Adventures in Haggis Making: Sheep Innards, Beef Kidney Fat, and Fun with a Deep Fryer

A handful of haggis

When I was told we’d be celebrating our Rambling Restaurant Burns Night with poetry, whiskey, and homemade haggis stabbing, my thoughts went like this:

1. Awesome! I’ve always wanted to try haggis.

2. By the way, what’s Burns Night?

3. And while I’m asking…what, exactly, is haggis?

4.  A sheep heart, lung, and liver minced and mixed with oatmeal and onions and stuffed inside a sheep stomach? <gulp> We are definitely going to need that whiskey.

Haggis, to most ignorant Americans like myself, is one of those iconic Scottish associations like kilts, bagpipes, and Mel Gibson covered in blue facepaint and exuding a throaty roar for ‘FREEEEDOOOM!’ We might have heard of it but almost certainly wouldn’t be able to say what it’s made of, only that it has something to do with terrifying animal parts and probably shouldn’t ever be consumed until after seven shots of Scotch.

Well, let me set the record straight on two fronts.

1. As much as you may love William Wallace in a skirt, kilts weren’t invented for another three centuries (one of the many twists of truth contributing to Braveheart being second on a list of ‘most historically inaccurate’ movies ever made).

2.  Haggis is, shockingly, absolutely delicious.

However, it took quite a long time and a lot of work to get it to that point. And I’ll be  honest, there was a fair amount of  grimacing, gagging, nose-holding, and are-we-really-serving-this-to-paying-customers?-questioning along the way.  It all started with my haggis-making partner-in-crime, foodrambler, hunting in vain and then finally securing three lamb’s plucks – the windpipe, heart, lungs and liver – for our haggis adventure. Following this recipe from the Guardian by Tim Hayward, she began the adventure the previous evening by cutting out the windpipes (blecch), boiling the plucks for several hours then leaving them to cool overnight in the murky cooking liquid.

A rubbery white sheep heart above and a massive chunk of liver below. Not exactly the most appetizing start to a meal, is it?  Don’t worry though, there is deliciousness to come…

Continue reading Adventures in Haggis Making: Sheep Innards, Beef Kidney Fat, and Fun with a Deep Fryer

Salt, Pepper and Reckless Abandon: A Lovely Evening At A Brand New London Supper Club

Salt, pepper, and reckless abandon? Sounds just like my kind of evening.

The adorable setting above, complete with handmade British napkin, comes courtesy of Lex of LexEat, the kitchen mistress of a brand new London underground restaurant. I love underground restaurants/ secret suppers because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s a bit of the surprising and unexpected from the culinary and creative mind of someone who cares enough to prepare a whole meal, or rather, a whole dining experience for you and your new friends for the evening.  This secret supper from a few weeks ago was a secret supper done right, an excellent meal with great company and all sorts of additional little touches to make a fantastic evening.

A perfect example is this lovely little plate below. Not only is it pretty, but it’s accompanied by an charmingly handwritten menu and even more importantly, topped with homemade orange pepper tortelli.

Casual yet well-designed, carefully thought out yet seemingly effortless – that’s pretty much how the whole night went.  We sat next to some great people and chatted food, games, and travel over multiple bottles of wine.

Continue reading Salt, Pepper and Reckless Abandon: A Lovely Evening At A Brand New London Supper Club

The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Five: Momofuku Inspired Miso Butter Scallops

If you’ve been reading this blog recently, you know quite well that Irene and I have a bit of a thing for David Chang and his small East Village Momofuku restaurant empire.  The cookbook has been bedtime reading for both of us as well as the source of three or four or maybe eight dishes over the past few weeks. I’m almost glad I left the book back in Boston with Andy (it was ostensibly his Christmas gift anyway) because things were getting a bit out of hand.

