Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lion Steak - Sous Vide

I've had some lion steak sitting in my freezer for awhile. I got it from Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market who marketed it for some time, but no longer has it available. I'd tried lion meat previously, some stew meat and ribs. The taste was fine, but it was very tough, very chewy. 
This is a lion photographed in Masai Mara, Tanzania. The lion steak I had was from a captive bred lion in the U.S.
This time I was determined to take steps to tenderize the meat by both brining and marinading it. Brine, which has a higher concentration of salt than the moisture in the meat, is absorbed into the meat by osmosis. It carries the flavoring into the meat and also causes the muscle fibers to hold more water, keeping the meat moister. The acid in marinade breaks down the texture of the meat and makes it more tender. My brine/marinade mix, which also included some nutria (the subject of another post), was one tablespoon of salt for each cup of water, the juice from four Meyer lemons, about 8 crushed juniper berries, pickled ginger and about four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. 
The lion meat has very distinctive white lines going through it. 
After nine hours of brining note that the lion is now gray, the brining takes most of the blood out of the meat. Also note the cracks in the meat. The texture of the meat was broken down substantially, making it sort of floppy and falling into individual pieces. 
I put olive oil, salt, pepper and lots of minced garlic in the sous vide bag and cooked it sous vide for 19 hours. 
The final product could not have been much more different from my first experience. The meat had absorbed the garlicy flavor and was nicely spiced and very moist. Most importantly, the meat was pretty tender, not much of a chewing problem. 

The brining/marinading and sous viding transformed a meat that was almost inedible the first time I tried it, to something quite good. We shared it as an appetizer for Thanksgiving at our friend's home. There were 12 there for dinner and each person was given some meat and asked to eat it without knowing what they were eating. All ate it and enjoyed it. 
Cooked and cut lion meat.
This was a great test of the power of brine and marinade in dealing with non-traditional meats. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Delaware, New Jersey and New York

In April we went to New York City to visit our son, Andrew. While there, we spent some time exploring portions of Delaware, New Jersey and Upstate New York as well. This is a summary of our trip with links to Judy and my individual blogposts that go into more detail. 

We took a red-eye flight on Delta, leaving LAX on a Thursday at 10:45 p.m. and arriving Friday morning at JFK at 7:10 a.m. (flight time, 5 hours and 10 minutes). We like the red-eye flight out of LAX as it allows us to drive there in off-hour traffic and to get a full-day when we arrive. We rented a car with Dollar which required a tram ride and some sleuthing to find. I was upset when they tacked on an approximate $110.00 toll charge, but was later grateful as it saved us money as well as untold hassle. We immediately set out for Wilmington, Delaware. As we crossed the horribly crowded Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, between Brooklyn and Staten Island, I was shocked to see a $16.00 toll (and later a $15.00 toll each time we crossed over the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge).  

Our first stop was Ebright Azimuth, 133 miles from JFK, the "high point" of Delaware with an elevation of 448 feet, in a suburb of Wilmington. A quick stop and a couple of pictures and we drove to Old Swede's Church, built in 1699, one of the oldest churches in the U.S. We drove to the Cathedral of St. Peter and found it closed, so continued on to St. Anthony of Padua Parish Church, a real gem. We ate lunch at the Big Fish Grill right next to the Christina River where we had a wonderful lunch. We headed back toward New York City and stopped in Princeton, New Jersey on the way. We made an unplanned visit to Trinity Episcopal Church and to the Princeton Battle Monument which was across the street. Then to the Princeton University campus for a brief walkabout before heading on to our hotel in Fort Lee, NJ, the Double Tree by Hilton, very near the George Washington Bridge. We found the hotels cheaper in NJ, across the river from Manhattan, and we had free parking as well. 
     Delaware: State High Point  (Judy)

Saturday morning we took Lyft for the first time (it was great) and met Andrew in Harlem at 10:00 a.m. at Red Rooster, owned by Marcus Samuelsson who wrote, "Yes, Chef," and had a great Southern breakfast. We walked to Grant's Tomb, then crossed the street to the Riverside Church, then on to Columbia University where we walked around the campus. We caught the subway to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral, then the subway again to Chinatown where we ate at Joe's Shanghai and then walked to Little Italy for some dessert at La Bella Ferrara Pastry Shop. We caught the subway back to the area near Columbia and then took Lyft back to our hotel across the George Washington Bridge.
     New York City: Eating at Red Rooster in Harlem  (Judy)
     Red Rooster - Harlem, New York  (Bob)
     New York City's Upper West Side: Sakura Park, Grant's Tomb, Riverside Park, and Riverside Church  (Judy)

