Recipes, Uncategorized

Rendering Bear Fat

I called this blog “Garden, Forest, Field” for a reason. Most of my posts are about the garden and what I harvest from it, and how I cook it or preserve it, with some recipes for using the wild game we eat, usually bear and venison and fish. The blog has evolved into a mostly-about-cooking-whatever-I’m-cooking blog, with occasional forays into the philosophical or the profound. (Thus speaks the former professor!)

Today’s post might seem a bit esoteric for some. I mean, how many of those who read this blog actually hunt, or hunt bears, or cook bear meat, or would have access to bear fat? Probably very few. It might be useful to note that this technique of rendering an animal’s fat works for any animal fat, so no matter what animal you harvest, if the meat is good, with a little extra work you can have a source of pure fat for cooking and baking.

Our pioneer forebears had to render animal fat. They needed it for all sorts of things. Fat lamps for light in the winter, fat for biscuits and bread, fat for waterproofing leather shoes and horse tack, fat for sealing the tops of crocks of pickled meats, fat for soap-making, fat for soothing winter-chapped hands, feet, and lips. Fat for calories on cold winter days and nights.

In our times, fat has been the enemy, and then the worm turned, and fat has become our friend. Healthy fat. Clean fat. (For the complete low-down on dietary fat, and I do mean complete, here’s a wonderful guide: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-fats.htm.)

As I was rendering fifteen pounds of bear fat yesterday, cut from the carcass of a young bear last September, I was thinking about that. Clean fat. Organic meat. Many, many people ask me, “What does bear meat taste like?” And they ask it with wrinkled nose and rolled-up eyes. I don’t know where this perception comes from, that bear meat is universally nasty. It can be. Any meat can be nasty, depending on what the animal has been eating. I’ve eaten nasty-tasting beef and pork. Which calls into question what the feed lots are feeding those animals and the horrific ways they are killed and processed. I have had nasty-tasting bear meat. When I was a kid, camping out for the summer with my parents up in the mountains to shorten my logger father’s travel time to work, somebody shot one of the bears who was getting into the garbage at the little dump for the company campground. We were given some of the meat. It was nasty. (We ate it, though!) It tasted like garbage. Well, duh. That’s what it had been eating! I would imagine that bears who’ve been feasting on fish would taste rather strong and fishy, although I’ve not ever eaten a fish-eating grizzly.

The black bears we harvest come from high in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. They live far from human habitation, and they haven’t been eating garbage. Bears are omnivores, so they have been eating any and every thing they can get past their teeth. They aren’t big hunters, but they will capture and eat young fawns, small rodents, and large insects, as well as grubs and larvae from rotten stumps and logs, roots, berries, grass, and yes, carrion of all kinds. But it’s organic carrion! If bears lived on carrion alone, I suppose their flesh would taste nasty, but they don’t, so evidently a little carrion doesn’t hurt the meat’s flavor. There are very few fish anymore in the lakes and streams where we hunt, so the bears aren’t eating much fish. All this to say that the three bears we have taken from the mountains have been outstanding eating. And when you think about it, why wouldn’t they be? The bears have been eating a completely organic, completely natural diet. This is the highest order of clean meat, which is going to produce the highest order of clean fat.

The flavor of this bear meat is something like grass-fed beef, only better. It is more flavorful, although I would be hard pressed to explain how. When the bears are taken in the August hunting period, with a bow, they are still very lean. There is virtually no fat to harvest. The mid-September bear this year had a couple of inches of fat under the pelt, and it was so fresh and new, it liquefied in my hands as the guys cut it off and gave it to me to bag. I put 3 five-pound bags of fat into the travel trailer freezer, and that was the fat I rendered yesterday.

Before I started this process, I read about it online and asked friends who had rendered other fats. I’m thankful to those who have gone before me, especially David Draper, the Wild Chef, on the Field & Stream blog site, and my friend, Shannon Luzum. Here’s how I did it, and remember, this method works for all animal fats you might want to render: beef, deer, duck, etc.

First, thanks to my soap-making friend, Shannon of Stacked Stone Farm, I knew to grind up the fat for faster rendering. That made a huge difference in the time it took. This was important because it took all day to render that much fat in my big stock pot, and it had to be stirred several times each hour so that it wouldn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

First, I cut the fat into cubes and strips to make it easier to feed through the meat grinder’s chute. (The guys had been really careful to keep the fat clean as they cut if off and handed it to me. I only had to rinse one piece to get rid of some forest debris and a couple of hairs. That’s important, of course, that the fat be clean. But it is easy to rinse and pat dry with paper towels if you need to.) As I was portioning the fat, I cut off any little bits of red meat. There wasn’t much. My guys are accomplished skinners, and they keep things really clean. I set the scraps aside to render separately, because I’d read that meat could taint the flavor of the fat. That scrap fat will be used for boot grease.

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Then, using our son’s electric meat grinder with the large screen in place (we tried the other two screens but they clogged up), we ground the fat into small bits. Because it had completely thawed by the time we started, some of the fat liquefied as it was ground. This wasn’t really a problem as it started melting as soon as the bottom of the pan got hot on the burner. I think it would have been easier to grind if the fat had still been semi-frozen, but the timing just didn’t work out that way for us.

