Friday, February 25, 2011

Roll Call

Honey Butter Rolls
Honey Butter Rolls

   Look at those beauts! Yes, I made those! As my baking failure rate is very high, I will continue to blog about successes until I bore you completely to death.
   We fired up the smoker last weekend to celebrate such gorgeous weather with good friends, and of course, pig was involved. Unfortunately, I have no other pictures to offer, such as farm fresh deviled eggs...coleslaw...honey BBQ pulled pork...shrimp wrapped in homemade pancetta. It just got "got" too darn fast. Sorry. But I do have a recipe for these amazing rolls, that were oh so good with heritage pork and a handful of refrigerator pickles.

The smoker: A thing of beauty

Honey Butter Rolls


1/4 c warm water
1 package dry yeast
1 tsp good local honey
1 3/4 c warm milk
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 c butter, melted and cooled
1/3 c honey
3 tsp kosher salt
6 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c butter, softened
1/4 honey

Combine water, yeast, and honey. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Mix milk, eggs, 1/2 c butter, honey, and salt in mixer with paddle attachment. Add yeast mixture. Gradually add 5 c of flour, and beat on medium for 3 minutes.
Cover bowl with dish towel and let rise for 1 hour.
Uncover, add 1 1/2 c flour, and mix on medium for 5 minutes. Transfer to greased bowl, cover, and let rise yet again, for 1 hour.
Punch down dough and roll out into balls. Roll smaller balls for dinner rolls, larger for sandwich rolls.
Place in 2 greased 9" tins or pie dishes. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. (Almost there!)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix together 1/2 c butter with 1/4 c honey (although I admit I ran out of butter at this point and used lard instead...mmm)
Bake rolls for 10-12 minutes, or until delicious and beautiful like picture above.
Brush with honey butter and serve with remaining butter.

You can also freeze these rolls after baking, which is really nice for someone like me who rarely bakes bread. There is truly nothing more relaxing, satisfying, and seriously tasty than baking your own bread. While is does take time, the actual work involved is minimal, and the rising times take very little planning ahead.
Warning: Do make sure that people you invite over while you bake said bread are those you actually like, because it is terribly hard to get rid of company when the smell of baking yeast bread lingers in the air.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crazy Farm People

Nature's Harmony Farm

   I feel an indescribable urge to write. To write...Right...Now. Maybe it's the fact that  I have been seriously slacking in the blogging department as of late, maybe it's the wine, but I think it's just plain inspiration. I have been reading a new book (well, one of several) that is acting as muse tonight.
   The book is called The Accidental Farmers, and the author is Tim Young. Tim and his lovely wife Liz are both farmers at Nature's Harmony Farm in the ye ole tiny town of Elberton, GA (yeah, I asked where the hell that was too). I had the pleasure of meeting them both at a Farm School they hosted last year, and then later I had the opportunity to make cheese with Tim and their awesome intern Amanda, not to mention buy the amazing naturally-raised meat, eggs, and cheese they sell. So while I do not know them well, I consider them all to be friends of mine.
   Naturally, when they released a book, I had to buy a copy right away. As of this moment I am 3/4 of the way through it, so I imagine I will be mentioning it again. Besides the personal ties I have to buying their book, and the idea I am in love with of farming and making a living off of the land, I want to talk about this book because it challenges and ingrains some very important issues and ideologies in my mind.
   I think besides the idea that farming is a hard-working lifestyle that requires early morning rooster wake-up calls, the majority of people picture a country farm life as a picturesque setting filled with sweet baby animals and awe inspiring landscapes. I commend Tim for both agreeing with and challenging this view point. I admire the fact that he lays out all of the negatives alongside the positives, and doesn't hide the ugly side of farming. There will always be death, there will always be illness. If you are an animal lover, it is always heart wrenching to experience both, even among many.
   I think what I find so surprising is that I am not deterred by this. I consider myself to be a huge animal lover, I wanted to be a veterinarian for all of my childhood, and have owned more animal species than most would in a lifetime. So the idea that I would be Ok with losing those that I raised from birth is a little startling, and reassuring. Maybe it is because I have already dabbled in the world of slaughtering my own food, but while death is not a desirable aspect of farming, expecting it is a must.
   I agree with many of both Liz and Tim's views on farming, in particular those pertaining to raising animals in the hopes they will "get back with nature". In our pursuit of cheap food, the animals we have raised have lost so much of their "animalness" in the process. They succumb to a number of diseases without medicinal help, cannot survive on natural forage alone, and most disturbingly, forgot how to breed on their own. To mimic nature and produce offspring that will eventually follow suit, unfortunately means an inevitable death toll, which Tim is quick to point out. I appreciate such honesty and transparency, and strangely it makes me feel better, maybe because I instinctively believe that everything that sounds too good to be true always will be.
   But the real reason for my rant tonight was actually inspired by a question he proposes to his readers. "What is it that so many feel is lacking or missing in their lives that creates interest in this lifestyle?" The "lifestyle" of course being that of homesteading, farming, and just a general interest in lost arts such as food preservation. For whatever reason, this question struck me to the core. Probably because I had never really thought about it before. I had always sort of assumed that my interest in things such as cheese making had stemmed from such an intense love of both cheese and animals. But I believe it is deeper than that. I have not always had such strong feelings for salami or pate. Had you asked me several years ago, I would not have been able to tell you what pancetta was.
   Why do more and more people feel such a need to seek out traditions that have long since been abandoned? Why are there almost 1,500 microbreweries in America now, compared to a mere 82 in 1980? Why has the online CharcutePalooza challenge been such a wild success? It is a question worth pondering that there are no right nor wrong answers for. I have been thinking about that question all night, and while I still don't have a definitive answer, I think the more important point here is that I am thinking about it.
   Having a passion doesn't necessarily need a clear cut reason. A woman who goes completely gaga over babies doesn't need to explain it anymore than the nut (myself) that flips out over fuzzy animals. But probing deeper into one's psyche is important I think. Getting deeper into the whys helps you better figure out what is just a phase, and what is a lifelong commitment. And more importantly, what your values are.
   Just the idea of farming day in and day out is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around, so why am I so attracted to it? An easy answer would be control. But just because you are electing to raise your own food or make your own beer does not exactly mean you have control over it. You have more control over what goes on your cheeseburger than how a batch of cheese will turn out. It's not about providing for yourself, you can do that so much more easily at the grocery store.

