Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Tongue Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pete’s Travels: 36 Hours in Washington D.C.

Last weekend Kristi, Janet and I headed to Washington D.C. to visit our friends Lenny and Shelley (yes all of my friend’s names end in y).  We got back yesterday and as I write this I am on a flight to Las Vegas for a tradeshow.  So, lots of restaurant eating and not much cooking lately.  I described my feelings on writing about restaurants about a year ago but in case you missed it:

“Aside from my Philly post, I generally avoid giving any kind of restaurant reviews on this blog.  There are 200,000 active restaurant blogs with over 95% of them located in the 25 biggest cities in the U.S.  Pretty crazy right?  Well, I made most of that up but I’m guessing it’s relatively accurate, and what I am trying to say is that area of blogging is pretty well covered.  Who needs another blog that tries to sound like Bourdain while they give the millionth opinion posted online of a Best of Boston restaurant’s seared scallops.  I’ll save you some time: they tasted good and were cooked well.”

I still feel that way, but in the interest of writing something this week, and because we did some pretty dece grubbin’ between our late night arrival Friday and our exit on Sunday, here’s my recap of 36 hours in DC.

After Janet woke up in the 7s on Saturday we went for a walk to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market and discovered it is only open on Sunday.  At which point we headed home hungry, researched the new Union Market and drove out there.  I was immediately reminded of Reading Terminal Market in Philly except it was newer, cleaner, and everything just looked nicer.

Every food stand had a cool name and ornate signage.  In Philly all of the restaurants look like this, but you get to Reading Terminal market and most of the signage is handwritten on the bottom of a previously used paper plate.  I’m exaggerating, but the truth isn’t too far off

Every food stand had a cool name and ornate signage. In Philly all of the restaurants look like this, but you get to Reading Terminal market and most of the signage is handwritten on the bottom of a previously used paper plate. I’m exaggerating, but the truth isn’t too far off

To continue Lenny and my longstanding pattern of arriving at restaurants before they start serving, we got to Union Market 15 minutes before most of the restaurants opened.  Which brought us to Buffalo Bergen, the only establishment open for breakfast and serving authentic NY style boiled bagels and a few unique knish options.

I will eat any bagel but I also understand that most of them are crap.  They can never hold up to the NJ and NY bagels that I grew up eating, but the bagel with cream cheese and scallions at Buffalo Bergen was one of the best I’ve had outside NJ.  And because I was extremely hungry, I got a braised short rib knish as well.

This knish was great, but while it cooked/cooled I annoyed everyone within earshot gushing about how brilliant it was that instead of scallion cream cheese, the bagel was served with cream cheese and a handful of crunchy fresh chopped scallions pressed into the cream cheese.  I was probably a little over the top, but it made a big difference

This knish was great, but while it cooked/cooled I annoyed everyone within earshot gushing about how brilliant it was that instead of scallion cream cheese, the bagel was served with cream cheese and a handful of crunchy fresh chopped scallions pressed into the cream cheese. I was probably a little over the top, but it made a big difference

Since there were potatoes mixed in with the shredded short rib, this knish was basically like an entire dinner surrounded by flaky pastry.  And that’s a good thing.  The short rib was tender and had the traditional pot roast-like flavor I associate with slow cooked short ribs.  I was surprised that the Dijon mustard they served on the side actually went really well with it, but, that’s why they do this professionally and I just play make believe.

When the other food establishments started opening we noticed that Red Apron butcher served Bells Two Hearted Ale, my fav thing and brewed near where Shell grew up in Michigan.  We stopped in for a pint (I’m really happy I haven’t admitted what time stuff opened) and while there I stared at their class case of house made charcuterie.  After being asked to leave multiple times due to the nose grease smudges and knish breath fog I was applying to the glass, I ordered a couple ounces of their liverwurst and morel mushroom & pork terrine.

A Jack Ryan favorite, and also one of mine.  I have been loudly mocked by sassy deli counter workers twice in my life when ordering liverwurst, and my fear of that experience keeps me from ordering it more than once or twice a year.  Soooo, yeah, I fully believe mocking and humiliation can lead to better health

A Jack Ryan favorite, and also one of mine. I have been loudly mocked by sassy deli counter workers twice in my life when ordering liverwurst, and my fear of that experience keeps me from ordering it more than once or twice a year. Soooo, yeah, I fully believe mocking and humiliation can lead to better health

The consistency of terrines keeps me away from them a lot of the time, but mushrooms make everything better for me.  That may be the most Bates College thing I have ever said in my life

The consistency of terrines keeps me away from them a lot of the time, but mushrooms make everything better for me. That may be the most Bates College thing I have ever said in my life

Liverwust is cheap food; usually it is the lowest priced deli meat in the case because it’s made with a lot of cheap cuts.  I’d never had an artisanal version of it and couldn’t imagine that it would be as different as it actually was.  The flavor was rich, distinctly porky and didn’t have the strong liver flavor that hits you right away with the cheaper stuff.  However, you did get a pretty sharp liver aftertaste at the end which I didn’t mind but made Lenny not enjoy his sample much.  You know who did enjoy it?