Sunday morning we drove over to the Columbia area and found a free parking space and parked the car for the day. We met Andrew and took the subway to near the southern end of Central Park and began a walk that would take us all the way to the northern end. Part way through we exited to the east and visited the Neue Gallery which had the Klimt painting "Lady in Gold." It was only a short walk after that to the spiral-shaped Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Back into the park we made it to the north end and walked past St. John the Devine and ate nearby at Roti Roll, then had dessert at Hungarian Pastry Shop. We said goodbye to Andrew, got our car and then drove to Dover, New Jersey where we stayed the night at Homewood Suites.
     New York City; Central Park  (Judy)
     New York City: The Guggenheim Museum and a Fischli and Weiss Art Show  (Judy)
     New York City Miscellany: Street Art, the Hungarian Pastry Shop, St. John the Divine Doors, the Subway, Columbia University  (Judy)
Monday morning we left about 7:30 a.m. and drove 36 miles to High Point State Park, the highest point in New Jersey. It was raining and very cold. We were impressed with the New Jersey countryside, not something I anticipated. We drove another 62 miles to Hyde Park, New York and visited the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. We stopped for a quick bite to eat at Clancy's Cafe and Creamery, then drove a short distance to Val-kill, the cottage of Eleanor Roosevelt, where we had to visit at a specific tour time. Then back to near the Roosevelt home to visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the first of the presidential museums. Afterwards we drove further into Upstate New York to Albany where we stayed at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Latham.
     New Jersey: State High Point  (Judy)
     High Point - New Jersey  (Bob)
     Hyde Park, New York: Roosevelt's Home  (Judy)
     Hyde Park, New York: Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill  (Judy)
     Hyde Park, New York: Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library  (Judy)

Tuesday morning we hit busy traffic as we traveled 8 miles to downtown Albany to visit the New York State Capitol building. Afterwards we visited the nearby All Saint Episcopal Cathedral, then had lunch at Aashiana, an Indian food buffet. We drove south 129 miles to Valhalla where we visited the Kensico Cemetery and found the graves of such luminaries as Lou Gehrig and Ayn Rand. It was 36 miles from there to JFK where we dropped off our car and caught a flight at 6:30 p.m. for LAX.
     Albany, New York: State Capitol Building  (Judy)
     Albany, New York  (Judy)
     Valhalla, New York: Kensico Cemetery  (Judy)

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Judy was pushing for a trip to Morocco and I was not excited about the idea. But I came around and we had a fabulous 11 day visit there in March 2016, one of our best vacations so far. In this post I give a day-by-day overview of the trip and links to individual posts by the two of us that go into more detail. We planned most of the trip on our own and had a car rented and were going to drive ourselves. Then we reconsidered after speaking with Naturally Morocco, a British travel agency, and had them line up our transportation as well as some of our guides. That was a decision we were glad we made, for the most part.
     Morocco 2016  (Judy)

We had a 3:45 p.m. flight out of LAX on Air France on a Thursday, had a layover in Paris, then arrived in Casablanca at 2:45 p.m. on Friday. Our driver, Yusuf, met us at the airport about 3:15 p.m. and we were soon on the road for Fez, a 181 mile drive which took about four hours. We were met by a baggagiste, near a small alley that opened into a maze of alleys in Fez, who carried our luggage. About 5 minutes later we were outside a non-descript door in a huge, ugly wall, wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. The door eventually opened and we were led into a cavernous atrium filled with plants and trees and wonderful shadowed light that was Riad Laaroussa. We were given an upgraded room with a view over-looking the atrium, a wonderful fire going in our own fireplace and then a beautiful meal of lamb tagine in an eating room on the roof. One of the most beautiful and exotic places we've ever stayed.
     Morocco: From Los Angeles to Fes  (Judy)
     Morocco: Riad Laaroussa in Fes  (Judy)
     Riad Laaroussa - Fez, Morocco  (Bob)