I first ate at Momofuku Noodle Bar in its initial tiny incarnation about four years ago and felt a pressing and insistent desire to return after finishing the cookbook.  Luckily I was leaving for New York the next day, so less than 24 hours later I found myself alongside devoted noodle fans Lexi and Rachel, hunkered down over steamed buns glistening with fatty pork belly, pungent and slippery ginger and scallion noodles, and a steaming hot porky bowl of classic Momofuku ramen that I could now recreate if I had a ridiculous amount of time and an even more ridiculous amount of pork.

Continue reading The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Five: Momofuku Inspired Miso Butter Scallops

Read This Now: Introducing the Weekly Link Roundup

After spending an unprecendented 3+ weeks in each other’s company, Irene Bean and I have come up with some exciting plans and goals to make this FamilyStyles blog a more delicious, useful, educational, entertaining and altogether excellent place to spend your time.

I’m in the process of migrating the blog over to another server, so apologies for any missing pages, weird links, and other bad things caused by my lack of coding skills and demonstrable inability to follow step-by-step instructions.

More importantly – we want to start a weekly link roundup of good articles, essays, ideas, and generally interesting and thought-provoking links from around the interwebs. Because other people are smart and do good work and write excellent pieces and we think they’re worth reading.

Thus. What I read this morning in bed and yesterday when I should have been working:

1. Food writer Corby Kummer in The Atlantic on the value of school gardens, rebutting another Atlantic writer who decries schoolyeard gardens as cruel, elitist, oppressive, and plain out wrong -  without bothering to speak to any educators, parents, children, or community members who have experienced such a program. Corby, on the other hand, actually makes the effort.

2. A GOOD article on aquaponics and making urban farming sustainable. You know how we love Will Allen of Growing Power and his vertically integrated closed loop sustainable urban farm programs. This article talks more about urban agriculture and introduced me to a fantastic San Francisco-based company called Cityscape Farms seeking to develop local food economies and transform the urban landscape by creating urban greenhouses.  I truly think that it’s these types of thoughtful, sustainable yet also business-minded approaches that are going to change America’s food system for the better.

3. Another GOOD article – yeah, I like them – on how Better Meat Requires Better Butchers. So true and so needs to be said. We pay so much attention to the bucolic ideal of small farmers with excellent animal husbandry over factory-farmed meat. But if the pasture-grazed cow is still sent to an industrial slaughterhouse because there are no small licensed facilities available, we’re very likely still losing out in terms of food safety, animal welfare transportation efficiencies, environmental pollutants, and numerous other problems associated with these industrial systems. So we need more butchers. Better for the animals, better for the eaters, better for the planet.

Plus, butchers are badass. Looks like it’s time for a new hobby. Way to begin the fight, Irene.

4. Lastly, a final GOOD article (I know it’s been 3 articles from them, it’s just…they’re really…don’t make me say it…you get the picture…) on the Slow Money Alliance, which is trying to be the Slow Food of the financial world by promoting value-added investment into local and regional farming enterprises. Can you imagine the impact it would have if more and more people directed their money towards small business rather than big business, companies that prioritize local production over international destruction, people rather than profits? (Note, this isn’t just some money-draining, feel-good hippie operation – the goal is to provide a return on your investment while supporting these ideals).  I’m interested to research this further myself.

UPDATE: Another interesting article called Who Will Grow Your Food? Part 1: The Coming Demographic Crisis in Agriculture by the author of A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil.  What will happen as farmers grow old or can’t afford to keep their land if no one is being trained to replace them? How will this affect our food system and the way we eat?

So. Hope you enjoy the articles. I sometimes find it overwhelming  trying to ingest just a few valuable drops of the tidal wave of information crashing towards me every day online and it’s nice to have things carefully picked out for you every once in a while. These pieces make me start copying and pasting links into various emails with the heading ‘YOU HAVE TO READ THIS ARTICLE NOW’, so this is just my lazy way of putting them all in one place. We’re going to try to do this weekly at least, so keep your eyes open…

The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Four: Momofuk-ing Good.

