Tongue, Anyone? ~ Buffalo: The Better Red Meat

Given my passion for animals and nature, I would like to be able to say that I cannot bring myself to eat my fellow earth creatures.  I have to be honest, though  . . . I love a good steak.  If it leaves a pool of red on the plate, even better.  (Have I already lost some of you readers?)  I do struggle with the concept of large factory farms and feedlots, however.  I try when I can to search out foods that are not loaded with unhealthy antibiotics and other additives, where I can actually identify the source of the meat I am eating and the process they use to grow and butcher it.  If the source of that meat comes with a good story, even better.  Such is the case with Wild Idea Buffalo Company.

I was introduced to Wild Idea Buffalo when I read the book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart, by Dan O’Brien.  No doubt the book resonated with me in part because I grew up near the prairies of South Dakota, but Mr. O’Brien tells a compelling story of his journey creating a buffalo ranch operation that was premised on sustainable agricultural practices, while respecting the history of the Great Plains buffalo.  His writing brings alive the landscape of the prairie and vividly depicts the interesting characteristics of buffalo.  By the end of the book, the reader is eager to wander out to the ranch and sit down at their kitchen table with a cup of coffee in hand, just for the opportunity to hear more stories of life on the ranch, before heading outside to watch the buffalo graze as the sun sets.  Shortly after completing the book, I searched for Wild Idea’s website, and placed our first order.

I can reconcile my love of the world’s fauna with my carnivorous cravings, as I read Wild Idea’s philosophy of “returning dignity to meat”:

Our buffalo are raised with love and respect. They are harvested with dignity in the pastures they graze. The buffalo are field dressed in a mobile abattoir on the prairie, operated by Sustainable Harvest Alliance. The carcasses are transported to Wild Idea’s new processing facility and turned into fine, prime buffalo cuts by skilled artisan butchers. By following nature’s circle of life, we help restore the link between the land, the animals, and the people.

Buffalo Prime Rib from Wild Idea Buffalo Co.
Buffalo Prime Rib at the cabin

These photos from the cabin reflect why my food postings are few.  My husband is the primary cook in the household and his kitchen prep and serving areas are not always, shall we say, staged in a manner intended for a blog photo-shoot.  Long before the concept of a blog ever entered my mind, my husband splurged with the gift certificate he received from my parents and purchased one of Wild Idea’s Buffalo Prime Rib Export Roasts.  A carnivore’s dream.  Perfectly prepared.  Oh my!  The camera came out at dinner time for this meal.  Peter Luger, eat your heart out.

Buffalo Prime Rib from Wild Idea Buffalo Co.
For some reason I am reminded of the Flintstones as I view the “slab o’ meat” hanging off the edge of the plate. ~ Buffalo Prime Rib from Wild Idea Buffalo Co.

We do not put on airs at the cabin.  Heck, we really are not “putting on airs” people, period.  But, at home we might bring out the china and a tablecloth, because I do not believe in saving those things just for special occasions.  In contrast, the cabin dinnerware is a set of old camping dishes on a hand-me-down formica table, with plastic wine glasses that don’t shatter when they hit the concrete floor.  I assure you, the rustic setting did not detract from the flavors of that dinner.  If anything, we had nothing to distract us from enjoying every last, meaty bite.

I am not going to suggest that I eat a 100% organic, whole foods, purely sustainable diet, or that the only red meat we eat now is grass-fed buffalo (I have two teenaged boys and my food budget is not infinite like their appetites).  But, we have found ourselves returning frequently to buffalo as our preferred red meat choice.

Lest I leave you with the last image of me in your mind being a middle-aged mom sitting in the northwoods gnawing on a prime rib bone, let me assure you that we do clean up nicely on occasion.  When we hosted our quarterly dinner club gathering (I discussed our 20-year dinner club tradition in this post if you missed it) for our typically holiday-themed meal in December one year, we decided that buffalo filet mignon was a festive entrée choice. The china and tablecloth came out for this meal.

Grilled Buffalo Filet Mignon with Almond Potato Croquette and Black Pepper Coriander Sauce
Grilled Buffalo Filet Mignon with Almond Potato Croquette and Black Pepper Coriander Sauce (Recipe from The Pheasant Dining Room at the State Game Lodge, Custer, S. D. ~ published in Cabin Life magazine)

The key to properly preparing a buffalo steak is to not overcook it — a difficult task when you first begin working with buffalo meat because it is so lean (or so my husband tells me, since I have not personally prepared any of the buffalo steaks we have ordered over the years).  This is one of the reasons why buffalo meat is a healthier choice than traditional beef steak, besides the additional nutrients (like high omega-3’s) found in buffalo meat, reflected by this nutritional comparison chart, and as discussed in this article discussing heart-healthy foods.