Nature's Harmony Farm
Farmstead Cheese

   So what is it? I'm not sure, and I would love your input here, because every reason is a good one. For me, it goes beyond avoiding chemicals or being healthier. I think it is the overwhelming feeling I have when a chicken that provides me with my breakfast follows me around the yard, or an enthusiastic friend samples a cured meat I have spent weeks preparing. It's not just about being "green", or even preserving the past, but about preserving relationships and community, with both humans and animals. In an age of technology and faceless communication, forging a life in things that are "real", not only nourishes your body and soul, but nourishes those around you and connects you to a unique community in ways you would not have expected, whether you sell for a profit or not.
   Even those of us who consider ourselves to be socially aloof (myself included) I think subconsciously  yearn for a connection to those around us that is real and lasting. I believe it is a primal need to share with those dearest to us, and what could be more valuable than something you grew or crafted yourself. Nothing says love more clearly. That can mean your closest friends, or your local food community. It's about keeping alive a "community" that has spanned generations, not just the present.
   I am grateful for being attracted to what most would consider a very bizarre way of life, and to be friends with so many around me that fuel my fire and challenge my way of thinking. Thanks Tim for asking a question I will no doubt ask myself for a long time to come.

Nature's Harmony Farm
A happy Nature's Harmony Farm pig

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CharcutePalooza: Pancetta...Conquered

   It appears that all of my pancetta rolling frustrations paid off in the end. Today I cut my pancetta down from its' gallows and further inspected it. No mold, slightly dry on the outside but still pliable, smelled tasty. All good signs. After freeing it from its' (bad) truss, I cut it straight through the middle. Beautiful! My crazed rolling attempts did pay off.

Finished Pancetta
swirly pork

   But one cannot judge a meat on good looks alone, I needed to know how it tasted. After having consumed a good deal of bacon on its' own, I figured I should incorporate this cured meat into some sort of recipe. After picking up a gorgeous bunch of kale on impulse and taking inventory of ingredients on hand, a lovely pasta dish seemed only right. Never mind it was for breakfast. Pancetta is pretty much bacon anyway.
   I used a whole wheat spaghetti for its' nutty flavor, but any pasta will do. There really isn't any sauce, allowing the pancetta to shine through instead. The earthy bitterness of both cauliflower and kale compliment the pancetta, while sweet squash contrasts it. You could just as easily use bright ingredients like fresh peas, artichokes, or asparagus for a springtime twist.

Roasted Vegetables


Roasted Cauliflower, Buttercup Squash, & Kale Spaghetti with Pancetta


1/2 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
1 small cauliflower head, divided into florets
1 buttercup squash, peeled and chopped
3 1/2 inch thick slices pancetta, cubed
1/2 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, rough chopped
1/4 c chicken or beef stock
salt & pepper

Boil spaghetti in salted water until "al dente". Drain and toss with olive oil.
Roast cauliflower and squash in a 400 degree oven until crispy and browned (about 30 minutes).
Saute pancetta in large pan until also crispy and browned (About 8 minutes). Remove and drain on paper towels.
Add onions to pan and cook until tender (4 minutes). Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add kale and toss. Add stock and cover. Cook for 6 minutes. Remove from heat.
Toss vegetables with pasta, season with salt and pepper.
Top with pancetta.


