Meat Fest at Cockscomb

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Duck Liver Croque En Bouche with Strawberry Gastrigue

I have been a fan of Chris Cosentino for a little under a decade now. Ever since discovering his big congenial personality and passion for all things meat on the now defunct show Chef vs. City, on which he would run around with Chef Aaron Sanchez to reveal the zany culinary seams of cities across the US, I have been hankering to try one of his meals. Sure, I have been to Boccalone, his salami emporium in San Francisco’s Ferry Building for a cone of cured meats and enjoyed a cup of crispy pig ears before his PIGG disappeared from Los Angeles’ Umamicatessen. But I wanted a proper sit down dinner, not just some convenience pork parts.

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Beef Heart Tartare with Grilled Bread and Greens

This is why Incanto was on my travel list for years—his Italian restaurant in San Francisco, which had an Instagram account I drooled over nightly featuring butchered delights and creativity surrounding meat that was unparalleled. Think homemade fettuccine with duck hearts and behind the scenes glimpses of hanging intestines and gleaming silver tables full of liver cornucopias and raw meat pies pre-oven. I loved the idea that the high end crowd sitting in the dining room, slurping up fancy wine and enjoying the fruits of the chef’s efforts had no idea of the real carnival happening behind the swishing door between them and the kitchen. It was as if Chris had found a place to play and was finally doing the things he loved the most.

Unfortunately Incanto closed before I had the chance to dine there. A new place in Noe Valley called Porcellino (or, piglet) opened where Chris served casual food like sandwiches and pastas to the neighborhood community and I wondered what was up. No more meat extravaganza? No more Top Chef style over the top dishes? No more photos of giant boar heads awaiting a steam bath to retrieve their glistening gelatinous innards?

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Cornish Game Hen Tetrazzini with Fried Fideos, Mushrooms and Cream Sauce

Luckily, the intrepid Cute Gardener who does things like keep his eyes on the whereabouts of my favorite chefs for me learned that Chris had opened a new restaurant in SF’s SOMA district called Cockscomb and earlier this month we visited after a couple days of grueling hikes at Lassen Peak and Mount Shasta ready for reward in the form of a meat extravaganza.

What we found was a bustling joint marrying the best things about Cosentino: a casual, friendly down to earth attitude, no nonsense yet interesting food and ultra unctuous meat parts. The Chef himself manned the floor mingling with guests, throwing orders at cooks and servers across the bar, and glancing at cutting board platters of roving pin steaks as if he were finally at home in a place that fit.

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Zampini of pork and fennel sausage, fried oysters, corn, tomato and shishito peppers

Although he clearly has it in him, I am not sure if Chris is a high-falutin elegant restaurant type of guy at heart or a fame seeking, celebrity chef although his gregariousness fits naturally in the limelight. I think he may have finally found his groove with Cockscomb.

I just hope his current patronage of hipsters and tech industry, disposable income young uns have the kinds of adventurous palates that will allow Chris to incorporate some of his more daring offal offerings (the kind his first wave of fans are known to follow him for) onto his menu in the long run.

Honey Rose Strawberry Moon Summertime Meals

10268644_10152134790424080_5406738666010982166_nTwo nights ago, on Friday the 13th, Mother Nature bestowed us with a golden colored-full moon that is typically referred to as a honey, strawberry or rose moon. Strawberries are currently burgeoning in our garden and one of my favorite things to do with them is cut them up room temperature, scatter them atop real, thick coconut Greek yogurt and drizzle them with a bit of organic honey. This, of course, would make the perfect afternoon meal for the summer washed down with an expensive glass of rosè wine. Rosè, a wine commonly maligned, yet with a proper and respectable place during the long hot summer is something I enjoy seeking out during the three torrid months a year which complement its light and fruity characteristics.

These full moon reveries also led me to think about summertime food and how it is the ideal time to change up our eating patterns. Hot, Southern California days slither in too heavily to merit three full meals. The bounty of produce that springs from our paradise soil along with farm-raised local meats and briny jewels from the Pacific Ocean are all we need to dine light and fresh until Fall.

Taking the seasonal eating shift one step further into the restaurant experience, it is an ideal time to find single appetizer dishes that are too large for a simple pre-meal bite but small enough so that they aren’t as filling as normal entrees. Elevating these types of appetizer dishes to a meal during summer can be a delight, especially eaten alone at the bar of a bustling restaurant with nothing other than a glass of wine. For under $40 in downtown Los Angeles alone, you can find plenty of opportunities to have this type of sumptuous summer supper.

Recently the Cute Gardener and I dined at the hot spot Bestia—a trendy Italian joint complete with frighteningly sexy meat hook décor and a loud playlist of 1980s hardcore hip hop music. Everything was top notch and above average but two appetizers entirely bowled us over—both of which would completely qualify for a lone dinner at the bar with a glass of rosè.

