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There are probably countless reasons you could site for buying grass-fed (a.k.a. “naturally raised”) meat, but consider just this one: “Cattle that were fed grain had 106-fold more acid-resistant E. coli than cattle fed hay” (Grain Feeding and the Dissemination of Acid-Resistant Escherichia coli from Cattle Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, et al. Science 281, 1666 (1998); DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5383.1666).

Just in case you missed that, 106-fold = 1 million times the acid-resistant E. coli than cattle fed grass.

Chew on that for a while!

Bon Appetite,
Mr. Carnegie, Scavenger Gourmet

Diez-Gonzalez, et al.

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I’ve been playing around with the idea of sous-vide cooking for some time, but had never tried it.

Sous-vide, (French for under-vacuum) is simply cooking without air — usually at low cooking temperatures, a vacuum sealed bag of food is placed under water and allowed to cook at the desired internal done temperature.  Cooking like this prevents any over-cooking throughout the food (think of the steak that’s pink in the middle and well-done everywhere else) and it retains all of the foods natural juices and flavours.  The biggest problem for the average foodie is that you need a device called a thermal immersion circulator that costs in the neighbourhood of $1300.  The reason you need such a fancy device is because when you’re cooking meat sous-vide, you need to keep your meat at the right temperature to prevent both over-cooking and under-cooking (food poisoning). Because of the fairly narrow temperature window you need something that has the capability to maintain a low stable temperature. But I digest…er, digress…

Eggs are great for sous-vide because they’re already in their own little hard white vacuum packages and the cooking temperatures aren’t critical.

My set-up was simple, an egg in a bowel of water, in my toaster oven, with a temperature probe in the water.  Being able to set the oven temperature and monitor the water temperature proved critical. I found that in order to maintain a 150° F water temperature, I had to set the oven to about 210°F. If you have a gas stove, I’m sure you could manage to get the right temperature with a low flame in a regular pot of water, but I’ve got a ceramic cook-top (much to my chagrin!), so stove-top cooking wasn’t really an option. Electric stoves just aren’t stable enough — your temperatures would be all over the place.

It took longer than I expected for the water to heat up to temperature, so all together it took me two hours for an egg.  The usual cook time for a sous-vide egg is one hour.  That’s another reason for a thermal immersion circulator! With a thermal immersion circulator, because the water is being heated directly and is always moving around, things get up to temperature much faster.

The end result? Well, the proof is in the pudding…so to speak. I tried a bit of the egg whites, and they weren’t really all that good. The whites were, white (duh!) but pretty much flavourless and slimy.  I tried some, but they mainly went into the compost. They slid off easily enough to not be an issue.  The yolk, on the other hand, was delicious!  Smooth, thick, and creamy, and loaded with eggy flavour. Think of the best poached egg you’ve ever had, and this was better…no kidding. True, the whites were meh, but the the yolk was something else. Add a little pepper, et voilà!

Definitely something easy and yummy to do that will impress your guests at your next brunch, and because you can pretty much set the temperature and come back to it hours later, you’re free to prepare the rest of the meal at the same time.

So, yes…for those of you who are wondering, I am coming up with plans for a DIY sous-vide thermal immersion circulator! There are a few DIY plans out there, but none match the quality you would get from a PolyScience 7306C. I’m sourcing out parts now and hope to be in the sub-$200 range. Unfortunately, things always seem way more expensive in Canada, so I’m having to look a little harder than expected to keep the price under $200, while maintaining top-level quality.

Until next time!

Bon Appetite,
Mr. Carnegie, Scavenger Gourmet

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This is Part 2 of THIS post.

When I last wrote on the topic, my meat drying was approximately 50% complete.  The next afternoon the elk and a few honey-dates were nice and dry and ready for pulverizing!

This is what the elk looked like right out of the drier (a.k.a. toaster-oven).

Because of the underwhelming power and quality of my food processor, I decided that it would be prudent to cut up the larger strip into smaller pieces. This worked, but overall my food processor just didn’t cut it.😉 It worked out in the end, but the texture ended up a little too coarse for my liking…although still very tasty.

