Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire

WEEKEND COOKBOOK CHALLENGE – FALL VEGETABLES

Wow, this is the closest I have ever come to missing a Weekend Cookbook Challenge – I seriously considered skipping this.  Not because I didn’t care or because I didn’t have any ideas or I hated the host (I don’t!).  It’s just because I’ve been lazy and busy and the 31st came on to me too fast.

Lisa from Confessions of an Apron Queen picked Fall Vegetables for this month’s challenge and I was all set for my Cheese Squash.  Well, the Cheese Squash sits unmolested on my dining room table and it’s the last day of the Challenge!  So, I broke open my sauerkraut.  What says fall vegetable more than fermented cabbage?  Well, maybe not this fermented cabbage.

I started this sauerkraut five weeks ago, but later than I usually do.  Sauerkraut will be done in 4 weeks, but only if the temperature averages about 60 degrees.  For the past month, it’s been cooler, so the sauerkraut will take longer and that’s what I’ve discovered.  I gave it an extra week and it still needs a little more time.  That being said, it was still good and I ate some, but just a bit longer fermenting will be great.  And the cookbook, it’s the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Guide 6, Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Vegetables.  Not something you run out to Barnes & Noble’s for – in fact, IT’S FREE!  How can you beat that?  Any way, here’s the sauerkraut with some kielbasa:

 

Here’s the cabbage still in the brine with a new weight for another week in the house.

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Side Dish, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 2 Comments

WE HAVE A WINNER!

The Random Integer Generator performed it’s magic tonight and we have a winner for the Free Grass Fed Beef from our fine friends at the VoteLaCense community.

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:

28       

Timestamp: 2008-10-23 23:14:28 UTC

Lucky number 28 is the lovely HoneyB (Grumpy’s Honeybunch) from the beautiful Upstate New York.  She will receive a couple of burger patties and a petit sirloin to introduce Grumpy and her to the world of guilt-free beef!

Thanks to all of you who visited and to those who left a comment.  And, two VERY special thanks to my buddies Elle and Lisa for helping me out with this thing.  I encourage all of you to try some grass-fed beef.  Go to La Cense or contact a local supplier from EatWild.com.  Sure, it will cost more than you’re used to, but it’s worth at least a try.

October 23, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed | 1 Comment

CANDIED APPLES

A couple of times I have mentioned that I am part of a group at work called the Birthday Committee.  The Birthday Committee organizes a monthly birthday celebration for employees.  This month we have chosen deserts as our “theme”.  We’re going to have cake, brownies, cookies, cheesecakes, etc.  I mean, heck, who wouldn’t love that?  I was challenged by a new member (let’s call her Jen, because that’s her name) to make candied apples.

Now, I’ve gotten lazy and that sounded like a lot of work.  But, the only thing bigger than my belly is my ego, so I said, “All right, girlie!  It’s go time!  You’re going down!  Your skinny little a$$ is mine!” Ok, maybe I didn’t say all that out loud.  Maybe all I did was try to channel my inner chameleon and attempt to blend into my chair.

Anyway, I made some candied apples to see if it was feasible for me to make 50-70 apples for the Birthday Committee.  In fact, last Monday, while I was home with my kids, we went apple picking specifically for small-ish apples for candied apples.

CANDIED APPLES

  • 24 smaller apples
  • 24 wooden ice-cream sticks
  • 4-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon red food coloring
  • 1-1/2 cups water 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpats. Set aside. Wash and dry the apples. Insert a stick through the stem of each, leaving about 2 inches of the stick for gripping.

 

Place the sugar, corn syrup, food coloring, and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring slowly to a boil while stirring constantly and cook until the ingredients are dissolved.  OK, you’ll notice my sugar looks very purple-y.  That’s because I accidentally put 1 DROP of blue in the sugar before the red and I had almost no red.  Oh, well – soldiering on….

 

Insert a candy thermometer into the liquid and continuing cooking, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees F. This should take about 20 minutes.