Not to get too sappy but we often talk about how much Janet reminds us of Pop Ryan when she smiles and how she’s like a little Jack Ryan.  As stupid as her enjoying scrapple, liverwurst, and other weird Dad foods seems, it makes me smile more than any normal food could.  Keep grubbin’ like the greats ‘lil gal!

Not to get too sappy but we often talk about how much Janet reminds us of Pop Ryan when she smiles and how she’s like a little Jack Ryan. As stupid as her enjoying scrapple, liverwurst, and other weird Dad foods seems, it makes me smile more than any normal food could. Keep grubbin’ like the greats ‘lil gal!

The terrine was also pretty tasty and I found it more enjoyable than most terrines.  The pork meat was so well blended with fat that it had a creamy texture you normally would associate with a mousse but still with some of the meat grain.  The mushroom flavor wasn’t as strong as I was hoping but added a nice texture contrast along the way.

Since I was momentarily stuffed on meat products we all headed off to explore the other offerings in the market like oysters at Rappahannock.

Kristi enjoyed her half dozen sampler though she’s become accustomed to the incredibly briny ones in New England so she was slightly disappointed.  She will likely be more disappointed that I used this picture of her

Kristi enjoyed her half dozen sampler though she’s become accustomed to the incredibly briny ones in New England so she was slightly disappointed. She will likely be more disappointed that I used this picture of her

Or the first shop that we were drawn to upon arrival, TaKorean.  The tacos looked ridiculous but Len ended up going with some sort of enormous mixed meat bowl with chicken, shredded beef, lots of sauces, herbs, and greens.

My biggest knock on the entire gourmet food court/truck experience is that they still use plastic cutlery that has the structural integrity of pipe cleaner and seems to start melting at exactly 100F.  Yet Wendys has soup spoons that could double as a professional quality tennis racket.  Step it up Union Market!

My biggest knock on the entire gourmet food court/truck experience is that they still use plastic cutlery that has the structural integrity of pipe cleaner and seems to start melting at exactly 100F. Yet Wendys has soup spoons that could double as a professional quality tennis racket. Step it up Union Market!

This meat bowl was freaking ridiculous and I would definitely make TaKorean my first stop on a return visit.  A ton of different strong flavors coming together with a lot of cilantro and greens making the whole thing taste fresh and crunchy.  You know who else enjoyed it?

Depending on your definition of adorable this competes with the earlier shot of Janet.  Sure she is a cute toddler, but she was eating liverwurst, and look how sick Lenny’s coif looks!

Depending on your definition of adorable this competes with the earlier shot of Janet. Sure she is a cute toddler, but she was eating liverwurst, and look how sick Lenny’s coif looks!

The flavors in the bowl gave me a little second wind to try out one last establishment: DC Empanadas.

These things were hot and extremely crispy.  Not sure why I thought that this completely uninsightful picture was a better idea than taking a bite and showing the contents of these dough pockets.  Well, they both had stuff inside

These things were hot and extremely crispy. Not sure why I thought that this completely uninsightful picture was a better idea than taking a bite and showing the contents of these dough pockets. Well, they both had stuff inside

I went a little boring on the my filling (three cheese) compared to Kristi’s (some sorta crazy teriyaki thing) mainly because the salsa verde looked like something I would want to use lots of.  I was correct in that assumption since it was most similar to a cross between creamed spinach and salsa verde but with cilantro as the strongest flavor.  I would use that stuff on every taco I eat for the rest of my life and I wish I had purchased some to take home.

As we wrapped up the savory portion of our “lunch” we all looked for the dessert we would finish our time at Union Market with.  I chose poorly with baklava stuffed with rose cream, which was much closer to an eggy custard than a cream.  Not bad, just not my thing.  Shell on the other hand walked away with the holy grail of Union Market desserts: Dulce De Leche Pudding from DC Empanadas.

