Thursday, December 25, 2014

Berkshire Pig's Tail with Beans

I didn’t grow up eating offal, but not because it wasn’t around. When I was growing up, my mother would often eat different types of offal: liver, the occasional chicken heart, gizzards—you get the idea. Now, as an adult focused on using all of the animal, offal has a whole new importance for me.  In the kitchen, working with offal and understanding the different ways to cook it is an on-going adventure.  Sure, I love reading the blogs of offal-fanatics, but sometimes I wonder if they are preaching to the choir. One of my goals is to encourage people who are curious, yet less familiar, with offal to try some of these delicious and easy dishes made from less-than-conventional cuts of meat.  
Committing to a big slab of liver or a bowl of tripe for dinner can be a bit much for many people, which is completely understandable.  I like to suggest that people should begin by using offal as a component in a dish, rather than starting with the organ meat at the center of the plate.  Plus, by using the whole animal in smaller amounts—but more often—in your cooking, you really get to appreciate nose-to-tail cooking across a range of dishes.

Let’s begin at the end.  A pig’s end.  The tail of a pig is a wonderful ingredient to have stashed in your freezer.  Rich with skin, fat, meat, and bones, a pig’s tail can enhance a number of dishes, from soups and stews to baked beans - the focus of today’s post.  Beans and pig tails are a perfect pairing.  The two humble ingredients work together to create a rich, savory pot of beans for the perfect warming dish on a cold day.
I soaked a pound of snowcap beans overnight, but any variety of dried beans would do.  Then I nestled the pig tail into the bottom of the pot with the soaked beans, finally adding enough water to cover up the beans.  I also added an onion and a whole clove for flavor.  Then, I gently cooked the beans and tail in a 300-325°F oven at a gentle simmer.  The beans get plump and begin to soften, while the tail slowly renders out its fat and coats the cooking beans.  As time goes on, the skin of the tail also softens and adds gelatin to the beans, giving the entire dish a rich, unctuous mouth feel. 
Cooking times can vary based on the size and age of the dried beans; newer crops usually cook faster, as do smaller beans, like pigeon peas compared to large dried lava beans.  I suggest planning for 3-4 hours of cooking time.

I didn’t salt the beans until the last hour of cooking, as I think that helps to keep the skins of the beans from splitting.  Along with salt, I added a ¼ cup of molasses and two tablespoons of dried mustard powder, which gave the dish a thick, savory-sweet sauce. 

I like serving the dish by filling up a bowl of beans and broiling a chunk of the tail in the over until it gets brown and crispy.  That’s it – the humble and often overlooked tail becomes a delicious and satisfying dinner!

Recipe at a Glance:
- 1 pig's tail
- 1 lb dried beans, soaked for 8 hours or overnight
- 1 medium onion
- 1 clove
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons dried mustard powder
- salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the beans and soak overnight.  The next morning, put the beans in a pot with a the pig tail, onion, and clove.  Put in a 325 F oven for 3-4 hours.  If the beans seem  hard and mealy in the center, cook for another hour or two.  When beans are tender, add salt, molasses, and mustard.

Cook beans uncovered for one hour more to thicken sauce.  Serve in bowls with a segment of pig's tail on top.  To make the tails crispy, place under the oven broiler on high for 2-4 minutes.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rolled Rump Roast Braised in Wine

Coming face-to-muzzle with one of North Woods Ranch’s cows, I instinctively think, “These are enormous creatures.”  Yet, from my culinary mindset, my thoughts immediately transition to the recognition that there is so much more than just steaks and ground beef.  One of the goals I have for this blog is to remind everyone of the less common cuts of meats, moving the cuts that might seem to be on the periphery of your mind to the center of your plate.

Here is a beautiful rolled rump roast from one of North Woods Ranch's Scottish Highland cows.  The rump roast sits right above the leg of the cow, where the leg meets the round on the back of the animal.  This is a very dense cut of meat without much fat to it, so it takes very well to braising.  The rolled rump roast is totally boneless, so when it is sliced and served, it results in nice, thick cuts of meat.