Saturday morning our guide, Hassan, arranged for by Naturally Morocco, met us at the riad at 9:00 a.m. for a tour of Fez. We walked down small, winding alleys, to the Madrasa el Attarine, an old Islamic school, now a museum. More winding alleys to the Mausoleum of Moulay Idris II, where we gawked in through numerous entrances, but could not go inside. During our walking we viewed all sorts of shops selling food and arts and crafts. We were taken to a rug shop where we succumbed to a pretty good carpet pitch. Then Hassan took us to La Medina for lunch where we witnessed the first of what would become the routine, we ate on the roof while he and his tour guide buddies ate a comped lunch downstairs. After lunch we visited a leather shop over-looking the tanneries where we succumbed again, or I guess I should say I succumbed. Judy sat in another room looking in while I got a ninth degree sales job over a purse and wallet, or something along those lines. I'm not sure why we were paying Hassan, he was getting rich off commissions. We switched gears and were met by Yusuf again, who, along with Hassan, drove us up to some ruins overlooking the medina, to a pottery shop outside the medina (where we did not succumb), and then to visit the king's palace which is near the Jewish section. We had dinner at Riad Laaroussa again, a chicken tagine along with minced camel meat patties, something they went out of their way to do for me.
     Fes, Morocco: The Madrasa El Attarine  (Judy)
     Fes, Morocco: The Tomb of Moulay Idriss II  (Judy)
     Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss II - Fez, Morocco  (Bob)
     Fes, Morocco: The Medina  (Judy)
     Fes, Morocco: The Souk  (Judy)
     Fes, Morocco: Buying a Rug (or Two)  (Judy)
     La Medina Restaurant - Fez, Morocco  (Bob)
   Fes, Morocco: Merenid Tombs, a Modern Cemetery, and the Royal Palace  (Judy)
   Fes, Morocco: A Tannery, a Silk Shop, and a Pottery Cooperative  (Judy)

Sunday morning Hassan picked us up at 8:30 a.m. for a drive in a van to the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Yusuf was our driver. As we got to know Hassan and Yusuf better we had some fun conversations and kidded each other a little bit. Somehow the conversation turned to cheese and Yusuf refused to believe that cheese could be made of sheep milk. I thought then that I would send him some sheep milk cheese when I got home, but never did. At Volubilis we were abandoned to an on-site tour guide, I suspect Hassan was not legally allowed to take us around. It was a fascinating mixture of central buildings surrounded by the remains of home foundations. My favorite part was a marvelous mosaic floor with animals of Morocco, including the now extinct Atlas elephant and Barbary lion. Off in the van again to the nearby hill town of Moulay Idriss where we got to peek in at another mausoleum, this time the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss, the father of the man whose mausoleum we saw in Fez. This outside view in was from much further away and we did not see much. The most striking thing in town was the pastel colored walls and streets. Off in the van again to Meknes, where we enjoyed another roof-top meal, virtually all alone, at Restaurant Traiteur, while our guides visited with their fellow guides on comped food with most of the other patrons. More tagine lamb, mine with prunes and Judy's with vegetables. Then to the main square where I had some fun looking at the snake charmers, puff adders, but no cobras, then visited the Bou Inania Madrasa where we were on the roof when the Islamic call to prayer sounded out in various locations around the city. We visited the beautiful Dar Jamai Museum, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, where we were actually able to go inside this time, the underground Prison de Kara and the royal stable where we had some of the most beautiful lighting for pictures I've ever seen. We got back to Fez after dark and Hassan surprised us with a visit to a stall selling snail soup, something I'd asked him about earlier. Then one more night at the wonderful Riad Laaroussa.
     Volubilis, Morocco  (Judy)
     North African Elephant  (Bob)
     Morocco: The Town of Moulay Idriss  (Judy)
     Idris and the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss  (Bob)
     Meknes, Morocco: Lunch, Gates, Snake Charmers, and the Souk  (Judy)
    Meknes, Morocco: Bou Inania Madrasa, the Dar Jamai Museum, and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail  (Judy)
     Islamic Call to Prayer  (Bob)
     Meknes, Morocco: Artisans, the Prison de Kara, the Granary, and the Royal Stable  (Judy)
     Snail Soup in Morocco  (Bob)

Azziz, our driver for the next four days, picked us up at the riad at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning. We had a long day of driving ahead, 296 miles (7 or 8 hours) up and over the Middle Atlas Mountains to the Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara Desert. Our first stop was in Ifrane, at an elevation of 5,463 feet, where we saw a large Barbary lion carved in stone. We passed nearby Azrou, then traveled uphill to the Cedar Forest where we stopped to see and interact with wild Barbary apes, one of the highlights of the trip for me. We continued on and encountered mostly barren plateaus with large patches of snow. In Midelt, down in a plane, about 135 miles from Fez, we stopped for lunch at the Hotel Taddart, obviously designed for foreign tourists. I got a beef tagine with prunes and an interesting salad which included egg, cheese, corn, banana, orange, tomato, beet and tuna fish. Late that afternoon we arrived in Merzouga, on the edge of the Erg Chebbi Dunes. We met Hassan, the owner of Bivouac Merzouga Experience, who put us and our luggage in his late model 4x4. He traveled around the south side of the dunes and then took a tack directly into the dunes with the 4x4 fish-tailing through the sand. He kept going and going, up and over dunes, until he got us near the bottom of the biggest dune in the area. He let us out and told us to climb the dune to watch the sunset. Several camels with clients from one of his camps joined us shortly later and we had a great view of the setting sun and watching the impact of the sun on the surrounding sand dunes. That evening we were the only people in the luxury tent camp and enjoyed a fabulous dinner of lamb tagine. Our luxury tent included a toilet, a small sink, a trickle of a shower and a large bed, the floor covered in woven carpets.
     Morocco: A Lion, some Monkeys, a Horse, and some Sheep en Route to the Sahara Desert  (Judy)
     Barbary Ape or Macaque - Morocco  (Bob)
     Erg Chebbi, Morocco: Sahara Desert Tent Camping  (Judy)

