Welcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to email@example.com. All of them.
Every other year my parents buy half a cow. They’ve done this since I was a kid and it made sense when they had four children at home, three of which were ravenous teenage boys, but not so much now as they have no kids at home and are starting to eat the way old people eat. As a consequence every time they come visit I end up with a bunch of ground beef, way more stew meat than I need, and other odd pieces of beef that I’d never buy on my own. Just this last week I encountered a cut I’d never seen before, an arm roast. What the hell am I supposed to do with an arm roast?
Christ, half a cow? Bisected which way? I like to imagine that we're talking about the front half, and also that your dad holds it up in front of him and chases your mom around pretending to be the Minotaur. I also like to imagine that we're talking about the back half, and that your dad duct-tapes it to his butt and pretends to be a cow-centaur. Basically, I like to imagine that your dad is a fucking lunatic. This is probably not what you wanted to talk about.
(Half a fucking cow? Where do they get it? Half-A-Cows R Us? I don't know what to do with this information. I feel like my life has been changed forever.)
You've probably guessed by now that I've never heard of an arm roast. I'm going to stick my neck wayyyyy the fuck out here and guess that it comes from the cow's foreleg, and that it's stringy and tendon-y and, oh man, does it have a hoof? Does your dad take two of them and bend down and clop-clop their hooves on the ground and pretend to to the radio play-by-play of the Kentucky Derby, which is not run by cows but rather by horses—but that doesn't matter because when the hell else do you get to play around with the disembodied limbs of ungulates? Man, your dad is the best. I wish I had your dad.
Look, you can probably roast or braise that arm roast. No red meat is so stringy that you can't slow-roast it or braise it in red wine and eventually have something that tastes OK. Brown it in a pan on all its... um... does it have sides or is it a cylinder? It's probably a cylinder. Anyway, brown it in a pan and then either roast it at, say, 350 degrees for a long time, or simmer it in red wine with some garlic and onions for a long time.
Or, you could probably make a bad-ass beef stock with it. Simmer it in a big pot of water with some veggies and cheese rinds for, like, an entire day. Remove the solid stuff at the end, cool the liquid, remove the cap of fat from the top, and you've got beef stock. Or—or!—you could sneak around your city at night, braining evildoers with its hoof, and call yourself, like, the Hoofer or some shit. I'll let you have that idea for free, buddy.
Zest or juice? Why? When? What's the logic behind deciding which to use?
For those unacquainted with zest, it is the colorful outermost skin of a citrus fruit; you scrape it off with a grater or a peeler or a specialized zester and use it in a wide variety of food preparations. For those unacquainted with juice, you inhale by contracting your rib muscles and diaphragm; this is an essential life function, and you'll probably want to do it a lot.
The way to decide which to use (or whether to use both, or neither) is to understand what effect each of them will have on your food, and how they are used. The cool thing about zest is that it imparts the flavor of a citrus fruit without the tartness; you add it closer to the beginning of the cooking process and its impact on the overall taste of the food increases as it cooks. Citrus juice, on the other hand, is intensely tart; you add it to food for the express purpose of adding tartness. Also, in contrast to zest, juice tends to lose its flavor the longer it cooks, which is why it's typically added at, or close to, the end of the cooking process (or included as a wedge of fruit garnishing the plate). Also also, since juice is a liquid (by the way, juice is a liquid, idiot), it's preferable to zest for, say, mixing into a cocktail, or applying to the surface of Darren Rovell's eyeballs.
So the common answer to the, like, 52 questions you managed to sneak into a single line of text up there is: it depends. What are you making? What do you want it to taste like? Play around with zest: You'll find that many, many, many food preparations benefit greatly from the addition of a little. You'll also find, though, that many of these same food preparations also benefit from being spritzed with a little citrus juice at the end, too. Because, seriously, citrus fruit is the fucking best.
[rolls clementine in lime zest, drizzles with lemon juice, eats whole]
[puckers into infinite density]
[pops through wormhole into alternate dimension]
We're moving this weekend and have relatives coming from pretty great distances to help us.
(Here is where it is important to note that I received this email two weeks ago. Thankfully, time runs backward in the alternate dimension. !rehpotsirhC ,yawa ksA)
I've held back enough pots, pans, and utensils to still make good stuff. I'd like to cook dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of the move. I want to show my appreciation but also pick recipes that'll help everyone's energy level throughout what's sure to be a tough day. No one's expecting anything fancy, but I want to make a dinner where they eat so much, they're undoing top buttons to make room, and a good, hot breakfast that won't have them dragging ass. Suggestions?
Tacos for dinner. Holy shit will people eat some tacos. They'll be undoing their navels to make room. This also functions as a good pre-move test: If the members of your moving crew possess the ability to restrain themselves to fewer than 500 tacos each, they must not be trusted with your valuables, for they are space aliens.
You don't have to go fancy with your tacos (although you can certainly do that if you'd like). For a pre-move dinner, when you're probably tired from packing and feeling discombobulated in your denuded soon-to-be-former home, nobody's expecting anything particularly original or authentic or friggin' innovative or whatever. Just cook a pound of ground meat in a pan with some chopped bell peppers, onions, and garlic, some powdered cumin and cayenne, a generous pinch or two of salt, and a splash of redundant-seeming-but-not-actually-because-you're-using-it-for-the-vinegary-tang hot sauce. Stick a slotted spoon in the pan and set it on an oven mitt on the counter, next to some shredded cheese, a jar of salsa or pico de gallo, some warm tortillas or hard taco shells, and maybe some shredded lettuce and a tub of sour cream. And a styrofoam cooler full of ice and beer.
They don't have to be the greatest tacos anyone ever had. They just have to be tacos. Your guests will levitate with gratitude. Unless they are fucking aliens.
Eggs, bacon (or sausage), toast, and fruit for breakfast. With coffee and orange juice.