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The no shopping for a week (or longer) challenge

November 18th, 2009 Comments off

A couple of months ago my online friends at egullet.org came up with an interesting challenge: don’t shop for food for a week or more, and only use what you have. I was intrigued by the idea, but never got past reading along with them, while happily filling my house with more food.

Well, they’re at it again, and this time I decided to join in. I probably have enough food to last us until next year, aside of fresh fruit, salad, veggies and milk.

So, here are my rules for this week and probably more:

No more shopping for food except for what the kids need fresh, like milk. I won’t buy any major food items, the only things I allow myself is maybe some special spice or sauce I might need for a particular dish to work myself through the freezer. I’ll also try to finally bake my own bread again, and make some pasta and pizza dough from scratch, projects I had planned for anyway.

First night’s dinner was rib eye steaks with oven roasted beans, self made potato chips (i.e. thinly sliced potatoes, parboiled and then fried to finish) and sauteed crimini mushrooms. Turned out great.

Lunch will be a piece of an other sülze I made with turkey. Basically turkey with veggies in chicken broth based aspic. Yumm!

This challenge makes me realize just how much food we have in the house, I really think we could live a month with no problem. Would not have salad, but there are frozen and canned things, rices and beans, potatoes and lots more.

Now I’m thinking about setting up a simple proofing chamber and start feeding my sourdough starter so I can bake some bread this weekend.

Hopefully I’ll think of taking some photos along the way :-)

2nd night dinner was going to be something with pork tenderloin. I had a vision of cubed pork tenderloin in Asian sauce on skewers on the bbq, maybe some apple on there too, rice, salad. Sadly once thawed ,the meat had an off smell despite that I froze it right after I bought it. Even after a thorough washing it had a sour smell and was somewhat grainy on the outside. I could not bring myself to cook with it. Ne resolution: from now on I will unpack every shrink wrapped piece of meat I buy, inspect it, and then vac-seal it again for freezing. Then I could at least return it if it’s bad…

So I decided to pull out some wild mushroom and truffle flat breads from Trader Joe’s, along with one 3 cheese flatbread. I still made a nice salad, one quarter of a gigantic avocado from the Asian market, pomegranate, persimmon, wild arugula, olive oil and sherry vinegar, s&p. Of course, I did not expect some what ever it was that fell/dripped down in my oven to burn. Literally. I open the oven and there’s a small pile of something on fire on the oven floor! Now, that’s a new one! What ever was down there was either new or had hidden very well before, I sure did not see a big fat lump of something down there when I turned it on. Needless to say that you can smoke some things in some ways to deliciousness. Well, now I know you can also smoke things into something almost inedible….

You know, just one of those days. Started with a dropped cup of coffee in the hallway. The one with carpet. A flat tire on my wife’s car, a misscheduled surprise playdate for my boy, more complicated faimly home work than I realized, fire smoked flat breads, just an odd day.

I don’t eat breakfast, made English muffins with Nutella for the kids and a sandwich for my wife to take to work. Lunch was mac&cheese for the kids, they’ve been after me for days for that, and I finished my poultry in aspik Sülze thing with some bread.
I did find an other pork tenderloin in the freezer, this one seems just fine, so I’ll be making the pork with raisins and pine nuts and balsamico from Marcella Hazan’s book tonight. Glad I found that recipe as I have an open package of pine nuts waiting to get eaten in the fridge. Salad will be some more of the gigantic avocado, persimmon from the inlaw’s garden, the other pomegranate I have and wild arugula. Might make some rice to go along with the meat.

I did buy more milk and English muffins today for the kids, there’s just no way around that. And minor cheat (I hope), some extra herb salad. And coffee.

Now, I just got word that my 1/6th of a cow will arrive tomorrow and a small turkey on Tue. All this was ordered weeks ago and of course has to show up in my no shopping week. I might use some of the fresh beef instead of thawing what I have, depending on the cuts I’ll get. Since I bought this stuff weeks ago, I’m not sure it qualifies as shopping. But since I have assorted poultry and beef in the freezer too, it probably doesn’t matter much.

I must say that it felt a bit strange to walk out of Safeway with one gal of milk, 3 packs of English Muffins and one box of salad (plus the coffee). I had to keep my eyes from wandering and my brain from wanting….