Tuesday morning about 9:00 a.m., after a nice breakfast in the food tent, we got in Hassan's 4x4, along with Azziz who Hassan invited along, and set out for our desert day. We stopped for about 30 minutes in Khamlia and had a concert with the Gnawa musicians, refugees from Mali to the south. We visited the old village of Mtis, mud huts that looked uninhabitable, but a still functioning mosque was nearby. We drove east of the dunes, perhaps 10 miles from the Algeria border, visited a mine and stopped to inspect a functioning well. We visited a Berber woman's home, several stick-framed and carpet covered structures with carpet floors. We looked in her kitchen to find strips of chicken hanging from stick ceiling beams to dry. In the distance we could see Berber goat herders on the hard-scrabble desert floor. We viewed other desert camps from a distance and drove into downtown Merzouga, walking along an irrigated area with palm trees, fruits and vegetables, and then along the main street. We ate lunch under a large covered tent at the edge of the dunes and had a wonderful "stuffed pizza," bread with a filling of chicken and vegetables which was quite good. Finally, we met some other tourists just off the main road and had a 2 1/2 hour camel ride into the dunes to our tent camp. We had another dinner, this time with about 13 other guests in camp.
     Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco: Day Excursions Part 1  (Judy)
     Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco: Day Excursions Part 2  (Judy)
     Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco: Camel Trekking  (Judy)
     Bivouac Merzouga Experience - Morocco  (Bob)

Wednesday morning I got up early to witness sunrise from the dunes right outside camp. I got some great photos of other tourists jumping off the dunes with the sun coming up behind them. We were surprised to learn that we had a camel ride back out to our car. I was thrilled to be on the camels again. At the end of the camel ride we were met by Hassan with our luggage and Azziz and our car. We headed toward Skoura where we would spend the night. Driving through Rissani, we stopped outside a walled compound and went in to drink some camel milk. We sat under the over-hang of a large tent while the proprietor poured us milk from a large used plastic bottle. The milk was cool and sweet. We made a quick stop at the Moulay Al Sharif Mausoleum, for about ten minutes, then set off for the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains. We drove part way up the Todra Gorge, outside Tinerhir. We got out and walked a short ways along a stream in the gorge. Then stopped at Anissa Restaurant, part of a B&B for lunch, where we had beef tagine, a small salad and oranges and apples for dessert. We drove another 33 miles to Boumaline Dades where we drove up the longer and more spectacular Dades Gorge, with some pretty spectacular switchbacks. Another 45 miles brought us to Skoura where we found L'Ma Lodge on the outskirts down a dirt road. The outside was pretty inauspicious, Judy mumbled something like, "what have you gotten me into," then we were wowed as we got inside the gate and looked at the beautiful grounds. We enjoyed one of our favorite meals that night, a lamb tagine with sweet apples that was incredible. The inside of the main house where we ate was gorgeous and our separate sleeping quarters was comfortable and nice. L'Ma is a gem we would recommend to anyone.
     Merzouga to Skoura Via the Todra and Dades Gorges  (Judy)
     Camel Milk  (Bob)
     Skoura, Morocco: L'Ma Lodge  (Judy)
     L'Ma Lodge - Skoura, Morocco  (Bob)

Azziz picked us up at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning and we drove 28 miles to Ourzazaate where we visited the Taourirt Kasbah and then went shopping at a spot recommended by Azziz (Judy got a couple of necklaces). Then we drove another 11 miles to Ait Ben Haddou where we had lunch at L'Oasis D'Or where we had tagine of beef and chicken and a salad. Afterwards, we walked a short distance and then crossed a bridge over the mostly dry river to the Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, set on a hill and mostly empty except for souvenir peddlars. This site of numerous movies was my biggest disappointment in Morocco. Then we set out for the long drive over the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, a distance of about 112 miles. The mountain drive was spectacular. We stayed at Riad Badi in Marrakech, very near the Jewish Quarter. We pre-arranged a meal upon our arrival which was an okay tagine of chicken.
     Ouarzazate, Morocco: A Movie Set, a Little Shopping, and the Tourirt Kasbah  (Judy)
     L'Oasis D'Or - Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco  (Bob)
     Morocco: Ait Ben Haddou  (Judy)
     Morocco: Driving Through the High Atlas Mountains and Riad Badi in Marrakech  (Judy)
     Riad Badi - Marrakech  (Bob)

