Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Taking It Into My Own Hands

I would be lying if I said I cooked most of the meals in our home.  Fact is 90% of our meals are home cooked and my wife cooks most of those.   She does the daily ritual of creating magic out of the fridge, onto the stove, and then onto our plates.  She is a great cook and does a great job of putting together healthy meals for us and the kids.  She actually puts thought into what she is going to make for us at the end of our days and for that myself and my kids are appreciative.

When it comes to the more adventurous things, she leaves that to me.  I guess I don't mean adventurous, I mean low risk.  My definition of low risk food preparation is that if it tastes horrible we aren't left scrambling for something else to eat.  What I have done a lot lately are some low risk, experimental food preparations.  If it didn't work out, I chalk it up to experience.  There are many healthy things out there that I have wanted to make for myself rather than purchase for several reasons. 
  1. They are too expensive to buy. 
  2. The store bought options tend to have additives that I'd like to avoid.
  3. There aren't many sources to buy from.
  4. And finally the fun factor of trying something new and interesting.
I had some time off during the December holidays and that is when the real experimentation began.  Here are some of the things I've experimented with and a short synopsis of the experience.  I will include links to the recipes but I did modify them when appropriate or necessary.

Fat Before Rendering
1) Rendering Tallow - Tallow is a traditional cooking grease made from the fat of cow's or similar animals.  Due to irrational fear of animal fat, you cannot find this once popular cooking ingredient anywhere.  When I picked up our half cow from Whitefeather Meats, I bought some grass fed buffalo and beef fat.  I then got a simple recipe from here which I followed very closely.  The process took a while but I ended up with a lot after I was done.  I have mixed feelings about tallow.  I enjoyed preparing it but cleaning up was a nightmare.  The stuff is like wax when it dries.  It was very difficult to clean up.  Hopefully I will learn how to properly clean up so I can enjoy cooking with it in the future.

Rabbit/Venison Before Drying

Berries Before Drying

2) Pemmican -  This concoction is a combination of tallow and dried meat and sometimes dried fruits.  Pemmican was first made by Native American Indians because it was nutrient dense and lasted a very long time without freezing or airtight packaging.  I had read how nourishing it was and thought I'd give it a try using this recipe.  The tallow rendering was the first step.  I had some rabbit and venison in the freezer so I sliced that up and dehydrated it along with some strawberries and blueberries.  After those items were properly dried I ground them into a powder like substance in the food processor.  The tallow was heated till it liquefied but not too hot.  I folded the powdered stuff into the pot with the tallow with some seasoning for added flavor.  What resulted was somewhere between a paste and a dough in consistency.  I used plastic wrap to create individual, candy bar size pieces for me to enjoy after it cooled and hardened.  The next day I was so excited to try what I had worked days on.  To say it was unappetizing would be an understatement.  The flavor was blah and the texture wasn't much better.  In the reading I did after this debacle I learned making this stuff is an art that can take multiple tries to master.  It wasn't all for not though as my dog got many goods meals out of this failed experiment.

Single Kimchi Serving
3) Kimchi - After learning about the benefits of fermented foods here and many other blogs, I decided to make some myself.  Besides cultured cheeses, the most common fermented food that Americans eat is sauerkraut but I will leave that to my brother in law and his family.   They make almost a hundred pounds a year at the family cabbage farm.  I decided on kimchi because I love it and it seemed easy to make.  My recipe was from one of my favorite blogs that I had only discovered in the last year or so.  I changed up the ingredients a bit but followed the directions pretty closely.  I brined mine overnight then drained the brine.  You have to then let it sit in a closed container at room temperature for a week at least to allow the fermenation process to happen.  After that period was done, I put the kimchi in 2 empty kimchi jars I had bought at an Asian grocery store.  I did this because it was easier to store 1 jar in my main fridge and the other in my beer fridge (which doesn't have beer in it anymore)  rather than the 1 huge fermenation jar I used.  To say I was happy with the result would be an understatement.  This tasted as good or better than anything I have gotten at a restaurant or store.  This is a great little side dish for virtually any meal but is an acquired tatse for many people.