As the fat was ground, I removed it to my big, 12-quart stainless steel stock pot. I turned the burner on medium to get the fat melting, which it did within five minutes or so, and then I turned the heat down to medium-low so that the fat wouldn’t burn. I kept the heat at the point where the fat was at a gentle sizzle. It sizzles as the water in the fat cooks off.

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Surprising, there’s a good bit of connective tissue holding the fat together. That stuff can clog the grinder screen and wrap around the screw, but it wasn’t a problem until Dennis was taking the grinder apart to clean it. By the time we got all the fat ground, the stock pot was half full, which is about 6 quarts of fat particles.

Then it was just a matter of keeping the heat low and slow, watching the sizzle, and stirring. The fat liquefied very easily. It took about 9 hours to finish rendering. It did tend to stick to the bottom if it wasn’t stirred about every fifteen minutes.

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Rendering was complete when the sizzle and bubble slowed to almost nothing, the tiny particles that were left were golden brown, and they sank to the bottom of the pan. The fat floated on top and was a clear golden color.

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Then, it was time to take the pot off the heat and let it cool slightly. I put the pot in my cold laundry room with the window open (it was 32 degrees outside) to cool off enough for straining.

For straining the fat, I set up a small sieve lined with the nylon tulle that I use for straining everything from homemade ricotta cheese to berries for jelly or juice. I like it better than cheesecloth because it has smaller holes and is easily washed for the next use.

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I needed the fat to be cool enough to go into the containers I’d chosen to store it in. I thought about mason jars, until I realized that I was going to have something like 6 quarts of fat to store. The fat will keep for several months in the fridge, and practically forever in the freezer, so I knew I needed to store the majority of it in the freezer. The way things tumble out of my freezer and onto my feet on a regular basis meant that mason jars were not a good choice. I thought about it all day as the fat was rendering, and I decided to raid the recycle bin for plastic butter and cottage cheese containers. These are one pound containers with tight fitting lids that have the benefit of being stackable in the freezer. Also, I can take one container out of the freezer before I want to use it, stash it in the fridge, and probably use it all up within a couple of months. I’m not going to be eating or using this fat every day, so this much of it will probably last me a year!

It took a couple of hours in a cold room for the fat to cool down to warmish. Even though it had been on a low temperature through the last hours of rendering, it was still sizzling hot when I took it off the stove. After about two hours in a cold room, the sides of the pan were just warm, the fat was still liquid, and was ready for straining.

I strained the fat into my biggest plastic mixing bowl with a pouring lip. Then I poured it into the containers that we’d set up on a cookie sheet. I left an inch or so of headspace in each container to allow for any expansion that might occur as the fat froze. I didn’t put the containers into the freezer right away because I didn’t want any condensation from the still warm fat to appear on the inside of the lids. The scrap fat was strained last and put into a separate container. There was only about a half a cup of it. I left the containers uncovered in the laundry room with the window cracked, overnight.

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All the cracklin’ bits we put in an empty coffee can for the chickens. Some people eat them, but all they tasted like to me was fat, and I knew the chickens would think they were bugs. With snow on the ground now, the chickens could use a bug replacement. And I can report that they really loved their first small helping.

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The next morning, to my surprise, the fat was still liquid. (From the reading I’ve done, I’m guessing that this fat, maybe because it was so newly formed on the bear, is mostly unsaturated, as it remained liquid at a cold room temperature, but I’m not entirely sure about this. If I were Alton Brown, I could explain it, but I’m not, so I can’t.) The fat was cool, but there was no solidification, except a trace amount on the one small container of scrap fat. I put the lids on the containers, labeled them, and then stashed them in the freezer, still on the cookie sheet to contain any possible spillage before the fat froze.

So, now I have this beautiful, rendered bear fat, and what am I going to do with it? I tasted the fat, and it has no flavor. None. No meaty taste, no gamey taste. It is virtually flavorless, which will make it fine for flaky pastry doughs (bear pot pie and pear mincemeat pie coming up!), and I’m looking forward to trying it in biscuits with bear roast and dumplings on a bear stew. I’m going to try frying with it. I’ve heard of duck fat fries although I have not eaten them. Maybe I’ll try bear fat fries. Or bear fat doughnuts! And I’m really considering making some bear tamales, with bear meat in the filling and bear fat in the masa. I plan to use it in recipes as lard would be used, and I expect to have to experiment. So stayed tuned for these and other adventures with rendered bear fat.

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Now for a brief foray into philosophy. Rendering the bear fat was a day’s work. I had time to do other things as the fat was cooking down, and it wasn’t an arduous process, from grinding to cooking to straining. But I would probably have done it even so, because I think it’s important to follow a “waste not, want not” practice. (It’s one thing to have a waste not, want not philosophy; it’s another altogether to put it into practice!) I grew up that way, raised by parents who had themselves grown up in poverty and who struggled their way out during my lifetime. I’ve lived through lean years, when all we had to eat was what Mama grew or scavenged and put in the freezer or jars, and what Daddy brought home with a bullet (or hook) hole in it, whether it was in season or not.

