Hidden Recipe


With bellies full, we went back home that evening. Nothing much made our nights more fulfilling than a meal shared by friends and family followed by relaxing on a calm back porch overlooking the water. As the sun set along with the food in our stomachs, we made our way to bed.

The next morning, we went off to Menemsha to make good on our promise of oysters for dinner and/or daily snacks. As the Island has only a few ways to navigate around, we took the wrong road to get there. After driving for fifteen minutes, we made it across the marina from the town, just a short swim, with no way to get the car across. It was literally a stone’s throw away, and we found out upon our return home that there was a sporadic bike ferry across the water, but it was not to be that day.

Instead, we made our way over to the beach, where we kayaked to our hearts’ content, picking up sand dollars and shells on the gigantic sandbar north of the house. Our vessels gently rocked back and forth over the tiny breakers on the bay, and we made our way back to shore in time to leave for lunch at the wharf.

Lobster Traps

We made our way to Menemsha via the correct route, around the pond, up the road, and down the way to the port. Dozens of fishing vessels dotted the piers, lashed to the bulkheads with barrels of Lobster and Jonahs aboard. As we walked the line from one market (Larsen’s) to the other (Menemsha Fish Market), our stomachs began to rumble as we recalled all of our tasty options for lunch. Walking in to MFM, we saw our grail, what we had been hoping for.

We ordered at the window, grabbed the last two ice cold cokes from the fridge, and a few minutes later, five lobster rolls were up in the window. It was a hot day if you weren’t in the water, and we all got the lobster salad rolls, cold, a little bit of mayonnaise, and chopped celery. Taking our catch around to the back of the store, we sat on crates and newly furnished benches over the piers as we watched a fisherman sort the day’s catch.

In one bin, Chicks. In the other, Rocks. (Lobster and Crab)

When we were through, and our appetites were sated, we moseyed over to Larsen’s to view their fish selection. The case was empty, but the woman in charge was busy bringing out pans of seafood for our perusal. The first pan in was two glistening Monkfish tails. I didn’t need to see any more.

“Can I get those two tails?”

“Both of them?”

“Yep.”

In my previous fishmongering incarnation, the monkfish tails I saw were typically around 1/2 to 3/4 pound each. While this is good for portion size, seeing these larger fillets made me realize that flying through the smaller catch was far from sustainable. Currently, at work, they’ve made a push not to sell unsustainable fish, including Monk.

Although on principle I tend to agree with the promotion of sustainable fisheries, purchasing thousands of pounds of undersized fish for retail sale is much different than purchasing something directly off a boat that is fully mature and with minimal amount of bycatch.  Monkfish for dinner it would be.

On top of that, I made good on my promise of oysters, purchasing a dozen and a half of local Katamas for anytime eating. I had brought my oyster knife cross country along with my pin boning tweezers, just in case we came a cross any seafood that needed a quick fabricating. Lastly, we got three pounds of scallops to round out the haul, just because we could.

We got back to the house close to dinner time to find two more guests had arrived for the weekend, but it had been a long day of exertion and high temperature for those of us who had already been hanging around. My lady’s mom, ever the intrepid explorer and activity planner, was felled with a bout of exhaustion from all the activity, and as we were prepping the menu for dinner, she retired to the bed for some much needed rest, leaving me and a crew of  hungry vacationers with a kitchen full of food, a range full of burners, and a collective of rapidly growing appetites.

The kitchen instantly transformed into a brigade: Two on the salad, One firing up the grill, and me on the range. We still had two bags of salad greens from the Connecticut homestead, which were thoroughly washed and dried, and incorporated with fresh tomatoes and some pickled red onions from a meal a few days prior. The grill was set up, and after tossing some scapes and rapini in olive oil, salt and pepper, we threw those on to get a quick cook.

Moving them over to the hot zone, the Monkfish was next. I haven’t been known to cook Monkfish often, as it hasn’t appeared in stores when I’ve been looking, but I had marinated it with cumin, chili powder, coriander, salt, pepper, and oil when we got back, and after about an hour, it was ready to throw on the grill.

Inside, we put a bit of pasta on the stove for the vegetarians in the group. I say a bit, but it was about two pounds of penne. In a separate pan, I put chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and let it cook down for a fresh, quick tomato sauce. When the monkfish was getting close to done outside, I hit the sauce with a quick whizz with the burr mixer, and returned it to the pan. We had a container of fresh pesto in the fridge as well, so into the pot it went.

I recalled something about a simple recipe for scallops that we had wanted to try from earlier. With dozens of pans at our disposal, I picked a huge sturdy one and began searing the scallops off in batches. Ten to a pan, three minutes a side, pulled them out, next batch in. After the last batch, I deglazed the pan with an open bottle of white wine from the night before, chopped some parsley, threw it in with some capers, and added a few pats of butter, swirling it until it melted. I let it simmer for a minute, then returned all the scallops to the pan for a quick toss. Back out of the pan, onto one of our rapidly dwindling supply of platters.

The monkfish was ready. I let it rest for a few minutes, and then sliced into it. I tried it. So spicy. No worries. Along with the pickled onions, we had a chipotle salsa that I had made a few days before, and with a bit of sour cream, it turned into an accompanying sauce that was still a bit spicy, but just cooling enough to control the heat.

The table was set, and as I shucked oysters, everyone else was busy loading up the serving dishes.  As I was running around overseeing a lot of the action while trying to control the fate of two or three pans at once, I quickly tired of shucking. After a dozen, I threw the rest on the grill where they quickly opened.

Finally, we could sit down. Along with some crusty bread that we picked up earlier in the day, the table was packed with all sorts of delicious things to eat. We were tired, hot, sweaty, and didn’t even know where to begin.

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Maybe not straight from the vineyard. I have found that it’s best to write about an event immediately following said event, for things, they do get muddled in the ether after days or weeks of swimming.

There was a trip to be had this summer, and it was to the East Coast. Typically, me and the lady, we spend a week or so out in New England with family. With this year being a milestone birthday for her mother, we were invited to spend a week with them on scenic Martha’s Vineyard. While we’ve spent some time in Connecticut, and while I’ve done my time in New York City, I’ve never made it to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, or the upper coast of New England. Most of my time was spent on the sunny, sandy, unspoiled beaches of Rehobeth and Fenwick Island, Delaware. Unfortunately, according to sources from back East where we used to go, they no longer resemble the quiet beachfront communities of my youth.

You’re lucky to get a towel down anywhere within sight of the water.

Now, Martha’s Vineyard, always a tourist destination, had a couple of things going for it. First, we went in late June. It’s not quite high season yet, but we were starting to feel it. Second, instead of staying down-island in the bustling towns of Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs, we were far removed, situated in the up-island community of Aquinnah.

It’s pretty far away from everything

As I said, I’d never been there before, and there was only so much time to take in all the sights and flavors of the island, so after our flight landed and we had a lovely drink on the porch, we headed out for dinner at Lola’s, a beachfront restaurant with live music, dancing, and large portions of Southern food and drink. Late into the evening, we ate, drank, and were merry, alongside a birthday portion of key-lime pie and a dance from the elderly owner that involved a sparkler and a party hat in the shape of a cake.

