Monday, February 20, 2012

Fromage de tete

As the pork chops harden in the deep freeze and the bacon, guinciale, and prosciutto lay encrusted in salt in the back porch fridge, I embark on yet another culinary adventure I've long anticipated: making head cheese.

Like most traditional French peasant dishes, fromage de tete combines gruesome ingredients with oodles and oodles of labor. So, you're unlikely to see it on a Red Robin menu anytime soon. I'm about half-way through the process time- and grossness-wise, and really just starting labor-wise.

So, what is head cheese? It's not cheese, in fact contains no dairy, but is significantly head intensive. Once you've slaughtered and butchered your pig, shoved your curing cuts deep into rock salt, and begun brining your hams, mostly what you're left with are trotters and a head. What makes the trotters and head so qualitatively different from the rest of the animal is that the meat is hard to get to and it's in close proximity to a lot of joints.

Now, if you've ever had the courage to be curious about that Jello ingredient "gelatin" you already know it comes from the feet of animals and you've already made your peace one way of another with that. (although, Dylan decided one day to break into the ancient box of Jello mix in our pantry to see what this all-American favorite was all about, spent the afternoon waiting for it to set, then promptly threw the whole batch into the trash after 1 bite. "People eat this on purpose, Mom??" he asked.)

But, back to that head cheese. Basically, y
ou clean up the head and/or feet, then split them with a very good, sharp cleaver (can't speak for the trotters, but this is no mean feat with the head - Dylan captured our experience on video it was so extreme), then boil them with aromatics for hours and hours. That's what's going on in my kitchen right now. I'm adding the tongue because it's all about using every bit and anyway, tongue is very flavorful.

In a little while, I will lift the
halves of the head and the tongue out of the broth, let it all cool, then pull off the meat and skin, chop it very fine, and set it aside.

Then to the broth. I will finely strain the broth, removing all the aromatics and veggies and skimming any froth off. Not so different than making a basic chicken broth, right? The difference, which cannot be seen at the point, is that this broth that's been created by the cooking head (or feet) will contain all the gelatin that has leached out of the joints.

So, we strain it and set it out to cool. Meanwhile, we prepare a loaf pan by lining it with a big square of plastic wrap, leaving lots hanging over the sides.

When everything is cool, I'll grab a handful of the minced meat mixture and layer it on the bottom of the loaf pan. Then pour a layer of broth over, and keep repeating until I reach the top of the pan. Fold over the plastic wrap to cover it, then pop it in the fridge.

Twenty-four hours later - voila. An appetizer worthy of Julia herself, served with grainy mustard and cornichons on a bed of lettuce or dense, dark bread - like cheese, only yummy with porky goodness and actually quite low in fat.

UPDATE: So, I've completed the process wi
th the first fromage de tete and almost completed it with the 2nd. Am waiting for the weekend to try the finished product with my loved ones and can share a photo of the end result out of its mold then.

Would I do this again? Not sure. It better be really, really yummy. I know for sure I wouldn't do it alone - this is serious It Takes a Village kind of cooking - a slaughter-event dish that many hands would help lighten. I think I would also seriously consider using the trotters instead of the head b/c the sheer size of a pig head makes everything about preparing this dish laborious.

All that said, I withhold judgement until after we try it!

And, merci beaucoup to our pal and culinary adventurer Chris who was kind enough to come over and both assist in the head-splitting (yes, we already made those jokes) and direct us on what the heck we were doing. There's
some tete headed your way, mon ami.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Yowsa - a farm-intensive weekend!

It must be spring!

After a fall and winter spent focused on new school, new city digs, and the whirlwind day job of Mark’s, the cycle of life is spinning full-force all at once here at Stop Sign Farm.

On Friday, came our first pig harvest. Performed by abattoir extraordinaire, Vashon’s own Farmstead Meatsmith, it was a surprisingly smooth and pleasant experience. I’ve resisted raising pigs for several years due to a sizable stack of harvest-day horror stories I’ve collected from friends and colleagues, so Friday’s humane and undramatic slaughter was a real relief. The hanging weight of our pork came in at 450 lbs – we done good! Thanks Tiffany!

While the abattoirs were doing their thing, I was doing mine in the greenhouse. Tiffany had finished the clean-up job I had started and now it was time to transplant and plant anew! Nothing like digging in the dirt and putting future salad into the soil to feel like life’s worth living.

Saturday, Farmstead called to say the butchering process was complete, and we headed over to start bagging cuts and hauling it into the car. And hauling. And hauling. Wow! Pork chops, roasts, and spare ribs – oh my!

Once all the basic meat was safely bagged up and in the cool car, it was time for our curing lesson. Brandon showed us how we’ll turn slabs of marbled pig into bacon over the coming week, how to cure the cheeks for Guaniciale, and how we’ll turn a giant, specially-cut leg into the delicacy of Prosciutto over the coming 2 years.

Let’s just say the SSF kitchen will be looking a little different for a while.

This morning I slipped out of bed at 6:30 and began pulling bags and tubs of wrapped meat into the house, separating it all into piles, then reusing the bags and tubs as my piles dictated, readying it for our rented freezer locker.

Halfway through, I got the word from Tiffany – baby lamb twins were just born out in the pasture! So, amidst the harvest of 5 months of pig-raising, I stopped to fill a bucket with warm water and molasses so that we could treat Mama Ewe right and make sure these new little ones got started off in the right direction.

Feels like Spring at Stop Sign is in full swing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A letter of Thanks to the Susan G. Komen Foundation

Dear Komen Foundation,

While controversy swirls around you and donors drop like flies despite your "apology" for the misunderstanding of your mission surrounding women's health, I feel it important to issue a heart-felt Thanks for all you've accomplished in a shockingly abbreviated timeframe. I hope you'll receive it in the spirit in which it is given. Really.

1. Thank you for showing us who you really are.

While much of the extreme right-wing has fox-trotted a careful dance of deception and Orwellian double-speak when it comes to women's health, your willingness to, finally, toss such entendre aside and simply throw the gauntlet of your political goals down on the cold, hard asphalt was nothing if not stunningly refreshing. Thanks to your belief in your own invincibility and the moral certitude of your leadership, that pesky outer onion layer was finally peeled back, and your supporters - corporate, congressional, and Plain Jane woman-on-the-street - got that rare opportunity to see you for who you really are. Sorry about that.

2. Thank you for showing us who Planned Parenthood really is.

Thank you for stepping into the shadows so that Planned Parenthood could bask in the spotlight. With your deafening silence and your stubborn refusal to recognize the tsunami of public animosity washing over you as you risked real women's lives in order to appease the handful of extremists who are hell-bent on destroying anyone who puts women above dogma, you quickly and effectively hand-crafted the platform upon which Planned Parenthood could show America who they really are - and swiftly dispel the mythology the Right has spent a decade constructing about them. Not missing a beat, PP was ready, with social media partners who understand the power of the internet in a way you clearly do not, to educate all who'd listen about who they really are, and what they really do. So, really, thanks. No PR campaign in history has ever been this effective, this quickly. Congrats!

3. But, most of all, thank you for showing us who we are.

We took you down in 48 hours. That's who we are. If I were you, I wouldn't forget that.

We won't.


Deirdre Grace
Pro-family, pro-child, pro-choice
And one of the thousands that will donate directly to Planned Parenthood for the rest of ever.