Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Power of Pork

It could equally be the Power of Love, but after all this is supposed to be a Food Blog.  And just so you know, pork was a major player in the story. I rest my case.

Some 15 years ago, I was taking my daily walk and towards the end, I was joined by this little critter.

She had no collar but seemed well cared for and was the friendliest dog I had ever met. Not in the I've got to jump all over you to show you how friendly I am way but she actually appeared to be smiling and she trotted along and told me she was going home with me. I gave a half hearted attempt to shoo her away but when I opened the front door, in she came and jumped right up on the sofa and asked "what's for dinner?" I didn't do much edible cooking in those days but I happened to have a pork roast braising in the crockpot. I shoo'd her off the sofa, gave her some water and called WSH at the office.

"This dog followed me home" I said.
"Hmmm" he replied somewhat skeptically.
"No really I tried to get rid of her but she came in the house... she seems really nice"
"She must belong to someone, we need to find her owner" he stated
"OK I'll make some posters" I replied

I called around and it turned out that she had been (I think dumped off by someone) visiting a few of our neighbors during her sojourn in our little neighborhood. It also turned out I had competition. Everyone loved this dog. Thinking quickly, I knew she MUST be hungry so I fixed her a little bit of the pork loin roast. Truth be told, I wanted an edge in the competition.  She visited around again and it was close. Our dear friends the Macleans had lots of children! other dogs! excitement! in their house. But I think ultimately what they had was enough and Bullet as she came to be known (due to her speed when chasing chipmunks or squirrels), came back to the pork roast house to stay. We did try to find owners but no one claimed her. (Thank God!)

So we spent 15 wonderful years together, with this creature who has become more than a dog to us. We have pictures but mostly the old fashiuoned kind, on prints.  She is a very expressive animal and has body language that says way more than words ever could. I think I've only heard her bark perhaps 10 times in the fifteen years, she spends more time snoring or smiling. She has two special beds, one upstairs and one downstairs. And no she isn't catered to...why do you ask? Way back when I was a church treasurer and keeper of the rose garden, Bullet accompanied me to the church grounds for the gardening sessions. Once our wonderful and much loved Rector Joel Hudson came out and was chatting with me, and mentioned that Bullet seemed to be looking for some acknowledgment. I said "Yes, that's because she's so neglected, can't you tell?" And Joel said to me, "Sally you may neglect God, you may neglect the church, or even your husband, but you will never, ever neglect this dog." He was always right.

Anyways about 10 days ago, our old friend started throwing up, she couldn't hold any food at all. Trip to the vet: tests, change foods, anti nausea drug.  Food change didn't work. Soon she couldn't hold down water. Another trip to the vet. More tests. No discernable cause. After 10 days of no food, and little water (with several vet trips for IVs) our friend was clearly fading away. She didn't move all day. She didn't respond to our pats, our voices, even squirrel noises. I cried a LOT. She grew very weak. WSH got some Pedialyte and fed her with that through a medicine dropper. She became more alert but still wouldn't eat. Bless his heart WSH cooked up several meals for her (they tasted good to me) and she wouldn't even try. She had lost over 10% of her body weight.

We talked about the first meal she ate here. The Pork Loin. He went and bought a roast and braised it. She started showing signs of interest as the braising smell warmed up the house. We thought well even if she eats a little it may be her last meal and a full circle. We cut some pork into tiny pieces and warmed some noodles we had in the fridge. It was a small amount of food, about 1/4 cup at most. Jim left the room and I sat down with her to coax her to eat. Miracle of miracles, she slowly ate the whole thing. Then we waited.....

It stayed down!  Next morning she had the same thing for breakfast! And now after several meals, you wouldn't believe how sick she was if you hadn't seen it yourself. You can still feel her ribs and see that she is still weak, but heck she's 94 in people years.

I guess the moral of this story is that no matter how little reason for hope there appears to be, as long as there is life, there IS hope. As long as there is love, there is hope. As long as there is God, forever, there is hope. We appreciate more than ever the gifts of love this dog has given us and now cherish every single day she remains in our lives. She's sleeping comfortably with a full belly..content and dreaming of squirrels.

Dog meets pig
Until next time....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Welcome to Good Burger!

Home of the Good Burger, May I take your order please?
I don't remember anything about that movie except that line. They say the memory is the first to go.