The next morning, I wondered what we could do to top the previous evening’s activity of mirth and mayhem. For most things, life on the island takes a more subdued tone, and after some coffee and granola, we were off to visit the Chilmark Farmer’s Market.

Tucked back behind the Chilmark town hall, in a grass and gravel parking lot, are two rows of EZ up tent stalls arched over the backs of pickup trucks laden with local greens, potatoes, coolers of grass-fed milk, meats, and handmade brooms fashioned out of sorghum switches.

The second picture is where I picked up most of the things that we were going to make for dinner. All Island grown, all tucked away in buckets and as deep green as the clear sky was blue. We picked up the following:

Yellow Mustard Greens

Wild Ramps (upon further inspection, they were winter garlics, but still great looking)

Sugar Snap Peas

Red Potatoes (red on the inside and out, organic)

Pea Shoots

Edible Flowers (Nasturtium)

Scapes/Garlic Spears

Mint

Chives

Here’s a helpful tip from me to you if you’re scouting out which farmers to buy stuff from for the most authentic meal: Look for the people manning the stands who have the dirtiest fingernails, or the ones that look the weariest. They’ll smile, because it’s their job and their business to sell you on the product, but they will also be the most knowledgeable of their wares, and chances are, they’re the ones who are digging in the fields for your dinner. Appreciate, acknowledge, and respect their hard work. 

I’ve met so many farmers/bakers/small artisans over the years who work tirelessly during growing season to bring things to the market, anywhere from potatoes to groundcherries, apple fritters, scones, and even homegrown peanuts in the shell. Many of them have been up the night before harvesting, checking and double checking their product, or baking, all so you can enjoy a meal that makes you feel like you’re doing something to support hardworking farmers and local businesses. Give them the respect they have so rightfully earned, and buy as much of their stuff as you can so they can go home and take a nap.

With those in basket, we went on to Menemsha, the tiny fishing village on the remote Northwest shore. My mother, calling during the week, passed along a story to me of her youth.

Suddenly I was struck by the place, only because I have been there before–but I was an INFANT sleeping between my young parents and keeping them warm. They always said I was like a little warm stove. Even though I have no idea where we were, I loved seeing the photos of that place.

In the years since she’s been there, I doubt much has changed. Generally left untouched by the ravages of time and tourism, Menemsha remains a two-lane town, with a small wharf of fishing boats, two fish markets, and a general store. Here are a few pictures.

Main Street

Bait shop/Gas Station

Menemsha Wharf

The best thing about these pictures is that they’re all taken within 50 feet of one another. This town is tiny, and it doesn’t care who knows. What it does need is someone to go into one of their two fish markets and sniff around for some grub for dinner. How fortuitious, then, that we happened upon Menemsha Fish Market. We walked in, saw the lobster tanks (home of Lobsterzilla), and got a few local oysters on the half-shell. I’ll walk the line of defending the West Coast Quilcene oysters straight out of the bay that morning until my last breaths, but these were perfect- Small oysters that tasted of cool seawater and didn’t need a thing to make them taste good.

One great thing that they do is their lobster relief program. They have a handful of females, which for ten dollars, you can purchase and release with a notched tail, allowing them to spawn and lay untouched by the local fishermen. So, you know…we did that.

The swimmer fins are all light and feathery, much like females of any species.

a “V” cut is notched into the tail, alerting lobstermen that this lady is spoken for.

After taking her out to the pier, we have carefully removed the rubber bands of bondage from her claws.

This is what a successful release looks like. Lobster for everyone for YEARS TO COME!

So we left our lady lobster friend under the pier, scuttling off for darker, safer waters. Back inside, We were plied with Lobster rolls and bisque, which we enjoyed on the pots behind the fish market. We wandered back in for a third time, and purchased a hunk of smoked bluefish, and a jawdroppingly gorgeous piece of Striped Bass.

It’s a perfect piece of fish.

Armed to the gunwales with fresh produce and fish, we returned to the house, where we embarked on a magical dinner expedition. The kitchen was aflurry with the chip-chip-chopping of knives. I took some of the fresh chives and a bit of soft cheese (easily procured Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb), and mixed it with the flaked bluefish. The Madre had made some infused oil using fresh dill from her garden, so we drizzled some of that on top, and served it with some water crackers and whole grain kavli toasts for an appetizer.

Part Two…Electric Boogaloo…coming soon.

If you work at a Grocery store, or if you shop at one, you know how difficult it can be to find healthy options for your family at affordable prices. All the time, you hear about how places like Whole Foods are referred to as “Whole Paycheck”, (a daily occurrence for me), but in reality, it’s not that way at all.
Yes, the prices may seem somewhat exorbitant on one scale, being that you can get some products, exactly the same, for much cheaper at the local Kroger or Safeway. However, it still pales to how much we spend when we eat our lunches out.
I’m guilty of it, too. During the lunch period, I’ll wander over to Panera, get myself a half sandwich and cup of soup, and usually something to drink. A regular lunch, if only because I don’t want to be taken by too many choices in the grocery store. I want something off a menu that I don’t have to think about, and that I can order, eat, relax with, and be back to work with a decent amount of nourishment in 30 minutes or less.
The total price of a lunch? About 10 to 11 dollars, depending on the size of drink I’d like and whether I want my sandwich toasted.
Breaking it down, though, there are certain questions that begin to mount. The cup of soup is 12 ounces. I have half a sandwich. And even with a small drink, soda, iced tea, whatever it may be, the price of that drink is $1.85. Why so expensive for so little food?
Now, flip it over to Whole Foods, where the prices are allegedly high and there’s allegedly an attitude that comes with the meal. I can get a big salad for $5. I can get a whole sandwich, roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, trimmings, etc. for $4. Either that, or a 16 ounce soup full of goodness for $4. I can get a soda for 69 cents. Total price of a meal? Under ten dollars. It’ll probably fill me up. When I have the patience, that’s what I do.
When I don’t, though, it’s off to Panera I go. It’s the American way.