A naturally lit shot without Pete’s kitchen radiator cover in the background?  The hell you say!  That’s right, I actually photographed a piece of food outdoors for once.  Real sun and everything

A naturally lit shot without Pete’s kitchen radiator cover in the background? The hell you say! That’s right, I actually photographed a piece of food outdoors for once. Real sun and everything

This stuff was absurd.  Very creamy, sweet and rich but not so much that it made you want to stop eating.  Instead, it made it completely addictive and impossible to stop eating.  Handing the spoon back to Shelley felt like I was Samwise Gamgee handing the ring back to Frodo.  Lord of the Rings references!  Just in case you forgot I didn’t have a girlfriend until college.

After Union Market we headed home for naps (I drove everyone out of the room by snoring on the living room floor) and then a walk to the zoo (Janet loves her some monkeys).  We had dinner at Firefly, which offered some pretty awesome food but incredibly awful lighting for fotos.

I would rather scream curses at someone else’s child in a quiet restaurant than ever take a picture of my food with a flash.  I am embarrassed for other people when they take pictures of their food in nice restaurants.  Act like you’ve been there before!  I pretended I was texting our babysitter something important while I shot this one

I would rather scream curses at someone else’s child in a quiet restaurant than ever take a picture of my food with a flash. I am embarrassed for other people when they take pictures of their food in nice restaurants. Act like you’ve been there before! I pretended I was texting our babysitter something important while I shot this one

My tartare was pretty solid; well seasoned and I appreciated that they didn’t add capers or pickles, just let the meat stand on its own.  I really can’t speak highly enough of my entrée, though: smoked lamb shoulder with leaks, feta, and mint served over pappardelle with watercress pesto.  The type of meal that I immediately started making plans with Brother Tim to smoke some lamb and replicate in the future.

After a couple Guinness we headed home for the night and looked forward to packing in more eating the following morning before our flight.  As it turned out, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market that wasn’t open on Saturday because it’s open on Sundays was indeed open on Sunday.  So we went there and I made it two booths into our opening lap before stopping to buy grub. In this case, empanadas from Chris’ Marketplace.

I tried to stealthily take this picture the first time and this nice woman photobombed it.  She was blinking so I gave her a second shot, which came out much better.  Look at those empanada fillings!

I tried to stealthily take this picture the first time and this nice woman photobombed it. She was blinking so I gave her a second shot, which came out much better. Look at those empanada fillings!

Given my love of smoked fish, I had to go with the smoked bluefish empanada, which I correctly assumed would be more like a pate than solid pieces.

For the fourth or fifth time during the weekend Kristi excitedly asked me, “what’d you get?” hoping it would be something she could have a bite of, only to groan in disappointment when I told her

For the fourth or fifth time during the weekend Kristi excitedly asked me, “what’d you get?” hoping it would be something she could have a bite of, only to groan in disappointment when I told her

Awesome filling for an empanada.  The flavor wasn’t overly rich, smoky or fishy so you didn’t mind a big bite of it and the outside was light and flaky.  The range of options for fillings was overwhelming and I could have spent a whole day there sampling each variety.  My only knock was that the temperature was closer to lukewarm than hot, but the flavor was still great.  I would get a mushroom one a few minutes later, but I had heard a lot about the fresh baked pizzas at the market.

The breakfast pizza, a concept I wholeheartedly support and think is crucial to our evolution as a species.  We’re really learning people, we’re starting to get it

The breakfast pizza, a concept I wholeheartedly support and think is crucial to our evolution as a species. We’re really learning people, we’re starting to get it

Considering that a runny egg yolk is one of the few foods I’ve found that can actually upset my iron (not on the outside) stomach, it’s pretty stupid that featuring an egg on top of any food item is a surefire way to get me to order it

Considering that a runny egg yolk is one of the few foods I’ve found that can actually upset my iron (not on the outside) stomach, it’s pretty stupid that featuring an egg on top of any food item is a surefire way to get me to order it

I didn’t actually taste the breakfast pizza since I was reaching my full food sampling capacity at this point, but I had a couple slices of the ricotta, asparagus, and bacon pizza.  I will admit that I was slightly bummed out since I had such high hopes for the pizza and the combination of flavors, which were good.  In the end it just needed something to tie it all together, like the vinaigrette mentioned on the menu that I didn’t actually taste on the pizza, or possibly a little salt.  Overall, it didn’t have the punch I was expecting but definitely made me want to experiment with asparagus on pizza moving forward.

Ending on a dag, but a really fun and delicious weekend.  Big ups to Len and Shell for being awesome hosts (they slept in the living room so we could have their room with Janet!) and feeding me lots of awesome food.  Thanks again duders!