 

Remove the syrup from the heat and dip the apples, one by one, coating each evenly. Work quickly so the sauce doesn’t harden. Place each apple standing on the prepared cookie sheet. Let the apples cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

OK, it was so darn easy!  Get your apples prepared and start cooking.  The sugar syrup takes a full 20 minutes to get to 290, but then it’s just dip, roll and place.  Maybe 5 minutes for all 24 apples. That’s it.  Let it sit for an hour and “Kapowee!”  They’re done.

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Dessert, Recipe | 1 Comment

ALL AMERICAN HERO

Well, I’m from New Hampshire and being so close to Boston, right now, sport is all we have on our minds.  As an avid sport fan, I feel it’s my duty to speak of the what’s happening in the world of sport.

JOEY CHESTNUT HAS DONE IT AGAIN!

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, American Competitive Eating champ, Food Phenom and God among men ate 45 slices of pizza in 10 minutes, shattering the previous record of 22 slices.  This, just weeks after winning the Krystal Hamburger contest with 93 burgers in 8 minutes, besting Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi and up-an-coming rival Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti.  Chestnut continues his reign as competitive Eating Champ and American Hero.  And God knows, in trying times like we are in now, the children of America need a hero they can look up to.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Opinion, Random Blather | 2 Comments

FREE GRASS-FED BEEF

Over and over again, I have waxed lyrically about grass fed beef.  In fact, I have gone on so long about it, a nice company in Montana contacted me about a grass-fed beef contest for me to host.  Yes, ME!  The fine folks at La Cense, an 88,000 acre horse and cattle ranch that raises grass-fed, grass-finished beef and has a fine online community promoting the same, want this poor soul to pick a worthy reader to receive some FREE guilt-free beef! 

Now, let me tell you the whole story, because I’m nothing but truthful.  These fine folks sent me a great selection of their beef to try.  To be truthful, my first impression was under whelming.  Sure, it as better than the beef I get at the supermarket, sure it was better for me to eat then the hormone/antibiotic marinated meat from industrial ranches and FOR SURE the cows weren’t tortured in a feedlot, but it wasn’t what I remembered.  It wasn’t as “beefy” as Chet and I was concerned.  In fact, I was considering turning down my friends at La Cense.

Then, I realized exactly how stupid I was.  I have spoken at length how the taste of grass-fed beef swings all over the spectrum and that’s what makes it so special.  I RELISHED the fact that the flavor profile wasn’t consistent.  YET, here I was looking for CONSISTENCY!  There’s no way in the world I should expect cows raised 2,000 miles away, eating grass nothing like the grass in New Hampshire and assuredly not the Scottish Highland breed that Chet was to taste JUST LIKE Chet!  Seriously, how could I be so stupid? 

So, back to the beef.  It’s quite tasty.  It’s quite moral.  It’s quite the right thing to do.  And here is your chance to get some for yourself just the way I like to get things – FOR FREE!  Leave a comment on this post (with an email address) about why you would like grass-fed beef or even how stupid I am (that’s what most of this post was about) and on October 23rd (my 16th Wedding Anniversary) I will use Elle’s Random Number generator to pick which lucky reader get’s free beef!  What will you get?  You will get 2 burger patties and a petit sirloin delivered straight to your door.  Now, for the bad news (for some of you) – U.S. addresses only.

To paraphrase one of the great figures of the past twenty years – Darth Vader:

“COME TO THE GRASS SIDE!”

PS:  Many of the comments express a desire to find grass-fed beef locally.  I should have mentioned the fine website Eat Wild.  A local-food clearinghouse, it hooks people up with local, grass-fed food in their area.  Often you need to buy a bit more than you need if you’re first trying it and that’s where sites like VoteLaCense come in handy, but when you’re ready for a side of beef (like my Chet), Eat Wild can help you out. – MPM

October 13, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed | 92 Comments

BIT-ME

Do any of you know who Mark Bittman is?  I love Mark.  I’ve watched his shows on PBS and I LOVE HIM!  I love him like Alton Brown, in fact, he and Alton should do a show together – Mario, too.  Yeah, Mark, Alton and Mario – MAM.  Wait, that sounds very bra-like.  Wait, I like it even better now!  Wait, I hope I didn’t say that out loud….

