Archive for November, 2008

Braised Beaver, Anyone?

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Dear Corduroy Orange -

A friend of mine is interested in buying Beaver from his local Farmer’s Market and cooking it up, since it’s not a meat you often see for sale.  This also means he’s not sure how to prepare it.  He’s been looking at various receipes, but based on your knowledge, are there better ways to prepare this type of meat?

Curious in STL

I thought you could go to jail for trying to buy beaver on the street.  Wait, no, that’s for trying to rent it.

Seriously, though, I didn’t even realize that beaver was a meat that could be purchased, so I’d be interested in how it tastes.  I have absolutely zero experience with beaver preparation, so I don’t know that I’d trust my expertise in this area.  I do know, however, that it is a rodent; and I’m pretty sure it has some healthy musk glands that i assume the butcher responsible for dressing the carcass will have removed.

In general, though, I anticipate that it would have a somewhat strong flavor, and that the best results could probably be achieved by braising it (such as a stew or a pot roast).  As such, my recommendation is to season the beaver with salt and pepper, sear the beaver in a large cast iron pot, browning both sides.  Remove the beaver from the dish, and add a chopped onion, about a half dozen whole cloves of garlic, a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, a bit of diced butternut squash, and perhaps some diced, peeled apple (season the vegetables with some salt and pepper as well).  Return the beaver atop this bed of vegetables.  Add enough vegetable stock (I’d hesitate to use beef or chicken stock because you don’t want to interfere with the taste of the beaver itself.  On the other hand, using plain water would likely dilute the flavor of the finished product) to cover the vegetables and go about halfway up the meat.  Bring the stock to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for three hours.  Serve with an accompaniment of mashed potatoes if desired.

Please let me know how your friend prepares his beaver, and how it comes out in the end.

Pie Survey/ Grasshopper Pie

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

With Thanksgiving quick approaching, I’m starting to think about my menu for the day. All in attendance will help with the food, of course, bringing a dish that their families think essential for a Thanksgiving feast. But come the end of the meal, it’s essential that there’s more than enough pie to go around. One pie for every two people is the ideal ratio, I think; though if the feast gets quite large, I’d settle for a pie per three.

The advantage to having so many pies is that every individual has a different idea of which pies are need-to-have, which are nice-to-have, and which are worth ignoring. For instance, I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving without a pecan pie; whereas my sister can’t imagine taking a bite of one.

The first four pies that I make (or sign up a volunteer to make) are easy to determine: pumpkin or sweet potato, pecan, apple, and grasshopper. Beyond that, cherry would probably sneak in for number five. I’m open to lots of other pies to fill in any additional spots, but the one that I will never invite to dinner is mincemeat. I’ve never had a mincepeat pie that I have enjoyed, though every time I happen across one, I’ll take a sliver to see if this one is any better than the rest that I’ve sampled.

I’m curious, though, as to what anyone else has to say about which pies are essential and which are less than welcome.

And for anyone who is interested about the grasshopper pie, you should have started harvesting your insects in July, when they were plentiful. You’ll be hard pressed to find any still breathing at this point. Just kidding. It’s creme de menthe and marshmallow in a chocolate cookie crust, and it’s delectable. Here’s the recipe for it, courtesy my mother. Don’t pay attention to any of her blasphemous talk of purchasing a pre-made chocolate cookie crust. I don’t believe she actually means it, and to my knowledge she’s never actually followed that advice. Certainly not when she’s cooking for me, anyway!

Grasshopper Pie

Chocolate crust (you can buy these in the grocery store)

If you want to make one, check your Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It has the recipe. I usually bake mine for 8 minutes at 375 degrees. This book says not to so take your pick.

Grasshopper Filling:

  • 32 large marshmallows or 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup green crème de menthe
  • 3 Tablespoons white crème de cacao
  • 1 ½ cups chilled whipping cream

Heat marshmallows and milk over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until marshmallows melt. Chill until thickened; blend in liqueurs.

Beat the cream until stiff. Be sure the marshmallow mixture is cooled or it will melt the cream. Fold the marshmallow mixture into the whipped cream.

Pour this into the crust. If desired, sprinkle with grated semi-sweet chocolate. Chill at least 3 hours or until set. Serve with additional whipped cream, if desired. [trust me, it's desired...]

