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The beast for the feast

Roast boar with butternut squash risotto
Before our big dinner party, I went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, as is my wont. There, I ran into Jen, master locavore. We got talking about the dinner party, and when she asked what I was serving, I mentioned that we were having roast leg of boar.

"Where did you get boar?" She asked.
"I had it shipped in from Texas," I replied, adding, "don't judge me."

I'm sure it's possible to get locally sourced boar, but we've been meaning to check out Broken Arrow Ranch for some time now. We discovered it while on the proverbial hunt for wild game charcuterie after a trip to the Canadian Rockies a few years ago. Broken Arrow Ranch sells humanely hunted, truly wild boar, venison and antelope. The animals are hunted using long-range, silent rifles, and the meat is harvested and processed right in the field. Local it may not be, but it is ethical and sustainable.

Broken Arrow Ranch wild boar leg

I don't know about you, but few of our cookbooks contain recipes for boar — at least not the American ones. Broken Arrow Ranch provides some cooking instructions, but we wanted some other sources to compare. We naturally turned our eye to The Silver Spoon, a fantastic tome of more than 2,000 Italian recipes, and an absolute must-have for anyone who cooks Italian food. There we found not just one but three recipes for boar.

There are apparently two main methods for roasting a whole leg of boar: High and hot, or low and slow. We opted for the slow and low, figuring it might take on the lovely fall-apart texture of pulled pork. It did not — the meat is so lean, there is little fat or connective tissue to break down — but it tasted good nevertheless. The meat was dense and a little dry, but had a wonderful, rich, nutty flavor that reminded me a lot of the jamòn we had in Andalucia.

We served slices over a dollop of butternut squash risotto (yet another pressure cooker miracle) and doused with a rich pan sauce. And then we pigged out.

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Molha: Azorean spiced beef stew

As adaptable as the English language is, it has not evolved to meet the needs of the modern world — specifically when it comes to modern relationships. It's only in the last three weeks that DPaul and I have finally been liberated from the highly unromantic moniker of "partners" for the mantle of "husbands," a word that still feels weird, like a pair of shoes that need breaking in. But what of the other people to whom we are connected through non-traditional means?

Case in point: We just had a dinner guest, Sylvia. She was my father's fourth and final wife, and now his widow. She's too young to be my stepmother, not that I called wives two or three by that title either. Plus, as I was in my mid-thirties when they married, I felt too old to gain an extra mother.

Sylvia and I get along famously. The only problem is when I begin a sentence in which I am referring to her. These sentences invariably begin, "My …" at which point the words fail me, and I have to pause and deliver the full backstory to explain who this person is. And if I want to refer to her delightful parents, there's sure as heck no concise combination of words to explain that connection.

Anyway, speaking of language, the dish we made comes from a cookbook given to us by our downstairs neighbors. One half of the couple hails from the Azores, a cluster of Portuguese-held islands in the Atlantic off the African coast. On return from a visit there last year, she brought us a cookbook, "Azorean Cuisine" by Zita Lima. The book is peppered with charmingly clunky translations, such as a recipe for "Broth of Turnips from the Land" (as opposed to, what, sea turnips?) and one dish simply, gloriously titled, "Rump." Mmm. Rump.

Azoreancuisine

The one recipe that came most strongly recommended, and the only one we've made to date, is called "molha à la mode de Pico." (Fun fact: The mountain on the island Pico, also named Pico, is the highest mountain in Portugal.) The word molha, pronounced MOLE-yah, derives from the same root as the Spanish molé, and the similarities do not stop there. Molha is beef chuck stewed in spices like cumin, cinnamon and allspice, with a little piri-piri for kick. The combination of spices meld and mellow into a warming braise without ever lapsing into Christmas potpourri territory. It's muito bom.

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Muffuletta

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Least Vegetarian Sandwich Ever.

Yes, friends, lest there be any fear that I should slip back into my vegetarian ways (not that it wouldn’t be a good idea!), I opted to make the meatiest sandwich I could imagine to anchor our sun-dappled day at Bouchaine.

