This blog is a place to share my passion for cooking and inspire people to cook more from scratch. With six people in the family, cooking is something that is always on my mind. I want to share some of my favorite foods and recipes and share more about traditional diets (like the kind of food our great, great, great grandmothers would have made). Right now I am fascinated with fermented vegetables, coconuts, seafood with a cerviche twist and organ meats... although maybe not all in the same meal!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tongues are waggin' for this meal

Lengua Vera Cruz

 This meal of beef tongue set at least my tongue a waggin' as I savored the juicy delights of moist beef tongue and the rich flavors of peppers, onions, garlic, roma tomatoes, capers, spanish olives and lime juice.  The inspiration for this meal came from two sources-- the first is from the Natural Chef Program at Central Carolina Community College through the fabulous instructor for my Farm to Table Class, Chef Kelly Burton.  She had us prepare a Lengua Vera Cruz last fall.  The second inspiration comes from the connection that Chef Burton was inspired by Chef Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill fame.

I suppose the real test of learning is to see if you can recreate what you have learned months after the class has ended.  So a few weeks ago I decided to pull out the two big honkin' beef tongues that were in my freezer and see if I remembered enough to create my own take on beef tongue.  I also spoke to a friend named Alice who has a lot of great cooking knowledge and she gave me some further tips on making a brine to soak the tongues so they'd be mouth wateringly tender.

But before I tell you how to prepare the tongue, let me also make a statement about quality.  I prefer to get my meat, but especially anything like offal, from a source I know and trust.  In the case of these beef tongues, they came from the beef of my biodynamic farmer friend Jon Lyerly at Infinity Farm and I have seen firsthand that his cows live in a beautiful environment and are well cared for. 

Happy Cows at Infinity Farm in Cedar Grove, NC

One of the beautiful ponds that cattle can access at Infinity Farm

These cows have plenty of access to green grass and water and as the life of a cow goes, I would say that these cows have a pretty good life.  We honor the animal by using all parts of it and that means getting comfortable with eating some of the parts that most others would just toss aside.  With many people in this country going hungry, I think it is a shame that we would not find ways to make the offal (which many people read as "awful") parts into a tasty meal.  In fact, I have spoken to several farmers who say that the key to being able to run a profitable business is to find buyers for ALL parts of the animal so if you want to support sustainable farming practices, you should try to put some offal into your diet too.  The Natural Chef Program gets their beef tongue from Murray Cohen at Cohen Farm and they, too, have well cared for cows that live a good life and have wonderful products.

So once we have established that these were happy cows who gave their life for our nourishment, it is not so gruesome for me to look into my stockpot and see these big tongues waving in there.  I filled my pot with water and made a salt brine along with some bayleaf and peppercorn and garlic and let the tongue sit in this mix for about two days in my fridge. 

Beef tongues waiting to be prepared... transformed into something appealing!

I then slow cooked the tongues for about 4 - 5 hours in an aromatic mix of bayleaf, peppercorn, garlic, carrot, celery and onion and water and let the meat get really tender.  At that point, you have to take the tongue out and do the hard part of the preparation which is to take that white outer layer off the tongue which is a slow process and I suppose not for the faint of heart.  But once you do that part and slice the meat, it is very hard to tell that this is not just regular beef of any sort.  And the taste is delicious.

Beef tongue needing to have outer cover removed

Sliced beef tongue

 So once you have the sliced meat you can prepare the Vera Cruz style of vegetables to go with it in which I included the following:

Roma Tomatoes cut in wedges with the stems removed, onions sliced julienne style, green peppers sliced julienne style, garlic diced, Spanish olives and capers, lime juice and some cilantro finely diced and salt and pepper to taste.  I saute'd  this mixture in ideally tallow but if that is not available, butter or olive oil would be ok also.

Donna's Lengua Vera Cruz at home

Natural Chef Cafe Lengua Vera Cruz

Once it is all put together and a rice or other grain dish plated on the side, it really makes a tasty meal.  I will tell you that my children did eat this meal and thought it tasted pretty good.... which is high praise for me coming from some very harsh food critics.

