I don’t really like when posts start with “It’s that time of year again!” because it’s always “that time of year” for something, isn’t it? Winter is for peppermint and pine scented house sprays; spring is for baskets of greens and raging allergies; summer is the time for coconuts and tans; and fall is when the pumpkins infiltrate everything.
But sure, I guess it’s that time of year again: Pumpkin time.
Not to sound like a negative turd, but I’m glad that pumpkins are only really revered one month out of the year. We puree their flesh and fold it into pies, roast the seeds that send sharp shards tumbling down our throats, and then whittle their hollow bodies them into jagged-toothed monsters or squint-eyed Bill Cosby effigies. Which means that not only are pumpkins everywhere, but they now also have eyes and are watching you always.
My friend Heather — an old friend whose dirty mouth rivals my own — told me about a place. A special place. A special place where one can buy locally-raised meat, and where the animals are fed a diet conducive to healthy, happy lives while being allowed to roam free in pastures in humane conditions. When you read as much as I do about the horrors of America’s food production and its many, um, hiccups, hearing about such a place is like being told that fairies are not only real but also delicious.
So last weekend my friend Dee and I decided to investigate.
The sun was high above us and it’s warmth beat down our bare arms through the car windows as we drove through the countryside. Swarms of lovebugs slapped against my windshield as we barreled through the dirt roads toward the 400+ acre farm.
Torm, the owner of Pasture Prime and one half of the manpower behind its operation, had agreed to meet us on short notice after I’d contacted him the night prior asking if I could drop by the farm to pick up my order. Dee and I ended up spending an hour and a half with him as he gave us the tour of its operation.
“I believe in transparency,” said Torm as we drove through a large grassy field, droves of feeding cattle haring from the moving nose of Torm’s slow-moving truck. Most mooed and side-eyed us with disapproval, but one heifer kept excitedly attempting to mount the other heifers, because heifers be so cray.
***Pre-post: You might not have heard, but I’m giving away a $50 Williams Sonoma gift card! No strings attached. I won’t make you grovel for it, though I’d like to. You just have to go to this post to enter. /pre-post*** CONTEST IS CLOSED. Congratulations to the winner, Denise M., who is going to put the $50 gift card toward a dutch oven!
Okay, yes. I know. Anchovies are gross. I get it, but hear me out.
I know exactly why you’re giving me that stink face, and for the most part I’m right there with you. When anchovies are slandered high and low, with their presence in any dish a criminal offense worthy of cook’s castration, it’s hard to want to give them a chance.
When I was a kid, I offered them a chance at overcoming the libelous venom directed toward their existence in American cuisine. I ordered a pizza whose crisped mozzarella was crosshatched with slick bodies of salted anchovies and figured, how bad could they really be? That uneaten pizza has been festering in a dump somewhere for the last fifteen years.
Anchovies, to be polite, taste like grizzly bear grundle in the summer. They’re only about nine shades more favorable than sepsis, and the smell does them no kind favors either. But sometimes even the most foul of ingredients can be used for good.
Coq au vin is thought of as a fancy pants specialty by American standards, but like many French recipes, it comes from a very modest background. Coq au vin – literal translation: rooster with wine – is a rustic, poor-man’s recipe born from the agitated and exhausted farmer who, tired of early wake up calls, chopped the roosters right in their garbling necks and then had to find a use for its meat.
Only the rooster meat wasn’t tender. When roosters spend their waking hours chasing plump-breasted hens, fighting dogs and generally being farmhouse terrors, their meat toughens. If you’ve never spent time on a farm, let me lay it out flat for you: roosters are assholes, and hens are hardly any better, which is why when I eat them, I laugh. I laugh for the time a chicken jumped in my face when I was a preteen and got its claw caught in my golden hair, and also for the time when, unprovoked and out of absolutely nowhere, a rooster flew at me and clawed my arm deep. The Amish farmer shrugged, probably thinking, “what did you expect from an asshole?” I laugh now because the tables have turned, chickens.
Roosters, as high-energy bros with a taste for blood, build tough, fibrous rooster muscles that aren’t really good for roasting, so other methods were employed.
The time-strained farmers of yore would throw the rooster in a stock pot with a bottle of burgundy, lardons or bacon, spring onions, carrots, celery and some herbs – or whatever they had on hand, really – and set it on low to cook while they worked their bones throughout the day.
