This time of year, when I’m not working outside all day, I like to prep dinner in the late morning/early afternoon, chuck it in the oven, and forget about it for a few hours. This front-loads the work when the kids are a) still at school, or b) home but able to play without the decisive dad ref-ing that seems most in demand near the dinner hour. Then, when darkness falls so early in the evening and we all want to hunker down in front of the fireplace, a warm, hearty meal isn’t too far away.
When I asked Sarah for suggestions for a good pork shoulder recipe, she pointed me to Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner -A Love Story. Jenny’s Pork Shoulder Ragu with Pappardelle makes a wonderful winter meal. The recipe calls for 2-2-1/2 lbs of pork shoulder. Since I had a 3-1/2 lb shoulder, I diced up a softball-sized onion, and topped the meat with plenty of wine. That’s the beauty of braising —you add enough liquid to keep the meat moist and it’s hard to screw up. I put everything in the oven, and then made lunch for the kids.
Three hours later, I pulled the roast and let cool in to pot on the stovetop. The recipe has you pull shredding the meat with two forks while it’s still hot, but if you want juicier pork, let the meat cool enough to touch it and it will absorb more of the liquid. I prefer to shred the meat (it mostly falls apart on its own) and let it sit in the liquid for a while before serving. Dishes like this are even better if you refrigerate them overnight and reheat them to eat the next day.
At 5 pm, I put on water on to boil for pasta and warmed up the meat—still in the pot—on the stove.
It’s not often that I impress my wife and kids with my cooking, but this dish got compliments all around. Our son, Karsten, has two smiles—the I’m-completely-full-of-it-but-let’s-all-pretend-I’m-not smile and the earnest smile. He’s also our family’s picky eater (this is relative, my kids eat braunschweiger).
“Dad, this isn’t good,” he said, pausing with the facetious smile. “This is fabulous.”
Fabulous was a little over-the-top, but he kept nodding with the earnest smile.
When we moved here, several people told me I’d have to get a junker truck with a plow, a tractor, or a four-wheeler with a blade to clear the 250-yard-long lane. Slapping down a thousand or several thousand dollars just to have something that moved snow seems ridiculous. I figured I’d try to adapt what I already have —the humble BCS walk-behind “tractor”.
I already have a snowblower attachment for the BCS, a 30+ year-old Mainline single-stage that is so over-built it will hurl chunks of broken bricks and concrete blocks without stopping (and a slight bend in the auger that took some serious whacks from a 6 lb sledge to straighten. I no longer pile rocks and bricks next to fence posts near driveways though). Though the Mainline will eat through eighteen-inch-deep, wind-packed snow easily, it’s too narrow and slow for light snows.
Earth Tools in Kentucky sells snow blades for these machines, but I didn’t want to dump $600 for a blade and then find out that I didn’t like it. Instead, I built one from ATV plow purchased through Craigslist for just over $100. I can’t adjust the side-to-side angle from behind the handle bars like the blades from Earth Tools, but that hasn’t been a big drawback.
Thanks to our recent weather, I’ve been able to test the plow twice. I can blade the full width of the lane in minutes and keep warm (because I run behind it in the "transport" gear). A truck plow would eat my rig for lunch, and a four-wheeler with the same (50” Moose Plow) blade will push more snow before losing traction. However, for my time, money, and work style, I’m happy with it.
(Video on the Odyssey Farm Facebook Page)
For anyone interested in the details of making a diesel walk-behind tractor push snow:
-5w-40 synthetic engine oil —the same stuff I use in our VW Golf TDI— it flows better in cold temperatures.
-Block heater: I put a 500-watt halogen work light under the engine for half an hour, warming up the entire bottom of the crankcase. It starts easily and is ready to work.
-Winter Fuel: Standard #2 Diesel will gel below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Filling stations switch over to a lighter winter fuel mix as soon as the temperature drops. In a pinch you can mix a little Kerosene in the tank. You don’t need much. Better to buy winter fuel, though.