Our best guide in Morocco was one we found on Trip Advisor and lined up ourselves: Abdul Aissaoui. He picked us up at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning. The nearby Jewish Quarter was our first stop and the Lazama Synagogue, now a museum, was one of my favorite venues. Next was the Bahia Palace, right across from our riad and one of the most beautiful places we visited in Morocco. We spent quite awhile there. One of the nice things about Abdul was that he really was there for us and not looking out for his pocket. I told him that I enjoyed eating unusual local foods and asked if he could find us something. He thought about it and asked if we would like to eat sheep's head. "Heck yes," I responded. The best and most memorable meal of our trip followed at Chez Lamine. We walked up and down this short street behind the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, and saw lamb roasting in underground pits, roasted lambs laying on tables in front of stalls and lamb heads on pots outside several places. After lunch we walked through numerous alleys selling all kinds of things, then visited the Ben Yousseff Madrasa, the most beautiful madrasa of our trip. Finally, we explored the Jemaa el Fna on our own, visiting the snake charmers, then watching from a restaurant above as the sun went down over the square.
     The Marrakesh Express  (Judy)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Lazama Synagogue  (Judy)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Bahia Palace and Ben Yousseff Madrasa  (Judy)
     Bahia Palace - Marrakech, Morocco  (Bob)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Lunch at Chez Lamine and the Call to Prayer in Jemaa el-Fna  (Judy)
     Chez Lamine Hadj Mustapha - Marrakech  (Bob)
     Ben Youssef Madrasa - Marrakech  (Bob)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Edith Wharton in Morocco and the Cannons in the Jemaa El Fna Souk  (Judy)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Where's Waldo in Jemaa El Fna Square  (Judy)
     Snake Charmers in Morocco - Egyptian Cobras and Puff Adders  (Bob)

Saturday morning I got up early and went to the roof of the riad where I watched the storks on the nearby Bahia Palace walls which had about six stork nests. We were picked up at 9:00 a.m. by Azziz for a trip to Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains, near the base of Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in Morocco. On the way up, in Amizmiz, we stopped at a Berber market. It was fascinating, but also a little scary. We had several men follow us around and continually ask us for money. They followed us for 20 or 30 minutes. Azziz did nothing to rid us of this irritant. We were concerned that if we gave one money, we would be flooded with like requests. We saw lots and lots of local produce, butchered sheep and goats and a donkey parking lot where the locals who were visiting parked their donkeys. The locals were kind of wary and unfriendly. I was actually happy to leave. We got to Imlil and Azziz arranged for a local guide to take us on a hiking trip up to Aremd, the highest village before Jebel Toubkal, with fantastic views of the mountain, and back down again. Aremd is a spectacularly beautiful town and has been in a number of movies. After we got back to Marrakech we had Azziz drop us off at the Jemaa el Fna and we spent more time there, eating a sheep head late lunch at the same restaurant.
     White Stork - Morocco  (Bob)
     Morocco: Imlil Berber Market in Atlas Mountains  (Judy)
     Imlil and Aremd, Morocco: Views of Jebel Toubkal  (Judy)

Sunday morning we were schedule for a cooking class at L'atelier Faim d'Epices. Their van met us in the Jewish Quarter at 9:40 a.m. and we were driven about 20 minutes away. We were taught the common Moroccan spices and learned how to make Moroccan bread and a beef tagine with artichoke. It was a fun class, but our tagine was surprisingly poor tasting. After the class we were dropped off at our riad about 4:00 p.m. and were picked up by a driver about 4:30 p.m. for a 152 mile drive back to Casablanca and a flight out the next morning. We had a nightmarish drive to our hotel in Casablanca, the Maamoura Hotel. Our driver spoke limited English and did not know his way around Casablanca. We noticed we were driving around in circles as he looked for our hotel. I unsuccessfully tried to get him to call the hotel for directions. We spent 45 minutes in the area driving around before he found it. Unfortunately, our window to visit the nearby Hassan II Mosque had closed and we decided to stay in our room. We'd switched hotels from one near the airport to one near the mosque and we were now very unhappy, not helped in that regard by the run-down nature of the hotel, poor service and arguing guests in the next room through paper-thin walls.
     Marrakech, Morocco: Cooking Class at Faim  D'Epices  (Judy)
     Morocco: Marrakech to Casbalanca to Los Angeles. Sigh.  (Judy)

