Category Archives: food

Making Schmaltz: Getting Ready for Our First Seder

rendered chicken fatIt’s hard to believe I made it into my 40s without hosting a Passover Seder, but it’s true. Sometimes it’s good to live near so many family members. Also, our previous house couldn’t handle a crowd of more than about 10 without feeling cramped, so we were voted Most Uncomfortable Place to Host Family Gathering. That label was not without its perks, but honestly, we’re excited to cook clean and host this special dinner.

We are doing it and doing it big. We’re expecting¬† about 20 22 25 27 folks.

(No, the house is not that big.)

(Yes, we only own 12 chairs at the moment.)

I’ve been busy preparing a haggadah, the booklet that guides the seder, as well as doing a lot of cooking.

Thanks to a gentle nudge from Ciaran at Momfluential, I rendered my own chicken fat, or schmaltz in the vernacular. After reading her post on the topic, I was grossed out, but intrigued.

I told my husband I was considering making schmaltz.

“That sounds like a messy and ridiculous waste of time,” he replied.

And then I knew I had to do it.

I needed chicken thighs for a dinner recipe, so I bought ones with skin and ripped that off for rendering. I couldn’t find skinned, Kosher chicken thighs (the schmaltz factory beat me to it?), so I got the next best thing. Maybe. Halal chicken.

Does this mean I’ve made the world’s first Muslim matzah balls?

Regardless, here’s a quick tutorial.

Skin the chicken. I used 3 pounds of chicken thighs, give or take.

chicken skin to make schmaltz

Add some chopped onion and water to a pan.

making schmaltz, chicken fat

Add the chicken skin and heat it all over a medium/high flame.

rendering chicken fat

Continue heating for a good 20 minutes or so.

rendering chicken fat

If time allows (i.e. you do not look at the clock and realize you need to pick up your child from school in three minutes) continue cooking the skin until it crisps for a delicious, high-calorie snack laden with saturated fat.

If you’re in a rush, remove the skin and drain on a paper towels and then quickly strain the rendered fat into a jar. Refrigerate when cooled.

strain rendered chicken fat

I was was concerned the rendering chicken fat would stink up my kitchen a la Chanukah latkes, but it actually left a pleasant scent that felt like home, something along the lines of simmering chicken soup.

Speaking of which, after mixing up a couple of batches of matzah balls, pictured below cooling in the Chicago Fridge, I’d realized our crowd had grown too large for the tricky logistics of serving soup. So much for planning ahead.

matzah balls chilling in the chicago fridge

The Chicago Fridge

Food cooling on porch

Steaming hot chili cools off in the Chicago Fridge.

Like many of Chicago’s mid-century homes, we have an enclosed porch (AKA 3-season room, bonus room or Florida room) off of the kitchen at the rear of the house. Ours is in need of an overhaul, but when we asked our general contractor to jack up a corner of it, he cautioned us that what we thought might be a $400 job, could turn into an expensive rebuild.

We decided to live with the ramshackle look a bit longer. It’s vintage chic, right?

Even in its rundown condition, the room has its uses. Even, nay, especially, in the 4th season. The uninsulated room is like a second, giant refrigerator. But it wasn’t until Jen saw me place a setaming bowl of chili on the porch to cool that I heard the room referred to as the Chicago Fridge.

We often place hot items out there to cool rather than overwork our fridge. In the dead of winter, we can freeze things, too.

Now that it’s warming up and we can use the room as more than an extension of our refrigerator (and garage and mudroom), I’m dusting, scrubbing and organizing it. I’ll be back soon with pictures.

Do you have one of these fab little bonus rooms?


Not How the Pioneer Woman Cooks

cast iron pan on a grillYeah, that’s me hunched over a small charcoal-fueled kettle grill cooking up some meat in my Lodge cast iron pan directly above a flame produced by leftover wood from our rehab because I couldn’t get the coals to burn the way (I think) they are supposed to.

This is what happens when my kids ask how I will grill without a “real” grill.

I taught them good lessons about improvising, the versatility of cast iron pans and dangerous ways a person can, but probably shouldn’t, use lighter fluid.

Dinner consisted of Krazy Kebabs (i.e. the veggies and meat were mixed up rather than cooked and presented served on a boring old skewer) (side note: where are my metal skewers?), braised mustard greens, roasted asparagus and greek-style pita. I served our little feast picnic style, on a blanket laid on the driveway.


dinner on a picnic blanket

This is called keeping it real, people. Go ahead and pin this. I dare you.

Just because this early spring that feels like summer is so uncharacteristic of Chicago weather patterns and therefore is a bit disturbing doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. Indeed, we had a lovely dinner.

I cleaned up most of our dinner, but I left my mess of a cast iron pan outside. DH later brought it in and scrubbed the whole thing, including its very charred bottom in my lovely Silgranit sink. Upon seeing the black mess he left behind, I went ballistic feared that perhaps he’d managed to destroy the indestructible sink. But a squirt of dish soap, a sprinkle of baking soda and some of my special brand of elbow grease got it looking like new again.

This weekend I’d like to buy a grill. Nothing too fancy. We need a propane grill for now, but hopefully, we’ll get a natural gas grill once we decide what we’re doing in the backyard in terms of a patio/porch/deck. We should have that figured out by, oh, 2015 or so. Any recommendations?

Ramekins- The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift

ramekins make a lovely mother's day giftI suggested to my dear husband that ramekins would be a lovely Mother’s Day gift. If I had ramekins, I could finally make, well, whatever it is one bakes up in them. I’d get daring and whip up creme brulee or…something. I can no recall what I longed to bake because he gave them to me for Mother’s Day back in 2005. And look! After I dug them out from a box, I finally removed them from their original packaging.

And I rediscovered my candy thermometer, too. I bought that when I was pregnant with my younger son back in 2000. I recall being at Target, I might have even made a special trip to the store to buy it because I had. To. Have. It. I could no longer live without a candy thermometer.

Yep, it’s still in its original packaging.

I guess it’s time to get cooking.


I Used to Be Anti-Pot

cast iron pan no teflonI used to be anti-pot, but now I’m reconsidering. I was all about my new cast iron pan to the exclusion of all other stove-top cooking vessels, except for the one pot that remained after our last move, a ginourmous beast of a thing that’s large enough to bathe a set of twins.

It worked for a few days. I made enough chicken soup for a small army, but the matzo balls were a challenge because I didn’t want to cook them directly in the soup. (Does anybody do that? Seems like the soup would get too starchy.)

I pulled my crockpot into action when I needed to boil a smaller amount of something, but I can foresee quite a bit of unnecessary kitchen gymnastics unless I get myself a proper pot.

Or two.

Or one small saucepan and something like a Le Creuset dutch oven?

I’m not sure which size or what brand (any recommendations?), I just need some pot(s).

Say Happy Chanukah with Edible Dreidels

Sweet jumbo marshmallow dreidels are a fun way to “top” off a festive holiday meal. I show you how to make the edible dreidels in the video below.


Clearly I was naively optimistic a few weeks ago when I suggested we might host the family Hanukka party this year. The house just isn’t ready. But we’ve got dibs on the 2012 party.

Whatever and where ever you celebrate, I wish you all the joys of the season!

Remember our fab Zojirushi rice cooker giveaway is still cooking.