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Omnivore Food Blog By Suzanne Podhaizer

Story Chat

May 02, 2008

A Little More Yakking

One thing I didn't mention in my article about the Vermont Yak Company this week was that Rob and Kate Williams, two of the yak farm's owners, invited me and my husband to their house in Waitsfield for a multi-course yak dinner...and man does it taste good.

First we snacked on slabs of yak summer sausage, local cheddar and Wolaver's beer as we toured the farmyard. I must admit it felt a bit strange to be introduced to an animal while holding a slab of summer sausage made out of its cousin, but coming to terms with that kind of thing is all part of farming, right?

Then we and the Hartshorns, also business partners, headed the the Williamses for yak bratwurst with three dipping sauces -- I liked mine with the garlic aioli -- divine yak chili and tender strips of yak sirloin with an organic salad. There was also artisan bread with a curry oil dip.

Yak meat is dark red and savory, but (to me) it tastes just a bit milder than beef. It is also fairly lean, but is still high in heart-healthy omega-three fatty acids. I hear the dairy is great, too, but have never tried it. If my affection for water buffalo yogurt is any indication, I'll probably like it.

The evening was full of fun conversation and delicious food, and the experience really helped me with my article. Rob blogged about it here.

November 21, 2007

A Couple More Thanksgiving Disasters...

For this week's Seven Days, I called a bunch of people around the state to find out if they had any amusing Thanksgiving anecdotes to share. Happily for them, most people claimed that their T-days usually go pretty smoothly.

At my holiday feasts, though, drama is a regular attendee. For as long as I can remember, since I was 20 or 21, I think, I've been the primary Thanksgiving cook at my mom's house. Because my family doesn't get out to eat much, I've always tried to make extra exciting and fancy stuff for them. This often ends in tears, or dinners eaten at 11 p.m. And then there was the time that my sister was cutting sweet potatoes and removed part of her fingertip with the brand-spankin'-new chef knife I'd given my mom for her birthday. Sorry, sis.

Anyway, one year I decided to make a chestnut and celeriac ravioli from Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook. The time-consuming dish involved roasting and peeling chestnuts and pureeing them with cooked celeriac, mixing the puree with cream, pushing it through a sieve to render it perfectly smooth, and then dolloping it on sheets of homemade pasta dough.

Needless to say, it took forever to make the filling, but it tasted amazing.  However, my family was hungry, the hour was late, and I started to rush. As I cranked out the pasta dough, I dusted each sheet with flour and put plastic wrap between them to keep 'em separated. Bad, bad choice. I hadn't used enough flour and they stuck together. Frustrated, I tugged them apart, stuffed them and put them in boiling water. And they disintigrated. When I separated them, I had created spots in the dough that were too thin, and the water blew them open and washed away the filling. Almost all of my beautiful puree ended up taking a bath. About 6 of the ravioli came out unscathed. Next time I'll know better. Luckily there was plenty of other food, everything tasted good, and we really savored those few, perfect pillows of pasta.

I wish I could tell you about the time my husband had to singe the bristles off of half of a suckling pig over the flame on my mom's gas stove. But that didn't happen on Thanksgiving...

I also asked a few members of the Seven Nights Bite Club to share some of their stories. I only got two responses, not enough to make a separate section in the paper, but here they are:

Doug Massey:

"I visited my aunt and uncle, along with eight or nine others.  My cousin (their son) is a great kid with a severe mental handicap and his idea of helping his mom with the cooking was to secretly turn off the oven shortly after the bird went in.  This wasn't discovered until late in the process, when much of the other food had been prepared and the family had gathered at the house for the scheduled 2 PM meal.  There was a sudden rescheduling, of course, to get the oven warmed up again and get the turkey back on the menu."

