Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Turkey, In A Pickle

Let's talk, Turkey.

Turkey is indigenous to the Americas. In fact, Ben Franklin, an all-time glutton (the dude ate a lot of things, but probably not too much turkey) wanted to name the wild turkey as the national bird instead of the bald eagle. Turkeys, you see, are wiley creatures. They're hard to hunt and are as fast as arrows. If you're even lucky enough to see one in the wild, you probably won't catch it. (Turkeys can hear a human sneeze up to a mile away.)

But they taste like... well, not shit, but not good.

When turkey is cooked to the USDA recommended temperature of 165°F it is dry. So dry that to eat is without gravy is a completely unpleasant experience. (Hence the invention of gravy.) It begs the question: Why do we still eat it?

I suppose the reason we still eat turkey on Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas is because it's a tradition and it looks great on the platter. Remember that classic Norman Rockwell painting from 1943 with Grandma presenting a perfect bird to the perfect family? I wish my life were like that painting, complete with a great-tasting turkey.

But my (and I'm guessing your) not-so-perfect life is not like that painting, and my not-so-perfect bird - it doesn't taste good.

This fact has been written about at extent on almost every medium. And so far, I guess this story is not news.

But that's about to change. Because this space is not for whining about why turkey isn't good. This space is about finding a solution.

I got an idea the last time I was hanging out in a really hip neighborhood with some writer friends. After drinks we wandered to a local pub-ish restaurant in Brooklyn called Prime Meats. There's been a lot of hype about this place. People like it. So, naturally, I was skeptical. But as it turns out, they know what they're doing.

One of their specialties is chicken. Chicken, also... not always great. But they make sure it will be great by brining it IN PICKLE JUICE!

Brining foul is common. In fact, the best turkeys you can buy (kosher turkeys) have been brined. Brine adds flavor to the meat, via salt and sugar, and it also makes the meat moister by a process called osmosis that allows the meat cells to hold onto water while it's cooked. So inherently, brined birds will taste better. Pickles are also brined. The vinegar solution they age in contains salt, sugar, vinegar, water, and spices.

Wait. Those are the same ingredients in turkey brine. Oh. Well, that makes sense.

Plus, pickle juice has the added flavor of pickles, which, of course, also taste great. But here's the thing - you'll need at least 3 quarts of pickle juice to brine a turkey, and, that can mean lots of pickle eating. Too much, actually.

Instead, I went to a place that sells pickles and asked them for about a gallon of pickle juice. There are a lot of places like this in New York City, but over Thanksgiving, I was in Pennsylvania. The farmers' market in Allentown has a pickle shop, where, they charged me a buck a cup for the juice. They don't get a lot of requests for pickle juice, so instead of the gallon I asked for, they could only give me 3 quarts. It ended up being enough.

If you decide to give this wonderful idea (and I really mean that - the turkey was awesome) a whirl, then you should call your pickle person ahead and request the juice.

Here's the other thing; I cut the bird in pieces. Turkey breasts and legs cook at different rates, so to make sure each piece has the right amount of time in the oven or on the grill, they should be separated. Just do it. You'll be happy.

After the bird was cut up, I soaked it, overnight, in the pickle juice, heh, flipping the bird occasionally. Then, I grilled it until both the legs and the breasts were 145°F. (They slowly rose in temperature to 165°F as they rested.) (The legs were done before the breasts.)

It was BY FAR the best turkey I've ever had; moist, juicy, flavorful, and a little pickle-y. You ask me? I'd say we make the pickle the national bird.

(Gosh. They make a T-shirt for every occasion, these days...)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 Unlikely Animal Parts You NEED To Learn How To Cook -'Cause They're Awesome

(Looks good, no? See #5)
photo by Emily Fleischaker

My friends Kat and Sarah asked me to pick 5 things I'd really love to mention on their (big-time) company's food site Eatocracy. So I got thinking about how we've all been getting ripped-off lately. With more and more bits and bops showing up on chefs' menus, I think we can all admit, the times they are a-changin'. Truth be told, these chef characters are taking us for a bit of a ride. See, bits and bops are really cheap and with only a little know-how, they're really good. So you can either shell out all your hard-earned cash to this guy, or this guy, who will rip you off, OR you can learn a few simple tips to make these things yourself.