***

Let’s look at some of the ways that supermarkets are designed to assist your shopping experience. First, in almost any store you visit, the eye catching display as you walk in the door is Produce. It sets the tone of freshness throughout the store. Stop and look at things that are on sale. You can usually find at least one fruit or vegetable staple that is of reasonable price, and when you do, you should put it in your cart. This may be because the store has a good supplier in Mexico, or it may also be that they’re running a sale on something fresh, local, and in season. We eat with our eyes, but we needn’t forget to smell certain foods.
Tomatoes should smell like tomatoes. Basil should smell fresh and green. You should be able to get a whiff of orange oil if you lightly zest it with your thumb.
If you’re on a budget, and you are able to afford the Roma tomatoes that are hard and bland, don’t worry. Take them home, toss them with a little oil, salt and pepper, and roast them at 300 degrees until they turn to mush and their flavors bloom.
Next, look for the private label brands. Many stores have private label brands that are contracted through well-reputed companies at a lower markup. What this means is that good economic practices can work, by giving a wider audience to a company such as a Stonyfield Organic, or simply just by promoting the private label brand itself, getting the store’s name out more. Every time you open your fridge, there’s Safeway Organic Milk. There’s President’s Choice pickles. If you slapped the regular label on them, you’d end up paying a buck more for Vlasic and Horizon products. Private Label isn’t bad.
Third, the bulk section. More stores have a bulk section, where you can scoop granola, get almonds and raisins, and even pick up some treats for the kids. Bulk items are less expensive because they have a much lower packaging cost, among other factors. You can stack a pallet 8 high with 50# bags of rice, and if you buy either a whole bag, or merely a few scoops, you’re only using a fraction of the materials it takes to pack a canister of Planters’ peanuts with the foil inside and the razor sharp rim of death.
Last, buy what you know, but check the labels. If you know a Campbell’s soup is good, but you see another one on sale for half the price, try it. Try it once. You might not like it, and if you don’t, you have that knowledge moving forward, but you also have equal sustenance in your belly from your one less than flavorful interim meal. It’s not so bad. Now you know. You saved a buck and you fed yourself for a meal. This checking the labels thing? Try to use it for good things. You can’t taste the difference between a $4 can of Organic free range garbanzo beans and a $.99 can of store brand. Not after you add your garlic, cheese, salt, herbs, or anything else people put with it. Don’t sit in the aisles, poring over the labels on two competing brands of pizza, looking for the one with higher fiber. That’s not what healthy eating is about.

Remember- the more packaging something has, the less incentive it has to stay fresh. Simple packaging generally equals better food. If you can see the food without picking it up, or if you know that the food doesn’t have five layers of protective packaging or an airpuffed bag surrounding it, it might be a little better for you than a Kraft Macaroni and cheese. Case in point- the Macaroni. It’s alright. It can touch the cardboard, and it’s fine. However, the ‘cheese’? It’s in the airtight, foil lined, childproof pouch. We can easily see or hear the macaroni as it shuffles around in the box when we shake it. What we can’t do is even imagine what is in the Neon pouch of doom. That’s why I stay away from the box macaroni dinners. Colors like that don’t occur in nature.
You know what color does occur in nature? Green. If you have something green with dinner, you’re already on your way to better health. You can get a whole bag of spring mix, herbs, bitter greens, spinach, etc. for 2 bucks at my store. You can’t even get an egg mcmuffin for that, can you?
Buy some apples. Buy some bananas. If they go brown, make banana bread. Freeze them. Make morning smoothies with frozen fruit and orange juice. Find ways to utilize all the fresh food you get. It’s your money. Make healthy and sound choices for your dollar.
As a side question, when did coupons become such a bad thing? Look for the coupons. Clip ’em if you got ’em. Stock up on nonperishables when they go on sale. We have such a love for things like Groupon and Livingsocial, always scouting out things that are marketed to look like they are a great deal (some of them are!), but why not take that approach with your food? It’s a great deal in Atlanta to get a Facial and salt scrubbed body peel for 50% off today, but it seems too much to want to get 20% off of your groceries by clipping coupons or simply figuring out what is the best value for your dollar. Get your Preferred rewards card. Pick up the coupon booklet when you first walk in the store. You won’t be taken by impulse buys, most of the time. As long as you keep your head on right, and shop with purpose, you’ll be able to shop smart.

Shop S-Mart.


***

One last thing- Most people shop in terms of total dollar amounts. What many fail to realize is that packaging is perceived value. It may cost $4.99 for one container of shredded parmesan cheese, but it will cost $3.00 for a hunk of parmesan of equal or greater weight. It is increasingly popular (and I don’t know if it is mandated yet) to put unit cost on the shelf tags by the products. Next time you’re in the store, check out Unit prices, and see which items, not necessarily by sheer dollar amount alone, will give you the lowest price per ounce.

Remember Iain? Of course you do. Well, this week, I made a pizza for his blog project. I know Wisconsin would be the easiest pie for me to tackle, but according to those who live up there, stuff just isn’t ready. I still have to wait a little bit for ramps, asparagus, berries of all kinds. It’s okay. I just didn’t want to make a turnip pizza.

anyway, I thought about what pizza I’d really like to make. With Iain’s completion of Pennsylvania, I decided to do a little companion puzzle piece. A little bit of Googling pointed me to New Jersey’s favorite foods.

Maybe I’m one of the only people to realize this, or maybe I just remembered because Zach Braff wouldn’t shut up about New Jersey for a few years and probably mentioned it, but New Jersey is the nation’s leading supplier of eggplant. Also known as the Garden State, New Jersey is the birthplace of the Tomato Pie, with Trenton staking the earliest claim to the recipe.

Tomato pie is a pizza with the toppings in reverse. Crust-Cheese-Topping-Sauce. It ends up looking like a stuffed pizza. The tricky part for this pizza is that the Trenton style of tomato pie is thin crust. There’s no place to hide the sauce. Just goes right on top with no retaining wall on the sides.

***

I needed things. I knew I had, in the fridge, my basil pesto from last week. That was going to be the base. Brushed on as a thin layer directly between the crust and cheese layer, it was my way of saying to New Jersey that even though people may only remember them for being dirty and giving the world the idea that only greasy, fried Italian things come from the shore, that underneath it all, there’s a tiny patch of green that I know is there, and it makes everything alright.

I picked up the following- Provolone (mozzarella uses the same curd as what becomes provolone. Plus, sliced thin, it’s easy enough to place in an even layer on the pizza), tomatoes for sauce, onions, garlic, and baby eggplant. I thought about getting a large one, but these were about the size of a juice glass, and we only had to have enough for one pizza. Also, parmesan cheese for sprinkling.

Conspicuously cut to not show a label, but I really made the Pesto. Really.

So, I came home to my standby pizza dough rising in the oven. I sliced the eggplant into 1/2″ thick rounds, breaded them in parmesan breadcrumbs and egg, and fried them. Setting them aside, I made the sauce. Onion and garlic, sweat in olive oil for five minutes. I added some leftover capers from a few nights before, and a can of seasoned tomatoes, just because it doesn’t have to be great. Just sauce.

Sauce cooked down, reduced until it was pretty chunky with little excess liquid. That’s when I hit it with the immersion blender. After blending, it thickened and reduced pretty quickly. Instead of a runny sauce, I had one that I could dollop onto a pizza. The consistency was great, and the sauce was not going to run anywhere.

I rolled the crust out, and pinched my way to a vaguely jellybean-shaped crust. I took all the pesto and spread it across the crust, layered the provolone, and put the eggplant parm on top. Two small eggplant yielded about 16 small slices, which fit the pie perfectly all the way down from Hackensack to Cape May.

Adding the sauce, I used the eggplant as a natural barrier for spills, and it seemed to work out fine. By the time it was sauced, the makeshift marinara had thickened up to a paste.  It worked so well. With a flourish of grated cheese, it went in the oven for 25 minutes at 425.

It turned out perfectly. As it was in the oven, I got a call from my lady friend, who said that she was bringing guests over, and she hoped that there was enough food. I looked at the pizza, which while filling seemed deceptively small in surface area, and immediately grabbed the other dough ball in the fridge. The oven was still on, so I didn’t have to worry about anything but making enough food to feed everyone.