Cat Woodward:

"The men in my family are gourmets. This may not seem like a dire pronouncement to you, but when it comes to big, family holidays, each is convinced that his own food should reign supreme. This competitiveness isn't a big problem at Christmas - one will bake ham, one will roast a turkey, another will braise a rabbit, and so on. However, everyone knows that turkey is the crowning glory of a traditional Thanksgiving and we easily end up with several full sized turkeys a year from those who refuse to stoop side dish levels.  Each guy spends weeks plotting new recipes and days marinating, brining, smoking, and roasting, hoping his turkey will be recognized as the best of the year. However, it's all for naught as the women pronounce the family patriarch's turkey best every year without fail and leave the others to their culinary schemes for next year.

My boyfriend (yet another man who loves to cook) is traveling to Virginia with me this year to meet my family for the first time. Luckily, he does not yet know about the turkey rivalries and Thanksgiving food wars. For at least one year, peace will be kept and he will be a solid side dish man."

What's your story?   

November 07, 2007

How to Cook a Skunk, and Other Helpful Info...

In the course of putting together the food section this week, I found that I had more information about game than could possibly fit. So, I saved a bit of juicy stuff for the blog. David Coolidge, a chef-instructor at NECI, took the time to give me some tips on cooking on the wild side. Here are a few of them...

Q-Many chefs stick with chicken and beef. Can you explain why you're so into game?

A-"My philosophy is that game meats are far healthier to eat than the farmed meats we consume on a regular basis. I think if we consumed more game meats, even farm raised game meats, it would be a healthier diet for the general public. Less saturated fat."

Q- Do you cook a lot of wild game?

A- "Well, generally I don't hunt any more. It's cause I've gone and broken down animals for somebody else. Sometimes I get a prime cut and will grill up a nice steak. I like to keep it very simple 'cause I want to taste the meat itself. I'll just cook it up in a little butter or grill it. With the lesser cuts I'll do stew or braise."

Q-Do you deal with any of the more unusual beasts?

A- "I've done possums and skunks. Possum I'm not really fond of, it's too greasy for me. Skunk is sweet and delicious, but the cleaning process is difficult. One wrong swipe and you've ruined all the meat. My grandmother taught me to work with them. The scent sack is right there around the anal gland. That's the trickiest part, once you've got that done, it's easy.
    I'll treat skunk like I would a rabbit. Braise the legs and do a pan sear with the loins. I kind of wing 'em as I go. My grandfather would every once in a while bring one in. There are other people out there who swear by possum.
    Squirrel is very similar to rabbit, tends to be more tender, and you can make a beautiful pan gravy with 'em. I had a student who was from Tennessee and was really into the squirrels."

Q- Farm-raised game tastes different than the woodsy stuff. How do you prepare it?

A- "I find that it [farm raised game] generally isn't very gamey, it's pretty mild. A trick to bring some of that game back into it is when making a marinade, add some cooked red wine to it. I like to use many wild foraged ingredients in my sauces to accompany game. Wild ginger, wild leeks, any of the fun stuff we can pull from our own woods here. Think wild, think what the animals are exposed to: Use juniper berries and rosemary to bring up the pine. "

Q- What about birds?

A- "We do a fair amount of pheasant, here [at Butler's]. We would do things like mushroom stuffed pheasant or guinea hen and wrap that in caul fat and serve it with a nice demi of some sort, maybe on the sweeter side with dried cherries in it."

Q- Do you serve mashed and a salad on the side, or does an unusual meat dish call for something a little more interesting?

A- "I'm kind of sadistic. I'll use my sides as the vegetables or plant life that the animal itself might have been feeding on. With rabbit I serve carrots and leafy greens. With venison, because they tend to go into the beech nuts, I'll do a grain pilaf incorporating some nuts."

Q-If readers will only remember one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

A-"Because game meats tend to be so lean, it's important not to overcook them. That's the biggest taboo: People seem to cook the living crap out of 'em. Game should be cooked all the way through, but not to the point where it's starting to get dry out. It doesn't have that nice marbling when you're cooking it [like traditional meats do].
    When you're dealing with farm raised, you can get away with medium temperatures. On wild game cook it [just] all the way through to between 145 and 150 degrees."