It's time to grow up and cook some nasty bits. Here's how you can get started:

1. Chicken Hearts - You'll find these at almost every butcher's counter (if not, they can order them for you). They're super-cheap, and when grilled, they taste like meat candy. In South America, you'll find them skewered, sprinkled with coarse salt and grilled until they're just pink on the inside. Every single person who tries them becomes an instant convert.

(Try not to think about what the tongue tasted before you tasted the tongue.)

2. Beef Tongue - The only gross thing about tongue is that it looks like a big ol' tongue. Oh, and you'll need to peel it, but that's the fun part. Buy a tongue, put it in the pressure cooker with 1-inch of beef stock and cook for 30 minutes. (Or do it this way.) Let it cool, peel it, and serve slices on sandwiches, crostini, or chopped up in a ragout. The meat is silky-soft and absolutely chock-full-o-flavor.

3. Monkfish Liver - This is a surprise to a lot of folks, but monkfish liver is the foie gras of the sea. If the fish guy at the market has monkfish liver, I'm buying it. Seared in a little butter, it has a rich flavor and texture and makes a perfect first course with some pickled shallots or a lemony-jalapeƱo slaw.

4. Turkey Gizzards - Gizzards are the un-chewable tough bits that are shoved into the hole of the Thanksgiving bird. (Chickens have them, too.) You could add them to the gravy, but a much better use is to confit them. Once you've collected a few (freeze them as you come across them), salt them and cover them with fat in a pan (olive oil works, so does turkey-duck-chicken fat) and let them simmer for 11/2 hours. Sliced thinly, they have a super-soft-yet-meaty texture and a very mild flavor.

(Who doesn't?)

5. Testicles of Any Kind - As you know, I've covered gonads here before. Recently, I found some lamb balls at the butcher and they surprised (happily) my dinner guests (albeit, after they got used to the idea). Peel away the sack, pierce the membrane, and roast. Whether you want to then slice and fry these bops (like the first picture in the post) is up to you, but their texture is cloud-like (think sweetbreads, but smoother) and their flavor so mild that they pair well with just about anything. Those lamb balls were the star of a spring salad of beets, beans, shallots, and mache. The dish was awesome.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Shepherd of Grapes


Recently, I attended Dry Creek Passport in Sonoma County, California.
Passport is a weekend-long event at which 50-plus vineyards open their tasting rooms to hoards of thirsty Zinfandel drinkers. I was in attendance on a press pass, and the folks who were running the public relations for the weekend will, no doubt, be happy that I thought enough of the wine to write about it.

By all accounts, Dry Creek Valley is producing some world-class wines.
Of course, not every bottle made in the Valley is world-class. But some are. Phil Hearst at Truett Hearst makes a very fine Pinot Noir and an extremely delicious
Zinfandel Rose. Unti Vineyards is producing a stellar Grenache. Just about everything
available to the wine club members of Michel Schlumberger will knock your socks off, and anyone can join the club. Debra Mathy of Dutcher Crossing has cultivated relationships with the finest grape growers in the Valley, and the proof of their skill (and the skill of her winemaker, Kerry Damskey) is in every bottle. But the best bottle of wine I had from Dry Creek Valley, by far, is one that is unavailable to just about everyone.

The PR machine behind Passport won't be too thrilled about this fact,
I guess. But still, they should be happy I met Paul Bernier, the man
who made that bottle of wine in his tool shed.

I met Paul at Dutcher Crossing Winery. He was tucked in a corner of
the tasting tent, pouring Zinfandel. The wine was made from the grapes
he grew in the summer of 2007. Paul is not a wine snob or a
sophisticated viticulturist (and there are plenty of both crawling
around Sonoma). Paul is a grape farmer and he looks the part, which is
to say, rough, grizzled, and slightly awkward when tucked into a
corner of a wine-tasting tent. So, immediately, I liked him.