Major Dags: Volume 1 (feat. Cod Cheeks, Pasta Pizza, & Cuttlefish)

I was first introduced to the slang term “dag” when I was at the movies with a few friends (including regular blog character Mooman, known him a long time) at the age of 14.  We bumped into a former classmate that left for a new school a few years earlier and upon seeing us he exclaimed, “DAAAAAG! You guys got BIG!”  The comment was so absurd that it endured as a story we discussed and giggled about occasionally over the years.  15 years later, at a quiet bar in a nice restaurant where a few diners were enjoying their lunch, Marshall looked at the beer list and exclaimed “DAAAAG!!!” upon seeing the price of the beers.  Since there were 3 or 4 friends present to witness this, a catch phrase was born.

According to Urban Dictionary, dag means damn or is a general exclamation of amazement.  That’s about how we/I use it and use it often.  Anyway, this new segment on the blog is to capture the growing pile of meals that I only partially documented in photos, missed the key final shots that make a post work, or were just a complete failure.  You know, major dags.  Enjoy!

Cod Cheeks

One thing this blog has taught me is that all cheeks are delicious.  Beef, grouper, and pork have been documented here, along with collars from salmon and tuna.  So, when I noticed a fish shop on route 1 that advertised cod cheeks, I knew I would have to cook them at some point.  Only problem was that the only times I was 30 minutes north of Boston on Route 1 was when I was on my way out of town.  After a year of seeing the sign, I finally bought some and brought them to New Jersey with me.

After a rinse and pat dry.  This was around the time I realized it would be tough to keep up a conversation with Mommy Ryan while documenting a blog post

After a rinse and pat dry.  This was around the time I realized it would be tough to keep up a conversation with Mommy Ryan while documenting a blog post

The cod cheeks were medallions of meat about the size of a medium scallop and looked about how you would expect them to.  The color was a bit darker than regular cod fillets and had noticeably more fat than the usually lean cod meat.  Each piece seemed like a completely unique combination of shape and size.

I bought about a pound of the cheeks ($5.99!) and I would guess there were the cheeks of about 20 cod in there.  Excellent deal

I bought about a pound of the cheeks ($5.99!) and I would guess there were the cheeks of 20 cod in there.  Excellent deal

I’d never tasted cod cheeks before, but based on my experience with grouper it seemed like I should just treat them the way I would a scallop.

I heated up a couple tablespoons of butter in a pan then sauteed some garlic and a few capers over medium heat for a few minutes.  While that cooked, I dusted the cod cheeks with a little of flour, salt, and pepper and then added them to the pan.

Like scallops, but of all different sizes.  These might be the most innocuous looking cheeks I've cooked

Sorta looks like scallops, right?  Also could be sliced bulls balls based on the recent history of this blog.  Regardless,  these might be the most innocuous looking cheeks I’ve cooked

After a flip, I added a solid pour of white wine and lowered the heat to a simmer.  Since cod has a chewy, mushy, unpleasant texture when rare, I let the cheeks simmer for 8-10 minutes while the cooking liquid reduced and thickened around them.

A future signature of the Major Dag posts: abrupt final pictures that leave you hanging without any idea how this all came together in the end.  I blame Mommy for this one, I'm assuming she asked me a question about her Mac which derailed and beffudled me, making me forget I was documenting a post

A future signature of the Major Dag posts: abrupt final pictures that leave you hanging without any idea how this all came together in the end.  I blame Mommy for this one, I’m assuming she asked me a question about her iPhone which derailed and befuddled me, making me forget I was documenting a post

And that’s all you get.  I served the cod over some pasta with the cooking liquid as a sauce and paired it with asparagus.  The combination of butter, garlic, capers, and white wine rarely goes wrong and works with pretty much any seafood.  The cheeks were delicious, with a totally different texture than cod fillets.  Where cod is usually flaky and light, there was more density to the cheek and a more uniform, scallop-like texture.  Clever, 6 effing references to how they were like scallops, but I really got nothing else for you.  It’s accurate and annoying.

Linguine Pizza

I go through an obsessive pizza phase about once every 10 months.  No real reason for it, I just make pizza one day, it tastes really good, and then I proceed to make different varieties of it twice a week for the following 6 weeks.  The most recent incarnation of this obsession was pizza cooked on the grill, but prior to that wave it was all oven-baked and most of the creativity was in the toppings.  The pizza I made with shredded short rib and the reduced braising liquid acting as the pizza sauce was a personal favorite, but the oddest ones were based on leftovers.  Basically, roll out the dough and dump some leftovers on.

