Archive for the ‘Nature’s Green Acres’ Category

Farm-to-Table w/ RGE RD & Riverbend Gardens


The last farm-to-table dinner I attended was a resounding success, and I’m not surprised Blair and his crew have done a few of these since then. By happenstance we ran into each other at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago and I ended up involved with his upcoming dinner at Riverbend Gardens. He ended up buying the last half of the 3 pigs we cut on Pig Day for the event, came over to butcher it, and also wanted to include some rescued fruit in his dessert so I ended up supplying some urban-fruit-rescued apples and evans cherries harvested by myself and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton volunteers. I offered to give Blair a hand, shoot some video and such, cause, well, it’s just a lovely kind of thing to be involved with, really.

It was a 6 course wine-paired menu based on winter-veg from Riverbend Gardens, and pork and beef from Nature’s Green Acres. Plus 3 hors d’oeurvres. Pretty impressive menu, really, and glad it was he and not I in charge of making it happen for the 25 or so guests. It was a well-conceived and well-executed festival of winter squashes, pork, local cheese, kales, cabbages, brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, beef, potatoes, urban fruit, live music, and local and Okanagan wines. I was lucky enough to be offered a spare seat at the huge table, and between shooting video of the courses as they were plated, got to eat the food and be a guest. Thanks to Blair and the RGE RD crew for that, and for becoming such fantastic advocates and supporters of our local food producers, and for cooking with fire. It matters. Enjoy the video.

Smoke-Day and My Current Smoking Setup


I’ve mentioned that on Pig Day I was slipping ham cuts and hocks into a big stock pot of prepped brine. Turns out that was a good idea. Just finished smoking those items, and they turned out really, really well. Heavily smoky, nice and salty with the classic pink-salt flavor and high-quality pork. Pretty much can’t go wrong there.

Turns out 27 hours for the sirloin tip wasn’t long enough – still some un-pink in the center. Also, 3 days for the hocks yielded the same issue. But I think I figured out my solution, and it’s not longer brine time. If I did that the extremities might get too salty – they were already borderline. I think the solution is injecting the meats with the brine. Need to buy me a new food toy. One that will scare many a guest away, perhaps.

I figured some info on my smoking setup would be useful for a variety of reasons. First, I’ve written about my old setup many times [a propane bbq put out of gas service and onto wood-fire], and I’ve been using something different for nearly a year already. Secondly, I’m addicted to accessibility when it comes to good food, and my current setup is built with reclaimed, largely free masonry and bits and pieces of my old propane bbq. This piecemeal freebie model is extremely effective, and addresses a key issue I had before with lack of secondary heat source – I mention it in the video below.

‘Charcuterie Day’ 2011


I’m used to butchering pigs on ‘Pig Day‘, and largely leaving charcuterie fun for some point in the winter when I feel like it. Not this year. My cellar’s empty. I feel like it now. I wanted to get started as soon as possible on a few different preparations. I also had to resist going too crazy today. For example, I had a nice slab of back fat [second photo] that I almost cured whole. Unwise. I don’t need 4 lbs of cured back fat ready all at once. So I split it in 3, started curing a choice piece [photo on left], and froze the other two for curing in a few months, hopefully before I run out of the first piece. I’ve learned with dry curing that pace is important. Have to be able to keep up to the stuff.

I may as well start there: dry cured back fat. Yes, this is essentially ‘lardo’, but because I fully intend on departing from convention to localize to where I live, use what I have in season, and suit the tastes of the palates I feed, as a general rule I’m going to try to avoid european names from here forward for risk of offending those that feel that a preparation named after a classic, traditional product  should respect it’s heritage. I agree. Mine might be washed in apple brandy and briefly smoked with apple wood if I feel like it. It might have wild herbs and wild onion from the north rather than mediterranean flavours. The differentiation might seem like high-concept wanking to some, but to me it matters.