October 25, 2007

Your Last Meal...Ever

Did you know that Marilyn Monroe ate guacamole and meatballs at a Mexican buffet before she died, or that Julia Child headed to the great beyond with a bellyful of French onion soup? I learned these fun yet freaky details while researching my recent story, Last Bites, which I wrote for the Halloween edition of Seven Days. The coolest part of putting together the piece? Asking local celebs what they would want their last meals to be, given the choice.

Most of the high-profile folks I spoke to, including Weatherman Tom Messner and
Film Director John O'Brien, chuckled at the concept. Health Inspector Al Burns made sure to let me know that he doesn't plan to eat his last meal for a long, long time.

Now I want to know what YOUR last meal would be...would you select a voluptuous assortment of dainties or an all-you-can-eat buffet of comfort foods? Unlike inmates on death row in Florida, who have a $20 spending limit on their final feasts, you can spend as much virtual money as you wish.

To get you started, here's mine. I realize that this list will mean an eternity in the 3rd circle of hell, in which gluttons lie in the mud during a perpetual rain and hail storm. That's gonna suck.

I would share this meal with my husband, who is the best (dining) partner a girl could ask for.


A selection of sashimi, mostly o-toro
12 West Coast oysters on the half-shell with just a drizzle of mignonette sauce
Kobe beef tartare. I've never tried Kobe beef, but it's now or never
A rather large slab of foie gras, prepared in some creative fashion by Thomas Keller (I know the hate mail will be forthcoming. Look, there's not a single factory farmed chicken on this menu, nor milk from any cow treated with Monsanto's rBST, etc.)

Mesclun greens, roasted walnuts, cherries and slices of a bloomy-rind goat cheese, sprinkled with sea salt and dressed with olive oil and an older balsamic

I'd want really small servings of five, super-creative soups. I don't know what they would be.

Chestnut ravioli in a truffle cream
Roasted Duck with port and fig sauce
Brussels sprouts with shallots, bacon and blue cheese
Potato and celeriac gratin

An extra large cheese course, featuring at least 30 of the best artisan cheeses in the country plus accompaniments such as honey, nuts and fruit, along with appropriate beverages. I know I'd want Humboldt Fog, Beecher's Flagship Reserve, Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain, alongside a variety of cheeses from Willow Hill, Lazy Lady and Jasper Hill. I'd let Jeff Roberts pick out the rest.

A dessert wine tasting, including ice wines, Tokays and Sauternes, which I'll sip as I wait for eternity.

August 01, 2007

No Reservations/Mostly Martha Story Chat

It's got shrinks, saffron sauce and sexy scene with stock...but is it good? I wasn't a big fan, as you know if you read my "A Few Reservations" article this week. What did you think of No Reservations?

I'm also really interested in whether or not anybody has seen Mostly Martha, which I thought was a  much better film.

July 25, 2007

"Guilt-Free Food" Story Chat

Wanna talk about Alice Levitt's provocative op-ed article in the food section? Here's where you can do it...

June 24, 2007

A Chat with the Positive Pie Guy

In Patrick Timothy Mullikin's recent article on the Montpelier Pizza scene, "Scarfin' Slices in the 802", he quoted a few lines from the now-famous "802" rap video, made by a group of Montpelier teenagers. What does rap have to do with pizza? The snarky rappers, who call themselves X10, did a little restaurant criticism in their song.

Mullikin used their lyrics to introduce each of Montpelier's pizza joints, and the young men didn't pull their punches -- they said that the "dude" at Village pizza "ain't nice," and claimed Angeleno's "pies are overpriced." One place, Positive Pie II, got left out 'cause they didn't have room in their rhyme. To make his story more complete, Mullikin asked them to throw out a snippet off-the-cuff. Their response: "Positive Pie, where the chefs get high."