Within 30 seconds we were fully engaged in a discussion about how
immigration legislation will affect the industry. (Paul's view is that
it won't. "Anglos" like to drink their handpicked old-vine Zinfandel
too much and at the same time are too lazy to do the work. Paul pays
his pickers $20 to $25 an hour. It's not the money that will keep them
around, he says, it's the Latino workers' work ethic. "They're here
and they want to work," he told me.) Even on dirty subjects, Paul
thinks like a farmer—with his feet firmly planted in the ground.

The wine Paul was pouring, although made from his grapes, was crafted
by the Dutcher Crossing team. When I asked if they were doing a good
job with his grapes, he did not say yes or no. Instead, he invited me
to see his vineyards at 7:00 the next morning. Of course, I took him
up on it.

Most of Paul's grapes were planted some 20 years ago on leased land.
They are pruned in a style called head training, which makes it
impossible to harvest the grapes by machine. They need to be picked by
hand. This is one of the keys in the relationship between the vines
and a farmer like Paul. Just by means of harvest, he is already so
much closer to the plants than his tractor-picking contemporaries. He
actually needs to touch the vines, and he does, almost every day. We
stood on one of his planted hillsides as the sun finished rising, and
he described his pruning techniques. He pointed out the fresh buds,
then laid his hand, over-sized from decades of labor, on an old,
gnarled branch of the vine as if laying a hand on the shoulder of an
old friend. This man loves these plants. When I asked him about the
physical difficulty of his chosen profession, he smiled with the
innocence of a child. "Heh, this isn't hard. This is fun."

He took me to see another one of his planted hillsides, the
Bernier-Sibary vineyard, about a quarter mile down the road from his
house. And this is when things started to get really interesting. Over
the course of our conversation, Paul debunked several modern wine
myths. And although I encouraged this with the questions I asked him,
I got the feeling that he wanted these facts to be known.

Wineries insist that grapes are extremely sensitive to
terroir—that the soil flavor of adjacent hillsides is
different enough that they can be detected in the finished wine. Paul
disagrees. Sure, grapes from Napa will have different characteristics
than those from Sonoma, or the Rhone Valley, but the distance of
several football fields makes little or no difference at all. Some
wineries sell what's called block wine. In other words, they ferment
and bottle grapes from one plot and sell it as superior to another
nearby plot. According to Paul, it's a bunch of hogwash. If you're
growing your grapes well, then a few hundred yards, or a quarter mile
for that matter, makes no difference.

Of course, within that thought lives the simple notion that the grapes
need to be grown well. So what does that mean anyway? In the case of
Paul Bernier, less is more. "Wineries think the growers are magicians,
but I'm more of a shepherd; I just keep the wolves away," he said,
almost chuckling.

One of those wolves wears bacteria's clothing, and bacteria loves a
moist environment. To avoid the need for both fungicides and
herbicides, Paul uses a technique called dry farming. Every spring, he
tills the ground throughout the vineyards. This adds nutrients to the
soil by way of decaying weeds. It also creates a layer of mud that
quickly dries into what is called a dust mulch. The vines are not
irrigated. Instead they pull all the water they need from beneath the
ground. This environment is hostile for bacteria, so Paul saves money
on both spraying and watering. Instead of adding chemical nutrients to
the soil, he churns in composted grapes along with some oyster shells.
"It's what the plants want," he told me.

I found this YouTube video of Paul working the farm:

Well, it seems to be working. Dutcher Crossing is charging (and
getting, I'm sure) $39 a bottle for wine made from Paul's grapes. I
tasted it and it's delicious, yet it stands out in a valley full of
Zinfandels because Paul grows what is called a field blend.
Intermingled with his Zin are three other varieties: Petit Syrah,
Carignane, and Matero. He told me the percentage, but I wouldn't want
to give away too much of his secret, one he learned from an Italian
grape farmer of the old school. "Those guys knew how to live," he said
as we climbed through the vineyard. The different grape varieties grow
together, are picked together, and are fermented together. Their
combined taste is something of a signature.

But there's more.

