Slow Cooking and Fermenting This Week

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The two themes of this week seemed to be slow cooking and fermenting. I attended several food events on both and hope to put what I learned into practice soon.

Jessica Prentice, author of the excellent cookbook Full Moon Feast, was in town to teach about her Local Foods Wheel through the lens of slow cooking and fermenting.

At the first workshop we learned about using a slow cooker to make soups, stews, and stocks. Jessica explained how a slow cooker is an excellent tool for those of us who only eat grassfed meat. Why? Well, if you haven’t been to your local farmer’s market lately, I’ll fill you in by just saying that a grassfed steak is a rare rare treat that costs a pretty penny. Most of the cuts that are affordable to people like me, like short ribs and shanks, are much tougher to cook and need a long slow cooking time. With a slow cooker you don’t need to be home for that whole time. Besides that, grassfed meat is very valuable and you want to extract as much as you can from it, so you need to learn the art of stocks.

I don’t have a slow cooker yet, but I hope to purchase one soon so I don’t have to sit around at hope worried about leaving and a fire starting to get those lamb shanks braised.

Oh, speaking of lamb, I also went to a lamb cooking contest where many of those great cheap cuts were prepared deliciously. It was a lamb Takedown and it was delicious and filling.

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There were lots of cheaper cuts like shanks and shoulder. It was sponsored by the American Lamb Board and I wish they had more info about specific cuts, because really I think Americans don’t know very much about lamb (including me). I started eating it incidentally because central Illinois, where I went to college, had a couple of awesome sustainable lamb farms + a population of Muslims. Somehow they got connected, which equaled some pretty delicious Middle Eastern style lamb sausage. Lamb was also popular in Sweden, but I could never find any shanks…maybe because I didn’t know the word for “shank,” but I honestly never saw them. That was sad because way back when I had some amazing beer and a lamb shank at Elysian brewery in Seattle, which I can still remember in delicious meat-falling off-the-bone detail. Thankfully, shank and I have been reunited and I have been giving it regular, though time-consuming, baths in beer.

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The lighting was very bad, so I didn’t get many pictures, but I certainly ate enough, including this lamb served with a juicy fig and mint mascarpone (why does my spell check want to turn this into mascara pone?). The winning dish as judged by famous dudes Josh Ozersky (The Feedbag), Daniel Maurer (NY Magazine), and George Motz (NY Food Film Festival) was Barbacoa Style Lamb Tacos w 3 Chile Salsa, but I was a bigger fan of other dishes. I loved the Ssam, which was lamb with spicy kimchee wrapped in lettuce, but the second place winner, Pulled Lamb Shank with Pears I loved since it was silky and displayed the best of true lamb flavor.

Anyway, back to the Prentice workshops, the second was on fermenting. I’ve never been a fan of sauerkraut. I’ll eat, but lets just say I’m pretty picky about it. I may like my beer funky, but I prefer that my sauerkraut doesn’t send me reeling when I open it….which otherwise lovingly made wonderful homemade cabbage ferments do. But I actually thought Jessica’s ferments were absolutely delicious. Maybe I’m just getting desensitized to funky things. I used to be the little girl that had to tear off and throw away the corner of my grilled cheese if it had even touched an evil pickle. But I also think it was because hers had fermented a very long time. Some of the jars she brought were over a year old.

It was very useful to learn about the proper equipment, which for sauerkraut is a special crock that prevents mold growth. I would have liked to learn more about the whey and ginger bug sodas though, since I have brewed sodas before and would like to stop using commercial yeast.

Anyway, I learned so much and I loved meeting the people from the NYC Weston A. Price Foundation. I have been a big proponent of full fat diets for several years now and it was great to connect with a similar community. I started reading her book and not only does it have interesting recipes, but her exploration of reconnecting the human body to the seasons is absolutely fascinating and a reason to buy the book to read and not just to cook with.

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I also attended a workshop by Brooklyn Brew Shop on brewing beer, where I had too much good beer and was maybe a little bit convinced to take the plunge and have a bunch of crap in a jar fermenting in a hopefully discreet corner of my kitchen. But I’m not really sure, because while I like a good beer every once in awhile, it’s something I drink maybe once a week. I’m also mostly interested in weird crazy wild yeast beers and it seems I’ll need future education to be able to harness the power of crazy yeast.

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