Major Dags: Volume 2 (feat. Bean Hole Beans & Lamb Pinwheel Roast)

Welcome back to the segment on this blog that documents my “oopsie daisies”.  These are the meals that I thought would make great posts, and in the end they were either a complete failure or I forgot to take pictures.  You know, major dags.

I should quickly address my inconsistent blogging patterns lately.  Lotsa travel and not a lot of cooking recently.  In addition, I have a bit of a creativity block these days; when I am home for a weekend I stare into my freezer of crazy crap and cant think of anything to make.  So, once again, I will put out the call for requests.  If you read this blog regularly and you’ve wanted to see me attempt a difficult dish, please add the suggestion to the comments on this post.  I have a freezer full of all parts of cow, lamb, and pig along with some rabbit, pheasant, and venison.  Give me some ideas!  I don’t ask for much (aside from you patiently reading this crap and telling me how much you love it), so help me out please.

Anyhoo, this post will focus on two well intended failures: Bean Hole Beans and a Lamb Pinwheel Roast.

Bean Hole Beans

Last year on our camping trip in Maine I resumed my love affair with cooking things under the ground by attempting bean hole beans.  Relatively simple concept: mix all your baked bean ingredients in a big pot, stick the pot in a hole in the ground and build a fire on top.  In 18-24 hours, you should have baked beans.  Should have.

I started out by digging a small hole inside of our fire pit area and starting a small fire in the base of it that I intended to let burn down to a thick bed of embers.  The key adjective for the hole and the fire is “small”.

I know, I know, that's not a very deep hole.  But, I was missing both Mooman's shovel and Mooman so the digging was slow going and complaint-heavy.  Once I got to about the depth of the pot I gave it a good enough nod and walked away

I know, I know, that’s not a very deep hole.  But, I was missing both Mooman’s shovel and Mooman’s shoveling ability so the digging was slow going and complaint-heavy.  Once I got to about the depth of the pot I gave it a good-nuff nod and walked away

With the fire burning down, I started preparing the beans for cooking.  First step was to lay slices of salt pork in the bottom of a cast iron pot I stole from under my coworkers desk.

Dear Joe, when you asked me whether you could cook eggs in this freebie from a supplier, I knew that you weren't going to give it the life it deserved.  Not to mention that you still haven't noticed the it is gone and it has been 11 months

Dear Joe, when you asked me whether you could cook eggs in this freebie cast iron pot from a supplier, I knew that you weren’t going to give it the life it deserved.  Not to mention that 11 months have elapsed and you still haven’t noticed it is gone

On top of the pork I poured in a few pounds of pre-soaked beans and a mixture of onions, chopped salt pork, garlic, mustard, sugar, vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.

Anyone who has read the Momere's Baked Beans post knows these ingredients anywhere.  However, this turned out so sh*tty that I didn't want her name attached to them, so lets just pretend this is some crappy allrecipes.com recipe

Anyone who has read the Momere’s Baked Beans post recognizes these signature ingredients.  However, this turned out so sh*tty that I didn’t want her name attached to the final product, so lets just pretend this is some crappy allrecipes.com recipe

I gently stirred in about 6 cups of water trying to mix everything together without disrupting the bottom layer of salt pork.  Not my strong point since I generally only know one method of stirring which is to scrape everything off the bottom and stir until it looks like a whirlpool.  But I was careful, and it looked relatively familiar at the end.

I think this is best done in a back yard since this contained about 7 more ingredients than should be featured in a camping dish.  Maple syrup and mosquito ridden campground definitely don't go well together

I think this is best done in a backyard since this contained about 7 more ingredients than should be featured in a camping dish.  Maple syrup and mosquito ridden campgrounds definitely don’t go well together, plus I complained about my sticky hands until people got sick of hearing about them and went to bed

I wrapped the top with two layers of tin foil, then nested the heavy lid on before doing another wrap of foil over the top.  I was planning to completely cover this thing with sandy dirt, and nothing would suck more than even a tiny bit getting inside and ruining the batch.  Once I felt it was well sealed, I nestled it into the hole on top of the glowing embers from the fire.

Steamers and butter cooking on the grate, 'course.  How great is Maine, right?