Previously, I’ve written about making and using stocks as a way to add extra flavor and richness to recipes.  Another option is to use wine or beer as a braising liquid.  A full bodied red wine, such as a cabernet, syrah, or rioja, is a great choice to pair with grass-fed beef.  These wines are generally robust enough to stand up to the flavor of the beef, but not overly acidic or tannic to overpower that lovely meat.

Making Rolled Rump Roast Braised in Wine

To start, salt the meat all over and then brown the rolled rump roast in an oven-safe pot on the stovetop.  Depending on your preference, you can use oil, butter, or lard.  Don’t worry about the netting on the meat – it is oven safe, and you can brown the roast with it on.  Once the roast is browned, remove the roast from the pot and add in onions, carrots, and celery until they are browned (much like the braised short ribs but instead of stock, add half a bottle of wine). Once the veggies have finished browning, return the roast to the pot and add in the wine. I suggest using a basic, good wine you wouldn’t mind drinking; a very cheap wine that’s acidic or harsh can result in a sour-tasting dish. Use the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping up all the browned bits while you add the wine.  
Next, add a bit of stock or water to just cover the roast, along with some bay and a sprig of rosemary.  Bring this to a simmer on the stove top, and then put in a 350 F oven.  Just like with the short ribs, I like to keep reducing the heat by 25 degrees every hour or so until I hit 300 or 275 F, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer. Alternately, you can pop this little bundle of beefy joy into a crock pot and let it ride out its cooking throughout the day or overnight.

After about 6-8 hours (depending on the size of your roast), the roast should be tender enough to separate some strands of meat with a fork.  If you’re still getting resistance and the meat seems tight and dense, give it another hour or two of gentle heat. Once the roast is giving and soft, you can refrigerate it overnight to let the flavors mellow or bring it to the table to cool and serve. After hours of simmering, you can give the sauce an extra shot of flavor by adding some fresh rosemary and black pepper.

When serving, I like to cut the rolled rump roast into thick slices, then spoon sauce over each slice.  Here, I served it with boiled potatoes and white turnips.  The potatoes are just buttered, but I added a bit of apple cider vinegar on the turnips to tame their bitterness.  

Voila! A sometimes overlooked rump roast becomes a perfect centerpiece for a holiday feast!

Recipe at a Glance:
  • 3-4lb rolled rump roast
  • 1/2 bottle of red wine
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 12-16 oz stock (enough to cover roast)
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat a small amount of oil in a large pot. Brown the roast on all sides, then remove from pot and set aside.  Add chopped vegetables (except garlic, which can burn easily) to pot and cook until browned and beginning to soften, stirring regularly.  

Once vegetables are browned, add garlic and cook for one minute.  Return roast to pot, along with any juices the roast may have dripped out.

Pour wine into pot and stir up the bottom of the pot to deglaze.  Add stock to cover and bring to a simmer on the stove top.  Once the wine and stock are simmering, cover pot and place in oven.  Braise for 6-8 hours, slowly reducing heat to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.

Once tender, remove from oven and let rest for 30 minutes or so before cutting up.  Add in fresh rosemary.  Serve with boiled vegetables, roasted squash, or buttered noodles.  Enjoy with remaining half bottle of wine, if it lasted this long.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making Berkshire Pork Stock

Some people seem intimidated by the idea of making their own stock. If you are one of these people, just think of it as making the simplest soup ever.  Making soup doesn't seem so intimidating, does it? When making stock nothing needs to be cut evenly or measured accurately by more than an eye, and you don’t have to worry about overcooking anything. In this post, I made stock using beautiful Berkshire pork bones from Northwoods Ranch.  I particularly love pork stock as it inhabits a middle ground between chicken stock and beef stock.  This means pork stock can easily replace other types of stock in recipes, and it isn't as limited in use as a venison or lamb stock, which have very distinct flavor profiles.
A Mix of North Woods Pork Neck, Leg, and Hip Bones
The portions for making stock primarily depend on how many bones you have.  If you only have a few, you will make a smaller batch; if you want to put a chest-freezer full of bones to use, you'll need a bigger pot.  I usually do a 2:1 ratio of bones to veggies.  So, if you’re making stock from 10 pounds of bones, you'll want 5 pounds of veggies. 
Begin by chopping up your veggies into chunks.  Don't worry about getting fancy or cutting evenly – the veggies are only for flavoring the stock.  I usually go heavy on the onions, but I also like to include celery and carrots.  A bonus is that making stock is a great way to clear out your fridge if you have some veggies that have gone past their prime.  Are your baby carrots getting dried out?  In they go!  Don't toss out those parsley stems, fibrous leek tops, mushroom stemss, or cores of tomatoes;  add them in the pot.   If you’re planning a big holiday party, save all your carrot tops and peels, celery bases, and the woody stems of rosemary and thyme to add with the leftover bones of your holiday roast.

