A few weeks ago Phil Jones posted a contest on his Facebook wall. ID all of the bass players in the photo, and the first one would win a pair of his headphones. I won. I have played bass guitar for many years, and even sold guitars and basses for a number of years. Through that job I have met a number of amp designers, and bass builders. As a rule they are very knowledgeable, and passionate about what they do. Phil Jones was no exception. I met him at McMurray Music when he brought in a couple of early models of his amps and cabinets to the store I worked at. They were and still are pretty unique to the world of bass amplification. The general rule is bigger is better. Mr Jones tends to go the other way, and build smaller. I’m with him there, and agree. Smaller speakers are faster and thus more responsive and accurate. Putting several together means you get more moving surface area, that responds more quickly, and moves more air than a traditional speaker cabinet design.
His headphones are designed to be more accurate compared to others, and they are also fairy reasonably priced. Phil Jones Bass is based in the St Louis area where I have lived for most of my life. This meant that the headphones arrived very quickly for me. They were mailed Monday and I picked them up from the Post Office Tuesday after work! They came in a box that was well packed and in good shape. Inside was the box for the headphones. It had nice looking, but simple artwork. The headphones were neatly packaged, and seemed like they were very secure, which is great for preventing damage in shipping. In the box you will find of course the headphones themselves, a 2 meter cord with 1/8″ plugs on both ends, and also a 1/4″ adapter. To me, the removable cord is one of the smartest things ever.
No matter how good or bad the headphones I have ever used, the weak point was the cord. At some point the cord will break, and you have to go buy a new pair of headphones. Now, I can run to Radio Shack, Guitar Center or anyplace else that would sell a cord with 1/8″ stereo plugs on both ends. If I decided I wanted longer, I can get that too. One end of the cord that comes with them has a slightly different shape which allows it to lock into the headphones. You just push them into the hole, and give them a twist. Clever!
I don’t have a lot to compare them to unfortunately. My previous benchmark for headphones was the Sony MDR-7506. It has been several years since I have been able to use those for extended periods. (I was introduced to them when I worked at KRCU, the NPR affiliate at SEMO, where I attended college.) I really liked them, but I never had the need to purchase a pair of headphones like that. Aside from that, lately most of my headphone use has been in the form of ear buds, which are notorious for not having good sound. My current ear buds are JVC, and they beat out a pair of Skullcandy ear buds. I find ear buds to be somewhat uncomfortable, and after wearing them for a while they are actually irritating. I decided that in order to really review these I needed to put them to use in a variety of listening situations. The short answer is that they do sound really good. I haven’t found anything that they didn’t work well on. Pandora through my cell phone over Wi-Fi (Cell phone is an LG Google Nexus 5) as well as watching Netflix movies on my phone both sounded great. My iPod (generation 6 iPod Nano, with a pretty wide variety of music, and no problems. I even played a few computer games on my laptop using them, and was surprised to hear things that I never had before. When I was deciding between the ear buds, and also when I was putting these to the test I try to listen to things that will really test them. I generally want to hear as much of what is happening as possible. I like to listen to Bjork for this. Her music generally has lots of little things going on that get lost when the low end is emphasized by cutting mid range frequencies as seems to be done on a lot of ear buds. The headphones seemed to respond evenly across the frequency range.
Next I plugged them into headphone out of my trusty bass practice amp. A late 80’s Peavey Microbass. I also plugged in my favorite (at the moment) bass. A Chandler Continuum. Think early 60’s Fender Jazz bass, but with a fretless ebony fingerboard. This yielded the tone that I always expect out of this bass. It sounds like what it looks like. A Fender Jazz. That does mean that you get to hear the noise of a buzzing single coil pickup when you dial one of them down a bit. I also got to hear just how sloppy my bass playing has become with the minimal practice that I do lately. Still, the headphones present an accurate picture of what I am doing, good and bad. They left me wanting one thing though. I would love some sort of mixer to play both a CD or MP3 player and my bass through into the headphones. I’m sure that is out there somewhere, but it isn’t something I have. If I am not mistaken the Bass Buddy, would fill this need nicely.
I suppose the short answer to the question, is these headphones sound great. They are comfortable, and sound great. They also include some pretty clever ideas. I would recommend them to bass players as well as anyone else looking for a good sounding pair of headphones. My understanding is that you can find them online for around $100. I’m not sure of the exact price, but they would certainly be worth it!
My family generally is pretty supportive of me trying to do various things. Sometimes they might think I am a bit weird for actually doing them, but when they get exciting things to eat out of the deal they don’t complain too much. Last year I got a copy of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman, and I was inspired. I will admit that I love bacon. I have for a long time. I’m sure it isn’t the best thing I could eat, but I don’t eat tons of it.