BestiaLambNeckThe lamb neck deserves a prize. Seriously, a “golden way to rock a bone-y piece of meat” prize by the likes of Chris Cosentino or Lucky Peach magazine or some old French bastard who appreciates toiling for hours over a funky cut of sheep. For 18 hours, the neck is braised and then some magical forces of caramelization are accomplished before the brick-sized hunk hits the plate. This chunk of tender flesh is then covered in a refreshing green sauce that carries only a hint of mint amongst its lemony goodness and accompanied by a small, sparsely oiled green salad. The meat falls apart at the touch, is full of savory nuggets and sweet bits to slurp out from between the bones, providing not only an outstanding and unusual meal but also it’s also fun to eat.

BestiaGizzardsSecondly, the chicken gizzards appetizer really surprised us. We are chicken gizzard aficionados and typically order them whenever we see them (our favorites being at Kokekokko, grilled and skewered plain with a shot of sake). But these were the best I’ve had so far, tender and meaty on the inside and charred on the outside. They arrived in the form of a salad pile, individually tucked into leaves of endive and topped with a shaved flake of exquisite capra sarda cheese. The whole lot was then dressed with tangy balsamic lending a hint of summer BBQ.

Although the pastas that followed were nice and crafty, it’s these two dishes that we would return for. I am now inspired to seek out some more opportunities this summer to find other types of this one plate with wine experience until the Fall when a more “meat on my bones” mentality becomes more acceptable again in the cold.

 

Sailor Worthy Salty Pasta

IMG_7361I swear the water beads were starting to boil to the beat of Art Blakey’s lively version of “Mayreh” on Pandora as I watched the tall stainless steel asparagus pot (which doubles as our pasta cooker) mid-way through preparing my tweaked and unruly version of spaghetti with anchovies for the Cute Gardener this week.

Yes, it was MY turn to cook again and I was on a special mission – to elevate one of my favorite chef’s recipes while also adding a few signature Unorthodox twists of my own. I have decided that on the rare occasions I am able to make a meal, I am damn well going to make it special.

It started with a can of leftover anchovies just begging to be utilized as a form of salt in a noodle dish that led me to Chris Cosentino’s Food and Wine version of spaghetti with anchovies. Of course Chris, whom I love for the way he utilizes every inch of an animal (most iconic of which is pork), usually uses a tuna heart for the salty fish, grated on at the end of his preparation of the dish. But F&W dumbed it down a bit for us humble home cooks. I was also a fan of the use of egg yolk in the mix.

IMG_7359I had stopped on my way home earlier at my favorite Armenian market for a bag of three dollar spinach the size of a pillow to add a side dish to the pasta meal. That’s when I met the salty old sailor in line before me at the deli counter who graciously shared a slice of his fresh cut mortadella as we waited for my French feta to be packaged up. This in turn inspired me to purchase a few slices of the Italian bologna myself to add to my dish.

And before I knew it I was standing in the kitchen listening to jazz again (like I am prone to do while cooking) at 6:30 p.m. watching water beads dance in the pot again as bucatini slid in amongst the watery mist begging to be inwardly filled with hot juicy joy and the itch to be plumped.

A bottle of Heitz Cellar’s Sauvignon Blanc whittled away the last remaining bits of its wine cellar warmness in the fridge as I chopped warm toasted walnuts to spruce up my spinach.

The end result was a pasta dish salty enough for generous old sailors, bastardized enough for palates that like to cross cultures, and worthy of the thick girthed bucatini that carried its skinny-legged sauce.

IMG_7357Bucatini with Anchovy Carbonara
Adapted from the Food and Wine recipe

8 ounces bucatini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
1/8 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg yolk
1 slice of mortadella, rolled up and thinly sliced to produce strands
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the bucatini until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil with the garlic and anchovies and cook over moderately high heat until the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the mortadella, red pepper, zest, oregano and parsley, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolk with the reserved cooking water and add to the pasta. Cook over low heat, tossing until the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

IMG_7358Walnut Spinach Feta

4 cups fresh spinach
2 ounces French feta, crumbled
¼ c. chopped walnuts, toasted
2 tbls. olive oil
Lemon
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet and toss the walnuts in it. Add the spinach and wilt to your liking. Right before serving toss with the feta crumbles. Season with salt and pepper and spritz some lemon juice over the whole bunch.

Boccalone’s Society of Salted Pig Parts

IMG_4995The last time the Cute Gardener and I were in San Francisco we visited the Ferry Building for a food-sampling spree. Our afternoon was spent tasting from all of our favorite places like Hog Island Oyster Co. and Cowgirl Creamery and exploring some new ones like Boccalone, owned by one of my favorite chefs Chris Cosentino. The meat emporium, equipped with fridges hung with hearty sausages and old-fashioned cherry red bologna slicers, featured a salumi cone for a few bucks where you could try samples of yummy versions of salami.

Boccalone Jan 1Having enjoyed it so much as well as having a partner who is also a meat lover, I decided to buy the CG a three-month membership in the store’s Salumi Society for Christmas. For $66 bucks a month, purchased right over the Internet, he would be shipped an ice pack Styrofoam box of four surprise packages of salted pig parts. Who knew what would be in those boxes or what neat dishes could be made from them? I thought it would be fun to be at the mercy of the store’s choices.