As for condiments, I could probably feed a small army with pickled things, sauces, powders, dried leaves, curries, etc. That’s what I’m actually really looking forward to with this experiment – going shopping at home and discovering hidden treasures!

Having fun so far :-)

Oh, and my sourdough starter just finished it’s first round of re-activating, off to it’s next feeding and I can turn the light in my cooler (improvised proofing box) off. Couple more days and I’ll be baking some real San Francisco Sourdough. Yes, they make it just down the road from me, but this will be selfmade and not shopped for. Well, aside of the ingredients of course.
I also see a sourdough pizza in my near future, I’m just starting a canned tomato tasting project and have 5 or 6 or so different brands to play with.

LOL, I’m starting to wonder if I secretly planned to open a small food store here???

We have an other surprise play date, this time for my little 2 year old. Friends are prepping their place for sale and their little boy is here to play with Mia. Hopefully I’ll be able to work on dinner w/o the rest of the house turning in to chaos :-D

Categories: Cooking Tags:

The Big Green Egg and Bacon Project

November 3rd, 2009 Comments off

As part of 1/7th of a Berkshire pig I recently acquired, I received a huge piece of pork belly, scaling in at 7lb 12oz. I was very happy with that, as I love pork belly and I love to make bacon, cook bacon, eat bacon, wrap myself in bacon, well, you get the idea. Bacon would be part of my last meal, if not my entire last meal.

Pork belly and curing ingredients

Pork belly and curing ingredients

To really make good bacon you need to smoke it. I did this once before on my Weber kettle, and it worked pretty good actually. I was able to keep the temperature around 250 degree and got a good smoky taste. But I pretty much had to sit there for two hours, monitoring the heat, adding a coal or wood chip here and there, adjusting the vents, opening and closing the lid. All made easier with the addition of a pile of (cooking of course) magazines and some nice cold beer, but not all that practical.

I’ve been playing with the idea of getting a dedicated smoker for a long time, especially since I got the excellent book Charcuterie. I looked at a wide variety of options and almost was ready to hit “send order” for a Bradley smoker. From what I read they are good machines, but the one thing that held me off was the use of special wood “pucks” to create the smoke. Those are proprietary and you can’t use any other products. Or woods. And that bothered me. I want to make some German smoked things, and the most common wood for smoking in Germany is Beech, something you can’t find in any puck, sack, sawdust or what have you form.

I also prefer doing things the traditional way, so in this case, it called for something wood or charcoal fired. And after spending two years going back and forth and deciding on this or that, I finally broke down and bought (drum roll) a Big Green Egg! A kamado style oven/grill/roaster/smoker that constantly receives high ratings and has a fanatic fan following. I almost bought the XL version, until I luckily saw it at my local Barbecues Galore, that thing is a monster and would be way too big for me. I went with the L version instead, their most popular size.

Big Green Egg with accessories and lump charcoal

Big Green Egg with accessories and lump charcoal

So, this entry will not only be about making the bacon, but also about my first experience with the Big Green Egg, or BGE as I will call it from now on. There will be many experiments with that thing, from brisket to pizza, from grill to roast to high heat seared steak. I added a category “Big Green Egg” to mark these posts, in case somebody is interested in what this amazing thing can do.

But let’s get back to the bacon for now. The piece I received was huge, so I decided to cut it in half and cure with two different recipes. One I cured by following the savory recipe in Charcuterie , the other I cured with a premade maple sugar cure from Butcher Packer a great resource for all things butchery/sausage making/charcuterie. That’s also where I bought my pink salt which is essential for curing.

Garlic, pepper, bay leaf to be added to the curing salt

Garlic, pepper, bay leaf to be added to the curing salt

To my savory bacon I added the curing salt mix (salt, pink salt, sugar) plus several fresh bay leaves from my tree, a good Tbsp of lightly crushed pepper corns (as I was fresh out of black I used white), and 5 or 6 crushed garlic cloves. Of course you can add other things here too, rosemary, thyme, anything that goes good with bacon. And what doesn’t?