Steamers, vegetable butter ball, and drawn butter cooking on the grate, ‘course.  How great is Maine?!?!?

Once the pot was well situated, I covered it up with a couple shovel-fulls of dirt and ashg from the surrounding fire.

I was disturbingly anxious about whether these $8 worth of ingredients would be a success.  In hindsight I had to admit I need to start taking some of these cooking missions a little less serious

I was disturbingly anxious about whether these $8 worth of ingredients would be a success.  In hindsight I have to admit I need to start taking some of these cooking missions a little less seriously.  Also, that shovel is 7 years old, I have no idea why it still has a label on it

Once the pot was fully covered with earth/ash, we built another small fire on top and got a good bed of embers in place for the the cold night.  Followed that with another fire in the morning, more embers, off to the beach for a full day and back to the fire to uncover and remove the beans. Not nearly as difficult as the hogs head because it was buried shallower and had a handle.

This oven mitt had a real tough weekend but we still use it despite black burned marks from the fire.  I think that is mostly becuase I am incapable of throwing anything out that I still see a little life left in

This Le Creuset oven mitt had a real tough weekend but we still use it despite black burned marks from the fire.  I know that was a bit of a brand name drop, but I just wanted to reiterate/clarify/recognize that despite some steps in this process looking wilderness-y, I was just a suburbanite playing camping

With cameras ready and a nervous expression on my face, I peeled the foil away and removed the lid to discover… that it hadn’t cooked.  Maybe it cooked a little bit but not much, and certainly not enough to eat.  I was crushed.

Looked no different.  I was crushed and basically wouldn't speak to anyone for about fifteen minutes.  I am positive I made things uncomfortable and unpleasant for those around me, which is when Janet came in handy for a "Heyyyyy!!  Look at Janet! she is sitting and not doing anything and stuff! Awwww"  Forgot to mention Janet came camping

Looked no different.  I don’t think I spoke to anyone for about fifteen minutes.  I am positive I made things uncomfortable and unpleasant for those around me, which is when Janet came in handy for a distracting “Heyyyyy!! Look at Janet! she is sitting and not doing anything and stuff! Awwww”  Forgot to mention Janet came camping

I have a pretty good idea what I did wrong (of course I am a know it all even when I am wrong).  I am sure that there was supposed to be a consistent fire on top, but given that it was cooking for 18 hours+ I had some concerns on overdoing it and the same strategy worked fine for the hogs head three ears earlier.  I also think I needed a deeper hole with more embers that had burned for longer than the batch I used.  The hole itself wasn’t warm enough to start since it needed to almost preheat like an oven.

I need to take another crack at this and get my vengence.  On myself, I guess.  Sometime soon.  On to the next major dag.

Lamb Pinwheel Roast

I can’t remember the exact occasion for this one, mainly because I don’t date my photos well, but I think it might have been Mommy Ryan’s birthday.  I also think Tim was being bossy/cranky about what he wanted to eat because it was pre-ordained that we would be having a butterfly leg of lamb and deviled eggs.  Weirdo.

I thought a great idea with the leg of lamb would be to make a pinwheel roast, almost like a lamb porchetta.  Except this one would be stuffed with all of the awesome flavors Mommy Ryan used to pack into her lamb dishes.  Namely, Dijon mustard, rosemary, garlic, and lots of salt.  Decent idea in principle, but you know I will be bungling this somewhere along the way.  Lets start with the lamb.

Looks pretty identical to any deboned piece of meat shown on this blog previously.  Most similar to the duck from the turducken I think

Looks pretty identical to any deboned piece of meat shown on this blog previously.  Most similar to the duck from the turducken I think, but without the weird snorkel thing from that shot

My goal was to make some small slices in the meat so that it would be approximately the same thickness throughout and also spread out as flat as possible.  With that done, I started working on the filling.  Three key ingredients: rosemary, (green) onion, and garlic.