OK, I’m back now – did I mention I love Mark?  He writes for The New York Times, my most favorite newspaper of all times – NOT!  He also has a blog called Bitten, perhaps the best blog, well, maybe not the best, but pretty close to the best, blog on the ole’ WWW.  Need proof, check out this recipe for Duck with Sauerkraut – two of my favorite foods, especially in this Oktoberfest season.

October 11, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather, Recipe | 1 Comment

ULTIMATE FANTASY DINNER PARTY

Anthony Bourdain was recently asked who would attend his fantasy dinner party.  Not surprisingly, the cast of characters was, at the very least eclectic.  It involved a dinner part hosted by Marco Pierre White and Keith Richards (?) attended by the likes of Kim Philby and Orson Wells.

It got me thinking, who would be at my “Ultimate Dinner Party”?

The hosts?  Well, me, Alton Brown and Jacques Pepin, of course!

Guests?

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 3 Comments

GRASS-FED THOUGHTS

Anyone who is forced to be around me for more than one hour knows of my love for grass-fed, grass-finished beef.  So many have been around me during these times, I’m loosing friends at the rate of George Bush (I’m still his friend).  But how did this happen?  How did this tubby boy become so in love with Grass-fed beef?  Well, it’s all by chance.  My homepage is MSNBC.  What?  A “right-wing, Christian Conservative, war-supporting, Bush-is-too-liberal, “cut our hair, pull up your pants and get a job” Republican” with THEM as a homepage?  Yeah, I set it up years ago and it works for me.  Anyway, it was a Slate article I found on it titled “Raising the Steaks – If you feed cows grass, does the beef taste better?”.  And checked it out.  A great tasting steak, the best, was just a challenge that I couldn’t turn it down.  So, I went charging into the battle, like a moron Knight fighting the incoming tide or change of the seasons and guess what?  I WON!!!!  I found a local, grass-fed, grass-finished beef supplier and I fell in love almost as fast as I fell in love with She Who Must Be Obeyed.

One of the things in the Slate article I found to be true was that Grass-fed beef has wildly gyrating taste profiles, meaning sometimes GFB tastes like a beef explosion and sometimes it tastes like salmon.  And that is true – I never had anything that tasted like salmon, but I would have a pound of hamburger that was mild like feedlot beef and another like venison.  Mostly, it was a great tasting piece of beef and ALWAYS it felt good eating something that hadn’t been tortured.  Even salmon like, it was a great feeling to have been a “Steward of the Earth”, as the Lord entrusted us to be.

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed, Random Blather | Leave a comment

THAT COOKBOOK THING II – POULET AU PORTO

After an extended break for summer, the crew from That Cookbook Thing II are back with the next installment from Mastering The Art of French CookingPoulet au Porto.  This was an especially nice recipe for me not only because I got to use a few of the major food groups (Cream, Mushrooms and Port) but also because we made the Perfect Roast Chicken!

Since this thing started, I’ve been harassing everyone to make Julia’s Roast Chicken.  It’s an incredibly fussy recipe with flipping from side-to-side what seems every couple of minutes, but if you try it, you will be hooked.  The chicken comes out so moist and flavorful, you’ll wonder how it could be so different than any other roasted chicken.

Well, on to the recipe:

ROAST CHICKEN

  • 3-4 lb roasting chicken
  • Salt
  • 4 TBS butter, softened
  • 2 TBS oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°. Sprinkle the chicken (inside and out) with salt. Rub skin of chicken with 2 TBS butter. In a small bowl, combine 2 TBS butter with the oil.

Place the chicken, breast up, in a large shallow roasting pan and place the pan in the middle of the preheated oven. Allow the chicken to brown lightly for 15 minutes, turning it on the left side after 5 minutes, on the right side for the last five minutes, basting with the combined butter and oil after each turn. Reduce the heat to 350°. Leave the chicken on its side and baste every 10 minutes, using the fat in the roasting pan once all of the butter and oil have been used. Carefully watch the temperature and regulate the heat so the chicken is making “cooking noises”, but the fat is not burning.

