Home In Disarray

November 22, 2013

Rendering Lard

Rendering leaf lard
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I realize that I may sound like I’m a little nuts, but hear me out.  You know what fat makes a great pie crust?  Lard. What do you know about lard?  Probably not much.  Lard is fat that has been rendered from a pig.  Chicken fat is Schmaltz, beef fat is Tallow.  Lard (at least as I will discuss it) is fat from a pig.  Depending on what part of the pig the fat came from, it will have different qualities.  The purest, cleanest, least porky-tasting lard is leaf lard.  Where is that fat from?  It is a sack of fat that surrounds the pigs kidneys.  If you are up to rendering your own lard, IMO, the only lard worth going to the effort of rendering is leaf lard.  If you are conscientious about what type of pig you are getting your lard from, it can also be fairly good for you.  A pastured hog, which is what the butcher shop that I get my lard from buys, will give you a much higher omega3:omega6 fat ratio, plus tons of Vitamin D.  And you have the added peace of mind knowing that the pig was happy and healthy and able to live out its life doing pig things, instead of being locked in a dark barn with hundreds of other bored unhappy pigs.  Storebought lard is a)NOT leaf lard, leaving your baked goods with a porky flavor, b)made from sad pigs, and c)hydrogenated and shelf stable – NOT good for you. Regardless, there are a number of valid reasons to render your own lard, but most importantly, leaf lard will provide you with a beautiful fat to make epic pie crusts.

Rendering leaf lard

Rendering lard is not a pretty process.
In fact, it’s downright yucky.  But if you can handle raw chicken, you can handle lard.  The pieces are just larger when you’re dealing with leaf lard.  About 5 minutes into chopping it up, I just started giggling, realizing how comically yucky it was.  I have read that some people will actually use a meat grinder to grind up the lard, which also apparently gives you a slightly higher yield, but then you have to clean your meat grinder!  For now, I think I’ll stick with chopping.

Rendering leaf lard

Rendering lard can be a little stinky.
Last time I did it in our crock pot, and cooked it low and slow for about a day, IIRC. And it smelled.  Like lard.  After that, Craig banned me from rendering lard in the house.  Crockpotting outside would work, but if you’re like me (forgetful) it’s probably not a great plan.  I did a little bit of reading this year, and found that lard can be rendered “sous vide,” or in a vacuum packed baggy in a water bath (which I did in my crock pot).  The sealed baggies do not stink, however there is a small amount of water from the fats that will need to be removed post-rendering.

Rendering leaf lard
Rendering lard CAN be time consuming.
I keep reading things about how people rendered lard in as little as a few hours.  I have never experienced this and gotten away with lightly colored lard. The low and slow method has worked for me, so that’s what I use.  I cooked mine in a lowish water bath for nearly 24 hours before straining off the solids in a wire mesh strainer, cooking them in a nonstick skillet, and draining them again(into a separate container, in case the heat from the skillet caused them to develop color.  Then I set aside the solids in another bowl, the dogs will love them.
Rendering leaf lard
I rendered out about 3lbs of lard in this batch.  It got me about a quart of fully rendered lard.  In my photo,  you can see a thin layer of liquid at the bottom of my container.  I will pop the lard brick out, scrape off the gelatinous water layer(feed that to the dogs too!), and then remelt and strain through a coffee filter to ensure there are no additional chunks of anything.
Posted in: Clean Eating, Cooking, Food
November 19, 2013

I totally took a stab at making pretzels the “right way” and failed.

I totally took a stab at making pretzels the “right way” and failed.
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Not horrifically or anything, I am pretty sure that I know what I did wrong(boiling them too long) I also used lye for the first time.  It was terrifying.  If you’re not familiar with what lye is usually used for, here’s the list: clearing drains, melting bodies, turning fat into soap.  It is also used in the following culinary preparations: curing olives, making lutefisk, ramen noodles, and pretzels.  Lye (aka Sodium Hydroxide) is a very powerful base (the opposite of an acid).  If you’ve seen Fight Club, it’s the chemical used in the chemical burn scene.  It can be pretty dangerous.  But it’s the only way to get properly browned pretzels.  Lye can be purchased at hardware stores, but lye that’s safe to eat is best specifically “food grade” and generally needs to be purchased at either fancy soapmaking shops or the internet.  My bottle of lye cost $3, with a $12 shipping charge.  Figures.

