Meat meat meat for me to eat!

If you haven’t guessed by now – I love meat: the flesh of formerly living animals, the muscle tissue of those creatures slower and dumber than I. Do I feel any remorse? Ummmmmm..hell no. Yes I have killed critters with my own hands and prepared them for dinner. I will tell you right now - a fish just taken out of a body of water, gutted, scaled and fried up in a skillet is the best damn food on the face of the earth.

My second favorite meal is a nice beef roast. True, a cow can’t be lured into my oven by a worm on a hook, which means I have to resort to letting others do my butchery for me. I try to buy all my meat from Schuman’s or Thurn’s as I know I will be getting a quality product. However, there are times when I am walking through Meijers and see a deal I can’t resist. Meijers has a policy of selling vacuum packaged primals to the public from time to time at really great prices. I’ve bought whole pork loins (with ribs), and most recently, a sirloin “roast”. If this meat had been sliced, it would have become sirloin steaks. However, because I was brave and bought it without any further processing, I got a great deal.

I stood pawing over the pile of meat, wondering if I should buy one or two when a lady came up and asked me how I planned to cook such a big roast. I spent a few minutes telling her how to cook the roast, how to remove the silver skin on the outside, how to tell if the meat was medium or medium rare (temperature not time!). Bless her heart she jumped in and bought one. She said, “Thanks! They should hire you to teach people how to cook this stuff!”

This isn’t the first time it’s happened either. Consumers have become accustomed to having meat sold in small ready to cook portions. When confronted with a huge chunk of flesh, we are at a loss as how to deal with it. Fortunately, I was prepared, being raised by a stay-at-home mom who knew how to process her meats (Mom even had a bone saw!) and a couple books on meat preparation.

Don’t be scared of roasts. They are easier than you think. The first thing you are gonna need is a working knowledge of the cow. So get out there - the information is at your fingertips. Find out what parts are best for a nice dry heat spa treatment and which ones have to be braised. Next, get a really good instant read thermometer. I just picked up one of the “leave it in while the beast cooks” kind. Third, get a good roasting pan that is shallow and has a rack. I bought mine for $20 on clearance after the holidays – just keep an eye out. Lastly, get out a nice sharp slicing knife. A chef’s knife will do ok in a pinch, but I actually have a slicer so I use it.

You are now ready to process your chuck o’ beef.

Remove the meat from its plastic prison and rinse it in cold water in the sink. Exam it closely, note how it’s put together. This is a biology lesson of sorts - take advantage of it.

If the roast is covered with a whitish-silver membrane – it needs to come off. I usually get a good sharp paring knife and peel it off. (If you haven’t seen it yet - the latest Good Eats about beef tenderloin has a really good tutorial on how to peel off the membrane. Check it out.) Trim off any huge chunks of fat or connective tissue. Be brave - usually you would be paying extra because the butcher would be doing this for you! I saved any meaty bits and threw them in the freezer for the stock pot.

Fire up you oven to 450 degrees while you are doing this - we want a really hot oven!

Now that you have a trimmed roast, you are ready to season the meat. I use the slivers of garlic method: slice up some cloves of garlic, cut ‘lil holes in the roast with my paring knife and stuff in the garlic. It helps - really. The garlic will come out during slicing and it adds a great flavor to the roast. I used 5 cloves of garlic for this roast. Next, I make a rub out of kosher salt, cracked pepper and cumin – ummmmm I did not measure the amounts, but I would say 2 parts salt, 1.5 of pepper and .5 of cumin. The roast then gets a massage with the rub. Insert the “stay in the meat” thermometer probe (if you are using it) into the thickest part of the meat. I set mine for 122 for medium rare.

Place the meat into your roasting pan and then into the blazing hot oven. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes at 450 until it has a nice crust, then reduce heat to 350 and cook until done to the desired temperature. Remember about carryover cooking and take your roast out a little before your desired temperature is reached. The temperature will increase several degrees while it’s enjoying the sauna.

Once your roast has rested, about 15 – 20 minutes, then you are ready to slice.

Deglaze your pan - make a nice au jus or gravy. Live it up!

I love roast beast sandwiches, where the meat is sliced super thin. I eat it up with a nice horseradish mayo sauce.

Not too hard huh? The worst that would happen is that you would overcook the meat. Then you get to make hash from it! And that is a dish to be proud of in its own right.


What's on your TV?

Once people find out that you have a passion, they always want to bring you little bits to show that they share your interests. In cooking, it usually means they hope you will make samples and ask them to taste test.