Anyway, there are a couple of challenges to making bacon. The first is getting all of the required ingredients. Only two were particularly challenging. First you need to find “pink salt”. “Pink salt” is salt and sodium nitrite. It goes by a number of different names: Prague Powder #1, Instacure #1, DQ #1, etc.. This is an essential ingredient for curing any kind of meat. I was able to order mine online from The Sausage Maker. They have lots of interesting stuff for sale, and free shipping which is always nice!
The second ingredient that will be a little challenging to get is the pork belly itself. Grocery stores in my area don’t stock it, and most of them won’t even order it. I found one place that said they could get me belly from Berkshire pigs. (If that is actually true I will probably do that next time, but I will have to order it.) The place I got the belly from keeps it in stock all of the time. I ended up with 7 pounds. I know it sounds like a lot, but after curing and smoking you lose some. I’m not sure exactly how much though
. After reading through Charcuterie, I decided to go with the recipe that Michael Ruhlman posted on his blog. I would follow his instructions pretty closely. This is something that you really do want to get right, and he is far more of an authority than I am. The reason I say this is that you nitrites are something you don’t want to get too much of, and you really don’t want to skip. A big part of the flavor of bacon comes from the nitrites. But if you don’t have them, you can end up with botulism. Spores can end up in the meat from the garlic, and in the low temperature and low oxygen environment they can multiply. You don’t want that! I had more than 5 pounds of pork belly so I carefully followed the directions for adjusting the amount of everything in the cure. Instacure #1, kosher salt, brown sugar, dry thyme, black pepper, garlic and crushed bay leaves is what I had in the cure.
I then evenly rubbed the curing mixture over all surfaces of the pork belly. I realized pretty quickly that even though I had 2.5 gallon bags I was going to need to cut the belly in half in order to fit it in anything. Each half of the belly got rubbed and then put into a bag.
The bags got stuck in the fridge, and every day I flipped them over. I figured this would help ensure that all of the belly got cured. The mixture of salts and sugar draws water out of the meat through osmosis. Flipping the meat makes sure that the liquid covers the all of the meat pretty evenly.
Once the meat has cured, rinse the curing mixture off with cold water. Then, you can leave it for a couple of days or smoke it. If you don’t have a smoker you can also cook the meat in a 200 degree oven until the meat reaches 150F. Then cool it, and slice it.
I used my stovetop smoker, and some apple wood chips to smoke it. Some smokers have specific methods to use, so follow those. Your goal is to reach an internal temperature of 150F. I use my probe thermometer for this, because it gives me accurate results without having to open the smoker to check the temperature. I also set it to the temperature I want to reach.
Once the pork belly has cooled enough to handle, but while it is still pretty warm cut off the skin. This is a little tricky, but using a sharp knife you will be able to remove it. You can see the line between the skin and the fat. Cut in below that, and lift the skin up. Then use the knife to separate the skin from the fat.
Allow the bacon to cool fully. Then use a very sharp knife to slice the bacon.
I used my FoodSaver to package everything up. When I was checking my list, some of my friends and family got bacon for Christmas. At first they may have been a bit confused, since you can go to the store and buy it pretty easily. This is far tastier than any bacon I have ever gotten from the store!
It is still a bit strange to me that I made my own bacon, but I did, and it is delicious. It is well worth the time and energy to make your own bacon.
Well, that’s it. I’ve gone nuts… Or have I? Actually, no. This is absolutely delicious. The best part is that it is really easy too! Maybe the best part is how good it tastes. This is a great way to add loads of flavor to roasted chicken, pork, turkey, fish, or use it as a spread on a sandwich. Hell, its good on a spoon! Sweet, smoky, tomato-y, and very flexible.
How do you make this wonderfulness?
Core and dice 1 pound of tomatoes
1/4 pound bacon, cooked crispy, and crumbled
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar (The recipe I had called for cider vinegar, but sherry is tastier!)
salt and pepper
1/2 Tablespoon dried thyme
Combine the tomatoes, sugar, onion, thyme and vinegar in a pot, and bring to a boil. Add the bacon, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about an hour, stirring frequently. By this time a lot of the the liquid will be evaporated, and what you will have is a jammy consistency from the tomatoes and onions cooking down. Taste and season with salt and pepper. That was pretty easy!
With this combination of flavors you may have a hard time deciding where not to use it. Once you’ve made it, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll make it again!
Sometimes, inspiration strikes… from the most unlikely places. I needed to make soup, and I was wandering around the various parts of the kitchen looking for things to use. In dry storage I ran across some apple wood chips that we use to smoke things sometimes. Then in the cooler I saw a bunch of yellow tomatoes that we needed to use really soon. So, I started thinking, “What if I smoked the tomatoes?”
When I started making this soup that was really all I had for an idea. I had no idea how long it would take to get a decent smoke flavor into the tomatoes, and no idea how I was going to season it once I was ready to put the whole thing together. It all worked out quite nicely, through a series of accidents, and correcting them!
