Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Rendering your own lard is a tradition being rediscovered and rendering lard in your own home is not a difficult task. Lard is a remarkably good source of Vitamin D and of monounsaturated fat: the same fatty acid found in olive oil and avocado and heralded for cardiovascular health benefits.

Lard is definitely a food that our grandmothers would recognize, recipes passed down from previous generations call for lard in pie crusts (try this old fashioned recipe) and tarts, pastries and biscuits and many other recipes.

You want true flakiness in your pastries: use lard. You want a little extra flavor in stews, gravies and a plethora of other recipes: use lard.  You don't need a lot, but the difference in taste is noticeable.

A jar full of creamy white, freshly rendered lard for cooking and baking is worth the minimal effort it takes to bottle some up; all that is required is filtered water, pork fat and some patience.



2 ½ pounds Pork Fat

About 4 ounces of water


With a sharp knife, trim any blood spots or remaining meat from the lard.

Cube the fat into small cubes, about ½-inch in size.

Place the fat and the filtered water into a heavy bottomed stockpot and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

Cubed lard simmering in a cast iron pot.

After a time the water will evaporate and the fat will begin to melt. Continue to gently stir the melted fat periodically. Eventually,  the “cracklings” form. You know how bacon sputters sending hot fat out of a shallow pan? As moisture is released from the cracklings, it will definitely sputter like the bacon. Be careful not to get burned.

Eventually when those cracklings are crispy brown and there appears to be no more lard to cook off, you may remove your pot from the heat.

Lard cooked down to 'cracklings'.

Line a strainer with cotton cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter and strain the melted fat into hot sterilized canning jars, reserving the cracklings for another use (they’re quite tasty salted and eaten as a snack).

Allow jars to cool. The melted fat will be golden to golden-brown in color; when cooled it will become a creamy white. Keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months or freeze and keep for up to a year. If you are going to put your jars into the freezer, leave 1 inch headroom.

Use your freshly rendered lard in pastries, as a fat for braising vegetables or seasoning meats, or even for making pizza dough. When you experience the amount of flavor achieved or  the extra flakiness of your pastries, with such a little amount of lard, you will not only be satisfied that their is no real detriment to your health, but that putting by your own lard is well worth the effort.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


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I wanted to pickle some cauliflower. When researching recipes for pickling cauliflower I found most recipes included mustard or mustard seeds (rai), fennel seeds, red chili powder, turmeric (haldi), and asafetida (hing). Of course, there is always the popular Piccalilli also known as 'Spiced Mustard Pickle', as well as other variations of a mixed vegetable pickle such as Chow-Chow, which always includes cauliflower as well as carrots, onions, runner beans and the like, another mixed vegetable relish that includes mustard in the brine, none of which you will find in this recipe. This Red Cauliflower Pickle recipe I discovered after finding 'Farewell The Winterline: Memories of a Boyhood in
India. A Memoir by Stanley E. Brush'.

Six quarts of freshly bottled Red Cauliflower Pickle
According to the website, "Stan Brush's love for the peoples and cultures of India and Pakistan infuse his memoir...And it is appreciation of those cultures that inspires the continual development of this web site." Best of all they offer a free Indian Recipes Cookbook.

Paul and I had recently purchased a big, old Victorian in Connecticut's Northwest Corner, so when the harvest was coming in, my pots, pans, and canning supplies were lost in transition. This recipe was certainly on my to do list but because of circumstance set simmering on the back burner.

Finally the time was right. The produce department had beautiful heads of cauliflower lined up bright and white, so crisp, so pristine: and canning equipment had been unpacked. I bought two bulbous heads and several jars of Greenwood's Sweet and Tangy Sliced Pickled Beets with Onions so I could give this unique recipe a test run. I also purchased a few organic golden beets to add to the mix for a little more color.

Here is the original recipe as it appeared in the Indian Recipes Cookbook.


'This is a very uncommon pickle, and looks particularly pretty in white bottles. Cut the cauliflower into pieces of equal sizes, sprinkle with salt, and place it in the sun for a couple of days. Make a syrup of vinegar and sugar: to every quart of vinegar put a quarter of a pound of sugar, a few sticks of cinnamon, and as much sliced or bruised and pounded red beet as will give the vinegar a deep red colour.

When all the salt water has drained away, put the cauliflower into a pan, and pour over it the boiling-hot vinegar or syrup through a fine sieve, in order to leave behind the sticks of cinnamon and fibres of the beetroot; when cold, put the pickle into nice white bottles and cork.'

Here is the version I ended up with after a bit of experimentation.

Pre-pickled beets and fresh cauliflower.


2 large heads Cauliflower 

2 bunches fresh Red Beets

1 bunch Golden Beets

2 quarts White Vinegar, or if you don't like a sharp bite, 1 quart White Vinegar, 1 quart Apple Cider Vinegar

1 3/4 Cup Raw Sugar

1 stick Cinnamon

6 whole Cloves

Kosher Salt as needed

Break the cauliflower heads into florets with no worries about equal sizing, then sprinkle them liberally with Kosher salt and set the whole she-bang on the kitchen table for a few days (Unless it is very hot out, then set in the fridge).Check after one day, drain off the excess water and sprinkle them again liberally with salt, tossing to make sure every floret is covered.

