Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Welcome to Foodieville

I do not cook.

Yes, it’s true. I am a woman who doesn’t cook. Deal with it.

This is not the entire truth. I can make something in a pinch. I could probably do something half decent if the moment called for it. I have some minor cooking skills. I can make a perfect béchamel sauce (one of the “mother” sauces of French cooking) for example. And I can make pasta dough.

But take a right turn past boiling water, homemade mac and cheese and sautéing your basic chicken breasts and I’m likely then not to drive off a cliff.

The big problem is that I love to eat and I love to eat really good food. I’m a few forks short of being a true gourmand, but let’s just say I know a good meal when I taste one and I know the secret of great food – fresh ingredients that don’t come out of a can.

And I’m damn lucky to be married to a guy who can cook.

And let me just say that statement hardly does the man justice.

He is one of those people who make food so good that people who have dined on his meals talk about them well after they’ve eaten here. He already has a rep in our little Northern California town which is nothing to sniff at I tell you. Not here, not where we live -- in the center of Sonoma County wine country, in the middle of what could very fairly be said to be Foodieville USA. It is a mecca of sorts for people who love great food and fabulous wine and the perfect place to live for artisan farmers, cooks, mixologists, grape growers and wine makers and every other kind of fresh food-related foods and drinks. We are friends with a number of chefs and foodie folks who love, love, love eating my man’s food.

Living with a great cook has been an education in the building blocks of good meals, that is the aforementioned ingredients. He will scour the internet, TV, food mags and other sources for the best place to get great spices, grains, meats, fish and eggs. He’s one of those annoying people that not only reads labels in the supermarket but freshness dates too. (I had no idea how many things have “good until” dates on them and how often even reputable markets will leave them on the shelf well passed them.

I know where to get the best corn meal and a place where you can get like 30 different kinds of pepper and who makes the best salt cod and a dozen other insights into the world of food. All because of the man of the house. Who’s one mean cook.

It seems wrong not to share what I’ve learned and am still learning and so I decided it’s time to blog about it. And since this year, I’ve resolved to spend more time in the kitchen myself, I thought it would be fun to take you along for my education.

I will eventually be posting about this on a new, separate blog about food – that is preparing it, eating it, talking about meals and ingredients and even an occasional restaurant review. Until it’s up and running (by the end of January), however, I’ll, um, wet your appetite with a series of food-related posts over the next couple of weeks.

The first one is a pictorial look at making homemade boar sausage. These were not made at our place but at a friend’s house, but it’s typical of the organic whole idea of how folks up here in Foodieville eat. The boar that we used for the sausages was from two that were hunted and killed on my friend’s property (they have 300 acres west of Lake Sonoma).

Wild Boars are pigs, feral pigs, that are the product of domestic farm pigs who ranged into the countryside and mated with wild Russian boars. They roam fairly freely around these parts and their meat is prized for having tastier and leaner meat than farm-raised pigs -- without the harmones and nitrates and other crap they put into store-bought pork. They benefit from being out in the wild because they eat better. Your basic farmed pig is force fed a diet of crap designed to fatten them up. Nothing wrong with a little pork fat, no sir, but I'd like to have some fat with my meat not vice versa.

I wasn’t there at the time, but my friends are expert hunters and they hunt as humanely as possible. I do realize that it’s still not easy for some people to deal with the killing of a living thing. I don't like it but then again, I'm not a vegetarian and I think it's healthier to know where the meat on your table has come from.

Let's face it, those of you who are meat eaters, the reality is that somewhere along the line the pork, beef, chicken or lamb on your plate was once a living, breathing creature that had its life snuffed out so that you could have a cheeseburger. This is not a bad thing per se. Not if done responsibility and humanely. Not if the whole process is handled with respect. Not if we use our resources judiciously and give back to the land and the earth as it gives to us. Not if we understand the cycle of life and don't abuse the privilege of being high up on the food chain.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's talk sausage.

Making sausage may seem like some big mysterious thing but it's fairly basic cooking. Not that it's easy to make good sausage. That takes skill and ability and the best sausage makers I know rely on recipes passed down from generations of cooks. Artisonal sausages are more common than ever and each is unique to the sausage maker -- it's the special spices each use that set them apart, as much as the quality of meat they use.

Your basic sausage is ground meat, fat and spices which you feed into a sausage maker that forces the ground mixture into “sleeves,” which are made from animal intestines. Before you go “ewww gross,” be aware you’ve already eaten them if you’ve ever had a hot dog or breakfast sausage.

I documented the process last weekend as we joined our friends a their house to make a batch of wild boar, apple and caramelized onion sausage. Unfortunately, I only had my iPhone so the pictures are not the best quality.

The boar meat.

First thing, you cut up the meat and fat for grinding.

Grind the meat through a meat grinder. It's important to keep everything as cold as possible so that it grinds well.

The ground meat and fat is mixed together.

Clean the grinder and then in go the onions and apples. Both were made ahead of time and frozen. The apples were dried naturally first and the onions were caramelized, squeezed dry of liquid and stored in the freezer. Both the apples and onions were grown in our hosts' garden. They look like this before grinding:

And add some garlic and spices

Everything gets mixed together.

We made our own sausage patty so we could check the seasoning. You don't want to eat raw meat. Seasonings were pepper, salt and spices.

The sausage "skins" ... Please, no East River white fish jokes.

The sausage machine. The meat mixture goes in and is squeezed out into the skins, then tied down at both ends and twisted in the middle to make links.

The finished product, prior to cooking.

Cooking them up

The moment of truth. Our wild boar sausages served with fresh broccoli rabe and oven-roasted potatoes. Yum.

1 comment:

quirkychick said...

Oh Yes! This is good Zib. Do more of these and if you do get a food blog up be sure and give me the address.

Have Ig make those spring rolls again - I would love to be able to do those at home, especially because you can freeze them!