-Weights and tires: The main limits of two-wheeled tractors are weight and traction, so I adapted mine to maximize both. I run 27” tall hay rake tires for extra clearance and ground speed. I made axles from 1” keyed shaft so I could quickly change my tread width for different tasks, easily swap tires sizes, and use the older 1” plate weights for wheel weights. The axles allow me to hang up to 100 lbs of weights for each wheel. The tractor and blade also have weight brackets that allow me to find the perfect ballast and balance point for each implement and task. The picture shows 35 lbs on the blade. I’m now running 45lbs there. As it’s currently outfitted, my tractor has 75 lbs on each wheel and 45lbs on the blade for 195 lbs total. I could go up to 250 lbs easily if I felt I needed it. I run the tires at 5 psi so they flex and “bite”.
-Speed: The larger BCS tractors have a “transport” gear. Though it’s technically only for use with a cart or sulky, 4th gear lets me move the machine from point to point at a comfortably fast walk while the engine is barely above idle—saving me fuel and time. I run behind the machine to mow pastures with the 44” sickle bar mower (cuts like a giant set of hair clippers) at about 5-6 MPH. Running at 5-6 MPH clears 4-5” of fluffy snow from the lane pretty quickly.
“I hated pork chops as a kid,” a friend told me. “We’d have them once a month,” she said. “They were so dry, my jaws hurt by the end of dinner.”
“But you eat pork now,” I said. “What changed?”
“I don’t cook it like my mother did.”
I’ve heard several stories like this from several customers whose mothers cooked pork to a second death. They had their reasons. People our parents’ age and older grew up with their mothers overcooking pork to make sure they killed Trichinella spiralis, the pathogen that causes Trichinosis. Though Trichinella spiralis has been mostly eliminated from pork for a few decades in the US (to the tune of 1 case per 54 million for retail pork), overcooking has persisted. Only a few years ago, the USDA finally lowered their cooking temperature recommendations for pork. For cuts (its higher for ground meats), that internal temperature is a nice, easy 145˚ that leaves meat juicy, with some color in the center.
USDA Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Recommendations Link
For “low and slow” cooking in dutch ovens and crock pots, we don't have to worry to much about drying out the pork. Want to be sure? Especially for grilling? Get a meat thermometer.
The thermometer pictured works well for me since the face is large enough to read easily and small enough to use on a steak or chop still on the grill (note that it has the older, higher cooking temperature recommendations on it).
To get an accurate reading, you need to make sure the probe reaches the center of the meat. I pick one cut on the grill and probe through the side. That ensures maximum contact from meat to probe so the thermometer is giving you the temperature of the meat, and not just the temperature of the thermometer. (Thermometers are notorious at giving you their temperature and not the temperature of the medium you are measuring. Self-centered things…)
If you are grilling, brining is another good way to keep pork juicy. Meat soaked in a brine will absorb the salty solution, and all the other flavors in it, through osmosis until the salt level in the meat and the solution reach equilibrium. This absorption gives meat a higher liquid content before cooking and protects it from drying out as easily. I didn’t go to this recipe because I was afraid of drying my chops out; I wanted the brine to carry the bourbon in. (You are not surprised).
While the charcoal grill only comes out in summer or for smoking meats, we use the gas grill year around. I made the below recipe from Steven Raichlen over the weekend. He has you smoke the meat for the last ten minutes. I skipped the smoking part and they were still delicious.
Bourbon Brined Pork Chops:
4 Loin Chops (he says 1” thick but I like 3/4” chops)
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
10 black peppercorns (I used 12 -I’m sure that threw everything off)
5 allspice berries (Couldn’t find them. I’ve made it with and without them. Not a deal-breaker.
Come to think of it, I didn’t use the bay leaves either.
They pop up in recipes everywhere and I’ve never found them to be a critical ingredient.)
3 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar
3 tablespoons of coarse salt
1 cup of hot water
2 cups of cold water
3 tablespoons of bourbon (I used 4. You are not surprised.)
Place the chops in a baking dish large enough that they all lay flat. The ideal dish has just enough room for the chops and is deep enough that they are completely covered in brine. That way, you don’t have to bother turning them once while they brine. Arrange the onions and the next five ingredients (whichever ones you choose to use) over the chops.
