Thursday, October 25, 2012

Garret Girl's Kitchen Spooktacular: Bones, bones, bones!

Just in time for halloween, I bring you this blog post about eating bones!  So, please be forewarned if you think this is a subject that might make you upset (there are pictures).

I was under the weather for two weeks just recently, felled by this nasty bug everyone in Toronto seems to have gotten (some virus I've dubbed "the plague"). It wasn't anywhere near as terrible as influenza or mono, but it was a quite nasty cold that ended with laryngitis and left me struggling to get up the stairs. Plus, I'm not usually sick for that long!

Probably related to this, on Sunday I suddenly had a craving for roasted marrow bones. I had them for the first time back in May, I think, at Prune, a restaurant in New York City where I dined with my Aunt KS. They were served with a parsley and caper salad and a small dish of sel gris as well as little bits of toast. They were also really, really delicious.

Now, I imagine that this might be a turn-off to some of you, vegetarians and omnivores alike. Given the way we generally consume meat in America/Canada/the West, the concept of bones is a little different (though I'd think much more "familiar" than some organs).  Ryan says it makes him think I'm going to cut off his leg and eat it.  Ya never know, I guess...  Still, there are a few reasons why I think they might be an interesting foray for those of you who do eat meat.

I constantly think about, and second-guess, my own desire (and perceived need) to eat meat. It's not something I feel morally justified in doing, though I also notice myself feeling more energized and "healthier" after I eat a moderate amount of meat--particularly red meat. I also feel satiated for longer periods of time and do not crave simple carbohydrates. However, I eat meat, especially red meat, very infrequently. Aside from the obvious ethical problems with raising inhumanely and then killing sentient beings for food, cattle--particularly industrially-raised cattle--are enormously bad for the environment and contribute to the failure of antibiotics and the rise of drug-resistant bacterial strains.

So, part of what I try to do when I eat meat is to be conscious of the choices I'm making as a consumer (i.e. eating meat infrequently but trying to purchase more ethically-raised animals when I do) and to use the meat I purchase in a respectful and thoughtful manner. This is somewhat easier when it's chicken (after eating the meat I can use the bones for stock) and a little more difficult when I'm purchasing a part of an animal (such as a cow) and know I'm not prepared to deal with all of it. Perhaps this just makes me a self-deluding hypocrite, but I do hope that eating the bones is one way of trying to be a bit more "nose-to-tail" even if I'm not brave enough for stomach, feet, noses, or the other sobering items available in many shops in our neighborhood.

Another plus is that bones aren't very expensive. I guess most people give them to dogs rather than eating them, though they're also great for soup stock (both straight from the freezer and also post-roasting and marrow-eating, which is why I put my "empty" bones back in there). All in all, though, it means that you can purchase better quality bones without setting yourself back too far. I got mine from the local Italian butcher, Gasparro's Meat Market (or, as their website says, "Vince Gasparro's Qaulity Meats"). One of the sons pulled two big bones from the freezer in the back and the father cut them into small, 2-3 inch segments using his giant saw. [I meanwhile tried to surreptitiously inspect their hands for small warts (I heard in my microbiology class at Yale that butchers are usually infected with papilloma virus; you can read more about it here), all to no avail.] A big bag of them cost me ten dollars. I slung it into my bike basket and then stopped by Economy Fruit for a cornucopia of delights, all for the tune of six buckaroos.

Paulie is the "No Groceries Left Behind" inspector. 


At home, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees and set a few bone segments standing upright in a pie dish. When the oven was hot, I put them inside and roasted them for about 30 minutes until the marrow was bubbling and the bones were light brown. Most of the recipes I've seen call for about 20 minutes of roasting and some recommend 350 degrees. I don't know if this is because some bones are frozen and some are not, but I have to say that my method seemed to work just fine. It seems like it might be a little messier if the bones were warmer, plus I'm storing my extra bones in the freezer and it's just easier not to have to thaw them first.


Meanwhile I cooked up some onions and mushrooms, adding a little lemon and a lot of parsley for some extra flavor. It seems that a parsley salad is a traditional pairing with marrow bones, but I thought my method was pretty tasty too. Because marrow is so rich (i.e. it is mostly fat), it helps to have something lighter and a little acidic to help cut through and lighten the flavor. I also toasted some of my homemade whole-wheat-and-spent-grain bread and sliced up some cucumber... et voilĂ !  You spread the marrow on the toast and you're set to go.  I found a knife and a spoon worked just fine for extracting the marrow, though of course you can use a marrow spoon if you're so accoutered (are you allowed to use that word with cutlery?).  And what does it taste like?  The coordinator for the pre-college program at school said it tastes like "meaty butter."  I guess that makes sense.  It's a little bit gelatinous, it's a little bit meaty.  It's not really like butter, though.  It's just different.  And tasty.

A somewhat unappetizing photo, I'm afraid--but I promise it was scrumptious!