Recently, my hubby brought home a set of DVDs for me to watch. The gal in this show was definitely not ready for prime time. She was in her fifties and wore horrible uniform-like outfits. She was a sloppy cook. Stuff was slopped everywhere, sometimes she would just toss equipment into a trash can when she was done with it. The production values of the show were awful as well. It looked like it was all done in one cut and a bad one at that. However, the food she prepared was really great. She was an advocate of actually making items from scratch, using fresh ingredients. She obviously loved what she was doing.

So who was this cook- this woman who put substance over style? Julia Child, of course. If Julia auditioned for a television show today, Food Network would have tossed out her tape with the rest of the slush pile. I can see the producers’ comment cards now. "Needs to loose some weight. Audiences don’t like fat chicks. And that hair! She looks like Wilma Flintstone, for God’s sake! What about that voice – maybe she should quit impersonating Katherine Hepburn." I wonder what the producers would have made of James Beard. He was definitely another person who would not fit into the sanitized vision of the American cooking scene. Hell, they wouldn’t even have let him in the studio.

When Food Network cut Sara Moulton out of the scene, they were sending a pretty clear message to me: Style over Substance. Got a fad? We’ll bite! A festival? We’ll be there! Got a nice smile and a good stage presence? Have we got a job for you! Can’t cook? That’s ok - we got a kitchen full of faceless pros to back you up. They will never be famous and all they can do is cook.

So now the airwaves are filling up with hip styles and pretty faces. Let’s take a look at one of the hot ones. Everyone’s favorite, Rachel Ray.

So what does Rachel Ray, the new darling of Food TV, owe her fame to? While her family has a background in restaurants, Rachel’s resume is mostly about her career as a manager and a food buyer. 30 Minute Meals was created to sell more products, not to share her love of food. Think I am bashing your darling Ray-ray? Check out the bio on the Food Network website. It’s all right there on public display. Rachel is a business person first, and a food person second…or third.

I am sorry to be bashing Rachel. I am sure she is a wonderful person. She may even have saved a drowning puppy at one time. But to her, food is not a matter of love, but a vehicle to success. If Rachel’s parents had run a beauty parlor, she would have probably been selling her own line of cosmetics on QVC instead, and quite successful at it.

Personally, I would rather read a hundred blog entries with all their typing errors, and unlovely food photos, because they are written by people who really truly love food and all that pertains to it. They do it for love, not for a dollar. It’s great that some of them will eventually make money doing something they love. I wish we all could. But you don’t sell your love for money. There is a word for that.


My Contribution to Global Warming

In winter, I love cooking up bean soup. Something about creamy beans, salty smoked ham shanks and onions cooked together that transcends their humble demeanor. It also means that I have to stock up on air freshener and Beano. Like anything else in life, there is always a trade off, isn’t there?

Personally, I use a crock pot for my white bean soup. A lot of books I have read say they don’t like the texture of the beans cooked this way, but my family has never complained. True, they are not as creamy as stovetop beans, but I also can throw the mess in the crock and then schlep myself to work. To me, that convenience offsets any real sacrifice in texture.

For the meat in this dish, I usually use ham hocks or shanks. The ham hocks you get at your regular grocery store tend to suck. That was not always the case, but in the past ten years or so, I have been very disappointed with the size and quality of most commercial products. Schuman’s to the rescue again!! I picked up one of their smoked ham shanks last time I dropped the national debt there, and it was wonderful. Meaty with a good smoky taste. I also had the shank split in two so that the marrow would cook out into the beans.

Carrying on the tradition of my mother, I use Great Northern beans. How do these differ from Navy beans? I have no freaking idea. But Mom used them and that’s good enough for me. My dad loved her bean soup and my hubby loves mine. Nuff’ said.

So here ya go - my bean soup is not a science - it’s a zen kinda thing. Once you get it, you’ll know.

Rosie’s Bean Soup

2 pounds dried Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
2 medium onions, peeled and cut in half

1 to 2 pounds of ham shanks or hocks

3 bay leaves

salt, pepper, garlic powder


Equipment: 6 qt crock pot

Throw onions, beans and ham shanks into the crock. Add the bay leaves, salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. (Be careful with the salt, as the ham will have varying degrees of saltiness. I usually check the crock when I get home and taste the stock that forms. If it isn’t very salty, I add more.)

Fill the crock up with water to the top, turn on low and cover. If you are home, stir occasionally and check seasoning. If not, don’t sweat it. It will still be good.

Cooking time will range from eight to twelve hours depending on your crock pot, the amount of moisture in the beans, the phase of the moon, etc.

