Eating Nose to Tail


 
Thursday night we had the pleasure of going to our good friends Tobi and Mandy's house for dinner.  It was one of the nicest dinners I've had in quite awhile - thank you guys for such a great meal!

The following day was Hans (Ross's little brother) birthday, and we have a tradition where I make a ton of spaetzle for his present.  There is quite a lot of bacon in this particular spaetzle recipe, and the bacon inspired me to make a classic 1950's hors d'oeuvres called rumaki to bring along to the party.

Legend says that rumaki is a Polynesian dish, although I highly doubt this.  Basically, rumaki is bacon wrapped chicken liver and water chestnut.  My Mum assures me I ate these a lot when I was younger, but I have no memory of this.  I began by rinsing my chicken livers.
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Next I made a quick marinade out of soy sauce, sesame oil and fresh ginger.  I marinaded the livers for an hour or two, but I suspect longer would be better.
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Now simply open a can of water chestnuts, cut the liver into smaller pieces and wrap in bacon.  I used half a piece of bacon per water chestnut/liver pair.
I ended up ditching the toothpicks because they kept splitting the water chestnuts.

Once assembled place them in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes or until the liver is cooked and the bacon is crisp.  I figured I should test a few in case a messed up this incredibly complicated recipe.
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After their time in the oven these guys were crisp and the liver was cooked.
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The livers had really taken on the flavour of the marinade, especially the ginger.  And the bacon added a lovely fatty crispness, but to my surprise the water chestnut in the center was the real highlight of the bite.
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The water chestnut added a really lovely, clean satisfying crunch and gave the bite a really wonderful texture.

I think these are definitely birthday party worthy, if not an unorthodox choice before a big feed of spaetzle.
 
 
What makes this "Wisconsin-style" is the fact that this Ross' Mom gave me this recipe.  And Ross is from Wisconsin. 
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Ox tails.
Wisconsin is one of my favorite states to visit (although it's hard to compare it to anything else because Ross' family are there, and I love them dearly). Not only is the state itself beautiful (especially Madison where Ross' family are from) but due to the heavy influence of agriculture on the state the food is generally pretty fantastic.  The abundance of game and lake fish that are part of the regional cuisine also make this state an especialy great spot for the food inclined. 

On top of all that Ross' Mom, Liz, is an absolutely stellar cook.  So when Ross mentioned to me that this was one of his favorite dishes from childhood I had to have LIz's recipe.  And just my luck, Liz was happy to oblige.

Liz uses a combination of ox tails and stewing meat for this soup. 
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Ox tails with a little salt and pepper, and some stewing beef.
The process begins by searing the oxtails and stewing meat in butter. Now, my Mum uses olive oil for everything and that's how I grew up.  So I must admit there was a little culture shock due to butter my first few trips to Wisconsin.  I am happy to say I've gotten over it.  Butter is my friend, I love butter.
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After searing both the ox tails and stewing meat I added some chopped onion to the pot, followed by my other veggies (celery, carrot, garlic) and let that mess cook for a few minutes.  Once that had cooked down I put the meat and its juices back in the pot with the veggies.
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Next Liz says to add a can of fire roasted tomatoes and some beef stock.  I did not have any fire roasted tomatoes on hand, so I used diced.  I tried to make up for it by adding a pinch of smoked paprika and some red wine for body.  Then it was simply a waiting game.  The ox tail meat should be tender and succulent.
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After about an hour I added a small handful of barley and two diced potatoes and let it keep simmering.

Eventually Ross wandered over to see how I was doing and asked if I was going to remove the meat from the bones.  This had not occurred to me.  But the answer was yes.  This was Mom's recipe, which is not a thing to ever be trifled with.

After another hour (ish) I removed the ox tails and let them cool.  And once they were cool enough to handle I removed the meat.  Which was a more involved task than I'd originally thought.
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Ox tail with bones.
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Boneless ox tails.
The best part of this was that I got to knaw on the bones after they were striped of their meat, the cartilage was tender and lovely, a real treat to those who don't mind getting a bit messy.

Once done I was left with a decent amount of meat which went back in the pot.
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This is a fantastic soup that I served with red wine and a baguette and some nice sweet butter (yay butter!).  The ox tails give the soup real body and the chunks of tail meat had lovely gelatinous bits running through them that were chewy and tender at the same time.