But there’s more to it than that for me. I don’t have to try to find a way to use every scrap of a vegetable or fruit harvest, or an animal. But I just don’t want to waste any of what I’m given. That’s dishonoring the gift. If an animal gives up its life so I can eat, I show respect by not wasting a bit of it, from scraps to bones to fat. I show respect for the Creator, the earth, and the life that grows on it by being a wise steward of what’s given me for my life. And if that means cooking down deer bones for stock or rendering bear fat for baking and frying, I’ll do it. And I’ll feel good about it.

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Gluten-free, Leftovers, Main dishes, Recipes

Turkey Pot Pie

I love Thanksgiving leftovers. I’m perfectly happy to eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce for days afterwards. Days. But eventually, I start wanting to do something different with my leftovers.

On Day 3, I put two turkey dinner plates with the works in the freezer. I also made mashed potato cakes from the over-abundance of mashed potatoes for brunch on Sunday and still had some left over. What to do? Then the light bulb clicked on. Turkey pot pie.

The thing that clinched this dish, turkey pot pie, was the fact that I had a little bit of pie dough left over too. I also had some mushrooms that needed to be used before they became unusable. I have a lot of carrots in the fridge from my garden (and more in the garden), and I had some raw turnips already peeled and cut which were left over from the raw veggie plate.

I didn’t have a lot of cornbread stuffing left over, but I had the thought to use it for the bottom crust of the pot pie. I’ve never done this before, but I figured it could go one of two ways. Either the stuffing would crisp up and form a crunchy crust on the bottom, or it would absorb the juices of the other filling ingredients and become moist and succulent again. And either way would be fine. It turned out the second way, with the stuffing absorbing the juices of the rest of the filling, and it was delicious. So here’s how I did it, complete with pictures.

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Pot Pie

(all measurements are approximate—use your judgement and your taste with the layers, add ingredients that you like, such as peas)

1 ½ cups leftover stuffing (link to my gluten-free cornbread stuffing)

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

2 cups diced carrots

2 cups diced turnips (optional)

½ cup diced onions

½ cup diced celery

1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups leftover turkey meat, light or dark or both, chunked

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil

½ cup leftover turkey gravy

1 unbaked pastry circle for top (I make a gluten-free crust that’s really good.  Recipe coming soon!)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt butter or heat oil in large skillet. Add carrots and turnips and sauté for 5-10 minutes, or until carrots start to caramelize.  Add onions, celery, and mushrooms. Salt and pepper lightly. (Remember, there will be salt in the stuffing, the gravy, and the mashed potatoes.) Sauté vegetables until mushrooms have released their liquid and the liquid has mostly been cooked away or absorbed. Stir frequently.

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While vegetables are sautéing, butter or spray oil the bottom and sides of a nine-or-ten inch pie plate. Crumble stuffing between your fingers and press it onto the bottom of the pie plate, and up the sides if you have enough and want to. Dollop the mashed potatoes over the stuffing and press into a compact layer.

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Spoon the sauted and softened vegetables evenly over the mashed potatoes. Layer the meat over the vegetables, and spoon the gravy (warmed if it has solidified) over the meat.

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Roll out your pie crust, cut several vent slits in the top, and lay it over your filling. You can crimp the edges if you like. Place the pie on a cookie sheet to prevent it from bubbling over onto the bottom of your oven.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is browned and juices are bubbling inside the pie. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes to allow the pie to set. Don’t worry, it will still be hot when you cut into it!

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I was able to remove cut pieces with a spatula, but it would have been easier to dish it up with a big spoon!

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Absolutely delicious!

 

 

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condiment, Recipes, Uncategorized

Hot Pepper Jelly

I made hot pepper jelly two years ago, and at that time, I had to buy the jalapenos from the local farm stand because I didn’t have any red ones. You can make hot pepper jelly from green peppers, but the color won’t be as pretty, and the heat will be a bit sharper, not quite as mellow and fruity as when ripe, red peppers are used. This year, I had an abundance of red peppers and none of my previous batch of jelly left, so it made sense to make some more this week with the peppers I’d let ripen.

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I used a mix of ripe jalapeno and Serrano peppers. Serranos are just a bit hotter than jalapenos, but I knew from my previous experience that the heat of the peppers mellows into a nice, sustained warmth in the mouth after they’re cooked down with vinegar and sugar. Don’t be afraid of hot pepper jelly if you’ve never tried it before. This recipe isn’t hot. It won’t burn your mouth. I suppose if you used a really hot pepper, like a habanero or the very hot Thai chiles, it might. But, made with jalapenos or Serranos, this doesn’t.

Now, if you do want a hotter jelly for some unfathomable reason (some people just like to torture themselves, I guess!), don’t use more peppers in the recipe.   Do use a hotter pepper, like a habanero, or whatever you prefer, and use the same amount as the recipe calls for. This is so you don’t upset the acid balance of the recipe and create something that could be dangerous when the jar is opened.