food grade lye
I started with a pretzel dough recipe that I have had success with in the past.  It’s Smitten Kitchen’s if that matters.  It probably doesn’t.  What really makes a pretzel special is the whole boiling in lye thing, the dough just needs to be there to convey the beautiful browned crust.
pretzel making supplies

 Then I rolled out a bunch of pretzels, and what I intended to be “pretzel bites,” but which once they developed the gorgeous glossy deep brown coloring, appeared disconcertingly like poo.  Not a good choice.  If you use lye, don’t make “pretzel bites.”

rolling out pretzels
rolling out pretzels
I never said they were pretty
pretzel supplies

In order to safely use the lye, I got out some safety glasses and a pair of long rubber gloves.  The last thing that I want is a chemical burn.  The process of turning pretzel-shaped pieces of dough into pretzels is a dip in boiling lye-water.  I was under the impression that you need to actually boil the pretzels for a while.  I tested several different durations, and I think that the trick is actually just a dip, not simmering for any amount of time.  Lye, like baking soda (but more so) is quite bitter.  We found that the pretzels that spent longer boiling in the lye solution were more bitter than ones that only spent 10 seconds on each side in the solution.  All were too bitter though, so I’m pretty certain the extended time period in the lye bath is the culprit.  Additional test batches will be necessary to prove myself right.  It will be terrible and thankless work, but somebody’s got to do it! 😉

Preparing to make my lye solution
The process of pouring 3 tablespoons of lye granules into simmering water was a terrifying one. It bubbled up like crazy, and I’m not gonna lye, it got my heart rate up.  Goddamned terrifying.  But I survived and don’t appear to have any new burns, so I’d call it a success. 
lye-boiled pretzels - prebaking
After their trip through the chemical-burn-bath, each pretzel is put on a protected  baking sheet, lined either with a silpat or parchment paper (I’d recommend silpat, the parchment stuck to the bottom of the pretzels a little after baking), got a sprinkle of some grey salt and spent about 15 minutes in the oven.  

lye-boiled pretzels
What emerges is… well… A MOTHERFUCKING PRETZEL!!!!!!  No big deal.  The glorious deep dark brown color?  THAT can only be achieved through lye.  There are other methods of developing darkening in pretzels, baking soda works OK, baking soda that’s been baked for 2 hours somehow develops a higher pH, but still, LYE is the only way to get the mahogany skin, and the shine.  Magnificent. But bitter it turns out.  If I’m not on the verge of a nervous breakdown testing pumpkin pies by the end of this weekend, perhaps I will put some effort into another pretzel trial

lye-boiled pretzels
Posted in: Baking, Cooking, Food
November 18, 2013

Pictures of my dogs eating peanut butter and cuddling with a soccer ball

Pictures of my dogs eating peanut butter and cuddling with a soccer ball
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Because I love my dogs, and I don’t care if you don’t care about them.  So there!

dog eating peanut butter

dog eating peanut butter

dog eating peanut butter

malamute cuddling with stuffed soccer ball

Posted in: The Creatures
November 18, 2013

I finally broke down and bought a “new” car!

I finally broke down and bought a “new” car!
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When I wrecked my Outback, I didn’t have rental car coverage, which left me car-less (btw, it costs $9/car for 6 months, makes sense for a bad driver like me!).  It took the insurance company nearly a MONTH to cut me a check to purchase a replacement.  Since I don’t carry a loan on my car, and I didn’t intend to finance anything, that check was a necessity in terms of replacing my old car.  I ended up being lucky enough to borrow my mom’s car.  She lives about 1.5 hours away and is out of the country til early December, so I was able to take my time to find the “right” car, without a a deadline looming over my head.  I was really WANTING to get a BMW 5 series or another A4 wagon, but Craig made it clear that if I buy a high-maintenance car, that I will be the one working on it in the driveway in the rain.  So I revised my plan and figured something cheap, reliable, and Japanese.  Working within the wagon/hatch requirement, I eventually whittled down the options to a Mazda Protege5, which one of my friends has, and loves.  But it turns out there are a lot of really destroyed ones on the market, and the ones that aren’t, are very overpriced.  We test drove one that looked promising online, but it had been in a pretty big accident, and had all sorts of suspension problems.  And another one that was pretty much perfect, but the dealer was asking a full $3k above blue book value for it.  Then when we were trying to come to a deal, spent a great deal of time jerking us around and lying to us (which of course is somewhat expected at a dealer, but obnoxious nonetheless), and wasted a bunch our time trying to convince me that they would totally get someone to pay that $3k above book value.  Obnoxious.  The next day, I found one from a private seller with only 71k miles (it’s a 2003) in near perfect shape.  It has an exhaust heat shield that’s loose, but otherwise is perfect.  We came to a deal with that guy (a little more than the dealer, but the car was nicer and he wasn’t a total douche).  So we bought it.  I got it last night, and it’s a great little car.  I am enjoying driving it.  All I have is a terrible photo that I took last night in the rain without a tripod, but c’est la vie.

