Monday, January 31, 2011

Got Your Goat

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says, "No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat."  This is good advice in life and good advice at the grocery store.  If you find goat in your meat section, like I did this week, don't let anyone else get YOUR goat.  Make sure you get it yourself because it is delicious and will not always be available.  Despite the meat making inroads into American cuisine, it is still difficult to find, so snatch it up while you can. 

Goat is a mainstay of Greek, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean diets, and is lower in fat than both chicken and beef while containing more iron than both.  The chops I found came bone-in and, in comparison to $5.29 a pound for chicken breasts, were reasonably priced at $3.49 a pound.  Goat meat needs to be cooked low and slow, and marinated beforehand to cut down on the gamey flavor.  Here's what I did to mine:

Defrost and cut into bite-sized pieces, removing the bones.
Place meat in a bowl with 1/2 cup lemon juice, 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Add 1 tablespoon of curry if you'd like it spicy.
Marinate at least two hours, overnight is better.
Remove the meat and reserve the marinade.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan until shimmering, add the meat and brown on all sides.
Place meat in slow cooker along with reserved marinade, 1 cup apple sauce, and one chopped tomato.
Cook on the low setting for 8 hours or on the high setting for four hours.
Serve with rice or noodles.

Goat tastes a lot like venison or lamb, only muskier, with an aroma to match -- the house smelled strongly like cooked meat for a few days.  The dish tasted wonderful, though, and something I would gladly prepare and eat again.  You, too, should take the opportunity to try something new.  Go get your goat!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Taste of Iraq

This past weekend I took a cooking lesson.  From time to time, my mother suggests that I take a cooking lesson with her for fun.  I usually beg off because the lesson duplicates something I paid the big bucks to learn in culinary school.  But when she suggested we go to a cooking demonstration by her new and dear friend Taghreed, I quickly agreed. 

Taghreed, along with her husband and three children, has recently moved to this country from Iraq.  They suffered terrible persecution there, fled to Syria, and are now in the process of becoming American citizens.  Because they are being sponsored by my mother's church, Mom is very involved in getting them settled and has become very close to the family.  In their first few months here, my mother spoke of them so fondly that I was eager to meet them and invited them to my house to dinner.  Taghreed and her husband were lovely guests; their children sweet and shy.  I served chicken curry and hoped that it tasted a little like home.

I have not seen them much since that dinner, but upon entering their home for the lesson this past Saturday, I was greeted as if we were the oldest of friends.  After a tour of their house, insisted upon by the children, each eager to show off their bedrooms in turn, I settled in with the other 19 or so students and watched Taghreed cook us a feast. 

She first made Tepsi of Chicken (below, right), which is a simple yet elegant dish made of skin-on chicken drumsticks and thighs roasted at 400 degrees over onions, potatoes, and carrots that have been tossed with cumin, curry, nutmeg, and garlic.  Lemon juice and vinegar are poured into the roasting pan and give the vegetables a wonderful tang.  They come out soft and delicious, having been basted with the chicken drippings throughout the cooking process.

While that was in the oven, she made Birianni, (above, left) which she said was a holiday dish, meant to serve a lot of people at a party.  It consists of a layer of spiced rice with ground meat (in this case beef) mixed vegetables, potatoes, nuts and raisins on top.  The rice has browned vermicelli mixed in and cooks with cinnamon, cardamom, and garlic.  It is delicious.  I wonder, and should have asked, if she ever mixes the raisins in with the rice or even the meat, so that they plump and add their sweetness to the dish during cooking rather than at the end.  When I make this, I will try adding the raisins earlier.

Finally, Taghreed made a gorgeous salad of lettuce, red cabbage, green cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, and pomegranate seeds, which was tossed with a light coating of dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar.  It was refreshing and a perfect compliment to the spiced dishes.

After she was finished cooking, it was time to eat!  Everything was wonderful, and I led the charge back for seconds.  It was also Taghreed's birthday, so there were two American-sized cakes (read: huge) there to help celebrate.

While some ladies joked that this was a "busman's holiday" for me, I truly enjoyed myself.  If it weren't for some klutz (me) dropping and shattering a glass of soda all over the floor, it would have been a perfect day!  It was a great pleasure for me to get a little taste of Iraq right here in my own neighborhood. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hudson River Valley

This past weekend my husband watched the kids while I met up with some girlfriends from college in the Hudson River Valley.  We ate, we drank, we laughed.  It was a wonderful weekend.

We arrived Saturday and after a tour of FDR's house, we had dinner at the Culinary Institute of America.  The large and beautiful campus boasts six award winning restaurants open to the public, and we chose The American Bounty.  It is completely run by the students, and tip is included in your bill.  My girlfriends were nervous about eating there -- like a haircut from a beauty school, you could end up with something pretty terrible -- but I was excited.