Grape vines produce two fruitings a season. They are called the first
and second growths. The vineyards are only interested in the first
growth, believing the quality to be better. That leaves the second
growth as a sort of insurance policy. One that Paul usually turns into
his own wine. I asked if the quality were any different from growth to
growth. He asked me if I'd like a bottle of his wine and said, "You
can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

A writer loves when a farmer says that sort of thing.

So I drank Paul's wine with some wine connoisseur friends. These are
people who know more about wine than I ever hope to, and they loved
it. I loved it too. It tastes very much like Dutcher Crossing's
version, but slightly rougher. Rougher in the best of all possible
ways, too. It tastes as if there are berries the size of basketballs,
and prunes dried in desert sun, with enough cloves and anise to build
a gingerbread house. And dirt. The wine tastes like dirt. Dirt that
has been worked year after year with grape compost, oyster shells, and

It's inspiring to meet people like Paul Bernier. He removes the
pretension from what can be a pretty haughty subject and focuses on
what really matters. He pours in his love and stewardship of the land
to receive the best fruit he can grow. Then, he pours the wine of his
grapes at his dinner table. That's a guy who knows how to live.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Taming of The Ramp

What's the big deal with ramps?

Well, first off, they're pretty delicious in a familiar but very different way to their lily cousins. Nary a combination of garlic, scallion, and leek could ever quite match the wild musk that fills your head when you chomp down on a ramp. If the onion family were a line of colognes, then the ramp would be Sex Panther by Odeon. Or maybe even BK Flame. Needless to say, pretty powerful stuff.

But that's not all.

Above baby ramps, wafting their musky scent up through the early spring earth.

Ramps have cleverly made themselves scarce, thereby increasing demand. They have a very short season (only about six weeks in the spring) and they have the reputation for being uncultivable. The limited season situation is true, and seemingly unavoidable. But the theory of cultivability is a nasty rumor spread, no doubt, by those who could benefit from ramp scarcity: money-hungry farmers.

I can't get too upset at farmers and foragers for wanting to, well, ramp up their prices, but I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be this way. You, too, can grow your own ramps. All you'll need are some ramps to get started with, and a sugar maple or oak tree close to a wet, swampy area in the Eastern United States. Not too much to ask, really.

Ramps reproduce two ways, lucky bastards. They flower and go to seed, like most plants. Those seeds then drop and make new plants. But you'll have lots of trouble finding ramps seeds to plant. Ramps also reproduce by way of bulb offsets. This is the key to your future ramp garden. When you buy ramps at the farmers' market, make sure they come with the roots attached.

Before you cook with the ramps you've procured, remove the bottom 1/2-inch of bulb, keeping the roots attached. Store them, over night, covered by room temperature water. The next day, plant them in the damp soil around your eastern oak or maple and then forget about them for a year.

Or, spend the next eleven months dreaming about the ramps and their sacred scent of desire, like I do.

I planted six ramp bulbs two years ago. Last year six ramps popped up in early April. I ate them, leaving the bulbs in the ground. This year, I've found eleven so far. With any luck, I'll have twenty by next year. Now, you can do it too, tiger.

The swampy spring soil helps them reproduce, like gremlins, but stinkier in a good way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So You Want to Be a Baller?

Nose to tail eating is an ethos that embodies political correctness. Who can't get behind the idea of using every part of an animal? Sure, every sknny-jean wearing hipster with this month's copy of Edible Wherever tucked under his arm can settle into a pork jowl or trotter and take one for the Fergus Henderson team. The added bonus is that pork jowls and trotters (when cooked the right way) are delicious. So eating head to tail in this way is a bit like going to church only twice a year, on Easter and Christmas. You can put in your time and feel good about yourself; everyone sees you there; it doesn't hurt too much.

But who really practices true head to tail eating? How many among us delight in brain, or tendon, or testicles? These nasty bits, although they have a small following, often go ignored. But in the religion of nose to tail, having brains AND balls is what transcends the eater from political correct do-gooder to true enlightened guru. And for the record, balls (when cooked the right way) are delicious.

Deer balls, when held tenderly, feel disturbingly familiar.

This is the time of year when I open my freezer and find strange body parts. Hunting season is long past and the choice cuts have been eaten. I'm left with things like deer testicles.

