Posts Tagged With: frugality

we are the big bad wolf (or, what we did with the pig that didn’t get away)

So, a while back, I pretty much swore to you guys that Micah and I wouldn’t be buying another pig head.

I lied.

Oops.

Here’s the thing:

Micah really, really loves curing him some pig meat.

He most recently made bacon from a pretty slab of pork belly, but one of his favorite and most frequent curing projects is guanciale, a salty and porky cured Italian hog jowl that tastes kind of like bacon on steroids.

And lately, we’ve been having trouble finding hog jowls from any of our usual sources. None in the Athens Locally Grown listings, none in the Moonshine Meats farm store.

It’s like every recently slaughtered pig within a 100-mile radius is mysteriously without cheeks.

We’re almost out of bacon, so the situation was getting urgent. Dire, even.

Micah emailed Eric at ALG, and he suggested that Micah contact Greendale Farm–who turned out to also be sold out of hog jowls.

But they did have whole heads.

So, guys, it was an accident, but yes…we did end up with another massive pig head in our refrigerator.

I’ll spare your gag reflexes and forgo the photo of the whole big ol’ head staring at you…but I do have to share the impressive amount of pantry staples one head will yield.

First, the jowls:

in about two and a half more weeks, we’ll be in hog heaven with this cheeky, streaky bacon

And here’s the rest of the haul:

look at that army of freezer jars…..

So, what exactly is all this stuff?

Well, here’s what one pig head will very generously give you:

  • about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds delicious home-cured hog jowl bacon
  • 3 gallons + 2 cups pork stock (freeze in 1- to 2-cup portions for easy additions to soups, stews, and sauces)
  • 1 cup lard (makes a great cooking fat, especially for brunch and Southern fixins)
  • about 1 pound pig skin trimmings (perfect for seasoning beans, greens, and soups)
  • about 2 pounds pulled pork meat (which we used to make some fantastic barbecue sandwiches)
  • 1 pork tongue (I have no idea what Micah plans to do with this, but it’s in our freezer…I’ll keep you posted!)

Micah spent pretty much a whole day prepping all this stuff, but now we’ve got a freezer and refrigerator full of delicious pork products that cost us next to nothing.

Was it worth it?

Yep, I do believe it was.

And, because I’m sure some of you are wondering:

No, we did NOT make any headcheese with this hog head. We picked the meat off of the skull, but we left all that weird cartilaginous stuff out of our harvest.

I swear, we’ll never make headcheese again.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t swear. I haven’t been too good at keeping promises lately. 🙂

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supper tonight – 4.2.12 – not too offal…

My Pappaw loved braunschweiger (also called liverwurst…?) on crusty bread with brown mustard. I remember cutting myself a little sliver of this spreadable liver sausage when I was about five or six, reasoning that if Pappaw liked it, it must be good. And it was…kinda. But I don’t think he ever convinced me to try it again.

Then, somehow, inexplicably, I grew up to be a liver eater.

A few years ago, Micah and I got on a kick where we would make open-faced sandwiches by toasting a piece of bread topped with braunschweiger, thick-sliced tomato, and a generous helping of extra sharp cheddar. That was pretty darn tasty, and I’m kind of wondering–why has it been, like, three years since we made one of these?

Aside from this deli meat, I’ve somehow managed to sample plenty of other liver dishes in the last five or six years, maybe because I married a man who hates normal things like broccoli but loves to eat pretty much anything weird.

Micah and I enjoyed the beer-battered fried chicken livers at Farm Burger in Decatur, Georgia, so much that we asked for–and received–the recipe. (When Micah tried to replicate our magical crispy-fried liver experience at home, he managed to set the kitchen on fire…but we still got to eat some livers, and they were delicious, and our house didn’t burn down.)

We’ve had various liver pâtés and mousses at some of our favorite restaurants, and they’ve all been amazing. If you’re ever in Savannah, eat at Cha Bella and cross your fingers that the chicken liver mousse is on the menu that night. Same for Empire State South in Atlanta. And the butcher board at Farm 255 here in Athens often includes a liver mousse that’s perfect with some of their buttery grilled bread and house-made pickles.