To be fair, I didn’t really make a true muffuletta. This mighty meaty ‘wich, native to New Orleans, is traditionally made with a large, round loaf of crusty bread, a variety of cured meats and cheeses (typically capicola, salami, mortadella, emmenthaler and provolone, according to Wikipedia) and — most importantly — olive salad. This salad of course has olives, but also carrots, cauliflower and celery; its dressing is meant to saturate the bread.

But here’s the thing: You can purchase this olive salad quite readily in the delis of New Orleans, but around these parts not so much. And as I was already in the throes of making a few other courses, I really wanted to cut a corner here. So I just combined tapenades of green and black olives with some rinsed and drained capers, and voilà.

Also, the muffs in New Orleans are jaw-breakingly tall, sometimes reaching several inches in height toward the center. In the interest of daintiness and easier portioning, I used a ciabatta, which retained an even thickness and allowed for more consistent cutting.

The resulting sandwich has a stunning display of pink-and-white strata, kind of like layers of sedimentary rock, if the earth’s crust were made of meat and cheese. Which, for better or worse, it is not.

I ended up making, oh, about 20 times as much of the olive spread as I needed, so it has casually made its way into almost everything I’ve made since — a dollop in salad dressing, gobs smeared under and atop the skin of a roasted chicken, a touch thrown into braising liquid. It’s a remarkably versatile condiment, lending a fruity and complex flavor to everything it touches.

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Braised lamb shank

Braisedlambshank

Considering I was vegetarian for so many years, and for largely political reasons at that, it’s perhaps ironic that I have developed a propensity for eating baby animals. In particular, I like lamb. A lot. So I couldn’t refuse a couple of lovely lamb shanks winking at me behind the glass at Prather a few weeks back. But then, straight into the freezer they went to rest in an icy tomb for a future meal.

After all, lamb shanks are not the sort of thing you just whip up on a workday evening. They demand a long, slow braise to break down all the gristle and connective tissue, or else you end up with a plate of tough, gnarly meat. And I don’t love lamb that much.

But Sundays are made for the long and slow. Sundays are the days we typically have a big pot of chicken stock or sauce bubbling away on a back burner for hours at a stretch. This Sunday was no exception — while a mighty pot of stock stewed, my braise was brewing in its own unctuous juices in the oven.

Recipe? We don’t need no stinkin’ recipe. To apply precise measurements to this dish would rob it of its rustic country soul. My meaty shanks got patted dry, generously seasoned and tossed in a powdery bath of flour, then quickly and thoroughly browned all around over high heat. While the bronzed thighs rested off to the side, in went a whole mess of coarsely chopped veggies — your basic mirepoix, plus a little of whatever else was taking up space in the fridge — for a little softening. In went a spoonful of tomato paste, half a bottle of good red wine, maybe almost as much chicken stock. Up to the bubble, and it’s into the hot tub for my mighty hunks of meat. Cover on, into a 325º oven, and the rest is all waiting. Like, three or four hours of waiting.

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Moonlite Bar-B-Q

Praise the lord and pass the biscuits! Yet another extended piece of DPaul's birthday arose (like the South, again) last night, as we thawed, heated and consumed one whole pound of Moonlite Bar-B-Q pulled pork from Owensboro, KY. Moonlite is…

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Herby beeffalo burgers

Beefalo1Sweet Georgia Brown, it’s been hot around here. Saturday, temperatures in Noe Valley got up to 102º, I’m told, and I certainly believe it. We live in a top-floor unit with a tar roof and windows to the east and west, so there was just no help in sight. We watched the temperature on our thermostat rise through the 80s and 90s until … oops! It only goes to 94º. Everything above that was just "OL" for overload. We were in OL for roughly 6 hours, and I don’t doubt for a moment that we broke the 100 mark, perhaps by quite a lot. Sitting in front of our lone fan in the kitchen was no help, as all it did was blast searing hot air into our faces.

We survived, but there were casualties. At one point I entered the kitchen and noticed that wine was leaking from two of the bottles on our rack. The heat had caused the wine to expand, putting pressure on the corks. The bottles that were obviously affected were not ones I particularly cared about, but I hope some of the bottom-rack stuff didn’t get too cooked. We immediately shuttled most of it to the basement, and stuck some in the fridge for safe keeping. Guess it’s time to invest in a wine cellar.

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