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.
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.
Not too long ago I saw on Facebook that a bar near my apartment, called The Silver Ballroom, was having a salsa and guacamole competition. I decided to enter. This is about that, and not at the same time.
All of us eat food. (Hopefully, several times a day!) How many of us take the time to actually pay attention to what we are eating?
I pretty much always taste food I am cooking if I can. At work that is not always possible, but I generally get the help I need. When I make a dish the first time I will follow the recipe fairly closely (unless something just doesn’t make sense to me), and the next time I make adjustments as I see fit. Hopefully, you do something somewhat similar when you’re cooking for yourself.
I decided to enter the contest, more or less on a whim. I decided Thursday night about midnight that I would enter the contest that took place on the following Tuesday. Not a lot of time. Obviously, I had recipes that I felt fairly comfortable with, and figured they would be a good start. If I’m entering a contest like this I want to win! So, I realized that I needed to really make sure that I got my recipes right. (To tell the truth, for my salsa and guacamole there is no actual recipe, more of a concept. I just make them, and taste as I go.)
I wasn’t going to write something down, because then I would be following something that constrains me in these, and I didn’t feel like that would be the right way to go. So, I tried to really pay attention to the flavors in each of the dips. I did decide to take all of the salsa ingredients outside and put them on the grill rather than roasting them in the oven. I figured the charring on the pepper skins and tomatoes skins would give me more depth of flavor, and then since I was making some turkey burgers for dinner, and the grill was lit… Once everything was pureed I added the lime juice and salt and pepper and tasted it. Now, really pay attention… Is there enough salt? Bell pepper? Garlic? Jalapeno? etc., and I tried to really take my time tasting, adjusting until I really felt that I had it exactly how I wanted.
When I made the guacamole I did the same thing. I tried to be very precise with my cuts for each of the ingredients to get them exactly the way I wanted them. When you’re using a knife, you can actually impact the flavor of a dish by cutting things inconsistently. Imagine taking a bite of something only to find a large piece of raw garlic… Probably not what you wanted to go for. And it will certainly affect the flavor of that bite. Of course, if people are judging your food on a single bite, you probably just lost a vote…
Obviously, I was trying to get the flavors just right for the contest, but really we can extend this to almost any time we are cooking or eating. If you are already gluten-free you’re used to paying attention to labels on EVERYTHING you buy at the grocery store, right? And while that is a very good thing, there is more that you can do. Take a little time and when you taste the food you’re cooking pay attention to what you’re actually experiencing. Food is far more than taste and smell. Really, all of our senses go into cooking and eating. Look at the food, and notice the colors and textures. Do you hear anything? Maybe it is sizzling as you cook it… Touch it! If you’ve ever handled meat that has gone bad (yuck!) you’ll know that it feels different, as well as smelling different! Of course, that is not all you can tell by touching your food. In short, pay as much attention to the food you’re eating, when you’re cooking it as when you buy it. Take the time and really experience it. That was the challenge I gave myself. It didn’t really add a lot of time to the prep, but it may have made a difference in the end result.
When all of the salsa and guacamole had been eaten, and the votes were counted it turned out that I took first place in the guacamole and second in the salsa! It was a lot of fun to try something that was somewhat out of my comfort zone like this, and give myself a challenge. Of course, that means next year I will have to defend my title I suppose!
The other night Amy and I were trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Neither of us had anything thawed, and didn’t really feel like a big meal, but we both wanted something tasty. What we did have was a can of chickpeas(for some reason we thought they were actually cannelini beans until she actually got them out of her pantry), some pasta, a couple of roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, half of a red onion, some garlic, a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we only needed part of. This is actually a really simple thing to put together, and will get you a really quick and tasty dinner in under a half hour.
The first thing is to cook the pasta. Obviously, you need to follow the recommendations on the package since gluten-free pastas vary in cooking times. Once it is cooked drain it, and rinse it in cold water to cool it. Toss it in a little olive oil, and set it aside for now.