Cutting up the meat into smaller pieces.

After cutting up the elk into smaller pieces, into the food processor it goes!

First pass through the food processor.

Like I said…my food processor is rather lacking in the major areas at which a food processor should excel — namely processing food. I finally gave up when the motor started getting more than just a little bit hot.  Not a totally unacceptable result, but perhaps this would have been a job better left to the Blendtec blender. Will it blend? Probably.  And if Blendtec wants to donate a blender to me, I’d be more than happy to give an honest review! In fact, if ANY company wants to donate their product to me, I’d be happy to do an honest review. Mr. Carnegie is not in the back-pocket of big-kitchen-supply and only tells it like it is.

After the last pass through the food processor, with dates added, just before adding the melted fat.

Meat and fat in a tray to cool.

Well, in spite of the problems I ran into, the end result was fantastic! The deep gamey flavour of the raw dried elk matched perfectly with the occasional hit of honey date. The fat itself is also full of taste, not at all like a vegetable fat (for example, Crisco®) so the end result wasn’t at all waxy or unpalatable —  it was just a very rich meaty taste, but not at all overpowering like some jerky can be. I heartily recommend trying this at home. I have almost finished my first batch and am ready for another. Just be careful with your food handling and safety techniques, as you are ultimately eating raw meat.

Improvements for next time:

  • The meat I got was uneven in size, shape, and thickness. This meant that before safe drying could occur, I had to flatten out the chunks I got with a hammer. This is messy, hard-work, takes time, and increases your chance of picking up a food-born illness. Trim, however, is very cheap in comparison with other cuts, which is something to consider when you’re buying rather expensive grass-fed game. So as an alternative to hammering out the meat, I suspect that a simple roller device (much like a pasta-maker or an old-style laundry wringer) would work quite well, flattening out irregular chunks. Of course, buying a large cut of meat would allow you to make even, thin, strips with ease, but at a much higher price.
  • Another issue that came up was the drying process itself. For one, even my large toaster-oven isn’t large enough to handle any volume of meat (especially since the meat reduces by over 2/3, or more). A dedicated dehydrator would be much better. However, all of the standard home-use or DIY dehydrators essentially work the same way my toaster-oven works. That is, there’s a low heat-source and some air circulation (by fan or convection). This poses two problems. 1) Pumping in fresh air over such a long time period (48 or more hours), unless filtered has the strong possibility of contamination (think of the dust that collects all around your house, no matter how clean you are…now think of it landing on wet meat!). 2) You’re oxidizing your meat (or fruit or vegetables) as you dry them in a typical dehydrator. As food oxidizes, its chemical make up is fundamentally changed. It becomes full of oxides. Some people don’t think this is a problem, but think of that cut-up apple that’s sat out for a just a few hours, after it’s turned all brown. Who wants to eat that?!? The solution: a closed system dehydrator. Specifically, a vacuum dehydrator that uses minimal heat, vacuum, and a condenser to collect moisture. Vacuum dehydrators are often used in commercial applications because of their efficiency, ability to capture vapor, and not expose samples to external gases (air, oxygen, etc.). I will be thinking of plans for a simple DIY vacuum dehydrator.
  • Pulverizing the meat with my food-processor was less than impressive. This could be remedied easily with a more powerful device. Lex Rooker uses a big #32 meat grinder, but haven’t been able to track one of those down locally yet.
  • Next time I would like to render down my own fat from the same animal. It was just bad timing on my part that the butcher didn’t have any left.

Let me know if you have any comments of suggestions for this or future articles. I would love to hear what people think.

Bon Appetite,
Mr. Carnegie, Scavenger Gourmet

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Just a quick post today.  I’ve been looking for a simple kitchen “doneness” chart that uses realistic food temperatures, and not the USDA’s overly strict, cook-everything-until-well-done guidelines.

I’d rather have mainly safe chicken than dry tasteless chicken, and because I shop at a local butcher who knows his animals and their farmers, I feel that my risk is reduced anyway.

So, unable to find what I was looking for, I’ve started developing my own quick-reference chart.