First, the dough.  For years I bought dough from local pizza shops because I assumed they use the same dough starter for years and the dough would have a nice funky bread flavor.  Plus, I never remembered to make it a day in advance.  Then I bought dough from a local place, discovered it was partially frozen and likely from a massive food service operation, and threw a temper tantrum.  The type of temper tantrum a normal babysitter would quit over, thankfully Kristi is my babysitter.

Nowadays I mostly make my dough 24 hours in advance, let it rise a couple times, then punch it down and throw it in the fridge.  Which leads to lots of situations likes this.

I consistently was terrified to remove these bags from the fridge since they both looked like they could explode in take out an eye at any second

I am consistently terrified to remove these over-inflated bags from the fridge since they look like they could explode and take out an eye at any second.  I am convinced that some morning we will wake up with the fridge doors wide open and the contents sprayed everywhere after one of these bags explodes

This has happened maybe five times, every time I’ve made pizza dough in the past year I would guess.  In each case, I punched the dough down and pressed out all air then wrapped them tight in a plastic bag.  Apparently that’s not gonna do it.  One night before hosting a party the following day, I put four doughs into a drawer in the fridge.  When we returned home, the drawer was off its track and looked like a hot air balloon inflated inside a VW Beetle.  The picture above captures the awesome inflating power of the dough.  The remarkable thing is that the dough found tiny holes and made tiny dough bubbles on the outside.

Anyway, during one of these pizza streaks I came back from a weekend in Maine with a lot of lobsters and a little bit of leftovers from a linguine with clam sauce.  The following day I was left to fend for myself for dinner and didn’t have enough pasta to make a whole dinner, sooooooooo….

The most offensive part of the oven-pizza-era was that every pizza ended up a rectangle.  I'd rather have an awful misshapen half moon (like my grilled pizzas) than something so geometric

The most offensive part of the oven-pizza-era was that every pizza ended up a rectangle.  I’d rather have an awful misshapen half moon (like my grilled pizzas) than something so geometric.  Just feels wrong

Stretch the dough out, coat well with olive oil, dump the leftovers into the center, evenly spread, then season the edges of the dough with lots of salt and pepper.  Oh, and “dust” (read: blizzard) pecorino romano plus a drizzle of additional olive oil over the top.

After 12 minutes in a 500 degree oven, I had this:

Yeah, not that different looking, but that's what you should expect from Major Dags: lots of repetitive and incomplete photography

Yeah, not that different looking, but that’s what you should expect from Major Dags: lots of repetitive and incomplete photography

I’ve made pasta pizza a few times since making this one.  Carb-wise, it’s the type of meal that makes construction workers whistle at me while I walk and ask if they can get some fries with that shake.  Flavor and texture-wise, it’s totally my fave thing.  All the flavor of the pasta dish you use, plus the crispy seasoned dough, tons of cheese, and the texture of the crunchy pieces of pasta on top.  The biggest plus is eating a bunch of pasta with only your hands and no need for a fork.  Pasta pizza is an open faced Italian taco, and the spaghetti calzone from Luigi’s in Lewiston, ME is the Italian gordita.  Need to document that one at some point.

Cuttlefish Pasta

This meal continues with the pattern of stuff I cooked when Kristi wasn’t home to make sure I ate right.

As discussed previously on this blog, the diverse inhabitants of JP leads to a lot of odd foods at the grocery store.  And pharmacy.  I found this can of shellfish at my local CVS.

I think i bought a can of octopus on the same visit to CVS.  These cans were in between the crackers and the hair gel.  100% serious

I think I bought a can of octopus on the same visit to CVS.  I used to take Playboys out of the dumpster behind CVS when I was 12, and now I am buying my shellfish there.  You and I have come a long way CVS!  Also, these cans were in between the crackers and the hair gel.  100% serious

I’ve only had a few small bites of fresh cooked cuttlefish during my travels and hope to someday purchase it fresh and cook it for myself.  I love squid and octopus, and cuttlefish seems like a close cousin of those two.  If I can’t get the fresh kind locally, though, I’ll happily give this questionable can of meat a shot.  Especially since they were packed in their own ink (supposedly), which is my fave thing.

Once I opened the can I was a little less excited.

I expected it to look more like the black squid ink I see in restaurants, not like awful sardine oil.  Shows how tough I am to please that seeing this mess just made me shrug and continue with food prep

I expected it to look more like the black squid ink I see in restaurants, not like cheap sardine oil. God that looks awful.  Shows how tough I am to please that seeing this mess just made me shrug and continue with food prep

I didn’t have the courage to eat this on its own, nor did I really want to, so I decided to make a pasta with the cuttlefish.  Started out by heating a little olive oil in a pan and adding onions, garlic, and, because Kristi was out of town and I like funky salty fish, a can of chopped anchovies.

