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Archive for the ‘Pork’ Category

Since I’ve moved to the South, I’ve heard some interesting colloquialisms. One of these is “you put your foot in it.” Apparently this phrase has nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with cooking up something that makes folks wanna slap their mama. So when someone tells you that you put your foot in, you say thank you. Or you say, “Oh, it was my pleasure, honey.”

While I was growing up on the Iowa farm, my husband spent his early formative years in Germany at Han Air Force Base. This time heavily influenced him and he’s been a German food lover all his life. One of these loves is schnitzel.

A few years ago I couldn’t have told you what a schnitzel was, only that test subject Bill loved them. Then recently we found a German restaurant close to home that serves up authentic German cuisine and he was able to indulge his schnitzel fantasies. I don’t really eat meat if I’m unsure of its origin (and if I don’t know, it probably came from a CAFO, which is not my style) but I had to have a taste of this pounded, breaded piece of meat that I heard about for the past nine years of marriage. So I sampled off of his plate.

Oh. My. God. Shut your mouth. I considered making an exception to my no CAFO meat rule. I still may do so. It was fan-frickin-tabulous. Crunchy and salty yet tender and moist. Heck yeah, this is something I could dig. I understood at long last Bill’s schnitzel obsession.

After that experience, making schnitzel myself has been on my mind. I found a good looking recipe. I had some Nature’s Harmony Farm pork chops in the freezer I could cut up and use. Finally I decided it was schnitzel time.

The process is fairly simple: pound your meat nice and thin. Heat your fat in the pan. Dredge the flat pork in the flour mix, give it a quick coat of egg wash, then dredge in bread crumbs (I used panko). Fry for 3-4 minutes per side. And for once, it actually was that easy.

flat pork and my new pounder

However, first I needed something to pound the pork with. My little wooden pounder I used for sauerkraut was not going to cut it. I needed something substantial. So I was forced to make a trip up to Williams-Sonoma. At first I thought I was out of luck, but a helpful employee assisted me in locating the perfect meat pounder. It’s heavy. It’s shiny. It can switch sides between flat and spiky. If Heaven’s host came to my house to cook, they would use this pounder to make schnitzel.

With my heavenly new pounder at hand, I proceeded to cut the bones out of the pork chops. It went faster and easier than I thought. When it came time for pounding, my new tool did the job in a matter of moments. A few quick pounds and my former pork chops were nearly see-though. Right on. Note to self: wear an apron next time…splattering raw pork is not an accessory.

Schnitzel assembly line

I followed the recipe pretty closely. At the suggestion of my friend Cathy (of Steak and Guinness Pie fame) I added nutmeg to the flour and salt mixture. As I mentioned, I used panko crumbs. I also used smoked paprika in lieu of regular paprika. (Love that stuff). For the oil for frying, I used half butter and half olive oil, although I may use lard next time. I tried to make the dill sauce that the recipe uses but something happened to my sauce and it didn’t come together. Maybe because I used yogurt cheese instead of sour cream. Ah, well. It didn’t end up making a difference.

Dredging, egging and dredging again, the flattened pork became dinner. The schnitzels fried up perfectly at about three minutes per side. The first ones out of the pan were the definition of golden brown and delicious. I noted that I needed about twice the oil/butter that the recipe called for in order to have proper browning. Note for next time – reoil the pan between batches.

With my hard work nearly complete, it was time for the taste test. I crunched. I munched. I melted into the kitchen floor. It was beautiful. It was buttery, savory and delicious. It was tender. I PUT MY FOOT IN IT!!

Pork schnitzel with forgettable zucchini and spaghetti squash sides

So enamored with my schnitzel was I that I completely forgot to serve my sauerkraut with it. It was all I could do to hold myself together while I chewed. Pork schnitzel is….the second best thing I ever made.

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Rendering lard is not an activity you often see in an American kitchen these days. Even my mom, the farm wife, does not render lard. If she cooked with lard I didn’t know about it. So when it came to rendering the lard from the 3+ pounds of fat back in my freezer, I turned to the most obvious place for instruction: the internet, everyone’s second mom.

There’s lots of resources out there for learning about lard and rendering lard. My source for most of my meat, Nature’s Harmony Farm, keeps a blog that did a post on lard rendering. In fact, I believe that’s where I first became interested in doing it myself. But in my most recent adventure, Cheeseslave provided an excellent source of options for rendering lard. I chose the crock pot option since my oven and stove were both busy with other projects that day.