There are a few tricks and techniques that come in handy when cooking them. As with anything,the key to cooking testicles, is understanding the ingredient. Testicles (and this shouldn't be surprising) are naturally salty. They also (and this is always surprising) tend to explode. I learned the latter the hard way when my friend Alan roasted two pair a few years ago; four balls went into the oven, three balls came out. After that incident, I did a little research. This post is about sharing that knowledge with you as a way to help with your journey toward food enlightenment.

Testicles have two membranes that surround the glands. The outer membrane encases the balls- a sack, if you will. Kitchen sheers help to cut through the tough tissue which can then be peeled back and torn away from the inner membrane. This inner membrane (tunica albuginea, for those of you following along in your copy of Gray's Anatomy) is what makes the balls explode when they are heated. It can shrink immediately when it comes in contact with heat, forcing its contents (the actual gland) to shoot all over the inside of your oven. To avoid this (and you want to avoid this), the inner membrane needs to be punctured, allowing it to shrink away from the testicle.

Here's a video demonstrating the peeling, puncturing, roasting, and slicing of a pair of deer testicles. It features Trent, Steve, Greg, and Elvis.

If you've come as far as the video shows, the the hard work is done. Bread and fry the slices of balls as you would a fried green tomato. Most importantly, you can feel good about yourself as an eater knowing that none of an animal has gone to waste. Welcome to true food enlightenment; feel free to bask in the salinity.

Monday, March 1, 2010

On Learning to Listen

I've been keeping bees since I was 12 years old. That was 20 years ago, and still, they amaze me. I was a quick and able student in the beginning. Both my grandfather and next-door neighbor, Rob were eager teachers. Rob signed me up for beekeeping courses at the local community college, and my grandfather murmured instructions as we bent over the buzzing hives.

As told to do, I pulled frames from the hives, sliced open drone cells, lopped off queen cells, and inspected the bees' bodies closely, searching for mites. I executed orders like a mindless soldier. Smoke the hive? Done. Scrape propolis from the edges of the frames? I was on it. My brazen attitude was mirrored by the insects', and in the beginning, I got stung a lot. When the queen murmurs, "Sting the crap out of that kid; teach him a lesson," the workers listen. And it happened. Once, it happened and I almost died. I should have known better; I should have been listening. The bees sing to you or they scream at you - and that day, they were screaming.

And it sounds like a scream. The buzz of 60,000 angry bees sounds, well, just like that. Their pitch elevates when they're upset. It can get to the point when all you can hear are the bees, screaming with their wings. The cacophony is dotted with tiny staccato pats, the punctuated landings of a thousand angry workers dive-bombing your veil. It's scary.

The evening I went into anaphylactic shock, I was wearing a veil with a drawstring. These days, most veils are zippered onto full body suits, but until recently common honeybee veils had a drawstring at the bottom, which when pulled tight enough, would keep most of the bees on the outside. This technology speaks to the Zen of yesteryear's beekeeper. If a bee made its way inside your veil, you'd just relax, and she probably wouldn't sting you on your face. That peace of mind and body was more than I could handle at 16. That evening, ten bees made their way into my veil. Eight stung me on my neck, in a bull's eye around my jugular vein, before I ripped off my veil and started running. Between the hive and the car, I was stung four more times. I remember itching all over. I remember looking in the mirror. I didn't recognize the boy staring back. Then, I remember waking up.

Rob was with me that evening and he had saved my life. A shot of adrenalin (he's a doctor) brought me back to the night, gasping. I spent the next twelve hours throwing up.

Two weeks later I was checking beehives with my grandfather when he told me I should find another hobby. Bees were too dangerous for a boy like me. I felt hot in the face when I heard his words. As we leaned over the hive, the bees' tone grew higher, and I flushed, as if they echoed his thoughts.

I felt as though he didn't understand why I had tried to learn about bees in the first place. It was to spend time learning from him. I was angry. That night I called Rob and told him I needed to be cured of my allergy. He knew an allergist, he told me. Maybe there was something we could do.