So dry cured back fat. First off, I don’t need oodles of this stuff. My waistline certainly would appreciate some mindful moderation. I’m going to cure a 3/4 to 1 lb strip of the stuff every 3-4 months to hopefully always have some on hand. Today’s strip was 321g, 7g dry cure, some light grinds of black pepper, 2 sticks of summer savory leaves, and a crushed up twig-tip of dried rosemary. All the recipes I could find called for cure #1 instead of #2, and if somebody can explain that one to me, please do. My intuition says use #2 because it will be dry cured. This will be the first dry cure I do with #1. I think next one will be with #2. Into a zip-top bag it went, with a brick atop it for weight, to cure in the fridge ‘until’. After today, I have many ‘until’ dates that I need to get on a calendar to manage. It will then come out of the fridge and be hung in the cellar.

Next up was dry-cured ham, as I wanted to do a whole muscle dry cure preparation. I’ve long wanted to dry cure some ham, one day a whole one. I gave a small piece a shot as a newbie, and it was a fail. Time to try again. A friend had taken a very successful run at fiocco, and I wanted to do something similar. The piece I isolated was from the same location as a fiocco – which is essentially the sirloin tip as best I could tell [corrections welcome]. It was a good size to take a run at for now. 775g, 27g salt, 2g instacure #2, 3-4 sprigs summer savory leaves. Into a bag, into the fridge. [photo below left]

Next up was to decide when to take the ham cuts out of the brine pot in the garage. Conveniently, the weather has been cold, and the brine pot has been outside for days staying very cold, and not occupying space in my fridge. I’ve under-brined many a piece of ham, leaving that undesirable center with a little circle of gray, unpinksalted meat that makes for terrible presentation when sliced. But I also didn’t want to over salt it.  Estimating 1/2 day per lb, I decided to pull both pieces at the 27 hr mark. If it’s not enough, I’ll give them more time next year. One of the benefits of blogging: notes for when you forget what you did last year. I followed Ruhlman’s brine ratio and opted for no aromatics in it. They will be smoked over apple wood shortly.

The hocks are still in brine. I’m giving them 3 days in there. Looking forward to hot smoking them as well. Hocks are a funny beast. They are big and bulky relative to their meat output, so I’m going to try to keep them out of the freezer for that simple reason to leave room for beef, moose, and other things. Post smoke, I’ll pull all the meat, make some appropriate dishes for a week or so, and freeze any excess. I’m guessing that rather than a cubic foot of freezer space for them, it’ll be a medium sized ziploc baggie at best.

Dry-cured pig face. Although I think that roasting a head and pulling the meat is its best use for us and minimizes waste, I also wanted to dry cure some. I’m going to call this ‘pig-face’ as the cut I’m choosing is not strictly jowl. There’s some cheek in there. Some other bits and pieces. Other name ideas welcome, as ‘pig face’ isn’t terribly aesthetically pleasing, now is it? All the neck meat was put into trim, and the side of face that you see on the left was trimmed up, skinned, and cured. 900g pig face, 32g salt, 2.25g instacure #2, 2g black pepper, few leaves of dried sage, couple sprigs of fresh english thyme, and a tsp or so of welsh onion seeds. Ground up the cure in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkled it on. I’ve been very pleased with how uniformly the ground spice mix applies, the herbs get integrated with the salt really well and distribute evenly – just doesn’t look quite as lovely. Into the fridge it went.

The balance of the day was grinding meat, including some for a simply flavored fresh sausage that’s on deck, and lots and lots of clean-up from the day before. I’ll do individual posts on these items as they get completed, for those that are interested.

Pig Day, 2011


Pig Day‘ as it’s known around here is the big day we cut pigs to supply us for the year. We buy no other pork. If we run out, we wait for the next pig day. And we pretty much had run out, so I was particularly excited to get my hands on a whole hog again. And it was a big hog this time – 250 lbs. The fantastic farmers had agreed to keep the pigs a good month and a half past the kill date of all their pig-buddies to accommodate our butchering the pigs at home. There’s only one requirement for butchering at home: cold. Which itself dictates date. Late August and even September are chancy – can’t have a pig in the garage when it’s 30C like it was in September. By the latter half of October and into early November, it’s dipping into freezing at night at least, with day-time highs in the high single digits. My garage becomes a big walk-in cooler. Wait too long and you’re working in a walk-in blast freezer, also a problem.