Now, the nutritional benefits (and dangers) of marrow are somewhat disputed. What seems abundantly clear is that the bones are full of fat. Marrow was a food of choice for our scavenging paleolithic ancestors, namely because it is... full of fat! And when you're a scavenging cave person, something like marrow is a ticket to survival. However, I am not a cave person. (Sort of, anyway; I do live in a basement.) Proper nutritional analysis of marrow does seem to be lacking. I read that the fat isn't saturated, so that's a plus. Some places on the internet say that it's a wonderful source of all these things you need, like vitamin K and iron, and will solve all your problems; some places say it's a source of fat, which makes you fat. I say this:

Bone marrow is delicious.

Bone marrow makes me feel really good after I eat it: satiated but not over-full or greasy, and with lots of energy for hours. I ate the bones yesterday for a good-sized late lunch and didn't eat dinner or any dessert because I was full and energized all evening. And I didn't just sit around! I speed-walked to the post office and back, rode my bike to school (second trip of the day), had opera rehearsal in which I was running around, waltzing, and generally working up a sweat for a few hours, and then I rode my bike home and did homework.

It's surely not a good choice for every day eating, but then I don't think any kind of meat ever should be.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Giving Thanks

Sometimes it feels hard to believe that I've already been in Toronto for more than a year, yet here I am passing milestones for the second time: labour day, the first day of school, Nuit Blanche, and now Canadian Thanksgiving.  I still find that this latter event (celebrated this weekend, with the official holiday falling today) comes at an odd time in the calendar year, being used to American Thanksgiving, but after the past week it seemed like the stars had aligned to remind me to be grateful for my many blessings.

It's not that the past few days have really been horrible; in fact, many wonderful things happened to counterbalance the bad.  And even the negatives, when viewed contextually, have a bright side.  Two family members took ill, but thankfully--though the mishaps or diseases are serious--they seem like they will recover fully.  Some of the other misadventures seem perplexing, but even these frustrations have been assuaged by opportunities which may turn out to be more beneficial in the end, both in terms of career and also in terms of my personal growth, than what I had originally hoped might transpire.  Funny how our desires may indeed be less salubrious than our response when we feel they are thwarted...  Finally, it's just good to remember how blessed I am to have such friends and family and music in my life, and that even when some of these things seem to have gone awry, the reason I notice is because I am lucky to have them there in the first place.  It's hard to complain about that.

The festive dining room.
Comrade M cooked and baked an excellent Thanksgiving dinner, per usual.  The turkey was divine, the stuffing scrumptious, the kale salad refreshing, the sweet potatoes creamy, the vegetarian option ironically to-die-for, and the mashed potatoes fluffed to a T.  And the desserts... all I can say is that the pumpkin pie should become a standard.  It's amazing!  And the apple and cherry rustic tart, baked in a cast iron pan and with a ginger cookie topping, was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Boiling potatoes
Kale for the salad 
Pumpkin pie
Apple and cherry tart
With fewer people this year (i.e. just one extra) there was less to prepare and thus less for me to do--except, of course, borrow Comrade M's nice work camera and take pictures of everything!  Comrade M used some of my homemade bread for the stuffing, something I baked last weekend with spent grain from Ryan's brewing, but I hadn't even been planning to cook anything myself until I found an email from Smitten Kitchen in my inbox with a recipe for pumpkin cinnamon rolls.  Now with something like a recipe for pumpkin cinnamon rolls, you'd think there would be little to improve upon--and of course since I only made the recipe once, it's hard to tell if I improved anything.  So instead we will say that I did some characteristic fiddling and made the following adjustments:

  • Rather than using active dry yeast, I substituted my very own wild yeast sourdough starter.  (I've been growing it for the past week and this was my first experiment.)  I wound up using 1/2 cup of sourdough starter to replace the yeast called for in the recipe.  Consequently (and also due to the oven being occupied by the bird) I also allowed the buns to rise for several hours rather than the time she calls for.  I can't really tell if the sourdough starter influenced the flavor, especially due to the following point...
  • ... which is that rather than using brown sugar (since I had run out) I replaced the 1/4 c brown sugar in the dough with 1/4 c molasses.  This yields a strong molasses flavor, which I like but which perhaps overpowers the pumpkin and other flavors.  Ryan likes it, though.  I might stick to brown sugar next time to see how it compares.
  • Rather than just brushing the rolled-out dough with the butter (these are by no means healthy), I also added a layer of pumpkin puree.  Ryan and I roasted our own pumpkin (he had an extra one lying around after making a pumpkin beer a few weeks ago) and we had/have a lot left over.
  • I also added a few tablespoons of pumpkin puree to the cream cheese frosting rather than adding milk to change the consistency (and ultimately used two times the amount of cream cheese because I found it too sweet with two cups of powdered sugar).  In retrospect I would have just halved the amount of sugar since the recipe yields a ton of frosting no matter how much cream cheese you include.  I guess I'll have to freeze the leftovers for the next several time I make these cinnamon buns...
  • I also sprinkled the buns with pepitas before baking, though if/when I make these again I'd also include the seeds inside of the rolls.  I just didn't think of it until I had finished.
Rising rolls
Finished rolls with some glaze
And some without
Now it's Monday and Comrade M and I are embarking on a painting project.  First up?  The dining room, in "semolina" yellow.  It already looks beautifully bright and sunny!  I'm so excited.  

In the works...
Meanwhile, Ryan was concentrating on his latest batch of beer (this time with a holiday twist).