I went to the allergist for the next four years. Every month, I received an injection of honeybee venom, after which I sat in the waiting room for an hour, waiting for a reaction. None came. But one hour a month for four years adds up to two full days of my life. It gave me enough time to reflect on what I had heard that late evening, enough time to completely understand the scream of the bees. I finally realized that they weren't screaming at me. They were screaming to me.

In exchange for a place to live the bees let me look into their world once in a while. If I bring nervous or negative energy to their house, or if I overstay my welcome, then I am being an unpleasant guest. It's rude on my part and they have no qualms about letting me know. Now, if I hear the pitch of the hive increase, I know it's time to leave. Since I've learned to listen to the bees, I have not been stung in over fifteen years.

Last weekend I drove from my Brooklyn apartment to the family farm where I keep the bees. Snowdrifts spilled out onto the road, like pure white dunes. The wind made them move like water. The snow covering the lane to the farmhouse was three feet deep. I had to park the car on the side of the road and walk, taking a break every hundred yards to catch my breath.

As I approached the hive I was surprised. The bees had cleared their front entrance of snow. The warmth they generate had radiated upward and melted any that would have collected on top of the hive. I wanted to see if they were alright, but opening the hive would let their warmth escape. I've learned when not to impose.

I bent over and placed my ear on the side of their home. It felt cold. I closed my eyes and listened. From inside there was a calm, steady hum. It sounded something like, "We're alright, we can take care of ourselves, we'll see you in the spring."

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Pleasures and Dangers of Caramel

Now that chefs are the culinary equivalent of rock stars, many have the requisite tattoos to match the status. Michael Symon's punctuation-less "Got Pork" is not my style. But Hugh Acheson's radish is nice. My all-time favorite chef tattoo (sort of a tattoo; scarification, actually) is Gabrielle Hamilton's. She has an asparagus spear carved into her upper arm. It's pretty badass.

I don't have any tattoos. I prefer more traditional kitchen markings like scars and burns. I got a new one, a good one, last week. I've been showing it off since. Of course, the kitchen is full of things that might cut or burn you, but this particular permanent branding comes from the famous (and dangerous) kitchen tattoo/scarification artist called Caramel, which if at the correct stage is around 340°F. It happened when I flipped an upside-down apple tart right side-up. A tablespoon of the liquified burnt sugar spilled out of the pan, landed on and oozed down my forearm, burning all the way, like a lava flow. It was all I could do not to drop the dessert.

Yup, that's gonna leave a mark.

If you eat dinner at my table anytime between October and early March there's a good chance your dessert will be my version of a tart tatin. It's by-and-large one of my favorite desserts to make and eat. It's simple, flavorful, and really lets those apples take top billing.

And I have an affinity for apples.

There are two ancient apple trees that grow on the farm. One is something like a Golden Delicious, which is the traditional apple used in the French dessert. The other apple tree, however, is similar to a McIntosh, but tart like a Granny Smith, and is the fruit flavor I prefer in my apple desserts. Of course, there aren't enough Knauer farm apples for you to use, too, so the closest commercially available variety is Winesap. If you can't find those, use Gala.

Most importantly, unless you're addicted to pain (or want desperately to be one of the cool kids), please, take care when flipping over the skillet.

Here's the recipe:

Fresh Ginger Tart Tatin

If you find yourself strapped for time, or energy, use bought, frozen puff pastry instead of the pastry dough.

Serves 6 to 8

For pastry dough:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 tsp brown sugar

2 to 3 Tbsp cold water

For filling:

11/2 cups sugar

2 Tbsp water

1 stick unsalted butter

1 tsp lemon zest

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

5 Winesap or Gala apples

Kosher salt

Accompaniment: whipped cream

Work together the flour, butter, sugar, and ½ tsp salt with your hands until mostly combined with some small lumps of butter remaining. Stir in 2 Tbsp water with a fork. Press a small handful of dough together, if it looks powdery and does not come together, stir in the additional 1 Tbsp water. Transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the edge of plastic, fold dough over on itself, pressing until it comes together. Form the dough into a disk, wrapped completely in the plastic and chill for 1 hour.