   I think the greatest lesson I am learning from all of these meaty DIY projects thus far is how special food traditions really are. It is so easy to order meat from the deli (well, other than the waiting part) and not give another thought to it. But when you take the time and effort to cure a piece of pork and watch it transform into something as identifiable and truly iconic as bacon, it really makes you stand back and appreciate the skill those before us had to not only survive on what they made, but make it so delicious too. I feel humbled by the craft I am learning.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

CharcutePalooza: Glory be to Bacon

Oh Bacon!

   CharcutePalooza, you have been so good to me. I cannot stress enough how glorious homemade bacon is. Even foregoing the smoking step of the process, my bacon turned out salty, sweet, and heavenly. It fries up quickly in the pan without shrinking into nothingness, and has a delightful crispy chew. It therefore boggles my mind that more people don't try this easy cure at home.
   The beautiful thing about making your own is that you have complete control over what goes into it, how it's flavored, and also how it is cut. My biggest complaint about grocery store bacon (besides the price) is how terribly thin it is. I'm not looking to eat bacon flavored paper, I want something I can sink my teeth into. Speaking of price, to make a 3lb. slab of bacon, all of my ingredients cost me under $12 (local farm-raised pork included). Now that I know how easy it is to make, I will never buy bacon from the store again. And thank the stars, when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I will not be without the good stuff.


   What have I been doing with all of this tasty meat? Well, I admit I haven't been too creative in the bacon cooking department. I do realize that there is a vast array of different applications for such a lovely and versatile food. I could be flavoring stews and beans, or wrapping all sorts of cuts of meat, maybe even candying it for a Bloody Mary perhaps (Ok, that is totally on the list). But really, I've just been eating it with eggs for breakfast. I love all ways in which bacon can be prepared, but now that my hens are churning out small mountains of eggs each day, how could I possibly resist home cured bacon with freshly laid eggs straight from the backyard?
   I did, however, try a slightly new variation on the eggs and bacon dish this morning. After an exceptionally crappy week (yes, I am sick, again), I thought maybe something warming and hearty would help heal my tired germy soul. And it is so easy to throw together that excuses such as sickness, hangovers, or sleepy Sunday mornings don't apply here.

Baked Eggs with Bacon


1 thick slice of rustic bread
2 slices bacon
1 slice sharp cheddar cheese (Try Seaside, Cabot Black wax, or Tillamook)
2 eggs
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Fry bacon over medium heat in skillet, drain on paper towels.
Brush a small amount of bacon grease onto bottom of a small ramekin or baking dish.
Add bread slice, top with cheese, layer on bacon, and crack eggs on top (It is ok if eggs slide off, the parts that touch the sides of the dish get extra crispy and delicious).
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake anywhere from 12-16 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs (If you like your eggs cooked hard, you can break the yolks before you bake them).

This recipe is as equally easy to make for a crowd as it is for one person. You can layer all of your ingredients into a large casserole dish if you are making this for several people.

Baked Eggs

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A good day for a Hog Killin'

little piggies
No, not these guys

   So, the other day I attended my very first hog killin'. And yes, it must be referred to as a "killin'". Not a butchering, not a slaughtering, not even a processing. That's just the way it is in the South. I imagine that very few people would ever have any desire to ever attend a hog killin', but I have been toying around with the idea of raising pigs for quite some time now, due mainly to my immense love of all things cured and made from pork, and was curious about the process.
   When I first entertained the idea of butchering my own chickens, I wasn't sure what to expect. As the chicks grew older, I never felt any real attachment to them, admiration and amusement for sure, but pets they did not become for me. So when the big day came, it was surprisingly easy. Now, killing anything should never be enjoyable, but after the kill was made it was smooth sailing. However, a pig is a bit different from a bird. And granted the hogs I would be watching were not my own, I felt it would give me a good idea of what to expect. Not to mention there would be a lot of food involved!
   The big event was held early in the morning down in a tiny little town called Woodland at the obscure Old South Farm Museum, which turned out to be a really neat place filled with all sorts of farming and food relics. I was shocked and a little inspired by the turn out, maybe 100 or so people total. My morning haziness quickly wore off in the midst of so much anxious anticipation, plus it was just damn cold. The instructor was a professor who specialized in meat science, which I had never heard of.
   The killing itself (first of two that day), went off without a hitch. The hog was shot in the head, immediately thereafter he was stuck with a knife in the jugular and allowed to bleed out quickly in the cold air. From there he was scalded with hot water and scraped of his white hair. Then strung up, gutted, beheaded, and divided into primal cuts.
   Witnessing the event gave me a much better understanding of what to expect and how one could feasibly do the same at home. It also eased my mind a little to know that the process was so quick, humane, and painless. Lastly, I felt I had respected and honored not just those particular animals, but every pig that I consume by not turning my face and hiding, but instead facing it's death and thanking it for what it provides me.
   The rest of the day was filled with nonstop demonstrations and classes on a wide array of topics, from sausage making and curing, to lye soap making and "chitlins" (the latter, I quickly discovered, I did not like). There were of course samples to accompany all of this, of which I believe I am still recovering from.