While the recipe we chose for the buffalo filet mignon had a black pepper coriander sauce, we have found that a properly cooked grass-fed buffalo steak (which in our house means medium rare, heavy emphasis on the rare), needs no sauce or marinade.  The almost-sweet flavor, beef-like but not, stands on its own.  It does not have a “gamey” flavor like some may think.

Just as you can purchase various parts of a cow to consume, you also can purchase various parts of a buffalo.  Tongue, anyone?  I think the buffalo tongue was a promotion when we ordered, receiving a free tongue with purchase. (I honestly cannot recall saying excitedly, “Let’s order a tasty buffalo tongue!”)  As long as we had it, we decided it would be one of the appetizers for our holiday dinner club gathering.  We used the recipe and preparation instructions that came with tongue.  Unfortunately, I only have a photo of the finished product, which everyone pronounced “delish,” just as promised by the recipe.  All I can tell you about the “before” status is that it looked like a tongue.  A very, very big tongue.

Buffalo Tongue Simmered in Wine (recipe from Wild Idea Buffalo Co.)
Buffalo Tongue Simmered in Wine (recipe from Wild Idea Buffalo Co.)

Here is a recipe for your next dinner party — surely a conversation-starter, but more importantly, the flavors are a great meal starter:

Buffalo Tongue Simmered in Wine

Recipe courtesy of the Wild Idea Buffalo Company ~ By: Jill O’Brien    

Makes 24 appetizer servings. This favorite delicacy in the late 1800′s, is making its way back on to fine restaurant menus. This easy, gourmet recipe will have your guests asking for more.

Jill’s Note: My preference is to peel the tongue before cooking to maximize flavor and tenderness. This is optional, as tongue can be simmered with skin on and slipping off after cooking is complete and tongue has cooled a bit.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Buffalo Tongue, peeled
  • 1 stick organic butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 bottle white wine

Preparation:

  1. Remove skin with pairing knife from tongue & vein from underside.
  2. In deep sauté pan over medium high heat, heat 1 stick of butter.
  3. Place peeled tongue, onion, garlic and seasonings in pan. Rotate tongue to brown on all sides.
  4. Add white wine and bring to a full boil.
  5. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, turning occasionally for 2.5 hrs.
  6. Remove tongue and reduce all juices, caramelizing onions.
  7. Slice tongue thin & serve on toast points.
  8. Top with caramelized onions and garnish with a dollop of horseradish cream & parsley.

Delish!

(A link to purchase tongue directly if you cannot find it in your local grocery store can be found here.)

Anyone else have a favorite buffalo tongue story to share? . . . OK, how about a favorite buffalo meat recipe?

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

 [Note:  This post was edited after publishing to revise links to nutritional content/nutritional benefits, as well as  to correct and clarify link for purchasing buffalo tongue.]

India Up North

Northern Minnesota’s restaurant scene has more to offer than walleye and wild rice.  I am pleased that my teens’ palates gravitate toward places like the India Palace when we decide to have a family dinner out (although a fresh fish fry is nothing to grumble about).

india palace welcome 9_28_12

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.A meal could be made out of the appetizers alone, but we take the sampler approach and divvy up one of the India Palace’s House Platters, with my favorite Vegetable Samosas (triangle pies stuffed with potatoes and peas blended with spices), Vegetable Pakora (fritters), Pneer Pakora (cheese fritters) and Aloo Tikki (seasoned potato patty), along with an order of Naan and chutney sauces (I could eat their mint chutney with a spoon)!

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The atmosphere at the India Palace is welcoming and low-key (just like northern Minnesota).  Scattered throughout the restaurant are beautiful wall hangings and tapestries.  One thing I learned after reading further about Ganesha, the elephant god, is that depicting Ganesha with only two hands is taboo.  (Interested in learning more about Ganesha?  Check out this link). I am reminded of how little I know about certain cultures and religions, and how many fascinating stories are just waiting to be told, if only one takes the time to watch and listen.

india palace wall hanging 9_28_12

Unfortunately, the evening lighting was somewhat dim for my unsophisticated camera, so my food photos from this particular evening are few, as I did not think the photos accurately reflected the dishes and the meal we enjoyed.  My family was not patient enough to let me try to take the perfect shot before digging into the meal, and before you knew it, we were looking at empty serving bowls, with any leftover sauce on the plates sopped up by a delicious piece of naan.  We enjoy the family-style dining, sharing portions of the Chicken Jalfrezi, Lamb Kashmiri and Beef Malabar.  This time we tried the Aloo Gobi, as well, for our vegetarian selection. You can’t go wrong, whatever your selection.