Cutting the Lard

I cut up just over three pounds of lard for this endeavor. The fatback still had the skin attached, which I’ve run into problems with before with my bacon making projects. I’ve learned that the skin will do your bidding if you talk nice to it (AKA, cut against it not with it). So as long as I cut perpendicular to the skin, it was easy to chop up the fatback into small chunks. Ok, it wasn’t “easy.” I started cutting at 8:00 a.m. and had a small blister at 8:20. I just need to wear gloves. I’ve found that my cut-resistant glove is very useful for tasks like this.

Chunks o' Lard

Once all the chunks were in the crock pot, I put it on low. I really didn’t know exactly how long it would take. So I put it on ten hours and went on my merry way. About the time it was done, it looked roughly the same as it had at five hours. But it really did look like it had more to go so I left it a bit longer.

Finally I reached in with a spoon to stir the remaining chunks only to find that they were rock solid. They were almost crystallized and stuck to the bottom of the crock. Um…oops. I guess maybe it was done at five hours. Anyway, I’m

Crunchy chunks stuck to the bottom of the crock

presuming that these crunchy chunks are what is known as “cracklins.” I bit into one and it was gross, like wiping my tongue with grease. I’m hoping that people who eat these do something else to them first, or maybe it’s just not my cup of tea. *gak*

Anyway, I ended up with about a pint and a half of lard for my efforts. It started out golden and translucent, then turned white as it cooled and solidified. Kind of cool!

A friend stopped by while I was

Rendered lard - once it cooled down it turned white.

rendering the lard. In a totally non-judgmental way, he announced that lard was a primary cause of the health crisis in this country. I informed him that lard is a health food. As I further thought about it, how many decades has it been since lard was prevalently used in homes and restaurants and our health continues to decline? Yet people are still blaming lard and other natural fats for current health problems? Things that make you go hmmmm….

Anyway, while the scientists fumble over themselves and try to figure out

My lard butt kicking back.

ways to convince themselves and others that we should be eating man-made foods for health instead of the foods that God gave us, I’m going to kick back and eat something with lard in it. If it was good enough for our ancestors, it’s good enough for me.

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Bacon Fu

Of all the kung fu activities that have taken place in my kitchen, nothing garners more attention than bacon. In fact, it seems to trump every other accomplishment in my entire life. I have a black belt in kung fu. I have a 3.97 GPA. I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. I went on a mission trip to Bolivia. No one could possibly care less. But the minute I say, “I make my own bacon” people come flocking over like a bunch of geese at the park and I have a loaf of bread.

Since there’s been so much interest I thought I’d put together another post with some more details about the bacon process and what I’ve learned so far. I’ve done it three times and it really does get easier each time. Generally less stressful except for when your heat source dies on you one hour into smoking (more on that later).

Pork side coming out of the three-day brine

So I use Alton Brown’s bacon recipe .  I may be ready to branch out soon. But for first timers (or third-timers) I recommend it because it is tried and true. And you don’t want to risk wasting your whole beautiful pork side on a brine that ends up being less than you expected.

The pork belly is in the brine for three whole days. I usually have trouble keeping the meat submerged so I fill an empty jar (like an olive jar) with water and rest it on top to keep it down. When you pull the belly out, it kind of looks like it’s already been cooked a bit – all nice and preserved with the salt in the brine.

Bacon getting blown.

For the next step, drying, I set up a fan in the guest bathroom (the room in the house with the least amount of cat hair floating around), point it right over my side (skin side down, on top of a rack sitting on a sheet pan to catch drips). I’ll leave it for a minimum of an hour to form a pellicle (kind of a dry film over the meat).

After the drying, the meat needs to be hung in the smoker. I use my hand-me-down Pit Master because it conveniently has two sections, one lower to hold the heat source and wood, an upper chamber to catch the smoke. I open the vent in the main section just a hair to keep the smoke being pulled through the unit. For hanging, I poke four holes completely

Blown bacon with the pellicle.

through the meat from the skin side and use the wire clothes hanger rig that test subject Bill invented last year. I noticed that there is some type of coating on the hangers, though, so I won’t use the same ones more than twice now. If it was a hot smoke I’d be worried, but since no heat is applied during the process I’m sort of ok with it. Alright not really. It bugs me and I’m thinking up a better hanging solution.