The bones themselves don’t require any prep, but you can roast them ahead of time if desired.  When I do roast the bones (as in this post), I usually roast at 400 F for about 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned and crispy.  In classical kitchen-speak, a stock made from roasted bones would be a brown stock, or fond brun.  This will be a very savory stock and carry all those roasted flavors into the finished product.  If you want a lighter tasting stock, don’t roast the bones.  Stock made from unroasted bones is called white stock, or fond blanc.
Bones After Roasting
Next, the bones (roasted or not) go into the pot with all those veggies.  Sprinkle in some bay leaves and peppercorns and top up the pot with cold water.  You will want the water to just barely cover up all the bones and veggies.  So if you have a large pot, half-filled with bones and vegetables, don’t fill it to the top with water. Depending on your preference, some people add tomato paste or canned tomatoes to their stock. Generally, I avoid adding tomato paste to my stocks, as I don’t always want that tomato flavor in the dish.  Also, I do not salt the stock, as that can always be added later.
Now just let it simmer.  Be sure to keep the pot going at a very gentle simmer.  A boil will leach out proteins from the bones, making the stock cloudy in appearance and muddy in flavor.  For these pork bones, I let them simmer for 5 hours. You can go as little as 4 hours for a lighter flavor, or you could let them go for up to 8 for a more concentrated flavor.  If you did not roast the bones, you may find some extra fat or foam on the surface of stock. Just skim it off with a spoon.

Straining Pork Stock
Once you've done simmering the stock, take the pot off the heat to cool.  Set up a large bowl and a strainer.  You can use a conical sieve, if you have one, or just a pasta colander. Scoop out the bones, veggies, and herbs with a perforated spoon into the strainer.  The bowl underneath will collect any juices that run out.  When the bones and vegetables are out, pour back any stock that collected in the bowl into the pot.  Now pour the stock into mason jars.  I recommend using a wide-mouth funnel from jam-making to help pour in the stock. It is also a good idea to use a small mesh strainer to catch any stray bones, peppercorns or bay leaves.
Recipe Ready Portions of Pork Stock
That’s it!  I like to put these in 8-12 ounce mason jars, so that they fit better in my freezer and I can easily thaw out a small portion when I need it.  This size is great for simmering vegetables, deglazing a pan, or just enjoying a warm bowl of nourishing broth. However, if you do big batches of soup feel free to pour them in quart jars or Pyrex storage bowls.   Just make sure to leave a half-inch of head space in the jars to give the stock room to expand in the freezer.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Making Berkshire Jowl Bacon: Part 1 of 2

Say “bacon” and most people think of crispy, smoky slices of pork belly sizzling away in the skillet.  But there’s a world of bacon beyond the belly, and jowl bacon is one of my favorites.  Also called “side bacon” or more recently “face bacon,” jowl bacon is perfect for autumn dishes, as it brings the fat and flavor of a smoked hock, but it can still be fried crisp like traditional belly bacon.  It’s also the cut I’d recommend if you’re considering doing some home curing for the first time.
North Woods Ranch Berkshire Jowl
Why?  The jowl has a thick layer of fat on top with the meat nestled gently inside.  When it comes to curing, fat is easy to cure because it is very dense and has little water in it.  You really can’t over-salt a slab of fat – it simply cannot absorb enough salt to taste over salted.  So if this is your first time curing bacon, the jowl is very forgiving in the curing process.  Plus, jowls cure very quickly: a slab of belly bacon takes 5-7 days to cure, but you can cure a jowl in 3-4 days.