We were picked up at 5:00 a.m. for a 30 minute drive to the airport. Our flight was delayed because of an apparent air traffic control strike in Paris, but eventually we left several hours late. In Paris, we had to show our passports to get off our plane, but we did make our Air France flight to Detroit, followed by a flight on Delta to LAX. The terrorist attack on the Brussells Airport happened shortly after we left, otherwise I'm afraid we would have had additional delays or problems in Paris.
     Morocco: Final Thoughts  (Judy)

Our best guide, by far, was the one we found on Trip Advisor in Marrakech. If I could do it again, I would arrange for our own guides up to Imlil and in Fez and to Volubilis and Meknes. I would also have taken a harder stance with our driver Azziz and the places he took us to eat. We addressed our issues with him early on and he convinced us that if he took us other more authentic places we would get sick. We backed down and now I regret that. We loved Morocco, one of our favorite trips so far. There was nothing really historically we were aware of that interested us, but the culture, the religion and the food were so interesting that it was much more fun than we'd imagined. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Alligator Salami

I had my second exotic salami from Exotic Meat Market and I've become a big fan of it. Salami is a cured sausage which has fermented and air-dried meat. Typical ingredients in salami include garlic, minced fat, salt, white pepper, vinegar, wine and various herbs. The raw meat mixture is usually fermented for a day, then stuffed in a casing and hung to cure. 
An alligator in Everglades NP.
Alligator salami
I previously tried river otter salami, and this time I had alligator salami. Unlike otter meat, which I was not particularly fond of, I love alligator meat, and correspondingly, the alligator salami was much better too. The otter salami has added camel fat, but the alligator salami is 100% alligator, with added alligator fat. Alligator is very mild, but the salami, with the added spices is much richer and stronger tasting, in a very nice way. The salami can last a long time before spoiling. I've been cutting off an occasional slice or two of the alligator salami for over a month and it still tastes wonderful. 
It is a great starter for someone trying exotic meat for the first time. No cooking is involved, it is relatively cheap, it lasts a long time and it has great flavor. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whole Alligator - Grilled and Sous Vide

I went by the office of Exotic Meat Market recently and they had just received a shipment of whole alligators. I was able to look through their stock and get the smallest one they had, weighing 5.88 pounds, and it fit in my freezer which had been a concern. 

Squirrel and Bug, my granddaughters, were going to be visiting and I hoped the alligator would be a hit with them. The last time I visited them at their home we cooked lobster and dungeness crab and I wanted a fun addition to our cooking experiences together.
Squirrel and Bug with the small alligator. 
We were impressed with the many small and very sharp teeth.
I've read that the best alligator meat is in the tail and it was fun to examine a whole alligator and see how the meat was proportioned. Even in this small alligator, I was surprised at how much meat was in the tail and how easy it was to cut up. I cut the tail into sections, then cut the meat off the bone in strips and put them in vacuum sealed pouches for the sous vide. The only add-ins for the sous vide were a little bit of oil and salt and pepper. I also cut off the four legs and put them in vacuum sealed bags for the sous vide. 
There is actually quite a bit of meat on this small alligator. 
Upside down.
The tail, where the majority of the meat is found. 
A section of the tail cut into thinner pieces. Another section of the tail is below.
Some of the tail meat in a vacuum sealed bag for the sous vide.
I knew from past experience that alligator is very mild and is ruined if over-cooked. So I put the sous vide at 55 degrees Centigrade and cooked the meat for just under an hour. When finished I cut the tail into bite-sized pieces. 
Part of the the tail sliced into bite-sized pieces. 
Part of the tail (left), the two hind legs, the end of the tail and the two front legs, all out of the sous vide vacuum-sealed bag. I added cayenne pepper for a little bit of heat. The meat was very moist and just fell off the alligator legs. 
I put the rest of the carcass on my gas grill, with olive oil, salt and pepper and cooked it for a short time. The grill added some smoky flavor and crispy pieces. When it was finished, the carcass was easily cut into sections with kitchen shears. 
A portion of the carcass that was grilled and cut up into pieces. 
The grilled carcass was good. We were able to pick up the pieces with our hands and gnaw the meat off the bones. It was a nice alternative to the sous vide. 

I was blown away by how good the sous vide cooked meat was. The tail sections had the look, texture and plump pop of lobster tail. It is very mild, had no gaminess at all, and has a taste profile somewhere between chicken and lobster. Bug, my youngest granddaughter, couldn't get enough, she kept going back for more. I too, was taken by it. Even Rachael and Nate who have been vegan for about three months ventured to try it and had multiple helpings. 

I'm not sure if small alligator is more tender than large alligator, or if this was just fresher than prior alligator I've had, but the meat was fabulous. The small alligator was also easy to carve up for cooking, much more so than other carcasses I've worked with. And because it is not gamy at all, it does not require any brining. 