Yeah, it's been a while but that pile of raw garlic doesn't look any smaller.  Not sure exactly how I thought this was the appropriate balance.  Looks like a crap ton of rosemary too, actually

Yeah, it’s been a while but that pile of raw garlic doesn’t look any smaller.  Not sure exactly how I thought this was the appropriate balance.  Looks like a crap ton of rosemary too, actually

The onions, rosemary, and garlic went into a bowl with cubed staled bread, a couple tablespoons of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise and lots of salt and pepper.  The goal was to create a wet stuffing that would flavor the lamb from the inside out, but also mimic the lamb flavors we grew up with.

I have to admit that since it's been awhile, I totally had no idea what that green blob is in the center.  Upon further review, it is a blob of mint jelly which joined the party along with some additional brown sugar as well.  It's all coming back to me now

I have to admit that since it’s been awhile, I totally had no idea what that green blob was in the center.  Upon further review, it is a blob of mint jelly which joined the party along with some additional brown sugar as well.  It’s all coming back, coming back to me now.  Shout out to my girl Celine!

The stuffing was pungent, but I felt like I needed that to stand up to the strong flavor of lamb and there was a lot of meat.  Using the same process I used with the turducken, I pressed as much of the stuffing as I could into the lamb in an even layer.

Midday cooking in Tim's kitchen is actually great for fotos,  It's a hell hole at night though.  Lighting-wise.  I feel like I am writing a scathing Trip Advisor review or something, but it really is terrible for taking pitcures usually

Midday cooking in Tim’s kitchen is actually great for fotos, It’s a hell hole at night though.  Lighting-wise.  I feel like I am writing a scathing Trip Advisor review or something, but it really is terrible for taking pictures usually

I attempted to roll the lamb up porchetta style and was mildly successful, but the real feat was that I actually tied it up without the whole thing falling apart.  I am assuming Tim didn’t help but probably criticized my technique.  Friggin’ jerk, I’ll show him.

The bundled package headed into the fridge for a few hours.

Again, am I on Rhee Drummond's blog or something?  Why does it feel like this is a hipster, back to nature setting?  I swear this is the same place I took blurry photos of Yuengling and dental floss-stitched smoked hog stomach

Again, am I on Rhee Drummond’s blog or something?  Where did all of this natural light come from?  I swear this is the same place I took blurry photos of Yuengling and dental floss-stitched smoked hog stomach a few months earlier

And here’s where it went off the rails.  I was obsessed with having a crispy outside on the lamb and it was a beautiful day, so I thought I could cook it slow-ish on the grill at Brother John’s.  And when I get an idea in my head it’s tough to steer me away, so onto John’s grill it went.

I should have stopped when he told me there were hot and cold spot on the grill.  I should have swallowed my pride and preheated the oven.  I shoulda

I should have stopped when he told me there were hot and cold spot on the grill.  I should have swallowed my pride and preheated the oven.  I shoulda…

This one ended up as a bit of a debacle in the cooking process.  In the first five minutes on the grill, one part of the lamb had burned while the other end of it looked like no heat had been applied.  I rolled it around on the grill a bit to keep it from burning but that led to less trapped heat (due to opening the grill constantly) and less cooking through.  When it was finally in danger of charring too much for edibility, I had to put it in the oven for 20-30 minutes.  Which didn’t make a damned bit of difference.  The stuffing was barely warmed and the inside of the lamb was rare instead of lightly cooked all the way through.  A mess and a nightmare on the stomach due to raw lamb an garlic in the mix.  Happy birthday Mommy Ryan!

Send in your suggestions!  I desperately need them.

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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.

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 Eat: Everything Morocco

As discussed in the previous post, Morocco is an incredible place for looking at food.  It’s also a great place to eat, and I like to eat.  So this entry is about the eating, and a little bit of the travels.

After an overnight direct flight from JFK we landed in Casablanca and had a brief layover before hopping on a train to Fes which was about three hours away.   Because we hadn’t eaten since the previous night, I was hungry but hoping to hold out for grilled meat somewhere.  So we started with some coffee, croissants, mint tea, and banana milk.

Good start to the day and trip, except for that goddamned book. Zach's questions to our guides and regular lengthy references to it throughout the trip threatened my sanity. I threatened everyone else's by talking about food for 23 hours out of the day

Mint tea is served as a greeting everywhere you go in Morocco.  It’s black tea, fresh mint leaves, and a few cubes of sugar steeped together.  Always served from a silver teapot into glasses instead of ceramic mugs.  It’s sweetness and warmth were welcome due to the chilly temperatures at the time we visited.

