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?
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.
Chicken cacciatore is one of those dishes I always heard of, but strangely, never had as a kid. I couldn’t tell you why that is, but it certainly is worth taking the time to make. It is such a simple dish, and in many ways, reminds me of the poulet basquaies I made ages ago. I like these kinds of rustic dishes, they are generally pretty easy, and have loads of flavor. Simple ingredients that don’t get screwed up by trying to make them into something they aren’t.
What you need:
chicken, whole, cut up, or breasts if you prefer.
10 – 12 crimini mushrooms sliced thin
garlic, minced how much do you like?
1 onion sliced thinly
1 bell pepper sliced thinly (about the same size as the onion)
1 can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper
herbes de provence
That is really it. You could add pancetta, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, fresh basil, you know, that kind of thing.
I decided serve it on top of some gluten-free noodles, and I picked up a box of Schar tagliatelle.
This is pretty straightforward stuff. Season the chicken with salt, and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet, and sear the chicken. When it releases from the pan, flip it over, and sear it on the other side. The second side won’t take as long as the first. Remove the chicken and set it on a plate for the time being.
There should be some oil left in the pan. Throw in the mushrooms add a little salt, and saute them until they are tender. Then add the bell pepper, onion and garlic. Again, add a touch of salt, and saute until it is tender. Add some wine, and bring it to a boil. Scrape the brown bits up. I can’t really tell you how much, I wanted enough of the liquid to get some with the noodles. Next add the can of tomatoes and stir them in and bring the whole thing up to a boil. Add the black pepper and herbes de provence. See how much liquid you have, if it looks like enough that you can get the chicken down in it part way. Put the chicken in with whatever liquid is on the plate, put the lid on the skillet, and turn it down to a simmer.
While the chicken is simmering get the water boiling for your pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Keep in mind that the chicken will be fine if it is done a little before the pasta. The pasta on the other hand will turn into a gummy mess while the chicken finishes cooking.