This is a Szechuan dish that caught my attention for how odd and totally unusual it sounded.  Cold organ salad, and kidneys of all things?  But let's get this clear right away; this is now my favorite way to eat kidneys and one of the most exciting dishes I've had in a while.  Even Carla, who will try any organ meat I prepare-although not an enthusiast for offal-loved this dish.  She didn't tolerate it, or just put up with it; she loved it.  She took leftovers in to work and had them for lunch.
I came across this recipe through The Fifth Quarter, which actually pulled the recipe from the 1976 book, Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook.  I picked up a copy of this book used, as it's sadly out of print.  It's a joy to read, but this recipe really has me excited to share it with as many people as possible and ask, "Did you ever think kidneys could be so wonderful?!"

Taste-wise, kidneys can be strong.  Texture-wise, they can be rubbery.  This dish takes both issues into account, and turns them into something sublime.  First you half each kidney with a knife, cut out the fatty core, and gently score them in a diamond pattern to increase the surface size.  Then slice the kidneys into strips and soak in water.  After about 15-20 minutes soaking, let them drain in a colander.  These were the Tamworth hog's kidneys.

After the kidneys had drained, blanch them in boiling water for just 3 minutes.  This cooks the strips, but keeps them from being over cooked and rubbery.  With the scoring, soaking, draining, and blanching, the kidneys are completely flushed of any off-flavors.  Interestingly enough, kidneys are high in protein, low in fat, and high in cholesterol.  Just like shrimp.  Tasting these boiled kidney strips, they really reminded me of the texture of cooked shrimp.

As the kidneys cool, a sauce is made of sesame oil, sesame paste, fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, red pepper in oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and Szechuan peppers.  This dressing for the kidneys is actually very light and thin.  It's intensely flavored, but doesn't totally overwhelm the meatiness of the kidneys.  The dressing is very aromatic, with a good mix of fresh notes from ginger and scallions, offset by the deep flavors of vinegar, soy, dried chiles, and garlic.
Served cold, the kidneys were a wonderful blend off flavors, with a nice chewy texture that never ventured into the description of "rubbery."  I really loved this this dish and cannot wait to make it again.  Carla thinks it would be a great starter rolled up in lettuce wraps.






This has been an exciting and exceptionally busy year for me.  I began to work part time at a local slaughterhouse in Spring Mills, Rising Spring Meat Co.  Through meeting their customers, I came in contact with the chefs at the Nittany Lion Inn, who asked me to come in occasionally to help launch an in-house sausage making program for the restaurant.

While finishing up my second day at the Nittany Lion Inn, one of the chefs mentioned they would be ordering half of a Bison through RSMC.  He asked my thought on fresh beef sausages, not semi-cured products like summer sausage.  Bison always make me think of the west, so I talked about chipotle pepper, mesquite smoke, etc.  The chef came back with the totally wild idea of using hops and toasted wheat, which would give the bison meat an interesting beer flavor profile.

Since then, I've been thinking about using hops to season meat.  While I've seen fresh hops used in dishes (most notably Sierra Nevada's hop harvest celebration of a whole pig fed on spent grains, then butchered and stuffed with fresh hops prior to roasting), I'm doubtful fresh hops could be reliably used in a product like this bison sausage.  Fresh hops aren't harvest till the fall, plus Pennsylvania isn't abundant with hop farms, so the supply would be spotty at best.

But what about making an extract of hops?  There are some commercial versions on the market, but I was curious about making my own.  At first I thought about a hop-infused vinegar, but vinegar is usually avoided in sausage making.  Vinegar has a tendency to make sausages "crumbly."  The only major exception to this vinegar rule is Mexican chorizo sausage, but that's normally used crumbled up and cooked as a component of a larger dish, so no loss there.

Instead of vinegar, I thought of an alcohol infusion.  It seemed perfect, so I went ahead as if I was making my own vanilla extract, but used hops instead of vanilla beans.  I packed an old amaro bottle full of dried cascade hops and then filled it with vodka.  The dried hops slowly soaked up the liquor and seemed to "bloom" in the bottle.

But why not just use an IPA or other super hoppy beer?  For one, I'd prefer to avoid adding a lot of extra liquid to the sausage.  This would allow me to use a smaller, but concentrated amount of hops.  Plus, so many beers are a blend of hops, which can be piney and resinous, citrusy and grapefruity, or just plain coarse and bitter.  By making single-hop infusions, that puts more control in my hands.

I'd like to let this infuse for a week before trying it.  I'm not quite sure how much to use to start, but there is some historical precedent to draw on.  Using bitter herbs in sausages was actually quite common, when it was a component of what was called "herbal pepper."  Since pepper is not native to Europe, it could become very expensive, or totally nonexistent during wartime.  In Poland they used herbal pepper often, which was a blend of dried horseradish, white mustard seed, and a small amount of a very bitter herb called gentian.  I've actually thought about growing some gentiana flowers to harvest the gentian root, but using hops may be the perfect substitute.  So I'll use the old Polish proportions to help guide my initial recipes.
This was the second batch of Kielbasa Krakowska Trwala that I made, as I wanted to try out a slightly different technique.  As a brief refresher, this style of kielbasa is typified by including large chunks of lean pork mixed into the finely ground pork.  This should give you a nice definition when sliced, showing visible chunks of meat inlaid in the kielbasa.  Along with being aesthetically pleasing, this is also a bit more "upscale," since you're using premium cuts of loin for the chunks.
With my first batch, I used 40% pork butt, 40% loin, and 20% back fat.  The loin was ground, but passed through my largest die, 3/4".  This produced a good product, but it was a little dry.  So I wanted to up the fat a bit, and went for 60% pork butt, 20% loin, and 20% back fat.  Since there would be less loin in this recipe, I thought I could make them stand out more by cutting them by hand in larger chunks.  Also, I veered away from the classic garlic and fresh marjoram blend for this recipe and tried coriander and white pepper, which is more typical of kielbasa limanowska.
The final result was very tasty, but not quite what I wanted.  When I first cut into the sausage I was surprised to see large white sections of fat in it...then it hit me those where the large cubes of loin, not fat.  Compared to my first batch, this sausage wasn't dry and had a really nice blend of meat and fat.  So while the kielbasa was good, you really didn't see the large chunks of meat unless you cut the kielbasa on an extreme bias.  If you were doing a larger diameter sausage, this wouldn't be a problem, but in a smaller hog casing you really don't notice the effect.