Atlanta goes through food cycles. What's hot? What's done?  There were Pizza Wars and with some time overlap, Burger Wars and many more I'm sure. I think there was a doughnut war or maybe donut/cupcake war until Sublime Doughnuts blew them all away.  Anyway, I digress. I can think of (seriously within 5 seconds) 7 new contenders in the Burger Wars, mostly having opened in the past 14 months. It's ridiculous! Of course I say that, never having eaten a Holeman and Finch burger because there are a limited number made and only sold after 10pm on weeknights. Recently (with new contenders opening monthly) they changed that so that HandF serves burgers during brunch...or something like that. I don't know if this Burger War is a global thing or even a national thing, I don't get out much... but it's been interesting to read about and see exactly at what point does the market become saturated? Pun intended.

But I say, forget the wars! no more spending a ton for burgers out! I am before you today folks to proclaim the truth to you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. YOU CAN MAKE A BETTER BURGER AT HOME!  It's true, and you know I wouldn't lie to you.  There is only one small, teeny tiny provision. It's really nothing in the large scheme of Burgers, or health for that matter.

Listen closely you have to grind your meat yourself!.  See? how bad was that? By grinding the meat yourself you can control the content of cuts, the fat vs. lean, eliminate altogether that nasty E. Coli worry and have your burger really and truly your way. You can read a detailed, well photographed post on this at Eat It Atlanta. He tried several methods and combinations, and is a far better blogger than I, but if you go as far as to click the link, you should seriously consider doing this. I promise you it is worth every second, every dime, every smidgen of extra effort. You've never tasted a burger like these.

First, choose your hardware, I recommend the meat grinding/pastamaking attachment on a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. No, I don't sell them and Kitchen Aid has no idea who I am. They used to make hand cranked meat grinders that would attach to a counter top - today you can probably look for them in the "Green" section of your favorite kitchen wares store. Old fashioned (no electricity) is now Green...isn't humanity fun?
You CAN do this is a food processor but the results will be inferior... so DON'T. Another very reasonable alternative would be to ask your market meat manager or butcher to grind it for you. Not all supermarkets grind their own meat (red flag to me) You lose a little control that way, but the ease might be worth it. Second choose your meat. Some people blend. The famous Blue Ribbon blend is oxtail, brisket and sirloin (see again Eat It Atlanta). I'm simple. I like Chuck: it's easy to find and reasonably priced. Without further ado, here is our chuck:

Chuck was cut into manageable pieces and put through grinder one time only. I do 2 grinds on meatballs and meatloaf, usually when combining meats.

And here's how it looked. Pretty, yes?

Formed into fairly loose patties, you don't want them falling apart but you dont want to overwork Chuck either, he's about to get fried....err, seared.  A little salt and pepper and you're good to go.

Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium high heat. When the pan is hot add your patties, no more than 2 at once I'd say. Cook until 2/3 done on one side then flip for the final cooking.  Serve immediately.
I like mine a little more done than the burgermeister does, so mine cooked about 2.5 min per side, maybe a little more. His double stack was medium rare.  You can tell the doneness just by pressing on the patty, if it's squishy, it's on the rare side.

These burgers need only a nice bun. Add any condiments you like, but take a bite without, just to taste the juicy beefy goodness. They are so flavorful and complete unto themselves .. I was cursing. More than once. On a Sunday even. Damn! Good Burgers!

See you soon

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Perfect Evening

I've been singing all week. Mercifully, mostly in my head, not out loud. What a week it was! Right now I'm thinking of this song (see if you can remember the source-only people my age or older need even try):

I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh and sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say ... so long

What a night we had! I'm not ashamed to say I was pretty nervous getting ready for this dinner, dustbunnies and recipe mistakes haunted my dreams. Not to mention the fact that I could not for the life of me, remember the words, not even the tune! to the Notre Dame fight song. You see my Dad had an album (yes vinyl) of the Greatest Football Fight Songs, and it goes without saying that Notre Dame was a member of that club.  With great joy I awoke this morning, after the 4 courses were eaten, the wine was drunk, the dishes were done and all the goodbyes were said and sang out loud:

Hail! Hail! to Old Notre Dame!

Jim was very pleased (as was Bullet) both of them filled with patience from years of enduring life with me. OK I digressed a little too far there. Back to the real deal...