Shoulda thrown the capers in there, another food I love dearly that I have pushed Kristi to the absolute limit on

Shoulda thrown capers in there too.  Another food I love dearly that I have pushed Kristi to the absolute limit on

While that cooked, I brought a pot of water to a boil and dumped in some dried shell pasta to cook about 3/4 of the way through.

Once the pasta was strained and the onions were translucent, I added in the cuttlefish, some salt & pepper, and a little bit of the “sauce” from the can.  After a couple minutes of cooking together I poured in about a half cup of white wine and let it simmer/reduce for 10-15 minutes.

A lot more promising than it looked in the can, but it still smelled a little bit like canned food despite all of the strong aromas.  Canned food is kind of the worst

A lot more promising than it looked in the can, but it still smelled a little bit like cat food despite all of the other strong aromas involved.  Canned food is kind of the worst

Once the sauce had reduced a bit, I stirred in the partially cooked pasta to cook the rest of the way in the sauce, which left me with this.

Shells were a terrible decision.  I think that this meal and the minimal documentation of it is as good of an example of a Major Dag that I have

Shells were a terrible decision.  I think that this meal and the minimal documentation of it is as good of an example of a Major Dag that I have

Overall, this meal was edible and I ate it, but it wasn’t exactly something that I looked forward to replicating for my friends at some point.  The flavor was fishy and muddy and had a faint taste that reminded me of the smell of a handful of change, likely from the canned fish.  The sauce looked creamy but it had a bit of graininess to it.  The cuttlefish was like squid that had boiled for a long time; some texture but disintegrated once you started chewing and not in a good way.  Because I was hungry and it had some enjoyable flavors for me, I ate most of it.  But it really wasn’t good.

I have lots of posts ready to go, just been swamped at work and haven’t had enough time to write.  I’ll try to do better.

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Grilled Pizza with Crawfish and Corn

Although summer is awesome, I appreciate the climate in Fall and Spring when it’s comfortable to hang outside in a jacket and I don’t sweat profusely every time I light the grill.  Fall also marks the return of pumpkin beer and pizza making season.  Pumpkin beers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are at their best when combined with a carefully poured Guinness for a Black’n Pump.

Five years ago when I first discovered Shipyard Pumpkinhead with Kwips, Con and Trisha I thought it was the most delicious beer I’d ever tasted.  I quickly OD’ed and can’t drink straight Pumpkinhead these days, but this combo is phenomenal

The Pumpkinhead spice and sweetness are cut by the Guinness and it generally becomes a nice, easy drinking beer for the fall, albeit ne that I will get sick of every year by November.  On the other hand, the pizza making is always a fall to spring favorite because I get to sample toppings combinations I’ve never come across in my storied pizza-eating career.  I just have to make them first.

This year, with my trusty Stealth Griller in the fold, I’ve started experimenting with grilled pizza.  The concept was first explained to me by my previous boss Anne-Marie to which I replied with a confused look and “you put the dough right on the grill?!?!” before shrugging my shoulders and chuckling like she was insane.  More recently, this has become a specialty of my friend Buschy who, despite his unrefined palate, was able to provide some great pointers for this endeavor.

I think everyone would agree that 40% of the battle for great pizza is a well thought out topping combination.  Or, whatever I have in the freezer and haven’t come up with a good way to use.  In this case, Louisiana crawfish.

I was terrified of why the crawfish was yellow despite supposedly only being cooked and cleaned, but apparently it was just an awful choice of semi-transparent packaging by Pat Huval.  Thankfully, he offers me four ways to contact him and  discuss, right on the package

Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdads or mudbugs) look like tiny fresh-water lobsters.  You pretty much only eat the tail which tastes a little more like crab than lobster but with the texture of shrimp.  Great stuff when done right.

The crawfish came courtesy of Dupee who has been Geologying (I believe that’s what his line of work is called) in Louisiana and flew back with 6 frozen one pound packages.  Looked like it was caught and packaged in a real backwoods operation, which made me more excited than scared for some reason.

With an idea of the types of ingredients that always compliment shellfish, I started out by sauteeing 6 cloves of chopped garlic in butter.  After a few minutes, and with the garlic starting to brown slightly around the edges, I added the thawed pound of crawfish.