(The sub-text says: These temperatures are ideal peak temperatures. Meats should be removed from heat 5 to 10°F (2 to 5°C; more for larger cuts) lower and allowed to rise during resting.)

I don’t think it’s done yet, but I think it’s a good start. Ultimately, I will print, laminate, and stick it to some surface in my lab kitchen. I’ll probably also make a PDF available for download to anyone who wants it, or for a small fee, I’ll print one out and laminate one for you, and send it to you by carrier pigeon…which you may then proceed to cook until 160°F (71°C) internal temperature. Mmmm…delivery.

If you have any suggestions to improve the chart, please let me know!

Bon Appetite,
Mr. Carnegie, Scavenger Gourmet

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(Part 2 of this article is now available HERE)

Interested in this ancient food for some time, and looking to pack on a few healthy calories, I thought it was time to give pemmican a try.

Basically, pemmican is pulverized dried raw meat and hard rendered fat. Some people add a small amount of berries, nuts, or spice, but basically it’s raw meat and fat. It’s best known as a calorie-dense Native American food that will last years without refrigeration.

Now, I have to admit, I’ve never eaten pemmican before, but I’m a big fan of jerky and biltong, so how bad could it be, right?

So far, my favourite recipe has to be from the blog “nativepeoplephotographer”. It’s just too simple. The recipe includes only two ingredients: 1 buffalo and 16lbs. of choke cherries! So…maybe a 2000 lbs buffalo might be a bit much to start with, and there aren’t too many of them roaming around in my neighbourhood anyway.

After a bit of research, I found out that the man with a Paleolithic plan is Lex Rooker. Lex has had more than his share of health issues, which has lead him to a more traditional diet. His “$10 Jerky Drier Instructions” and “The Pemmican Manual are well known on the Interweb.

After doing my research, I felt reasonably prepared for making a small batch of my own pemmican.

First things first, I headed down to The Healthy Butcher in search of some suitable meat and fat that wouldn’t break the bank. What I ended up with was 2 lbs. of naturally raised (on grass) elk “trim” and a small tub of rendered naturally raised beef fat. Not ideal, as I inferred from Lex that the meat and the fat should be from the same animal to ensure complete nutrition, but I figured I could make it work for a small first-try batch. The meat and the fat were packed up in the back, I got a few other kitchen staples while I was there, and off I went.

What I didn’t realize, and quickly discovered when I got home, was that elk “trim” is generally small, odd shaped chunks of meat…what would normally be turned into ground. So right off the bat, I had a problem. To make pemmican, you need to cut your meat into thin short strips for effective, fast, safe, thorough, low-heat, drying.

A word on food safety: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/jerky_and_food_safety/index.asp Read it and take the information as you will, and don’t blame me if you get sick.

The only way to turn what I had into usable meat was to flatten it, so out came the ball-peen hammer and the 4″ thick cutting board. Not the best way to dry your meat, but great for the forearms! I had decided that because this was my first attempt and because I wanted to reduce my chances of getting sick, I would start the drying in the BBQ with a bit of smoke (smoking is a great way to preserve meat).  I just wanted the surface of the meat to get lightly smoked to help rid off Salmonella and E.coli…I have no idea if this is reasonable to conclude, but I didn’t think it would hurt and would add a nice subtle authentic flavour.

Skip ahead several hours, and I brought the slightly dried and lightly smoked meat into the house where I have a great Breville convection toaster oven that goes down to 120 F. Perfect for drying at 140 F. if it didn’t have a 2 hour maximum time limit on the timer. Oh well, it just means I keep turning it on every 2 hours.

When it was time to go to bed, I put the now 50% dried meat into the refrigerator over night to keep it safe from spoilage. The next morning, back into the oven!

So after a day and a half drying out, this is what 2 lbs of hand-hammered elk looks like!
Elk in the ovenElk close up

From the looks of it, I’d say at least another day before it’s completely dry. I’ve also added a few honey-dates to the drying rack to give the pemmican a little extra flavour…we’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part 2!

(Part 2 of this article is now available HERE)

Bon Appetite,
Mr. Carnegie, Scavenger Gourmet