Even a few controversial liver delicacies have made it onto our plates, including monkfish liver (which is freaking amazing, but unsustainably over-fished) and foie gras (even more heavenly, though the folks at PETA might challenge Chef Dan Barber to a knock-down, drag-out brawl over it one of these days).

Now that I’ve got the guts to try just about anything, I’m a liver lover at heart…but there’s one animal’s organ meat that I still can’t quite stomach.

The cow.

Micah convinced me that we should buy a beef kidney a few years ago. It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted. It looked, smelled, and tasted like cat food…but even Cheesepuff and Magellan wouldn’t eat it.

And, as you can probably tell from their fluffy
fatness,these guys don't usually turn down food.

Only slightly better was the beef liver, which we cooked just a few weeks after that awful kidney experience. We breaded it and fried it and sprinkled it with lemon juice and ate it on tacos, and it was….pretty gross.

So when one of our Moonshine Meats CSA orders a while back included a pound of beef liver, I tucked that little vacuum-sealed package deep in the cavernous reaches of our freezer and crossed my fingers that the appliance elves might make off with it before Micah remembered that he wanted to try cooking beef livers again.

He found that bag o’ beef liver last week and put it in the fridge to defrost.

Yay. More cow guts.

We looked at different preparations before finally settling on this recipe for Barbecued Beef Liver from Allrecipes.com, because the description promised,

“Beef liver simmered in a sweet and tangy sauce will tempt the picky eaters in your family! Even our teenagers like this.”

And one reviewer said,

“This recipe is the bomb!!!! The liver taste is gone. I eat it likes its hamburger.”

(Plus, we figured that smothering almost anything, even a hunk of organ meat, goes down easier with a heaping helping of barbecue sauce.)

So smother we did, with lots of barbecue sauce and a big pile of leftover mashed potatoes from Friday night’s dinner.

Notice how you can't really see the beef liver in this picture?
That's exactly what I was going for.

The mashed potatoes were delicious, of course. The barbecue sauce was sweet and tangy, just as promised. But the beef liver…well, it still tasted like beef liver. Thank goodness the ratio of taters to sauce to liver was something like 5:4:1.

If you like beef liver, by all means, try this recipe! And if you don’t like beef liver, just skip the first few ingredients and make the barbecue sauce, because it would be pretty tasty on pretty much anything…even, kind of, on beef liver. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 1 pound of beef liver, thinly sliced (we soaked ours overnight in lemon juice, though we also could’ve used milk)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup Pabst Blue Ribbon
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

Step-by-step:

  • Whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, canned tomatoes, and beer. Enjoy the rest of the PBR while you cook those stupid beef livers, if you have to. (If you don’t like beef liver, I recommend only doing this step and skipping all the rest.)
  • Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a plastic bag. Add the liver slices, seal the bag, and shake it up to coat the liver.
  • Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the liver pieces to the skillet and brown on both sides.
  • Pour in your barbecue sauce, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • To serve: put the liver at the very bottom of your bowl or plate. Ladle on a very generous helping of your delicious barbecue sauce, and pile on a big heap of mashed potatoes for good measure. Make sure every bite includes a tiny tidbit of liver smothered by plenty of the other stuff in your bowl.

Micah and I tend to agree on most food-related subjects, but as we ate supper tonight, he said he would make this recipe again. (Really?) I guess that means he’s in charge of finishing our leftover liver, since he’s clearly more of a liver lover than I’ll ever be.

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supper tonight – 3.25.12 – kitchen disaster + leftovers mashup = not too bad after all…

If you’ve been keeping up, you know these two things about me by now:

  1. I’m a walking disaster in the kitchen.
  2. I absolutely must use up every last little bit of anything leftover in my refrigerator.

Yes, I’m a Depression-era housewife scavenging scraps in a minefield. Nothing gets thrown away if I can help it, but I just might die in an explosion one day.