The return of the action shot!  Kristi had no issues documenting this one, though it wasn’t the most exciting project for her.  Ghost hands because I move so fast!

After the crawfish and garlic cooked together for a bit I added crushed red pepper, a half cup of white wine, and a little salt.  Let that simmer for 10ish minutes to cook off most of the excess liquid before adding a handful of chopped parsley.

While the crawfish mixture simmered, I boiled three ears of corn for 5 minutes before rinsing them in cold water to stop the cook and cutting the kernels off the cobs. 

I slowly added the corn wanting to make sure I didn’t add too much before mumbling “eff it” and dumping the whole pile in.  ‘Course.

This combination works with pretty much every shellfish and always comes out delicious.  With a little cream and sherry instead of white wine this would make and excellent pasta sauce.  There’s no way I lose weight as long as I am writing this blog

WIth the topping complete, it was time to move on to the pizza.

I fired up the grill, brushed it as clean as I could get it, and preheated it on high.  While that came up to temperature, I cut a pizza dough in half, stretched it into shape and coated one side with salt, pepper and a generous amount of olive oil.

Great Scott!  Little time travel action going on here since I took pictures on two different nights. I could have probably gotten away with it but I am too honest to deceive you people.  Aside from the whole “I know what I am doing in the kitchen” deception

Before placing on the grill I rubbed the grate with a rag soaked in olive oil to reduce the chance of the sticking.  The dough went onto the grill oil side down before closing the lid and turning off the center burner.

After a few short minutes, I had this:

Loved seeing how bubbly the dough got.  Could also see I was letting it get a little overdone around the edges, but it was my first time through and always love a well charred pizza.  I only think about myself when I am cooking

The doughs came off the grill without sticking at all and were crusted enough that they stayed flat on the spatula despite minimal support.  Once inside, I coated the uncooked side of the dough with a little more olive oil then flipped it on the cookie sheet.

Pulled the time shifting switcheroo here.  This post is like Memento or something.  The first round was pretty dark when they came off and would make for a bummer of a picture (despite coming out great in the end), so I’ll use the picture from a few nights later when I got the technique down

The grilled side got a light covering of shredded mozzarella, then a good layer of the crawfish and corn mixture topped with a sprinkling of romano cheese.  Then back onto the grill that I left on high while I topped the pizza so it would stay hot.

Had to throw some burgers on too.  Need to establish a few years of fault free odd meals before my friends and family will trust me enough to not have some backup normal food.  I don’t blame them, I once fed them goat head and brains without telling them what it was!  Awful picture by the way

After 4-5 more minutes with the lid down and the heat lowered slightly to allow the cheese to melt, the pizzas came off and hit the cutting board.

Forgot to take a picture while they were both intact. I’m happy to say that this happened quickly, another few minutes and there would have only been a slice left

The most important part, the crust, was excellent.  Crispy but soft and bubbly inside with the flavors of the salt, pepper, and olive oil coating adding great seasoning.  The crawfish was much milder in flavor than the smell when I first opened the package and not fishy at all.  Because the corn and crawfish cooked together, the topping had a deliciously consistent shellfish/garlicky/winey/buttery flavor, but with the contrasting textures of the corn and crawfish in every bite.  The sprinkling of cheese on top added a lot of sharpness which I thought was excellent though Kristi found the cheese overwhelming until the slices cooled down a bit.

You will likely see a lot more grilled pizzas on here, the dough just comes out far better than a standard 500F oven.  Let’s see what I got next week.

Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Pizza

Prior to meeting Kristi, I had only eaten venison a few times in my life but enjoyed it every time.  Kristi’s extended family lives in Vermont and they are active hunters during deer season which has led to a lot more venison meals for me in recent years.  My favorite was last year when I visited the family deer camp for a great meal, some beers, and cards.  Although I was relegated to observer status, a fresh leg of venison was butchered, sauteed in butter with onions and served with potatoes.  Simple and delicious.

I’ve wanted to experiment with cooking venison on my own but it’s always overpriced, if you can find it, and I generally lack the man skills required to get my own through hunting.  However, my brother John recently allowed an acquaintance to hunt on his property which led to a windfall of deer meat.  I picked up about 10-15 pounds of a variety of cuts this past weekend and immediately started imagining new ways to use it.  You’re likely to see a fair amount of venison dishes on this blog in the next few months.

Up first, a pizza (in annoying restaurant terms, a flatbread) that would incorporate the flavors from the meal at deer camp and add a few elements.

When I went to load the venison meat into the freezer, I noticed that we still hadn’t used a package of sliced leg meat that Net (Kristi’s grandmother) gave us a few months ago.  Decided to use that first.