En route to Fes, the landscape was not what I expected at all; lots of rolling green hills with delicious animals grazing on them.

"G-L-A-M... O-R-OUS, Riding first classsss, up on the tracks" or something like that. We bought first class train tickets. They were ten dollars

After arriving in Fes, we took a cab to our riad and discovered that, since it was Friday, most of the medina was shut down.  I was starving and devastated.  So we headed to the souk in the new section of Fes and I prayed to find something edible there.  Luckily, shortly after exiting the cab, I saw some locals hanging around a counter with this behind the glass.

I was deliriously hungry and incredibly excited to find this place, but this glass case didn't appear refrigerated

Sure there was chicken, lamb kefta, and beef, but that skewer of liver looked too good to pass up.  Or was it kidney?  The dude running the stall responded to that question (asked in English) by mooing at me.  Glad we got that straightened out.

I ordered 4 skewers for 10 dihram (or $1.25) grilled and served inside half a loaf of khobz and sprinkled with cumin, salt, paprika and some sort of chili pepper.

Took a few bites before I remembered to take the photo. Was too excited to eat

I decided it was liver, despite having a little bit of crunch to it which was unexpected.  The best and most flavorful bites were the ones that included the one piece of fat on each skewer which you may have noticed in the previous picture.  Overall, I though the liver had a surprisingly mild flavor and the sandwich was very tasty if a little dry.  Danny disagreed with my assessment when he tasted it, so I guess i just like liver.

To get that taste out of his mouth, we found a guy who was cooking small links of merguez sausage inside the souk.

Tiny charcoal grill that he fans heavily with a piece of cardboard to get heated up anytime someone orders

This was served identically to the liver: pulled off the skewers into a half loaf of local bread.  Danny and Zach both ate it without complaint, but it was definitely a little funky.  The sausage was mainly blood and fat and tasted like it, but for a dollar on the street we didn’t expect much more than that.

After picking up Jae at the train station, we headed out for dinner where I had my first tagine.  Tagine is a ceramic dish with a cone-like top, but its also a style of food; basically a one pot slow cooked meal.  It was a little subpar.

I will never understand why I can't take an in-focus picture in a reasonably well-lit room. Superzoom is great, but that blurry photo option that I can't turn off annoys me

Whole slices of salted preserved lemon rinds, un-pitted olives, and a half chicken all cooked together.  If the tagine had a bed of couscous, it would have been a hundred times better, but instead it was just a lot of strong flavors with nothing neutral to absorb them.  Oh well, we quickly learned that restaurants weren’t where you found the best food.

The next day Mohammed, our previously discussed guide for the day, brought us to a restaurant inside the medina for lunch.  We knew we were being pulled into a tourist trap owned by Mohammed’s buddies, but the food ended up being relatively decent.  We were started off with a bunch of small cold appetizers which you piled up on local bread.

Everything was vegetarian and pretty good, but glad to see I am not the only one who doesn't like lentils

The main event for me, and something Mohammed promised me I would be able to order, was pigeon pastilla, or pigeon pie.

Didn't expect the dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Reminded me of how shocked I was when the Monte Cristo sandwich I ordered at The Office in Bridgewater, NJ when I was twelve came out with powdered sugar on it

The pastilla was in an individual portion size and was basically a pastry filled with pigeon meat (some still on the bone), nuts, eggs, and spices.

Just a pigeon donut

The tiny bones were annoying.  Some were soft enough to easily chew, but others had to be fished out in the mouth and removed.  I was getting more comfortable with this process from my time in China, but it made for a less enjoyable experience.  The flavor of the spices and pigeon meat was great, though.

The next day we took a minibus to Merzouga on the fringe of the Sahara desert where we planned to ride camels into the desert and stay in a Berber camp for the night.  Which we did.

This was about the point that we were all shifting uncomfortably and wondering if everyone else's groin region was in as much excruciating pain as ours. Which was the entire time. Also, your DB is the second one from the back

Camels are deceptively tall, extremely wide around the midsection, pretty cranky, and carry a unique odor.  Which meant we had a lot in common.  Camels are also remarkably comfortable with carrying over 200 pounds of DB on their back over steep dunes on shifting sand.