For anyone venturing into exotic meat for the first time, this would be a wonderful starter. It is easy to prepare, easy to cook, tastes great and has a wonderful exotic look. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Quick Trip: Minnesota and Wisconsin

Judy found some cheap tickets for a flight from LAX to Minneapolis/St. Paul, where her sister lives, so we decided to take a short trip to Minnesota to visit her and also to spend some time in Minnesota which neither of us had ever visited, except for layovers in the airport. We also decided to make a quick trip into Wisconsin which Judy had never visited. This is a summary of that trip and links to our posts that relate to it. 

We flew out of LAX just before 8:00 p.m. and did not arrive in Minneapolis until 1:18 a.m. We got a hotel near the airport with a shuttle so we would not have to bother Judy's sister that night and so that we could get to bed as soon as possible after arriving. We also arranged to pick up a rental car at the airport the next morning. 
We met Judy's sister at the Mall of America at 10:00 a.m. when it opened the next morning. We took about an hour to walk through and get a sense of it, then, with Judy's sister joining us, drove to nearby Fort Snelling State Park, where we saw amazing open space right next to the Twin Cities, which included beautiful lakes and wild turkeys. Then we headed for Minnehaha Park where we visited the beautiful Minnehaha Falls, itself within an urban setting, and ate at the nearby Sea Salt Eatery which had pretty good seafood offerings. That afternoon we visited the Basilica of St. Mary, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and then met our brother-in-law at the restaurant, Piccolo, a favorite of Andrew Zimmern. That night we stayed at Judy's sister's home in Anoka, right off the Mississippi River. 
     Snelling State Park and Minnehaha Falls  (Judy)
     Eastern Wild Turkey  (Bob)
     Sea Salt Eatery - Minneapolis   (Bob)
     Minneapolis and St. Paul: A Tale of Two Cities and the Basilica of St. Mary  (Judy)
     Basilica of St. Mary  (Bob)
     Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (Judy)
     Minneapolis Institute of Art (Judy)
     Piccolo - Minneapolis  (Bob)

The next morning we visited the St. Paul Farmer's Market in downtown, with both Judy's sister and brother-in-law, then the Cathedral of St. Paul. Afterwards we drove by the Minnesota Capital Building which was closed for renovations, then visited the Hmongtown Marketplace where we had lunch, another favorite place of Andrew Zimmern. That afternoon we spent several hours at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus, then drove to Wisconsin where we visited Caddie Woodlawn Historical Park, then Legacy Chocolates in Menomonie for some dessert. Later that afternoon we drove back to Anoka where we visited some local sights and spent the night at Judy's sister's home.
     St. Paul: Farmers' Market and Hmongtown Marketplace (Judy)
     Cathedral of St. Paul - Minnesota  (Bob)
     Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (Judy)
     Wisconsin: Caddie Woodlawn Historical Park (Judy)

Sunday morning we went to an LDS sacrament meeting in Anoka, then headed off on our own for the North Shore Drive along the west shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It was a drive of 175 miles, just under three hours, to get to Duluth, the beginning of the North Shore Drive. From Duluth we started up Hwy 61, which is the North Shore Drive, and drove 20 miles to Knife River and stopped at Russ Kendall's Smokehouse for smoked fish, another of Andrew Zimmern's favored places to eat. We drove another 20 miles to Gooseberry Falls State Park where we saw multiple waterfalls on the Gooseberry River. Another 5 mile drive took us to Split Rock Lighthouse where we toured the lighthouse and got a dramatic view from the edge of a cliff of Lake Superior. Then we drove another 15 miles to Tettegouche State Park where we took a 3 mile round trip hike into 60 foot high High Falls, where we looked at it from the top on the south side, crossed a bridge to the north side, then followed a trail down to the bottom of the falls. We finished the day by driving 50 miles to Grand Marais where we ate at the Angry Trout Cafe and stayed in a Best Western right on the shore of Lake Superior.
     Russ Kendall's Smokehouse - Knife River, MN  (Bob)
     Angry Trout Cafe - Grand Marai, MN  (Bob)

We got out early for a drive to the Canadian border, 44 miles north. Grand Portage State Park is on the U.S. side of the border. We took a 1 mile round trip hike into High Falls, the highest waterfall in Minnesota with a 120 foot drop. We drove back to Grand Marais, then headed west of Lake Superior toward Eagle Mountain in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. We hiked 7 miles round trip to the top of Eagle Mountain, the tallest point in Minnesota, in a constant drizzle. The highlight of our hike was seeing a gray wolf in front of us on the trail before it loped off and disappeared into the trees. Then the long drive back to Minneapolis for our flight home the next morning. We stopped briefly at Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth for a sandwich for dinner, drove across the Aerial Lift Bridge, and back, then continued on. We stayed at the Super 8 Hotel near the airport that night, the same one we stayed at on our way in.
     Eagle Mountain and Northeastern Minnesota Waterfalls (Bob)
     Minnesota Varying Hare  (Bob)
     Northern Waters Smokehaus - Duluth, MN  (Bob)