While dough chills, heat 1 cup of the sugar with the water in a 10-to 12-inch well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and bubbling. Cook the caramel, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the sugar is a dark amber caramel. Remove skillet from heat and add the butter, carefully swirling the skillet to incorporate the butter into the caramel. Let the skillet (with the caramel) cool at room temperature.

Whisk together the remaining ½ cup sugar, zest, juice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ¼ tsp salt in a large bowl. Peel and core the apples, then halve them and toss with the sugar mixture.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out the pastry dough on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round. Place the apples, cut sides up over the caramel in the skillet, then drizzle with any remaining sugar mixture. Top the apples with the dough tucking the edges of dough down around the apples. Cut 6 to 8 steam vents in the dough.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden, the filling is bubbling. This will take about 45 minutes.

Let the tart cool until warm in the skillet. Invert a serving plate over the skillet, then carefully reinvert tart onto the serving plate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Word About A Man And A Sandwich

My teenage summers were spent primarily in the company of my grandfather, my father's father, Daniel. It was a smart move on the part of my elders. Looking back, I realize the reasoning was likely to keep from trouble; it's a proclivity I still possess a penchant for. Instead of spray-painting or skateboarding or jumping over bonfires, I mowed lawns and tended beehives under the close, strict, but loving watch of Daniel. After many summers, we grew close, and the time we spent together then is a part of my life that I remember with deep fondness.

Above, my grandfather and me, meeting for the first time. (I think I might have been asleep for it.)

During the summer of my 16th year, I took a month off from my farm chores to travel to Germany as part of an exchange program. There, I was able to gain a basic understanding of the language and catch up on some of the trouble I'd been missing out on. I succeeded on both accounts. But part of me missed my grandfather. I remember feeling worried that I'd lose the old man, that he might prematurely kick the bucket while I selfishly drank beer and ate wurst. I remember the flight home from Europe. I stared out the window of the airplane and above the cloud cover, I cried. In German, there is a word for that feeling of sadness. The word is trauigkeit. It translates directly into English. It was how I felt. I was sad, and unnecessarily so. He was fine.

The morning after my arrival stateside, I was yanked from sleep by jetlag. I went directly to visit Daniel and by noon was almost finished mowing his four-acre lawn. By then it was hot, and I was hungry. So, he decided to teach me a lesson.

My grandfather, like most men of his day, never cooked. He never even set foot inside the kitchen. So it was to my great surprise when he called me from the lawn with a brisk wave of his arm. He'd made a sandwich for my lunch; an act that to this day, if only due to its rarity, still symbolizes his love for me. It was the only time he ever made me anything to eat. And I believed then, as I believe now, that he made me lunch that day as a way to tell me that he had missed me, too. It is a sandwich I will never forget, and not just because of the tenuity of his making it. It was also delicious.

Salted butter, summer-kitchen soft, was thickly spread over white bread, then layered generously with sweet Lebanon Bologna -a sweetened, cured meat popular only in Pennsylvania Dutch country- and then topped with refrigerator-cold, crisp iceberg lettuce. I can still taste the salty-sweet play between butter and bologna. I can still hear the loud cooling crunch of the lettuce. I can still imagine the gummy squish of the white bread. I can still feel the warmth of the summer sun and the warmth of his smile as he watched me devour the lunch he'd carefully, lovingly made for me.

Lebanon Bologna can be found at supermarkets in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Almost exactly 16 years after that day, I thought of my grandfather and that bologna sandwich again. It happened just last week, as I sat, staring out the window of another airplane, looking over the cloud cover.

This time I wasn't crying. This time I was returning home from Brazil with a basic understanding of the language and a slight case of dysentery. I was flying home for Daniel's funeral and all I could think about was that sandwich.

Portuguese, unlike German, is a beautiful language. There are words with meanings so complex that they can only be translated into English using full sentences. I learned one of those words recently. The word is saudade. It describes a missing -a longing for a person- but not in a sad way, in a fond way. An appropriate translation would be along the lines of: "a fond remembrance for a loved one that produces the complex, combined, and desirable feelings of happiness, fulfillment, longing, and love while looking toward the future." One definition I found describes the word this way, “… the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again.” Now that is a word.