Ross says it was close to the dish that Liz makes - but as I said before there's no competing with Mom.

Thanks Liz for a really awesome supper.
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A great meal.
 
 
Calves liver is soft and subtle and perfect for this dish.  Although pork liver and even beef liver are sometimes used as well.  For today I'm using calves liver and it's being served with sauteed onions and potato.  I'm out of bacon (gasp!) or I would be having lovely crisp bacon as well.

Some people soak their liver in milk, I don't.  If you've got nice liver it's a waste of milk.  I do however give it a rinse and a nice pat dry.
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My Omi always told me to never salt liver before you cook it.  So a simple dredge in flour and my liver is ready for the pan.
I used a combination of butter and olive oil, and heated my pan up fairly high.  My advice is to have everything else you're serving done.  The liver wont take long to cook at all, maybe a minute and a half or two on either side.
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Side one.
Some blood may leech out of the liver, that's not a problem.
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Side two.
That's it.  Plate the liver with your sweet sauteed onions and some nice salty potatoes and you've got a awesome dinner.  Mum serves her liver and onions with a drizzle of aged balsamic, cracked black pepper and sea salt.  I'm doing the same.
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Make sure to not overcook the liver, or it will be dry and unpleasant.  The center should still have a little ooze to it.  My perfect bite is a bit of potato, a nice chunk of liver and some onions on top.
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Calves liver is soft, but it has a more pronounced flavour than chicken liver.  I'd say this is just above an entry level offal.  If you are comfortable with chicken liver give this a try.  The sweet and salty tips from the other elements of this dish make it very well balanced.  The liver alone may be a tad strong for those a little wary of offal.
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A treat for those who like liver.
 
 
After an hour or so in the fridge I took my pastry and rolled it out.  It was perfect, not a tear to be seen.  There were none of the usual issues that I've confronted in pastries with a butter based crust.  The lard pastry was supple,  and tender and a total joy to work with.  This has changed my whole outlook on pie pastry.
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To demonstrate that lard crusts are versatile I've made two different filled pastry's - savory and sweet.  The sweet being a apple, raisin and cinnamon turnover and the second being an tuna, green olive and raisin empanada.

I divided the pastry into 2 pieces and rolled them out seperately.  The dough was easy to recombine once cut, making it easy to use all the dough.
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I got a total of twenty pieces out of this batch of pastry -18 really nicely cut pieces and two that I rolled together at then end. 

Both of my fillings were totally cooked at the beginning.  So I didn't have to worry about the interior reaching a certain temperature.  Next I filled my rounds with filling and sealed with an eggwash.
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Once done the whole batch went into the oven at 400 degrees.  The apple turnovers have cinnamon sugar on top, and the empanadas have sea salt and cracked black pepper.
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I think it's my oven, but these babies took around 30 minutes to reach my desired brown colour.

Once they were finally done the pastry was both tender and flaky and worked deliciously with both the apple and the tuna filling.
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My favorite was the tuna but Ross favored the apple.  Neither tasted like pork.

Lard is absolutely the way to go with pie crusts (savory and sweet) and I can safely say I'm never going back the the high maintenance butter version.
 
 
After my recent adventure rendering my own lard I decided that before I used my lovingly homemade lard I would try out a few recipes using an industrial stand-in.

When I asked Ross whether he wanted apple turnovers of steak and kidney pie, after much meditation he went with the turnovers.  Which is great because pork and apples are a great combo.  For my pastry recipe I used one from the Boston Globe that I found online. 

Pie crusts are a complex thing, they have few ingredients but can be very difficult to make.  Most pie crusts use butter, making them very temperamental and at least in my case often tough from over working.  Lard is supposedly much more forgiving.
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After combing the salt and flour I cut the lard into the mixture using a pastry cutter (which is more often used by Ross to make mashed potatoes).  You want the lard to evenly coat the flour.
Next simply add the mixture of vinegar and ice water and combine using either a spatula or your hands.  Then pour onto a board and knead to bring the dough together.
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At this point make your dough into a ball and put it in the fridge for at least an hour to rest.
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Just because this dough is made out of lard (aka pork fat) doesn't mean that it's a strictly a savory crust.  In fact with my dough I'm going to make two different things, sweet and savory.

I'm thinking my lovely lard dough is going to end up as some tuna and raisin empanadas, and few apple turnovers.