Stacking Functions Garden


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Rendering duck fat

I always make a point of looking in the frozen meat section at Seward Co-op because it usually has a nice traditional foods-minded surprise or two.  I’ve found various different kinds of liver, chicken feet, homemade fish and chicken stock, and lard there.  Today: two packages of duck fat!  I took the smaller of the two, not knowing what to expect.

A little research revealed that duck fat, like lard, must be rendered.  It did take a couple hours, mostly unattended.  Also, it didn’t have nearly the strong smell that the pork lard had. The kitchen just smelled vaguely chickeny.

I used this method:

1. Place cut-up pieces of duck fat in water.  About 2 c. water for 1 pound of duck fat. I probably could have gotten by with slightly less water.

2. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until all the water boils off and the cracklings start to get browned.

3. Drain through cheesecloth into half-pint jars. I’m not sure how long this will keep in the refrigerator, but I’d guess 4-6 weeks at the most. Hence the tiny containers. Extra containers can go in the freezer.

Yield: 1.5 half-pints of duck fat (or, nearly 1 pint).  We used it to fry some potatoes and patty-pan squash for supper, and they turned out great.  The ever-so-slight chicken flavor was only detectable in some bites, and it was not unpleasant at all. This experiment went much better than my lard one!

Apparently, duck fat is a very gourmet, very French thing to use in cooking (even Jamie Oliver recommends it). Traditionally in Germany they also made schmaltz with duck or goose fat — a butter replacement that they spread on bread, apparently. I’m reading a book about traditional German cooking right now which may lead to both the roasting of a goose and the making of some schmaltz. (I already make sauer kraut on the regular basis so I’ve got that covered.) The schmaltz recipe in the book calls for an apple and an onion to be cooked with the fat and discarded with the cracklings.

Our supper tonight: potatoes and patty-pan squash cooked in duck fat with thyme and orange zest, plain couscous, and a massaged kale salad.  A yummy way to celebrate the start of Daylight Savings Time.


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A complete takedown of the USDA guidelines

Interested in nutrition, and the new USDA dietary guidelines?  This is a must-read, study-by-study breakdown of the new eating rules the USDA has decided are good for us.  Here’s a quote that spoke to me:

A recent Dutch study showed that full-fat fermented dairy was inversely associated with death from all causes and death from stroke. A large study of Australians, published in 2010, showed that full-fat dairy appears protective against cardiovascular death. Yet another study, this one from 2005, showed a significant inverse association between full-fat dairy consumption and colorectal cancer. Another study still linked vitamin K2 from full-fat cheeses to reduced risk of death from all causes, as well as a reduction in aortic calcification. And a review from 2009, examining 10 different dairy studies, noted that some types of saturated dairy fat have a neutral effect on LDL, and full-fat cheese—compared to other dairy products—seems to have the strongest inverse relationship with heart disease.

And that’s just the section on whether fat-free/lowfat dairy products are your best choice.  Read the whole thing; it’s spectacular. (via Michael Pollan)


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Recipe: Eczema cream

My little guy gets eczema every winter on his cheeks, and I’ve not had a lot of success with various creams from stores, even from the co-op.  Here’s one we’ve been using all winter that actually works, and it’s homemade from stuff I had on hand anyway.  Nice!  I made up the recipe myself, but it was based on information I’ve read in Nourishing Traditions and Herbal Medicine.

Homemade eczema cream
3-4 T. virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil
1 T. olive oil
20 drops lavender essential oil

1. Melt everything together on the stove over very low heat — takes about 5 minutes.  This is the easiest way to incorporate the olive oil with the rock-hard coconut oil.

2. Chill it out in the refrigerator until set.

That’s it!  I added the olive oil to make it a little softer and easier to apply.  If you keep your house very warm in the winter, you might find that it’s too runny with the olive oil in it, so adjust the recipe accordingly.

Update, 2/14/2011: Clarification: I am not claiming that this cream cures eczema, only that it relieves symptoms better than any other I’ve tried.  We still have to apply 1-2 times a day to my son’s cheeks to keep them clear.


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Rendering lard

I finally tried rendering my own lard.  I may never do it again.  The smell was absolutely revolting. (Caveat: my stomach was also a little off that weekend, because I was also cleaning projectile vomit off every surface of the bathroom.  Anneke had a stomach bug.)

Let’s see how this all went down.

I used the crockpot method, as outlined in the wonderful Simple Green Frugal blog. The fat came from my brother-in-law, who buys whole butchered pigs from a farmer in NW Minnesota.  I think he throws the fat in for free.  It sat in his freezer for a few months, then in mine for several weeks.  We thawed it completely before starting.  HOLY COW was that a big bag.  I had to go through the whole process twice.

Here I am ladling the melted fat and cracklings into my cheesecloth-covered canning funnel.  I froze all the leftover cracklings and have no clue what to do with them.  They smelled so disgusting I couldn’t bring myself to try one.

Lard chilling out in the snow on the deck.