4) Bulk Venison Sausage - I went hunting last fall.  I didn't get a deer but did get a lot of meat.  There were non-prime cuts that nobody wanted that I gladly gathered up.   I took them home and put them in the freezer with the intention of making sausage.  I found this recipe and went to work.  The process started with me smoking some of the meat for added smokie flavor.  I then let it soak in a brine overnight to mild the gaminess a bit.  My brother in law had a meat grinder that he loaned to me.  That thing got tested and it passed.  I added some pork fat from Whitefeather Meats because venison is so lean that it would make for some very dry sausage.  The process took some time and work but we ended up with about 15 pounds of sausage that is not too bad.  It has a strong sage flavor.  Sage is a spice I will avoid in the future except for maybe a little in the Thanksgiving stuffing.  We have used this sausage in stews, chilis, and meatloafs.  We usually add some ground beef or pork because we need something to cut the strong sage flavor.  This is something I look forward to doing again as I can see the potential of having a lot of high quality protein to enjoy if I season it right.

5) Homemade Ice Cream - We got a small ice cream maker from my in-laws for Christmas.  I was excited because I like to treat myself to ice cream every now and then but hate all the crap that is in the store bought stuff.  My wife got involved in this one and chose this simple recipe.  We thought vanilla was the way to go because it was so versatile.  Ours was sweetened with honey instead of maple syrup.  This was a fun process that the kids also got involved in.  The end result wasn't as sweet as everyone is used to but was still very good.  We made several batches and put it in a freezer safe container.  This ended up being a nice treat with berries or nuts sprinkled on top.

6) Hot Sauce - My wife and I love spicy food.  My kids, they don't like it so much.  So we are careful about not making things too spicy for the kids to tolerate.  Hopefully their tastebuds will evolve soon so they can enjoy this added flavor with us.  Anyways, we usually just add heat by dashing on some dried peppers or hot sauce to our own plates.  I love sriracha style hot sauce but you can't find it anywhere without some of the additives we try to avoid.  So again, I decided to make some myself.  It was quite easy to find recipes but I settled on this one.  I was lucky to have some dried chilis from our summer garden that worked perfectly in this recipe.  Honey was substituted for sugar and half of the vinegar was apple cider.  This stuff turned out great.  I put it on a lot of things.  It is just the right combo of heat, tang, and sweetness.  I am afraid to do it again because I am not sure if any other batch will ever equal or exceed this one.

As you can see, my wife is not the only one who has been busy in our kitchen.  I am by no means a culinary talent but I am willing to try something new and not get too frustrated if the end result isn't perfect.  Whether you attempt cooking a new meal or just something on the side like I did, don't be afraid to get messy and don't be afraid to screw up.  In the end you will have learned something and you will certainly appreciate the food a whole lot more when it does turn out to be delicious.

By the way, did anyone notice that all these experiments end up being processed foods.  The main difference between my "processed" foods and those found in a store are that I start with and only used real food ingredients.  What I did realize after these experiences is that our ancestors probably would not have had the energy nor the tools to make most of this stuff.  This further reinforces the fact that although homemade "processed" foods are a nice luxury, whole/fresh foods is way more likely what our human genome has evolved to eat.



MAS said...

Glad to hear your kimchi turned out great. I eat it every day. Soon I'll be posting an alternate method kimchi recipe that doesn't use a brine.

Chuck said...

the good news is, in my house, i get all the kimchi to myself. i am halfway through my first batch and look forward to doing another batch.

Jan said...

I am going to do some fermented foods this summer after our CSA co-op kicks in, and kimchi will probably be the first, simply because I like it, and it's spicy enough to mitigate that "fermented taste." (It's all about baby steps, you know).

I was going to post about rendering lard, which we did last weekend and I documented with photographs, today but am very busy at work - I am most likely going to post it tomorrow for Fight Back Friday. Rendering tallow isn't really any different.

I, too, like a little ice cream every now and then and make it myself. My 16 yo son is having friends this weekend and we're making burgers and fries (my burger will be bunless and my fries will be from sweet potatoes), and he's asked for my homemade peppermint ice cream because it's his favorite. I will have a scoop, then try to forget it's in the freezer (much easier these days than it used to be).

I haven't tried Pemmican yet, but you know, I think I will when our new side of beef comes in. And did you render the pork fat before you added it to the venison sausage?

Chuck said...

No, I didn't render the pork fat first. I wonder if that would have helped? Obviously I am still learning. I know people who make pork sausage a lot and I don't think they render the fat they add in.

Lee said...

I just made my 1st batch of sriracha sauce & love it! Will never buy hot sauce from the store again.

My family makes approx. 200 lbs of pork sausage every year & we do not render the fat.

Christy said...

I love all your experiments - I have made hot sauce and rendered tallow and lard but for the rest - not yet!