Sunday, November 27, 2011


Helianthus tuberosus, sunroot, sunchoke, topinambour, earth apple. I've never cooked a vegetable with so many names. 

Last Sunday afternoon, Bella wrote up a list of all the dinners she wanted for the week. Then she handed me a detailed grocery list as I mumbled, "Where do you come from? Are you sure we're related?" I never plan more than a day ahead for meals.

The most common name is Jerusalem artichoke. But they have nothing to do with Jerusalem and they aren't even in the artichoke family.

Having taken care of the meals for the week, Bella looked down at my scrappy boots and took on my fashion sense.

Above ground, the yellow flowers are similar to those of the sunflower (they are, in fact, both members of the Asteraceae family), leading to yet another name: girasole (Italian for sunflower).

"Mama. Really. You would look so great in high-heeled super shiny tall black boots."

The girl I cooked up almost nine years ago is now encouraging me to bring out my trashy side.
If you say girasole ten times fast it really does start to sound like Jerusalem. Just a theory. Try it?

"Mama, can I get streaks in my hair?"
"Like blond streaks?"
"No, like turquoise or pink."

I've always wanted pink streaks in my hair. She will not get them first.

Below ground, the edible tubers are often confused with the ginger root.

Bella sat down to help me prep dinner and teach Dash how to peel Jerusalem artichokes (with a few pauses in there for daydreaming).
"Turn the peeler around. That's right, Dashi. Well done."
"But Bella, this is so HARD."
"Dashi, you're doing it. You're amazing."

The texture is somewhere between potatoes and jicama.

They managed to peel about 20 of them before Dash grabbed Bella's peeler. So she smacked him upside the head. He punched her in the ribs. She told him she would hate him forever. And he took out his cardboard sword and threatened to kill her. 

When you peel them, reddish steaks might appear directly below the skin, almost like burst blood vessels.

In a disturbingly calm voice I said, "I'm done with both of you. Done." 

Dash looked stunned. His mama can still break his heart. But Bella, unfazed, grabbed her glasses and started to read.

Don't eat too many in one sitting because they're hard to digest and can make you gassy.

I put on my headphones, pretended I didn't have children, and researched Jerusalem artichokes.

For an easy purée, boil 20 or so peeled Jerusalem artichokes in heavily salted water for about 10 minutes (they cook very fast). Drain off water and return them to the pot. Over low heat, mash with a fork but keep it a bit chunky. Add 1/2 stick of butter, 1/2 cup of heavy cream, salt, and pepper. Taste. Adjust. Serve immediately topped with chopped chives and/or parsley. You could certainly skip the butter and cream and use milk instead. But that would be sad.
The next morning, Bella made her own breakfast, helped Dash get dressed, and then reminded me to marinate the lamb chops. I hugged her her so tight she gave me the double eye roll. I ran my fingers through her hair, and considered her request.

"So, Bella. Streaks, eh? I'm open to that. Should I get some too?
"What? Really? No, mama. I don't think they would look good with your clothes. You wear too much grey."

So I went online and researched boots.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


For 41 years, my heart has pumped, raced, believed, yearned, hungered, lost, and won.

I wonder what this 2-year old cow heart experienced before getting cut into six pieces, Cryovaced, and thrown into the bottom of my chest freezer.
"Mama, if your head were sawed off by a chainsaw, would you live?"
"Mama. can you live without your feet?"
"What do you think?"
"Um. Um. Yes!"
"This is a fun game, Dash. Can you live without your elbow?"
"Ha! Silly. Of course."
"Okay. What about your heart."
"No, mama. You need your heart to live."

I kicked my husband and kids out of the house so that I could cook cow heart all by myself. I had some crazy fantasy that the heart would taste special. Powerful. Resilient. Vulnerable. 
Once seasoned, seared, and sliced,  I just wanted to eat this beautiful organ in its purest form. And so did Wylie the dog. We sat down outside and nibbled together, he the fatty bits and I the lean. It was earthy and a bit chewy, but neither of us minded.
I cubed the remaining meat and tossed it with garlic, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, parsley, salt, and smoky paprika. 
And then everyone came home. Bella went straight to her room, eyes covered so as not to catch a glimpse of what was going down in the kitchen. Dash pulled up a stool to talk hearts.

"Dash, what does your heart do?"
"Mama, it loves."
"Yes. But did you know it can also ache?"
"Yes, like a tummy ache. A heart aches if you eat too much candy.You can even have two heart aches at the same time."

"Feel my heart. it's going boom boom boom."
 "And it's this big."
I put my hand to his chest to feel his heart doing its thing. It was reassuring to feel the pulse against my palm.

"And now, mama,  I'm going to make a double decker cow heart sandwich."
Bella came out of her room and braved the kitchen.

"Bella? I'm eating cow heart. You want some?"
"No thank you. Dash. No. I don't need any." 

Bella is trying crazy hard to be nice to Dash because she wants to watch television again before she turns eighteen.

Bella looked Dash in the eye and said, "Just chew up all the cow heart before you come into my room and play. And wash your hands."

You could make this with flank or strip steak. It's not really a salad. But we've been calling it that for a week now so it stuck.