To start, lay the jowl on your cutting board with the thick, fat side down.  Facing up should be a deep red oval of meat. This meat is the actual cheek muscle.  You don't want to use this muscle for the jowl bacon, so cut out the red circle of cheek meat and reserve it for braising in a nice stew.  Hiding all around the cheek is soft fat that feels like cottage cheese, and mixed into this fat are a ton of salivary glands.
Trimming a Full Jowl for Bacon
Next, slice parallel to the cutting board to remove all that smooshy fat and the salivary glands.  We want only the thick, firm fat for the jowl bacon, so slice all the soft fat away.  If need to, go back with the knife and scrape away any remaining soft fat to reveal the firm jowl fat below.  The jowl fat feels like cold clay, and it’s easy to differentiate it from the soft fat and salivary glands.

Now, prep your cure.  I like to keep it simple with salt, sugar, and lots of black pepper.  Because I use jowl bacon in savory dishes like sweet potato hash and sides of mustard greens, I usually don’t do a sweet cure.  If you like, feel free to add maple syrup or molasses. Alternatively, you could go with rosemary, garlic, red pepper, and bay for a more pronounced, herbal flavor.  Below is the basic dry rub for the jowl:

¼ Cup Kosher Sea Salt
¼ Cup Light Brown Sugar

2 Teaspoons Instacure #1 Sodium Nitrite
3 Tablespoons Coarsely Cracked Black Pepper

I add sodium nitrite to my cure to prevent botulism. When meat is smoked, it is placed in an oxygen-free environment, which increases the likelihood of botulism spores.  If you prefer, there are a number of plant-based alternatives, like celery powder, that can replace sodium nitrite.  The choice is up to you.
Berkshire Jowl Packed in Cure and Black Pepper
Allow the jowl to sit in a large bag in the fridge for three days. As time goes on, the salt cure causes the water to be pulled out from the jowl. This turns the dry cure into a runny paste.  While the jowl is in the fridge, be sure to turn the bag daily to help distribute the cure evenly. Once the jowl is done curing, its off to be smoked, which we'll cover in Part 2 of this post.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Braised Scottish Highland Short Ribs

Autumn’s falling leaves and dropping temperatures always make me excited for braised dishes.  Slowly simmering all day, filling your house with savory aromas, it’s wonderful to be greeted by such classic comfort-food after raking leaves.  Of all the meats your can braise, I find short ribs to be the most user-friendly.  This cut, as you can guess by the name, comes from trimming off the ends of the ribs.  Short ribs come in tidy little squares or rectangles with a large cube of meat attached to a plank of bone.
What’s great about short ribs is that they’re easy to portion (one per person for a light lunch, two for dinner, or three if you’re feeling extravagant) and they reheat very easily.  At home, it’s just my wife and I, so I’ll usually cook up a pot of eight or twelve ribs on a Sunday, then during the week we can quickly warm up a pair at a time for a nourishing and near-effortless dinner.  Unlike a roast, there’s no carving, and don’t worry about the bone; it easily pops out after cooking, like pulling a stem from a grape.

To get started, season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper.  Then sear in a hot, oven-safe pan using oil or lard until they become deeply mahogany colored.  As the short ribs brown in the pan, chop up some onion, celery, and carrots.  I usually do: 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, and 1 part carrots. When I cooked the short ribs here, I had six short ribs and used two medium cooking onions, two ribs of celery, and a large carrot. You don’t need a lot, just enough to add some extra flavor and sweetness into your braising liquid—feel free to scale up or down to taste.  As you’re prepping the vegetables, flip the ribs around in the pan to brown all the sides.
Once the short ribs have browned, remove them from the heat and cook off the chopped vegetables in the pan with the short rib drippings.  This will help to add another level of savory flavor to the dish.  After the vegetables are browned and softened, pour in some beef stock and scrape up all the browned bits at the bottom of the pan.  While I love using my homemade stock, these short ribs also work particularly well when using boxed stock.  Notice how the ribs are cut across the bone to expose the interior?  That helps pull out the flavor from the bones during cooking, just as if you were making a mini batch of stock.  

