Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Going Hog Wild

My husband and I slaughtered and butchered a whole hog this weekend. Little did I know, the work involved in the 'pasture to pork chop' process . I am humbled. There is skill in both slaughtering and butchering, and I now know that I only wish to master the art of butchering.

In the beginning, I always new that I wanted to raise my own food. A garden soon led to our egg laying hens, which led to some young feeder pigs from a friend's homestead. They were cute. There is no denying that we practiced extremely, extraordinary animal husbandry. When our pigs leaned in for a rump scratch, we obliged them. When the temperatures dropped, we made them a deluxe straw-bale bed. We fed them organic produce scraps from the Co-op and chased them around the pasture. It was over the top, but our pigs grew up into beautiful specimens. I have discovered that beautiful specimens taste delicious. It was worth doing 'pig' chores in the rain, the fog, and now the bitter cold. I feel tremendous joy that we did this. We did it! From pasture to pork chop, there were many lessons learned and many skills gained.

I was introduced to 'The anatomy of Thrift', a you tube series based on the art of butchery. You can watch the series on side butchery, which I shared on my last post. The videos were a life saver, and we need to hug all of the folks involved in putting together that very helpful tutorial on butchery. There are no butcher shops in Grand Marais. You are on your own when it comes to processing your animals, so inevitably we have become self- sustaining homesteaders. I just high- fived myself!

To carry on with homesteading traditions, I rendered my own lard; being careful to render the fat back separate from the treasured leaf lard. The leaf lard is the fat found along the inside of the loin and surrounds the organs. It is the highest grade of fat because it has the least amount of 'porky' flavor. It is ideal for pastries, so you pastry chef pals will be getting a jar! After rendering I was left with pork cracklings, which we overdosed on immediately. They are like pork croutons! So great on salads or to float in a bowl of creamy tomato soup.  I'll share a wheat-free buttermilk biscuit recipe using a lard and butter blend in the future.

the rendered lard with pre-broken down loins

The bacon is being cured thanks to an article from 'The Splendid Table', which you can check out at splendidtable.org/recipes/curing-your-own-bacon. I was nervous about handling my own bacon, but this recipe talks you through it. After reading you will probably be tempted to go out and buy your own side of pork belly, and cure your own bacon. Rock on! In the recipe, the cure is easy and there are smoking variations using your patio grill and/ or your oven. Salt, sugar, and smoke. I got this! The hams will have a soak in a brine and then have a smoke and roast later. Hooray for salty, smokey pork!

the pork belly before I removed the spare ribs
doesn't everyone stick recipes on the cupboard doors?

All in all, it was a successful weekend. Successful that we are harvesting  healthy, home-grown food. Successful that we can be self- sustaining. And successful that we are teaching and preserving this old school way of living to future generations. My daughter was fascinated by the different cuts of pork laid out on our dinning room table. She wanted to know where each of the cuts came from. She was literally tickled when I showed her where pork belly is found.  I think she will be a future bacon enthusiast. In the end we lived more and learned more. We are thankful to everyone! Thanks you family! Thank you friends! Thank you pigs!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Venison & Butternut Squash Chili

Outside it is drizzling, sometimes sleeting, and sometimes sunny- with a slight wind off of the lake. It's the typical deer hunting conditions of Northern Minnesota, which is happening right now. This weekend kicks off the start of the season, and as I went into Buck's hardware to pick up my kitchen knives, which were being sharpened, and a gallon of pink paint for my daughter's bedroom, there was a line up at the scale outside. Blaze orange and mud. Those are the colors that decorate the hunters weighing in their game of the day. I am not much of a hunter. I am keeping the fire going and making venison chili. I might also be online shopping for the perfect pair jeans, while I paint my daughter's bedroom pink- with my trusty Labrador under foot, anticipating a venison handout which is not going to happen. It's exhausting work, really.

I grew up hunting with my Dad,  my Aunt Rene (Who can handle a gun like Annie Oakley, and shoots a buck on opener day almost every year), and Uncles. We would wake up early, before the sunrise, and guzzle hot chocolate and munch on snacks that my mom would pack for us, our eyes still closed. We would walk as quietly and gracefully as an uncoordinated  youngster can, while wearing too many layers of clothes, boots that were a few sizes too big, and carrying a gun. We were obnoxious juveniles, but my Dad was always fairly patient. I don't really think he was worried about harvesting a deer, but wanted to give us the opportunity instead. When we became way too fidgety from the cold settling in down our necks and through our insulated coveralls, we would head back to the house. My Mom always had chili at the ready. Thank goodness Mom!! Seriously, I wasn't that into deer hunting, but it gave us a chance to be out in the wild, learning skills that I never thought would be beneficial to my future. We were on the prowl, like young savages. I'm sure it also gave my Mom a much needed break from her always louder than life kids. It was a good time had by all.

This afternoon, as I reminisce of the past and spend far too much time taking pictures of food, I feel bliss. I may not be able to compete with my Aunt, whom shoots a muzzle loader and I have witnessed skinning a squirrel  in record time. I am not out hunting deer right now. But I did spend most of my time as a kid running around in the forests and pastures of Wisconsin, and I am gifting that experience to my daughter. I do spend a remarkable time outdoors, comfortable in that environment. Yeah, I sometimes find myself trying desperately to decide if skinny jeans are right for me.... but I feel bliss that I have balanced all of it out. The outdoors, the indoors, the skinny jeans, and the flavors of my chili. Slightly game-y venison paired with sweet and earthly butternut squash- grown in my sister-in-law's straw bale garden. Just the right amount of chilies, cumin, and cinnamon make it just how I want it. The porter helps add the dark and roast-y flavors, as well as the poblano peppers and the fire roasted tomatoes. Getting a really good sear on the venison really makes the magic happen. I hope you enjoy!!!

These were the two essentials to adding dept of flavor to the venison chili!

Venison & Butternut Squash Chili

3 pounds venison, trimmed and cubed
1 medium onion, small diced
1 heaping Tbls roasted garlic (about 5 cloves), chopped
1 medium poblano pepper, chopped
2 Tbl chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 bottle of porter (I used Summit Great Northern Porter)
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
4 cups butternut squash, large dice
2 cans black beans, drained
salt and black pepper to taste

Sear the venison in batches in a large- heavy bottomed pot or a cast iron griddle, using olive oil of bacon fat. Set the venison aside. In the same pot add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the poblano pepper and saute a few minutes more. Add the venison back to the pot with the chili powder, cumin, and the cinnamon. Saute everything, stirring often, to brown up the spices. Add the porter, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan, and reduce the heat to low. Add the tomatoes, taste and season well with salt and black pepper. Allow to simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is almost tender. Add the butternut squash, and more beer if the chili seems a bit dry. Continue to simmer on low for about 20 more minutes until the squash and the venison are tender. If you add the squash too soon, it may break down into oblivion before the venison becomes tender. If that happens, it will still taste really great!! Adjust the seasonings to your liking. When the chili is complete, turn off the heat and add the beans. Don't worry, the residual heat will warm the beans. Ladle into bowls, and top with any or all of the following; sour cream, fresh cilantro, diced avocado, and my Mom's favorite- crushed Frito corn chips. Belly up!!

the cubed venison
Getting a good sear is important. I am using this awesome stove top cast iron griddle that my Mom no longer had use for. It is awesome! It's like having my own flat top in my kitchen!

The large diced butternut squash. Roasting the squash in a 400 degree oven until it is tender and toasty would be a fine way to handle the squash, instead of cooking it in the chili.  Add it to the chili at the end of cooking, with the beans. Just another way to incorporate a roasted flavor element to your chili!