I know this isn't food related, but its an awesome picture. That's the head of my camel, which I named Sal. The camel in front was Zach's, which he named Richard. Both names were well chosen

Shortly after sunset, our camels completed their seven kilometer trip into the desert and dropped us off at the Berber camp where we would spend the night.

We were freaking exhausted from a long day and I was stunned by how comfortable and amazing this sleeping situation looked

Over in the main tent, which was about the same size, we waited anxiously for our guides to cook dinner since we ate an early lunch and hadn’t settled at camp until long after dark.  The first course of khobz and soup, that I think was made from bones, vegetables and pieces of lamb fat, was one of the most welcome and enjoyable eating experiences of my life.

I guessed it was just a vegetable soup until I got a nice big piece of tender lamb fat

I inhaled this soup due to hunger but it was definitely good. Not an overwhelming amount of saltiness, and the occasional white blob of fat that gave the soup it’s meaty flavor.  Next up was a tagine of chicken, root vegetables, and couscous.

Civilized Jae with his fork and plate, everyone else used the bread to reach in and grab bits of food

The chicken was a half bird with heart and liver still attached to the ribs.  Pretty strong tasting, but a great meal to put us all to sleep.

We woke with the sunrise to head out of the desert.

Souvenirs from the desert included about 400 photos, a plastic water bottle filled with sand, and the privilege of still finding the distinct red sand in random pockets of my backpack to this day

Over the next two days we made our way to Marrakech at a leisurely pace.  We stopped often to take in amazing sights like the Dades Valley and gorges, the High Atlas mountains, Ait Benhaddou, and the film studio at Ouarzazate.  I also got pretty sick of eating tagines and looked forward to the food that Marrakech would have to offer.  It didn’t disappoint.

The main square in Marrakech is called Djemaa el Fna.  You should have seen how I spelled that before googling it; it looked like I sat on the keyboard.  During the day it’s mostly street performances along with dates, juice, and spice vendors.

Nuts, dates, and dried fruit

Fresh OJ. Really good, especially since we were all run down and needed the vitamin C

Spices

Its a pretty intimidating place because its huge and there is constantly someone trying to sell you something or throwing some sort of animal on you.

Thank you sir, but my glasses are now crooked

You take a couple pictures with said animal, and then pay the guy ten dihram so that he doesn’t tell the animal to rip your eyes out.  I got lucky; Danny had a giant snake thrown onto his shoulders, which would have ruined my jeans and given me nightmares for a few months.

Around sunset the food vendors hit the square.  Each food stall is numbered and is basically an outdoor restaurant with tables and chairs

It was drizzling that night, hence the covers around the food stalls

I had seen shows about this and was extremely excited for the tremendous amount of new eating experiences that I would be able to choose from.  Right after we arrived the first night, I hit one of the many snail stalls.

I was a little apprehensive due to the allergic history, but it also smelled good and I was hungry

The cooking liquid is loaded with spices and bay leaves and has a flavor that mixes shellfish saltiness with sweet and spicy.  The broth is considered to have medicinal qualities and many people pay one dihram for a bowl of just liquid.  I went for the 5 dihram small bowl of snails.

They looked pretty funky as you pulled them out using toothpicks but by this point I was getting pretty good at it

The snails were very tender and had good flavor.  Considering that a small bowl had 12 of them, I can’t imagine eating a large bowl which was more than double the size for 10 dihram.

If you like french-style escargot, you might not like this since it doesn’t have the butter and garlic that makes escargot great.  However, it is a good reference point that 12 snails cost about 60 cents vs. the $15 you’d pay for 6 in a French restaurant.  Also, no allergic reaction, guess that allergy might have gone away.

We ate dinner at a funny nightclub that featured people dressed like sailors and Michael Jackson impersonators that sounded out the lyrics to entire songs.  First odd item of the following day was this fruit.

No idea what these are...

The guy on the far right would cut into the hard outer shell and pop out a round ball that looked like, and had the staining potential of, a cooked beet.

