Baking Cast Iron

7 Feb

Spent yesterday afternoon and will spend this afternoon baking most of my cast iron. I borked the square skillet last week cooking on the grill when it got too hot (>700ºF) for too long and most of the seasoning went up in smoke.

Since I was repairing that one, I decided to do them all. There was one cleaning bake (550ºF for 2 hours) for the square skillet and the tiny skillet that does not get used much.

This is the 2nd seasoning bake (350º for 1 hour) for all except the large round. That one is in great shape already and this is the first and only it will need. The others will get at least one more bake.

The giant Dutch Oven (not pictured) will wait for another day. It rarely get used and takes up most of the oven on its own (it is better suited for cooking in a fire pit).

Apple Pandemic

20 Dec

Back before Thanksgiving, I stumbled on a recipe for something called an Apple Pandowdy and I decided to make it for the feast (limited group, well within our bubble). It was incredibly easy to make. The hard part was finding dried apples and puff pastry.

I used to be able to find dried apples and other dehydrated fruits in bulk at most of the stores around. I finally found little containers of them at about the fifth store I checked. Same with the puff pastry. Where they used to be easy to find, I had to search them out before finding some. I am lazy, as I think I have mentioned, I am not going make puff pastry from scratch or dehydrate my apples on my own. I might do either sometime, but not for an experimental dish. It is fortunate that we live in a time and a place where most things can be bought from someone who makes them better and where most store-bought things like these are mostly good.

The picture attached shows the results. It was tasty. I’ll be making another for Christmas. The recipe is from The Takeout. I followed it as written except I substituted Maker’s Mark for the Applejack because I did not have any and forgot to go looking sooner.

We are calling it Apple Pandemic partly for the obvious reason and partly because my wife stumbled over the name once and said ‘pandemic’ instead of ‘pandowdy’. It stuck.

Bacon Three

19 Oct

Another Huge Success. I cured the entire belly this time, again in two halves. I made one half With No Weird Stuff, as the Law demands. The other half had only added brown sugar. Both are really good. The brown-sugar cure definitely added some sweetness and seemed to bring out other flavors as well. Ruhlman notes that extra sugar will make the smoking add more flavor so I’m guessing that is what happened.

This belly was purchased at the local Costco. They had a lot of bellies there and the price was about the same as the butcher shop. I am hoping they will continue to carry them when I want to get them. The belly was a good bit thicker than the one I got before. It also already had the skin removed, which saved me quite a lot of work. It did deprive me of the skin for cracklins, but they were able to leave much more fat on the belly than I had in my earlier effort. Tradeoffs.

At some point, I will seek out higher quality pork. We have had great success and are very pleased with the results using these commercial bellies. It will be interesting to see whether a belly from a small-farm raised hog really does have the difference reflected in the cost to make it worth using for us. Being Food Enjoyers and not Food Connoisseurs might make it a cost not necessary.

I show the smoking setup I used in the photo attached (the two parts of the collage were taken on different days). I use a grill and some hacks to get it to smoke at the temperature I want and still have smoke. A couple of bricks and a rack made a two-level area just right for these half-bellies. The old pan with the wood chunks is sitting directly on the gas burner. You can’t see it here, but I have about 75% of the burner holes covered with foil to be able to keep the temperature below 200ºF. I only light the one burner, mostly covered, and then keep it turned almost as low as it will go to get that temperature. I really like this grill. It has fairly heavy steel, a gas side, a charcoal side, and a side smoke box on the charcoal side. I use the gas side for most smoking because it is less hassle (I am generally really lazy). One thing the gas side does really well is get really, really, really HOT. I have gotten it hot enough that my probe thermometers exceed their maximum possible reading. The, highly inaccurate, dial thermometer on the grill lid shows it going to 700ºF+. The drawback is that it is very difficult to get a temperature below 300ºF with hacks like I describe above. But you can, so there.

Field Notes:

18Oct2020
12.32lbs total. Split 6lb3¾oz; 6lb1½oz.
One half cured with brown sugar added
Other half cured with just the cure mix
Cured 14 days
Smoked with apple chunks at 210º to internal temp of 145º
Smoking took about 3 hours.

Happy surprise: this belly from Costco is much thicker that the previous belly from Fergusons and has a much thicker layer of fat (which seems a good thing right now). It also came with the skin already removed which cut out about 80% of the effort for me.

Bacon, the Other Half

5 Oct

When we were getting to the end of the first half-belly, I thawed and cured the half-belly I had frozen frozen. The skin cut off much easier this time. That was partly because I had a sense of how to work it this time. Mostly it was because I got out the sharpener and put good edges on all the knives. Note: Knives sharp; fingers bleed.

Against all of Mary’s demands, I added brown sugar and pepper corns to the cure this time. I liked it quite a lot, but it caused a new Rule of Bacon Making to be declared: Thou Shalt Reserve Half to be Cured with No Weird Stuff Added. So sayeth the boss; so it shall be done.

Field Notes

24Sept2020
5 lbs (other half of the 5Sep belly) cured with added brown sugar and cracked pepper
3Oct smoked with just apple wood
Started with a fairly strong pepper flavor. After a couple of weeks that has mellowed to a very nice, mild pepper note.