So tonight, for supper, Micah and I had an interesting challenge. Our leftovers included a big hunk of ham steak and some Branston pickle from the ploughman’s platter I enjoyed at the Royal Peasant Friday night, about two cups of potlikker (the last of it, unfortunately), and four cornmeal pancakes from last Sunday’s breakfast.

Yeah, about those pancakes….they were a disaster.

Here’s what happened: while looking for cornmeal pancake recipes a few weeks ago, I came across two that I really wanted to make. One from Hillbilly Housewife, which turned out quite tasty, and one from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, which I didn’t get around to trying until last Sunday.

I didn’t have pine nuts and didn’t want vanilla (in case we might use leftovers in some savory dish later)–but otherwise, I followed Mr. Bittman’s directions exactly, because he’s kind of a smart dude who knows what he’s talking about.

Where did I go wrong? I have no idea. But somehow, when I got to the step where Mark Bittman’s batter was described as “spreadable but still thick,” my batter was a watery, soupy mess. I retraced my steps, double-checked my measurements…and I still can’t tell you what my mistake was.

Skeptically optimistic, I tried spooning a bit of my runny batter on the griddle. It spread super thin and bubbled like cornmeal lava. Undaunted, I let my test pancake cook for about five minutes (thinking that the longer side of Bittman’s “3-5 minutes” would probably serve me best).

After five minutes, I decided to check and see if my pancake’s underside was golden brown like Bittman said it would be. I can’t tell you whether it was golden brown or not, because my pancake turner did not succeed in flipping this little disc of cornmeal. Instead, I ended up with a strange, mushy polenta nugget, which tasted very good when I finally gave up on cooking it, but was most definitely not a pancake.

The batter is too thin, I decided….so I added more cornmeal.

Too much, apparently, because my end product tasted fine, but it was dense like a sope, not fluffy like a pancake. Copious amounts of maple syrup were needed, and the cakes were still pretty heavy and dry.

The recipe ended up making 12 pancakes, so the extras went into the fridge.

(There’s something so demoralizing about having leftovers of something you didn’t enjoy the first time around…especially if you’re neurotic about using those leftovers whether you like them or not….)

Fast forward to tonight, when I saw those stupid corn pucks taunting me from their little square plastic container in the fridge: Betcha can’t make us into a delicious dinner!

Armed with my potlikker (the elixir of the gods), and a few other quality ingredients, I set out to turn last week’s kitchen disaster into some kind of edible supper.

corn pucks + ham + Branston pickle + carrots + mushrooms + potlikker = not too shabby

What’s in it:

  • 4 leftover cornmeal pancakes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • about 4.5 ounces of ham, cubed
  • 3 small carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms
  • 2 cups potlikker (you could sub your favorite broth/stock)
  • 1 tablespoon Branston pickle (you could sub a different tangy relish or chutney)

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wrap the pancakes in foil and throw the packet in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.
  • While the corn cakes warm, heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
  • Add the diced ham and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the potlikker and Branston pickle. Simmer and reduce until your potlikker broth is good and thick and syrupy.
  • Put two pancakes on each plate and top with the mixture from your skillet.

The verdict? Dodged another mine tonight. No explosions. It really wasnt bad at all. The sauce was sweet, salty, tangy, smoky; the mushrooms and ham, hearty and savory; the carrots, sweet and tender. It was almost enough to redeem those disastrous pancakes. 🙂

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quick lunch – 3.12.12 – leftovers mashup + quinoa

I’m on spring break this week (woohoo!), so Monday I decided to cook a midday meal for Micah and enjoy it with him on his lunch break.

The challenge? Leftovers.

Besides my neuroses about eating my food from contrasting dishes, I’ve also got a serious obsession with eating or using every last tidbit of leftover anything. Sometimes, that  just means I’ll eat chili every day for a week at lunch because we made a big batch. Sometimes, leftover vegetables go into a soup. Sometimes, that leftover soup becomes pasta sauce. And sometimes, I’ll save things like 3/4 of a cup of potlikker from a batch of collard greens.