I use the tin can and soldering iron method to produce smoke with very little heat exposure to the pork side. The can holds the wood pellets (I’ve been using hickory), a hole in the lid holds the soldering iron in the wood. It heats up and the smoke

Bacon getting poked.

miraculously pours out and gets sucked through the Pit Master.

Now, about soldering irons. The one I used originally was a 30 watt super cheapie. One hour into my second bacon making experience, the piece of junk died. I had to drop everything and run out for a new one. Of course, they didn’t have the same one I bought before. I ended up paying twice the price for a less powerful model, but it may have been serendipity. My $15 25-watt iron has successfully smoked two batches of bacon and still gets hot enough to brand “Bacon Freak” into your skin. Don’t ask me how I know that. Also, the lower wattage iron seems to cook the wood pellets more

Can smoker to cooler set up

evenly, giving me more efficiency out of my pellets. With the 30-watt when I pulled it out of the can, half the pellets would be burnt to a crisp and half of them would be untouched. I get more even results with the 25-watt, lessening the possibility of my precious bacon being smoked with burnt-smelling smoke. It does seem to produce less smoke, though, so I made up for the difference by letting it go in the smoker an extra hour (about six hours total).

Even on cooler days, I put the blue ice packs into the main compartment with the hanging meat to keep it cool and the help cool down the smoke as it heads through. How often they get changed out though depends on the heat of the day.

Soldering irons for the can smoker.

Making your own bacon sounds like a lot of work, and it is although largely unattended and does get easier the more you do it. But when you munch down on a bacon cheeseburger that sports the bacon you made, it’s truly tasting the fruits of your labor.

Wire hanger hooks for bacon hanging.

Hanging bacon, pre-smoke. Post-smoke it looks pretty much the same.

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Gimme Guinness Pie

When my friend Cathy first posted her famous Steak and Guinness Pie recipe, I thought it sounded fantastic. But really I had no idea, no inkling, not a single clue of the bacony savory deliciousness that awaited me.

This is Cathy’s recipe as it was given to me:

_______________________________

     Steak and Guinness Pie

     2.2 lb Round Steak (stew cubes)
     1 T Flour
     1 tsp Brown Sugar
     5 Onions, chopped
     300 ml Guinness
     ½ pkg Bacon (I use almost a whole one)
     Chopped Parsley
     Deep Pie Crust (Pillsbury is best)

     Time for cooking and prep: 3-3 ½ hours
     Oven Temp 350*

     Cut steak into bite-sized cubes, roll in seasoned flour (flour, parsley).  Cut bacon into tiny pieces, cook and when at desired crispness add onion and beef until browned. Do not drain, unless it’s absolutely not your style. Place meat mix into deep casserole dish, add and mix in raisins (optional, makes for a sweeter taste 1 handful) and brown sugar. Pour in Guinness, cover dish lightly. Bake for 2 ½ hours in oven at 350* or simmer on low heat on stove top same time. Stir occasionally and add more Guinness as needed if gravy gets too thick. Line pie dish with ½ crust, bake it for 3-5 minutes without adding mix. Add beef mix, cover with other ½ pie crust and bake for 10 more minutes. Serve after cooling for a while, extremely hot! If you prefer a more sweet pie, use Murphy’s Irish Stout instead.

_______________________________

Now for my changes (just because that’s how I am).  I used half pork stew cubes and half beef stew cubes. Partly because that’s what I had and partly because test subject Bill loves pork. I used about 12 ounces of my own homemade bacon (which is now gone, need to smoke some more….) I didn’t have parsley so I used a little bit of par-cel that I got in my CSA box. I did not use the raisins. And finally, since I’m Kitchen Kung Fu, I made the pie crust rather than used a purchased one (as per Chicken 3 1/2 ways).

I have to tell you, when I was staring down that ginormous pile of chopped onions I was thinking this is never going to work. This is going to be onion pie. Test subject Bill will ask me how to spell irroconcilable differences. But Cathy’s recipe was a classic, so I kept going. Cutting up all that bacon was a chore, but I was sure I was going to be rewarded. I did pour some of the resulting grease out of the pan, but only because my pork side that I made the bacon out of happened to be particularly fatty and there was a LOT of fat.

While I had the meat and onion mixture simmering on the stove, I got to work blending my flour and butter and salt for the crust. I knew there was no way I would be able to fit all that filling in a regular pie plate so I opted for a rectangular casserole dish, and I’m glad I did. I still couldn’t fit all the mix in when it came time to add. No worries, it didn’t go to waste.

