how I cooked pork liver (and how we liked it)

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Yesterday evening, I found myself in the kitchen with some lovely red potatoes, spring asparagus, lots of yellow onions, rich chicken bone broth, and a fresh pork liver.

You see, last Saturday, Dillon butchered our hog, and it’s all been sitting in coolers in ice this week, aging and draining before processing day, which is tomorrow. When he was doing the pig, Dillon cut off some chunks of loin, which I had the privilege of cooking for breakfast the next morning (fried crispy) and then for Monday night’s dinner (pan-seared with herbs). It was excellent both times, but then, it was the easy meat.

What I’ve been really looking forward to — cooking, that is, not necessarily eating — are the organ meats. I’ve made chicken liver pate before (not a good first-trimester-pregnancy recipe) and added ground venison liver to meatballs and cabbage rolls (too much. too much liver). But here was a very fresh heart and very fresh liver from a well-raised pig, and I was determined to do it justice.

So I got home from shopping on Thursday, planning to make a version of marinated pig heart. (I found the recipe — and a glorious blog that makes my heart happy — by googling “Do people eat pig heart?”) But I had forgotten to ask Dillon to pull it out of the bottom of the ice chest for me, so I got my Ziploc bag of lemon juice and brought it out to the porch and froze my hands off trying to find the heart. I did find the liver, so that’s what I put in the bag.

Yellow onions were on sale at Aldi that day. So were red potatoes. So was asparagus. This meal was clearly meant to be. It was also a very busy and tired day and a rather messy process, so no camera-fiddling was meant to be.

When the liver had soaked in its juice for a few hours and dinner preparation time came around, I pulled the bag out of the fridge. I mixed up a plate of flour, salt, and pepper, started heating a big gob of bacon grease in the skillet, and set the oven to warm. Then I rinsed off the liver and sliced it all into thin strips. I wished that I had done so before rinsing and soaking, but hey. It still worked. There was hardly any blood to rinse, unlike with deer liver. Once the oil was hot, I floured the strips and fried them until both sides were crispy and brown. As each skilletful finished, I put it on a baking sheet in the oven.

Meanwhile, I cut up three big onions into slices (and started my potatoes boiling. and trimmed my asparagus. and gave Howard snacks). So when the last liver pieces were in the oven, and there was only a little grease left in the skillet, I threw in the mound of onions to saute. I got kind of a break from dinner preparation while they were cooking down. When they were finally completely soft and caramelly, I added several tablespoons of butter, sprinkled in enough flour to absorb the butter, and poured in a quart of chicken broth. It thickened pretty quickly, but I had enough time to cook the asparagus and season the potatoes. And pick up a few things off the floor.

There it was. Liver and onions.

I was a bit nervous to taste it. I put quite a bit of thought and care into preparing this valuable and maligned meat, and I wanted it to be a pleasant experience, not a dutiful choking down of something you’d rather leave.

And it was pleasant.

The liver had a very mild, almost sweet flavor, nothing disagreeable at all. The texture was a little, well, different; it’s quite soft, without the satisfyingly sturdy texture of muscle meat. The custom of smothering it in onion gravy is a there for a reason. But we all ate it with honest relish. And we ate the leftovers today for lunch, again with relish.

I consider that a success. I wasn’t quite satisfied with it, though, because the liver and the onions were both so sweet that they sorely needed a little acid balance in the gravy. Next time, I’ll add a good half cup of dry wine or the juice of a lemon. That should be the perfect touch.

Has anyone else tried making and/or eating pork liver? What was your experience? There is still some left to cook again, so I’m interested to hear ideas!

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the latest Longhorn

Right at three years ago, Dillon and his sister needed to get the agricultural tax exemption for the fifty-ish acres they had recently inherited. Dillon and I were getting ready to get married that summer, and Dillon was working in Austin for the spring legislative session while I was still up here in north Texas, as was the house we were going to live in and the property that needed cows.

It was a crazy time.

Dillon and Hannah managed to get four Longhorn heifers to the farm. After promptly escaping and being returned (another story in itself), they settled in as our first farm animals. Poor Hannah had one crazy cow and one who ended up sickly and lived only a few months after giving a little bull calf. But in the time since, she’s sold the crazy one and acquired two calm and healthy cows, while that little bull calf has grown up and started providing us with more calves, two last year and two (so far) this spring.

163One night this week, Howard and I rode out with Dillon to take them a bale of hay. We’ve been expecting calves from three of the girls, Hannah’s two and one of ours, which makes every trip out to the pasture exciting.174The first to arrive was this gorgeous little guy, from Hannah’s cow Barcelona. He is so lively and beautiful, with a little moon on his head.154And here’s little Daffodil, from our favorite cow Bluebonnet. We named her sister Dewberry since she was born when they were in blossom last year, and so of course this one is Daffodil. She’s just darling.181210I just can’t get enough of seeing the two cute little things play and hang out together. Soon there will be three! (See Brunhilda there in the back? We’re pretty sure she’ll go off any day now.)192There’s Bluebonnet on the left (isn’t she gorgeous?) and on the right, the proud father Herschel.156We think he looks like he belongs in a Spanish bullfight.158Howard loves to see the cows (especially the calves!). He’ll excitedly point and say “Boooo!”177We are so thankful that God has provided us with such a healthy, happy and growing herd from our meager beginnings. He’s been very generous to us!

the first spring Saturday

We had a long, long, long, and seemingly eternal stretch of gray and rainy weather in February. It was nice for a while, since I was sick for about a week and couldn’t really take Howard outside anyway and we just cozied up with hot broth and the old BBC Pride and Prejudice, but then the dim skies began to wear on my spirits as they always do and I longed for spring and for the sun.