When the beans are done, they will be soft all the way through and have a good flavor.
Pull out the shanks/hocks and let cool some. Be careful removing them, as there may be small bones that will escape into your pot. Make sure you remove any escaped bones unless you really want to take a trip to the dentist. Strip the meat off the bone and return to the pot.

Serve soup with fresh chopped onion and some hot sauce. Corn bread is nice on the side along with some greens if you have them. Sautéed spinach is a winner too. Failing that, make a nice bread and butter sandwich and dip it in the soup. Taste-tee!

Yield: about 4 qts of soup and several millimeters off the ozone layer

Just a few quickies

I have a confession to make – Debbie is my evil twin or rather, I am her evil twin. Customers at work get confused and think we are the same person. This includes customers that have been coming in for years! Excited by her web debut, Debbie has been spreading the gospel! She sent her sister a link to this blog to show off the pictures we took during our holiday bake-fests. Upon viewing the entries, Sis asked Deb if that was her hitting the bottle! Her own sister can’t tell us apart! I think this will lead to greater opportunities for mischief.


I caught the premier episode of “Ham on the Street” last night on the Food Network. It’s pretty damn funny. I learned a lot of cool stuff, like you can’t cook an ostrich egg sunny side up. George Duran is manic, amusing and just plain fun to watch. He connects with the poor folks he drags in off the street, and draws his audience in.
Here is a quote from a Food Network website interview:
FN.com: What makes you different from other Food Network hosts?
GD: You may not be able to tell on TV, but I don’t like wearing underwear when I cook.

You got to love it.

Right now there are only three episodes listed on the website. The next airing is on Jan. 14th at 2:00pm.

I wonder if I could bribe him into kicking Rachel Ray in the ass for me? Hmmmmm…


In case you live under a rock, I thought I would post this link about Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian. I think it’s time to make a pilgrimage. Her PBS program was the reason my hubby and I wanted to learn to cook - and the great thing about her programs is that they are still an educational, and fun, watch today. The second set of DVDs just came out and they are already on the way to our house.


A conversation with Frank

Me: "So did you put on any weight over the holidays?"
Frank: "Yup! 10 pounds!"
Me: "So where did you store it?" I poked his tummy.
Frank: Points to his man boobs
Me: "Went up a whole cup size huh?"
Frank: "DD, baby!"


Food Porn Reviled!

When you get a new cookbook, what is the first thing you do? You turn to the food porn! Duh! However, we all know those pictures lie to us. “Pssstttt – hey you - c'mere! Wanna impress your friends? Put this lovely lil dish on the table and they will never forget ya!”

A prime example of how the books lie to you was made painfully evident to me
this baking season when I made the Cranberry Cherry Stripes from All American Cookie Book. Tender pale cookies with lovely ruby red stripes of preserves running between them. Yummmmmmmmmm. I followed the instructions to the letter. I waited impatiently to get the dough out of the freezer so I could start baking. I took my sharpest knife to the block of dough – wham! WTF? Nice straight lines, my butt! You got to be kidding! These look like crap!

Reviewing the instructions with the gang, it was decided the only way to make those lovely even stripes was to roll the dough out before placing it in the pan instead of patting it into the pan as directed. For fairness’ sake, I present to you my results - and the food porn that convinced me to try this recipe.
I then started looking at my other pictures. Hmmmm - I see an alarming trend. Am I that bad a baker? All my food tastes great, even the cranberry cherry bars tasted wonderful. I guess I am just going to have to work on my porn skills. (Funny, that is a phrase I NEVER thought would come outta my lips.)

So for your viewing enjoyment, I have contrasted my pictures with those of the true food pornographers. Enjoy!


Makin' excuses and cabbage rolls

Sorry about the hiatus – I ended up with a nine day vacation and while I didn’t do one lick of blogging, I did 1) throw out my back, 2) take a lot of painkillers and muscle relaxers, 3) watching a bunch of Falcon movies starring George Sanders, 3) get my kitchen cleaned and reorganized, and 4) make a boatload of cabbage rolls. The thing with cabbage rolls is you can only make boatloads. No one ever says “I’ll think I am going to whip up a cabbage roll or two!”

Cabbage rolls are a tradition on my mother’s side of the family. My mother was half-Polish and my aunt by marriage was either Hungarian or Slavic (I can’t remember now!). A birthday party? Cabbage Rolls! A funeral dinner? Cabbage Rolls! Family reunion? Ten types of cabbage rolls!