...which of course didn't slow me down

It also had the texture of a cooked beet with a couple small seeds and a mild sweet and sour flavor.  If you know what that fruit is, please comment.

After walking around for about 6 hours and heading back to the hotel to shower and take naps, we were ready to hit the square for dinner.  The previous night I saw one particular food item that really scared me but seemed like a unique experience.  My apologies to the squeamish, but I was looking forward to trying sheep’s brains.

I was legitimately trembling with adrenaline and fear when I took this picture

I ordered and watched as they quickly poached the brains, cut them, and put them on a plate with some cheek meat from the sheeps head (just to the right of the brains in the picture).  They added a piece of bread dipped into the poaching liquid as well.

Thanks for the picture Danny. That piece of bread was as sticky as it looks in the picture

The first bite didn’t go so well.  I ate it completely unadorned and as I was chewing/getting an idea of the texture I started thinking a little too hard about what I was eating.  The texture is creamy, and the flavor is mildly lamb-like and livery.  I had to take a little pause, eat some cheek meat and drink some water.  The next bite was much better and led me to take several more, since I figured out the importance of a sprinkle of cumin salt and wrapping in a piece of dry bread.

Ma Dowley won't be calling the local Connecticut radio station on my behalf; cleaning my plate wasn't going to happen

The dipped bread was really the funkiest part.  It tasted fine, but stuck to my fingers and teeth and anything that came into contact with it.  Time to move on.

The diners shown here must have been ecstatic when the annoying Americans got up, stopped taking pictures and let them enjoy their dinner. Which was steamed sheep head and brains

We headed over to stall #1 which was by far the most packed and is noted on travel sites as having the best food on the square.

I welcomed normal food and avoided the stuffed organ meat they offered

You pick your meat or side dishes and they grab a few skewers and throw them onto the grill.  The eggplant and grilled sweet potato balls were really awesome, and all of the meat was fresh and had nice flavor.

Finally, desert:

This was recommended to us by the riad owner, so we had to try it

The cake has a pleasantly mealy texture (if that’s possible) and tasted like it was entirely made of cinnamon.  The tea was very heavily spiced, almost to the point of being spicy.  Each of these on their own wasn’t that great, but when you took a bite of the cake followed by a sip of the tea, it was actually pretty tasty and unique.

If you are somehow still reading this post, I will wrap it up with one last meal that also happened to be our best.  On the last day, we finally found an alley that is nicknamed Meshwi alley and arrived right at noon when they opened up.  Meshwi is lamb that is hung vertically in an underground clay oven to cook whole.  Just as we arrived, the first lamb of the day hit the table.

This smelled and looked sooooooo good

As we stepped up, the cook took a couple small crispy pieces from the shoulder and gave them to each of us to sample.  A truly ridiculous piece of food.  Crispy and salty outside and incredibly tender inside.  We ordered a half kilo which he took from all areas of the lamb and lead us to a table behind the stall where we could sit and eat.

After one bite Jae got up and ordered another half kilo

As we walked to the table, we stepped over the lid to the underground clay oven.  The cook was nice enough to take the lid off and show us the inside.

Lot of heat coming out of this. The buckets are filled with the meat that was taken off the lamb we were eating and kept warm in the oven for people who weren't as punctual as us

Right as we finished up our meal, the butcher showed up with a fresh lamb that he prepared for cooking.  I was completely mesmerized by how quickly and precisely this guy worked.

This dude split a whole lamb perfectly down the center of the spine using only a machete, while wearing designer jeans, sunglasses, and a leather jacket. I think his website is mohammedisadb.com

As he finished binding the lamb around the metal hook that it would hang from in the oven, he cut two slits at the shoulder joints and stuffed balls of fat into both openings.  Explains how the meat stays moist throughout cooking.

Probably been done this way for over a thousand years, but with less panache. The bundle of fat is visible in the opening made by the shoulder joint

And that was it.  We went to a fantasia show for dinner (think Moroccan Medieval Times) and then I boarded a plane for home the next morning.

Sorry for the long post, wanted to give some context along the way by showing what we did and there was a lot of amazing food to cover.  Will be back to cooking my own food for next week’s post.

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.