And then, suddenly, it came.

IMG_1199Spring normally begins to creep in mid-February around here, with the blooming of the pink quince. This year the rain disguised spring’s progress and when the sun came out and warmed and dried everything, it lit up colors and green I didn’t realize had arrived.IMG_1205After so much gloomy weather outdoors, and gloomy difficulties indoors (colds set Dillon and me horridly far back in everything, wore us out, and made poor little Howard fussy), the spring came at just the right time, warming my spirits as much as the air. I took Howard’s nap time to sneak out for a few minutes with my camera and soak it in. It was a Saturday, so I got to soak in Dillon’s company as well while he worked. IMG_1214The beets have sprouted. The beets have sprouted. A couple of weeks ago I crouched my six-months-pregnant self down in the bare garden and put in a bed of lettuce and a bed of beets, trying to finish before the light faded. Dillon planted onions and peas and we both tried to call Howard back over when he got distracted. It was a few days before one of my sisters got married and the other arrived to stay at our house with her family, but there we were in the garden planting.

And now the beets have sprouted. Look at those tiny, perfect little leaves and their purple-red stems, all ready to grow, with plenty of time before the hot weather bitters them. Thank you, Lord. I love beets.IMG_1210The little pea sprouts are even bigger, dainty and bright. These are snow peas, Dillon’s favorite. I hope to get some into the freezer and gobble up the rest in stir-fries.IMG_1215When I brought Dillon to see the sprouted garden, he noticed buds on a little peach tree nearby. He planted a variety of peach, apple, nectarine and plum trees in the yard shortly after we were married, and they’re quite dear to my heart. I’m waiting eagerly to see them produce.IMG_1216Only one other fruit tree shows the signs of spring, this little apple that has leafed out so wonderfully. It’s an Ein Shemer, a warm-weather, early-bearing variety.IMG_1217IMG_1207I went over to the other side of the house to take pictures of this breathtakingly green oat grass, and happened to catch the pigs in the background. The green area is where they were confined in a small pen at one time. When they were moved, all their spilled oats took root in the well-tilled soil and flourished.IMG_1220Speaking of pigs, I’m about to plunge into some exciting adventures when we butcher one of them in the next couple of weeks. This is our first batch, which we received as a gift back in the summer. They’ve taken our pig-raising learning curve in stride and reached slaughter size before we expected. Our plan is to have them professionally butchered and sold, but the butchers are full until April. (Lesson learned — be prepared!) To help cut feed costs until then and to have some pork, we’re going to kill and process one ourselves. I get to try curing and smoking my own bacon! And ham. And hocks. And jowls. And I might try a batch of sausage.

Although Dillon and I have done quite a bit of butchering work together, it’s been chickens and and deer, and I haven’t had time to try any big curing projects, as much as they fascinate me. Not that I have time now, either, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m intensely excited and a bit overwhelmed. I will definitely be taking lots of pictures along the way, and I can’t wait to keep y’all posted on how it all goes.

Maybe I can even get caught up on the dishes before then.

custard: the creamy goodness that’s been missing from your life

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Once upon a time, I was completely unfamiliar with custard of any sort. Dillon and I were looking through vintage cookbooks (sort of a habit of ours) and came across a whole chapter on them — stovetop custards, chocolate custards, puddings. The adventurer in the pair (hint: not me) decided we needed to try out these cool-sounding, old-fashioned concoctions as soon as possible, especially since we’re usually overrun with fresh eggs.

Before I could catch my breath, Dillon was in the kitchen measuring and mixing. He ended up with a slightly lumpy, slightly runny, yet still incredibly delicious vanilla custard. We both knew we needed to figure this thing out and make it part of our life, but that life left us with very little time to stand over a stove and stir custard for 20 minutes.

Then I found it. Baked custard.

Picture a simply flavorful, decadently smooth and creamy, easy, nourishing pudding, made in a cup so you can grab one and eat it straight from the fridge for breakfast or a snack. That’s baked custard. In the first couple of months after I had Howard, I could stagger into the kitchen and make this every week or two, and it was the best for calming my ravenous stomach and soothing my soul in the middle of a nursing-marathon night.

It’s healthy, fast, doable, and cheap — and I like it better than ice cream. Are you ready for the recipe yet?

I will warn you, custard can go wrong. If you underbake it, it will be weirdly watery. If you leave it in the oven a little too long, it will be sort of like sweet scrambled eggs. So if you try this and it’s not completely amazing, be brave and try it again! Make it with cheap milk and eggs the first time if you’re nervous. Just know that this is worth figuring out.

Baked Custard

Makes 6 large custard cups

  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sucanat or maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and start heating a kettle of water.

Pour milk into a saucepan over medium heat. You just want it to be thoroughly hot, but if it does get away from you and simmer, just carry on. You’ll be fine.

While the milk heats, crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the vanilla and sweetening, and stir well. Place six custard cups in a casserole dish, ready for filling.

When the milk is hot, begin adding it to the egg mixture. Start by slowly pouring in a bit with a ladle as you stir. After the first few spoonfuls, you can pour in the rest straight from the pan. (The key here is slowly. If you go too fast too soon, the eggs will cook into lumps. No good.)

When it’s all mixed up, taste it and see if you want to adjust the seasonings, then fill up your custard cups. Pull out your middle oven rack a bit and place the custard-filled casserole dish on it, then fill the casserole up with your boiling water. You want it to come as far up the sides of the cups as you can without the danger of spilling the water. Then close up your oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

This is the only hard part: knowing when it’s done. When the top is smooth and slightly puffed, and wiggles just a little when moved, you’re probably ready.

Remove the cups from the water as soon as you can and chill before serving.