Category Archives: Homestead How-Tos

Small Batch Lard Rendering

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homemade rendered lardBack in my grandmother’s day, lard was the king of the kitchen.  Most women kept a can of lard on the kitchen counter since it was used so frequently.  Lard created a flakiness that butter or other shortening couldn’t when it came to pie crusts.  It seasoned cast iron (another work horse of the kitchen), and was a favorite fat for frying (pan frying or deep-frying).  Oh…  what vegetable in that era didn’t have some lard at the bottom of the roasting dish?

Over the decades, it became villainized in favor of modern cooking oils.  More and more cooks turned to corn, vegetable, as well as soybean oils. Fortunately, the tide is turning and lard is once again making an appearance in the home cook’s kitchen.

If you are looking for lard, it can be found in some grocery stores in the same aisle as cooking oils or even in the baking aisle.  But if you are more adventurous, you can get pork fat from your local butcher… or better yet, from a farmer/rancher that sells meat shares and render the fat into lard yourself.packaged pork fat

But you don’t have to go hog-wild and get all the fat from a single pig.  Chances are, you won’t have the space to store (freezer is best prior to rendering) it.  You can do small batch rendering which is perfect for the urban homesteader and/or modern cook that typically has limited space.  To give you an idea of what is small batch, I used two and a half pounds of pork fat which resulted in one quart of lovely lard.

Prior to the rendering process, I freeze the fat.  Once I am ready, I remove it from the freezer and let it set at room temperature for approximately one hour.  Why, you ask?  Well, it makes cutting the fat much easier. pork fat uniformly cut into pieces

How to Render Lard in a Small Batch

  • Using a sharp knife, cut the fat into 1″ pieces (the fat renders more uniformly compared to placing large hunks of it into a pan)
  • Place into a heavy-bottomed pan (such as cast iron) that is placed over medium heat
  • Stir the fat slowly
  • After a few minutes, the fat will begin to render as a clear liquid is released (this is the lard!)
  • Continue to stir and render out the fatcracklins in liquid lard
  • After about 20 minutes, the pieces of fat will become golden in color and crisp in texture
  • At this point, the rendering is complete
  • Remove the crisp pieces (which are called cracklins)
  • Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a heat-proof container
  • Pour the contents of the pan into the cheesecloth
  • The liquid lard will be strained through the cheesecloth leaving the cracklins behind (cracklins can be eaten, but if you are not a fan, they make great dog treats as well as nice treats for chickens)cracklins
  • After the liquid lard has cooled slightly, pour into a container, such as a glass jar; NOTE: sterilize the jar before use, but the jar (or jars depending on the quantity of pork fat used) should be warm as pouring hot liquid into a cold glass jar could result in the jar shattering

As the lard cools, it will solidify.  You will notice that it will turn from a clear liquid into a white solid that is scoopable at room temperature.rendered lard

Now that you are in possession of home rendered lard, you have options for storage.

Storage Options

  • Freezer (may wish to use a container other than glass)
  • Refrigerator
  • Pantry
  • You may also pressure can the lard for long-term storage

Lard is shelf stable as long as there are no remaining pieces of pork fat (cracklins) left in the lard, but proper straining should take care of that issue.  Straining will also help ensure a white color as sediment should be captured by the cheesecloth.

Folks, you have now successfully rendered lard!  Pat yourself on the back for learning this homesteading skill.  So go ahead and use it for baking, roasting, frying, and cooking.  But don’t worry about it lending a porky flavor to what you make.  At best, it lends a slightly fatty flavor to your creations.  Trust me, lard deserves a place in your kitchen.

How to Perfectly Grill Corn on the Cob in the Husk

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perfectly grilled sweet corn on the cob

perfectly grilled sweet corn on the cob

While sweet corn is a classic taste of summer, most folks enjoy it straight out of boiling water or even out of the microwave.  While both of those methods can result in a good ear of corn, there is another.  So skip the pot of boiling water and bypass the microwave.  Head outside and reclaim your grill.  Yes,  for a truly tasty and rustic serving, grilling it still in the husk takes the flavor to a higher level.

ear of sweet corn with husks attached

ear of sweet corn with husks attached

To start things off, select ears of corn that have been freshly picked.  The fresher the corn, the better tasting the final product will be.  Next, peel the husks down to the base of the corn cob, but leaving them attached.

corn husks have been folded down to expose the silk

corn husks have been folded down to expose the silk

Once that is done, de-silk the ear, taking care to remove all of the strands.

corn silk removed from ear of corn

corn silk removed from ear of corn

Fold the husks back into place to cover the sweet corn.

Fill a large bowl or partially fill a sink with cold water.  Place the ears of corn into the water and allow to soak for 20 minutes.

ears of corn with husks placed in sink of cold water

ears of corn with husks placed in sink of cold water

Remove the corn from the water.  Shake the ears to remove the excess water.

Now place the corn onto a hot grill.  Turn the corn every five minutes.  Leave the ears on the grill for a total of 20 minutes.  The outer husk will char, but protect the sweet corn from the char.

To eat, simply peel back the husks to the base of the corn cob.  Slather the ear with butter and enjoy.

perfectly grilled sweet corn on the cob

perfectly grilled sweet corn on the cob

35 Pasta Sauce Hacks

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spaghetti with pasta sauce

spaghetti with pasta sauce

Pasta is a big deal in our family.   Not only is it something that we enjoy eating, but it is something we enjoying cooking and sharing with others.  And as much as I love pasta, in all honesty, I view it as a vehicle for the pasta sauce.  Around here, sauce is red, luscious, and has a depth of flavor that is hard to find in store brands from the grocery store.  But if you are a fan of the store-bought kind, you can make it taste even better with these simple hacks.  Yes… you can hack your way to the perfect pasta sauce.