Our Little Mermaid, (Yes, that's right Kathy and Hubbard, I said OUR- we're claiming her too!) is leaving for Graduate school. I bet you can't guess where! **More on the Mermaid reference at the end** Jim and I hosted a dinner party with four of the nicest, brightest and honestly - best looking - kids young adults anywhere. Meg and Mike, Ken and Alison all came out to see the old folks and have a bite to eat. We spent the evening talking and laughing, sharing stories about life, learning things we didn't know about others, and also about ourselves. To me, it was a perfect evening, even with the dust bunnies and recipe mistakes!

Our first course was easy: it was intended to be a Red White and Blue fruit salad in honor of our Independence day and in memory of GrandMaria with whom Jim and Ken and I spent every 4th. However, the white nectarines were not cooperating so a substitution was made with cantaloupe. This salad was dressed with a light vinaigrette of olive oil, fig balsamic, maple syrup, salt pepper and thyme. On the side you'll see a balsamic reduction. Some plates have prosciutto, some have feta, all have toasted almonds. If I do say so myself, this was a refreshing start on a summer's eve.

As you can see we had no shortage of wine glasses and Alison's smile was so lovely I just had to put this otherwise terrible photo in:

The second course is actually a hybrid Keller recipe. In Bouchon there is a recipe for Gnocchi a la Parisienne with summer vegetables. Rather than a potato based gnocchi, it's a pate a choux - a soft dough piped through a pastry bag. When in a Keller recipe you read about warnings that the process may be hard and how to get around the physical difficulties by propping another pan up to rest your arm on -- RUN! Instead, I made his French Laundry Potato Gnocchi and blended it with the summer vegetables. And yes, a recipe mistake was made here.  After baking, rolling chopping, boiling, drying and then freezing the gnocchi, I realized my mistake and was pulling out new potatoes to start over when WSH said something to the effect of "Thomas Keller isn't coming to dinner" and I calmed down. I confessed my sin at the dinner table and Mike said that even though he'd never heard of gnocchi before he could tell I had not riced the potatoes with the first bite! Damn~ : )

The dish was dressed with brown butter, lemon, parsley and sage--brown butter can make up for a multitude of sins in the gnocchi department.

Our main course was simple. Shrimp and Grits. I had worried and changed my mind at least 10 times on exactly how to do this ... that's what happens when I go off-recipe and on my own -- and ended up with grits rather than more roasted veggies, or rice, or pasta, because honestly, grits are very forgiving. The last thing I needed was one more dish that had to come together at the last minute. So the grits were started as dinner began and waited patiently for us as we lingered in conversation. I like that about grits. I lingered in conversation so long that I forgot to add the roasted garlic and marscapone, while Meg and Jim plated up dinner. I like that about Meg and Jim.

I made the marinade the day before from ancho chiles, lime juice, canola oil, vinegar,  roasted garlic, honey salt and pepper and maybe a few other things I can't remember. It seemed very spicy to me but on a test shrimp the heat was not nearly as noticeable. So we sauteed....

And for dessert as is the custom here, we got take out!  We served a tray of individual treats from Whole Foods and they were very well received. We offered coffee, then forgot to make it! Here are the leftovers from dessert

All sorts of mistakes were made but in spite of that, or maybe even in part because of that, everyone had fun. Here are some of our smiling faces.

Meg and Mike

Ken and Alison

The famous WSH

Look out South Bend! Meg will blow you away!

As for the Little Mermaid reference, part of our conversation last night centered on the bands Meg wore on her wrist. The only reason I know about these things is because my darling beautiful incredibly talented and smart sister makes a nice living selling junk. Well, I call it junk, for obvious reasons, she doesn't. Anyway, one of her biggest items at this time is the new craze called Silly Bands. Meg was wearing silly bands.

She gave her Uncle Jimmy one of her bands to keep. It was this one:

I think he will wear it until it breaks. And I also think Alison was a little jealous! /wink The Little Mermaid evidently is a rare Beanie Baby I mean silly band. And anything that makes memories like this certainly deserves not to be called junk. I really am glad we had that time together. It was a wonderful night. Thanks to the young folks who trekked out from the city to the burbs to see us. Best Wishes Meg!

Happy Fourth of July everyone! Let Freedom ring!
See you soon.

Edit** I must have oldtimer's because I can't find the ND lyrics I remember. Here is what I found on the web and these words ring true.

Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame,
Wake up the echoes cheering her name,
Send a volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky!
What though the odds may be great or small,
Old Notre Dame will win over all,
While her loyal sons are marching    (and daughters!!!!)

Onward to victory!