Guinness Pie from Heaven

 As usual, I laid the bottom crust, baked at 350 for about ten minutes. Then I added the filling and the top crust and baked it for about another 15 minutes, maybe a little longer. I think it took longer because the size of my pie was bigger and the top crust was still a little cold. But when it was finally done a picture perfect golden brown and delicious meat pie emerged from the oven. It smelled the way a warm blanket on a winter evening feels.

While we didn’t think we could wait to dive in, we had to. We wrapped up the tempting finished pie and drove over to our friends’ house to share it with them. I figured the last thing I needed was a whole Steak and Guinness pie being added to my behind, so I should go have it added to multiple behinds.

To say it was a hit is a woefully sad understatement. Seconds were a given. The crust was a hit. The bacony, beefy, porky, not-offensive-oniony filling was a spiritual experience. Tender, just the right saltiness, and mixed with the crust…it cannot be properly expressed in the English language. I could have died then and there and have been satisfied. If I was carrying a piece of this pie, I would be able to get in the express line for heaven. Angels would be jealous.

I think this might be the best thing I ever made.

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The Spice is Right

Apparently I’ve been on a spicy roll lately. I was quietly perusing the farmer’s market and came across these fantastic looking poblanos. I had to have some. Suddenly all my weekend cooking plans were completely rearranged, all due to some chiles.

Poblanos just beg to be stuffed, and these ones were no different. Earlier this year I did some shrimp stuffed poblanos and they turned out well, so I decided to take that idea and run with it.

But before I could do anything else, there was another urgent matter. Salsa. I chopped and diced and threw together my CSA tomatoes, farmer’s market sweet onions, garlic and jalapeno, and some cilantro, lime and salt n pepper. I took several bites to make sure it was good.

For the poblanos, I roasted them in the oven, turning often until they were mostly blackened, then steamed them in a covered dish. I know that the skin is just supposed to peel off effortlessly, but peeling these poblanos made me remember why it’s been eight months since I did this. It really is a pain in butt. Then you have to carefully open it and pull out the seeds. This would be easier if you have slave labor (aka children) to help. The kitties told me I was on my own.

pork stuffed poblanos1For the stuffing, I cooked up some Nature’s Harmony Farm ground pork and seasoned it with this chipotle seasoning from Whole Foods. I stirred some sour cream and cilatro into it and was suprised at how really fantastic it tasted. I lined my baking dish with a bunch of chopped tomatoes that didn’t make it into the salsa and arranged my poblanos onto them, stuffing them with as much pork mix as they could take. A sprinkle of mexican cheese went on and into the oven they went until the cheese was all nicely browned and bubbly.

pork stuffed poblanos plate1They were delicious, if I do say so myself. Spicy and savory, with the extra kick of the salsa on the side…mmmm…. Test subject Bill went back for seconds.

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I have some pickles calling from the fridge, reminding me to enjoy the fruits of my labor…hope you do, too.

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When you’ve committed yourself to only eating meat that is ethical, sustainable and preferably local, some specialty items can be difficult to find…like bacon. It was this sad world without bacon that compelled me to make my own, which began on the day that I recieved a pork side from my CSA full of joy from Nature’s Harmony Farm. When Liz handed me that package and told me I was the lucky winner of a pork side, I was thinking um…what? Then she told me it could be used for making bacon. She could have told me it was made of gold and I would have been just as excited. Bacon…it was within my grasp.

Bacon is made using a raw pork side/belly that is brined and cold smoked. I had the first part covered with my prize pork side. Next, the brine. Since Alton Brown is my hero (one of them, anyway) and his scrap iron chef episode is my favorite Good Eats, I immediately went in search of AB’s recipe. Food Network lists it as “Difficult” something that used to make me run screaming, but now I say bring it, baby.

Follwing the Scrap Iron Chef bacon recipe, I fixed up the apple cider/molasses/sugar/salt brine, chilled it and placed my precious cargo within. It wanted to float so I had to fill and empty jar with water to hold it under the liquid. There it stayed for three whole days, doing its thing.

Once the brine was complete, the meat had to be dried. Apparently they don’t sell old fashioned box fans anymore but I did find a suitable round model. I set up the fan and the meat as per AB’s instructions and let it dry for an hour. The directions say it will form a pellicle. I don’t know what a pellicle is and I still don’t, but I trust him so under the fan it went.