Los Dos Hermanas: We sisters are nothing if not generous. Our brother Andy is a restaurant manager at the amazing Harvest in Harvard Square and one serious food dude, so we bought him something super ridiculously awesome for Christmas: the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang (whose noodle-obsessed-teddy-bear-with-a-potty-mouth steez reminds us just a bit of Andy). A cookbook/kitchen memoir/food porn bible so fantastic, funny, honest and covetable that…well, we kept it for ourselves.

Irene is thinking…I love steamed pork belly buns. Also, I’m wearing a panda hat. And no pants. (Listen, Mei, the only reason I’m wearing a bathrobe – the amazing furry one from Restoration Hardware – instead of real clothes is because you’re wearing all my real clothes, you mooch!)

Only for a week, of course. But long enough for both of us to read it cover to cover and in the process, learn about meat glue,  obsess over perfect ramen noodles, dream of dancing pork belly buns, and develop a minor (okay okay, full-blown) obsession with David Chang.

Continue reading The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Four: Momofuk-ing Good.

Introducing Ithaca's Newest Secret Supper Joint: Deadpan Restaurant!

In approximately three weeks, Deadpan Restaurant, Ithaca’s newest secret supper club, will be hosting its first event.

What’s a secret restaurant, you ask? Good thing we already wrote a post on that: big sister lays it down for the uninitiated.

We’ll be serving a three course meal at a to-be-revealed location. Look out for more announcements!

After all, who wouldn’t want to hang out with and experience the epicurean adventures of champions such as these…

Continue reading Introducing Ithaca's Newest Secret Supper Joint: Deadpan Restaurant!

Big Buck Hunter: A Day in the Life of A Not-So-Average College Sophomore, or, Little Sister Waxes Philosophical on Meat

Most of the time, eating meat seems simple. After all, processed meat in the grocery aisle is neat, clean, and offers us little in the way of reminders that we are eating something that used to be alive, that had a head, feet, fur or feathers.

Deer in Ithaca are so populous that they’re essentially pests – destroying gardens, disrupting the ecosystem, and all too often meeting unfortunate ends in car accidents or starving in the winter. When Daniel’s dad offered Dan the chance to go deer hunting, we were all thrilled. Now, before you close the book on us savages, let me say this: we don’t believe in hunting for sport, or for trophies, but we loved the idea of getting another step closer to our food, and decreasing our dependence on factory farmed meat.

So, a few weekends ago, the Ithaca FamilyStyles gang experienced just how complicated and incredible meat really is. Sure, we’ve gutted fish and cared for livestock that would eventually become food, and I like to think that we’re thoughtful about and appreciative of the work and care and life involved in producing meat. But, butchering the deer that Daniel killed (with one shot, by the way) on his family’s land, was a whole new, up-close and personal experience for all of us. This time, we were responsible for seeing the animal through from death all the way to neat packages in the freezer.

And it was fascinating. For more pictures, and the occasional rumination, down the rabbit hole we go!

Warning: These pictures feature meat in a pretty serious way – view at your own risk! (Just so you know, I considered making a joke about “rawness,” but decided against it. You’re welcome.)

Continue reading Big Buck Hunter: A Day in the Life of A Not-So-Average College Sophomore, or, Little Sister Waxes Philosophical on Meat

The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Three: Chinese Home Cooking and Tea Glazed Eggs

One of the best things about being home at my parent’s house is the likelihood that any given moment – approximately 89.75% of the time – the Bean and I can walk into the kitchen and there will be delicious Chinese food cooking.  Yep. It’s pretty sweet.  There’s a lovely Chinese couple, Jenny and Don,  living there who help our Dad around the house and also cook tummy filling and seemingly effortless and homestyle Chinese food.

Quite often these dishes are aesthetically pleasing and easily replicable, like the black tea and spice glazed eggs above.