Combine the brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the hot water and whisk until the salt and sugar dissolve. Stir in the cold water and the bourbon. Pour over the chops and refrigerate 2-4 hours.
Once your grill is warmed up, place the chops on the grates so they are not directly over a burner. You don’t want direct heat at the beginning. The actual recipe calls for smoking the chops first and then transferring them to the hotter part of the grill for the last few minutes.
Grill the chops on both sides for several minutes, and then move them directly over the burners. I can’t give you an exact time. Your grill isn’t my grill and your chops might be thinner or thicker than mine. This is why you have a meat thermometer. When the internal temperature reaches 145˚, pull them.
When you pull meat from the grill, let it rest. I’ve read and heard that resting meat after cooking allows the juices that have been driven to the center of the meat to come back out to the edges. Not exactly. It’s actually about temperature. As meat cools slightly after cooking, the muscle fibers relax slightly and can hold more moisture than they could at higher temperature. (The sizzling when you cook meat is the juices being driven out of the meat.) Juices run out of a chop or steak if you cut into it straight off the grill. Let it cool a few degrees and the meat will be able to hold more of the juices within the fibers. If you want to test this to a noticeable level, cut into one chop (or steak or whatever) straight off the grill and let another one rest until it’s almost room temperature. Juices won’t run out of the cooled one. Try it.
Even without smoking, there is a slightly smoky flavor to the meat thanks to the bourbon. I cooked four chops for the four of us—40+ ounces of meat for two adults and two six-year-olds. There wasn't anything left on the bones when we finished.
Thanks to everyone who has purchased Odyssey Farm Pork.
We can't put together any more 25 lb boxes until December 15th when we get the next batch of pork back from the processor. (We ran out of bacon first. That figures.)
Free Delivery in Dane County if you purchase a 25 lb box or any combination of cuts totaling at least 25 lbs. Looking for a rich, juicy ham for Christmas dinner? We have ham in stock and will have plenty more by next week.
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Back to picking corn--
(More on that later)
A friend of mine who grew up on a hog farm once told me, “Your two best days raising hogs are the day you get them and the day you get rid of them.”
I took the last batch to the processor today. Although I feel decidedly less burdened as we go into winter, I don’t agree that it’s a great day. The best days were watching the hogs roll logs over in the woods to get grubs or finding them sleeping under the trees in a big, snoring pile —seeing them live true to their nature. It’s a little too quiet out there now. No enthusiastic greetings (almost taking me out at the knees to rub hello) or running in joyful circles when I toss open pollinated ear corn like mortar rounds over the fence. I would like to have carried this second group a little longer to put more weight on them, but I’m locked in to the butcher dates. The processor is booked three months out, so the date I projected in the summer is the date I have to stick with.
A few books I’ve read on traditional butchering make references to toasting the hog before the kill or passing around a bottle of bourbon while people cut up the meat. Dropping hogs off at the processor is a long way from a traditional butchering (we’ve done it), but I wanted to sit down this evening and raise a glass to acknowledge the occasion. I have a respectable bourbon selection, but I figured a rye-based cocktail would still be in the spirit of things.
Food 52’s Genius Recipes has a drink called the Cliff Old Fashioned by Dave Arnold. (This link is a bourbon version.) This isn’t the muddled-fruit-and-brandy cocktail that reigns supreme in Wisconsin supper clubs. It’s far simpler, albeit with the complex flavors of red-pepper-flake-and-coriander syrup. The recipe recommends rye whiskey. Wild Turkey Rye is great stuff for the price. Bat Masterson Rye takes drinks to another level, but Willett Rye (4-year-old, 110 proof) will make you sit and think about every sip. I'm in a comtemplative mood. Today puts this year’s hog raising in the books—and soon into the freezer. I only raised sixteen hogs this year, but I gave them the best feeds and environment that I could provide. Quality over quantity. I made the cocktail with Willett--
A Manhattan made with Willet got me into Rye Whiskey about 4 years ago, but my 6-year-old bottle of Willet was definitely better than the current, 4-year-old bottle. In a glass-to-glass tasting against the Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson is my new favorite Rye.
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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