the local flat-ish, round bread that is plentiful with every meal.

This is the least blurry the baker looked in any picture I took and I had no idea how to say "slow down so I can take an awesome picture for my occasionally viewed food blog!" in Arabic

This guy works in a basement-type setup all day baking bread.  Most people mark the top of their loaves with a unique set of slash marks to make sure they get their own bread at the end of the day.  They pay about 1 Dihram (or 15 cents) to the baker per loaf to get it cooked in this huge wood-fired, honeycomb-style oven.  The loaves are constantly cycled in and out of the oven and thrown onto the floured floor to rest.

This was so cool for someone who loves food. This guy essentially has a role in hundreds of family meals every day

Morocco was a country that made me hungry at every turn.  There were so many unique food items and you could tell that people really put a lot of care into the food that they made and sold.  My next post will dive into the foods that I had the courage to try, and also unique experiences like a tagine cooked in the Saraha by our Berber hippie guide.  It was a very cool trip.

Sorry for the long post and the hiatus.  As usual, I will try to be more regular with posts and get into a groove again.