Thursday, July 23, 2015

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chops with Cherries

Fruit and pork are classic partners, but things get a bit more interesting when a bit of smoke and a sizzling char are added to the mix.  Next time grilled pork chops are on the weekend menu, consider adding a grilled fruit element as a topping or sauce.
Starting with beautiful pasture-raise pork chops from North Woods Ranch, lightly salt and pepper the chops on both sides, letting them come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before grilling.
For fruit, choose whatever looks best at the market.  Cherries have been plentiful here in Pennsylvania due to the abundant amount of rain, but try new fruits as the seasons and produce changes.
As with pan-searing a chop, start the chops on medium heat.  For a charcoal grill, this would be off to one side of the live coals where the heat is not as intense.  While the pork chops are off to one side of the heat, the fruit should be set right over the hottest part of the grill.  Due to the soft nature and high water content of fruit, they need an intense blast of heat to get some charring.  
 Two to three minutes should be enough and will keep them from becoming too soft and pulpy. To grill the fruit, a non-stick grilling basket is a great tool, plus they’re widely available at grocery stores during the summer.  A bowl made of aluminum foil and greased with oil is an OK stand in for one-time use. 

A good plan is to preheat the grilling basket when the pork chops first go down.  After 4-5 minutes, flip the pork chops, then add the cherries (unpitted to help retain their shape) to the preheated basket.  After 2 minutes, stir or shake the basket to move the fruit around.  The skins of the cherries will be blistered and slightly charred.  The goal in this step is to add some savory, smoky notes to the sweet, acidic nature of the fruit. 
To finish the grilled cherry topping, cut the cherries in half and remove the pits.  A sprig of rosemary, minced fine, adds a slightly resinous and fresh herbal flavor the cherries.  Due to the intense heat of the grill the cherries will have a tender, yielding texture and can be spooned over each pork chop like a chutney.  Later in the season, try this with quartered peaches and thyme or blackberries and basil.
Recipe at a Glance:
1 pork chop per person, rubbed with salt and pepper
2-3 oz of fruit per person (a generous amount to get a bit of fruit on each bite)
Sprig of herbs

Soak a few blocks 2x2" of hard wood in water.

Start a fire in your grill with a chimney starter and lump charcoal.  When the coals are half on fire, dump them out and place the grill grate on top to allow it to preheat.  Once all the coals are lit/white, brush the grill with a wire brush, then oil it.  Add the damp wood to the hot coals to add some smoke.

Lay the pork chops down in the middle of the grill, on indirect heat.  Set a perforated grilling basket down on the hottest part of the grill.  If the grilling basket is not made of non-stick material, grease the basket before setting it on the grill.  Cover the grill.

After 4-5minutes, turn the chops over, and add the fruit to the preheated basket.  Cover the grill again.   Check the fruit after 2 minutes.  If charred and blistered, remove from heat.  Otherwise, continue cooking for another minute.

Cook the chops to your preference, and remove the pits/stones from the cooked fruit.  Mince the herbs and stir into the fruit.  Plate the chops and spoon a generous amount of the grilled fruit on top.  If the fruit turns out to be too under-ripe/acidic, sweeten it with agave syrup (mostly fructose) or honey.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Making Beef Suet Bird Feeders at Home

Making your own suet bird treats is a fun craft for the afternoon and can easily produce enough suet blocks to last a season.  Starting from scratch, with real grass-fed beef suet, is the best way to ensure your feathered friends are getting a healthy and safe treat.
Rendering beef suet is easier than making lard, although the steps are pretty similar. While lard needs to be finely chopped or ground to help the rendering process, beef fat is naturally crumbly and can be separated with just your fingers or by crushing it with a rolling pin.  
North Woods Ranch Beef Suet

Place the crumbled suet into a heavy bottomed pot with enough water to cover the bottom of the pot ¼ inch.  The water will keep the suet from scorching in the pot.   
By the time the water evaporates into steam, enough of the suet will have rendered into liquid fat, called tallow.  Stir the pot occasionally to help the suet melt easily.  

While the fat is rendering, choose what mix-ins you’d like to add to the suet and combine them in a large mixing bowl.  Niger seeds and oatmeal have worked well for us in Central PA, but you can find Audubon and birding websites that will list a whole range of seeds, nuts, and grains that various species enjoy
 When the fat turns clear, pour equal amounts of liquid fat into the mixing bowl with your chosen blend of bird seed.  Stir the fat and seeds together.  As the fat cools, it will turn opaque and lock the seeds into place.  Pour the still warm mixture into a loaf pan, ramekin, or mold of your choosing to set the shape.  Old plastic deli take-away cups produce nice round molds, while square tofu containers produce sturdy bricks. Let the mold cool overnight in the fridge.
 After it cools, you can remove the suit block from the mold and put it into a suet holder (like the cage model featured) or simply tie it to a tree.  The oats will absorb some of the warm fat, which will make the blocks very hard and keep them in one solid piece.
If you’ve never left suet out for birds, don’t worry if you don’t see any visitors right away.  It might take a couple of days for birds to discover the suet and feel safe eating from it.
Finished Block of Bird Suet
Recipe at a Glance:
4 lbs of North Woods Ranch Beef Suet
2 lbs of organic oats
2 lbs seeds (use the above link to find what birds in your area eat).  These photos depict Niger seeds.

Save Extra Suet for Roasting Potatoes
Crumble the fat into small pieces with your fingers or a potato masher.  Put the fat into a pot with a small amount of water to prevent scorching.  Bring the pot to a boil and stir often.

When the water evaporates enough of the fat should have rendered to keep the suet moist and to prevent burning.  Lower the heat to medium and continue to stir occasionally, as the fat continues to render out over the next hour.  

When the suet has rendered out most of its fat, pour the tallow into a large bowl with the oats and seeds.  Stir to evenly distribute the seeds and oats.  Pour the suet mixture into molds and allow to cool.  When the mixture becomes opaque, place it in the fridge to solidify overnight.

The next day remove the molds from the fridge and turn upside down.  Due to the high fat content a solid wack with your palm or a spoon should make the suet block easily drop out of the mold.
Set in your favorite birding spot and watch your feathered friends enjoy the fruits of your labor!