Oh, hello there.
I know that this is my first post since being back in the States and I bet you think that I’m going to start this post with an introduction that emphatically shouts that I’m back and then predictably go on about how it’s good to be home in spite of how amazing Europe was and then segue into how trying to grocery shop in the States after 3 months of unbelievable European freshness is more painful than a bad case of dengue fever, but you’d be wrong. Let’s instead just skip it altogether and jump right into the good stuff!
Why am I doing a whole post dedicated to bland, boring, plain ol’ rice? Well, for one, rice is a staple for many cultures worldwide — most notably Asian and Hispanic cultures comprising the majority of the world’s population — who annually consume over 400 million tons globally. That’s a lot of rice. Also, there are literally tens of thousands of varieties of rice leaving no shortage of recipe variations. DOUBLE ALSO, it’s one of the most versatile grain in the world as it can be developed into starchy breads, creamy puddings or used as a basic side next to a Sunday night roast chicken. So while it may seem bland and boring on the surface, it has multiple dimensions to it and loads of potential to be made into a variety of impressive dishes.
I may have also forgot to mention that it’s incredibly easy to screw up, but worry not because I’m going to be your rice savior. By the end of this post you might be bowing your heads to a new divine being altogether: in rice we trust.
Mostly known as having the prestige of alumni such as Julia Child and Giada de Laurentus and, um…Kelis, Le Cordon Bleu is easily one of the most recognizable cooking schools in the world. Possibly in the Universe, though I haven’t personally scoped the cosmos to see if this is true.
For five decades since its inception, the school had one location in Paris, France. After being bought out by Andre Cointreau of the Cointreau liquor empire, the school subsequently opened 35 locations in 5 different countries. While I appreciate the higher accessibility of LCB training, the charm of moving to Paris to cook French cuisine at the famed school is cheapened, if not totally lost by this sprawl.
Cheapened or not, I completely buy into capitalist ventures (I want all the pretty things!) and couldn’t come to Paris to learn about cuisine and NOT take a class at Le Cordon Bleu. Situated in the 15th arrondissement off of Rue Delhomme, I arrived at the blue and white building at 8:30AM on the dot after rushing across town via the slowest metro in the world. If nothing else can be said about me, I’m at the very least consistent at running late for everything.
The interior of Le Cordon Bleu is larger than it appears on the outside with its multi-levels of demonstration rooms bustling with employees and students in pristine white chefs coats. The walls are peppered with pictures of alumni, especially prominent are the holy shrines of Julia Child, and I halfway expected to turn the corner and find effigies in her honor. Across the main stairwell were pictures of current students and a promotional poster for the movie Sabrina.
I sauntered up to the receptionist, panting and sweating, and while trying to sputter out my limited French, something horrible happened. A tiny drop of spittle flew from my flapping lips and landed on his cheek.
Since coming to Europe I’ve tried numerous times to meet up with CouchSurfers, but to no avail. Have you heard of CouchSurfing? Do you surf? Have you been needlessly emotionally tortured by CouchSurfers? I have!
In Madrid I’d made dinner plans with three different people – THREE – all of whom stood me up. Except they didn’t really stand me up, they got to the restaurant forty minutes after the time we’d agreed on, which was long after I’d given up waiting and left. A later attempt at meeting a CouchSurfer at the Prado in Madrid failed because she showed up 45 minutes late. Or so she said, though she could have easily spotted me and ran the opposite direction. After how many times being stood up do you have to take a good look at yourself and ask, how ugly am I?
So when I agreed to a CouchSurfing picnic meet-up here in Bologna, I was skeptical. Ten or so people had agreed to meet at the park behind my apartment, and if I ended up being stood up for an event I didn’t even coordinate then I was going to set myself on fire. Luckily, it ended up being the most successful (read: only) CouchSurfing event I’ve ever been to and we had 8 people show, including myself, which consisted of a few native Italians, a German, an American, a Brit and a Pole.
Among the food items were baguettes, proscuitto and cheese cubes, fresh in-season fruits and the obligatory wine and beer, because it’s not a picnic until livers are put to the test. I’d originally planned on making orecchiette with a black truffle tapenade, but then remembered this was a low-key picnic with strangers and not an outing in the Hamptons with the Real Housewives of New York. Unfortunately.