You can, of course, use commercial pectin to make hot pepper jelly. I’ve seen the recipe for it on the Sure-Jell instructions. (I make a batch of strawberry jam with Sure-Jell for Dennis every spring, because he likes everything sickly sweet.) I don’t make my hot pepper jelly that way, and everybody who’s tried my jelly has liked it because it isn’t too sweet. I’m able to reduce the sugar in the recipe because instead of commercial pectin, I use apple pectin stock that I make each year when I’m processing my apples, and then freeze in 1 cup measures, so I always have it on hand when I want to make a jam that needs more pectin than the fruit contains (like hot pepper jelly, green tomato marmalade, or peach jam). Of course, if you use commercial pectin, you’ll also be using roughly twice the amount of sugar. That’s why I love jams and jellies made with apple pectin stock. The natural pectin in the apples allows for concentrating the natural sugars in the fruit while the jam or jelly cooks down, and while some sugar is needed, it’s generally about half of what you need when commercial pectin is used.

You might think that the longer cooking time would produce an over-cooked tasting jam or jelly, but it doesn’t. Because there is less sugar used with this method, the taste is much fresher, and the flavor of the fruit comes through much stronger. I will never go back to making jam or jelly any other way (except of course for that batch of strawberry jam each year for my husband’s sweet tooth). I’ve linked the recipe for apple pectin stock. Scroll down on that post, past the other apple recipes, to find how to make it. This stuff lasts a long time in the freezer. I’ve had some carry-over from year to year, and I’ve used some that’s been in the freezer for two years. It is perfectly fine, so if you don’t use your stock up in a year, don’t throw it out.

Now, to the recipe!

Hot Pepper Jelly

(makes about 7 half-pints)

8 ounces (by weight) ripe, red hot peppers (Jalapeno, Serrano, or your choice–*see Notes)

2 large red bell peppers, cleaned of seeds, and roughly chopped (about 4 cups—*see Notes)

2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) or roughly chopped black, red, or purple plums (*see Notes)

2 large lemons, sliced (peel on, seeds don’t matter)

6 cups of vinegar (white or apple cider, but make sure it’s 5% acidity)

5-6 cups of sugar

2 cups water

3 cups apple pectin stock

Wearing gloves, slice the hot peppers in half and place them in a large (at least 6 quart) non-reactive pot (ceramic coated or stainless steel). If you want a milder jelly, remove the seeds and ribs of the peppers. (I leave them in.) Clean the bell peppers, removing seeds and membranes, and roughly chop (*see Notes). Add to pot. Add the cranberries or chopped plums, and the sliced lemons. Pour in the vinegar and add the water and apple pectin stock. Bring the pot to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium high and continue to boil for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent solid pieces from sticking to the bottom. (Prepare yourself for fumes from the boiling vinegar and capsaicin released from the peppers. The vinegar keeps the capsaicin in check, but it’s pretty potent itself.)

Prepare to drain the liquid off the solids by lining a colander with several layers of cheesecloth or nylon tulle. (I prefer the tulle—smaller holes and easier to maneuver and wash.) Place the lined colander over a large bowl.

When all the peppers have softened, pour the contents of the pot into the lined colander to drain. Stir occasionally to release liquid from solids, but don’t press. You want to keep all the solids out of the liquid so the jelly will be clear. Let the colander drain for about 30 minutes, or until dripping slows or stops. In the meantime, wash out the big pot (there will be a sort of red scum on the sides that you don’t want in your jelly) and get ready to use it again.  Now is a good time to prepare your water bath canner and jars, as well.  Jars should be sterilized!

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Pour off and measure the liquid in the bowl. You should have about 8 cups of liquid. If you don’t have enough liquid, return the solids to a pan, add as much water as you are missing from the 8 cups you should have (if it’s more than a cup, also add additional vinegar, ¼ cup for a cup of water, ½ cup for 2 cups of water), and cook again, on lower heat, for another 15 minutes. Be very careful to keep the solids from sticking and scorching at this point. Strain again, and measure liquid. You want 8 cups of liquid in total before you move on to the next step, which is boiling down your jelly. If you end up with a quarter cup more or less, that’s okay.

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Pour the liquid into the clean pot. Add 5 cups of sugar, stir until dissolved, and bring to a boil on high heat. Let the mixture boil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then taste it. I ended up using 5 2/3 cups of sugar in mine, and I added the additional sugar 1/3 cup at a time, until I got the combination of sweetness and heat I was looking for. Don’t worry if the liquid tastes a bit bitter at this time. That bitterness cooks out as the liquid comes up to the jellying point. Continue to boil and stir the liquid until it reaches the jellying point, between 20-30 minutes, depending on your altitude. (It takes about 40-45 minutes for me, and I live at about 4500 feet.)