Next, we’ll make our “sauce.” Dice the tomato. Half inch cubes should be fine. Mince a few cloves of garlic. We used about four, but if you really like garlic use as much as you want. Dice half of a red onion. To that add white wine and olive oil to just cover everything. A fifty-fifty mix will work well, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
Open the can of chickpeas, drain, and rinse them. Get a medium sized skillet hot over medium heat, and add a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot add the chickpeas. Saute them for a minute or so to get them hot. Next, add the tomato mixture (There is no rule saying how much to add so go with what looks good to you.), and keep things moving in the pan. Add the spinach to the pan, and cook until it has wilted. You may be surprised at how little spinach it looks like once it is wilted! You’ll eventually get it up to a boil. Once the liquid comes up to a boil add the pasta, and saute everything until everything is hot.
Obviously, this kind of thing gives you lots of room to improvise, and make it your own. In this case, it was vegan as well as being gluten-free. Whatever it little category you want to cram it into, it was very tasty, very quick, and very easy!
I make a LOT of soup. Soup is especially great when the weather is less than warm. Like now, for instance. There is snow on the ground, although the temperatures are finally above freezing during the day. Sounds like perfect weather for soup, doesn’t it? I’ve been kind of avoiding writing about certain kinds of soups. What I mean is that I haven’t written about soups that are thickened. There are quite a few ways to thicken soups. You can use a slurry, a roux, cream can give body, eggs can give body as well(They are a little hard to hold for long though.), and sometimes the ingredients of your soup will cause it to thicken, potato, and bean soups do this fairly well. What generally gives us trouble is when a soup is thickened with a roux. Generally, a roux is equal parts flour and butter. It doesn’t have to be wheat flour though, and in this case we’re going to take advantage of that fact.
What we’re going to be making is called a velouté. That translates as velvety, or smooth on the palate. The velouté is one of the five mother sauces. In this case it’s not really a sauce so much as the base for our soup. To make it into a soup we’ll be adding some different flavors, and more ingredients. When I make this soup I generally go for a Cajun flavor. I looked for a blackened seasoning, but couldn’t really find one I was comfortable with. I made my own. I had everything I needed, although I would have added a few other things if I had them.
2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cayenne
1/2 TBSP kosher salt
1 TBSP thyme
1 TBSP black pepper
1/2 TBSP oregano
Blackened seasoning (see above)
1 4oz package of wild rice (prepared according to the directions)
4 chicken breasts cubed, seasoned lightly with blackened seasoning, and cooked
1 large onion diced
2 carrots diced
4 celery sticks diced
2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
2 sticks butter
8oz (weight) flour or starch of your choice (I used potato starch)
salt and pepper as needed
Wild rice is not actually rice, but it is gluten-free and very tasty. Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. It is also very easy to cook, but takes a little bit of time. I found a 4oz package of it. Bring 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil. Stir in rice, bring it back to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. By that time most of the water will be absorbed, and the wild rice will be tender. Drain any liquid, and cool in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
Next we want to move on to the chicken. I had four breasts which I cubed into small pieces, tossed with some of the blackened seasoning, and cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes. Later, I chopped them up a bit so that they would be small enough to fit on a spoon easily. Set this aside in the fridge as well.
Next up, mirepoix. You should have 50% onions, and 25% each celery and carrots. You’ll need about 2 cups total. Figure one large onion, three or four celery sticks, two or three carrots. This should all be a nice medium dice. Having everything exactly the same is not super important, but it helps to be close. That way you don’t get a piece of raw onion in a bit with nicely cooked onions. Whenever you’re cooking you should always try to cut things in similar sizes. Since food is cooking together if your onions are all the same size they will all be about the same doneness. Again, put all of this in the fridge, and we’ll get to it in a bit.
If you’re wondering, breaking a project down into manageable steps is a big part of getting things done in a restaurant kitchen. I can have all of these containers on a tray in a cooler, and add things as I do them. Then if I have to stop I can step away, do what I need to, and come right back to my soup when I have a few minutes. The wild rice takes the most time to cook, so you can really just set a timer, and walk away to do something else.