Pig Day‘ starts with us heading out to a meat processor about an hour out of the city to pick up the pigs. They kill them, gut them, split them, de-hair them, have them inspected, load them into the vehicle, and hand you a baggie of offal if you want it all for the low price of $55/head or so. They kill on a Tuesday, and we pick up when they open Friday morning, so the carcasses have a good chance to chill hard in their coolers. We start cutting shortly after 9am, go all day with a break for a wood-fire grilled steak of whatever looks nice off the table, and go until dinner – which is always roast pig head. That dinner is always one of the best, if not the best of the year for me. Lots of fresh air, camaraderie, fresh pork and garden vegetables, washed down with a variety of apple cider, apple wines, brandies, etc. This year we even had a blind wine tasting with 9 folks to sweeten the day even more. It’s a special day.

So what to do. So many options. In my opinion, there is no wrong way to cut a pig, just a million choices, that’s all. I went into this one with probably the best game-plan I’ve had to date. I had thought through all the primals and listed what I wanted to make from them, which guided what and how to cut each. Here were my choices this year:

Shoulder. Shoulder makes my favorite slow-cook roast and confit cut – needed a few convenient roasts for that. Wanted a serious amount allocated to sausage. The hocks went into a brine pot I’d prepped the day before, to be smoked in a few days. If only the whole pig were made of shoulder…

Loin. One side was simply cut into 5 bone-in, fat & skin-on, 4-5 rib loin roasts. They have about 2-3 inches of rib on them, and are a sexy roast presentation wise. The other side was taken off the spine, and split in two. Half was cut into 10 thick fat-on chops, the other half was kept whole boneless and skinless for brine-curing and smoking – its back fat reserved for dry curing.

Ham. Hocks brined in pot. Deboned, isolated inside round and outside round essentially. I wanted to dry cure a piece, so the inside of one was cleaned up for that, the outside designated for roast, with lots of trim for sausage/ground. I’ve found that if I don’t make a conscious effort to allocate to trim, there is none. The other ham was separated the same way, but both inside and outside rounds going into the brine pot. My kids dig cured, smoked meat and ham, so ham I shall make.

Belly. Ribs off and lean to leave it for the bacon – I try to save them for the following summer. The photo just above shows the remaining belly slab’s copious fat. They were trimmed up, cut into 4-6 slabs per side, and reserved for curing and smoking. My kids love bacon. Ok, everybody loves bacon.

Other. This is a pretty long list, and significant contributor to weight. We roast one head, but because a friend I cut with doesn’t want his, the other gets trimmed out for sausage, the side of the face removed [cheek, jowl, etc] for dry curing. There’s a lot of meat out of a roast head – 5-7 lbs. Then there’s the lard bags – one of leaf lard [hugest I've seen to date], and one of trimmed back and belly fats. They’ll be rendered for pastry dough. Trim – I took about 20 lbs for ground & a fresh sausage batch I’ll make tomorrow morning. Then there’s the offal bags with tongues, livers, hearts, kidneys. Tenderloins. Oh yeah, those.

Once we got through my pig, we did 2 more, with others choosing how they wanted to use the lovely stuff. What I’m now left with is a pile of choice in the freezer still, and cuts that suit my family both in size and intended preparation. Back fat, inside round, jowl for dry curing right away. A pot full of curing hocks and a couple ham roasts needing smoking in a few days. 2 big bags of lard needing rendering. A few slabs of belly curing for bacon. A big tray full of trim that I ground the day after, with a batch of fresh sausage to tackle. And a pot full of pulled head meat. And full bellies.

