Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Freezers, Refrigerators, and Larders and Amazing Stuffed Pork Chops


Our Larder - one part of our system
     It's that time of year when I start taking stock and straightening out our freezers and our larder.  I know we've been pulling things out of the freezer and using things from the larder shelves for a number of months now and I have to take yet another,"inventory".  I need to be sure that I know what we still have lots of, what's getting low (blueberries, strawberries, and green beans I have learned), and what we may have "forgotten" that we had - and making use of it.  The management and monitoring of our supplies, provisions and food takes a bit of time, as does cooking our meals "from scratch", but in the long run we can't imagine any other way - you literally cannot go back to the processed stuff in the supermarket once you start eating this way - you just can't.

     Here's a look at our food storage system and a recipe we developed recently with items we had stored.

     The Freezers & the Refrigerators:  We started a number of years ago, freezing seasonal things that we loved, like asparagus and blueberries, strawberries, green beans, etc. All of the things that we bought fresh at the various Farmers' Markets were bought in bulk in order to "freeze some".  Well, the drawer freezer below our 30 inch main refrigerator filled up pretty quickly, so we invested in a stand alone box freezer and installed it in the basement of our home.  The box freezers are the most reasonably priced and frankly I think they are better at energy management.  They are however a challenge to use.  With a box freezer you are bent over looking in side baskets (the win!) or you are having to dig through layers of frozen packages trying to find the one that is alluding you (the loss!) -  so the more organized the better - you have been warned.  Last year we added a second small refrigerator to the basement line up.   Believe it or not, we seem to have way more condiments and pickles and juices than most people - so again our kitchen refrigerator was getting impossible to manage.  And happily that small refrigerator came with a small top freezer.

     The Larder:  We've been canning tomatoes and tomato puree' for years. Even before we got involved in urban homesteading and growing some of our own food, we'd go to South Jersey and buy flats of Jersey tomatoes to can.  We always maintained a small shelving unit in the basement for our canned tomatoes.  As time went by we expanded to canning pickles and pickled peppers and a jam or two along with the tomatoes.  Eventually we realized that we needed larger shelves, and we needed them to be handy to the cook.  We installed a large shelving unit at the foot of the basement steps, added some fruit crates stacked next to it for storing potatoes, squash, onions and garlic, and just like that, we found ourselves with a larder.

     So, we are currently a three freezer, two refrigerator, one larder household.  It may sound like a lot but keep in mind that we cook from scratch.  And, of course, our interest in urban homesteading has led us to growing some of our own food.  Along with water bath canning, this year we are starting to do pressure canning, which will allow us to have soups, stews, and sauces among other things on those larder shelves.

     In the long run, we are finding that our system is definitely healthier for us and proves itself to be quite cost effective.  Believe me, our costs - even with our initial investment in appliances - are much less than folks who eat take out a good deal and who buy a lot of supermarket processed food. We make our own stocks and freeze them.  Our dinners become vacuum packed for lunches and those seasonal things that we love are available to us long after their growing season ends.  It is worth it to take some time to look at a few key things:   1. how you would be able to preserve and/or store some good, local food;  2. what you would need to cook more of your food at home; and 3. how making some changes might improve your eating experiences - and your health.

     So, as part of my recent "inventory check" - here's what I came upstairs with:   I found two big thick pork chops (from Country Time Farm) and some chicken stock in our freezer; I grabbed some apples and onions from our larder bins; and I opened the small refrigerator and found celery and mushrooms in our produce drawers.  And yes, I had a hankering for the smoky flavor of scamorza - which is basically a smoked mozzarella - so I did go out and buy that!

     And that is how this recipe was born! This is basically our "old time" family stuffing recipe, kicked up a few notches.  The addition of apple, mushroom and cheese provides amazing flavor with the pork.  And if you can, do add the Apple Cider, too!

Recipe:  Roasted Pork Chops with Apple, Mushroom, and Cheese Stuffing
(for 2)


2 thick cut, bone-in pork chops (humanely raised, drug free, local)

2 cups coarse bread (like French table bread) crusts carelessly removed, torn into pieces
2 - 3 tablespoons of lard***
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup sliced cremini mushrooms (slice them thick, then halve them)
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced (small dice)
3 ounces of Scamorza cheese diced (small dice)
No salt chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons Sage
Apple Cider

***It is becoming very clear that vegetable and canola oils are actually not very good for us, while good lard is a fine medium for frying and sautéing in some dishes.  You will be seeing the use  of lard in many of my recipes going forward.