Yes, I hoard cooking liquid. But if you’ve ever slurped up a spoonful of potlikker, you know why. It’s smoky and salty from the ham hock that simmered in with the greens, it’s tangy from a splash of apple cider vinegar, it’s spicy from a dash of hot sauce, and it’s sweet from a sprinkling of brown sugar. This humble stuff is amazing all on its own, and when you cook with it, you can work magic.

Besides this 3/4 cup of heavenly broth, what else did I have to work with? About two cups of leftover butterbeans from a veggie-filled supper last Tuesday, a couple of pork sausage patties from Sunday’s lazy brunch, some lovely cherry tomatoes, and a bag of rainbow quinoa.

The delicious result:

This came together in about 30 minutes (most of which was inactive time as the quinoa cooked), and Micah and I both enjoyed this hearty one-dish meal.

What’s in it:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 3/4 cup potlikker
  • two cups cooked butterbeans
  • two cooked patties of pork breakfast sausage (about 2-3 ounces), crumbled
  • about a cup of cherry tomatoes, halved (or quartered, if they’re big ones)
  • a little oil for drizzling over the top

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the quinoa. Stir it around in the hot oil for about 5 minutes. (It’ll smell yummy and nutty as it starts to toast.)
  • Add the potlikker, bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.
  • Stir in the beans, sausage, and tomatoes, and warm on the stove until the whole thing’s heated through.
  • Divide into two bowls. Or eat the whole pot by yourself, because that’s kind of what I wanted to do. 🙂
  • Drizzle with a little more olive oil, or (even better) a splash of red chile oil and cilantro oil. (We cancelled our cable and no longer have the Food Network, but we’ll always have the magic of Bobby Flay’s flavored oils.)

You could substitute your favorite variety of beans, any kind of sausage, a different grain….you could even use regular old chicken broth instead of the potlikker, if you have to. But if you happen to cook and eat a mess of greens any time soon, save the juicy goodness that’s left in the pot. It’ll change your life.

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why “humble feast”?

What’s with the name, anyway?

Naming this blog was hard. Maybe not as hard as naming a baby (which I’ve never done), but almost as hard as naming a pet (which I have).

Since I hope this blog will stick around, I needed a title with a timeless ring to it. Not too of-the-moment (as locavore, whole food, sustainable, organic, and seasonal have become). These ideas are all important to me, but I needed something a little less buzz-y. Micah suggested I incorporate the term “foodie.” I laughed. That is so 1981!

During my days as an English major at UGA, one of my favorite words was juxtaposition. Partly because I like big words that’ll get me lots of points in Scrabble, but mostly because I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of contrast. Maybe to excess. (One of my habits that drives Micah bonkers is an insistence that food be served on or in a dish that is a contrasting color. No broccoli soup from a green bowl or golden brown fried foods from an orange plate. Yeah, so now you all know how neurotic I am. Not that it wouldn’t have come out soon enough.)

Anyway, so my blog title brainstorming session kept coming back to the word feast. We don’t literally feast in this house, at least not in the gorge-yourself-on-rich-food-till-you-puke-like-a-Roman sense. We don’t consume huge portions or splurge on many decadent foodstuffs, and most of what we cook is both healthy and economical. Still, we do have kind of a ritual around cooking and eating–almost always real food from real dishes, almost always at the dining room table together instead of in front of the TV or our laptops. Combine that sense of ceremony with some dang good food, and feast starts to make sense.

Now, I needed a contrasting adjective, one that brought feast back down to the everyday. Humble, in a decidedly uncharacteristic manner, jumped up and down and said, “Me! Me!” It’s hard to ignore such a versatile word. Humble captures the down-to-earth charm of words like ordinary, modest, and unsophisticated…the practicality of words like frugal and economical…the sweetness of words like reverent and gracious.

So what’s a humble feast? It’s a simple but delicious meal, cooked at home and shared with the people you love.

* * * * *

Oh, yeah. One more consideration: my title choice also had to be available as a [name].WordPress.com URL. 🙂

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