Pizza number two, the other one, was what I had in the fridge. Orange peppers, capers, kalamata olives, a little sauce, feta, more provolone, roasted garlic. Into the oven it went, and I was happy when it came out and everyone was able to enjoy more than a couple slices of pizza.

I enjoyed both pizzas, but the Jersey Pizza held a special place in my heart. I did it to help out a friend, to feed my household, and to utilize the fresh bounty of a state not normally associated with freshness. Here’s my pizza. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed making and eating it.

New Jersey-Now available in Pizza!

Don’t forget to check out the 50 State Pizza Project at: http://www.the-muffin-man.com

You’ll be very happy you did.

I’m the first one to talk about going to the market, eating locally and finding the products that are in season, but here’s a thing that many of you suffering through heat waves may not have picked up on: It’s cold in Seattle. While everyone else is posting their facebook statuses of “Another 100 degree day here in (name of your city), it’s 70-75 degrees here at best on most days.

Our summer began on July 5th. We had a heat wave of low 90s for about a week, and then, the temperature dropped down to the 60s and 70s once again. The sweatshirts that I put away for the summer came back out of the steamer trunk, and I was forced to shiver my way through brisk Seattle mornings in order to make it down to the market, where I braved the winds of Elliott Bay whilst digging my hands in and out of frigid fish ice for hours on end.

I sit here now on a morning where the mercury has barely broken 65 degrees, my chilly toes tucked under my knees as I sit in front of the computer. This weather confuses me.

How can there be so much bounty during the summer months without the weather in town to back up all the wonderful things that you can do with these products? This should be the time of year when we make salads, eat fresh berries, or savor the sweet, refreshing crispness of an apple or peach. Instead, I sit, bundled on top of the down comforter that still has yet to come off the bed for fear of another cold night in the Pacific Northwest.

Last week at the Market, I stopped at Alm Hill Gardens, a little farmstand from Everson, Washington. Everson is located in an idyllic setting, a tiny pocket of Washington State just over the border from Canada, where I’ve been told magical things happen in the garden. Alm Hill is always the first farm to have tulips before the spring, and during the summer, they have weird looking yet familiar vegetables to fill a fridge. That corner of the United States is where an abundance of seeds and bulbs are harvested for Home and Garden stores across the country, and it stays green almost year round. When it’s snowy, the valley looks like Switzerland. In the Spring, the acres upon acres of tulips evoke a Holland or Belgium. With Summer comes an even deeper appreciation for all things verdant, as the fields burst with berries, green garlics, and variegated greens of all varieties.

This week, they had the chard and green garlic, some translucent yellow onions, and few hundred pints of berries for sale. With the cold snap that we’ve been experiencing off and on in the mornings, the berries must be incredibly sweet and sugary, but we’ve had at it with the berries for the past couple of weeks, taking advantage of fresh fruit while it is warm. The only thing that looks appealing in addition to the staples that I picked up were the bags of second run berries. “Perfect for Jaming [sic]”, they read. Although it’s cold, even I know that it isn’t jam season just yet. I chose the chard and green garlics. (Yeah, they’re garlic spears, but these were not quite as straight-stalked as the others, still falling in curlicue tendrils out of their twist tie bouquet).

With chard and garlic in the backpack, I trudged my way to the bus stop, and made the ride up the hill to the home. I made sure to catch the bus that let me off right outside my house, because I didn’t want to walk the four extra blocks from the 49 bus in the cold. As it happens on many nights, I came home hungry, and put the backpack on the counter, sweeping the cutting board out from the drawer in one smooth motion.

Down below the cutting board was the pan. Next motion, out with the pan and onto the stove. As the right hand closed the door to the cupboard, it drew up to the burner, flicking it on to medium.

Right hand switches to panhandle. Left hand switches to Olive Oil. Right hand rotates the pan slowly as left hand gives two swirls around the pan. Right hand puts pan back on the burner.

Now bend down to get an onion, the most dangerous of mincing vegetables. I say it is the most dangerous of mincing vegetables for a few reasons.

1) Tiny pieces. You need to cut them into tiny pieces. This, for many people, is a daunting task. They cut the onion in half and then butcher it with the slow method of cutting that nobody, not even Vince of Slap-Chop fame, would be proud of. The easiest way to do it, and the way that yields lovely little dices, is to cut the top and the root off, slice it once vertically, and then slice them 3/4 of the way, both vertically from top to root, and horizontally. You’re left with what looks to be the beginning of those Onion flowers that they serve you at your local neighborhood ChiliAppleFriday’s, but, you know, a little more reserved and portion controlled than that. Then, with your finger in the old standby claw method (where the danger comes from), you slice the attached matchstick looking pieces into dice. Is there a correlation between dicing and a six sided die?

Sidebar: As I am writing this paragraph, I can’t stop thinking about that onion thing. I’ve never had one. Is it just like a giant, beer battered onion ring? It’s one of those creations that simultaneously fascinates and disgusts me. I call this feeling disgastination. Just for a moment, if we will, let us take a look at the marvel that is the Onion flower.

Come on. You know you were thinking about it, too.

2) The tears. If you manage to cut an onion and remain in full force, digitally speaking, there are still the chemical repercussions of your onion reaction to deal with. Everyone will tell you that they have a way to combat these tears. Here is a short list of ways that I’ve heard will help, but in truth, do not.

  1. Wear Goggles- This does not work because it is dumb.
  2. Hold Matchsticks, matchheads out, in the corners of your mouth- This was allegedly started because people believed that the phosphorus in match heads, when inhaled in small doses, would counteract the vapor coming off the onion. If you breathed in through your mouth, you’d get the match scent. In through the nose, the matches were below your nasal passages, so they would go up your nose. I don’t know what they were talking about, but according to the hit show “Breaking Bad”, Phosphorus is found in the striking surface of the matchbox. Also, that show teaches us not to do drugs, I think. So just to recap- Match theory-Busted. And don’t do drugs.
  3. Buy diced onions- You are lazy.
  4. Rinse the onion before chopping- Where does your flavor go? Are you going to dip  your flavorless dish in the garbage disposal to sop up the flavor you lost? No? Okay. So don’t do that, either.
  5. Leave the skin on before you chop it- As a barrier to all the vapors getting up to you and clogging your head with salty tears of defeat? No. Do you like bits of onion skin in your onion? They burn in the pan and make your dinner look rustic. Don’t do that.

There’s no way I’ve found that really works, unless you get a fresh onion. Get one that hasn’t been deadheaded. That’d be one that doesn’t have the papery skin on the outside. For some reason, they seem less pungent and less aromatic that way. I haven’t seen them out here, but if you go to a farmstand and they have the really shiny onions, get those if you really want to make an attempt to not cry while you’re cutting onions.

So now, I’ve chopped the onion, and it’s in the pan. Slice a couple of cloves of garlic. Toss those in as well.

From my bag, I pull out a bunch of chard, slicing the stems and rough chopping the leaves. With the green garlics, I discard the rough stem ends, and whittle the pieces into 3/4 inch bits. Those go in the pan. So do the bits of chard.