1 pound or so cow heart
1 tablespoon canola oil
juice/zest from 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
splash Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon fresh horseradish (optional)
smoky paprika
chopped chives
shaved parmesan

Season heart with salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron pan with canola oil until smoking hot. Sear heart on all sides until nicely browned. I removed mine when it was super rare. Check by slicing it open and taking a peek.  It will continue to cook a bit after you take it off the heat. Let it rest for 5 minutes or so. Slice it thinly. Then stack the slices and cut into cubes.

Place cubes of heart in a bowl. Top with salt, pepper, lemon juice/zest, sherry vinegar, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, parsley and optional horseradish. Mix. Taste. Adjust. I like it mighty acidic but you might prefer it a bit less intense. It can sit for an hour or so. Before serving, use a fine tea strainer to top with a light sprinkling of paprika. You can top it with more chopped parsley and shaved parmesan. Serve on crackers or grilled bread. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


"Mama. You talk a lot about cows."
 - Dash

I woke up at 2:30 a.m. in a sweaty panic, an unfamiliar weight on my chest, a heaviness of death around me. I had never met him, but his soft face was in my dreams. He had these uneven black and white splotches around large mournful eyes. I wrapped my arms around him like I would a sick child.

The next morning, I drove into San Francisco, sleep-deprived, under-caffeinated, stressed that I hadn't gotten everything in caregiver-order for my kids. Then some goddamn beautiful piece by Bach started playing on the radio and I started sobbing. For the cow.
It had already been a week filled with death and bones.

When is our dog dying?
Did Mozart die? 
Mama, I'm drawing a picture of the inside of you — your bones. 
I had a dream I was dying.

I arrived at 4505 Meats for a 9-hour cow butchering class. Five fellow students and I entered the restaurant kitchen and met the amazing Ryan Farr: butcher, teacher, owner of 4505 Meats, and author of the just-released Whole Beast Butchery.

And then we met our cow.

He was not the still-warm, shiny-eyed, pink-tongued cow of my dreams. This Angus-Hereford cross, after living the happy life for 2 years at Magruder Ranch in Potter Valley, California, had already been dead for a week. He was skinned, beheaded, and in four pieces. Not very huggable.

"Just cut." 
 - Butcher Ryan Farr

They hung him up one piece at a time. A hind quarter. A fore quarter. These lovely butchers don't use chainsaws. They use their hands, their intuition, their sharp knives, and multiple bone saws. I was very moved by the delicate balance between their quiet precision and brute strength.

"Eww. Mama! You smell like COW!"
- Dash and Bella

We circled the pieces of dripping carcass like humble vultures, tentatively prodding, smelling, manipulating, questioning. I steadied the swaying rib cage with my hand and dug in deep with my fingers.

I (unevenly) sawed the left front fore quarter, between the 4th and 5th ribs, until it split in half with a crack that  reverberated through my body and down into my heels. I tidied up one of the kidneys.  I struggled to separate some t-bone steaks as sweat poured down my back. I removed the skirt, the flank, and the flap from what looked like a cow suit jacket.
"How can I eat this? Not, how can I cut this?"
- Butcher Ryan Farr

I brought home 86 pounds of Cryovaced beef parts. One sixth of the cow.

If you come over to my house, I will geek out and offer you a tour of my freezer that's packed with beef grind, bones, chuck roast, flank, flap, heart, kidney, leg steaks, liver. marrow, porterhouse, rib eye bone in, round steaks, shanks, short/plate rib, sirloin roasts, skirt, t-bone, tenderloin, and tri tip. 

Round one: SHORT RIBS. 

We tossed our ribs into the slow cooker to bring out all kinds of tastiness. 

One piece of cow down. 

Nineteen more to go. 

And I just ordered a bone saw. Because I'm in training. 

According to Kent Schoberle of 4505 Meats: "The short ribs attach to the prime rib section, specifically the middle to upper section of the ribs closest to the rib eyes. The lower you get down the ribs, the closer you are to the plate meat. They work well slow-cooked because there are plenty of connective tissues and fibers that need long cooking times to coax out the flavor."

Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of canola or olive oil to a skillet and heat until smoking hot. Sear the heck out of all the sides. Remove meat from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat to medium and toss in 6 or so sliced shallots. Cook until translucent and soft. Turn heat down to low and add anywhere from 1-6 anchovy fillets and 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Stir for about a minute until garlic smells nutty and anchovies have melted a bit. Turn off heat.
Place meat in a slow cooker (or place meat in a large ovenproof pot with a lid and preheat oven to 225°F). Add anchovy/garlic/shallot mixture to the meat. Throw in a whole lemon. Pour in liquid to cover the meat (any combination of red wine, water, stock). Cover with a lid. Cook until the meat falls apart at the touch of a fork. Be patient. It can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Remove meat from the sauce. Use the back of a soup spoon to press down on the lemon and release the juices. Stir to combine. Let the sauce sit for 10 minutes. Then skim off the fat that has risen to the top of the sauce. Let sit for 10 more minutes and skim fat off again.

If you can track down some fresh cranberry beans, simmer them in some chicken stock with sliced garlic until tender (you could also use any already-cooked white beans from a jar or can). Use some of the short rib sauce as the base for couscous (1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 short rib sauce).  Combine the cooked beans with the remaining sauce. Serve the short ribs on couscous topped with cranberry beans and sauce. Garnish with lots of chopped parsley.
"When do you think we'll finish eating that cow? Because I want you to do a lamb." 
 - Bella