black protege5

Posted in: Misc
November 13, 2013

Hilarious Amazon Reviews – Sugar Free Gummy Bear Edition

Hilarious Amazon Reviews – Sugar Free Gummy Bear Edition
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Because I love amazon, and I love amazon reviews, here are some of my favorites.  If I remember correctly, I was looking at one of those enormous gummy bears, trying to talk myself out of ordering it as a stocking stuffer for Craig, when I found a linked product – sugar free gummy bears.  Because I’m a sucker for research, I love reading reviews. Below are some of my favorites, but first, you must read the “safety warning.”

Safety Warning
Consumption of some sugar-free candies may cause stomach discomfort and/or a laxative effect.  Individual tolerance will vary.  If this is the first time you’ve tried these candies, we recommend beginning with one-fourth of a serving size or less. Made with Lycasin, a sugar alcohol. As with other sugar alcohols, people sensitive to this substance may experience upset stomachs.

Just don’t. Unless it’s a gift for someone you hate. Oh man…words cannot express what happened to me after eating these. The Gummi Bear “Cleanse”. If you are someone that can tolerate the sugar substitute, enjoy. If you are like the dozens of people that tried my order, RUN!
First of all, for taste I would rate these a 5. So good. Soft, true-to-taste fruit flavors like the sugar variety…I was a happy camper.
BUT (or should I say BUTT), not long after eating about 20 of these all hell broke loose. I had a gastrointestinal experience like nothing I’ve ever imagined. Cramps, sweating, bloating beyond my worst nightmare. I’ve had food poisoning from some bad shellfish and that was almost like a skip in the park compared to what was going on inside me.

Then came the, uh, flatulence. Heavens to Murgatroyd, the sounds, like trumpets calling the demons back to Hell…the stench, like 1,000 rotten corpses vomited. I couldn’t stand to stay in one room for fear of succumbing to my own odors.

But wait; there’s more. What came out of me felt like someone tried to funnel Niagara Falls through a coffee straw. I swear my sphincters were screaming. It felt like my delicate starfish was a gaping maw projectile vomiting a torrential flood of toxic waste. 100% liquid. Flammable liquid. NAPALM. It was actually a bit humorous (for a nanosecond)as it was just beyond anything I could imagine possible.

AND IT WENT ON FOR HOURS.

I felt violated when it was over, which I think might have been sometime in the early morning of the next day. There was stuff coming out of me that I ate at my wedding in 2005.

I had FIVE POUNDS of these innocent-looking delicious-tasting HELLBEARS so I told a friend about what happened to me, thinking it HAD to be some type of sensitivity I had to the sugar substitute, and in spite of my warnings and graphic descriptions, she decided to take her chances and take them off my hands.

Silly woman. All of the same for her, and a phone call from her while on the toilet (because you kinda end up living in the bathroom for a spell) telling me she really wished she would have listened. I think she was crying.

Her sister was skeptical and suspected that we were exaggerating. She took them to work, since there was still 99% of a 5 pound bag left. She works for a construction company, where there are builders, roofers, house painters, landscapers, etc. Lots of people who generally have limited access to toilets on a given day. I can’t imagine where all of those poor men (and women) pooped that day. I keep envisioning men on roofs, crossing their legs and trying to decide if they can make it down the ladder, or if they should just jump.