Halfway through the estimated cooking time, turn the chicken on its other side and continue basting every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the end of the estimated roasting time, turn the chicken breast up and continue basting. Indications that the chicken is almost done are a sudden rain of splutters, a swelling of the breast, the drumstick is tender when pressed and can be moved in its socket. Another check is to prick the thickest part of the drumstick with a fork. The juices should run clear yellow. When done, set the chicken on a hot platter for at least ten minutes prior to carving.

While the chicken is roasting:

  • 1 lb. Fresh Mushrooms
  • ¼ cup of Water
  • ½ TBS Butter
  • ½ tsp Lemon Juice
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 1 cup Whipping Cream
  • ½ TBS Cornstarch
  • ½ TBS Minced Shallots or Green Onions
  • 1/3 cup Medium Dry Port
  • ¼ cup Cognac
  • Salt and Pepper

Trim and wash the mushrooms.  Quarter them if large, leave whole if small. 

Bring the water to boil in a 2 ½ quart saucepan with the butter lemon juice and salt.  Toss in the mushrooms, cover, and boil slowly for 8 minutes.  Pour out cooking liquid and reserve.  Pour cream and cornstarch (blended with a bit of the cream first) into the mushrooms.  Simmer for 2 minutes.  Correct seasoning (“Stop checking the seasoning, Mike!  We need SOME of the cream and mushrooms for the rest of the recipe!” – the Stove) 

Pause now until the chicken comes out of the oven.  Move the chicken to a platter and cover to let rest.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place over the stove.  Stir in the shallots or onions and cook slowly for one minute.  Turn the heat to high, add the port and the mushroom juice, and boil down rapidly, deglazing, until the liquid is reduced down to about ¼ cup.  Add the mushrooms and cream (“mmm…cream”) and simmer for 2-3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly.  Correct seasoning and add a few drops of lemon juice to taste.

Smear the inside of a casserole or chafing dish with butter.  Rapidly carve chicken into serving pieces.  Sprinkle lightly with salt, and arrange in the dish.

Set over medium heat until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle.  Pour cognac over the chicken.  Avert your face, and ignite the cognac (“Fire!”).  Shake the pan slowly until the flames have subsided.  Then pour in mushroom mixture, and baste the chicken.  Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil.  Serve immediately.

What can I say?  It was incredible!  I mean, c’mon, how can you go wrong with the Perfect Roast Chicken, Cream, Mushrooms, Butter and Port?  You can’t.  Those would even make a weekend with your mother-in-law good.  What I did differently or at least perceived differently:

  • I quartered the mushrooms.  I like chunks of mushrooms and as I read the recipe, I pictured quartered mushrooms.  I used ½ pound button mushrooms (to retain the 1961 flavor) and ½ pound of crimini mushrooms for a more earthy flavor.
  • I cut the chicken up into six pieces instead of carving it.  I wasn’t sure if that’s what I was supposed to do, but I thought it would make a nice serving presentation for less than 7 people.  I did just what Julia said to do and served it with simple side dishes – boiled potatoes with chives and carrots.

That’s it – I try to follow Julia’s recipes to see what they taste like to a 21st Century palate.  And let me tell you, it still tasted damn good!

Here’s the members who have made it so far:

October 4, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 3 Comments

HIGH ON THE HOG

Last year at this time, I was a grass-fed, nearly organic, thumb-my-nose at factory farm lunatic.  I had half of a grass-fed cow in the freezer, a whole organic pig and 25 organic, free-range chickens in two other freezers.  I was THE MAN!

This year, after blowing the engine in my car this summer ($3,000) and deciding a pellet stove would make a lot more sense than buying just over 1,000 gallons of heating oil ($4,600 – including four tons of pellets), I had NO EXTRA MONEY for good food.  I’ve been cutting corners everywhere, including the food.  I’m not sure what’s happened to food prices, but I have been unable to spend less than $100.00 a week on food for the four of us.

Where am I going with this?  I don’t know.  All I know is I miss having a freezer (or two!) of good food I knew wasn’t from some feedlot.

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed, Random Blather | 1 Comment