And the final product.  As you can see, it is not the pure white I was expecting.  The “porky” taste is also much stronger than I anticipated.  With my first batch, I thought it was because I didn’t cook it long enough, so I let the second batch cook longer, but with the same result.

I’m confused, because the lard we bought from the co-op was pure white, only smelled slightly porky, and gave no porky flavor to anything we baked with it.  I’m going to venture a guess here:  it’s possible that the stuff from the co-op, which was a little on the expensive side, was pure leaf lard, whereas the fat I used was maybe fatback or caul fat.  The only reason I guess that is because of the sheer amount of fat that was in the bag.  It was over ten pounds.

So, readers, do you think that’s it?  It’s not like the lard is unuseable, it’s just that you have to, uh, develop a taste for it I guess?

The kids sure didn’t seem to notice the ever-so-slight pork flavor in the crust of this otherwise-delicious pumpkin pie.  I think it’s me.  I have an oversensitive palate for this sort of thing.  Perhaps because I was raised on margarine.

SO, if you live in the Minneapolis area and have a hankering to try a half-pint of lard, I have several extra.  As well as a TON of frozen cracklings.  I’m sure you’ll all be knocking down my door, right?


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Season’s Greetings

Well hi there! Just a couple things before I get back to the revelry:

1. We’ve got a new header, right up on top (RSS reader people will have to click through to see).

2. I finally started soaking and drying nuts, another thing that Nourishing Traditions recommends.  Result: TASTY. Basically, you soak any kind of raw nut in salt water for 8-12 hours and then dry it in a food dehydrator or oven at a low temp.  I think 140 degrees is supposed to be the max.  We are fortunate that our oven has a convection fan so we can dry foods in there.  Works great for this purpose.  Also note: almonds take a LOT longer to dry than walnuts.

3. We put up some heavier curtains in hopes that our extremely drafty windows would feel less, well, drafty.  I think it’s working; our living room seems a bit cozier this winter.  We also made a silly draft stopper snake with the leftover material from the curtains:

And really, that’s about all, aside from the usual holiday excitement.  I was dreaming about radishes last night, so I think you can expect a garden update soon.  No better time than January to plan my 2011 garden.  See you next year!


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Using the whole animal

I was a vegetarian for several years.  I vowed, when I became a meat-eater again, that I would at least make an effort to use the whole animal.  So now I’m taking it to the next level: I bought some chicken feet at the co-op last week.  Why?  Mainly because they add a rich natural source of gelatin to my homemade soups and stocks, and we’ve been going crazy with soup around here lately.  Gelatin helps your body absorb the minerals in the stock.

Considering most commercial stocks and flavorings have MSG in them, now’s a great time to consider making your own.  It’s really quite easy.  And if you decide you want to add chicken feet, you can get them for VERY cheap.  Just sayin’.


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Recipe: pickled cucumbers or banana peppers

Here it is, our Nourishing Traditions-inspired pickle recipe (by request from several people).

This isn’t a recipe so much as a method — because really it could be varied quite a bit and it would still turn out great.  I like to use smallish whole, unsliced cucumbers for pickles — they stay crisper that way.  These are dill pickles, but with a more nuanced, subtle flavor than store-bought dills — imagine a dill pickle without that strong vinegar taste.

Here are your ingredients, per quart:

6-8 smallish cucumbers or banana peppers (seed and slice the peppers)
1 T. mustard seeds
1 T. whole peppercorns
1 T. whole cloves
3-4 sprigs fresh dill (the more the merrier)
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced or roughly chopped
Approx. 2 c. brine (2 T. sea salt + 2 c. water)
2-3 T. whey (optional, but highly recommended)

Sprinkle some mustard seeds, garlic, dill, and cloves at the bottom of a quart-size jar.  Fill the jar half full with cucumbers or sliced peppers.  Layer in more of the spices, dill, garlic.  Fill the jar the rest of the way with the cukes or peppers, leaving about 2 inches room at the top.  Throw in whatever’s left of spices.  Pour in the whey then top off the jar with brine until the pickles/peppers are covered.  Cover tightly and leave on the counter for 2-3 days.  Taste a pickle or pepper.  Does it taste really great?  It’s done.  Is it a bit salty?  Leave it for another day then try it again.  When they’re done, transfer to the fridge.  They will keep several months, at least.

How to easily obtain some whey

Variation: when you hit the height of pickle season, and you’ve made a few batches of these already, you will have a half-full jar or two in your refrigerator.  Instead of messing around with making more whey every time, we use a good cup or so of the liquid from the half-eaten pickle jar as an “innoculant” to get the new batch started.  Sorta like a sourdough mother, except with pickles.

Lazy woman’s variation: OK, to be perfectly honest, I leave out a lot of the spices when I make these.  And they still turn out great.  For banana peppers in particular, I like to keep it very simple and just add garlic and peppercorns to the mix.

Adam made some pints of the peppers, as well, because we have several requests for samples.