Salt, pepper. Another splash of oil. A secret blend of herbs and spices known to the world as the amazing packet known as Saizon Goya. Let the chard leaves wilt.

Out of the freezer comes the packet of Morningstar fake meat crumbles. They’re actually quite delicious, and the only thing that I’ve found that mimics the texture of ground beef and gives enough body to stand up to the fixins already in the pan. Now, a note about this.

I understand that many of you have known about my philosophy on food, and on food substitutes from the vegetarian diet. 99% of the time, I can see using meat in a dish. However, if you know more about me than that, you might also know that I’m not a huge fan of red meat. I don’t usually go to a restaurant and order a steak. It will be fish, pork (although it’s hard to find a pork in a restaurant that is as succulent as they make it out to be, to pork’s sad discredit), or some kind of other interesting meat. Red meat in general has never left me feeling satisfied after eating it. It has only left me feeling bad. It’s heavy, doesn’t have the most pleasing flavor to me, and with all the things that people are doing with other meats these days, it’s fast approaching chicken as the meat that is the most boring one for me to work with. With that in mind, for something like the dish I’m describing, (which is tacos in case you have not yet guessed), these vegetarian crumbles fit the bill, and I like them, so there.

So then, those go in the pan, along with a fresh diced tomato, and then we let it all sit for a few minutes to bring the fully cooked crumbles up to temperature so that the dish as a whole will be delicious and filling while warm and satisfying on a not so warm night.

We get some cheese out, grate it, bring our friend Paul Newman’s salsa to the table, and then we enjoy some delicious tacos. The best thing about tacos is that you can put anything in there. Unless, like the Andyman so skillfully does, you strive for authenticity, there is little worry that you need to adhere to someone’s great grandmother’s recipe. It’s a pan full of flavors that go well together, and it tastes good. Today’s burritos, tortas, tacos, etc. do not taste like they came straight from Michoacan. When they do, it’s amazing. When they don’t, it’s your own creation, and it’s stuff in a shell of corn that tastes good. At our house, we call it tacos. It’s a good blend of something summery and something that will keep my toes, still cold, at least above the freezing point.

If I’m working hard all day, I  don’t have the time to sit by the stove and make a rich, layered molé. What I do have time for is to shop for all of the ingredients that make up groovy flavor profiles that I can be proud of as a home cook, home cookin’ meals like I do. The tortilla is the canvas. I merely paint.

Halibut Cheeks, Escabeche, Squash Blossoms, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

It’s frigid and gross outside, and I don’t want to go to the store. I’ve managed to do one load of laundry, poorly, and it’s in the wash for a second time because I didn’t load it with enough water.

I don’t want to go outside. It has been raining for the last few days, and just going out to the mailbox depresses me. What can I do to occupy my time? Looking in the fridge, there’s a little bit of food. I made a nice tomato sauce a few days ago. There’s still plenty of cheese. I think that there’s an egg or two. Capers are in the cupboard, and I have a few nice sardines and some breadcrumbs. I think tonight will be a pasta night.

***

Back in school, making pasta was a regular thing. There would be a couple of dishes on the daily menu that were beef, maybe a chicken, a fish or two, a nice green salad, and a few sides. There was almost always a pasta dish. Our instructor, being from New York, and one of the most Italian-American individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, most often insisted that we learn how to make pasta ourselves, so that we were better able to assert ourselves in the kitchen when it came time to forge our creative path. With little more than salt, flour, and egg, we were able to create and stretch the canvas for limitless possibilities to expand our culinary horizons.

With each week, we went over different recipes that were indicative of the regions of Italy. There was a cream sauce in the north served alongside the bread of the week, a cracker-like grissini, a Bolognese, a thick, meat sauce that filled you up and could have been served alongside a boeuf bourgignon as a main course, and a lightly dressed Southern style with lemon, oregano, breadcrumbs, and golden raisins. Through our weekly endeavors, we learned about how the sauce for a carbonara, when whisked properly, blended the fat from rendered bacon with a lightly coddled egg to create a proper emulsion when finished with a flourish of cheese. We learned that Agnolotti, Tortellini, and Ravioli were all different regional takes on the same basic structure. Agnolotti al Plin, or Agnolotti with a Pinch, was in reference to not only the shape of the pasta, a filled pillow with a crimped edge, but was also a sly nod to their inventor, who had a fondness for pinching the pillowy bottoms of his female kitchen staff as they prepared the dish. They can be made with a meat, cheese, or vegetable filling, but from region to region, depending on what herbs, spices, or proteins were available, the recipe as well as the shape will differ.

Since I have a bunch of different items in the fridge, I think I’m going to do a mishmash of all the different regions with my pasta. Capers and sardines are decent bedfellows, and you could even throw a tomato in there for flavor, as they all come from the same region, but since there’s basil, onion, and garlic in the sauce, that makes it a little tricky to adhere to strict regional laws of cuisine.

Moreover, and don’t tell anyone this, I used a Rex Goliath Merlot in the sauce. A (gasp!) French (double gasp!!) blended wine flavored drink made in (triple gasp!!!) California! It’s definitely not my favorite, but it’s palatable, affordable, and it was the closest bottle I could reach when I was making the sauce.  If I can gulp down a glass while the sauce is simmering, it’s fine and dandy for me as a usable wine.

Anyhow, the sauce? It’s taken care of. Just a quick reheat, maybe a bit of a reduction, and it’ll be ready to serve with the pasta.

Ah yes, the pasta. Down at the market, there’s a nice pasta stand called Pappardelle’s. If you’ve ever been down there, you’ve probably heard them in your periphery as you walk by, trying to sell you on their product by offering the all-too-unfortunately-concocted mess they call “chocolate pasta”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I usually like it if they lead with their strength.

They’ve got a lot of awesome pastas there. Flavors abound, from a Lemon Trenette to a Basil and Parsley Mafaldine, to Harissa linguine, and a Red Onion Pappardelle, those really wide noodles that I just find fantastic for enjoying every last morsel of sauce.

The one thing that bothers me about it is that they charge $10/lb for it. For flour and water and a few dry spices. Maybe for the Saffron or the Portabella Pasta, I could see charging a premium, but this always got me thinking if I could make my own at home.

I knew I could, what with the years of pasta making experience I had already been so quick to forget. How hard could it be? I’d seen Molto Mario enough to figure out that you needed to make a well, put some eggs down in the center, and whisk it all together for a few minutes, roll it out, and, MIRACLE OF MIRACLES! You would look down and there would be pasta.

Easy.

So a while back, I had received some farm fresh eggs from a local vendor at the market. Six of em. Some brown, some green, all of them exciting. I went to the Italian store up the way to get some 00 flour, just like Mario Batali used. I didn’t have a rolling pin, but I wasn’t about to get one. I had all these empty wine bottles lying around that had worked just as well for me over the years.

Got them home and found a recipe online. Simple enough. 2 cups of flour and four egg yolks. Started off with two cups of 00 on the board, made the little well in the center, and separated the yolks, one by one, into the well. I whisked them together, breaking them up and incorporating a little bit of flour at a time. The directions told me that it would start coming together, and when it did, to knead it for about 15 minutes until it became elastic.