Step one, deal with the tomatoes. There are a couple of things that you will have to do with this, but none of them are particularly difficult. First, quarter the tomatoes, and cut out the little place where the stem attached. Then squeeze the quarters to get rid of the seeds. All of the flesh parts of the tomatoes are going to get smoked. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Get your smoker set up. At work I use a deep hotel pan to hold the soaked wood chips and a perforated hotel pan to hold the smokee. Then I just cover the whole thing with foil. Simple, and having an exhaust fan keeps it from getting smoky inside! I have a stovetop smoker I use frequently at home, and it works well. I think I had the tomatoes on for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, I just tasted a piece of a tomato to see if I had enough of a smoke flavor. I didn’t want it to be super strong, but I wanted to be able to taste it. Once I had it where I wanted it I pureed it in a food processor, and left it to cool. (This doesn’t make a lot of puree, but you’ll be adding more liquid to get it to a soup consistency, so don’t worry. I nearly doubled what I had to start with,)
Next I roughly chopped some onion and tossed it with a little salt, pepper, cumin, corriander, and oregano, and a couple of cloves of garlic and olive oil. This all got roasted under the salamander (broiler) until lightly browned, and tender. Then I pureed it, and let it cool over night.
When I was ready to start the soup I started adding the onion mixture to the tomatoes, and added some lemon juice to brighten it up, and water to get the consistency I was looking for. I added more than I thought I wanted. Oops! So, to balance out the lemon juice I added a little bit of honey. Now, it was too sweet. Salt helped bring things together a bit better, but although it tasted good, it was kind of one dimensional. I started looking for things that would help accent the smoke flavor, and balance out the sweetness a bit more. With the cumin, corriander and oregano I realized that I could go with sort of a Southwestern thing, and grabbed the container of ground ancho chili powder, and the black pepper. Ancho is not hot, but has a nice earthy flavor. Turns out the ancho was EXACTLY what was needed in the soup! I had no idea how much I needed so I added a little and tasted, and added more, until I liked it. This soup was all about tasting. There was no recipe, and no plan. Just a bunch of tasting spoons, a container of soup, and me, playing!
Sometimes, this is the most fun kind of cooking. Start with something simple, and see what you can do with it. In this case, a very tasty cold soup!
I will often garnish soups, just because it is nice for presentation and if you can make something that goes nicely flavor-wise that is always a good thing. In this case I made a little bit of pico de gallo.
With the hot weather we have been having lately a nice cold soup is a great lunch, or part of your lunch.
Anyway, my point here is we should give ourselves time to really play with our food. We need to eat, but it doesn’t have to be boring, and it should really taste good and be fun to get it on the table! Right?
Pizza is one of those foods I have always loved. For me, that generally means tomato sauce, cheese, and crust (gluten-free of course.), and sometimes I will add some sausage. I know it isn’t all that exciting, but sometimes it really is good.
I decided to do something a little more interesting, and lighter since it is now pretty hot here. No sauce of any kind, and just sliced pear, chevre, and a little bit of parmesan. Then about a minute before it comes out of the oven I tossed a handful of arugula on it! Thinking about it, a nice gorgonzola could also work very well in a pizza like this.
I’ve been on a bit of a quest for pizza crust. So far, the winner in terms of taste, texture, and relative ease of making it happen is from Emeril Lagasse. I know, weird, right? Apparently, he has daughters who have some gluten issues. He came up with this pizza crust for their gluten-free cookbook, and it is great! It makes enough crust for four pizzas for two people. You can pop the leftover par-baked crusts in the freezer, and pull them out for a quick dinner. Just top them and bake.
Obviously, if you have a pizza crust that works well for you, go ahead and use it. Amy was a bit skeptical of this at first, but it is a fantastic flavor combo! It is always fun to try things that may not immediately spring to mind when you have a dish as iconic as pizza.
Life is funny sometimes. My cousin got married Friday evening, and we all had a great time. My sister is getting married next month. Today was SUPPOSED to be her bridal shower. We wanted to have food, but keep it kind of light, and chicken salad was the idea. Except that my sister doesn’t really eat mayo, so I decided that I would come up with something that would keep her happy too. As you might imagine, I have lots of cookbooks, and although I may not have made anything out of all of them I have read through them, and sort of picked out anything that might come in handy for later. In this case I went to my copy of Heart of the Artichoke for this recipe. I decided to adapt it slightly for my needs. I made everything for the party before I knew it was going to be snowed out!
I had made tea smoked chicken before, but this turned out far better. It also took longer, but I think the results justify the extra time. The nice thing about this particular smoking method is that it was a little less intense. The chicken was pre-cooked and so all I needed to do was give it enough time in the smoke to give it flavor, rather than trying to cook it through. The first step will give you a very tasty broth which you could certainly eat if you wanted. I just don’t have space for that at the moment, but I did taste it, and it was very nice.
