Saturday, May 29, 2010


Pastrami was too dry. Ended up like shoe leather - the perils of using Texas grass-fed beef, especially eye-of-round. There just wasn't enough fat to lubricate it for the required cooking time.

On to bigger and better things. I'm brining a hog head and four trotters as we speak, to make brawn (aka headcheese) this afternoon. Mmm, brawn.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Just harvested the first two viable cucumbers. The oddly-shaped one here:
And the big boy here:
The more symmetrical of the two weighs in at 250 grams (that's over 1/2 pound for you non-metric folks). The lumpy one was 175 grams. The plants are covered with dozens and dozens of baby cucumbers, so these ought to just be the beginning.
Of course I couldn't help myself but dig in, not least because a co-worker of mine warned me that the cucumbers she and her neighbors have grown tasted "like shit". When I asked for clarification, she reiterated - like a green turd. Crunchy on the outside, fecal on the inside.

Not appealing at all. Fortunately, that was not the case here. I peeled the lumpy one and made a cucumber sandwich (and some sliced cuke for the wife). The perfect cucumber - light, flavorful (and organic, of course).

Recipe: Whisk together 2 parts Greek yogurt to 1 part cream cheese. Smear mix on 2 slices of lightly toasted bread. Slice cucumber lengthwise on a mandolin (I prefer the waffle setting), very thinly. Stack layers of ruffled cucumber on the bread, seasoning each layer lightly with salt and pepper or italian dressing seasoning. Top with remaining slice of bread, slice and serve. Surprisingly good, and perfect lunch for hot weather.

In other gardening news, our cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen:

And our champions are still lagging. I still blame the neighbors for making us rip up and relocate the garden. One turned red but got eaten by a cheeky squirrel (unless one of the neighbors. . . no, I'll let this one go). The remainder are plump but still green. If they don't get to work pretty soon, they're going to find themselves coated in cornmeal and headed for a frying pan.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

I was thinking that for a blog with "gristle" in the title, this was getting a bit veg-heavy. I intend to remedy that in the coming days, starting now.

I've had mixed luck with roasting chickens, but have been steadily improving in the last year or so. Most recently, I reached a new peak when my brother-in-law was here in April. The key to that near-triumph (he was impressed, which counts for something) was my having brined the chicken, which I have avoided in the past. A divisive topic, brining, but I think it tends to lend a net benefit to the chicken. 12 hours is what is typically recommended, but for a roast chicken I'm thinking 8-10 hours for the future (just a matter of taste). Anyway, to try and top my April chicken, I got a 4-pound pastured roaster chicken. I brined it for 12 hours, and then proceeded to the new prep techniques. Place chicken in sink.

Boil water in a kettle, and pour boiling water all over chicken to scald. The photo doesn't fully capture the creepiness of the effect - the skin actually contracts and starts tightening as if alive. This scalding step helps separate the skin from the fat and meat, and helps ensure a crisp skin on the roast.

Your scalded chicken then sits in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. This helps dry out the skin, again to help ensure crispiness. By the time you prepare to roast, the skin should be lightly yellowed and waxy-looking.
Veggies for the roast - since it's spring, I threw some radishes in with the carrots and celery. Toss with thyme, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Quarter and add some red potatoes at the last minute.
Truss the chicken. Work your fingers under the skin on both breasts, and push in some softened butter. I also added one sage leaf for each breast - thereby letting the oven make some sage butter to baste the bird.

Rub the skin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If you're so inclined (I was), tie some rosemary and sage leaves to the trussed chicken. Place on rack above vegetables, backside-up. Preheat oven to 450, and pop chicken in for 45 minutes.

Lower heat to ~400, and flip chicken breast-side-up. (Having the backside up during the browning phase makes sure the breast doesn't dry out, as it is basted by all the bird-fat dripping down.) Check for doneness (approaching 160 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh), remove and rest wrapped in foil for at least 15 minutes.

Behold your glorious bird.

Carve and serve with root vegetables. Normally I make a pan jus, but this was so moist and flavorful, it seemed a crime to drown it in sauce. Crisp skin, moist meat - not even a hint of dryness to the white meat.
Victory is mine. (The wife and Peanut concur.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Finally some ripening. I was worried this batch would be no good, as we had to uproot and move the entire garden due to a bad neighbor problem. I'm surprised they didn't all die.

Regaining my composure now. The bad neighbors ambushed us and put us through a bit of an ordeal. But, as the wife gently reminded me, "one cannot go through life slitting the throat of every cocksucker whose character it would improve" (h/t to Al Swearengen).

Above is our now-ripening Champion. Hopefully the next batch of fruit will live up to the name. The cherry tomatoes and heirlooms are still slowly coming along. Peppers and zucchini are back to square one. I guess this is what happens when you have to uproot and relocate an entire garden. Bastards.

Then the cucumbers - two are almost ready to pick, and dozens of little proto-cucumbers. Once they start approaching critical mass, they grow frighteningly quickly. And look vaguely obscene.

Also, Sunday's roast chicken pics soon, and a pastrami too.