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We really need to remind ourselves that spicy in Minnesota is usually still humane, and by requesting the mild level spice on some of the dishes (for fear my nose will start running and taste buds numb to the point of tasting nothing) we lose out on some of the more complex tastes of Indian cuisine.  Half the family falls into the category of hot spicy adventurers, while the other half (my youngest son and me) fall into the category of spicy wimps.  If only my physical tolerance for spice was greater!  I have tried, truly I have, but it is a sad state of affairs when I push the envelope and then spend the rest of the meal drinking milk and eating bread in an effort to calm the fire in my mouth and throat.

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We always leave room for dessert at the India Palace — their homemade mango ice cream is such a refreshing end to a meal, summer or winter, spicy meal or not.  This time, one of my sons tried the Gulab Jamun (milk balls dipped in sweet syrup), served warm.

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As we departed, this group of gentlemen was kind enough to let me take their picture, after I offered to take a group photo of them  with one of their cameras (I noticed during dinner that they took turns taking photos of each other with different cameras, but that always left one of them out of the picture — similar to the majority of the family vacation photos we have, where I make someone take one picture of me, to prove I was on vacation, too!).  In this picture you can see several of them were enjoying the mango lassi drink which is my youngest son’s favorite!  You get a better flavor for the rustic setting and interesting decor, which I have highlighted throughout this post.

india palace guests 9_28_12

I admit to being a relative neophyte when it comes to Indian cuisine, but I have been collecting some interesting recipes lately (thank you, Peri’s Spice Ladle).  Perhaps you will see a future post featuring my husband’s foray into Indian cooking, along with a few phrases of Hindi since that has been the latest language my eldest son has taken an interest in learning!  In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy our “up north” option for Indian cooking at this comfortable spot in downtown Duluth.

india palace wall hanging 2 9_28_12

Ciao! ~ Kat

20 Years of Food and Friendship

The header photo on the home page of my blog is a scene of the Chianti countryside from the drive back to Siena from Panzano.  To me, it embodies a classic Tuscan view — the rolling hills, the grapevines, the olive trees, the cluster of old buildings comprising a little hill town.  It also reminds me of a wonderful tradition that a group of friends have managed to continue over the span of 20 years, culminating in a week together in Tuscany last summer at a villa just outside Siena.  Throughout this post are just a few of the photos from that week.  (Just as I opened my blog with a post on the Pecorino of Pienza, I suspect you may see other photos or future posts periodically reflecting back on that incredible trip.)

The peaceful, relaxing view close to the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto
The peaceful, relaxing view as we drew close to what we called home for the week in Tuscany.

In the early 1990’s, we were three couples embarking on our new careers, six young adults, four of whom had graduated from the same post-graduate institution, and all of whom had relocated to a new community.  While none of us could be called close friends during graduate school, we had overlapping circles of acquaintances, and we reconnected during that first year or so following graduation, as we became part of the young professional community in our new city.  In December 1992, we invited the other two couples to our home for dinner.  We recently had purchased a Greek cookbook, and decided to put together a Greek-themed menu for our informal gathering.  When you are just starting out, and have been living the student lifestyle for so many years, planning such a dinner is a pretty big deal!

The Florence Duomo from Giotto's Bell Tower
The Florence Duomo from Giotto’s Bell Tower

The menu consisted of Tzatziki (the Greek cucumber and yogurt dip) with pita bread and veggies, a Greek salad, Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie), and then one of our friends brought over red velvet cake they had baked.  Rounding out the meal was retsina, a uniquely flavored Greek wine thanks to the addition of pine resin.  The evening was a wonderful blur of conversation, and the hours flew by, ending with a plan for our next dinner gathering a few months later at one of the other couple’s homes.  Before the night was done, I think we may have even brought out some of the Saba Spice (spiced 151 rum) we had purchased during our honeymoon on the little Caribbean island of Saba.  Dinner club was born.

Zucotta (gelato chocolate cake) with Limoncino
Zucotta (gelato chocolate cake) with Limoncino
Ahhh, Brunello . . . what a Tuscan gem!
Ahhh, Brunello . . . what a Tuscan gem!

