2021–In Praise of Chicken Excrement

Black Gold

When you get up early on New Year’s Day to feed the chickens, and the low temp is 67 F, something is seriously wrong. That something is Anthropogenic Climate Disturbance, aka Global Warming. It’s fine now, but the summer will be when the bill comes due.

There is one constant, however–the wonders of chicken excrement. Americans in general treat chickens like a protein machine, caged, abused, and thrown away and eaten at a very early age. Our flock of eight ramble around all day, eat greens and high protein food, and we get eggs by the dozen. Better, possibly is the giant piles of excrement, which I compost. I am just beginning to use it as fertilizer. It could be the GOAT (greatest of all time.)

Chicken excrement and I go way back. When I grew up on the old farm, that was our main fertilizer, and sometimes the only one. As it turns out, industrial scale chicken production produces industrial scale chicken stuff. We had tons of this stuff at a time, which means we had tons of vegetables, and pounds and pounds of beef–we fertilized the pastures with chicken stuff, and even had to buy a giant stuff spreader to be able to do it.

So the moral for this new year is, what goes around, comes around. I have been fertilizing my mustard greens with chicken stuff, and feed the greens to the chicks, and the egg quality just gets better. I composted my garlic plants (forty in total,) and they took off like weeds. I just layered my young asparagus patch with several inches of compost. I better get the asparagus steamer ready for spring.

Film at eleven.

Grillades with Mushroom Brown Sauce

Accidentally Making Great Food

If you do the right thing, Karma will treat you right. MJ and I have given away so many eggs that we are getting free food in return. Long live bartering.

Case in point was the cooler full of locally grown beef that one brother-in-law gave us, and the cow was grown by yet another brother-in-law. In the pile of meat were a couple of packs of cube steak, something I had never eaten before, and usually associated with greasy spoon diners. Then I read on the interwebs that good quality cube steak is really round steak that has been pounded flat for tenderizing. This was of the best quality, and I immediately thought: Grillades.

Turning round steak into a Grillade is the classic Southern way of turning inexpensive meat into a thing a beauty, and is sometimes referred to as fried meat a la Creole. I adapted the recipe for Grillades with Gravy from the latest reprint of the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book, and the result was unbelievably good.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Bacon Fat (Grandmother Lilian’s trick)

1/2 Onion, chopped

1 clove Garlic, diced

1 tablespoon Flour

4 inch squares of pounded Round Steak, seasoned highly with Salt and Pepper

6 large Mushrooms, sliced, and sauteed in Bacon Fat, Lard, Butter, or Oil

Water

The recipe in the cook book uses tomatoes instead of mushrooms, but we won’t have good fresh tomatoes here for a while, and I had bunches of shrooms. Begin by cooking the onion in the bacon fat for about a minute. When they begin to soften, add the garlic. Cook until you can smell the garlic but DO NOT burn it.

Add the flour, and begin the basis for a brown roux, aka a gravy. Stir regularly, as a roux is also known as “Creole Napalm.” When you get to a brown color to your liking, add the Grillades to the top of the roux, along with the mushrooms. Add the water and stir. Mine looked like this.

Simmer Time!

That’s my favorite heavy cast iron skillet. Close it about 7/8 of the way with an equally heavy cast iron lid. Stir regularly, because even with the stove set at the lowest setting, this sauce will stick and burn, and the dish is ruined. Add more water when the gravy begins to thicken excessively. Simmer a minimum of thirty minutes, though we just cook ours until it is completely tender. This cooked forty or forty five minutes.

Serve over Louisiana, or any other good, rice, and garnish with chopped parsley, unless you enjoy food that is just really brown. That was served on one of Grandmother Lilian’s Tennessee made plates. Leftovers made the best steak and biscuit with gravy, the next morning, in history.

Grillades. It’s what’s for supper.

Boeuf Maison

Winter in the Southern Appalachians

Though the Appalachians extend all the way up to the northern sections of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. and actually into the French territory of St. Pierre, off the Canadian coast, we are already seeing signs of spring down here on the distant southern end. High temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, and the wild blueberries are blooming along our riverfront. It’s time for some outdoor cooking.

Perhaps in honor of the French end of our mountains, I gave this dish the somewhat ridiculous name of Boeuf Maison, which is best translated as “Home Cooked Beef.” It is better when cooked outdoors. It is also ludicrously simple, which is why I gave it a fancy French name, to make it sound difficult.

Ingredients

Lard

Beef Roast (I always get local grass fed, when available), marinated in Salt and red Wine

Onion, chopped

28 ounces of whole canned Tomatoes (If I don’t have home canned, I use Cento Tomatoes from Italia)

Seasoning–Salt, Thyme, Oregano

That’s it. Here’s a perfect example of when the quality of ingredients and the cooking method make all the difference. It helps to have a really heavy Lodge camp dutch oven as well. The first step is probably the most important. PETA members, stop reading at this point. If you want to find some people who make PETA look rational, check out the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). They liberate things like pet bunnies.

Roasting Hot

The sear is the most important thing for me. I have a hot fire of hardwood and hardwood charcoal, and put the dutch oven directly above it. Add some home rendered lard, and sear away. Be brave with the brown of the sear.

Now We’re Cooking

Sear both sides of the roast nicely, and add the rough chopped onions. Rough chopped is fine, as this sauce will be strained after the dish is finished. When the onions begin to soften, add the marinade, and the tomatoes, and then the seasoning. Time for it to cook low and slow, for two or three hours.