This was a particularly memorable ‘Pig Day‘. Which was followed by a particularly memorable follow-up day that I will now likely call ‘Charcuterie Day‘. I’ve never done so many different charcuterie preparations in one day, not even close. Next post, ‘Charcuterie Day’ thoughts and details.

Farm to Table w/ RGE RD & Nature’s Green Acres


Farm-to-table dining, while commonplace elsewhere, is still an extremely progressive concept in our restaurant scene. When one of the most well-respected chefs in the city, Blair Lebsack, mentioned he was going to tackle serving a multi-course dinner to 30-40 guests out in the cow pasture at Nature’s Green Acres, I wanted to be there.

I find in the food service industry, ‘Local‘ normally equates to an element, maybe two on the plate being local, and it’s usually a protein. ‘Seasonal‘ often really means, ‘seasonal somewhere’. Not here. The beef, pork, and chicken was from the farm, yes, but when the farm didn’t have enough garden to supply the dinner, Blair and Caitlin got out there and built and planted garden months in advance. They foraged nettle for one of the iced teas and the ice cream, and nicked edible flowers from farm yard to include in the menu. They made butter for bread and for the pastries in the desert course. Blair chased the pig into the trailer to haul off to the abattoir, and butchered it himself. They butchered chickens, made stock for the soup, and used the livers in a terrine. He even helped the farmer rip the ancient, neglected, wood burning stove out of one of the farm’s outbuildings so he could cook on it – the entire service being done over wood fire. Essentially, if it wasn’t from the farm or a neighbour, it wasn’t on the menu.

It was an epic evening for everyone involved, I think – certainly the kind of event you don’t soon forget, if ever. Keep an eye out for more from Blair and RGE RD [the name of his new venture], as this wasn’t a one-off. Perhaps farm-to-table has finally truly arrived.

Bacon Deserves Some Respect


I know, I write about bacon a lot. And I know, bacon’s so last year, right? Wrong. Putting bacon in all kinds of stupid stuff – that’s so last year. But top-shelf bacon is, and will be so long as man and pork collide, a force of awesomeness to be reckoned with.

For those of you who have been paying attention, this is indeed the bacon cured by my 3-year-old. A week in the fridge, and a couple hours over some wood fire smoke – daddy did that part [see bottom photo]. So simple. So tasty.

For some reason though, this bacon is among the best I’ve ever produced – and I’ve made a lot of bacon. We are literally swooning over it, and it’s not for lack of cured pork in our diet. I’m going to give the credit to Nature’s Green Acres for raising some high-maintenance but ridiculously beautiful pork belly. You can see me butchering this very slab of pig’s belly here.

This beautiful piece of pork has fired me up to asking we quit wearing bacon, crafting with bacon, putting it in desserts, and any other bacon-nonsense – and give it back some of its well deserved respect and dignity. Really.

My 3 Year Old Can Cure Bacon. So Can You.


May the following serve as evidence for all those that say, ‘but I don’t know how’ and perhaps ‘but I don’t have the time’. The following is a series of photos of how to cure bacon – by a 3 year old. Yes. That’s right. A 3 year old can cure bacon. And it took her 5 minutes or so. Now to the skeptics, I’ll concede that I dosed the pink salt and cure amounts – took on the role of responsible daddy figuring botulism risk was not to be managed by toddlers. But other than that, it was all her.

Take some pork belly. Open zip top bag – especially fun when you’re 3. I admit to have lost the appreciation for that simple pleasure. Put belly in bag. Weigh out cure based on weight of meat [again, daddy intervened here]. Dump cure into bag, as seen in top left photo.

The next bit is also full of glee when you’re 3: shaking the bag about to coat the pork belly with the cure, seen below. No lack of enthusiasm there, when you’re 3. If you’re older than 3, you may lack spunk and fight lethargy, and this may actually be deemed ‘work’ or..’hard’. 3 year olds would disagree. All fun. The gayness may be emphasized when you wear really loud, colorful pants. My grandfather wears similar pants to dinner parties. No joke. He must have a good time too.