My dough was flaky, like a bad pie crust. I turned it out onto the board, and started kneading, hoping that it would come together.

Five minutes went by. Ten minutes. My arms started to burn. Fifteen minutes. I took a break. My abs hurt. It was like doing an exercise on a CPR dummy that wasn’t responding. Somewhere, my instructor was laughing. The dough was not stretchy, nor was it elastic. It was a rock. The instructions said to cover it with Saran Wrap and place it in the fridge for twenty minutes. I really didn’t think that it was going to help.

It didn’t. Twenty minutes later, it was harder than before I put it in. There was only one thing I knew about how this pasta would turn out. I knew the sound it would make when it hit the bottom of the garbage can.

Thud.

Crap. Those nice eggs, too. Didn’t cost me anything, but it was a waste of beautiful product. I ended up using the dried pasta we had in the cupboard, and it seemed to turn out alright. Sadly, it wasn’t the fresh dinner I’d hoped for.

***

The next time I made fresh noodles, I wanted to get it right. I used the Mario Batali recipe. 3 3/4 c. of flour, 5 whole eggs. Ah. Whole eggs. I’d run into the problem earlier with my mayonnaise, where I used the whole egg instead of the yolk, yielding a broken, sloppy mess on my hands. Alright. Problem number one was solved.

I got to mixing, doing the well-method, and luckily, I only had to knead it for two to three minutes, according to the recipe. Fantastic. Wrapped it in plastic, let it sit on the counter for twenty minutes at room temperature, and it was ready to go.

Already, I could see that the texture was like what the first recipe said it should have been. You could pull it with your finger like a dough hook, and it would snap and spring back when it reached its breaking point. Much better.

I cut off a small hunk, and floured the board. I rolled it out as thin as I could, taking great pains to keep it well floured so as not to stick. When I simply could not roll it any more, I took my sort of thin sheet, rolled it up, and sliced it, tagliatelle-style.

When you roll up a pasta, and you don’t get the cut just right, as it unfurls, it becomes a zigzag of curiousity that really never quite resembles what you see in the pictures. Still, it was better. It was edible, and I was able to put it in a boiling pot of water and serve it with all the zest of a semi proud home cook.

***

I saw all those fancy pasta machines at the Italian Market. They were about $150. I don’t have that kind of scratch laying around. What could I do?

I forgot about making my own fresh pasta for a couple of weeks, until I picked up a copy of The Stranger, and saw that, right by my bus stop, at Ross Dress for Less, in the housewares section, they had pasta machines for $20!

20 bucks? Joy of Joys! I did a little dance, and then I drank a little water, for what I had, I had to get and put it in the pasta machine, and I had to do it soon.

After work one night, I went in, and I got that pasta machine. For twenty dollars, it was the best investment. I brought it home, used my Mario Batali recipe for pasta, and cranked it out. I cranked out all kinds of pastas. Thin sheets for lasagna, thinner sheets for wild mushroom and leek tortellini, and all manner of thin fettuccine for dinners on cold nights such as this.

What it came down to, though, was this: How was I going to ensure that my fresh pasta would make it from the pasta machine to the pot without sticking? Sure, there was a lot of flour on the board, but I always had a clothes drying rack or something similar on which to hang the pasta to dry before cooking it. What to do?

I learned something important that day, in addition to the restated fact that necessity is the mother of all invention. If I want to make a fresh pasta, I can do it myself, but with an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, a better sense of satisfaction comes about with the end product. More than that, sometimes an answer to your query is right in front of you. As we were cranking the noodles out one evening, we needed a spot to hang the noodles. I usually plopped them in a pile, shook them loose from one another, and threw them in the pot, hoping that they would turn out delicious if not only somewhat edible. My better half, the one who somehow got the looks and the brains in our relationship equation, ran into the other room, and came back with the answer. It was so simple, and I was and continue to be impressed by her novel solution to my problem.

Could it be that it was all so simple?

***

So, tonight, it is Pasta. The stars are aligned. The MOON IS IN THE SEVENTH HOUSE! JUPITER IS ALIGNED WITH PLUTO!

Tonight’s dinner will be like a big cable knit sweater that someone keeps knitting, and knitting, and knitting. *

*Except that instead of yarn, it will be a long string of pasta. Um…Yeah.

ETA: Please pass this on if you read it, agree with it, or think that other people need to hear it. Retweet it, repost it, put it on facebook or link to your own blog. I just got a little passionate, NETWORK style about this article.  I appreciate the time, and thanks for stopping by.

I picked up a copy of the Stranger the other day. If you’re not from around here, the Stranger is Seattle’s weekly, similar to the Village Voice, Chicago Reader, etc. featuring the advice columns of Dan Savage. That’s how you know it.  Anyhow, front page news had the headline “Mystery Meat- How Organic is Bill the Butcher?”

Ooh. An intriguing expose.

I read through the article, (linked at the bottom of this post), and had an immediate response. I’ve worked in some level of the chain of supply for meat for about fifteen years, ranging from being the guy who checks in the locally produced lamb to the guy who sells you your bacalao. I’ve gone through meat cutting classes, and have a decent grasp on what makes a good cut of meat. Certainly, through my tenure in the industry, I know what it means to be a decent purveyor of quality product at prices that reflect what kind of meat it is that you’re getting. Online classes to discuss the quality, source, and importance of sustainability of fish were always at my disposal. So what’s my beef with the beef?

In the article, a few things stood out.

(T)here’s one thing Von Schneidau and Owens won’t share, and that’s the names of the putatively organic ranches that supply the shops.

Bill the Butcher’s marketing and in-store signage explicitly state “Certified Organic and Natural Beef, Lamb, Veal, Goat, Cheese, Fish, Chicken, Pork, Game” (its website says “only locally sourced and ethically raised meat”). When asked, butchers at two locations said, “Everything in the case is organic.

And the most damning of all condemnations, a response in the article from one of their own purveyors of chicken:

The chicken farm is the one source that Bill the Butcher is forthcoming about: Dog Mountain Farm in Carnation. David Krepky, co-owner of Dog Mountain, says, “Yeah, I told them not to use the word ‘scavenger,’ because they’re not.” The chickens are kept in an indoor/outdoor pen and given feed to supplement whatever bugs and grass they find in the outdoor part.

Dog Mountain Farm’s chickens are highly regarded, sustainably and humanely raised heirloom chickens. But Bill the Butcher’s butchers also claimed that the Dog Mountain Farm chickens were certified organic. “No,” says Krepky, “they’re not organic. The organic feed comes from Canada, and it’s like twice as expensive.” Are they certified natural? “Nope,” says Krepky, “neither. They’re just good chickens.

How is this fair to people who want to sell ethically raised meat? It’s not. It is misleading by the person who you are supposed to trust to keep your family healthy. When you go to get a haircut, you trust the barber to make you look good. When you go to the bookstore, you trust the recommendations of who is selling you the book. Buying your food should not be like buying a car. Why should you have to do the research on where your food comes from? It should be there in black and white. If it is organic, prove it. Show me. Tell me where it comes from, what it eats, how it’s raised. If you’re charging premium prices for a supposedly premium product, I expect you to be able to tell me what kind of grass your grass fed beef is pastured on.

