Daily gratitude (social distancing edition): I’m grateful that Jackie is an excellent cook, and that I am an adequate one.
Almost two years ago I made some lard. It lasted pretty well (I don’t use much), but I noticed recently that it was almost gone. So I requested a couple of pounds of pork fat from the meat lab, got 2.4 lbs, rendered it yesterday, and now I have almost a quart of fresh, milky white, unbleached lard.
Shortly before the solstice we happened upon a woman at the farmers market selling CSA-style shares in the output a collective of small Alaskan fishing boats, and bought their package that will give us salmon (and other Alaskan fish) in May, June, July, and August.
Part of the deal was getting their “holiday gift box” for free. That box, with two kinds of salmon, a generous amount of cod, some spice mixtures, and some recipes, arrived (frozen and packed with dry ice) in time for a solstice feast, but we had our various feasts for the solstice period already planned, so we initially just put our salmon in the freezer.
Now that our planned solstice and related holiday feasting is done, yesterday I decided to go ahead and cook one of the big pieces of salmon from our holiday box.
More or less at random, I pulled a piece of coho salmon from the freezer. (I wanted salmon, since that’s what the whole thing is all about. We’ll eat the cod in due course.) The holiday box came with some spice mixtures, but today I used a recipe from Mark Bittman called 4-spice salmon that Jackie found a while ago.
It turned out really well. I served it with some Uncle Phil’s long-grain and wild rice (easy to make, as long as you remember to start the wild rice an hour before time to start the long-grain rice).
I neglected to take a picture until I was half done eating, but you can still see how it came out in the photo above. We actually only ate 4/5ths of what I cooked. We saved the biggest 5th to go on a chef’s salad today.
If you really like salmon, and can afford to invest a bit up-front to get a steady supply, and you live in the Midwest, you might want to seriously consider Sitka Salmon Shares. We’ve only had one meal so far, but it was yummy. I’m really looking forward to substantially upping the amount of wild-caught salmon in our diet this coming year.
I have been amused to see “bone broth” trending of late, as I can’t remember the last time our household cooked anything with a bone in it and then failed to make broth out of it. It has been decades, at least.
(If something just has a bit of bone, like a serving of ribs or a bone-in steak or chop, we put the bone in the freezer and then throw it in with the next carcass we boil down for broth.)
Still, with broth showing up so much in the media lately, I keep wanting more of it (due merely to the power of suggestion), and although we eat plenty of meat, our roasting of carcasses hasn’t quite kept up with our broth needs.
So Thursday I swung by the butcher and got something over 4 pounds of frozen chicken necks. (They freeze them in a big trough-shaped container from which they can saw off a block of about three inches high by 4 inches deep by as long as someone wants.)
I put the block in a roasting pan and put it in the oven at 325℉ until it started being possible to pull off individual necks. Then I turned it up to 400℉ so I could get a bit of browning of the skin and pick up some nice roasty flavor. Once I had the necks a little bit roasted, I divided them between two big soup pots, added a little cider vinegar, a roughly quartered onion, some celery tops, and water. Then I boiled them for 3 or 4 hours, which wasn’t as long as would be ideal, but thawing the big block had taken longer than I’d expected and it was getting on to bedtime. Yield: about 12 cups of broth.
The butcher also sells cow femurs to use for broth, but that’s crazy. The good stuff in broth comes at least as much from the associated connective tissue as it does from the bones themselves. What you want is something like a tail or a back or a neck—something with lots of cartilage, ligaments, and tendons along with the bones. Skin is nice too.
Today I used three cups of my fresh broth and three cups of frozen broth from a recent smoked chicken carcass to make some lentil soup (with red lentils and red carrots, but foolishly not red onions or red potatoes, even though I had some of each).
It came out a little neutral in flavor—it had some dried red pepper as well, but turned out not to be as spicy as I’d expected. I added extra salt and black pepper and vinegar at the table, and it was yummy. I figure slightly neutral will be great for leftovers, as we can mix up the spices however we want.
People have almost certainly been cooking with lard since the domestication of pigs close to 10,000 years ago. Along with butter and olive oil, lard must be one of the oldest “processed foods” around.
When I was writing my post on whether or not saturated fats would kill us all, I discovered that “grocery store” lard is often bleached (bad) and often partially hydrogenated (terrible). So it occurred to me that I probably ought to try to get some less-processed lard.
I asked at a local butcher, but they said they didn’t sell lard. Then I asked at the University of Illinois Meat Lab, which said that they didn’t make lard, but that they could set aside some pig fat for me, if I wanted.
Due to the room being a bit noisy, I hadn’t quite heard what they said, and had thought that I would be getting lard. But no: I got a couple of pounds of vacuum-packed frozen pig fat.
But that was okay. I read a couple of web pages on how to make lard, and went ahead and rendered it myself.
They had given me nice clean fat—just a modest amount of blood and connective tissue remained attached. I let it mostly thaw, cut it up into quarter-inch cubes, put it in a heavy pot with just a little water, got it just hot enough to simmer, and let it just barely simmer for a couple of hours so that the fat melted away from the connective tissue. Then I ladled it all through some cheese cloth and a colander (which kept the “cracklings,” i.e. lightly fried connective tissue, and let the melted lard drain through). I poured the melted lard into a mason jar, let it cool, and popped it into the fridge.
Now I have a couple of cups of snowy white lard that I can be sure has neither been bleached nor hydrogenated. (See photo at top. For color reference: Yes, the mason jar is purple. Long story.)
I don’t use much lard—mostly I just use it to touch up the seasoning on my cast-iron cookware, very occasionally to cook something where I don’t want a butter or olive flavor—so I expect this will last me a year or more. It was easy enough to do that I don’t think I’ll hesitate to render my own lard again when I run out.