Our next step is to get the broth heated up. Two quarts of chicken stock, and two quarts of water, plus a couple of bay leaves. In a large pot, and bring it up to a boil. This will take some time. You have everything else ready, right?
Now, what we’ve got to do is make our roux. In this case I used potato starch. I was expecting the potato starch to thicken more than it did. I ended up making a slurry of potato starch and water to get the consistency that I was hoping for. A roux made with wheat flour thickens at a nice one pound per gallon rate. Other starches, and flours will have different thickening abilities. You’ll have to play with them a bit. Generally a starch like potato or corn will thicken more than flour. Also if you’re using a wheat flour roux the darker the roux the less it will thicken. You will get more flavor from a darker roux though. Gluten-free roux will scorch before it will brown, so I wouldn’t try.
Since we’ve got a gallon of liquid on the stove to thicken, and the amount of roux we’re going to be needing is a pound (apparently) start by melting half a pound of butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Once it is fully melted, add a half pound of your flour or starch(Yes, you should weigh your flour. This goes for you gluten eating folk as well.). Whisk it into the melted butter. (Do NOT use your non-stick skillet for this.) You want to keep stirring the roux. You’re cooking the flour, but don’t want it to burn. When it is ready it will have a nice nutty smell. At that point season your roux with the blackened seasoning you made earlier. You’re not trying to make this soup super spicy, just a little. At work since I can’t taste the soup I go by smell when I season the roux. When I can smell the spices I know I am good. Remember, you’re going to be putting this into a gallon of liquid with vegetables, rice, and chicken. Cooking the spices helps the flavors develop, but if you end up a little mild you can adjust, after the fact. Next, pour in the mirepoix, and sweat the vegetables in the roux. You’re looking for the onions to start to get tender. They will simmer for a bit so they don’t have to get fully cooked at this point, but you do want to get them started. Once the onions are starting to get tender set the roux aside, and let it cool.
Once your liquid comes to a boil scoop a bit of the cooled roux mixture onto your whisk, and mix it in a bit at a time. As you do you’ll notice that the soup starts to thicken up, and you’ll see that the liquid will cloud up a bit. If you’re using wheat flour it will look almost creamy, and I would imagine that if I had made my roux from the usual flour blend that I use it would look creamy as well. Hopefully, you get a nice velvety consistency from your roux. If you decide you would like a little thicker soup (like I did) make a slurry of your starch and water, and whisk that in slowly. Whisking will prevent lumps of whatever thickener you have decided to use.
At this point simply add the cooked chicken and the cooked rice to the thickened soup. Bring it back up to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. Taste your soup, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit more of your blackened seasoning if you want it! Let your soup simmer for about 20 minutes or so. If you want your soup to be a bit richer you could add cream while it simmers. Serve, and enjoy.
The cool part of this soup is that you now have a basis for making lots of other soups. Shrimp bisque, for example, is only a few adjustments away. You could even use a velouté asthe basis for making New England Clam Chowder, and I know you’ve missed that one!
Hope you enjoy your soup!
I’ve been thinking about this blog a bit, and I have realized that it doesn’t really represent me all that well. Sure, I cook. What else do you know about me? Do you know why Amy, and my mom both think I’m out of my mind?
So in essence, what I plan to do is to let you in a little more. I’m going to show you places I go, things I do. I’ll still be cooking for you, but from time-to-time you’ll get a glimpse of what my life is like. Life is about so much more than the time we spend at the stove (or doing dishes), its about how we live, and sharing with people what we can. You might see me at a bar seeing some live music, or out for dinner, or perhaps you might even get to see me playing disc golf. (I spend enough time doing it, I might as well let you see it.) You might get a couple of these posts, since I have some plans for this weekend.
In the not to distant future, you will hopefully get some video of me cooking, and whatever other adventures I have. Thanks to Jessie at Savory-bites I will be getting a new video camera to play with. She does some really cool stuff, and I have plans to tackle at least one of her recipes. Of course I will have to adapt it to be gluten-free, but it should taste great!
That is it for now, hopefully you had a safe and enjoyable New Years, and are ready to have a fantastic 2011. I think there are big things in store for us.