Once I moved away from home, I did not eat another cabbage roll for 20 years. No kidding. I disliked them that much. I hated my mom’s cabbage rolls. I am not sure what she did, but the meat mixture was always dense and rocklike. Her meatloaf was the same way. (A side note on the meatloaf: when cold, you could slice my mom’s meatloaf into 1/16th of an inch slices. That is how dense it was. *shudder*)

My aunt’s rolls, on the other hand, were always light in texture and the cabbage was always perfectly tender. When we would go to a family reunion, I would eat my aunt’s cabbage rolls, but not mom’s. And then I would be stupid enough to praise my aunt loudly in front of my mother. Doh! My dad finally had a talk with me and took care of that issue.

So from then on, I never ate another cabbage roll (or at least tried not too unless forced with threats of physical punishment) - until I went to the local U.N. Festival. If you do not have one in your town, I feel bad for you. The festival is a celebration of all the different cultures that make up Columbus, Ohio. And believe me, there are a lot of them. You can buy tons of crafts and other junk to take home, see examples of folk dancing, and best of all - you can eat! You name it – you can probably find it here.

My daughter and I had picked up some black beans and rice, curry, egg rolls, and a variety of pastries and were on our way to the seating area to eat and watch the belly dancing demonstration (*shudder*), when we passed a Hungarian food booth. The smell was heaven. I had to know what it was!

As it turns out, it was a booth for a local church and there were five tiny, ancient ladies making goulash and cabbage rolls. The line was pretty long, so by the time I got up to the order counter, the goulash was sold out and all they had left was cabbage rolls. Ok – I ordered them to be polite. How could I insult these wonderful ladies who worked so hard? I figured I survived my mom’s rolls; surely these couldn’t be worse than hers.

It was an eye opener. They were delicious! Better than my aunt’s! I went back and bought two more. When I went home, I decided that I wanted to be able to make cabbage rolls for myself.

My family was skeptical. My daughter had refused to try any at the festival. (While cabbage rolls taste great - they look less than appetizing.) My hubby had heard horror stories of my mom’s rolls, but in the end, they agreed to try them out just one time.

Cabbage rolls are not for the weak. It takes stamina to prep everything needed. The blanched cabbage, the rice, the tomato sauce – lots and lots of prep. It was a labor of Herculean proportions the first time. I would have rather cleaned The Augean Stables than sweat over the blanching pot one more minute.

In the end, it was well worth it though. My rolls were not as good as the lil old ladies’ rolls at the festival. I bet if I were 85 and had been making rolls for 70 plus years, then mine would have tasted that good. They weren’t even like my aunt’s. But they definitely weren’t like my mother’s and I was thankful for that!

So here ya go! Cabbage Rolls - share them with your family, friends, co-workers, people you met at the bus stop - trust me you’ll have that many!

Cabbage Rolls

I usually get between 25- 30 rolls

2 pounds hot sausage
2 pounds ground beef
3 cups cooked rice
2 medium onions, chopped
3 gloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup dried mushrooms, soaked then chopped (reserve soaking water) (I used shitake as that is what I had lurking in the house)
8 slices bacon, diced
3 T Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup tomato sauce

2 eggs
seasoned salt and pepper
onion powder, garlic powder, paprika
2 large heads or 3 small heads cabbage, cored and blanched

2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 15 oz cans of small diced tomatoes
1 cup mushroom soaking water

1 medium onion, diced
3 T sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika

To make the sauce:
Saute the onions in a small amount of bacon fat or oil until soft. Add all of the tomato products and mushroom water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar; simmer, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Remove from the heat.

Place a skillet over medium heat and cook the diced bacon until fat is
rendered. Sauté the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft.
Put bacon, onions and garlic in a bowl and let cool. Combine with the
ground meat in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, Worcestershire
sauce, the cooked rice and mushrooms. Toss the filling together with
your hands to combine, season with a generous amount of salt and
pepper and paprika.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the large, damaged
outer leaves from the cabbages and set aside. Cut out the cores of the
cabbages with a sharp knife and place the whole head into boiling
water. Carefully pull off all the large leaves with tongs, keeping
them whole and as undamaged as possible. Run the leaves under cool
water then lay them out so you can assess just how many blankets you have to wrap up the filling. Roughly chop the remaining part of the heads.

Next, carefully cut out the center vein from the leaves so they will be easier to roll up. Take the reserved big outer leaves and lay them on the bottom of a large roaster, let part of the leaves hang out the sides of the pan. This insulation will prevent the cabbage rolls from burning on the bottom when baked. Put in part of the chopped “core” cabbage as well. Use all the good looking leaves to make the cabbage rolls. Put about ½ cup of the meat filling in the center of the cabbage and starting at what was the stem-end, fold the sides in and roll up the cabbage to enclose the filling. Place the cabbage rolls side by side in rows, seam-side down, in the roaster.