Deer meat gets very dark on the outside when frozen but is a shade of bright purple on the inside when raw

Venison is very lean and almost completely devoid of intramuscular fat.  Hence the need to quickly cook in butter or oil to avoid the meat becoming too chewy.  The other key ingredients for this pizza were onion, garlic, potatoes, and mushrooms.

The obligatory ingredient shot. I know these are a little unnecessary but more photos make the post seem more substantial

The potatoes were quartered and went into a pot of boiling water with the chopped garlic and a good amount of salt.  The mushrooms were also sliced, thrown into a hot pan and cooked until they browned a bit on one side.  I then added a healthy pour of red wine.

I love doing this with mushrooms. They suck up the red wine flavor and compliment meat so well

My thought was that the rich meaty flavor of venison would go well with some of the flavors that come from cooking with red wine.  When the mushrooms were done, a fresh skillet went on the burner with some olive oil and a chopped onion.

Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I despised onions in all forms until I was in my 20s. Now, I rarely cook without them. I used to think they tasted and smelled like B.O. Not sure if my newfound love is related to me wearing deoderant more regularly

While those were cooking, the potatoes and garlic were strained and put into a bowl with milk, Brummel & Brown spread, salt and pepper to be mashed.  I mashed, stirred, and repeated a few times.  I was looking for a very smooth and creamy texture.

Look, if you're not mashing your potatoes with the skin on, you really don't know what you're missing. Thats where the flavor is! Plus, it's more pleasing to the eye than the bleached-white mashed you expect from a cafeteria

Once the onions had picked up a little caramelized brown color and turned translucent, I hit them with a splash of red wine as well.

Still a little crunchy, but will be fully cooked once the pizza is done baking

The onions were removed from the pan and a tablespoon of butter went in.  This was a trick learned from deer camp; the onion juices are pulled from the pan by the butter and flavor the venison.  The slices went into the hot butter for a minute or so on each side.

Not trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about, but you can tell you're cooking game meat at this point. The smell isn't as sterile and bland as beef, pork and chicken; its got a stronger but appetizing aroma

Once cooked, I let the meat rest and sliced it into the bite sized portions you would want on a pizza.

I was hoping to cook it rare but its tough with thin strips like this. Also, want to know why I am always holding the food when I take a picture in my apartment? Because there is no effing light! Everything looks yellow and awful if I don't hold it up under the hood

Earlier in the day, I hit up Randazzos for some raw dough.  It’s a local subpar pizza shop that ruins delicious crust with awful sauce and toppings.

$3. I know it's just water, yeast and flour but it's totally worth it

Did the usual, stretchcd it out by hand and placed it on a greased cookie sheet.  First layer to go on was a thin spreading of the mashed skin-on potatoes and garlic.

I know that it doesn't sound right, but if you've ever enjoyed white pizza it should look right to you. Also, see that yellow tint I was complaining about?

Next layer consisted of the red wine flavored onions and mushrooms as well as the venison.

I've done it a few times, but it always feels weird making a pizza without cheese. Makes you want to call it a flatbread. But I associate that term with the Alchemist in JP and every other crappy bar/restaurant that claims its garbage bar food is American "gastro pub" fare

While the oven preheated to 450°, I added a bunch of dollops of mashed potato to the top of the pizza; similar to the blobs of ricotta that dot a well-made white pizza.  The crust was brushed with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt, a surefire way to make the crust of any pizza delicious.

A 450 degree oven in a small apartment leads to me sweating and Kristi shedding one of the fifteen blankets she is generally covered with

10-12 minutes later, the crust is golden brown and the tops of the potato blobs have browned a bit too.  Time to come out.

I know I say this a lot: I don't make pretty food, but you knew this would be delicious once you saw it come out of the oven

Slice it up and we were ready to eat.

I forgot how I used to slice my rectangular pizzas when cutting this one. It needs two horizontal slices instead of one. Write that down

The venison was a little chewier than I would hope, too long in the freezer and cooking it twice hurt it.  However, the flavors from the onions and mushrooms combined with slightly irony meat and creamy potatoes on a crispy crust was a very enjoyable combination.  Had the rich flavors I remembered and the ones I wanted to add.

Next week has a few possibilities, now I need to get back to focusing on my mustache fundraising.  For those who don’t know, I am growing a mustache during the month of November as part of the Movember charity that helps raise money for prostate cancer research.  A brief overview of my mustache experience can be found here and here’s the link to my donation page.  Thanks again for the support!