Nestle the short ribs back into the pan with the cooked vegetables and top them up with stock so they’re just covered.  I like to add some fresh thyme and bay leaves, but rosemary, dried mushrooms reconstituted in water, or dried chilies would all be great variations.
So that’s it for the heavy-lifting required for this recipe.  Cover the pan and pop into a 325°F oven for 5-6 hours and you’re done.  Conventionally farmed short ribs only take 3-4 hours, but these Scottish Highland cows have been building up their muscles, hiking up and down the pasture.  That makes their meat more flavorful, but it also means they’ll take longer to become tender.  Normally, I’ll start these in the morning and let them spend the day in the oven, turning it down to 300°F after about an hour in the oven and 275°F another two hours after that, just hot enough to keep the meat at a gentle simmer. The meat will be more than happy to luxuriate in its braising liquids for a bit longer, because short ribs have a good deal of intramuscular fat and collagen. So if you have the time, a slow, 8-10 hour braise would really allow the fat to render out, the collagen breaks down into gelatin, and just make a meltingly tender dish. As you might imagine, this is a fantastic use for a crock pot, if you have one. 
Braised Scottish Highland Short Ribs
When serving the short ribs, you could make the dish hearty by piling two ribs and a ladleful of the sauce over a plate of Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles.  However, I find that we enjoy pairing the short ribs with cooked vegetables as a nice foil to the intensely-flavored short ribs. Blanched leeks are probably our favorite, as they collect all that wonderful sauce in their numerous overlapping layers, and nicely complementing the richness of the meat.

Finally, like all braised dishes, these short ribs only get better the next day.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Introducing Ranch Friend and Food Writer Nick Benard

We’re excited to introduce a ranch friend, Nick Benard, as a new member of the North Woods Ranch community.  Starting this month, Nick will be contributing to our blog by writing about his favorite recipes and culinary adventures with North Woods Ranch beef and pork.
Nick has a lifelong passion for food and writing. He spent nine years working in the specialty food industry at a cheese importing company.  Today, he works at the iconic Nittany Lion Inn at the Penn State University, where Nick handles their in-house curing, sausage making, and charcuterie.  In between, Nick has worked to learn as much as possible about food and the process behind traditional, artisan foods.  This has taken him to visiting artisanal cheese makers from Wisconsin to the mountains of Switzerland.  

On the meat side of things, Nick spent a week shadowing the charcuterie specialists at the Underground Meat Collective in Madison, Wisconsin.  He also participated in Mosefund Farm’s Pigstock, a three day on-farm workshop of slaughtering a Mangalitsa pig, cleaning and preparing the offal, and seam butchering the carcass, all under the watchful eye of Christoph Wiesner, Butcher and President of the Austrian Mangalitsa Breeders’ Association. Nick is an avid cook book reader and enjoys writing about his own cooking experiences.
Nick with Two of Our Berkshire Hogs
Expect to see a range of new posts coming, using our Scottish Highland Cattle and Berkshire hogs. Blog posts will range from simple weeknight dinners to larger projects for home chefs looking to make their own bacon, kielbasa, pate, and ham featuring North Woods Ranch on his personal blog the Culinary Pen.  In the meantime, feel free to check out some of Nick’s past posts featuring North Woods Ranch on his personal blog.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

New cowies on ranch!

Mercury and Red joined the fold yesterday from friend's farm: 

They're settling in well and it's great to see new faces! These two beautiful cows will add to the herd's genetic diversity as well as contribute more cowpower to improving the soils and forages for all. 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Flehmen Response

Val checks out the baby while dad Fergus does his Elvis impression.

That lip curl is called the Flehmen Response and allows the bull to better detect the hormones from the heifer or cow and whether or not she is in heat 'n such. It's also used for other inter-herd communication. Sooo many ways to figure out what's going on! 

#flehming #calf

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Michael Pollan comes to Pittsburgh for a conversation

We're honored to be invited to A Conversation with Michael Pollan at the Hillman Center this Saturday evening. We'll be sampling North Woods Ranch fare before the event and look forward to seeing other like minded folk. 

As Michael Pollan's 2006 The Omnivore's Dilemma was my "lightbulb" moment it is quite the thrill to see Michael who has been such an instrumental voice in fostering the local sustainable food movement right here in our backyard. 

While the pre-event VIP Locavore Supper has been sold out (still click on the link to check out the awesome chefs queued up) there are still a handful of seats in the way back available for the interview portion of the evening.