They don’t even do that:

When asked which ranch a flank steak came from and what the cow ate, the young butcher at the Woodinville store replied, “Well, it’s not like I can ask this steak where it came from, you know. But I can tell you that everything here is local and organic.”

Come on. This is appalling to me. How on earth can you possibly employ someone who is as inept at their job as this? Where on earth is this an accepted practice, to be mediocre about the product that you sell? Yes, you can tell us where the steak came from. What you cannot do is exactly what you just did. You cannot say that this piece of meat is organic.

You can say it’s all natural. You can say it’s “beyond organic”, whatever that means. You can even say it’s organically raised or fed, but you cannot say that it is fully organic. The pastures, the grain, the conditions of the soil, the proximity to contaminated sources of clean, untainted drinking water? All of these have bearing on whether or not you can truthfully sell something as what you purport it to be.

On to the fish- there is no way that you can certify a fish organic in the United States. Such a classification does not exist, adhering to the rules set forth by Fish and Game, NOAA, USDA, etc. Show me which pond, which lake, which river you’ve certified organic, and then drink out of it to prove to me that it is fully safe. The closest we can get to Organic fish certified to United States standards is to have an accompanying seal of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent third party organization who does testing to ensure that a wild caught fish is harvested in an ecologically sustainable manner, one that is least detrimental to the environment (dragging, minimal bycatch, etc.), and a method and cap for the season that is not counterproductive to the continued flourishing and cyclical repopulation of the species. Even though it’s also designed as a marketing ploy with the extra added cache of being able to put it on your product and jack up the prices, they do their research.

Bill the Butcher?

According to Owens and Von Schneidau, some of the meat is USDA certified organic and some is certified natural—a certification monitored by ranchers themselves, not the USDA. Then some is what Von Schneidau calls “beyond organic”—certified as neither, but “grass-fed and sustainably ranched” and personally checked. Von Schneidau says, “My specs to [the ranchers] are ‘x, y, z,’ and we get as close to that as we can to call it ‘Bill the Butcher.'”

The thing is, this in itself is utter noise and PR nonsense, designed to put the customer at ease. Still, they go into no depth as to what X, Y, and Z actually happen to be. When I sell a fish, my X is that the fish must be purple, the Y is that it should have sharp pointy teeth, and the Z is that it should taste vaguely of the sea. It’s a crazy sounding analogy, but it’s my prerogative how I’m going to use it to sell my product. If those were my criteria, would you really want to buy a fish from me?

Neither would I.

***

There are so many things that I want to say about this, so many wrongs that need to be righted. Their staff needs training, badly. They need to be more honest with their customers relating to how they are marketing their product. Right now, all they’re marketing is themselves as a high end butcher for a high end clientele. That is their niche. Having worked that angle on a larger scale, I can tell you that their business is relying on the fact that the pseudo-educated consumer will ask a bunch of regurgitated questions that they’re supposed to ask but have not the wherewithal to fully comprehend the answers to. I’ve been guilty of misleading customers before, sometimes based on what I’ve been told to tell them, but also because I know that they won’t have the patience to check it out on their own. Shopping at one of these places and assuming that you’re getting the best quality food should be a right. People treat it as a privilege accompanied by whatever luxury car they’re driving. It doesn’t matter so much to them that the food quality is paramount. You take home a piece of 40 dollar per pound cherry leaf wrapped bleu cheese, your dinner guests are going to know that you take your food seriously, but it will never get past the superficial level of the Ooohs and Aaahs that your cheese plate receives as you serve it alongside your bottle of trendy Croatian reserve Tempranillo style wine drink.

People see the price tag, they see the words organic, and they go crazy for it. It’s an Adult Pokemon Syndrome. It’s de rigeur. Those who can afford to shop organic do, but many of those who don’t have a strong desire to feed their family something healthy, and see an organic roaster as a small indulgence. Small home cooks who like doing something special every once in a while, they’ll purchase a bison steak, or farm fresh eggs, but not on a daily basis. There is a small, yet passionate and everexpanding group of conscientious consumers who are just as inquisitive as I about the transparency in their food supply. Jill Lightner, a Seattle food writer, is one of them. She writes:

“It’s what a consumer should expect. It’s impossible to tell whether a label means something without a consumer devoting an absurd amount of time… This is exactly why transparency in sourcing is the only thing that matters. If you know the ranch, you can visit the ranch, see the animals, and ask questions. If you don’t know the ranch, you’re relying on a marketing department.”

By this point in time, if you know me and my food buying, cooking, and eating habits, you know this: I try to purchase locally sourced ingredients. I try to use fresh produce, organic when I can. When I can’t find locally sourced stuff, I try to purchase from a locally owned small business at the market. I can’t always afford the nice vine-on tomatoes, so I get the conventional romas. I can’t always afford to get a 6 dollar dozen of cage free brown eggs at the creamery, so I’ll save that small indulgence for when I want to make a great fresh pasta or a delicious omelet. Eating fresh food should be a right. I want to know where my food comes from. I shouldn’t have to ask you.

***

So what do I do? How do I resolve this problem that I’m having with this guy’s meat? I don’t usually buy it, so there’s no harm in saying that I won’t shop there. So I’ve got that going for me. Still, I need to take the initiative and find a new place to feed my curiousity and quench the seething fire that lives inside my belly that wants to cook all of Bill the Butcher’s steaks to a crisp.

Prior to the publication of this article, I was speaking with a coworker, and he asked me if I’d been to the new butcher up on Capitol Hill. He’s one who gets equally excited about food. There’s usually something delicious cooking at his house, whether it’s simply a good dinner, or something thoroughly out of the ordinary, such as veal sweetbreads and grilled tuna collars.

“Which one?” I asked him?
“Just a little place up off of Pike Street.”

I thought about it for a second, and then gave it not a second thought until yesterday. I yelped for a Capitol Hill Butcher, and came up with Rain Shadow Meat Company on Melrose. Brand Spanking new, I recall that their butcher was also showcased in last week’s Stranger Chow Bio (linked at the bottom), and he went by the Butcherly name of Russ Flint.

What a great way to introduce yourself to the world. “Russ Flint-Butcher”. Such a great title for your meat guy.

We don’t eat meat much over here. That’s not to say that it’s taboo. I’ve been encouraged to buy more meat to satisfy whatever carnivorous urges I may have, but I cook what I know we both will eat, so a lot of times, that’s either fish or vegetables. I do feel healthier eating like this, and I think that it’s wise to vary your diet, so with that in mind, I took a stroll over to the Melrose building, just a block from our old place.

It was a beautiful day, and I thought to myself as I walked over, “This is what I should be doing with my time off, all the time. What better way to spend an afternoon?”

I spent about fifteen minutes walking down the sunny side of the street to soak up the nice bits of sunshine that we have going for us here in Seattle. These times have been few and far between, but it just happened that it was ideal for my little sojourn down the hill.