Anticipation

Move the pot to a cooler spot in the fire, if cooking outdoors, or the lowest heat on a stove top. When the meat is completely tender, strain the sauce and nosh away. Mashed potatoes are the perfect sauce soaker.

On a serious note, and I am rarely serious, this fire pit survived the super tornado outbreak of 2011, though it was mashed completely down into the ground by a giant pine tree that fell and smashed into it. A larger pine tree was blown onto our house, and I cut it off using a German crosscut log saw. I lost a half of one roof shingle; 238 people in Alabama died, most in Tuscaloosa, the home of one of my Alma Maters.

Enterprise #34 Juicer

One Honking Big Piece of Cast Iron

Coming into the ring at over 10 pounds, this Enterprise Juicer can seriously crush some fruit or vegetable. It would probably also work as the world’s heaviest food mill, but it is something of a pain to clean. I have used it mostly to juice excess blueberries to make some pretty tasty blueberry wine. I have also juiced some key limes with it, like the one in the foreground (a Meyer lemon is behind it). I bottled and then pasteurized the juice.

Technically, the Enterprise Company called the #34 a “Combination Fruit Press.” I found this in the booklet they printed called The Enterprising Housekeeper, which I downloaded for free from one of my favorite websites, Project Gutenberg. Check it out, and download some Jane Austen novels as well, while you are there.

The screw at the pointy end is the adjustment for how fine you want the fruit pulp to be, which also determines how thoroughly crushed the fruit will be. That also determines how much juice will come from whatever you are running through this beast.

Now it is time to wander off into the weeds of food history, as these juicers were also used to produce “meat juice.” This came right along with the worldwide craze for a product known as Valentines Meat Juice, which was a huge seller from 1871 onwards, and naturally, it was a Southern product from Richmond, Virginia. Four pounds of heated (not cooked) raw beef produced just two ounces of meat juice, which is more accurately called myoglobin.

The Enterprise company especially recommended giving meat juice to invalids. Nothing like giving the remnants of raw squeezed beef to invalids. Food crazes never fail to entertain. I hope the Paleo crowd doesn’t find out about this.

Germany’s Most Beautiful Cow Is Dead

Sad news from Deutsche Welle, the Voice of Germany. The German cow who won more cow beauty pageants than any other, is dead at the age of thirteen. She actually won more than twenty bovine beauty contests, and was named “Lady Gaga.” I wish I could make this up.

Worse than that, this Holstein was born in France.

Beef Stew Al Fresco

Is Al Fresco related to Al Pacino?

This is nothing but a simple beef stew, but it was cooked in a cast iron camping Dutch Oven over an open fire, which always makes everything taste better. I will disclose the small wrinkles which add layers and layers to the dish. First, marry-nate some cubed up chuck roast, in red wine, salt, and pepper. I left mine in the fridge overnight, and then browned it in some home rendered lard, over some blazing heat.

The One Spoon

It helped that I had the One Spoon to cook with, which I got from a small fellow with furry feet. He told me it was the one spoon to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. Actually, I made that monstrosity out of some Carolina Buckthorn, a weed tree if there ever was one. It’s almost as long as my Amish made fireplace poker. It does keep your hands away from the fire.

Deglaze

I threw in a whole chopped onion, cooked it, and deglazed the whole thing with some apple wine that was mysteriously sitting next to my fire pit, and the red wine marinade. Who would have guessed?

Milled Tomatoes

The next step is to add milled tomatoes, and cook for an hour or two. Throw a lid on that thing, to conserve heat.

This is Merely Medium Sized

I’ve always thought of Dutch Ovens as something like primitive pressure cookers, because it takes some serious steam to leak through that massive lid. The last ingredients are salt, pepper, carrots, and naturally, taters, precious.

Ready to Stew

It would take another good hour to finish this, so I just went back to work on my great American novel, which is closing to a finish. If only it was as good as this stew turned out to be.

To-Feud! Tofurkey and the ACLU sue Arkansas over the Meaning of the Word “Meat”!

This is a regular to-food fight, brought to you by the state whose most famous politician once said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” That would be slick William Clinton, who is the only person who could ever have pulled off that sentence.

From the AP: The Tofurkey company is having none of the new Arkansas law that states a producer can’t say “veggie burger” or “plant based meat” on its labels. So now it’s all up to the federal courts, over whether or not Arkansas can outlaw such outlandish verbiage.

Several other states have turned into word police when it comes to “meat,” including my home state of Alabama. I at least hope our legislature spelled the word “meat” correctly. It is four letters long.

Enterprise #22 Food Grinder

An Industry Standard

This 1886 design is so perfect that it is still being made today, and has become the standard meat grinder. (This one has the 1886 patent date on it.) Though this is the hand crank version, there is a pulley available that can be used to hook this up to an electric motor. I happened to see one in use during a cooking show set in Cambodia, where an entire sausage factory was being powered by just one of these grinders.

Full of Heavyosity

One of the benefits of this being the standard is that one can be had on the cheap, and I paid fifteen bucks for this one. Someone had put the cutter on backwards, which had made it non-functional. I re-ground and sharpened it, and put it back on the right way. There are also innumerable attachments.

Grinder Plates and Sausage Stuffers

Here’s a vintage grinder plate, a used one, and a new one. The one with the large holes is used with the somewhat deadly looking sausage stuffers, which allows anyone to go crazy making sausage. That’s why I have intestines in my fridge, aka sausage casings.

There’s an even larger version of this, the #33, which is handy if your name is Dr. Lecter.