We were up early for our 7:00 a.m. flight back to LAX the next morning. This was the perfect time to visit Northern Minnesota. The weather was relatively cool, so the mosquitoes were gone and the autumn colors were in full swing, with beautiful swaths of reds and yellows

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep - Washington

Sam and I experienced an extended "National Geographic" moment last week that will be tough to beat. We spent about 45 minutes watching 3 groups of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, totaling 40 or more.
Close-up of ram.
The focal point of our viewing was a group of about 7 rams in rut. I saw and heard them butt heads 15 times or more.  
One of my favorite photos: two parallel rams. 
They were so occupied with each other that they hardly seemed to take notice of us. 
Different head poses. The size differential between the young ram and his elders is substantial. This young ram split off and is not a part of most of my pictures. 
I was visiting my son, Sam, who lives outside Leavenworth, Washington. We drove out to Chelan for lunch, then followed the north side of the Columbia River back toward Wenatchee. About two miles east of the Rocky Reach Dam, which forms Lake Entiat on the Columbia River, Sam spotted a group of bighorn sheep off the side of the road. We pulled over and watched a group consisting of one ram and at least seven ewes as they walked up the side of a mountain and then over the ridge. 
Four ewes scramble up the side of the mountain.
The ram lagged behind.
The ewes waited for the ram, then scrambled up and over a ridge.
We got in the car and drove a half-mile to a mile and I spotted a group of about seven rams in the foothills. They were on the other side of a fence about 100 yards or more away. We walked up to the fence and took some photos, then found a gate and I ventured in closer toward the bighorn sheep. I could hear an occasional crack and echo and realized they were in rut, but they were grouped together so closely that we had a hard time seeing the rutting behavior. 

I moved in closer, then caught my breath as one ram headed my direction, then a second, then the whole group of seven. The thought occurred to me that I ought to run, as these guys had heads lowered, noses jutting forward, and looked like they were in a mood to tangle. I wasn't sure if they were intentionally heading for me and I knew I would not fare well if I took one of those head butts. 
One alone is grand. A group of them is a feast for the eyes.
Autumn colors added to view.
This ram, like the other smaller ram, separated from the rutting group and headed up the mountain.
For a moment I caught their attention and they stared at me.
More varied poses. 
They pulled up short of me, then congregated, and started rutting behavior in earnest. I was about 30 yards distant with a 500 mm lens. They were fascinating to watch, grouped constantly, jostling and nudging, at times so close together I was reminded of a a rugby scrum. 
A ram rugby scrum. I am reminded that the Highland Rams, a Salt Lake City high school, have a great rugby team. 
More scrum, but now more engaged, heads butting against bodies.
They smelled each other's rear-ends, nudged and butted their heads against each other's bodies, kicked out with their legs, extended their noses forward and up, which I started to recognize as behavior that preceded a head-butt, then would extend up on their hind legs and then drop down and rocket forward into a head-crushing blow against another ram. Now the term "battering ram" has more meaning for me. 
These two separated themselves, then turned on each other. 
Nose extended forward and head tilted back. The hair on the back of the neck stood up. 
Smelling noses preceding a head butt.
Smelling and nudging.
Body blows.
Part head, part body blow.
Another body blow.
Head butt to the side.
Kicking and head butt.
Raised up, just a moment before a charge.
Two back on hind legs, ready to uncork on each other.
Raised on back legs, hair on the back of the neck standing straight up, testosterone filled the air. 
A clash: one went low and the other went high. 
High and ready to charge.
Crashing heads.
Crashing heads.
Glancing head blow.
The punctuating sound of butting heads had the woody sound of an ax striking a tree, but was much louder. Two or three tired or lost interest and wandered off, up-hill. The remaining rams continued their rutting behavior. I remained as still as I could, but did move around a bit and did not seem to concern them. 

I could have watched for hours, but the trickling rain was soaking me and we had to get Sam back for work. I took 564 photos and regretted afterwards that I'd not taken any video footage. About the time we were ready to leave, Sam pointed out a large group of bighorns off to the east, mostly ewes, but some rams, spread out over the lower reach of the mountain.   
10 sheep are in this picture, but an additional two were cropped out. 
12 sheep are in this picture, but an additional 3 were edited out.