But Carlo Rovetto, owner of Positive Pie II, didn't find it funny. "It was a big blow," he explained in a recent phone call, "I literally work 100 hours per's such a tight competition, and I'm trying to attract families and business people, and they don't want to go to places with that kind of reputation...if this was New York City an there were a hundred-thousand people per block, I wouldn't even care. But Montpelier is so small..."

Although some people say that any press is good press, Rovetto doesn't share that perspective. "We ride on the edge of success or failure every this point, I wish I hadn't been in the article at all," he explained.

Hopefully, for Rovetto's sake, readers will remember the other comment the young rappers made about Positive Pie II. According to Colin Arisman, one of the X10 crew, "I would say, if you want to go for a pizza with character and dignity — [go to] The Pie...There's this white garlic sauce, and it's one of the most fulfilling experiences one can have." 

June 08, 2007

Gerard's Recipe

Gérard’s Country Bread

This is a simplified version of the bread Gérard makes in his bakery

For the poolish:
1⁄4 cup spelt and rye, ground from whole grains, sifted
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose white flour
1 2/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon water
1⁄2 teaspoon dry commercial yeast

Mix ground spelt and rye in a bowl with all-purpose white flour. Mix in water and dry commercial yeast. Make sure the temperatures of the flour and water and the kitchen's air temperature are 80 degrees. Mix into a paste, put into a tightly covered tall plastic container, and let ferment for 6 to 8 hours at 65 degrees or 4 hours at 80 degrees.

For the dough
3 3⁄4 cups all-purpose white flour
1⁄4 cup ground rye and spelt, mixed (half of each)
2 3⁄4 cups water
2 tablespoons sea salt

Once the poolish has sat for the required time, combine all-purpose white flour with ground rye and spelt. Quickly mix in by hand all the water. Compact the mixture and cover with a plastic sheet. Let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes at 70 to 80 degrees.

Next, incorporate the poolish into the flour and water mixture, kneading for about 10 minutes. Make sure to just stretch the dough as you knead, rather than pulling or tearing it. When the surface is smooth and shiny, form the dough into a ball. Sprinkle the surface with sea salt and mix again for 5 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover with a clear plastic bag or lid. Let it rise for 1 hour at 70 degrees.

After 1 hour, punch the dough down. Divide the dough into three equal pieces, shape into balls, and let rise again, covered, for 30 minutes. Flatten to let the gas escape, round the dough into a baguette shape, and let it rise a third and final time for 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours. Make four light slits in the surface, dust the surface with flour and place in preheated oven. Bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

June 02, 2007

Salad Daze

So, last week I really did eat at 8 salad bars in 5 days. And I really tried almost every single dish offered, even the ones I was almost positive I wouldn't enjoy. Sigh. But I had some yummy stuff, too. And I will forever feel confident when pointing someone towards a salad bar that will meet his or her needs.

Anyway...In case anybody wants to weigh in or ask questions, here's the Salad Daze story. Go ahead and chat!

May 09, 2007

Food Stamp Diet: Post # 1

I'm fascinated by projects, especially those of the culinary variety. I loved it when Julie cooked her way through Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and when various folks started restricting their diets to foods grown within X miles of their homes.

Today, I've begun my first such undertaking, albeit a brief one. This week, I'm living on a "food stamp diet." I had $66.05 to shop for enough food to last two people for one week. Just to make things more complicated, I aimed to purchase local, organic or all-natural products. Check out my article in this week's edition for the details.

Each evening, I'll post about what I ate throughout the day, how much work I put into cooking, and how I feel (hungry, sated, lethargic, exhilarated, etc.).

Here's what I'm allowed to eat today.

Day 1
Breakfast: 1 c. yogurt with one half banana, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg
Lunch: Two peanut-butter-and-apple sandwiches on oatmeal bread
Dinner: Roasted chicken thigh, whole-wheat couscous* with pan drippings, steamed fiddlehead ferns; roast tomorrow's beets with the chicken to save energy.
Snacks: Homemade kettle corn, carrots

Feed me now!

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