In order to hack the perfect pasta sauce, you will need a few items in your pantry, ‘fridge, or freezer.   And these hacks can be applied to your own homemade sauce or to a jar that you bring home from the grocery store.  Feel free to experiment with the individual tips to create a sauce that suits your palette.

simmering pasta sauce

simmering pasta sauce

Hacks to the Perfect Pasta Sauce

  1. Add roasted tomatoes – roasting brings a deeper and more ‘tomatoey’ flavor
  2. Use paste tomatoes – they have less liquid compared to beefsteak type of tomatoes and cook down more quickly into a sauce
  3. Use homegrown or tomatoes fresh from a farmer’s market – these tomatoes were picked at the peak of ripeness and bring more flavor than those typically found at the grocery store

    fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil add great flavor

    fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil add great flavor

  4. Add roasted, pureed carrots – they add a subtle sweetness and can balance out acidic tomatoes
  5. Add roasted, pureed beets – start with 1/2 of a beet (they tend to be sweeter than carrots when roasted) and add more if necessary to the sauce
  6. A spoonful of sugar – if you are not a fan of carrots or beets, sugar will help balance the acidity of tomatoes
  7. Molasses – brings a very earthy, yet subtle sweetness to the sauce
  8. Add fresh garlic – garlic in pasta sauce is a great combination, but be sure to saute or roast the garlic first
  9. Two words… roasted onions – they bring subtle sweetness and a depth of flavor
  10. Pinch of cayenne or chili flakes – they bring a little spicy heat to the sauce
  11. Bay leaf – add a bay leaf to the sauce and simmer for at least 30 minutes, but remember to remove the bay leaf before serving… bay leaf adds another layer of flavor… deep and herbal
  12. Pesto – whether it is fresh or out of a jar, a heaping tablespoon provides a great taste of Italy
  13. Fresh basil – this herb marries well with pasta sauce, bringing a taste of summer to even winter meals
  14. Roasted red bell peppers – dice them or turn them into a puree and add to the sauce… great veggie sweetness and wonderful roasted flavor
  15. Add a good splash or two of a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marsala  or Chianti – use a good quality wine and I am a fan of using a wine that you would drink (if it doesn’t taste good to you when you drink it, the flavor won’t improve in the sauce)
  16. Add a splash of really good olive oil – add at the end of simmering, right before you take the sauce off of the heat and stir in well… a good, fruity variety will elevate the flavor of the sauce
  17. Clams – make sure they are clean before adding (rinse off any sand) then bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until the clams open
  18. Italian sausage – not only will it add great flavor, but it will help create a hearty sauce
  19. Ground fennel seed – helps create an Italian sausage flavor, minus the meat
  20. Assorted fresh or dried herbs – parsley, oregano, and thyme all play well with pasta sauce
  21. Saute a small sprig of rosemary in one tablespoon of olive oil – saute for a minute then remove the rosemary and add the olive oil to the sauce
  22. Nutritional yeast – stir in a small amount, taste, and add more if desired… it brings an earthiness to the sauce
  23. Meat on the bone such as oxtail or ribs – add a richness and meatiness to the sauce, but simmer until the meat is fork-tender… be sure to remove bones before serving
  24. Good quality tomato paste – saute with a little olive oil first to create a deep, tomato flavor then add to the sauce
  25. Diced, sautéed or roasted mushrooms – they add not only great texture, but flavor
  26. Garlic powder – great substitute for fresh garlic, add to the sauce and stir in well
  27. Anchovy paste – it brings a saltiness and a hint of the sea… anchovies are great for more than Caesar Salad dressing or a topping on pizza
  28. Drizzle of honey – adds a subtle sweetness to balance out acidic tomatoes

    grated parsesan and parmesan rind

    grated parsesan and parmesan rind

  29. Parmesan rinds – add a couple of rinds to the sauce and simmer for a depth of flavor (remove rinds prior to serving)
  30. Grated parmesan – add  1/2 – 1 cup after removing sauce from heat… stir in well
  31. Dried poultry seasoning – if you don’t have any fresh herbs on hand, add one teaspoon to the sauce
  32. Smoked paprika – this seasoning will add a wonderful, deep smokey flavor… plus a little heat
  33. Vegetable pulp from juicing (omit seeds, stems, and thick rinds) – add 1 cup of vegetable pulp to a saute pan with a little olive oil… saute for a few minutes then add the sauce
  34. Vegetable or chicken stock – add 1 cup to the sauce and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken
  35. Cook pasta according to directions on the package, minus two minutes – then add pasta to the pasta sauce and finish cooking in the sauce… the pasta picks up the flavor of the sauce within the pasta itself

    finish cooking the pasta in the sauce

    finish cooking the pasta in the sauce

Whether you are starting with your own homemade sauce or a jar from the grocery store, you can always enhance the flavor.  But one thing to keep in mind as you try the hacks… taste as you go.  Maybe the base sauce is sweet enough as it is.  Looking for a more robust flavor?  Perhaps cook some meat on the bone in the sauce?  Looking for a brighter, fresher flavor?  You can’t go wrong with fresh herbs.  With these 35 hacks, you can create a pasta sauce to suit your needs.