"Stale" the bread pieces by spreading them out on to a cookie sheet.  This is best accomplished overnight or, if you have bread that is close to stale when you tear it, in a few hours.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Sauté the onion and the celery in the lard until soft.  Add salt and pepper
Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook the mushrooms until they are tender (not too soft)
Stir in the apple and the sage and cook for 1 -2 minutes
Remove the pan from the heat

Add the bread pieces and toss to blend
Add the cheese and toss to blend

Moisten the stuffing mixture with the chicken stock (how moist you like your stuffing is up to you but remember it can dry out a bit in the cooking process)
Check salt and pepper levels

Lightly butter or oil a baking dish

Make a slit in the side of each of the pork chops - you are creating a "pouch" for the stuffing
Fill each chop with the stuffing mixture.  Stuff well, but don't over stuff.
Put any left over stuffing in the baking dish around the chops.

Now - to gild the lily a bit - pour a bit of good local apple cider over the chops and the stuffing.

Cover the baking pan with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
Uncover the baking pan and bake for another 15 minutes or until the chops are done to your liking.
Let the chops and stuffing sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

During the uncovered baking period, the loose stuffing will form a nice crunchy exterior but will stay soft and juicy underneath.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Easy & Delicious Beef Bone Broth

There is no better time of year than now to develop the habit of making Bone Broth on a regular basis.  My approach is to make small batches - which keep up to a week or so in the refrigerator.  I take out a small amount each day, warm it up in a small sauce pan, pour it into a cup and sprinkle the hot broth with a few good flakes of Maldon sea salt.  Delicious.  Warming.  Good for you!

Let's begin.  Beef Bone Broth.


A one pound to one and a half pound beef soup bone.  See below - it must be from a naturally raised animal.
Fresh Water
2 - 3 Bay leaves
One yellow onion
Good Sea Salt


The first and most important item in the broth making process is the bone.  I use a one pound to one and a half pound beef "soup" bone - as my local farmer labels it.  A nice big bone, some marrow, and a good deal of meat surrounding the bone.  You want - no, you must have - organic, grass fed, pasture raised beef bones.  Making beef bone broth from supermarket, factory farmed meat is a waste of time.  You are not looking for a nice hot cup of hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals from an unhappy, tortured creature.

Rinse your soup bone and pat dry.  Some folks roast the bone until it develops some color.  Much like you do to make a good rich stock.  I do not roast the bone.  My broth has a lighter color because of that, but I want all of the flavor and goodness in my liquid.

Place the bone in a medium sized stock pot.  Cover the bone by about 3 - 4 inches with fresh water.  Add about two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to the water - this will leach out impurities that will  rise to the top early on so you can skim them off.

Cover the pot.  Bring your liquid to a boil and then immediately lower to a simmer - a very low simmer.  I use a "simmer plate" that fits over my burner and allows me to keep the heat very low.  You do not want the liquid to boil. I check it every hour so; if you need to, add water to maintain the level. In the first couple of hours, you can skim the scum floating on the top.  After that,  I do not skim the fat off!  I know that you will see many recipes that do skim the fat off.  Fat = Flavor.  I leave it alone.

Again, I make my bone broth in small batches, so I generally leave this pot on a simmer for from 24 - 30 hours.  I may not have mentioned this, but also note that you will have the most amazing aroma wafting throughout your kitchen after about hour three.

At about hour 28 I add a few bay leaves and a regular yellow onion cut into quarters.  That is all that I add. As mentioned,  I do not roast the bone.  I do not add tomato paste.  Thus, my bone broth is "natural" in color.  I like it that way, but once you start making it regularly you may want to experiment.

When the meat is all off of the bone, when the marrow is out and melted into the broth (I help this process along if it doesn't fall out itself) and the broth is a lovely golden color, it's done.

Strain once through a wide strainer for the meat, bone, bay leaves and onion; strain a second time through cheesecloth for the rest of the bits, etc.

After straining, I refrigerate the broth in a large glass measuring cup, covered,  for at least a few hours, and ideally overnight.

When you chill it, you will see that fat has solidified on the top.  Yes - fat.  Good stuff!  I stir this well
so that I am sure to distribute it and then I "bottle" it.

"A cup a day" - I usually drink about 8 ounces a day.  Heat the broth well in a sauce pan, pour it into your cup and sprinkle it with some really good sea salt.  Give the salt a chance to permeate the broth and enjoy!

NOTE:  That meat is delicious, although a bit chewy.  You can find a number of ways to use it, especially shredded and slow cooked - as in tacos.  If you live with dogs, you will make them very happy with some of this meat, as well!