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You can use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, which will tell you when the jellying point has been reached at 220 degrees. I have one. I don’t use it. Because of my altitude, I prefer to use the cold plate method. Place a small ceramic or china plate in the freezer when you strain off the liquid. It should chill for about 30 min. before you start using it to test your set. I start testing at about 20-30 minutes cooking time, when I can see that the jelly liquid has reduced by about half. I place about half a teaspoon of the liquid on the cold plate, put it back in the freezer for 1 minute, and then push at the dab with my finger. If the dab wrinkles, the jelly will set. If it doesn’t, it’ll be syrup. I continue to test every five minutes until I get a good wrinkle on the plate. At that point, it’s ready to go in the jars. I pull the jelly off that burner and put it on the front one, on low, to keep it at a very low simmer, just barely a bubble breaking the surface, while I get it in the jars. This is very important, because if you over-cook the jelly, it will become gummy and set too hard. But you want the jelly very, very hot when it goes into the jars. (As you ladle in the jelly, you may notice that as it cools, it starts to string a bit and stick to the sides of the pan. That’s a good sign you’re going to get a good set, but keep the temperature low so that it doesn’t cook any further.)

The jars should have been sterilized in a boiling water bath canner for ten minutes before you pour in the jelly. Ladle the jelly into one jar at a time, cap it with flat and ring, and place it in the boiling water bath canner to stay hot while you fill the rest of the jars. Process the jars in the boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes, adjusting for your altitude (I have to add 5 minutes to all my processing times because of my altitude). Remove the jars after processing and allow to completely cool before removing rings and cleaning jars, if necessary. Always test the seal on the jars before storing. Any jar that doesn’t seal can be stored in the fridge and used first.

Notes:

*8 ounces is about 16 jalapenos or 20 Serranos. I mixed mine and weighed them so I wouldn’t disturb the acid balance. If you use a hotter pepper, please be sure to weigh them so you aren’t guessing on the acid needed.

*I chopped my red bell peppers in the food processor this time, and then I remembered why I wasn’t supposed to do that. It chops them too finely. You want the pieces larger so that no pulp strains through when you drain it. This is to keep your jelly nice and clear. I used 4 layers of tulle when I strained, so I was okay. Whew!

*Cranberries vs. plums: These fruits are added primarily to naturally color the jelly, which tends to be a bit pale without them. However, they also add pectin from their skins, and I find it helpful to achieve a good set. If I didn’t have any plums or cranberries, I would add another cup of apple pectin stock and reduce the water by a cup, and just enjoy a paler pepper jelly. The original of this recipe, from Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation (I highly recommend this book—it’s taught me so much), says that “a handful of papery red onion skins” can also be used to color the jelly. I have not tried this and don’t think I ever will. While you can’t taste the plums or cranberries (I’ve used both), I like the color they give along with the added pectin. I used frozen cranberries this year and got a beautiful color and good set.

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I love this hot pepper jelly on a cracker with cream cheese, on a cracker with bear liver pate, on a cracker with cream cheese and fresh crab (coming, hopefully, in November!). You see the theme? If you’re working on game day finger goods, it’s nice to have a jar of this delicious, spicy jelly on hand. The guys really seem to love it. This jelly is also great on hot, buttered cornbread as an accompaniment to various mild soups, like potato, bean, or a fish chowder—and as a glaze for roast pork loin, it’s killer! Now that I’ve replenished my stock, I’m looking forward to finding new ways to use this wonderful condiment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Recipes, Side dishes

Crab and Ricotta Jalapeno Poppers

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We just had a big weekend with old friends and family. In honor of the October hunting season, I made Bear and Mushroom Fricassee for Saturday’s meal, but on Sunday, it was football and snacks and then pulled pork and coleslaw sandwiches, which my son brought. Among the snack food on the table was a plate of bear liver pate, some homemade charred salsa, and a new one for me, jalapeno poppers. Jalapeno poppers with crab and ricotta cheese.

I make my own ricotta from milk either soured or on the edge, and have for some years. I freeze it in Ziploc bags, so I have it whenever I need ricotta, usually for my Eggplant Lasagna with meat sauce and lots of cheese. However, yesterday morning, when I needed to get two half cartons of milk out of the fridge (somehow when we were camping we ended up with two cartons that were now past expiration) to make room for the leftovers I knew we’d have, I decided to use the cheese right out of the strainer.

I had planned to make crab cakes as well, but I was talked out of it the night before by my son, who didn’t know what time the hunters would be getting back from the hill. But then I remembered that Cristy, a Facebook friend, had said that crab was good in jalapeno poppers. So instead of going with another recipe I’d found, my friend, Karen, and I came up with our own.  And they were great!

Crab and Ricotta Jalapeno Poppers

12 medium jalapeno peppers, either red or green

½ cup ricotta cheese

½ cup crab meat (fresh, frozen, or canned)

¼ teaspoon of Cajun or Creole seasoning, more if you prefer

2-4 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese

Hot smoked paprika for sprinkling

2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onion tops

I got a small package of crab out of the freezer and thawed it in cold water in the sink. This is Dungeness crab my husband and brother pulled out of the Pacific Ocean last November, and we picked it and froze it in food saver bags. It is still great! Of course, you could use any kind of crab, fresh, frozen, or even canned.

I went out to the garden and picked about a dozen medium-sized, red and green jalapeno peppers. I left the stems on them when I rinsed and dried them, and I cut them in half through the stems so that each pepper (or almost) had a little stem attached for a handle. Then I used a small, sharp knife to clean out the seeds and ribs in each pepper half. I placed them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and cranked the oven up to 425 degrees.