Top with tomato sauce, then any extra leaves and chopped cabbage left over.

Place in oven pre-heated to 350 degrees.

Cook covered for about 2 hours until cabbage is soft and the meat is done. Refrigerate overnight to let flavors meld. Reheat for 30 mins at 350 degrees until heated through.

Serve with boiled potatoes topped with butter and sour cream. Bread and butter is good too!!

Here is your belated Christmas Present

Well - I had promised to share with you our holiday cookie recipes. A few of them (like Debbie's Neon Fruitcake cookies) I do not have in hand but this covers a good portion of the cookies we did make.

Do not miss Gail's Pecan Sandies! They are the best cookies of this type I have ever eaten. The short recipe (the last page in the pdf) seems misleading, but yes, they do rock.

Get my cookies here!! Yeah baby! You know you can't resist!


2005 Cookie Bake-fest part 2

There is nothing like getting up at 7 am on a Sunday morning, driving 60 miles only to discover that you are lost, backtracking 30 miles, getting on the right road and still beating everyone else there. It was all Rick’s fault, by the way. Don’t take the bypass he said…well, look were I ended up. Poor Debbie really got lost - it took us 45 minutes to guide her in by phone. Rick met her at the end of the drive way with a mimosa - she announced that she hoped there was lots of champagne - it had been a four mimosa drive.

The reason for the trek into the wilderness? To break in Rick and Greg’s new kitchen - a whole week old!! I have serious kitchen envy. Granite countertops, state of the art appliances including a convention oven, lots of room and an open floor plan. The only drawback? They live almost 45 minutes from Columbus and have turkeys in their back yard.

This was the final round of baking prior to Christmas – so everyone was eager to finish up the baking. Greg stayed out of our way - he is one smart cookie! Also in attendance were Rick and Greg’s three babies beagles. Ummmmm, I forgot their names. Hey, I am just lucky the people at work wear nametags! I would hate to see how things would run if they didn’t. I would just call everyone Jim and Mary. "Hey, Jim, can you make me ten copies of this page?" "My name is not Jim - it's Bob." "That's nice Jim. Please make those copies will ya?"

Gail and I both brought our Kitchenaid mixers. Her mixer is a lowly 5qt while mine is a rocking 6 qt. I bought the Professional model so that I could quadruple batches of cheesecake filling, which this machine whips up with ease. However, Gail has the grinder attachment - which means I might borrow it to make up my own sausages. Gail uses her grinder to make nut meal for her Pecan Sandies. It is a great recipe. The texture is perfect.

Debbie picked up a fruitcake cookie recipe from a lady at her church. The colors looked great. It even tasted pretty good. The only thing to keep in mind is that cherries should not come in dayglow green. If you can get past the neon fruit, then this recipe is for you.

I had prepped gingersnap dough and brought it with me. I love gingersnaps - they improve with time and everyone loves dunking them in milk or coffee. I grabbed my recipe from the Penzeys’ website a couple years ago. It is the only recipe that I use that calls for shortening. I have been toying with the idea of substituting lard for the shortening. That is - if I find some gumption I plan on trying it. I am making the assumption that lard is 100% fat like shortening. Correct me if I am wrong.

I also tried one of the cookie swap winners from Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen. They turned out very crisp, but seemed to be weak on the almond flavor. I tried adding a little more almond flavoring in the second batch, which helped quite a bit. I think that I would like trying the soft version next time - to see if they cookies have a more pronounced nut flavor.

Now the whole time we are baking, we are swilling mimosas. Then Greg, who had been struggling to install a ceiling fan all morning, brought out a bottle of rye. I have never had rye whisky before. So I took a slug. Good to the last drop!

After we finished baking all the various goodies, we divided everything between the bakers plus one batch for our place of employment. The gang was very appreciative of the bounty. See Jeremy, our courier? His favorite pastime is biting the head off of gingerbread women - as long as he doesn’t bite the heads off anything else, I’m cool.

I came back the next morning to inspect the remains of the cookie trays to see what had been left uneaten. It was mostly the cookies that had been made with the “master dough” recipe. The flavors were just not enough to make people go crazy about them. One the other hand, there was not one stick of shortbread left. Note to self: anything with chocolate is a winner!

Boy, I am glad this is over for another year! I always swear I will never do it again - ever- the week after Christmas. Know what? When the leaves start falling in the autumn, I’ll start thinking about cookies, and you know that I am a glutton for punishment. Hmmm…maybe I’ll make the Ma’amouls from Indra’s blog next year…