I got there about three P.M., across the street from Bauhaus coffeeshop, and there, where used to sit an empty warehouse, was a huge one story, gutted space with sliding windows on the front to promote an open air atmosphere.  As I walked in, the space was nearly vacant. There was a large open court in the center, flanked on the right by a butcherblock cheese shop, The Calf and Kid, and on the left by a 15 foot case of meat. There was Rain Shadow.

Two guys were busy with an old school hand crank sausage press, linking up country style breakfast sausage for the case.  I was acknowledged over the counter, and let them keep on linking while I checked over the wares.

It’s a spartan case, maybe four or five small porterhouse/t-bones, a little ground lamb, some gorgeous pork chops, and a fryer/roaster or two. And the hangar. Three six to eight oz. hangar steaks, perfectly trimmed, on their own individual pieces of butcher paper.  On the other side, the breakfast sausage, some lamb crepinette in caul fat, house made duck confit, slab bacon, farm fresh eggs, poussin, a larger game hen, smoked hocks, everything you could want, just in small quantities. And on top of the counter, huge soft pretzels. Very tempting.

I took the hangar. Every item had a label that said what farm it came from. They utilized the duck that they weren’t going to sell. They ground their own meat for sausage, and spiced and stuffed it right there. I walked around the corner, and this was exactly what I was hoping for.

There was a window into the meat cooler. You want transparency? You want an honest butcher? How about these guys? Every piece of meat was on display, complete with the name of the farm stamped right on the package. There were hanging pork bellies being cured for pancetta, a standing rib roast on a meat hook, and a grinder with the grinder log hanging on a hook in plain sight. Awesome.

I don’t remember where my hangar steak came from, but I do remember that it had a name. At least, the farm did. Painted Something, Thundering Hooves? I was just happy to know that I could see that I was getting what I wanted out of my butcher. And it wasn’t even that expensive. I paid $3.80 for a hearty hangar steak, and across the way at Calf and Kid, they were no less accommodating. I walked over, and the ladies were talking about roommates and boys, according to one. “That’s alright, keep on doing what you’re doing. I’ll flag you down,” I responded.

I like shopping at my leisure, and being honest and full in my explanations. In order to prove I’m serious, I like to ask about a couple of things in the case, but before I could, one of the women came over and passed me a patty paper with a spreadable cheese on it.

“Try it. It’s a great burrata. Just done up a few days ago, so it’s not quite ripe yet, but it’d go great with apples.”

I tried it. She was right. It would. I had some pickled ramps at home (remember those?) and I’d read an article about a recipe utilizing them with a ricotta mint crostini with a little fresh olive oil. Simple, seasonal, delicious.

I asked her about the ricotta, and she instantly went over to give it the sniff/taste test. It was getting down towards the bottom of the container, and she said she’d been tasting stinky cheeses all day, so she might not be the best judge of the cheese’s body.

“It’s on the last day. You still want it? Here, try some. See if you can use it.”

She passed it over to me, and it tasted great. It was a sheep’s milk ricotta from Black Sheep dairy, one with a very low salt, and it tasted so much more creamy than any other store bought stuff.

“Yeah, I’ll be using it tonight.”

“Just give me three bucks. I’ll get you a nice scoop.”

What? Really? I’ve done that at the fish shop, giving the friends and family a little nod, but she was so forthcoming with her honesty that it was equally as refreshing as that one bite of cheese.

Nice. Got the steak. Got the cheese.

I wandered to the back corner, where there was Marigold and Mint. It was just a tiny shop, with some alliums, a few bedding tomatoes, and a stem case. I had heard the proprietor call out to the meat stand earlier.

“Russ, if you have anyone who wants fresh vegetables, I just brought some in from the farm.”

Score.

I checked it out. She had three flats, one of multicolored radishes, another with flowering broccoli rabe, and the third with stark white baby japanese turnips.

I asked her a little bit about where they come from.

“Oh, these are from my family farm, Oxbow Farm in the Snoqualmie Valley. I was a bit late this morning because I was digging them up. It’s all organic. I think I’m going to go $3.25 a bunch.  You can be my first customer for fresh produce.”

Yes, I sure can. And I was.

I asked how the turnips were.

“They’re pretty sweet. You can just sautee them or roast them, but don’t cut them in half. They tend to dry out pretty quickly if you do. These are the first of the season, so they’ll get a little bit more flavor in a couple weeks, but these are still really mild.”

In total, I left with one steak, four fresh eggs for an omelet, a scoop of ricotta, and a bunch of beautiful turnips. What a dinner I would make. I spent my walk back pondering what I’d do with my turnips.

I had some shallot at home, and some balsamic, and some honey. I sauteed them for a few minutes until they were almost tender but still firm, and then added a splash of balsamic and a drizzle of honey. I tossed them around for a minute or two, and let them rest and absorb a little bit of flavor.

Next, into the pan with the steak. I marinated it in some balsamic, sliced garlic, some olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh thyme for about an hour. Once again, just a quick sear in the pan was all it took. About two to three minutes a side and five minutes of rest later, I sliced into it, and it was a perfect rare, still cool on the inside. Any steak, I’ll try to go Medium Rare, but with a hangar, a great rare sear is perfect.

With the ricotta, I added a little salt and pepper, some olive oil, and fresh chopped mint. I put it on top of some baguette slices, and topped each one with a pickled ramp. It was a satisfying local meal.

With it, I had a Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and a glass of homemade ginger ale with a sprig of that fresh mint. On a day like yesterday, nothing proved a more satisfying way to end the day.

***

So where does that leave me? First, away from Bill the Butcher. I don’t necessarily have a problem with people and stores that sell random cuts of meat, as that’s what we’ve all grown up on. There is a sticking point, though, when I find out that I’ve been lied to by the people I trust. I hate hucksters, snake oil salesmen, and anyone who promotes their business as above their consumer, gauging their knowledge over that of their customer, and realizing that there’s a buck to be made. That rooster doesn’t crow in my backyard. How many times will someone have to call them on their lies before they fix what is inherently wrong with their prematurely implemented system of business as usual?

With Rain Shadow, Calf and Kid, and Marigold and Mint, these guys are doing all they can to make their small businesses thrive, and for what it is worth to you, for your health, for your mind, and for the sake of your community, go shop there. Make someone’s efforts in selling quality, honest product worth their time. They’re there not out of fitting the mold of every other shop. You can tell that there’s a passion, and a real personal investment in addition to all the hype of a marketing ploy such as the one presented by Bill The Butcher.

As the Paul Shaffer Orchestra once said (sang), “Know know know know know know know know your cuts of meat.”

Baby Japanese Turnips

Seared Hangar Steak with Balsamic Honey Glazed Turnips

Ricotta and Mint Crostini with Pickled Ramps

The Offending Article:

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/mystery-meat/Content?oid=4040872

The Butcher Who Saved My Dinner:

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/chow-bio/Content?oid=4040855

Rain Shadow Meats:

http://www.rainshadowmeats.com/

Calf and Kid’s Blog:

http://calfandkid.blogspot.com/

Marigold and Mint:

http://www.marigoldandmint.com/

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