I mixed about a half cup of freshly-made ricotta with about a half cup of thawed crabmeat. I added about a ¼ teaspoon of Cajun seasoning. Ricotta is cooked with some salt, and crab is cooked in salty water, so you don’t need to add much salt to this mixture. I like the Cajun or Creole seasoning because it has some herbs and a little spice in it, but crab is so delicate, you don’t want to overwhelm it with too much seasoning.

While I ran back out to the garden to grab some fresh chives and green tops from my winter onions, Karen filled the jalapeno pepper halves with the crab and ricotta mixture. As each half was filled, I sprinkled them with a little grated Parmesan cheese, and then a tiny bit of hot smoked paprika.

Into the oven they went for about 15 minutes, and then I turned on the broiler for about 3 minutes for a little extra browning on top. When they came out of the oven, I sprinkled the tops with chopped chives and green onion.

They turned out beautifully, and I learned why they are called jalapeno poppers. It’s because you can just pop them in your mouth in one delicious bite! It sounds kind of crazy, but they went really well with our champagne cocktails made with prosecco and sparkling moscato and my homemade fruit beverage syrups.

Our food made up for the fact that our team lost miserably! Well, maybe, kinda, sorta. It was such a miserable game, we all ended up outside around the patio table with our food and drink, and I don’t think anybody watched the end of the game! We were having such a good time, I forgot to take a picture of the jalapeno poppers when they came out of the oven.  These are actually the leftovers.

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Dairy, Desserts, Gluten-free

Blackberry Sour Cream Custard Pie

I owe the inspiration for this pie to two people: my friend, Wes Reid, who brought me an Apple Sour Cream Custard Pie one day many years ago (his partner, Lori Farias, had baked it), and my friend, Tara Johnson, who mentioned in a Facebook post that she was making a blackberry cream pie. Lori’s apple pie recipe evolved into my Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie last summer. Tara’s blackberry cream pie turned out to be a riff on the Pioneer Woman’s blackberry cheesecake squares. But Tara’s choice of words got me thinking. I had Loganberries (a thornless blackberry) still ripening. Hmmm . . . would a sour cream custard work with blackberries? How would the cinnamon streusel topping go with the blackberries? I had to give it a try.

For some reason, I had a brain freeze when I got out my 10” pie plate and rolled out my gluten-free pie dough. Duh . . . the recipe is for a 9” pie! So my pie turned out a bit thinner than it should have. You’ll see that in these pictures.

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In a 9 inch crust, the custard layer would be thicker.  It is typical for the fruit (both rhubarb and blackberries) to float to the top of the custard as it bakes.  I made a few adjustments to the sour cream custard filling because although rhubarb is quite sour and releases a lot of water when it cooks, I’ve seen the juice that cooked blackberries release, and I had a feeling that they might water the custard down too much. Other than the goof with the pie crust size, the pie turned out perfectly! So here is the adjusted recipe, and I sure hope you still have some blackberries so you can try it. If not, you can use frozen blackberries, but thaw them and drain the juice off first. (Save it to drink—yummy—or make a syrup out of it to pour over some vanilla ice cream on top of the pie later!)

Blackberry Sour Cream Custard Pie

One 9-inch, uncooked pastry crust. See my gluten-free version if you like; I used some *homemade vanilla sugar in the crust for this pie.

Filling:

1 ½-2 cups blackberries (if you rinse them, drain them really well before adding to pie crust)

3 Tablespoons flour* (see notes)

1 cup sugar + ¼ cup sugar (keep separate)

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 large or extra-large eggs (I used my chickens’ eggs, which are a bit small, so I used 3 eggs)

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Streusel topping (recipe below)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out pastry crust and place in 9 inch pie plate. Crimp edges as you prefer. Sprinkle blackberries on crust. Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of reserved ¼ cup of sugar over blackberries. (How much sugar you use depends on how sweet or tart your blackberries are. Taste them, so you can decide how much sugar you want to use.)

For custard filling: Mix the flour, 1 cup of sugar, and salt together. Beat eggs, add to sugar mixture along with sour cream and vanilla extract, and mix well. Pour over blackberries in crust.

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Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, or until custard is set in the center. While the pie is baking, prepare the topping.

Streusel Topping:

¼ cup softened butter (not melted)

1/3 cup flour* (see notes)

1/3 cup sugar* (see notes)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Optional: scrapings from 1 vanilla bean* (see notes)

Mix topping ingredients together to make a streusel, set aside.

When custard is set, remove pie from oven and increase temperature to 425 degrees. Gently sprinkle topping evenly over the pie.

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Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until topping is bubbly.

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Remove pie from oven and cool thoroughly on a rack. You can eat this pie cooled, but it is best chilled with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. Store in fridge, covered.

Notes:

*I bumped up the vanilla in this recipe in several ways: more vanilla extract than usual in the custard (and I used my homemade vanilla extract), vanilla sugar (scraped vanilla beans buried in a jar of white sugar) in the pie crust, and vanilla bean seeds in the topping. Why? Vanilla and blackberries go very well together! Vanilla adds the illusion of sweetness to a tart berry without adding more sugar.