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.”  ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

A street scene in Siena, Italy
A street scene in Siena, Italy

Every quarter, without fail for 20 years, we have gathered.  One couple moved to a city a couple hours away, we have added six children, and we have had three couples’ relationships stand the test of time between and among all of us.  When our kids were very young, we would bring them along.  During that delightfully busy toddler stage, we tended to hire a babysitter.  But, as time went on, our kids became part of dinner club, and even as teens, they have continued to look forward to our quarterly gatherings.  We parents find that as we get older, the nights end a little earlier, or some of us may be found sleeping in a chair as others talk into the wee hours.  We bring to the table so much in common, yet so much interestingly different.  In this age of polarizing political discourse, it is refreshing to have a group of friends with often divergent views who can have a civil, yet vigorous discussion, and still raise a glass in toast to friendship at the end of the evening, and then move on to a mean game of Trivial Pursuit.  Some meals have been a great gourmet success, while other menus may have recipes we decide to “retire” from our kitchens.  Some desserts have been festively flambéed, while others were just plainly burned.  Good memories all around.

Ponte Vecchio ~ Florence, Italy
Ponte Vecchio ~ Florence, Italy

With this history, as we began our 19th year of dinner club, we discussed the idea of doing something special to celebrate this tradition.  The hour approached midnight at one of our quarterly gatherings, and we finished up dessert (a bit later than usual, although 10:00 p.m. is not an unusual time for our dessert course, since our evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with appetizers, moving on to salad and the main course at a time that depends on how organized the hosts happen to be that day — as our kids have become older and more involved with activities, we find our organizational levels decreasing in equal proportion, although I admit to my husband and I being the ones who are routinely delinquent on the organizational front), the conversation again turned to marking this significant anniversary.  There may have been a few bottles of wine involved throughout the evening. . .

A view from San Gimignano, Italy
A view from San Gimignano, Italy

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” ~ W. C. Fields

San Gimignano from La Rocca
San Gimignano from La Rocca

As we discussed our options, the kids floated in to pick up a piece of dessert, and joined in the conversation.  We adults first discussed Napa — a weekend of wine country for just the parents!  Delightful, relaxing!  Oh, but the kids have become part of the tradition, so perhaps a weekend in Chicago was more family-friendly, yet still had some appealing foodie aspects.  What about a cruise?  Alaska?  The Caribbean?  Nah . . . . what about . . . Italy?  The kids all cheered — “Yes!  Italy!”  As we all laughed; yes, nice idea, but what a pipe dream, kids!  But, hey . . . life is short, isn’t it?!  And, what better destination for a group of food-loving friends than Italy, right?!  So, amazingly, over the course of the next year, we made our dream a reality and committed to sharing a house for a week in Tuscany.

Looking toward Panzano, Italy
Looking toward Panzano, Italy

La vita e breve” ~ “life is short”

The view of Siena we enjoyed driving to and from the Villa del Cielo
The view of Siena we enjoyed driving to and from the villa

Being the Type-A trip planner, I researched a variety of vacation rental and villa options, and emailed my findings to the other couples in our group.  We ultimately decided on a lovely villa just outside of Siena, the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto.  I was impressed with the communications I had with Rentvillas, inquiring about the rental, and the property satisfied (at least on paper) some element from each of our “wish list” items of what we had hoped to find when renting a house in Tuscany.  For me, I did not want to be so far afield from neighboring towns that I spent the whole day driving for sight-seeing; for another, having a nice property where she could just sit and unwind without others around was important; for another, a beautiful view; for the kids, a pool to share; and for all of us, enough bedrooms and baths so we still liked each other at the end of the week!  The villa exceeded our expectations, and as we walked onto the property and met the first family to arrive at the house, two of us found ourselves grasping hands and jumping up and down euphorically, looking and sounding like school girls, “I can’t believe it! It doesn’t seem real!”  But, indeed it was real, and spending time at that house every evening, as we came back together after typically going in different directions to sightsee during the day, was probably everyone’s favorite memory of our week together.

The "Butcher of Panzano" ~ Panzano, Italy
The “Butcher of Panzano” ~ Panzano, Italy

We shared tips and experiences from our different travels to surrounding hill towns; my husband met the “Butcher of Panzano” (his — my husband’s, not Dario Cecchini’s — highlight of the week!) and ordered several steaks to pick up later in the week to grill at the house for everyone to share; we had a local chef come to the house one night and cook for all of us so we could enjoy a meal together seated around the table for 12; and other evenings we enjoyed taking turns cooking, using the fresh herbs available on the grounds of the villa.  Best of all, almost every night, we sat outside with a glass of Italian wine (or limoncello!) in hand and enjoyed the incredible view of the Tuscan hillside, pinching ourselves for our good fortune to have this time together in such a beautiful setting.

A beautiful evening view from the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto
A beautiful evening view from the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto

Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” ~ Julia Child

Do you have a food tradition that has become an integral part of your life?

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

The cherub statue in the gardens at the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto
The cherub statue in the gardens at the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto (and now my Gravatar!)