The store was also very flexible with shipping. They stated that the boxes would go out a certain time every month but that varied based on their busy-ness so on two occasions I had to call and make sure the boxes wouldn’t arrive on days when the CG would not be in town to receive them. Although they were super accommodating with all my wishes in a very charming small business way as opposed to a huge, non-responsive corporation way, the fact that they aren’t shipping like clockwork could be a potential irritant to some customers.

Boccalone Jan 4The first month’s box was stocked with cotechino, pancetta, salame pepato, and spicy Italian sausage. The traditional meats were great and of good quality and enjoyed with wine and charcuterie as well as used in cooking pasta and other dinner meals. The CG got the willies though from the cotechino, which was a flabby, gelatinous white meat with an odd beige rind. Information that came with it suggested it could be fried and seared on polenta or something of that sort as a flavor additive but he found that it just melted away into nothing when attempted.

IMG_4990The second month’s package was my favorite assortment as it had brown sugar and fennel salame (I am a huge fan of sweetened meat but others, like the CG, may not be). It also had a yummy pate di campagna that was wonderful eaten cold, a slab of herbed lardo, which became the CG’s favorite (although he mentioned it was not from Boccalone but a popular Italian Iberico maker, not that we were complaining!). It also had more spicy Italian sausage, which we had already eaten in the first box. This is an important consideration for those who think they will be getting different items every time.

Boccalone AprThe third and final box contained another repeat – the brown sugar and fennel sausage from the second box. It then provided breakfast sausage that was long, delicious and spicy and lonza – a cured and spiced pork loin that the CG enjoyed immensely being that it was similar to young prosciutto before it turns into ham. The fourth item was called ciccioli and actually looked like a bunch of tender cartilage spines folded together into plastic, or albino dehydrated eels. We had no idea what it was but it tasted bizarre, like eating bleached bones. I got on Twitter and asked Chris what they were and he answered: skins, tendons and meat. I’m still not sure what we were supposed to make with something composed of those three ingredients but it sure authenticated the fact that Chef Cosentino leaves no part of the pig untouched in his culinary world.

Boccalone Jan 5So overall, we were dosed with enough salame to make us feel good, a few premium items to make us feel like our money was worth it, some gross and funky, foreign parts that challenged our sense of adventurousness and a few repeats that gave us an idea of what the store considered its most popular parts. I think in the future I will bypass the Salumi Society and order the things that I know I like right off the website to be delivered on my choice of date.

Bloody Independence Day Hash

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Although we appreciate the freedoms we have in our daily lives, the Cute Gardener and I tend to cringe from the normal Independence Day crowds and social mores on the 4th of July. American national pastime rituals like parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnic, grassy concerts and large outdoor convergences are just not our style. But meat is definitely our style so instead of the typical burgers and dogs, we tend to seek out our own versions of protein extravaganza. Last year it was salt and pepper crab and Peking duck in San Francisco’s Chinatown and this year, well; let’s just say both our marathon watching of the show Dexter (which inspired the CG) coupled with my admiration for Chef Chris Cosentino duly compelled us…

…see ever since watching Chris’ appearance on Top Chef Masters last year, I have had a grueling obsession with trying real blood pudding. He made it from scratch on one of his challenges causing me to subscribe to his daily Instragram feed which is a never-ending offal heaven of nightly portraits from his restaurant Incanto, of which I am devoted to trying at least once in my lifetime. Yes, I am one of those weird girls who will show photos of duck guts to the CG as if it were a shoe catalog, wondering aloud how we can possibly replicate the dish at home or making it known that it’s on my official “to eat one day” list.

IMG_6556Blood pudding (or black pudding, or blood sausage) is a type of link made by cooking blood with a filler of ingredients like herbs, spices, bread, suet, and nuts until it is thick enough to congeal when cold. Sound appetizing? Well, it actually is and we were lucky enough to find a package of it ready to go at a local authentic down and dirty butcher in a seedy strip mall.

IMG_6554Inspired by our non-traditional holiday, the CG decided to take the nonconformity up a notch by making breakfast for dinner utilizing the blood sausage as replacement meat in an upscale and adult version of ham, hash and eggs. We simply cooked the sausage in a toaster oven until the outsides were firm and crisp and the insides a soft and steaming spreadable and crumbling mass. For the hash, he fried potatoes in vegetable oil and then added diced bits of Swiss chard stems and leaves. When that had all sautéed down into a nice and even hash, he made small holes in the pot and cooked up some eggs right in the mix. The beauty of this preparation is the way the eggs ooze all over the hash ready to be speared up by a fork already holding some of the blood sausage – one of those meals where everything goes together into the mouth creating a bold burst of flavor and texture. Kind of like the fireworks we enjoyed later from the privacy of our bedroom window overlooking at least fifteen separate shows in the sky throughout the valley and cities of Los Angeles.