As long as I was rendering fat I went ahead and re-rendered some beef tallow that I’d skimmed off the top of the sauce for a pot roast that I made a couple of weeks ago. I just melted it, cooked it long enough to boil off the watery bits, and then poured it through a strainer to get the bits of rosemary leaves and mushrooms that had clung to it when I skimmed it.
It’s kind of odd tallow, because it still has plenty of rosemary and mushroom flavor, and is red because of the tomato paste in the pot roast sauce, but it makes a fine fat for sauteing veggies, cooking omelettes, etc.
Since going low-carb a year ago, omelettes have been a breakfast mainstay. To provide some variety (besides mixing up the fillings—a lot of onion, peppers of various colors and hotnesses, sometimes a little smoked meat), I’ve taken to adding various spices: most often paprika, turmeric, and black pepper.
Yesterday the turmeric wasn’t in its spot in the spice rack, but I saw a spice jar out on the counter and had already added some to my omelette before realized that it was not turmeric, but rather nutmeg.
So, my gratitude for yesterday was that an omelette with nutmeg turns out to be delicious. (Who would have thought?)
My gratitude for today is that, having gotten my carb consumption back down after letting it creep up while we had visitors and then again after Jackie’s big walk, I’ve once again got my allergy symptoms under control, and have my weight (which had crept up as well) back down to exactly where I want it.
I considered putting a note to that effect on the door, but I was afraid there would be people who wouldn’t get the joke. (The downside of having such a diverse group of friends—no matter how pervasive something is in our culture, Jackie and I will know a few people for whom it is utterly outside their experience.)
Party preparations are nearly complete.
I got the study tidy! (Those of you who have seen it in the past month would be astounded.) I need to do a photo shoot of my writing space, now that it is so wonderfully open and inviting, but I have not yet had the time to get good pictures.
This morning I made candy and baked cookies for the party. (The candy is what I call Platonic Candy, because it is candy reduced to its platonic essence: sugar, fat, a little flavoring. The cookies are Ginger Sparkles.)
This afternoon, while I’m at Esperanto, Jackie will prepare her contributions to the party comestibles.
In the evening we’ll do our final cleaning up.
Sunday we’ll be able to laze about lazily all morning, until people start showing up for the party.
Yesterday’s weather report was kind of alarming, predicting that several inches of snow were possible. Today’s forecast is better, with less snow expected. Hopefully the weather won’t keep too many people home from our party.
The weather that needed braving was an hour or two of pretty heavy snow, followed by freezing rain.
On paths that had been cleared, the result was about an eighth of an inch of ice. But since the freezing rain followed hard on the snow, most paths had not been cleared. The result was a thick layer of crunchy crystalline mush—not runny like slush, but otherwise kind of similar.
The weird consistency of the stuff reminded me of a failed effort at fudge or frosting—like a thick paste full of huge crystals, instead of tiny ones.
By the time I’d finished driving home in the stuff, I had an irresistible urge to make candy.
I’d have made fudge, but Jackie was doubtful about us having chocolate on hand, but we did have karo syrup and confectioner’s sugar—which, together with butter and vanilla, is all it takes to make Easy Karo Candy.
So, that’s what I made.
My mom used to make me Easy Karo Candy when I was a kid, so it brought back memories. (Even though it was pretty different, because we had dark Karo syrup instead of the light stuff, so it was kind of like Easy Karo Caramel Candy.)
I felt moved to post this because long ago I learned something from making Easy Karo Candy: I learned what candy is. This stuff is basically platonic candy. It contains fat, sugar, and a little flavoring. What makes it candy is the process—cooking it and then stirring in a bunch of confectioner’s sugar—which prompts the formation of the tiny sugar crystals that give things like fudge their distinctive texture. Basically any (non-hard) candy is the same stuff, just with a different flavoring. (A realization that prepared me for the realization that salad dressing is very similar: fat, vinegar, and a little flavoring.)
As a very picky eater, it was cool to figure this out. I vastly broadened the salad dressings I was willing to try, once I realized that they were really all the same. (I tend still to be pretty picky as far as candies go: Fancy candies are all sneaky, with non-candy stuff hidden in a candy layer. But that’s okay. I don’t see any great need to broaden the range of candies I eat.)
Back in 1992, Jackie and I took a trip to England and Wales. We spent a week in London, a week in St. David’s (hiking on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path), and then a couple more days back in London visiting an old friend who took us out to dinner, to a play, and then to Bath to see the Roman ruins and other such stuff.
In Bath we had afternoon tea in the Pump Room with scones and clotted cream.
I was rather dubious of clotted cream (because of the name) but turned out to like it very much. (No surprise: There are an infinite number of yummy blends of fat and sugar.)
Upon returning, I kept my eye out for clotted cream, figuring that I could make my own scones, but I never saw any.
Just recently, I mentioned to Jackie that I wouldn’t mind getting some clotted cream to put on scones, and she suggested that Devonshire cream would be a lot like clotted cream. Turns out that Devonshire cream is what clotted cream is called in the US. Further, it turns out that our local grocery store has some! (We don’t yet know if it’s a standard item, or if they just got it in stock for the royal wedding or something.)
With Devonshire cream in hand, today I baked scones. I just grabbed a recipe off the internet that looked promising and followed the directions. (Almost: I replaced half the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.)
They turned out great. As good as any scones I’ve ever had.
I was thinking brownies, but Jackie bakes the brownies and she was already spending as much time in the kitchen today as she really wanted. So I baked a post-holiday batch of ginger sparkles.
Ginger sparkle cookies by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.