Ground zero for bacon smokin'

Ground zero for bacon smokin'

Once the drying was over, the real fun began: cold smoking. I am not the owner of a cold smoker and after seeing some scary prices online I found a wonderful el cheapola getup here. You really CAN learn anything on the internet! I used an empty chickpea can, some hickory smoking pellets I got from Barbecuewood.com, and a $3 soldering iron I picked up at Fry’s Electronics. My old hand-me-down PitMaster charcoal grill (thanks Rose and Lane!) got a new lease on life as a make-shift smoker. The smoking contraption went in the small compartment where it could get hot and smoke, then the smoke would be funneled through a hole into the larger area and surround the hanging meat.

Make-shift smoke generator

Make-shift smoke generator

Test subject Bill lent a serious hand on this project. He cleaned up the grill and rigged four wire clothes hangers to act as a meat hook. He wound them around the large chamber so that the hook part was available to hold the bacon-to-be and the other end was fastened securely around the other side. Ingenious! The hooks weren’t sharp enough to pierce the tough fat part of the belly so we made some holes using a BBQ fork and it worked like a charm – hooks slid right in and held it true.

 

Wire clothes hangers do have a useful purpose...

Wire clothes hangers do have a useful purpose...

Now…bacon smoking is a cold smoke. Cold. It happened to turn scorching hot in Georgia over the past couple of days. It was about 95 degrees yesterday when I was preparing to cold smoke. Errrr…ok. But the meat was brined and primed, there was no turning back. So I put frozen ice packs and ziplock bags of ice into the bottom of the large chamber to keep the temperature down and we moved the smoker from time to time to keep it out of direct sunlight. It seemed to do the trick. Every time I felt the meat it was no warmer than room temperature.

No B.S. Just bacon. (Ok, there's lots of B.S. But it's serious.)

No B.S. Just bacon. (Ok, there's lots of B.S. But it's serious.)

With the whole set up going, we stuck the soldering iron into the can of pellets and waited. (Bill had turned on the iron and let it heat for a while to burn off any oil that may have been on the metal parts.) We stared at the unit, waiting for it to smoke. I got impatient and ran off to Quick Trip for a big bag of ice. By the time I got back…we had smoke!

About every hour from noon until 5:30 in the afternoon I swapped out ice packs and refreshed hickory pellets. I smelled like smoke from head to foot. (Seriously Mom…it was just bacon, I swear!) The instructions said to smoke for 4 to 6 hours. How do you know when it’s done? It looked pretty much the same the whole time. I was paranoid about under smoking because of the breaks between smoking while I changed out pellets so I left it for 5 1/2 hours.

Looks like bacon...

Looks like bacon...

The bacon (yes! It was bacon then!) went directly into the freezer for an hour to firm up before I attempted slicing. Once I had it out and took my knife to it I found that while it wasn’t terribly hard to cut, there was a really hard rind that had formed on the fat side, so I had to cut it fat side up. Because the piece was long, it was difficult to keep a uniform slice. So I cut up what I needed and put the rest back in the freezer. Must obtain a meat slicer for future use.

 

Smells like bacon...

Smells like bacon...

Today was the big day…cooking time. Since AB is my idol, I always bake my bacon. So I fired up the oven to 400 degrees, laid out my bacon on a sheet pan and got it going. Also on the menu: scrambled eggs from Nature’s Harmony chickens, hashbrowns made from a random potato I still had hanging around from the pot pie filling, toast made from my homemade bread and fair-trade organic coffee that was roasted locally that I got from my other CSA.

With excitement and trepidation, I pulled my bacon from the oven and took my first bite. Dude. It was freaking awesome and I almost passed out. I was so petrified that I was going to screw it up, but it turned out great! The one kung faux pas I made was that I did leave it in the oven a bit too long. I think it cooked faster than the old store-bought bacon I used to make. It still tasted fantastic and now I know to watch it closer next time.

In the aftermath of Project Bacon, I have about 2/3 of a cup of bacon drippings that I don’t know what to do with. I hate to let all that goodness go to waste…any great ideas of what to do with it? And how long it will last and if I need to refrigerate it?

The only real complaint Bill and I have (and thanks to test subject Bill for telling me it was better than store bought bacon) is that on the fat side of the belly it formed almost like a rind, a really tough outer coating that tasted good but you can’t chew it. Any home bacon makers out there encounter this? I’m wondering if I should try to cut it off or if there is some way to avoid that in the future. However, this rind did not prevent us from plowing through the whole portion that I cut off last night. And the best part…there is enough in the freezer for several more meals!

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