*For the streusel topping, I used brown sugar this time, and I liked it with the blackberries. I have used white sugar and coconut palm sugar in previous versions of this pie (apple and rhubarb), and they all work quite well.

*I also used brown rice flour instead of all-purpose flour to keep it gluten-free.  I’ve discovered that brown rice flour is a perfectly acceptable substitute in all applications in this recipe (and many others).

I wish I’d been inspired to make this pie earlier in the summer, when blackberries were more plentiful. If you still have blackberries or can find them at a market, I hope you’ll give this pie a try.  My wild berries have been gone for a month, and the Loganberries are nearly done now, too. However, the sour cream custard idea is still inspiring me. Who knows where I’ll go with it next? I did can a whole lot of blueberries this summer . . . .

 

 

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Beverages, Canning, condiment, Recipes

Vanilla-infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Butter and Syrup: Update

I wanted to make this “happy accident” again to give as Christmas gifts, so here is an updated version of the recipes, which does not include cranberry sauce! Since cranberries and rhubarb are not in season simultaneously, one or the other of them (or both) will most likely be frozen when you make this preserve. I froze cranberries last year at Thanksgiving-time to use in this recipe, and I also always freeze rhubarb for pies throughout the summer. However, I still had rhubarb in the garden last week, so I was able to use fresh stalks this go-round for this recipe. But frozen rhubarb works perfectly well as I discovered last year.

Ingredients:

9 cups cranberries (mine were frozen)

9 cups sliced rhubarb (fresh or frozen)

4 cups water

4 cups sugar + ½ cup sugar, kept separate

2 vanilla beans

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Slit the vanilla beans and scrape the tiny black seeds into the pot. If your beans are fresh, throw the pods in too, just remove them before straining.* Place the all the ingredients except the ½ cup sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until cranberry skins have burst and rhubarb is soft.

Line a colander or strainer with cheesecloth (personally, I prefer nylon tulle—it has smaller holes and is easier to deal with after you’re done—just rinse it out, wash it, and use it again!). Pour cranberry-rhubarb mixture into the strainer and just leave it for an hour or so. You can stir gently, but avoid forcing solids through the cheesecloth or tulle.

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After the dripping has stopped, pour off the syrup you’ve gathered. (If any tiny cranberry seeds have found their way through, you might want to strain through another cloth, but it isn’t necessary.) Pour the fruit syrup into a clean pan and heat until boiling, lowering to simmer for 10 minutes. You should have about 4 cups, or 2 pint jars worth. This can be poured into sterilized, hot jars, capped, and canned in the water bather canner for 15 minutes, adjusting processing time for your altitude. This syrup is delicious in cocktails or non-alcoholic spritzers. You get the tartness of cranberry and rhubarb, the sweetness of sugar, and the floral scent and flavor of the vanilla beans. It is good stuff!

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If you want to use the syrup for pancakes, boil it down a little longer until it is thicker and reduced to the consistency you prefer for pancakes or waffles. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add agave nectar or non-high-fructose corn syrup to the mixture (about a cup per 4 cups of fruit syrup), which will also thicken it more. Bring back to a boil, and can the syrup as directed above.

Now, for the cranberry-rhubarb butter. A word about fruit butters might be in order here. A fruit butter, such as pear butter or apple butter, is a smooth, thick, rich concoction you can spread on toast, or a bagel, or anything else you choose (a cracker with a slice of tart cheese, or a schmear of cream cheese, perhaps). Generally, the fruit is cooked and strained or pureed and cooked down some more until it is concentrated flavor. Oh, my, I do love fruit butters! I make pear butter when I can get pears, and I make apple butter every year from my garden apples. This cranberry-rhubarb butter is just as thick and delicious, but you don’t have to cook it down for very long the way you do pear or apple butter. I am guessing that the abundance of natural pectin in both fruits, and the fact that you’ve strained off some of the juice, have something to do with this.

Now, you could just skip the next step, the second straining, and can this mixture as jam. It would need to be cooked down a little more, until it is thick and glossy, and then it could go right in the sterile jars and be processed for 10 minutes in the water bath canner like any other jam. However, rhubarb can be fibrous, and cranberry skins can be tough even with long cooking, so running the mixture through a strainer is a good idea. And what you end up with is so smooth and delicious, it really is worth the trouble.

So, for cranberry-rhubarb butter, run the mixture through a chinois (also known as a China cap colander) or a Squeezo strainer, or whatever sort of straining device you have. I use a chinois, which I call a cone colander when I’m not being all fancy-like. This gets out all the rhubarb fibers and tough cranberry skins. (I saved this roughage though to eat like cranberry sauce with roast chicken. I don’t really mind the occasional tough skin or rhubarb string.) What you will end up with in the pan or bowl after straining is thick and smooth pulp.