Next, also seen below, requires adult assistance – the opening of the fridge can be tricky for a 3 year old. Other than that though, the instructions are ‘put bag in fridge’. If you’re pressed for time, don’t despair , it needs to cure for a week. You have time. Time to go to work for a week, do a lot of other stuff, sleep many times. Then a week later, you have freshly cured bacon. The only bad part when you’re 3 is that a week is a really, REALLY long time to wait for bacon.

Saucisson Sec Follow Up


It’s been 3 weeks since I put up this batch, and the thinnest of them are just starting to become ready to go. The thicker ones – the game ones being especially thick, won’t be ready for another week or two at least.

My first successful batch is all but a memory, now long gone. It was lovely. This second batch was about twice as large. I’m making another today – pork from two local farms. I’m trying to have the resolve to put up a batch once per month – enough to have a continuous stock. Not too difficult to have the resolve when the product’s so dreamy.

For the  geeks. Modified my drying setup. You can see the dowels the small sausages are on – 3 rows 48″ long. I can make links the length of a half sheet pan, and make two per string – my solution to the links not touching each other. Then there are two dowels running perpendicular across the end of the room, also 48″ long. It multiplied my hanging capacity by about 500%. Still have some tweaking to do for ease of use, and may increase my capacity further down the road, but for now I’m thoroughly pleased. 5C 63% humidity. I’m still shocked that at this time of year I actually have to tone down the humidity in the space – it easily can climb into the 70′s if I allow the salt water wicking from a pail to pool on the floor. The rest of the house is sub 20% humidity. I’m likely going to have to knock it sub 60% RH before loading the space with all those jowls and new batches of saucisson sec, which will bolster it upward.

Saucisson Sec & Dry Curing Calf Moose


I put this batch up last weekend – about a 5lb batch of pork saucisson sec, and a similar sized batch of calf moose saucisson sec. I’m also dry curing a piece of sirloin tip from the calf moose to see how that goes. For my first attempt at the game version of saucisson sec, I opted for a higher ratio of Berkshire back fat than would be used for the pork version – the fat reserved from one of the many fall pig butchering escapades.

That’s one big change in my sausage making routine that rocks. When we butchered the pigs, the trim was set aside but not ground that day [which saves time and labor that day - both appreciated] AND an appropriate amount of back fat was added to each pack. Genius. So when I pull a trim pack from the freezer to make saucisson or fresh sausage, it handily includes the necessary fat. I used to freeze my fat separately.  No more. Saved time on butcher day, fuss on sausage making day, uses less packaging, and leaving it in trim form rather than ground gives me more options for texture of the forcemeat.

I’m a little shocked that my cellar is at 79% humidity – a little too high for my liking, and the opposite problem I’d expected at  this time of year with the furnace fighting the -30C weather and drying out the air something bad in the rest of the house [sub-20%]. I’m not complaining. Easier to dry it up here than get the RH up.

I can see me having an awful lot of saucisson to put every year if this keeps working out.

Saucisson Sec-sess


Finally. After screwing it up, then waiting more than a year to give it another go, I’ve got it. Yes, I walked around my kitchen with my arms up in the air declaring to all my victory. See, I love this stuff. Deeply. Not only that, my otherwise vegetarian daughters love this stuff. And bacon.

I wrote about the making of it here. What I knew but had been too busy to concern myself with was that the small hog-middle sized ones dry quickly and I would be rich in saucisson sec sooner than expected. Only by happening down there to show a friend my setup did we realize that they were getting close to ready – the odd one being ready to go.

Why’d it work this time? Imo, two factors, both important: 1] Humidity was roughly 60% with a temp between 9-11C in my cellar and 2] I used Instacure #2, which I should have used the first time [used pink salt, the #1 version], but you can’t buy it where I live, so I had to order some online from the US.

Just when I thought my food-life couldn’t get any richer.