Bacon, a Beginning

5 Sep

I have seen a cousin posting about home-curing bacon and got interested. I like bacon. I like cooking. Seems a match made in the kitchen. He gave me the basics. I researched some more. Settled on generally following the recipe in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. The results have been outstanding; we are hooked.

Once I had all the necessary curing ingredients (Salt, Curing Salt, Corn Sugar, Big zip-close bags), I went to a local butcher and got a pork belly. This belly had the skin on. Removing that was quite a lot of work for this first go. It will certainly take me a few times to figure out the best way and the best knife to use to do this. Or start getting the butcher to do it for me. Cracklins sound like a good thing to make, though.

Mixed the cure, coated half the belly, put in a bag, put the bag in the refrigerator, and waited. The other half went to the freezer. After about 10 days, with a bag-flip in the middle, the curing belly came out got washed, dried, and smoked. Bacon.

Field Notes:

5Sept2020
4lbs cured with just the curing mix
15Sep Smoked with hickory and apple
Very nice bacon flavor. Mary says this is the only bacon I can make (“Don’t start doing anything weird to it!”)

Pork – The Good Kind

2 Mar

The weekend before last Nelson and I ate at Pappy Red’s, a truly wonderful barbeque joint in town. At some point the talk to turned to us trying our hand at cooking some meat. Ribs. Pulled Pork. Maybe a whole pig just like we’d seen on the Anthony Bourdain show. Mmmmm. Well….maybe.

Anyway, this weekend we took a shot a pulled pork. We tried two methods of cooking Boston Butts to see which was better, whether we could even tell the difference, and whether the difference was worth the bother.

The short form was a recipe from Food magazine. A very simple and tasty recipe cooked in a Dutch oven in the stove. We used our cast iron pot. It took a total of 5 hours prep, cooking, and pulling (shredding) time. The long form was an Alton Brown recipe (our current cooking crush). This used a 10-hour brine followed by a 10-hour slow cook in a smoker.

We planned on having pulled pork Saturday and Sunday as sort of a taste testing weekend. We invited Vicki and William along for the ride with no complaints heard.

I dragged Nelson out of bed Saturday morning to help with the shopping and off we went. We stopped by Publics to get most of the stuff and check out the meat. The plan was to see what pork they had and compare it to Ferguson’s Meat Market. We ended up with a 4-pound butt from Public’s and 18-pounds of Butt from Ferguson’s. By far, the better deal was at the Meat Market, but the little 4-pound butt we snagged from Publics was on sale for just ten cents a pound more while a dollar a pound less than the others. Makes you wonder why it was on sale, but we cooked it that day so it wasn’t going to matter much. Ferguson’s is pretty amazing. In the 14 years we have lived in Cumming, knowing it was there, and with Mary shopping there sometimes, I have never been inside. I have a feeling I will be there often now.

We got the rub on the small butt with its cider-based baste and put it in the oven. While that cooked, we put the two big butts in a molasses flavored brine to soak for 10 hours. I made some sauce (Emeril) and put it in the fridge to mellow. The little pig came out of the oven and was shredded.

Then we did other stuff. Nothing to do with the kitchen and nothing went as planned so I am not going to talk about it other than to say we did not spend money, which is good for now.

Vicki, William, and the boys came over for dinner. It was good.

The big pigs came out of the brine about 9:00pm. The Alton Brown cummin-based rub went on thick and they went onto the grill about 10:00pm. We had to use the grill as our smoker because our smoker had not seen any use in a couple of years and was DOA when we tried to turn it on.

The grill worked fine after some fine tuning. It held the temperature at just a bit above 200 degrees all night long except for one exciting spell around 1:00 am when some of the drippings caught fire and spread flames over the big pig. That called for some adjustments in the grill. The foil covering the burners was replaced with some heavier and wider pans to keep the fat out of the flames.

Nelson and I set into a schedule with him checking the temp and flamage at the bottom of the hour and me checking at the top of the hour. I kept that up until about 5:00 and the decided that the meat would be good enough or someone would let me know that the porch was afire because I was sleeping for a few hours. Nelson kept checking every hour. At 9:00 I took the smaller of the butts off the grill to rest. The bigger needed a couple more hours. Nelson slept until about 11:00 because he was done, too.

Mary and the kids went to the movies in the afternoon. It snowed. I pulled the pork, and made some cornbread. Vicki, William, and the boys came over for the second round. Everyone ate. It was good.

The consensus was that they were both pretty good. The long form was the winner in taste, but no one would turn down the short form. The short form was the big winner in the taste per effort ratio, although the long form wouldn’t be so bad if we planned it so we were not cooking overnight.

Now I have pork sandwiches for lunch for the whole week and I am not complaining one tiny bit.

PSA from the Cook

26 Nov

If the the propane powered grill on your back deck has trouble starting when using the built-in automatic starter, be sure to SHUT OFF all of the burners and WAIT a few minutes before trying to light them with a lighter. If you light them right away the resulting fireball will engulf your head and burn off most of your eyebrows. You will be lucky to be able to get away without your entire head being aflame or your clothes catching fire.