While your cauliflower is resting prepare your beets. Roasting beets, as with parsnips and other root vegetables, intensifies their flavor bringing out their sweet earthiness. It also makes them easier to peel. Start with beets that are firm and feel heavy for their size. If the beets came with their greens still attached, cut off the greens, wash them, and reserve them for another use.

Roast beets until tender. The amount of time this takes will vary depending on the size and number of the beets, and how fresh they are. For smaller beets, start checking them for tenderness at about 25 minutes. Larger, older beets can take up to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Scrub beets clean. Place them on a piece of aluminum foil large enough to packet up the beets comfortably with a bit of 'roasting' room, drizzle with olive oil (just a splash) . Fold the foil over (forming a packet) and crimp the sides closed. Remove beets from oven when a fork will easily pierce them to their center. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel and set in the fridge until your cauliflower is ready.

After the cauliflower has set for two days, gather up your canning supplies and prepare to bottle up the pickles. First step: in a large heavy bottomed, non-reactive pot combine vinegar and sugar; bring to a simmer over medium heat until sugar has liquified - do not boil yet. Tie cinnamon stick and cloves into a square of muslin or cheese cloth and float in the brine. Continue to simmer allowing ample time for the flavors to meld (about 20 minutes).

Bring mixture to a rapid boil, then turn heat down - in other words keep the brine hot as you bottle.  

Rinse your salted cauliflower florets several times in cool water and let drain. Begin bottling by layering sliced beets and drained cauliflower florets into your sterilized bottles and/or jars.  I bottled up one 2 quart container (pictured below) that went right into the fridge after it cooled, and then I moved to 4 pint bottles that I processed in a canning water bath for 10 minutes, for long term storage in my pie safe now canning cupboard.

Once your jars are full (you can press down the vegetables with your fingers or a spoon to make a tight pack) you can begin to add the hot brine.

Two quart jar being stuffed with cauliflower and beets.

This step will make for many air bubbles, which you do not want, so ladle in some brine and tap the bottle gently against the counter to release the air, then add some more brine.  A long thin kabob stick, or thin knife can also be inserted into your jars to release any air bubbles.

Continue this process until the jars are filled with brine leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Follow all your Safe Canning Standards. Wait for several weeks before serving.  This allows the flavors to combine.  

These pickles can be left in the pantry for a year, or in the fridge for equally as long.  Because the cauliflower is so dense, even after standing in the vinegar brine for a long time they usually retain a delightful cruchiness.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


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I have written before about cooking with our children. They learn from us in so many ways and I believe taking the time to cook not only for them, but also with them, is just one way to teach our children well.

The time for cooking together with my family has evolved into mostly holidays or special celebrations now that our boys are older: Hunter is 23-years-old and living in Seattle, Washington and occasionally making use of The New York Times Cookbook bequeathed to him by his Nanny, while 16-year-old Daniel is home but  busy with school, hockey, and socializing with friends; usually he is just a blur passing through the house, grabbing a bite to eat on the run, so it is a special time when we do have a chance to cook  together. 

Not long ago I rummaged through the pantry and refrigerator planning a simple dinner that Daniel and I could make together in a short amount of time: Italian bread, pickled garlic, preserved eggplant, artichoke hearts in oil, black olives, cherry tomatos, some homemade pizza sauce (recipe below).  I knew what we were going to make, but confused about the correct terminology: are we making bruschetta, crostini, or just a refrigerator pizza?  I decided to do some research so I could categorize exactly what it was we were preparing.

I discovered along with bruschetta, crostini originated in medieval times when Italian peasants ate their meals on slices of bread instead of using ceramics. The word bruschetta arose from the Roman verb bruscare, meaning 'to roast over coals'. Traditionally, bruschetta is prepared using Italian bread rubbed with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, dusted with salt and pepper, then topped with peppers, tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, or cheese.

Crostini, also a popular Italian appetizer typically made using slices of French or Italian baguettes, means ‘little toasts’ in Italian. Small slices of grilled or toasted bread are topped with a variety of cheeses, meats, and vegetables, or may be served simply with a brush of olive oil and herbs or a sauce.

The term ‘Refrigerator Pizza’ originated around the same time as the colloquial phrases ‘Refrigerator Soup’ or ‘Leftover Lunch’: are you familiar with the terms? I am sure most Americans have experienced this type of food during their lifetime. It simply means creating a pizza or soup or lunch  by opening the refrigerator and making do with the contents.

For instance, our Refrigerator Pizza is made by using any available bread: english muffin, bagel, leftover Italian, what-have-you. Brush with homemade pizza sauce (recipe below) or anoint with olive oil, top with whatever fixings are leftover in the refrigerator, sprinkle with cheese and toast in the oven.

My conclusion, call it what you will: no matter the title it always tastes delicious!


(Enough for 4 Medium Pizzas)


1 lb crushed Tomatoes

1 Tablespoon minced Garlic

4 oz Tomato Paste

1 Tablespoon dried Basil

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Tablespoon minced Onion

1 teaspoon dried Marjoram

2 teaspoons dried Oregano

Pepper to taste


Over medium low heat sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter for 4 to 5 minutes. The bits should be golden brown and fragrant but be careful not to overcook.
Add the other ingredients.

Simmer the sauce for 15 to 20 minutes.

Jar up and store in refrigerator.  I have found that this sauce tastes better after it rests for a few days.  You can also spoon into freezer bags and freeze for later use.  Freeze up to a year, refrigerate up to 6 months - but I can pretty much guarantee it will not last more than a few weeks.