In addition to tasting pretty good, there are some nice health benefits to eating the occasional offal. 
Cow tongue has vitamins and minerals that help cells maintain themselves and also provides support to the nervous and musculoskeltal system.  Cow tongue contains 3.79 mcg vitamin B-12, almost 158 percent of the daily recommended intake for adults.  This has benefits for both red blood cell production and the nervous system.  There is also a good amount of folate which is responsible for cell growth and maintenance. You can read about some of the other benefits here:  Benefits of eating-cow-tongue.

If we go back in time and remember that people used to eat offal of some kind on a weekly basis, you can see that it was a nice way to get an infusion of nutrients that are hard to get from standard day fare.  I encourage you to give it a try... for the sake of supporting your farmer as well as your own health!

Also published in Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rethinking "Fun" Food to combat obesity

The Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report last week about obesity in this country and it is not a pretty picture.  Sixty-nine percent of adults and thirty-two percent of children in this country are overweight or obese at a cost of over $190 billion annually in chronic obesity related illnesses such as diabetes care.   The recommendations in the report identify five keys to reversing this trend which are:

  1. Integrate physical activity every day in every way
  2. Market what matters for a healthy life
  3. Make healthy foods and beverages available everywhere
  4. Activate employers and health care professionals
  5. Strengthen schools as the heart of health
To be sure this is a complex problem and there are no easy answers to be found.  But as I reflected on these recommendations-- and in particular for me numbers 3, 4 and 5, I see how much work we have to do to make even a small dent in this alarming problem.

Healthy food and beverages are hard to find, and sometimes priced out of reach.  Good luck trying to find nutritious food if you travel across the country in a car.  And at work, you will need willpower of steel to steer clear of the birthday cake in the break room or the muffins served for breakfast meetings.  I noticed recently at a venue that caters to the corporate and executive crowd that they serve cookies and candy during afternoon breaks.  It is simply beyond the willpower of many people, myself sometimes included, to steer clear of candy and cookies during a weak afternoon moment even if alternatives like vegetables are placed nearby.  The siren song of broccoli is just not as strong as the song of an M&M for many people.  At least I think that is true for the culture that most of us in the United States grew up in.  Employers, schools and health professionals know these things to be true, but they don't always walk the walk.

So that's what gave me the idea today to play with my food.  If the packaged goods marketers with their million dollar marketing budgets know how to make food more appealing with fun packaging and visual appeal, maybe we need to try a little harder to make that cucumber or carrot have a fighting chance.  I just finished the Natural Chef Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, North Carolina and one of the handy little gadgets in my knife kit is a device that can make wedges in food.  I guess I should know the name of this, but it escapes me at the moment.  But in any case, it can take an ordinary cucumber and turn it into a work of art just by scraping down the sides and making a small divot.

Then as you slice the cucumber, you get a nice little flower.  I made these for my elementary school children's lunch today and one of my kids reported that some of the other kids were asking him how his mom made the cucumbers like that.  You can also do it with a carrot or a strawberry or lots of other vegetables and if that helps to make kids more interested in vegetables then I say let's give it a go!  I greeted my kindergartener today with this snack after school and I think she got a kick out of it.  At least she ate it all up and some chili that I made also.

We as a nation should be horrified that about one third of our children are overweight or obese.  It is one thing when we as adults make the wrong choices, but kids don't really have a lot of choice about the food they are served.  If they eat school lunch, they are at the mercy of us as a society valuing children enough to give them a healthy, nutritious meal.  And it is not always easy as kids don't understand this problem and in many cases they really would rather eat candy or chips.  It means that sometimes they won't like us because we are trying to get them to eat eggs or spinach or fish.  But whether they appreciate it or not, our children deserve a chance to live at least as long as their parents and not to be saddled with diabetes and obesity in childhood.  Whatever it takes to get there, this problem is just too big and too important for us not to get it right. 

Also published at kelly the kitchen kop's real food Wednesday