When I make this again, I think I will stick with the 60/20/20 meat ratios, but I'd like to try another spice blend, such as mustard, allspice, or paprika.


This was an odd recipe that I came across in The Fifth Quarter by Anissa Helou, which she actually found in another book, 1969's Meat, by British food writer and journalist Ambrose Heath.  It's a strange little recipe, but I think the real charm to it is how well it works.  The potato is crisp-skinned and fluffy on the inside, with a delicious (and not overcooked) morsel of kidney waiting for you inside.  The title of this post, Kidney-Stuffed Baked Potato is pretty much all there is to it.
Take two lamb kidneys and slice them down the middle so you can cut out the fat and kidney cortex in the center.  Slice the top off a potato and a small strip off the bottom so it sits flat and won't roll about.  Next use a knife to cut a little pocket (the recipe suggested a grapefruit spoon, but I found that could occasionally tear out a larger section that I wanted). Rub the skin of the potato with butter or lard, and then grease and salt the inside of the potato as well.  Push the lid on top and bake as usual.
Two Lamb Kidneys
 After baking at 425 F for an hour, I took out the kidney-laden spud.  Just as Anissa Helou remarked, the liver was not overcooked or dry.  It actually tasted very good with the potato; but then meat and potatoes are classic comfort food.  My only issue was getting a bit of kidney in each bite of potato, as the flaky potato fell away from the kidney as I ate through it.
As a finishing touch, I garnished the potato with a compound herb butter.  I tried the recipe from Modernist Cuisine's Montpellier Butter, which suggests using a small amount of knox unflavored gelatin and cooked egg yolk to thicken the butter and keep all the herbs and flavors in suspension.  Just like the potato - thi too worked.  The egg and gelatin kept the butter in a solid form for a longer period of time, rather than melting down to nothing right away.  I really liked the way the butter's melting was slowed, so as I ate down through the potato, the butter would gently melt away, coating each bite.  Both the kidney/potato and compound butter will be repeat recipes.
A few months ago Herwig's, a local Austrian restaurant by me, had a special on celeriac schnitzel.  Sadly, the last two portions for that day were sold to the customer in front of Carla, so we missed out.  But it had me thinking, why celeriac?  Celeriac is a root vegetable and related to celery, but grown for its tuberous root, rather than the stems.  Celeriac is widely available today in grocery stores, but it is mostly imported from Holland, and can vary widely in quality.  You can find good, seasonal celeriac in some farmer's markets, but only irregularly.
Celeriac looks like Cthulhu's head.
I've had a range of "schnitzels" from pork and veal to a very surprising Mangalista liver schnitzel at Mosefund farm's Pigstock.  So was this celeriac schnitzel some "poor man's" variant on a traditional meat schnitzel?  It wouldn't surprise me.  There's the "mock turtle soup," which is a veal head cooked to resemble the gelatinous meat of sea turtle; "phoney abalone," which is chicken marinated in clam juice; and "city chicken," another veal dish, when veal was cheaper than chicken.
Steamed celeriac slices.
But after digging through a whole bunch of old cookbooks and trudging through the dubiously accurate world wide web, I actually think this is a very modern innovation.  I found no reference to this preparation in either regional cook books, or the authoritative Laurousse Gastronomic or Harold McGee.  Most of the recipes I found were on vegan or vegetarian websites and blogs listing this as a de-meated revamp of the classic schnitzel recipe.  So I was totally wrong on my whole "mock schnitzel" theory.  Still, I gave cooking it a shot.
Celeriac Schnitzel
Celeriac discolors quickly upon peeling, so it needs a good rub of lemon juice over the cut surface.  Then I cut the tuber into 3/4" slabs and simmered them until tender.  These were briefly cooled before being dipped in egg and then sourdough bread crumbs.  Sauteed in olive oil, the breadcrumbs took on a nice brown tone, but the actually celeriac never colored.  I served the celeriac topped with sauteed mushrooms and a green salad on the side.  The celeriac has a very mild, slightly sweet flavor, and a nice bit of crunch from the topping.

It was a very nice dish, although it bore little to no resemblance to a traditional schnitzel.  Carla and I serve a vegetarian meal a least once or twice a week, usually something with tofu, tempeh, or miso.  This was a nice change, although I did feel like we were missing a source of protein, as this was just vegetable with vegetable.  I think to make this dish again, I might add chickpeas to the salad, or even coat the sliced celeriac in nuts rather than bread crumbs.

But it still leaves me to wonder, of all the oddball vegetables in the world, why make this with celeriac?