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Put that strained pulp (I got about 5 cups) back in a large pot, add the reserved ½ cup sugar if the mixture is too tart for you (or more, if you prefer a sweeter taste; ½ cup was perfect for me) and heat to boiling. This stuff is really thick, so as soon as it starts to blurp, turn the heat down, and do stir continuously during the heating up process and until the butter reaches a lower heat; otherwise, it will stick and scorch. Cook the butter on a low heat at a constant simmer until it is very glossy. This should only take about 10 or 15 minutes, stirring frequently. The glossiness means that all the sugars have amalgamated, and the pectins have been concentrated, and you will have a nice, thick, rich spread when it comes out of the jar.

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Spoon your cranberry-rhubarb butter into sterilized, hot jars, leaving a ½ headspace, cap, and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes, adjusting processing time for your altitude.

I got 5 half-pint jars of cranberry-rhubarb butter, most of which I will give for Christmas gifts, but at least one jar will be served with Thanksgiving dinner, because it is perfect for that meal.

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Recipe Notes:

*My vanilla beans weren’t fresh, and I learned something. If the beans smell a bit alcoholic, that’s the pod. Scrape the inside of the bean and use that, but discard the pods. The inside is still perfectly fine. My beans were a year old, but had been kept tightly wrapped in a Ziploc plastic bag and in a jar in the fridge. Obviously, you don’t want to use anything that’s moldy or weeping liquid.

With these amounts of fruit, etc., my yield was 2 pints of cranberry-rhubarb syrup, 5 half-pints of cranberry-rhubarb butter (with a small dish leftover to enjoy NOW!), and a pint-sized tub of roughage to eat like cranberry sauce with roast chicken (pic below).

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I hope you’ll freeze some rhubarb and/or cranberries this year to try this recipe. It really is amazingly good. Happy jamming!

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Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free, Recipes, Side dishes

Zucchini Latkes

Subtitle:  The One That Got Away

It’s that time of year when everybody who has a garden has a zucchini that’s too big for its britches. I call squashes like this “the ones that got away (from me)”.  What do you do with them?

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Some people make relish. I don’t care for it, myself. Too sweet. (If anyone has a sour, dilled zucchini relish recipe, please pass it along!) Some people make pickles. I haven’t tried that because I’ve tried making pickles with Armenian cucumbers, and they were mushy. I can only imagine what zucchini pickles would be like. Yuck. Some people, including me, shred the monster squashes and freeze the shreds for zucchini breads and soups. And I use the shreds for another dish, my favorite way to eat zucchini: zucchini latkes. These are paleo, gluten-free, low carb. What’s not to like?

Now, there’s been a recipe floating around Facebook for Zucchini Fritters.  They look a lot like these, and the recipe is similar, except for one thing.  There is no flour in these.  And because there is no flour, they are not doughy.  They are nicely browned on the outside and tender on the inside, but with no doughy texture.  And I have to give credit where credit is due:  I would never have come up with these if my friend, DeAnna Beachley, had not taught me to make potato latkes exactly the same way.  And I thought, if it works for potatoes, why wouldn’t it work for zucchini?  It does.

 

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And try them with the dill sauce. Yum.

 

Zucchini Latkes

About 3 cups shredded/grated zucchini

¼ cup shredded/grated onion

1 egg, beaten

Salt and pepper

Olive oil or other oil of your choice for frying

 

After grating or shredding the zucchini and onion (either by hand or in the food processor), put it in a strainer for a little while to drain. Then dump the contents of the strainer into several paper towels or a clean tea towel you don’t mind staining green, and squeeze it like you mean it. Squeeze as much water as possible out of the zucchini and onion.

 

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Dump the squeezed zucchini and onion into a bowl, fluff it with a fork, and add as much egg as you need to make the mixture hold together. Don’t add too much egg, or the latke will not hold together when you fry it.  In the photo below, I have about a cup of zucchini and yellow squash shreds, and into that I mixed one of my little chicken eggs (very small), and it was just perfect.  For 3 cups of shreds, one large egg should be just right, but mix it in a little at a time until all the shreds are moistened in the egg, but no egg is pooling in the bottom of the bowl.

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Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. Flatten with back of spoon. Fry until golden brown and latke is holding together, then flip. I find using both a pancake turner and a silicone spatula makes turning the latkes easier.

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After the second side is brown, remove from hot oil and place on rack; sprinkle with salt and pepper. (If you put your rack over a cookie sheet in a warm oven, your latkes will stay crisper and warm.)

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Do not salt the latkes before frying or as they are frying. Salt causes zucchini to release more moisture. You can add the pepper whenever you like, but always salt them right after they come out of the frying pan.  These lovely little patties are scrumptious served with the dill sauce below, made with either plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Yogurt or Sour Cream Dill Sauce

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Mix 1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill weed or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed into ½ cup dairy sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. (You can make your own yogurt and sour cream.) A little minced red onion, up to a tablespoon, is good too. I also like to grate a little lemon peel into the sauce sometimes, and if you use commercial sour cream, some fresh squeezed lemon juice will loosen it to sauce consistency.

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If you have monster zucchini in your garden, consider freezing some for zucchini latkes this winter. To use frozen zucchini, simply thaw, drain, squeeze, and proceed as above.

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