The sweet bacon received the curing mix and some extra maple syrup. I sealed both pieces in plastic bags and put them in the fridge for 7 days, turning every day or so to distribute the juices. After a couple days you’ll notice the bacon is hardening – curing – and after a week it should be done, if it’s not too thick a piece. Leave it in there for an other day or two if still soft after 7 days.

Once done curing, rinse it well and dry it with paper towels. It’ll keep like this for a couple days I believe, I put it in the fridge for half a day uncovered, so it can develop a bit of a skin, pellicle, which supposedly helps the smoke to adhere, though I’m not sure it does. Never mind, I was not ready to start the fire yet, so might as well go for it.

Bagged and ready to sit in the fridge for 7 days

Bagged and ready to sit in the fridge for 7 days

Fire in the hole, my BGE's maiden voiage begins

Fire in the hole, my BGE's maiden voiage begins

And now back to the Big Green Egg. I filled the firebox per instructions with lump charcoal and added a couple pieces of Almond wood that the farmer that raised the pig had given me. One Weber charcoal starter and my son had the honor to light the very first fire in my BGE! (He’s been the BBQ lighter for a while now, just as I was when I was a little kid!). After about 10 or so min enough charcoals have caught fire and you close the lid. I was looking for a temp of 200-250 degree F, which it reached in no time at all. I closed down the vents to about 1/4 inch on the bottom and little opening on the top, and you know what? That Egg kept the temperature absolutely perfect, for 2+ hours! I did not have to touch anything, did not have to add wood or coal, I could simply walk away – or sit there and lovingly look at my somewhat goofy looking BGE, enjoying a wonderful sunset. All the wile smelling the wonderful smell of a campfire, eventually joined by wonderful meaty nose candy as the bacon smoked and got up to temp – 150 degree internally.

I put the two bacons in at the same time, using a grill extender that gives you a second level to cook on. I closed the lid and left the thing alone from then on. Well, aside of the occasional curious peek of course….

Now, I might have just been lucky, but the ease of operation and the exactness of keeping the temp was astounding to me. Just as easy as setting an oven to a given temp, this thing kept on smoking and warming my bacon like a precise machine.

Back to the bacon. I forgot to record the time – two little kids and dinner preparations at the same time do that to me – but I had the bacon in there for about 2 hours. I increased the heat to 300 towards the end, as it was getting late and I was sure there’d be enough smoke flavor already. Once it reached 150 degree internally I removed the bacons to a cutting board and brought them inside. Can you imagine the smell? It still lingers in the house today! It came out wonderfully, a nice golden brown color, a great smoky taste, and not too salty. Simply perfect, if I may say so.

Smoking away with a wonderful NorCal sunset

Smoking away with a wonderful NorCal sunset

Fresh hot smoky bacon - hard to beat!

Fresh hot smoky bacon - hard to beat!

Of course we had to have a taster or two (or three) as this was just too good looking and smelling. Of course you eat a lot of fat that way, fat that would usually render away once you crisp the bacon, so go easy here, but do try this if you make this yourself someday. (You can roast it in the oven too, but you won’t get any smoke flavor that way). A special treat, like the tail of a perfectly roast chicken!

A great success on all fronts, wonderful flavorful bacon, just the right amount of smokyness. Both turned out great, I personally prefer the savory one, but won’t turn my nose on any kind of bacon. I divided the pieces and gave half of each to friends, who also thought it turned out great. They want to try the process themselves next time – the seed is set, the addiction will sprout :-)

And here are a couple more photos for your enjoyment:

Rubbed with cure, ready to be bagged and refrigerated

Rubbed with cure, ready to be bagged and refrigerated

The first BGE fire with Almond wood for smoke

The first BGE fire with Almond wood for smoke

The two bacons with the grill extender and a slefmade drip pan - heavy duty aluminum foil

The two bacons with the grill extender and a slefmade drip pan - heavy duty aluminum foil

Bacon sizzling away for Saturday brunch, the official test drive

Bacon sizzling away for Saturday brunch, the official test drive

Brunchtime! Left over pasta, scrambled egg, fresh bacon and some tomatoes. Makes me hungry just looking at!

Brunchtime! Left over pasta, scrambled egg, fresh bacon and some tomatoes. Makes me hungry just looking at!


Categories: Big Green Egg, Charcuterie, Cooking Tags: