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Render Your Own Duck Fat

I use duck fat an awful lot. It makes the best hash browns, tastes better than butter for sautéing greens or green beans, and is of course incomparable for making confit. And while you can just buy pre-rendered duck fat from gourmet stores, it’s crazy expensive and you get no cracklins. If you ever eat duck, save the fat for rendering. If you don’t, save trimmed chicken fat in the freezer until you have enough to be worth rendering. Schmaltz is awesome.

This isn’t really a recipe so much as a lesson in patience. To start, you need a deep, wide saucepan. Mine is only wide, but that’s okay as long as you work slowly.

Start with about a pound of fat and skin. Chop the fat into about one-inch cubes and put it in your biggest saucepan. Chopping it up is easiest if the fat is still partially frozen, but still possible if it isn’t. Messy, but manageable.

Spread the fat into an even layer and pour 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water over it. The water keeps everything in the pan at the boiling point of water, which means none of the fat can burn before it’s all melted.

Turn the burner on to medium-high just until the water begins to simmer. I hope you brought a book into the kitchen, because this takes a while. Let the water gently boil, keeping an eye on it and stirring every now and then. After ten minutes enough fat will have melted and be failing miserably at mixing with the water to make everything look scummy. It gets better, I promise.

After 30 minutes there will be more liquid than solid in the pan and you can definitely see that there’s more fat than water in the liquid.

After 45 minutes the liquid is finally clear and golden.

You can see here that almost all of the water has boiled off. It’s just fat.

Keep boiling the fat–carefully! Those spatters hurt!–for another 15 minutes. That’s a total of one hour for those of you keeping track.

You want to do this because cracklins–fried brown crispy bits of duck skin–are amazing.

Use a slotted spoon to skim the cracklins out of the fat and drain them on paper towels. Pour the fat through a strainer into a GLASS OR CERAMIC bowl, cup, or ramekin. That’s in all caps because I melted a plastic bowl once by pouring approximately 370°F fat into it. Oops.

Toss the cracklins and some paprika and salt in a zip-top bag and shake it up.

These are tasty.

The fat is a rich golden liquid at room temperature.

It’s white and creamy, much the same texture as butter, once chilled.

Rendered fat keeps a few weeks in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer. Use it in just about any savory dish in place of butter.

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Passover Shopping

Well, Passover starts tomorrow, and boy have I been busy. Cleaning the apartment top to bottom, vacuuming the car, packing up my chametz, you know. All that.

I certainly didn’t spend most of Saturday down in Waxahachie eating corn on the cob and beef ribs with my bare hands, watching topless men combine weapons and fire.

That would be irresponsible.

Next time I don’t go to the renaissance fair, somebody come with me so I can have my picture taken with this guy? I just couldn’t ask Mr. B. I mean, I’m not completely cruel.

So that’s why only about half of my Passover shopping is done today. Mr B is picking up the rest tomorrow.

The first step is replacement food for all the wheat and leavening I had to dispose of. Matzoh isn’t exactly bread, but it has its own crunchy charm. Sort of. I like it with Nutella, peanut butter, bananas, hummus, chile, refried beans, any way but plain because plain it just turns to tasteless cement on the second chew.

Thanks to a local Jewish market and grill called Milk and Honey,  I have some almond cookies that smelled so good when I opened the box that I had to just hide them in the cabinet to keep from devouring them before the holiday.

And finally, I picked up a pair of meringues because, well, I love meringues. I’ll probably be making a meringue cake of some kind this week, but it won’t be so pretty as the ones from the store. I really need to learn to be patient.

Next, I went to get meat. If I can’t have pasta or bread, I turn into this insanely voracious carnivore. It’s really rather impressive. Also, even though I’ve been warned against it, I’ve chosen this week to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. We’ll see how that goes.

First, there’s a delightful brisket. Four and a half pounds of meat for about fifteen dollars. I swear, I almost hugged my butcher, truly.

Lamb shanks, because they’re delicious. I know some people aren’t a fan of lamb, but I don’t think it’s “gamey” at all, and it comes out so tender and complements so many flavors well that I find it hard to object to. Still, everyone’s picky about something.

Finally, Beef short ribs. I can hardly wait to smoke these. So we have a lot of meaty goodness coming up this week.

For the rest of the groceries, we’re picking up a pile of fruits and vegetables, some tahini, lots of eggs and yogurt. The clerk at the grocery store is going to think we’re health nuts.

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Preparing for Passover: Finding Chametz

Passover is almost here, and I waited until today to really start getting ready for it. The holiday involves a lot more than just swapping bread for matzoh, and even though I’m not having a seder here, there’s a lot that needs to be done. Today, I found all the chametz in my apartment.

Yeah, that’s just the stuff from the pantry. So what is chametz? Basically, it’s anything with wheat or leavener in it. Except matzoh. So obviously, bread and pasta and crackers are out, as well as yeast and baking powder and baking soda. My cornbread mix is mostly flour, so it goes too. The flour. The buckwheat noodles.

Some of this may be confusing if you’re new to Passover. Matzohs are made from flour, so why are they kosher for Passover while the bag of as yet unleavened flour isn’t? Well, you see, other factors than added leaveners can cause leavening. If water got to the wheat at any point after its harvest, a small amount of fermentation could potentially have occurred, allowing for a bit of rise. If you have access to kosher for Passover flour, you can hang onto it, but there are really only two things you can make with it during Passover: matzoh and egg matzoh. I don’t have KFP flour, so I’m using Manischewitz for all my matzoh needs.

To find all of your chametz, go through and look at every item in your pantry. Incidentally, this is a great time to organize the pantry and throw away expired foods you may have forgotten about.

Look at every single thing, and read every single ingredient. Not everything that contains wheat or leavener is obvious. Soy sauce has more wheat than soy in it, cocoa mix and malt powder have wheat too, and even my canned enchilada sauce (why did I even buy that? I always make my own!) has yeast. The rosemary crackers gave me a moment’s pause. Yes, they’re made of wheat and rosemary, but they are completely unleavened. I mean, these things are flatter than matzohs, and so much tastier. In the end I decided to play it safe and just eat the rest of the box for lunch, with cheese. It isn’t Passover quite yet!

Next came the refrigerator and freezer.  This goes a bit quicker because unprocessed fruit and vegetables are completely fine. Every processed (read: comes in a package with writing on it) item, same as before. Check every item, every ingredient. Alas, poor Thin Mints. I have a feeling I shall never see you again. (And yes, I keep Thin mints in the freezer. Also hamburger and hot dog buns, because we use them about once every million years, but never seem to have them when we’re craving burgers.) Leftover chicken pot pie has a lovely flaky pie crust, so it must go.

That just leaves the spice cabinet. It’s worth noting that when people refer to kosher salt, they’re just talking about the large grain good stuff, which is used for kashering meat. Which I don’t feel like talking about right now. Ask in the comments if you’re really curious. A lot of table salt is also kosher. Just look for one that doesn’t contain iodine, or look for a kosher symbol on the box. The growing popularity and public awareness of gluten-free diets and celiac disease and gluten intolerance has actually made checking spices way easier. I just look under the ingredient list for something along the lines of “may contain gluten” or “processed on equipment which also processes wheat” and of course, checking the ingredients themselves for wheat.

Only two culprits this year. And yes, bacon salt is kosher. I was surprised, too. But there’s wheat in it.

I set aside a few things to keep until Sunday night (Yes, I could wait until Monday morning, but I’d rather not have to worry about clearing out chametz on my way to work.) I have bread to go with dinner the next couple of nights, an ice cream sandwich that I’ll tell you how to make after Passover, and a few Thin Mints.

To replace all of these things, there is only matzoh.

And I realized while cleaning my pantry that the first box of matzoh I purchased last week isn’t KFP.  (See? Right there on the upper right corner of the box!) Grr. Oh, well. We have a lot of grocery shopping to do this weekend anyway.

All the non-kosher for Passover foods I found went into a great big bag in the bottom of my pantry. I’m going to give it to a friend for the duration of the holiday. It’s important to note that giving away or selling your chametz has to be sincere, even though it is usually temporary.  Which is why I doubt I’ll ever see those Thin Mints again: I expect them to be eaten by the person I give them to. Seriously, who wouldn’t eat Thin Mints, given the opportunity and free cookies? The point is, if you’re going through with the whole Passover fast, you have to do it properly. No fighting with the person you give your Chametz to because she ate your pasta. You gave it to her. Try to mean it.

So we’re done with the major chametz clearing. Over the next couple of days I’ll talk about the other fun stuff I’m doing to prepare for this sad, breadless week.

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Poaching and pulling chicken

Poaching and pulling chicken is really very simple, and very worth doing. I know boiled meat is generally pale and unappetizing, but the pulled chicken is so meltingly tender it can’t be resisted. Once you’ve made it, you have several meals’ worth of prepared meat that make weeknight cooking that much easier. I made enchiladas and chicken pot pie with this, and there are dozens of other dishes that would benefit from it as well. This recipe is adapted from Rosalea Murphy’s Pink Adobe Cookbook. Incidentally, if you’re ever looking for a nice place to get good New Mexican food in Santa Fe, the pink Adobe is definitely on my list. What won me over there isn’t traditional New Mexican (a whole baking potato deep fried. Holy Schnikies, that stuff is good.), but the real New Mexican food there is the sort of bold yet simple fare I couldn’t wait to try making at home. Anyway, on to the food.

Ingredients

1 pound chicken meat

about 3 cups chicken broth (or water, if your chicken has bones)

1 to 2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 T mustard

salt, to taste

Most people would probably add onion and celery as well. Go for it, if you like. I was out of celery, and Mr. B and I don’t really eat onions, so we just use garlic a lot.

Directions

Fry garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft and stinky. Add broth (or water) and mustard and bring to a boil. Add carrots (and onion and celery) and chicken, turn down to a simmer, and cook about 40 minutes.

Turns out, you can't take a good picture through murky broth.

Turn off the heat and let the chicken and broth cool just enough that you won’t burn yourself. (Full disclosure: I burned myself. Oh, well.)

Put the chicken on a cutting board and pour the liquid through a strainer into a jar or something. Congrats, you’ve made (or improved upon store-bought) chicken broth! Now we pull chicken.

Just hold it in place with one fork and scrape on it with another as though you were trying to comb it. Strings of chicken will ensue. Continue until all the chicken is pulled.

Tomorrow, enchiladas!

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Ice Cream Cones: Keeping Tidy

Ice cream cones, fun as they are, can be really annoying. Ever try to make more than one at a time? What do you do with the other ones? You could let them roll around the counter getting ice cream everywhere, or you could hope that whatever other people you’re making ice cream cones for are willing to come and get theirs right away, but these never work. They always choose that exact moment to be incredibly busy. So just alter the box the cones came in to be a cone holder. Cut an X shape about an inch across in the side of the box and let the ice cream cone stand in it. Each box can hold about 4 of these crosses without losing stability. See? That was easy.

Also, they make sorbet with wine in it. How cool is that?

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Everyone Hates the Grocery Store

I’m the first person to admit that grocery shopping is no fun. It can take a good bit of time, there are lines, and the whole time you’re there you think “I still have to cook when I get home.”

But the complaints I don’t understand are those concerning cost, having to run out for one last thing (ok, so every now and then this happens, but it’s my own fault), and having food go bad before it’s used.

So here’s the quick and easy guide to once-a-week grocery shopping for people who hate it.

1: Make a meal plan.

Figure out what you’re going to have for dinner every night for a week. I work weird hours, so for instance on Tuesday and Wednesday, my home-cooked meal will be lunch. As I’m figuring out meals, I grab any cookbooks I’ll be using. This week, I looked at Crave by Ludovic Lefebvre, How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This should only take about ten minutes. Then. . .

2. Make a list.

This is the obvious way to avoid forgetting ingredients, making multiple trips, and the dreaded impulse buy. I try to separate my list into produce, meat, dairy, baking, frozen, and general items, and the stars remind me of what I’m going to write about on here. I don’t expect everyone to be so compulsive, but having a written list both of the meals you plan to eat and the ingredients you need to make it happen keeps you from having to drive across town just after par-baking a pie crust when you realize that you do not in fact have eggs for the pie filling. Having the recipe I’m going to use in front of me when I make the list means I won’t forget to write down the things I don’t have.

Mistake #1 (and I absolutely still do this) is to buy something you already have plenty of. Wednesday I’m having pasta with carrot sauce and peas. But neither carrots not pasta made the list, because I have about six kinds of pasta in the pantry and almost a pound of carrots in the fridge. I’m low on peas, though, so I wrote that down. I wrote down flour, too, even though I already have quite a bit, because I’m doing a good bit of baking this week and it’s not particularly perishable.

Mistake #2 is to freak out if the store doesn’t have something or what they have doesn’t look very good. Substitutions are fine. For instance all of the bananas in the store today were way underripe, so I skipped them and got some yogurts for breakfast instead.  I also saw some colorful fingerling potatoes and decided I could smoke those instead of making mash next Sunday with my Cornish hen.

Mistake #3 is to buy perishables in bulk because of a sale. Mr. Blackbird’s mother does this constantly, and I do not understand it. Five pounds of broccoli, while delicious, is way too much broccoli for two or even four people to get through in the five to seven days before it gets ooky.

So in short:  grocery shopping is no fun, and neither is list-making, but doing both once a week means that this household of two is having a delicious home-cooked meal for seven of the next eight days, plus ingredients for simple breakfasts and my lunchbox (yes, I have a lunch box) for $90. which is actually more than usual, as it includes $10 of pecans for the two pecan pies I’ll be finishing up tomorrow.

You know you wish your lunchbox were this cool.

Oh, one last thing. Just because you want to keep it simple and cheap doesn’t mean you can never go to a specialty market or store. There’s a cheese shop in downtown Dallas where I can get crazy cheeses and the occasional smoked salt. I love the asian market where I can find miso paste, mirin, a wide selection of rice and plum wines, and whole frozen duck for 1/3 the cost of the regular grocery store (which only carries duck around the holidays anyway). It never hurts to stop in at the local farmer’s market and see what’s fresh and good, either. Just make sure you have a culinary plan for all the delicious things you find, and don’t overdo it. Now stop admiring my mighty fine lunch box and collection of Cthulhu games and get cooking!

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