Wheatless Breakfasts Not Common

Sunday, November 9th, 2008


Our mother (in-law) is coming to visit soon and she’s just been diagnosed as having a wheat allergy.  We’re trying to compose a general menu for what we’ll be eating while she’s here, and are coming to a stumbling block for breakfasts.  Beyond the standard eggs, bacon and fruit, I’m having a hard time coming up with variety for breakfast.

Our sister (in-law) may be coming as well, and she is lactose intolerant.  So, wheat- and dairy-free options would be nice, if you have any suggestions.

Gadzooks!  I’d neve really thought about how few traditional breakfasts don’t have wheat in them!  Nonetheless, you should be able to come up with several possibilities.

Omelettes are basically within the realm of eggs, so you may have thought of them already.  I kind of prefer them to eggs over easy as a way of welcoming guests, as they’re a bit more elegant.

I sometimes make a lasagna-ish dish that substitutes very thinly sliced potatoes for the noodles.  While I usually serve that as dinner, it would make a nice savory breakfast casserole.  Simply slice the potatoes as thinly as possible.  Layer in a greased baking dish, add a filling (I like some fresh baby spinach and some lightly sauteed mushrooms; cheese is optional) and add another layer of potatoes.  Salt and pepper each layer of potatoes as they go in the pan, and finish with a final layer of potatoes on top.  Bake at 350 F for about 30-40 minutes or until the casserole is cooked through.

For a wheat-free quiche, try making a pie crust out of chickpea flour.  It won’t have the same texture as a crust made with wheat flour, but it should be passable.  Of course, this option includes dairy in it.

Rice pudding usually has some milk in it, too; but it would make a nice breakfast dish.  You could also go for oatmeal, I think–oats aren’t wheat, last I checked.

Yet another wheat-free but dairy-inclusive option would be smoothies.

I’m sure other options exist beyond these few, though they aren’t coming to mind immediately.  So, i’m going to throw the question open to the small portion of internet users who read this page: any ideas for tasty dairy- and/or wheat- free breakfasts that would make good food for company?

Worst Service Ever

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette had a column on Sunday about how tipping is down.  It includes a quote from one expert who says, “‘the good old days of 15 percent even for mediocre service are probably gone for now.’”

While I’m definitely not an advocate for stiffing folks who count on tips, I feel like there’s a definite social contract implied by the tip: if service is good, you give more; poor service merits less.  Only once have I been in a situation where i thought a waitress deserved no tip whatsoever, but I was pressured by my dining companions into leaving something for her.

It was a couple of years ago, when Aurora and I were visiting New Orleans for a friend’s wedding.  With our friends, we went to Lebanon Restaurant for what we thought would be a quick lunch.  the one previous time i had been, service was poor; but that had been a couple of years, and there was no reason in my mind to hold the restaurant responsible for one bad dinner server.  Turns out I might have been wrong.

A good half hour after we were seated, we were still waiting for the waitress to return to take our orders.  We were getting hungry, and we had places to be; so I took our orders back to the kitchen and gave our list to them, saying that I had no idea whether our waitress would ever get around to handling it for us.

The food, once prepared, sat in the window long enough for us to stare at it and wonder if it might be ours before our waitress picked up the order and delivered it to us.  That was the last we saw of her until we tracked her down and asked for the bill.

I wanted to leave her a total tip of $0.02; but my friends said we had to leave her at least 10-12% out of common decency.  Instead, i got approval to leave the two pennies on top with a note that said “this is the only tip you deserve” even though we had actually left more than that.

The waitress was gathering up the money from the table as we drove past; she was complaining to a coworker that “This is all the tip they gave me!”  As Aurora tugged on my shirt and tried to pull me back into the car, I leaned out the window and yelled to her that “We left you a better tip than that but you didn’t deserve it!”

I can’t imagine service worse than having to place the order myself is the only reason i advocated for stiffing her as penalty for her dismal service.  Otherwise, I can’t imagine dining at a sit down establishment and not leaving a resonable tip.  In Pennsylvania, state law allows tipped employees to be paid as little as $2.83 per hour, in expectation that their tips will draw them up to a livable wage.  Other states’ minimum wage laws can be determined by visiting and clicking on a state on the map.  Once you see how little the person filling your coffee mug might be getting paid, perhaps that will make you feel somewhat more generous with your gratuities.