Other times, these dishes are neither easy to prepare nor particularly attractive…

Continue reading The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Three: Chinese Home Cooking and Tea Glazed Eggs

The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Two: The Wake and Bake

I am a gloriously productive person every time I return to the States. Blessed with a five-hour time difference from London, I arise at the I-do-lots-of-useful-and-important-things hour of 7am (a time of day I am generally unacquainted with, especially on vacation) and…I do lots of useful and important things.  Like bake lots of focaccia.

Okay, so obviously this is a relative usage of the words ‘useful’ and important’.'  But I do consider baking to be a valuable activity, particularly so over the holidays when the day’s activities consist primarily of getting together with family and eating, meeting up with friends and eating, catching up with old family friends and eating…you get the picture.  In such a gastronomically focused time, baking and other food production techniques grow to paramount importance.

Thus, I present to you the newest addition to my useful brunch party repertoire: The Wake and Bake Eggs. Simple, cheap, non-labor intensive, adaptable, and basically idiotproof.

Continue reading The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part Two: The Wake and Bake

The Family Styles Holiday Eating Escapades, Part One: Now THIS is Fried Chicken.

When Irene Bean (little sis) and I (big sis) are in the same place, certain things are bound to happen.  Things like:

1. Obsessive playing of video games (this year it’s Dr. Mario).

2. Multiple rounds of board games (Settlers of Catan, Bananagrams, what have you).

3. Repeated watching of cute things involving babies on the Interwebs (seriously, go watch this).

and, obviously,

4.  A sick amount of cooking. And not just regular cooking. Wake-up-at-7am-and-start-baking-style of cooking.  Make-a-new-kind-of-cake-every-day-style of cooking. Take-24-hours-to-make-fried-chicken-style of cooking. In short, Family Styles cooking.

Hey, it’s the holidays. What else do we have to do?

So here’s what we did. Let’s start off with the chicken. Biggest props go to the Bean for the most laborious, complicated preparation of  Brined-Steamed-Dessicated-and-Deep-Fried-then-Rolled In Special Sauce Chicken from the Momofuku cookbook. Talk about an insanely delicious masterpiece of crispiness. She found the recipe online and spent the first day brining several chickens in multiple plastic bags in the fridge and then steaming them in multiple batches.

Yeah, I know it looks kinda gross, but just wait till it gets deep fried. She then cooled them overnight to dessicate the skin so when the chicken hits the oil, it doesn’t take as long to crisp up the dried skin.  Once deep frying time came around (always an eventful moment in our kitchen), the Bean rigged a Macgyver-style candy thermometer setup using a bobby pin to monitor the boiling oil. I kid you not. It is not pictured though. Sorry.

Then it’s time for a quick dip in the boiling oil. The genius of this extremely labor-intensive process is that the pre-cooked chicken and carefully dessicated skin makes for super short frying time and no danger of overcooking the outside in order to make sure you don’t get raw chicken on the inside.  Plus the skin is thin and incredibly crispy without a thick layer of gross breading and flabby skin. Amazing.

Yup. Tasty time. The chicken by itself was already an amazing bite of oily, crunchy, golden perfection. But to keep things exciting (and add another level of complication to the whole business), Irene meticulously sliced and diced up an Asian vinaigrette with about a dozen ingredients. Jalapeno, garlic, ginger, hot sauce, soy sauce, corn oil, sesame oil, black vinegar, rice vinegar, etc etc = OH HOLLER YOU ARE A WALLOP OF SPICY TANGY NUTTY SALTY YUM.

Stop, drop, and roll. Then fall to your feet in appreciation. This fried chicken is that good, people. Thank you to the inspired brilliance of David Chang and the culinary dedication of my sister. I love you both.

P.S.  If you want to recreate this madness, the recipe is here (in PDF) from TimeOut via the awesome Inuyaki blog.  Or in the Momofuku cookbook. Which I don’t own, but hopefully will someday.

P.P.S. I am still accepting Christmas presents.