Frying pork skins
Mmm...pork skins

Making chitlins
Making, yum?

   After all of the intense pork fat snacking, the day was rounded out with yet a second hog killin', followed by 25 lbs. or so of freshly made sausage to take home. During all of this, one could have easily gotten lost in the wide array of fascinating equipment and knick knacks laying about had it not been so blasted cold. Among them was this gem...

Vintage stove
I need this

and naturally my favorite...

Vintage cheese cutter

I can't help but think that this event fits into the year-long theme of CharcutePalooza perfectly. Even though the Old Fashioned Hog Killin' of 2011 has come and gone, certainly see to it that you attend next year's if you are in the vicinity. Who knows, maybe next spring a couple of piglets will find their way onto my property!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CharcutePalooza: The roast, the roll, the risotto

Homemade Bacon

   After what felt like forever, but was really only about one week, the bacon is ready! After its' chill in the refrigerator, into the oven it went. Unfortunately, it did not see the smoker this time. The weather in Georgia is a very peculiar thing. Last weekend it was 70 degrees, I was lounging on a patio in flip flops and sipping a margarita. Today, freezing cold and rainy. So the oven would have to suffice. After a 2 1/2 hour slow roast, it was done. Nothing to it. I am going to chill it before I slice it and fry it, but I did steal a small chunk from the side, which was divine. Salty, sweet, and tons of flavor. I cut the rind off and saved it for future beans, soups, and the such.

Bacon Rind
Use rind for superior flavoring

   Project Pancetta on the other hand, was quite the pain in the ass learning experience. After its' chilly cure, it needed to be rolled up tight and tied with twine. Sounded easy enough. Maybe it was the long day at work, or possibly the lack of wine, but rolling a firm cured piece of slippery meat as tightly as possible was maddening. It took many attempts just to get the damn thing rolled, and just as many to tie it even somewhat respectably (yes, I am still completely terrible at trussing, but improving). It did not seem to matter how long I made that piece of twine, it was just never quite long enough. But after a lengthy and tiring battle, the pork caved, I won.

You guessed it, into the coat closet

   Yet another creepy piece of meat hanging silently in the closet. This one kind of resembles a person's arm, or maybe shin? It will need about 2 weeks to finish curing before it is ready. I have no idea what I am going to do with all of this meat!
   While the bacon was roasting in the oven, I thought I would take a moment to make a duck stock. I had the carcass from the prosciutto hanging out in the freezer, and I also had some leftover duck prosciutto, so naturally I should make risotto. If you haven't made your own stock before, I highly recommend that you try it. You can use either a raw or cooked carcass, be it chicken or duck. I do very little measuring when I make stock, I tend to instead just toss whatever I have in hand into the pot.

Duck Stock


1 carcass, stripped of meat
4 carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, cut into quarters
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 scallions, cut in 1/2
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 bunch parsley
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
water to cover

Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Strain, and that's it. You can chill it overnight and skim the fat off the top, but I never have the time or patience for that.

Duck Stock

  After the stock is made, you have the perfect opportunity to make risotto. Since the stock is already hot, there is not need to go to the trouble of heating it up. I used the duck prosciutto from the first CharcutePalooza challenge to bring the dish together. This is a great recipe for a cold damp night, but can be improvised for any season.

Risotto in Action

Duck Risotto with Mushrooms & Spiced Raisins


2 T butter
2 T onion, minced
6 mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs thyme, stripped
1 3/4 c Arborio rice
1/3 c red wine (heated)
7 cups of hot duck stock (can substitute with chicken, beef, or mushroom stock)
*handful of spiced raisins
1 T butter
2 T half & half (optional)
Pecorino Romano to taste
Duck Prosciutto to garnish

Melt butter in a large saucepan and add onions and mushrooms. Saute until tender.
Add rice and garlic, cook for 1 minute.
Add wine and stir until absorbed.
Add 1/2 c of stock and stir until absorbed.
Continue adding 1/2 c of stock at a time until rice is thick and al dente (about 20 min.)
Add raisins, remaining butter, half & half, and cheese.
Stir and cover for 3 min.
Spoon into individual bowls, top with more Pecorino Romano, and garnish with thin slices of duck prosciutto.

*Spiced Raisins

Heat a handful of raisins in a small bowl with brandy, allspice, and orange peel. Let steep for 20 min.

Duck Risotto