To start, I ordered the seared foie gras.  No matter where I am, if foie gras is on the menu, I order it.  Mostly because it is one of my absolute favorites, but I also like to support and applaud the chef and establishment for not folding under the PETA protest pressure. The CIA served it atop a gingerbread cake with candied kumquats and berry preserves.  Delicious.  The gals were squeamish and wouldn't taste it, but although I offered, I would prefer to have all of it to myself anyway.

For dinner, I ordered the duck leg.  It was cooked perfectly and served atop soft onions and spinach in a divine curry sauce garnished with whole almonds.  They also put a bit of mango salsa on the duck, which I imagine was an attempt to cut the greasy attributes of the duck, but it seemed unnecessary and could have been left off.

One of my friends ordered the chicken, which came with carrot puree and braised red cabbage.  I adore sweet and sour red cabbage, so I begged a taste off of her plate.  It was disappointing, as was the carrot puree, which tasted more like orange colored bland mashed potatoes.  My other friend ordered the scallops with chanterelles, wide noodles, and meyer lemon broth.  It looked wonderful, and she liked it very much but I didn't taste it as I have a mushroom allergy.

We took a picture, but it was at the end of the main course, so all you can see (moving clockwise from 9:00) is the fairly untouched chicken and sides, duck bone and delicious curry sauce remnants, and the empty scallop bowl hiding behind the water glass.

For dessert, we ordered the warm apple tart to share.  The pastry crust was a little mushy, but the apples and ice cream were nice.  The whiskey sauce really knocked your socks off!  It felt like taking a straight shot of the stuff.  With wine and the included service charge, it cost us each about $55.  I thought it was worth it, and enjoyed my meal very much.  The student servers were attentive and it was truly a fine dining experience.

On Sunday we found two wineries that were open and went in for tastings.  Benmarl, our first stop, was originally founded by someone with connections to Chadds Ford Winery here in the Philadelphia area.  It has since sold, but they still use local NY grapes as well as California grapes to make their wines.  Their tasting cost $8 for six wines, but the nice older gentleman doing the pouring said that six wasn't really a hard and fast rule.  I enjoyed their Traminette, a local white that is reminiscent of a dry Riesling, and took home a bottle for $15.

After Benmarl, we went to Stoutridge, the only unprocessed winery in the country.   The $5 tasting included a take-home glass, five wine pours and a bonus pour when my friend showed interest in the blush.  The owner spent about 45 minutes with us, telling us all about his mission, his method, and how the winery was built to be sustainable with a low carbon footprint.  He buys his grapes locally, doesn't process out the pectins and proteins, and doesn't add sulfites.  His production method does make the wine taste incredible, light, and fresh, and gives it a long shelf life (about 10 years for the average white) but it doesn't allow him to ship it or sell it in stores.  The heat on the truck ride would damage the pectins and proteins and ruin the wine, which means that if you want Stoutridge wine, you must go to the tasting room.  I picked up a bottle of Heritage Red (a blend of local red grapes) and Seyval Blanc (a local white grape) for about $20 each bottle. 

After all our wine tasting, it was time for football playoffs.  My Eagles were out last week, but my friend from Boston still had hopes that the favored Patriots and their Ugg endorsing quarterback would easily move on.  So, deep in Jets territory, we ventured out for a TV and a bite to eat.  We found seats at the bar of the Raccoon Saloon and watched the New Yorkers all around us cheer their team to victory.  It was a good thing the burgers were awesome.

The petite burger, which at 8oz is the smaller portion of the "regular" 12oz burger on the menu.  I added blue cheese and sauteed onions and it was amazing.  The french fries came with housemade ketchup -- the first condiment of which I have ever ordered seconds.

All too soon, it was time to leave behind our oasis of girl talk and memories of the good old carefree college days.  As I packed up in the dark early morning hours to drive home, I wished that the Buttermilk Falls Inn, our lovely bed and breakfast, had their spread out just a little earlier so that I could take one (or five) of their delicious cranberry scones with me for the road.  Alas, it was just me and my pleasant new memories of a great weekend, driving south refreshed and eager to be back with my family.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pepper Pot Soup

We went to our local library this week and, as always, I gave my 2 1/2 year old son free reign to pick any three books he wants from the children's section.  I was so pleased when he chose, along with one book about Santa and one book about construction vehicles, a Caribbean cookbook.  

Cooking the Caribbean Way by Cheryl Davidson Kaufman is part of a youth literature series which includes Cooking the Vietnamese Way, Cooking the Australian Way, and Cooking the Israeli Way, just to mention a few.  Ms. Kaufman is from Jamaica, so I assume the recipes are authentic.  The introduction includes a glossary of cooking terms, some history on the islands, and even a page devoted to working with whole coconut!