I have saudade for my grandfather. He lived a full and happy life and the many lessons, memories, and skills that I have learned from him have helped me live a full and happy life, too. One of those lessons was a bologna sandwich. It is so important to tell those whom we love and miss, no matter how we say it. Love and missing and saudade are such powerful feelings that even when their expression takes a benign form, like a sandwich, they are life changing. I made the sandwich for lunch this week and shared it with my family. It was a deeply satisfying meal, once again. It always will be. May we all make such meaningful and delicious sandwiches for the people we love.

A sandwich, like the man who invented it, that is larger than life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Matchmaker Vs. The Lobster

I feel lucky to have my sisters. Now that we're all grown up, we get along fabulously. We look forward to spending time together. We pitch in to help cook dinner. We help each other when, say, one of us breaks an ankle. It wasn't always this way. Food brings us together now when it used to keep us apart.

Haley, my youngest sister, totally flipped out once when she opened the refrigerator to find a deer carcass. Cecily, my other sister, flat-out refused to eat the groundhogs I shot for dinner. But now, when we spend time together, it's not just harmonious, it's fun.

I've been hobbling around on a bad leg, so Haley volunteered to cook dinner under my guidance.

Haley is a professional matchmaker and personal stylist. Think Hitch + Millionaire Matchmaker, but without the pretension. She's full of love-based facts like, for instance, that lobsters mate for life. It's just the sort of thing you want to know just prior to plunging the poor critters to their deaths in boiling water. To avoid the guilt trip, I made Haley do it.

Haley doesn't really cook, so this was a great opportunity to get her into the kitchen. I think she had fun. I know I did.

Here's the recipe for the lobsters:

6 (1 to 11/4 lb) live lobsters
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 head roasted garlic, peeled
1 cup chopped cilantro stems
1 chipotle pepper in adobo

Boil the lobsters in a large pot for 4 minutes. (The lobsters will not be cooked through.) Remove the lobsters and let cook. Cut the lobsters in half lengthwise with a chef's knife or kitchen sheers.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Pulse the butter, garlic, cilantro, chipotle, and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor. Spread the butter on the meat of the lobsters. Bake the lobsters, cut sides up, in oven until the meat is cooked through. This will take 5 to 6 minutes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How the Luck of New Year Pork Can Save Your Life While Teaching Difficult Lessons

In the South, collard greens or cabbage, black-eyed peas, and pork are thought to bring luck in the New Year and are traditionally eaten as the year changes. Pork, it is said, symbolizes forward progress since pigs root forward and their feet point forward. Honestly, these reasons are just likely excuses to eat this tasty beast, but I'm not one to turn my back on tradition.

Bringing in the New Year with a healthy serving of pork is always a good way to get started and this meal is a tradition all over this country. In rural Pennsylvania, where I spent my first eve of the 2010, the pork is traditionally served with sauerkraut, a custom owing greatly to the large German-immigrant population of the past 150 years. I shared this meal with a handful of cousins and a few friends during a sort of guys' weekend where I decided to test the relational theory of pork and luck.

First, let me give you the recipe:

Pork and Sauerkraut
4 onions, sliced
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 Gala apples, cored and sliced
2 lb sauerkraut, rinsed
1 (8 lb) bone-in pork butt
salt and pepper

•Cook the onions in a large heavy skillet with the butter and 1/2 tsp salt over medium heat, until they are well browned. This is the most labor-intensive step in this dish. You'll need to stir the onions frequently as they brown; it will take about 30 minutes.

•Add the onions to the kraut and apples in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Rub the pork all over with 11/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper, then place it over the kraut mixture. Cover the pan with foil and roast at 350°F for 31/2 hours. Uncover the pan and continue to roast for another 30 minutes, until the meat is browned and falling off the bone.

Here's a video of the finished product staring one of my cousins, Leif:

After we ate the pork I decided to test the pork-brings-good-luck-theory by jumping over a bonfire:

I broke my ankle. In three places.
The pork worked! It may not cure stupidity, but thanks to its magical luck, I managed to get away without being set on fire.