Culinary Sense

Adventures with Food and Life

Archive for the month “July, 2011”


Hey Peeps!

I’ve moved into my new place in Plainfield, VT, and feeling pretty good about the move. I’m living alone, in a very cute apartment in an old house. There’s a babbling brook that runs along one side of the house, and I have a porch overlooking it.

Tonight, I made myself a traditional German meal of Spaetzle and Sauerbraten. I had marinated some bits of beef for kebobs last weekend (in vinegar and red wine, with onion and spices), and decided to use them for the “sour roast”. I sweated some onions and scallions, added tomato chunks, parsley with the stems, a bay leaf, garlic, mustard, red wine, cayenne, paprika, and some other spices. Then, I added water and finally the beef, and braised the thing for about an hour.

In the meantime, I decided to make Spaetzle, homemade Swabian (and Southern German) noodles. The dough is made up eggs, flour, water, and salt. It needs to be liquid enough to scrape off of a cutting board into boiling water. I hadn’t made Spaetzle in the U.S. since about two Thanksgivings ago at my father’s house. And I hadn’t made them by hand since about 2007. But I definitely want to get back into practice, and maybe even have a workshop at my school. Intro to Swabian food.

But the main theme tonight was really thinking about Germany, my grandmother, and what she’s taught me about cooking. It occurs to me know that she really knew all the fundamentals I’m learning in culinary school. The eggs I used for the Spaetzle are local from Vermont, and it shows. They are of varying sizes and colors, which makes them even more appealing to me. My grandmother used to get fresh eggs once a week from a local man who had a chicken yard set up (right next to the graveyard, as it happened). She used to praise those eggs to the high heavens. Whenever we would compliment the nice Spaetzle she had made for us, she would always say, “It’s those good eggs!” And so I thought about that when I was making Spaetzle today. And I thought about the ratio between the flour and the eggs, and the color of the egg yolks, all things she had taught me.

As I was making the sauce for my Spaetzle (which I strained from my braising stuff), I thought about how my grandmother used to make a special separate sauce with cream for my aunt. I decided to make mine with cream, since the liquid was pretty sour on its own. I came out nice, and I enjoyed the meal I made for myself.

But something’s missing. I don’t share my meals with anyone. No friends, no partner, no family. I’m so proud of my cooking, and yet I rarely have people over to share. It’s partly because I don’t prepare enough in advance and make things on the fly, and also a little because I fear people might not like what I’m making. So lack of confidence is definitely a factor.

So why don’t I creep out of my shell more? It doesn’t come naturally to me. Which means I have to plan for it. Well, it’s something to work on.

~ Carolynn



Half a Pig

Pork primal cuts. The leg is also known as "fresh ham".

Hey Peeps!

You guessed it – more photos and descriptions of dead animals. Today, Chef David demonstrates how to cut half a pig into primal cuts. The primal cuts of pig are: Boston butt (above the shoulder), shoulder/picnic ham (shoulder and front leg portion), loin (back), belly (this is where you get spare ribs and bacon), and the hind leg portion, called “fresh ham”.

Just after the pig is killed, and after the head is taken off, the carcass is cut straight down the middle. In this photo, you can see the half carcass, with the front towards the right.

I saw a couple of green inspection stamps on the pig. The round inspection stamp is from the USDA, and means the slaughterhouse and the pigs were inspected for cleanliness, health of the animals, and proper handling (among other things).

Instead of giving a step-by-step, I’m just going to include a gallery in this post. The pig is really an amazing “meat machine”, if you will. The are slaughtered at no more than 6 months of age, which is incredibly young compared to other animals we eat. In addition to this, you can use most of the cuts of meat with almost any cooking method, including dry and moist, but you can also smoke it, cure it, brine it, and many combinations of these. Plus, pork fat is used in sausage making (something I’m really interested in learning).

Alright, enough talk. Here are the photos!


Ready for pork chops? Bacon? Sausage? I guess it’s not surprising at all, but I’m always hungry after this class!

~ Carolynn

8-way Chicken

Hey Peeps!

How is everyone? I’m feeling good. Today, I’d like to introduce you to whole chickens, which we will break down into 8 portions.

So, obviously, you start with the whole chicken, giblets removed.

Remove the fat from the back of the legs.

After removing the fat from the back of the legs, flip the chicken and take out the wish bone. You have to cut into the neck area a bit, and feel with your fingers exactly where the bones are.

Cutting out the wishbone.

After taking out the wishbone, you flip the chicken back around, and start taking off the thigh and drum. You cut into the skin around the legs, and up towards the spine.

Cutting up around the "oyster", the best part of the chicken.

Crack the hip joint.

Crack the hip joint, and then finish cutting off the thigh, with the drum still attached. I was a bit squeamish about this part at first, but got used to it pretty quickly. It’s amazing how fast you can let go of (or forget about) the fact that this used to be a living animal.

Chicken with both legs removed.

A lonely wing tip.

After removing the legs, we move on to the front of the bird. Here, we remove the wing tips. After that, we can cut or twist off the back half of the chicken. Basically, you twist the spine, which makes an awful cracking sound. This is not for the faint of heart. The first time chef demonstrated it, shivers ran down my spine. But again, the desensitization process of doing it over and over again helps to remove emotions from the entire project.

The rib cage exposed.

Moving on, we cut off the ribs and what is left of the neck bones. Because the chicken breasts are attached to the rib cage, we have to be careful to cut right along the ribs and not take off too much of the breast meat with the ribs and skin in that area.

Only the breasts (currently face down) and the wings are left.

Cutting off the wing portions.

Flipping the chicken back over, we cut a part of the breast off with the wings. Basically, you want to cut straight down and through the shoulder joint. That leaves us with the breasts.

Using fingers to find the keel bone.

For this last cut, we will cut perpendicular to the breasts, right where the keel bone ends. The keel bone on the chicken is similar to the breast bone on humans, except it sticks out like the keel on a ship (hence the name).

Count 'em. Eight pieces.

And finally, we have the eight pieces of the chicken. The drums have been separated from the thighs.

So, in the end, I learned quite quickly to not think of the living animal in order to be able to break down the chicken like the chef showed us. I got better at it, and also starting working more quickly, which is essential, both to saving time (and therefore money), and also for the internal temperature of the chicken.

I’ve probably mentioned before in posts that we need to keep logs about the internal temperatures of the meats and poultry we work with. We take a starting temperature, a temperature at 30 minutes, and then again at the end. The meat or poultry cannot go over 51 degrees, otherwise bacteria start to grow more rapidly, and that becomes a health hazard. So we keep temperature logs both for the state inspection and for ourselves.

One thing about working with poultry (chicken or turkey in my case), was that it is almost frozen when we first started working with it, which in turn made my fingers cold. And we all know cold fingers are harder to move, so I had to pay special attention. Another thing I figured out right away is that chicken bones are very sharp, and I cut myself a little bit working with them. So instead of continuing to cut myself, I decided to put on gloves right away. This made me more relaxed about working more quickly, because the gloves added extra protection to my hands.

In case you were wondering, the chicken bones (the ribs, wing tips, and spine pieces) are saved and used for stock, so almost nothing gets wasted, except for some extra fat and skin.

Just in case my photos lately haven’t grossed you out enough, here’s one more:

A bag full of whole chickens. Blood on the bottom. Pretty gross.

Sorry about that. Veggies, anyone?

~ Carolynn

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