Another review:

Ideal Gift For Your Congressional Representatives
The reviews are so helpful. It is so difficult to be sure you are buying something over the internet that is exactley what you are searching for.
I am sending a bag of these to every member of Congress to show my deepest gratitude.

And a reply:

At least this would get something moving through Congress…

Here’s the link if you want to read the rest yourself.  They’re all pretty good, especially if you enjoy a good poop story every now and again.

Posted in: Candy, Food, Misc
November 11, 2013

Happy Birthday to ME!!!

Happy Birthday to ME!!!
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For my birthday, my dad gave me an Amazon gift card.  If you’re not clear on just how much I love Amazon.com, let me tell you that I buy everything on amazon.  Seriously.  I buy makeup remover, cat litter, spatulas, phone cases, and chocolate.  Anything that I can think of to get on Amazon, I buy there.  It saves me a trip to the store, and helps prevent me from buying extraneous items (I can’t get out of the drugstore with less than 2 random nail polishes).

 My dad knew how picky I am, and what a compulsive researcher that I am, and figured that I would likely know best what I wanted, and I did!  I was going to get a new knife, but upon further research, I found that I could get crazier options and more variety from somewhere else.  But I did recently find frozen ducks at our local Costco, and upon setting about determining the ideal way to cook it, knew that I wanted to confit the legs.  Confit is essentially salting a piece of meat (usually a duck leg) for a short time to pull out extraneous water, then stewing it in its own fat for like 18 hours.  The problem with making duck confit is that duck fat is expensive, and getting enough to cover up 2 legs is a total pain in the ass.  Which led me to additional research where I learned that an equally effective, and less fussy way is to make them sous vide.

Sous vide is a cooking method where you seal food in an airtight bag (like a Foodsaver vacuum sealed bag), then put it in a temperature-controlled water bath to cook it slowly and to a very specific temperature.  This allows for very intense control over just HOW cooked your meal ends up.  Many people will sous vide a steak to medium rare throughout, then toss it in a screaming hot cast iron pan to sear on the outside.  It allows for you to prepare a large cut of meat for something like a dinner party without worrying about it getting overcooked, even if guests are late or whatever unforeseen circumstance may come up.  The main point of making duck confit using the sous vide method is that you can essentially surround the duck in duck fat for cooking, but only need to use like a tablespoon or two, so it’s much more manageable.

dorkfood temp controller

Sous vide can be done with regular kitchen implements (a large pot, a thermometer, and a stovetop) if you’re good at babysitting things and can come up with a stovetop setting that will hold the pot at 147 degrees for several hours.  I am incredibly forgetful though, and knowing me, I would decide to run to the store, only to determine that I am in need of something from Costco, then come home 3 hours later to a pot of boiling water and a wholly destroyed ribeye.  Sous vide machines, where they circulate precisely temperature controlled water are a great option, if you have $400+ to blow on them.  Not knowing whether I will even LIKE doing sous vide though, I am not willing to invest half the price of my stove.  Enter the Dorkfood Temp Controller.  It’s $100, and is apparently accurate to .2 degrees.  It is a box with a plug and a probe.  You set your desired water bath temp, then plug a crock pot, or rice cooker, or toaster oven(probably don’t sous vide in a toaster), or whatever into it, stick your probe in, and let it go!  It controls the power to the crock pot, turning it on and off to maintain an even temp right where you want it.  With over 100 reviews and a 5/5 star rating, I’m willing to take a gamble and give it a shot. It just came this morning, so I am excited to give it a try this week, and have a go at confitting those duck legs this coming weekend!

Posted in: Cooking, Food, Projects
November 6, 2013

Julia Child quote for today

Julia Child quote for today
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I was talking to a friend today who is just learning how to cook.  She talked about having us over for dinner and that her cooking was OK for her and her boyfriend, but not for company.  After assuring her that whatever cooking mistake she had potential to make, I have made many times in the past, and Craig and I were likely to have eaten it, I tried to quote Julia Child to her and realized that I couldn’t correctly remember the quote.  So I looked it up, and found it in a list of great Julia Child quotes.  This one’s my favorite.

Julia Child

“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” – Julia Child

Posted in: Baking, Cooking, Food, Kitchen