The Soups and Stews section has two recipes named Pepper Pot -- one for soup and one for stew.  I adapted and combined these two recipes, due to my ingredient availability, my son's skill level, and taste.  When I followed the recipe for the soup it tasted heavy and earthy.  I felt like it needed an acid to brighten it, so I used the vinegar that was called for in the stew recipe.  To cut the sharpness of the vinegar, I added molasses, also called for in the stew recipe.  These small adaptation didn't alter it visually -- I came up with something that looks a lot like the picture of Pepper Pot soup on the book cover -- but I liked the way the vinegar and molasses affected the flavor.

6 cups of water
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 can kale
1 can okra
1 lb frozen chopped spinach
1 diced onion 
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 pinch dried thyme
1 t red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 can coconut milk
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 T molasses
salt and pepper to taste

Combine water, meat, kale, okra, spinach, onion, garlic, and sweet potato in a large pot.
Bring to a boil and simmer one to two hours.
Stir in remaining ingredients.

My son had a lot of fun dumping the fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables into the pot, and I felt perfectly comfortable allowing him to do so because it was off the heat.  Just watch for sharp can edges!  Once all of "his" ingredients were in the pot, I added the water and raw meat and placed it on the stove.  We washed up, and played for the next hour and a half.  I added the last ingredients and finished it off.  A perfect taste of the islands on a cold winter day.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I love German food.  I love tangy sauerbraten, crispy skinned wursts, homemade spatzle noodles, cold cucumber salad with dill, and warm potato salad with bacon.  I enjoy German food throughout the fall and winter, as it is pretty hearty and heavy, and sauerkraut is one of my favorites.

Sauerkraut comes from the German for "sour herb" and is shredded cabbage that has been pickled.  Lactic acid works on the sugar in the cabbage and makes it sour.  This process gives it a long shelf life and may actually increase the amount of anti-cancer agents in the cabbage. 

A lot of people in Pennsylvania eat pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day in accordance with the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of ensuring good luck and wealth.  Pennsylvania "Dutch" is a misunderstanding of Pennsylvania "Deutsch" -- the German word for being German -- rather than an indication that the local people are from the Netherlands.  Large amounts of people from Germany settled in Eastern and South Central Pennsylvania and, to this day, retain much of their own culture, agricultural practices, and dietary choices.

While my family is not Pennsylvania Dutch, we also maintain much of our German heritage through food.  Like many other traditional family dishes, no two sauerkrauts are the same.  My mother's is different from my grandmother's (who is so German we call her Oma), and both recipes are different from my own.

My Oma heats oil in a pot on the stove, and sautes sliced onion, sliced carrot, canned sauerkraut and shredded apple.  She adds a little water, caraway seeds, a bay leaf, a grated potato, and some extra shredded green cabbage and brings it to a boil on the stove.  Oma only cooks it for 30 minutes to retain the texture.  Then she heats up the accompanying sausage in the sauerkraut, letting their juices get into the mix.  The result is a tangy and slightly crunchy sauerkraut best eaten with the wursts within.

My mother, who is Romanian and Scottish, grew up eating sauerkraut mixed in with stuffed cabbage -- delicious, and, in my opinion, the best way to make stuffed cabbage.  For plain sauerkraut, she has adapted Julia Child's recipe into what my husband calls "his favorite sauerkraut."  She uses bagged sauerkraut and mixes it with a whole stick of melted butter and sliced carrots and onions in a dutch oven.  Then she covers it with half chicken broth and half apple cider and bakes it at 325 for hours and hours.  The result is a very buttery, soft and smooth sauerkraut best eaten with a pork roast.

My recipe starts with bacon fat, rendered from four or five strips that are set aside to mix in at the end.  Into the bacon fat goes sliced onion and a chopped apple.  When these have softened, I add rinsed canned sauerkraut, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a tablespoon of brown sugar and chicken broth to cover,  I simmer this on the stove for at least an hour, adding more liquid if necessary.  When it is time to eat, remove the bay leaf and add the bacon, crumbled.  The result is a tangy but sweet sauerkraut that can be eaten with any pork product -- loin, roast, chops, or sausages. 

I adore sauerkraut; I love the way its aroma fills the house, how its sour and sweet flavors meld, and the wonderful way it pairs with pork.  I know this leaves me in the minority.  We have friends who live in Northern Germany who are quick to remind me that not even all Germans love sauerkraut!  When New Years Day rolls around in Pennsylvania, though, it is almost guaranteed that someone will make sauerkraut.  And I, for one, will have a happy New Year because of it.

P.S. If you are still not sold on sauerkraut, even on New Years Day, a culinary school classmate and friend of mine has a blog about food and recently wrote about food traditionally eaten on New Years Day.  (You can read it here.)  Her recipe sounds delicious, and sauerkraut doesn't make her list.