6 chicken legs quarters, salted and peppered (I broke them down into thighs and legs just to make them a little easier to deal with)
water to cover
1″ piece of ginger peeled and chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic chopped
4 green onions, sliced into 1″ pieces
3 star anise
Season the chicken and allow it to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. Place in a large pot and add the water and all of the other ingredients. Bring up to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for about 30 minutes, and then remove the chicken legs from the water. Allow the broth to simmer for another 30 minutes and adjust the seasoning. (If you want to keep it. I didn’t.)
On to the smoking! Here is where you want to make sure you have good ventilation! You can use the method I used in my previous post, or if you have a stove top smoker you can use that. I have a Cameron’s stove top smoker, and it works very well. It also uses less of the wood chips or tea in this case.
Cooked chicken legs
1/2 cup tea leaves (Yes, you can use Lipton)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raw white rice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 – 3 star anise crushed
Preheat the oven to 400F. Combine everything but the chicken legs in a bowl, and line a skillet with foil, and add the tea mixture to the bottom if the skillet. Then place a rack on top, and place the chicken on it. Place the lid on the skillet, and turn the heat on high. When you start to hear the sugar crackling and smell the smoke, give it two minutes, and then turn off the burner and place the whole thing in the oven for 10 minutes. Don’t take off the lid to check, or you will lose all of the smoke.
If you’re using a stove top smoker, follow the manufacturer’s directions for how much wood chips (tea) to use. You can still use the time above.
Once the chicken was smoked I pulled the meat off the bones, and roughly chopped it into bite sized pieces.
Next I made the ginger lime vinaigrette.
Vinaigrette dressing are very simple to make, and add lots of flavor to a salad. In this case it complimented the chicken very nicely! You can use a whisk to make this dressing, but I almost always use my food processor. It chops up the shallots and ginger for me, and makes quick work of emulsifying the dressing. Mine is a small one, and for doing recipes like this it works perfectly.
1 shallot finely diced
1 garlic clove minced
2 teaspoons finely diced or grated ginger
(I just dropped all three in the food processor, and let it do what it does!)
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?)
1/4 cup neutral oil, canola, grape seed
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
juice of 1/2 lime
I also added about 1 Tablespoon of honey just to balance out the flavors a bit.
If you’re doing this with a whisk, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger to the bowl, and add the lime juice, vinegar, honey, and mustard, and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the oils, until combined. If you have a food processor you can use the same order. It will just go a bit more quickly.
To serve your salads, mix a little of the dressing with the chicken, and then place a handful of spring greens on a plate (I drizzled a bit of the dressing on the greens as well.) Place the chicken on top of the greens, and add some sliced cucumber, and finely sliced scallions! Enjoy! It was a nice lunch with my family even if the shower was canceled!
Lots of people have pets. We have a couple of cats, and they are pretty typical for cats. Cute, crazy, and like to sleep when you let them. They also like to eat, and that is where things get tricky. You see, pet foods often contain fillers. Cats in the wild would eat meat, and that is the bulk of it. Dogs eat a more varied diet, but primarily a meat based diet.
What is in your pet’s food? Let’s face it, your pets need to eat. You probably also don’t want to have your pets eating people food. You also don’t want to cook them special food most of the time. On the other hand, you don’t want to be glutened from your pets food. Go look at the package for your pet’s food. What did you find? Wheat? Barley? Oats? Surprised? I was too. Why do your pets need these? I doubt that they do. Of course grains are cheaper than actual meat and meat products. The cheaper the food the more likely it seems that you will have gluten in your pet food. Obviously, when you have a person with Celiac in your home you want to eliminate as much as possible the sources of gluten that they are exposed to.
This is not just an issue in dry food. Wet food also contains gluten.
The other day we were picking up some more food for our cats, and we found some that actually didn’t seem to contain any gluten. It wasn’t even that much more expensive for a similar amount of food as we normally bought. They also had some canned food, and it was actually marked as being gluten-free and grain free. We generally only feed our cats canned food as a treat.
We picked up a bag of the dry food. Right now we are feeding them a mixture of their old food with the new stuff to transition them to the new food. Some of the dry food formulas do contain oats, but the one we got only had rice.
As it turns out, they really do seem to like this new food quite a bit. When we gave them a can of the new wet food, it looked like food. It even smelled less like cat food than most of the canned cat food I have seen. I won’t say it smelled good, but they seemed to like it!
I guess really this post is just something for you to think about, and be aware of. You can’t control what your cats do, and they are going to go where you may not want them. This is just one more little thing that can help you feel better. Obviously, you still need to maintain normal hygiene standards, but it gives you one less thing to worry about. That is never a bad thing.